Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Undercover — review

Screenplay by Luke Del Tredici (created by Doon Goor/Michael Schur)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s second season premiere just feels better than the first season. And the reason is because it’s the first season premiere to not be a series premiere. Ergo, this is the first episode following a season finale, and that means there are some things that need wrapping-up. For example, we have Jake Paralta’s undercover work, and where that leads him in this episode, as well as the insertion of a potential story arc involving Police HQ, and its affect on Precinct Nine-Nine.  The first season is often the weakest for comedies, because the second season is where we know the characters, so the comedy comes from now experimenting with them. Simply having Paralta working undercover at the start at the episode, and that carrying-over the plot, rather than just being solved at the start, is an example of this. He’s taking more ambitious steps with his career, and that makes the show more ambitious itself, and it’s much better for it.

And then there’s also the process of the undercover investigation as well. Simply doing something isn’t going to necessarily going to have a desirably improving effect, but the opportunity it can provide will. Here, we see not only funny gags used, but clever ones. The use of Paralta’s car keys is ingenious – the gags happen because of it.

Really, what this episode’s done is prove what the show’s capable of, and – I hate this say this – makes the first season less funny. I suppose that’s a good thing. But unlike a comedy drama, where gags are happening over plot, here, the plot and the gags intertwine with each other. And now that’s established, there’s no way for the writers to go back on it. The question is… will they keep it up?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Undercover – comedy season premiere done right. 6/10

The Big Bang Theory: the Septum Deviation — review

Written by Eric KaplanSteve HollandTara Hernandez. (Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady.)

Given The Big Bang Theory is an example of the formula used by some sitcoms of comprising one episode of two half-lengths episode occurring simultaneously, the best half of The Septum Deviation is Rajesh Koothrappali’s subplot in-which it’s revealed his parents have divorced. The last time we saw his parents, there were clear tensions between them, and it’s nice to see that this sitcom is aware of its continuity. That’s what can make a sitcom so successful – to not just be popular for its humour, but also for its narrative, and to combine so as to still provide a story in-which the audience can invest, as well as allowing for character development. Eventually, all sitcoms become more dramatic than comedic, and that’s not a bad thing. The Big Bang Theory is beginning to do that, half-way through its eighth season. That’s what made Friends such the cultural behemoth that it went-on to become, even if that ended after its tenth season.

The best thing about the show on a whole is the ensemble cast, with no single character, which provides a good sandbox for the writers by allowing them to focus on multiple aspects each week. That’s why sitcoms run for so long, and The Big Bang Theory has done so because of the unlikely cohesion between the four original leads. This week’s main focus was arguably Leonard Hofstadter’s nose operation, and Sheldon Cooper’s reaction to it, though this was done for comedy to balance against Koothrappali’s drama. Which is exactly the right way of doing it. If one character’s going through a heavy situation, another character needs a light situation. Sitcoms are more comedy dramas, they just tend to stay in one place. And trust me, as someone’s who’s tried and failed miserably to write a sitcom pilot, having a funny plot, dramatic subplot, while staying in generally the place isn’t easy.

But the writers of this episode pulled it off, proving once again that Wolowitz is an underrated character, having more depth than the other four simply because he shows it more.

This isn’t such a review, more of an observation about the episode and its relationship to the sitcom genre. Really, for the midseason premiere (at least in the UK), it’s nice that The Big Bang Theory eases us back in by not focusing too much on current plotlines, and instead just reintroducing us to the characters, while also creating scenes that can bring us up-to-date on where each character suddenly stands in relation to each-other.

The Big Bang Theory: the Septum Deviation – easy storylines nicely re-familiarises characters 6/10

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb review

Screenplay by Man of Action and Scott Mosier.

With Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb, I was able to go through the joy of discovering another great TV show. One of those moments where you know you’ll be watching the rest. The UK gets it on Disney XD HD, so I’m probably quite behind, and I’m not even starting at the beginning, but I don’t care, because the thing about Ultimate Spider-Man is that you’re able to join at any time. Even when the show’s in the middle of something important, it doesn’t swamp itself with too much plot, making it perfectly okay to join, while also still having enough of a story to be entertaining.

The “Venom Bomb” in question is part of what makes the show so entertaining – it’s a plan by Norman Osborn to unleash the Venom Symbiote onto the SHIELD Tri-carrier and takeover, in doing-so, infecting Agent Coulson and Agent Fury. So Peter Parker must release Otto Octavius in-order to create a serum that can dispel the symbiote.

