The Bridge: Season 1 (TV Review)

The Bridge: Season 1 (TV Review)

Scandinavia needs to get more credit for producing some really cool stuff. They have spawned incredible bands over the past couple of decades that never really get the fame or applause from North American audiences, and now they have started to create some really good, dark, and interesting television.

Probably starting with the original version of The Killing, they have struck again with the simple and ominous The Bridge. This is a review of the original Danish/Swedish show, not the American version (which I have not yet seen).

The story begins simply enough, with a body being found on the bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmo (the bridge itself is impressive, and huge). The first twist of the show is that there are actually two bodies out there, and since it was placed directly on the border between Denmark and Sweden, it requires a police investigator from each country to help solve the crime.

bridge3Our two leads in the series are Saga (played brilliantly by Sofia Helin), the Swedish investigator who is abrupt and to-the-point, as she has a mild case of autism, and Martin (played by Kim Bodnia), the Danish family man who has a history of poor relationships and choices with women. The two of them, right from the start, manage to play off one another perfectly, creating for us an excellent team that is always entertaining to watch.

The Bridge doesn’t stop with one murder, however. The killer expands his reign of terror, and wants to point of five problems in the world, and create anarchy on the streets of the two usually quiet nations. It is interesting, and there are some moments where you feel like the great film Se7en served as inspiration.

Saga and Martin run between the two countries, following their leads, trying to break the codes left by the “Truth Terrorist,” all while dealing with issues in their personal lives.

It makes for often riveting television.

In all honesty, I felt that the show sagged a little bit towards the end of the first season, after they had identified who the killer is, and are simply trying to find him. This was quickly pulled back together, and created a riveting ending to the first season of the show, again with some influence from Se7en. Not a rip-off, but some of the questions that were raised by that film are revisited in the show, and it is done quite well.

The Bridge provides us with an interesting killer, one whose grand plan is not dissimilar from one of the villains of Dexter, but it is always done better. Cold and calculating, he influences the people of Denmark and Sweden, making some question if he really is a villain or not.

The BridgeOverall, this was an excellent show. I may not have been as captured as I was on another recently watched foreign crime show, Broadchurch, but it was still excellent stuff. One warning to viewers on Netflix…you will have to read subtitles. I realize this is a huge turnoff for many viewers, but it is well worth it. The Scandinavian languages are pretty interesting and fun to listen to, and the reading never interrupts major action scenes or anything. Like any movie with subtitles, you get used to it quickly, to the point where you never notice that you are reading the dialogue.

The portrayals of both Copenhagen and Malmo are fantastic as well. Beautiful places are made haunted by the social issues that are prevalent not just there, but all over the world. The creators do a great job of showing us the dark, seedier side of places that are normally seen as fantastic. Also, the music excels in this show. From the haunting opening theme, to the score of the series, it is always understated, and adds a chill to the scenes on the screen.

All of the action and plot aside, The Bridge can also be seen as a show about people working together, and making their lives right. The characters of Saga and Martin are very strong, with a lot of depth and development. It makes the show a strong character sketch, and aside from the intensely interesting murder mystery, they help drive the show forward and keep us glued to the screens.

While The Bridge was not my favorite crime drama, it is definitely in the running. The darkness and simplicity of the setting fits perfectly with the complexity of the story. A very good show.

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Happy Endings: Seasons 1-3 (TV Review)

Happy Endings: Seasons 1-3 (TV Review)

I truly love the show Happy Endings, and believe that it is one of the most underrated sitcoms to come out over the past few years. Going through the entire series on Netflix again recently, I was surprised that I hadn’t done a write-up on it before.

The show had a stunted beginning, and the first season suffered a little bit from them basically restarting the series part way through, in order to get more viewers in who had not tuned in for the original few episodes. This causes a little bit of repeated material, but overall, it was a road bump instead of something that was a complete turn off for viewers.

happy5The basis of the series is a group of six friends, and their zany lives after Alex leaves Dave at the altar. The rest of the group includes Alex’s sister, Jane, and her husband Brad, perennial single girl Penny, and Max, the gay character, who has as much trouble with men as Penny does. While the show definitely took a few episodes to get rolling, once the writers found the niches for their characters, it was off and running, and created a generally hilarious television sitcom.

