TV Review: The Umbrella Academy (2019- )

Original Run: February 15th, 2019 – current
Created by: Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba
Music by: Jeff Russo
Cast: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton, Colm Feore, Adam Godley, John Magaro

Borderline Entertainment, Dark Horse Entertainment, Universal Cable Productions, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When the first Umbrella Academy story came out in 2007, I was instantly captivated by it. It sucked me in, it was a lot of fun, it borrowed heavily from a few different things but ultimately, it was refreshing, unique and helped to reinvigorate my interest in comics at the time.

For years, I have heard that the comic was going to be adapted for live action. I just never really liked the thought of that, as it isn’t something that seems like it could be adapted in a good or effective way outside of its original medium.

Fast forward to late 2018 when I finally saw a trailer for its live action incarnation, this Netflix show. It didn’t get me enthused about it but I thought that there might be a chance that it can work, despite the obvious alterations that I picked up from that trailer.

Well, I don’t want to call this a bad show. It’s really just about what I expected it to be. It has good production value, good special effects for television and it fits well within the genre style. But it just feels like the same ol’ shit in a world where we now have superhero TV shows like we have soda options.

This may be your flavor, this may not be. While I love the comic’s flavor, this just seems like the dollar store generic version of that flavor.

The show has an identity crisis. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what it should be. It’s like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson had a baby in the worst way possible. The show also tries so hard to be cool that it isn’t. The humor doesn’t stick, the characters aren’t likable and it spends more time trying to wow you with its pop music selections than constructing a scene with any real craftsmanship.

A lot of the shots are done with a wide angle lens to the point that it’s as annoying as J. J. Abrams’ use of the lens flare effect in Star Trek. It’s like a high schooler that dreams of one day going to film school was given a camera and a budget and was told to go make his art, without any knowledge whatsoever of mise en scène.

The acting is also problematic for me. Everyone is just so emotionless and boring. Even when characters argue, it’s stale. The kid who plays Number 5 is pretty good though but he’s also not likable, so it’s hard to latch on to him and let him pull you through the muck.

I got about halfway through the first season and I gave up. Maybe it ends on a good note but time is precious and Netflix likes to drag its shows out to ungodly lengths. This is why I stopped caring about their Marvel shows outside of Daredevil.

This may appeal to some but I’m not sure who it is for. If you’re a fan of the comics, this probably won’t work for you. But that also doesn’t mean that the damage I see isn’t salvageable. Sometimes shows need a season to learn from their mistakes and move forward in a better way.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other modern comic book television adaptations.

TV Review: The Orville (2017- )

Original Run: September 10th, 2017 – current
Created by: Seth MacFarlane
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Written by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Music by: Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely, John Debney, Andrew Cottee
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Victor Garber, Chad Coleman, Norm Macdonald, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton, Rob Lowe, Robert Picardo, Larry Joe Campbell, Kelly Hu, Rachael MacFarlane (voice)

Fuzzy Door Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox, 12 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Orville. I intended to watch it last year, after the first season wrapped up, but life throws curveballs and I didn’t get to it until the current, second season, started.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a show that looked to be a parody of Star Trek from the man behind Family Guy. I’m not a big fan of that show but I also don’t really dig animated comedies, at least since the earliest days of South Park.

This doesn’t reflect the same sort of humor style or tone of Family Guy, however. It’s just really f’n clever and beyond the comedy, this show is written in a way that makes it very clear that Seth MacFarlane truly is a fan of Star Trek and most notably, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It feels as if it most directly parodies TNG and some of Voyager. But I can’t really call it a parody, even if it seemed to start out that way.

Yes, there is a lot of humor but it is almost secondary and as the show progresses, it learns to balance itself better between comedy and real drama. In fact, the comedy is used perfectly in how it eases tension and emotions in the right moments.

As of now, having seen about 15 episodes of this show, I can say that it is the best version of Star Trek since Deep Space Nine left the air in 1999, twenty years ago. The Orville is more Star Trek than modern Star Trek. It understands the source material it borrows from better than any of the film or television writers that have tried to resurrect it over the last two decades.

Everything about The Orville just feels right. If it maintains its momentum, I’ll have to adjust the rating and make it higher. I’m skeptical that it can maintain this trajectory over the long haul but I also don’t think that it’ll ever devolve into something terrible.

Thus far, I love this show and I can’t thank Seth MacFarlane enough for plugging a large hole in my fanboy heart.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 8 – Spotlight on the Romitas (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), John Romita Sr., John Romita Jr.

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

The eighth episode of The Comic Book Greats was really cool as it focused on the great father and son duo, John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr.

Both men are favorite artists of mine and what’s intriguing about them other than being father and son, is that both have very different art styles.

I loved Romita Sr. when he was doing a lot of classic Marvel titles, especially his run on The Amazing Spider-Man and early Daredevil.

Romita Jr. was one of the first artists that I admired back when I was too young to care about comic credits and artist’s names. His work during the Ann Nocenti run on Daredevil is still, to this day, some of my favorite work. I still go back and revisit the Nocenti/Romita Jr. era because it really contributed to my love of comic books as a creative medium.

This was just a really fun episode and Stan Lee showed that he had a lot of love for the Romita boys.

Like other episodes featuring artists, this one went to the drawing table and we got to see both Romitas work on some really good pieces.

This is an entertaining chapter in The Comic Book Greats and it was really cool seeing two different generations sit down and work their creative magic together.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 7 – Spotlight on Chris Claremont (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Chris Claremont

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

I’ve really been enjoying going back and watching this series. Most of the episodes I haven’t actually seen as I only owned five of the 13 videos. This is one of the ones that I missed back in 1992 because I was much more into the artists than the writers back then.