There’s lots of characters there, but that’s what makes this show so great. Right now, the Marvel Universe is dominated by cinema, and that’s split into three studios: Sony owns Spider-Man, Fox own Fantastic Four and X-Men, and Marvel Studios own everything else. And since Spider-Man’s the leading Marvel superhero, Sony’s endlessly criticised for owning the character’s live-action rights, as fans feel the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs Spider-Man. How I myself felt about the whole situation was, until watching Ultimate Spider-Man, indifferent. And yet now, seeing the greatest Marvel characters collaborating on something of this nature just shows what kind of story we could be getting but aren’t.

When transporting Octavius to the lab, Parker avoids Venoms by flying, courtesy of Tony Stark’s Iron Spider. Because Marvel Studios own Iron Man, but Sony Pictures own Spider-Man, this kind of thing couldn’t happen in the mainstream. And honestly, this show’s better for it. While cinema continues to be divided and struggles to meet its potential, Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t have this problem. It’s more unique. It’s like a “what-if” scenario, and is like the Sony/MCU crossover everyone desires right now, but every week.

This is definitely a show I’ll be sticking-with.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb – engaging fantasy with thrilling stakes. 7/10

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Planet Hulk (part 2) — review

Screenplay by Kevin Hopps.

The first episode of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.‘s new season, Planet Hulk (part 2), begins where season one ended, with the establishment of Planet Hulk in a battle against Galactus.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. airs in Disney XD UK HD’s Marvel Universe block, along with Ultimate Spider-Man, which is the more comedic half, but that’s not a bad thing. Spider-Man’s a very humorous character, but Hulk tends to more serious, and it would be totally out of character for him not to be.

Interestingly, the show employs a mockumentary style, with scenes cutting-away to video diaries of characters talking about other characters or the events of the episode. All of this amidst fighting and piloting planets against a rampaging villain, and it’s an odd mix. But the Marvel Universe is a very odd mix, and it really works. Especially for a storyline such as this one, taking place in space and resembling Middle Earth in the future. It keeps you grounded and proves that the Hulk is more than a smashing monster. It proves there’s a person in him. Giving a character a video diary isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be effective, but Hulk contrasts with that idea so much that he becomes the one who has to do it. And it’s really something I hope is carried-over to live action versions.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Planet Hulk (part two) – combat and character fuse well. 6/10

The Simpsons: the Devil Wears Nada — review

Screenplay by Tim Long (created by Matt Groening).

 

The Devil Wears Nada is one of The Simpsons‘ episodes that draws from a previous work and satirises it. The show is considered the core of American popular culture, which processes how the world feels about a specific aspect of its entertainment and politics. It’s the end-point for anything successful, and in a period of the show criticised for declining quality, The Devil Wears Nada doesn’t really make any of the statements that made the show popular, nor does it add anything to itself. While Marge is dealing with the consequences of her nude calendar, and Homer’s away in a new position, it’s Bart’s minimal sub-plot that’s the most interesting.

When Carlson becomes the new Supervisor, he promotes Homer to his assistant, and this takes him around the world, away from Marge, which is an even bigger problem for her, since a recent charity calendar featuring her on every month has increased her sexual reputation, and the episode climaxes at near-encounter with Flanders.

Some people describe Homer as a scumbag, others describe him as a hero, but one of the best things about his character is that inside his exterior is someone who loves his wife. This has been the revelation of many episodes focusing on his marriage with Marge, so the sudden twist as he abandons his career isn’t anything new. The episode explores his marriage, but to no more depth than has been seen before. Do we really need a story about their marriage after the amount of episodes there are, especially after The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire did that better than any of them?

The most interesting part of Marge’s subplot is a thing never investigated: the calendar. Upon seeing the finished products, she denies having posed in that manner, and this is believable. She just isn’t that kind of person. So where did those images come from? It’s brought-up in such as way as to draw significance to it, but the story never mentions it again.

So that makes what happens with Bartholomew the subplot that should have been the focus of the episode: the reaction to Marge’s calendar. Somehow, it makes it into Springfield Elementary School, and the students react entirely how you’d expect them to. The accuracy in their indecency is a sad truth, and pushes the show’s likeable rebel to the point of turning on his best friend. That was the most intriguing character moment, and the situation through the town gave us different reactions from different characters, but it was never developed, since Homer was separated from her around the world. And Lisa hardly got up to anything.