And one that was cancelled too soon, as it still had plenty of steam going in Season 3 to keep going.

There are many things to like about this series, so I will try to outline a few of them. I would highly recommend Happy Endings to anybody, as the viewership could span from fans of Friends and New Girl to more intelligent and quirky comedies like Arrested Development.

1. The comedic timing of the actors is dead on, and adds to a clever dialogue. There are strong performances throughout the series, and the actors have truly bought in to their characters, and their individual quirks. Much like other sitcoms, each character has a distinct role, and their foibles serve as a primary engine to the plot. Jane is the Type A personality, Max is the uncaring one, Dave thinks he is much cooler than he really is, Alex is the dumb blonde, Penny is the train wreck, etc. The actors are good enough to make us buy into these characters, even though they are indeed cliches. But they work here.

2. The show is aware of itself. They will make fun of the plot holes that emerge in the series, or when a character seemingly appears from nowhere. An example of this is at the end of Season 3, when an older sister to Jane and Alex is introduced. They know it is far fetched, but aren’t above making fun of that fact. There are other “fourth wall” moments, when the characters indicate that they know they are in a TV show, and they work well.

happy43. The catch phrases. There are plenty of them, and they use them lightly. It is not one of those shows where they will beat a catch phrase to death. In fact, they will move on and use new ones. Most of these revolve around Penny, and her abbreviating common terms, or alternate pronunciations. They remain quirky and fun, because once we start to get bored of one, they have moved on to another.

4. The running jokes. A good series will use running jokes, but they aren’t so intrusive that it will alienate new viewers. Think of shows like Arrested Development or Archer. The jokes are always there, and they are brought up a few times, and they consistently work. In Happy Endings, they use jokes like Alex’s love of ribs (or general love of food), Max’s chubbiness, or Dave’s love of V-necks, in several episodes, and it always works.

happy35. The allusions. A smart show will use its cultural references well. Something like Family Guy, which is basically one episode long allusion to pop culture, is on the overkill spectrum. Happy Endings uses them much more sparingly, and to a much greater effect. When you catch one, they are generally hilarious. They go from imagined married names for celebrities, to a well placed “I am Queen’s Boulevard.” If you get it, they can be hilarious.

6. The plot. Unlike most sitcoms, that end up becoming dramas before too long, Happy Endings keeps it light. Sure, there is a plot that follows through each episode, and it could easily become drama, but they tackle it in a way that makes it not too plot heavy. The hijinks is what matters, and the running plot is secondary. We don’t have to care too much about the “will they or won’t they” storylines that have affected, and often ruined, other TV comedies.

happy27. Elisha Cuthbert. More known for dramatic roles, like as Jack Bauer’s daughter in 24, she really shines in a comedic role. Alex is extremely goofy and simple, and she plays it to a T. It doesn’t hurt that she is incredibly beautiful, and credit goes to the writers that they didn’t play that aspect up too much. Rare is the episode that focuses on her being a hot girl. Character first, looks later.

8. The chemistry. These actors work well together. There is great on-screen comedic chemistry between the bunch of them, and this makes it even funnier. They are able to play off one another, and their acting styles and characters mesh well enough that they can rattle on for a few minutes, and produce some gold.

Happy Endings is definitely well worth the watch. Never being too serious, it is not needed that the viewer becomes too invested in the whole thing. It is a fun show, and it is meant to be taken lightly. It was unfortunate that it never received the viewership it truly deserved while on air, and I can envision this show becoming more of a cult classic as time moves on. For now, check it out on Netflix, and enjoy the laughs.