Unfortunately, out of all the ones I’ve seen, this being the seventh, this one was definitely the slowest and least interesting. I think that part of that is because it was just a straight up interview for 50 minutes and there wasn’t a large portion of it devoted to art and comic book creation.

I was pretty surprised by how detached I was, as I do love Chris Claremont and I thought that his documentary from a year or so ago was damn good. He is, hands down, one of the best writers I was reading on a regular basis when I was first getting into comics.

Now this isn’t a bad episode of the series but it’s probably not going to excite kids that are interested in comic book creation.

Chris Claremont is a class act and you certainly shouldn’t miss this episode if you want to watch through all of these but I wouldn’t call this a good starting point.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: Titans (2018- )

Also known as: Teen Titans (informal title)
Original Run: October 3rd, 2018 (New York Comic Con) – current
Created by: Akiva Goldsmith, Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters from DC Comics
Music by: Clint Mansell, Kevin Kiner
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Teagan Croft, Ryan Potter

Weed Road Pictures, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 11 Episodes (so far), 40-50 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I finally got DC Universe, as it became available on the Amazon FireStick after months of dealys. So that being said, I have now checked out Titans, the streaming service’s first big attempt at original content.

While this wasn’t a total waste of time and shows some promise, it was still a pretty drab attempt at getting me excited for spending $7.99 per month on yet another video-on-demand service.

The biggest issue for me is that the characters don’t really act like the characters in the comics. Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin a.k.a. Nightwing just straight up murders people the first time we see him confront some thugs. Then everyone else in the show kills or maims people pretty quickly and it’s fairly easy to see what we have here, which is another live action DC Comics property giving itself fully over to their gritty, edgy boy formula that only worked for Christopher Nolan, ten years ago, and Zack Snyder once with Watchmen, also ten years ago.

Also, Gotham does a good job of being gritty but it takes tremendous creative liberties and took awhile to really find its footing.

So Titans could definitely improve, as Gotham did. In fact, there are signs of better things within this first season. However, there isn’t much here to make me care about the main characters. Dick and Rachel, who will become Raven, are emo to the point of cringe but at least Starfire is interesting and Gar, who will become Beast Boy, is charismatic and could potentially be the best thing on the show.

The real problem with Titans is that the best episodes are the ones where the title characters aren’t the focal point. My two favorite chapters out of the eleven here are the one that’s all about introducing Doom Patrol and the one that serves as the origin story for Hawk & Dove. So what does it say when I’m more interested in secondary characters with minor screen time or characters who are getting their own spinoff?

I’m actually excited about Doom Patrol based off of what I saw here. And if I’m being honest, I’m not all that interested in a second season of Titans, even though I will watch it in hopes that things improve.

The season also suffers from not telling a good, self contained story. We get the season’s cliffhanger ending in the second to last episode and then the final episode, which should have been a resolution to the ten episodes before it, is nothing but a hallucination that ends leaving us exactly in the same spot that the previous penultimate episode did. It’s an absolutely terrible conclusion to a mostly mediocre season.

On the positive side, at least this moves more briskly than the Netflix Marvel shows and even though it has its filler episodes, they at least have action and progress the story in some way.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the upcoming live action DC Universe shows, as well as the DC Comics shows on the CW and Fox’s Gotham.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 6 – How to Create a Comic Book (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 47 Minutes

Review:

Well, being that this came out in the second year of this home video series, a lot had changed since the first time we saw Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld in the first two episodes. By 1992, the two (and five others) had left Marvel and formed Image Comics. If you weren’t aware of the then new imprint, McFarlane mentions Image almost every five minutes in this video.

But it was cool to see these guys still come together with Stan Lee, the father of Marvel Comics. Granted, Stan Lee is barely in this episode as he is just there to kick it off and then pass it over to Todd and Rob. He also comes back to close out the show once other Image Comics founders Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio show up for short cameos.

When this video series was actually something new, this was the first one that I bought. At the time, I was making my own comics with friends, we had our own little imprint and were selling comics to kids at school and around South Florida. In fact, we were featured in the newspaper at the time for the buzz we created.

The reason I mention to above story is because my friends and I were inspired by Image and specifically the guys featured in this video. So when they all came together to teach aspiring comic book creators on how they actually create their own comics, this was something I had to own.

Even though times and methods have changed, Todd and Rob are pretty good teachers and a lot of what they teach here isn’t outdated and is still useful knowledge for this artistic medium.

This is one of the top episodes of the series because it goes beyond interviews and sketching and gets down to the nitty gritty. It gives real insight into the craft. Plus, in 1992, these were the best guys to use for a video like this.

This episode has aged well. Most of it is still relevant. My only complaint is this shouldn’t have been one 47 minute episode, it should have branched out into its own series where the Image guys actually go on to teach more than just the basics. It felt rushed and incomplete and more time and context would have been fantastic.

This is still worth a watch though, whether you want tips on how to make better comics or if you are just a fan of these creators.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 5 – Spotlight on Harvey Kurtzman & Jack Davis (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 45 Minutes

Review:

This episode of The Comic Book Greats was the first one released in 1992 and was also the first episode of the second run of video releases.

Like the previous episodes, it features Stan Lee as host and interviewer. Here, he brings in legends and friends, Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis.

What’s sad about watching this one, is that Kurtzman passed away shortly after this. I’m not sure if this is his last appearance but I’d assume that it probably is. While I enjoyed seeing him here and how he and Stan took friendly jabs at one another, he seemed a bit slower than the other two men on screen.

Sadly, Kurtzman didn’t create any art in this episode but Stan did get Davis to sit down and crank out a couple fun sketches.

This was a slower episode than most but it was still worth watching if you care about comics, cartoonists and artists. Stan does a great job of carrying the show, as the other two men, as talented as they are, don’t have the same level of charisma as Stan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.