Really, the episode’s shallowness shows well. It must have been a slow writing day, prompting the writers to hint at something possible between Marge and Flanders, despite that not being something that’s ever actually there. The Simpsons is still a great show, it’s just that The Devil Wears Nada is one of the episodes leaking through that begin to make that seem no longer the case.

 

The Simpsons: the Devil Wears Nada – slow writing day, forgettable filler. 4/10

Banana: Dean review

Screenplay by Russell T. Davies.

 

Banana‘s the E4 sister show of Channel 4 show Cucumber, airing the same night. Cucumber finishes as Banana‘s starting, with a character from the Cucumber episode that night being given the spotlight in Banana. This week’s is Dean, resident of an unregistered property that becomes Cucumber protagonist Henry Best’s new hold-up at the end of Cucumber: Episode 1. Here, in Banana: Dean, we see Dean’s point-of-view of that episode, with both shows’ episodes crossing-over when they meet. Both end with Dean welcoming Best to the place, unaware of his predatory intentions shown in Cucumber: Episode 1.

Given the choice, I expect I’m going to prefer Banana by the end of its and Cucumber‘s first season for its anthology format. Davies has described Cucumber as a novel, wheres Banana is a collection of short stories. I prefer short stories; there’s more of an art to them, since you have to establish the world and characters, develop them, make it interesting, and conclude it in a shorter space of time. Cucumber will develop over fourty-five minute episodes, whereas Banana features standalone stories in twenty-five minute episodes.

If the universe of Cucumber and Banana‘s to be congratulated for anything, it’s the casting. Andy Pryor always finds the perfect actors for each role, and Fisayo Akinde being cast as Dean was another perfect find. He’s the kind of actor that makes you realise only they could be their character (that’s not true, but they can still make it seem that way). And I find Dean so interesting as a character because he, almost uncannily, reminds me of someone I know. She’s the kind of person who tells great tales of their domestic life, yet lives quite an average existence. Davies has the advantage of having lived a life full enough to meet enough types of people to be able to write them as characters, and it would see, Davies has met this person too. Or at least someone like her.

Hopefully, every episode of Banana will be as entertaining as Dean, with characters that all have their own, strange sex habits and ways of getting it. Dean, as a person, makes  a vow of chastity until the person he’s been stalking becomes available, which forces him to literally saw his way out of it and rush to his apartment. It’s something only Davies could come-up with, and I have absolutely no doubt – this coming from a huge admirer of his work – that he’ll be able to ride this wave right to the end.

The next episode, Scotty, is a tale of lesbianism conducted through social media.

Banana: Dean – introduces quirky sex comedy anthologies. 7/10

Cucumber: Episode 1 — review

Screenplay by Russell T. Davies.

 

I’m such a whore. I’ll watch anything if Russell T. Davies has written it. But then, he is the person who inspired me to be a writer.

And here it is! The new RTD drama about gay life in Manchester, and one of two interconnected shows existing together in the Doctor Who universe. Believe it or not, Cucumber and Banana exist in the world of that other show Davies once ran. First, H.C. Clements makes an appearance, as does Anjli Mohindra as a character named Veronica Chandra. Also, Henry’s boyfriend is named Lance. So there’s that. But, my inner fanboy will be restrained, so I can just focus entirely on Cucumber.

Cucumber‘s the first Davies show I’ve seen outside of the Other Thing, so it was interesting to see if he could keep-up his consistency, and this show proves that he’s a fearless writer. The opening montage shows exactly what sort of writer he is, and introduces us to the element of the show: the scale of penile erection. Tofu, to peeled banana, to banana, to the full-on cucumber. That’s just how intimate this show is, and it reaffirms the paradigm of his dramas: provided you watch and are committed, he’ll give you everything, without holding back. So the level of intensity with his characters is his contract  with the audience: he trusts that you’re able to take it. And this blogger can. In fact, I’d say it’s just what I’ve been waiting for!

The other inspiration behind the Banana and Cucumber Universe is Davies’ previous drama, the extremely controversial Queer as Folk, which showed a pre-millennial audience that gay people do exist and they’re doing it hard. But we’ve all grown-up a bit since then, and the show’s like a spiritual successor to that, with the survivors of the previous regime now being middle-aged and alienated by the much larger, more promiscuous wave of young gays that seem to swarm everywhere thanks to breakthroughs like grindr. There’s even a moment where Henry uses the word “hashtag” to express himself, which Dean says is “a bit BBC Three”. Excellent dig there, Russell. More please.