BoJack Horseman Christmas Special (TV Review)

BoJack Horseman Christmas Special (TV Review)

For fans of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman, of which there are many, there was a nice little surprise this week when a Christmas Special of the show appeared on our “Featured” menus. BoJack was back, if only for one more episode, while fans wait for the second season to arrive.

boThe premise of the Christmas Special is very basic. BoJack wakes up in one of his hungover stupors, being hassled by his not-really-house guest Todd, who wants nothing more for Christmas than to watch one of the Christmas Specials from BoJack’s 90’s sitcom, Horsin’ Around.

Begrudgingly, BoJack accepts, and we are able to watch a full episode of the show that made the horse famous back in the day, with the occasional cuts to present time, where Todd and BoJack comment on the episode.

bo3In the episode of Horsin’ Around, it pretty much follows what we would have expected from a 90’s sitcom Christmas Special: kids don’t believe in Santa, learn about him, try to make the holiday special, learn the true meaning of Christmas, etc.

Even for playing the show-within-a-show as tongue-in-cheek, it is pretty average. The best parts come from the randomly yelled out comments from the “live studio audience.” They provided the show with the best laughs in the episode.

While it is nice to see another episode of BoJack Horseman, it is not up to its usual quality, mainly because none of the secondary characters that we enjoyed so much from Season 1 make an appearance. The show-within-a-show idea is quite clever, but for much of the episode, it comes across as hastily put together, and could have been darker, or more in-depth, as the series has been known to be.

Worth a watch, since it is only 22 minutes long, but definitely not BoJack at his best.

Pivot Point (Book Review)

Pivot Point (Book Review)

Pivot Point is a YA novel from author Kasie West that falls into many of the trappings of regular Young Adult fare, but manages to break free of them and emerge successful on the other side.

The novel is something that initially may seem familiar to fans of the Gwyneth Paltrow film, Sliding Doors, in which someone is able to see two distinctive futures based on one choice, and then have the ability to choose between the two.

pivotAddie is a teenage girl who lives in a special Compound, where all the people possess mental powers and capabilities that keep them separate from the Norm(al) world. The Compound is a secret, but the people there live relatively normal lives, aside from the fact that they are trained in their mental capabilities. Initially, the novel starts off pretty cheesily, and some of the discourse and establishment of context comes across as chunky and unnatural. But it gets better.

The mental power that Addie has is to be able to “Search” her future. She can go from one incident, and look at the possible outcomes, to see which one is more desirable. This can provide her with basic skills, like deciding if she should go out with a specific boy. When Addie’s parents decide to get divorced, she must choose between living with her father in the Norm world, or staying in the Compound with her mother, and her best friend, Laila (who conveniently erase memories, which will help Addie when she finds a choice she doesn’t want to make).

Not sure what to choose, Addie performs a Search, to see which outcome will become the more desirable. This creates the split narrative in the story, with alternating chapters between the Search on Addie’s life in the Compound versus her life in the Norm world with her father.

In the Compound, Addie becomes charmed by Duke, the popular and athletic starting quarterback of the high school football team, which does quite well, considering their special “gifts” they are able to use on the other teams. In this world, she is haunted by a Searched incident with another boy, and a case of missing girls in the area that her father is working on (he is a lie detector, able to tell when anybody is lying to him). Despite her initial poor reactions to Duke, she finds herself taken in by his charms.

In the real world, Addie is forced to go and learn to live a normal life. She has to become accustomed to new things, and the old technologies that they use in Dallas, where her new life starts. In this world, she meets Trevor, the former star quarterback at his school, who hasn’t played since getting injured a year prior while playing Addie’s old school. They become friends, and she tries to immerse herself in this new life, and with this new group of friends. Even though she is in a new town, she still keeps in touch with Laila, who continues to live her life in the secret Compound. Sparks fly with Trevor, and we are provided with the stronger of the two romantic options, at least in my opinion, for Addie.

The story comes to a head when the subplot of the missing girls becomes more and more real for Addie, and then she is forced to make her choice, on which Search is the better one, and where she needs to go from there, and what to do after.

