LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (s02)

Now that introductions and an initial conflict in the first season are out of the way it’s much more fun just to let the characters be themselves… while scattered across the timeline of 1960s Dallas, Texas.

Of course, there’s another apocalypse looming and a trio of time-hopping Swedish assassins to deal with, but really the show shines when it’s letting the family play off and support each other.

Feels a bit more loose and creative this time around, and the soundtrack is bangin’, the whole cast puts in great, hilarious, dysfunctional performances.

A case could be made for spreading the show out over weeks instead of dropping the Netflix binge model all at once, since something like this is fun to keep in conversation rather than to burn through and promptly forget about, but that’s a broader conversation on streaming strategies.

All up, better than the previous season even if the pacing is a little strange at times. If you liked the first one you’ll have a good time again here.

THE BOYS (s02)

Just as bloody, cruel and pointed as season one, but a bigger shift to the humanity of all the characters makes it feel much less nihilistic, and as such it’s more engaging.

I liked the first season plenty, but was curious to see if they slid towards the kinda offputting edgy-for-edgy’s-sake takes on superpowers that the comic does. Glad to say it swings hard in the other direction and improves on its source material in every way.

The whole cast are great, though special credit has to go to Antony Starr’s Homelander — an absolutely terrifying narcissist power-mad Superman analogue, a psychological trainwreck and an absolute monster. There’s good reason why everyone is scared of him.

Otherwise, all the usual crass humour, crude gore and body horror is still present and accounted for, only it’s using also its social satire to actually make points and draw parallels to current headlines.

There is also an extentable, prehensile penis and a whale explosion.

If you’re looking for something light and breezy filled with likeable characters who make good decisions and get happy endings… well… I’m sure you worked out in the first 20min season one that this wasn’t for you.

Otherwise, enjoy the ride!

DARK (s01-03)

An elegant, intricate knot. The sort of story that screenwriters all wish they were clever enough to pull off this effectively.

It’s just the right length, brilliantly self-contained and full of endearing characters and so much mystery that you’ll be going right back to the start to figure out where that thread you lost went.

Yes, it’s complex and can be labyrinthine and hard to follow at times, but the creators have done an incredibly impressive job of leaving breadcrumbs in everything from casting to production design. Seriously, the casting of actors as older/younger counterparts of themselves is frequently astounding.

And the plot. Ooooooooh the plot. Young boys start going missing around a small German town, thirty-three years to the day after a similar rash of disappearances happened and we see the effects of this ripple through a small community being affected for a second time in a generation. But what is actually going on is truly best left to be discovered yourself.

While the third season threatened to keel over with another burst of complexity, ultimately I felt it stuck the landing and was genuinely disappointed when we reached the end to find there was none left to be revealed, when the knot showed how thoughtfully it had been tied right from the start.

Haunting, moody and engaging. Truly, one of the great modern mystery/sci-fi shows. Highly recommended.

FUTURE MAN (s01-03)

A slacker janitor beats an impossible videogame that turns out to be a recruitment tool from time-travelling warriors that need him to be their saviour.

What ensues is a ridiculous romp across multiple timelines, the most callous disregard for the dangers of time-travel, a whole episode dunking on James Cameron and some of the funniest, wildest character arcs in recent memory. The cast is great too!

It’s really silly, really fun, really entertaining. Season three was the last as well so you’re not on the hook for too big a ride and it’s constantly changing itself up in new and bizarre ways.

Definitely worth your time.

THOM’S TEENIES TV TOP 10

One of the things I struggled with most when compiling my top film picks for 2010-2019 was that the decade saw such a dramatic shift to a gilded era of television, much of which matched and even surpassed their cinematic bretheren.

There’s so much that is now possible in the episodic format that was unthinkable even a decade ago, and truly these last ten years represent a new high water mark.

As such, I’ve given my favourites their own list, in no particular order, here:

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HIGH LIFE (2018)

Uncomfortable and confronting, full of surrealism, body horror, disturbing psychosexual imagery and violence.

Some fantastic visuals and good design wrapping around a minimal, slow tone and dark, weird story choices.

More SOLARIS than INTERSTELLAR, definitely not for everyone.

Don’t know if I liked it, but it was certainly interesting.

“VALIS” — Philip K Dick (1981)

Reality it that which, once you stop believing in it, does not go away.” — PKD, Valis, 1981

Having been an ardent fan of Philip K Dick for most of my lifetime, it actually took me quite a while to get around to VALIS amongst his catalogue of work. If I had arrived at it earlier, certainly it would have coloured much of my perception of the man going on to his other stories, because I’m now utterly convinced that this is where he went off the rails. The first in a series of novels that he never completed due to his death prior to the release of BLADE RUNNER – an adaptation of his vastly superior novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? – perhaps I’m selling the story short overall given that the complete narrative has not and will not ever have a chance to come full circle.

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Odyssey, Anxiety and “THE RISE OF ENDYMION” – Dan Simmons (1997)

Of all the (now 23) novels that I’ve absorbed by audiobook in the past six months, none has had such serendipitous timing with other events in my life as THE RISE OF ENDYMION, the last in a series of four within Dan Simmons’ HYPERION universe. Just a quick clarification on that: HYPERION (CANTOS) and THE FALL OF HYPERION are a single, self-contained story told across the first pair of novels, while ENDYMION and THE RISE OF ENDYMION are their own complete story across a second pair that are set several centuries in the universe’s future that both function as a more traditional Hero’s Journey/Monomyth-type tale but also augments, alters, informs and reveals larger truths and obscurities behind the previous two novels’ tellings. There are innumerable resonant quotes throughout all four of the HYPERION books on life, death, immortality, love, vengeance, resurrection, trust, faith, truth, time, evolution, technology, humanity, inhumanity, myth, poetry, fable, story and all the spaces in between – it’s impossible to drop a single one without wanting to cross-reference it with a dozen more. I will hardly even touch on the actual journey of Raul Endymion, Aenea, the android A. Bettik, the fantastic Shrike (the truth of which we finally learn in twist of irony so poignant to certain characters in the series that even uttering that much verges on spoilers) or the host of other characters pursuing and aiding them, including a monstrous “woman” so brilliantly, threateningly beyond-Terminator-esque as to give even the legendary Shrike a run for its money.

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