Really, the great thing about Russell T. Davies is his ability to make anything he writes appealing to anyone. Cucumber might be about a middle-aged man, but most of the people he encounters are far younger, and at no point did I find this first episode unappealing because of it. Personally, I just can’t wait for Luke Newberry’s appearance.

 

Cucumber: episode 1 – wonderfully uninhibited, intimate and accurate. 8/10

Written by Russell T Davies

Alice in Wonderland — review

Adapted by Linda Woolverton, based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll.

 

Tim Burton infuriates me. In my review of Batman, I praised him for understanding the mythology’s characters more than anyone else. And in Batman Returns, I noted his artistic continuation of the themes often used in consideration for him being an auteur, while also remaining true to his vision of Batman. And successes like that make me like him as a filmmaker, which is why I was able to look past how I felt about Edward Scissorhands and go into Alice in Wonderland with an open mind. And just as Batman Returns was a development of BatmanAlice in Wonderland is a development on Edward Scissorhands, which I considered a novelty that overstays its welcome.

Alice in Wonderland was obviously going to appeal to Burton, because it’s everything he creates in his art: a world, cut-off from our own, where insanity is the norm. And yet – and this is something I can’t explain – Burton attempts to insert a logic into Wonderland. Rather than celebrating the idea of Wonderland as a dream-like world where anything is possible and nothing has to make sense (the kind of idea Burton evokes), he instead decides to explain everything about it. He creates a system of understanding how Wonderland can exist, and in doing so takes all the fun out of it. There’s a prophetic calendar predicting events that should immediately quell any doubt about how things will turn out, and the politics of Wonderland is laid-down to the audience like a rundown of the mythology before the main event is allowed to take place. Basically, he turns a beloved children’s book into The Lord of the Rings, even though they don’t fit together at all. The reason people hate The Matrix Revolutions is because, rather than the matrix turning-out to be a philosophical world about existentialism, it turns-out to be exactly what it claims to be, and is no longer interesting.

When Lewis Carroll created Wonderland, he did it as a form of escapism. When Tim Burton revisits Wonderland, he uses it as an opportunity to take his storytelling to the next level. Rather than simply showing us characters who live outside of society with their own idea of normal, he shows us a world where this already is true, and then attempts to define itself. But artists should never attempt to define themselves, because we love them for reasons they don’t understand. Just as he loves the characters he creates because he exists separately from them, we – or at least, I – love him because we have that same separation from him. He isn’t popular for the reason he thinks he is. And so, given the opportunity to use Wonderland as an introspective, internalised expression of the world in his head, to project his own meaning onto something that he didn’t realise was already perfect for him, he instead gives us what he thinks we’ll want, rather than what he enjoys making. As soon as you start thinking about the art, it loses value. That’s the whole point of everything he’s ever made; to not think about one’s existence, to just get on with it.

Instead, we get a place called Underland that literally exists under the world, with a written history and lore, and it works as more of an RPG than a fairytale. He names the Mad Hatter! Had this been an original work, inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, rather than being an adaptation, that world would have been interesting, because he’d have created it and been its master. He could have started a wonderful fantasy franchise about a world existing beneath our own where everything is skewed and stange. But rather than doing that, he distorts something that’s already there, which makes it something trying to be two things. It’s trying to be both an Alice in Wonderland, and an original fairy tale. Something cannot be new and old at the same time, that isn’t right.

Really, this is something that should have either been an original work, or just left alone. And yet – AND YET – a sequel’s due for release next. Still, could be worse. It could always be Zack Snyder.

Alice in Wonderland: wonderful franchise ruined by pretentiousness. 1/10

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — review

Adapted by Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner from The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Gerry Conway.

 

Not gonna lie, I think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is underrated. No, it isn’t on the level of The Amazing Spider-Man, or Spider-Man 2, but then no Spider-Man is on the level of Spider-Man 2, and a lot of fans seem to be upset about the reboot and are being, in my subjective opinion, too harsh.

For a start, we have Andrew Garfield, who’s a terrific actor and one that deserved a Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Social Network. In a story about Spider-Man, it’s important that he’s likeable, and the initial scene featuring him is the best short form presentation of a Spider-Man, because it’s the most fun and thrilling sequence of them. Marc Webb seems to be the first director to realise the potential of using perspective shots while swinging between buildings, and the way he enters after the prologue is a masterstroke – to have the logo appear on screen, and then become a part of a shot in-which Spider-Man descends from the sky, following him through the action. It’s perfect.