Once the clunky beginning to the novel is over with, Pivot Point starts to hit its stride. While the dialogue and descriptions were quite weak and simple at the beginning of the novel, it begins to take shape once the split narratives begin and get rolling. After that point, the novel is paced pretty well, and Addie’s voice becomes more clear and defined in the narrative.

The novel gets more interesting as it goes along, once we begin to see incidents that overlap in both of the possible outcomes that the protagonist is faced with. Everything picks up steam once we realize that she is closer to making a decision, and that choices aren’t always a case of picking the best option, but perhaps picking the better of two poor options. It provides plenty of interest as the story moves forward towards its conclusion.

Once the choice is made, there is still some intrigue, because Addie needs to deal with the consequences of her choice, and needs to decide which memories she would like to have erased. It provides for some interesting fiction.

pivot3Pivot Point works as a stand-alone novel, but as with so many (too many) YA novels, there is a sequel available, entitled Split Second, which seems to take place immediately following the events of the first book. Typically, I am against reading any sequels in the YA genre, because I find them to be irritating and often recycled, but I have to admit that I am curious to see where this one goes.

For a novel that I initially disliked, I really got into Pivot Point, and ended up quite enjoying it. I may just have to read the second.

Young, female readers should enjoy this book, as it gets the chance to double up on romantic stories, and the questions of the kids with superpowers is always present, but not always bashing you in the face with the science fiction aspect of the whole premise. A steady read.

Broadchurch (TV Review)

Broadchurch (TV Review)

Simply put, Broadchurch is one of the best crime dramas I have ever seen. From the beginning, the British thriller is engrossing, taking us in to the small town lives of the people of Broadchurch, who are reeling over the discovery of the murdered body of an 11-year-old boy. Like a good crime drama, this is a town that has secrets…and everybody has something to hide.

Typically, a show of this nature is able to successfully point the suspicion on a couple of characters that we legitimately believe have a chance of being the killer. Broadchurch manages to blow this up, as at certain points, we suspect nearly every character of being a murdered, due to the incredibly intelligent writing on the series. The mystery builds up from the moment we hear of Danny’s death, and people come out of the woodwork to become suspects with every new episode.

broadThis provides us with a constant state of excitement in watching, wondering who could have committed the terrible crime that is in danger of ripping the town apart.

There are people with mysterious pasts, questionable actions around the time of the murder, and tremendous back stories that are haunting and horrifying.

And watching the whole thing unfold is absolutely incredible.

There can be comparisons made to the great crime thriller The Killing, a show that was adored by many in its first seasons of trying to determine who killed Rosie Larsen. As exciting and twisting as The Killing was, Broadchurch is just better. Starting with a fantastic filming location, on the cliffs of England, to the spectacular writing and phenomenal writing, Broadchurch is as close to perfect as a series could be.

broad2The actors excel in their roles in this show. Starting with Jodie Whittaker, tasked with the role of the young, grieving mother, she makes us feel for her plight. She owns the pain the character feels, and it never comes across as hammy or over-acted. The detectives, played so well by David Tennant and Olivia Colman (who is more traditionally seen in comedic roles like Peep Show and Twenty Twelve), bring more depth to the show, as we care about their lives as well. Tennant is the outsider, new to the town, and Colman is the detective who has strong roots in the community, and their clashes while trying to solve the murder are clever and important to the development of the story.

There are many layers to the story here, so it is not simply a story of trying to resolve the murder of a young kid. There are stories of friendship, abuse, professional drama, personal drama, marital issues, questions of the role of the church, the role of media, the importance of our past following us, and more. All of it is wrapped up beautifully in the dark series.

Be warned, Broadchurch offers very little in the way of levity, or comedic relief. It is a hard, edgy, dark show, and this helps us cope with the brutality of the situation that the people of the town are going through.

