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!

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020)

The ‘Haunting of…’ series really has a lock on what a ghost story traditionally is — more a melancholic tone of trapped souls and tragedy than sudden loud noises and cheap jump scares.

This is the kind of horror that seeps into your dreams, but the more time spent in the manor the less frightening these ghosts are and the sadder the memories of their stories become.

The same tricks abound as the first season — figures lurking unnoticed in the background, a pervasive sense of dread, overlapping narratives. Production design is excellent, the cast is fantastic, the ghosts are unsettling and sad.

Not as scary as the first season, and much slower, but the anthology setup is definitely a winner. I’m always keen to see what Mike Flanagan comes up with next.

Enjoyed it, nice to have a little closure on the bad dreams too.

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.

HARLEY QUINN (s01/02)

A motherf***ing charming, bloody delight.

You might feel inclined to dismiss this for its proximity to the aggressively mediocre SUICIDE SQUAD film, or that on the surface it looks wannabe-DEADPOOL edgy — it’s really anything but!

Think of it as Adult Swim-toned Elseworlds DC universe satire wrapped around a sort of romantic comedy and garnished with all the obscenities and gory violence they can cram in. I’m talking people decaptiated by an ice-skating routine and an alcoholic Commissioner Gordon obsessed with trying to make an emotionally distant Batman his bestie.

Thanks to sharp writing, tonnes of heart, a stellar voice cast and some of the funniest characterisations in the DC canon this one’s way better than expected.

Two seasons, fingers crossed for a third and beyond cos this is a gem.

GOOD OMENS (2019)

While the main thrust of the plot may be about a mixup of the Antichrist at birth and his coming into his power at the cusp of the apocalypse, the real shining heart is the friendship between an angel and a devil who are both terrible at their jobs.

Seldom is casting so fantastically on point as Michael Sheen and David Tennant, so much so that I almost neglected to shoutout the rest of the cast performances. It’s hard not to think of these two as Aziraphale and Crowley, harder still not to believe that they’ve been friends for centuries.

I’ve not read the book but the adaptation has all the hallmarks of a Gaiman/Pratchett collaboration: smartly funny absurdist wit, good pacing and a soundtrack by Queen. So, a quintessential British comedy miniseries.

Recommended.

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:

Continue reading “THOM’S TEENIES TV TOP 10”

LIVING WITH YOURSELF s01 (2019)

What if MULTIPLICITY but Paul Rudd?

Feels like a drawn out BLACK MIRROR episode erring on this side of existential terror. It’s good, but didn’t delve into the scifi/identity crisis aspects as deeply as I’d have liked in any ways that haven’t been explored with more complexity elsewhere.

Still, worth a watch with potential for developments in seasons going forward.