The story does try to be too many things, that can be said, and it wouldn’t be wrong too. At times, there are very uninteresting divulgences to Harry Osborn, Max Dillon and other characters, and those scenes reak of Garfield’s absence. Quite frankly, we don’t see enough of him, because this is his story. A lot of the problems I’ve read of it could be mostly eliminated if the story were experienced through his perspective. It would be more compact, more personal and have a better through-line; the constant repetition of “hope” became annoying after only a few times – a repeated word doesn’t make it a theme.

The tangents from Peter Parker’s storyline involves Osborn discovering his hereditary disease, and Dillon’s transformation into Electro. These scenes are relevant, but badly executed logically and believably. The Amazing Spider-Man established a universe of science, whereas Dillon’s transformation comes-about because of what’s almost fantasy. It feels out of touch in a story otherwise dominated by a world that at least looks realistic. In fact, it’s difficult to tell why Dillon’s there. All he does is transform into Electro, cause trouble for no real reason (Parker forgot his name once) and then be destroyed in the climax in a way that looks as if he’s just teleporting away again. And then there’s Alexei Systevitch, who’s seen as Rhino in the final scene, bookending his appearance at the beginning. Again, a character with no real reason to be here. The only one who has any sort of interesting qualities is Osborn, and even then he becomes Green Goblin in a sequence that looks brought-forward from a sequel, and who’s only there to fulfil one purpose: kill Gwen Stacy. And only Green Goblin can do that, because – one of the phrases I hate the most – “that’s how it is in the comics”.

As I often mention in Spider-Man reviews, the best theme each installment has is dualism. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks to be continuing this theme, but it fails to put the right pieces together. Story-telling often works by removing irrelevant parts and creating something that could only exist in such an order. Instead, there’s baggage that should have been done-away with, but that’s because there is a good story here. It’s just not given the spotlight it deserves.

The good parts of the story are Parker’s relationship with Gwen, the revelations about his Father, and his life with May Parker. Osborn’s the villain with the most impact, despite his reduced screentime. Had Dillon, Systevitch and other attempts to launch sequels and spinoffs been removed, we could have had a moving love story between four starcrossed people, brought together in the most unlikely of circumstances, that would have also given time to develop Osborn’s transformation into Green Goblin, rather than it just happening. Everything here could have worked, had it been edited differently, which is surprising because the launch was preceded by stories of other parts being cut anyway, such as Shailene Woodley’s presence as Mary Jane Watson. Honestly, this would definitely have been a bad idea. It would have just complicated matters, and taken Parker away from Stacy. Really, Watson should be introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 as a friend of Parker’s and see if any relationship comes of it, which is unlikely as Marvel Studios are probably about to get the rights back, and – if reports are correct – would reduce the romantic side of the character.

Really, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 interests me so much because of what wasn’t done with it, and is an important lesson in filmmaking. Yes, there is baggage. A tonne of it. And yes, the important parts that felt as if they actually should have been there are overshadowed by the parts included just for the franchise. But the things to like about it outweigh the things to dislike about it, even if it’s only by a bit.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: excessive plotlines, no less likeable. 6/10

Screenplay by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner

Batman Returns — review

 

Following my review of Batman, where I said director Tim Burton understands the characters more than anyone else, Batman Returns is his “can-he-keep-it-up?” test And, honestly… no. Which is Batman Returns‘ biggest let-down – it’s increased the Burtonesque conventions that made Batman so popular, but so much that the story distorts around it.

Whereas the narrative of Batman was the perfectly seamless marrying of story and atmosphere, Batman Returns definitely has more of the latter. But the characters suffer because of it. It’s clearly of a much more artistic nature, but this can often be a criticism of Burton, who here goes beyond what’s necessary to give goth. Instead, genre leads everything else, so the players of the piece feel more like wind-up dolls than the ballet dancers of before.

We have Oswald Copplepot, who’s the most Burtonesque Burton character if ever there was one, a freak who’s abandoned by his parents and grows-up in a sewer resenting Humanity. Then there’s Selina Kyle, who’s reborn in the ruin of her own art and becomes what can only be described as, well, a bit of a tramp.

These characters are so lead by their own artistic resonance that anything they are as people disappears behind the product of Tim Burton’s unique, but inconsistent mind. Making a sequel to BatmanBatman Returns looks as if he thought “it needs to be artier and scarier and more gothic”, but that wasn’t necessary. All he had to do was to make it as good as Batman, even if that meant editing himself.

Batman Returns: proving that less is more. 7/10