Don’t hesitate on Broadchurch. It is so incredibly well done, it is pretty much guaranteed to be worth your while. It will keep you guessing until the very end, and there are a ton of plausible candidates to be the murderer. It is dark, and constantly mysterious, and an absolute thrill.

The best news just might be that there is going to be a second season of the show that begins in January.

Marco Polo (TV Review)

Marco Polo (TV Review)

Netflix definitely went for ambitious (and expensive) with their new original, streaming series, Marco Polo. The reportedly dumped about $90M into the making of the first season of this show, making it one of the most expensive TV seasons ever made.

Was it worth it?

Sort of. Sometimes. Kind of? Not really.

B33E8600.CR2Marco Polo is absolutely beautiful to look at. There is incredible scenery from the location sets they used, fantastic and elaborate costume design, some cool fighting scenes, and some beautiful women. But for a show to be successful now, it needs to be more than something nice to look at, and Marco Polo fails in a lot of ways as well.

At the end of the day, we are treated to an average television series that is bogged down by poor dialogue and often wooden acting in delivering the mediocre lines. This is a true shame, because the producers should be commended for actually using Asian actors for Asian roles. There are some hidden gems here and there, but overall, the characters don’t provide any depth to themselves, and this leaves us not really caring about any of them, including the eponymous character.

The central story is about Marco Polo, naturally, after he crossed the Silk Road and spent time in the court of the mighty Kublai Khan, one of the greatest rulers in human history. We are provided with some political intrigue, some love story, some misguided stories that don’t really go anywhere, some characters that we can’t even remember their names and care very little about their arc, and some war. I guess the main plot line would be that Kublai wants to conquer a great walled Chinese city that has stood undefeated forever, even stopping his famous grandfather Genghis Khan. This provides us with some entertainment near the end of the season, but not really much else.

marco2Watching Marco Polo, one can’t help but feel that they are watching a poor man’s version of Game of Thrones. Those comparisons are inevitable when you create something on a similar scale and similar in appearance. The main difference is that Game of Thrones has provided viewers with some of the most compelling stories, heroes, and villains on television. Polo definitely fails here, as we care so little for the underdeveloped characters, that we can barely bother with learning to love them or hate them.

A few points from watching the first season:

  • Marco himself is quite uninteresting as a central character. Through the series, we have no feelings towards him one way or another. He never comes across as heroic, or even as that important as a bridge between the East and the West.
  • Coolest character: the blind martial arts mentor. He is smooth, and has all of the best fight scenes in the entire series.
  • I guess the villain would be the chancellor of the walled city? He seemed like a bit of a jerk, but not on a level of hate that one would reserve for a Joffrey Baratheon.
  • Nudity. Lots of it. If you want to see attractive women in orgies or just thin, see-through silk, then maybe this series is for you. There are more bare breasts here than you can shake a stick at. But somehow, outside of the Khan’s harem, it felt unnecessary and gratuitous. It takes a lot for me to say that.
  • Random story lines. There is a lot going on here that we simply don’t care about, as the secondary stories are often so underdeveloped and random, that you tend to lose focus when they come on the screen. Oh, the story of the assassin girl…guess I’ll catch up on my email. Some episodes are pretty haphazard, but I guess they are posed for another season, where some of the things they have created and set up could come to fruition, hopefully.
  • Historical inaccuracies. I don’t want to nitpick on things like this, but there are some things that just don’t work with history.
  • Not enough of the good stuff. The empire of the Khan’s are the most massive in history, and created some incredibly interesting things. There should be more about that. Teach us about the culture while you are trying to tell the story of his further dominance. It felt as though this was a huge missed opportunity.

marco3Marco Polo is not a terrible show. It can be quite entertaining at times, even borderline fun. But those moments are too few and far between to make it a complete success. There are some episodes that are plain boring, and much of the intrigue falls flat, mainly because the characters do. After the excitement of the first couple of episodes, and the thrill of getting into a new show, it really slogs along at a pace that doesn’t fit with Netflix. It is probably not a show that you will pour through in a day or two, like so many binge-worthy shows out there.