TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

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 Walking Dead (2010- )

Original Run: October 31st, 2010 – current
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Frank Darabont
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, David Morrissey, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Michael Cudlitz, Emily Kinney, Chad L. Coleman, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Robin Lord Taylor, Alexandra Breckenridge, Austin Amelio, Khary Payton, Tom Payne, Katelyn Nacon, Steven Ogg, Pollyanna McIntosh, Corey Hawkins, Audrey Marie Anderson, Denise Crosby, Samantha Morton

Idiot Box Productions, Circle of Confusion, Skybound Entertainment, Valhalla Entertainment, AMC, 115 Episodes (so far), 42-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Do I even need to review The Walking Dead, at this point? Everyone in the world has seen it by now, right? Everyone already has their own opinion of it, yes?

Well, there are a lot of people that quit years ago and it seems like the ratings have been going down the last couple of seasons. Granted, it is still AMC’s biggest show and rakes in higher numbers than nearly anything else on cable but it’s been on for eight friggin’ seasons, which is a whole hell of a lot in this day and age where decent shows get cancelled all the time.

It’s hard to review the show for the fact that it has been on for so long and that it hasn’t been very consistent from season to season. But at least the show mixes it up and tries new things, reinventing itself every 2-3 seasons. The gist of it is really the same but it’s done a decent job of evolving with the timeline in which the show is set.

However, it sort of ignores some of the real world threats that would be happening in a post-apocalyptic United States. Things that a simple comedy like The Last Man On Earth was smart enough to explore. Things like explosions at unattended nuclear power plants, spewing really bad shit into the air.

I have stuck with this show through thick and thin because as cheesy as it sounds, you grow to know these characters as if they were real people and you care about their story, especially if you’ve toughed it out through the good and bad points of the show.

There have been moments during this show’s run that I thought about giving it up but there isn’t much else to do on a Sunday night and their eight episode half seasons are pretty quick to get through. If this show had 23 episodes a year like most programs, I couldn’t stay committed to it. Plus, there was that part of me that was just waiting for the war with Negan to start. That war wasn’t what I had hoped it would be but I was satisfied with how it wrapped up and am interested in what’s to come in the upcoming season, as there are a lot of changes and a time jump happening.

For the most part, The Walking Dead has been a good show. Sometimes it feels as if it has already ran its course but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to walk away from it like some others have. But that could change with Rick, the main character, leaving the show soon.

In the end, The Walking Dead isn’t a show about zombies, it’s a show about exploring human nature and that’s more interesting than the undead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Fear the Walking DeadDeadwood and Hell On Wheels.

TV Review: Arrow (2012- )

Original Run: October 10th, 2012 – present
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Blake Neely
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Colton Haynes, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Echo Kellum, Josh Segarra, Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Kelly Hu, Alex Kingston, Chad L. Coleman

Bonanza Productions, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 115 Episodes (so far), 40 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

Comic books have not historically been well-represented in television form. Some people will argue that Smallville was great and that The Incredible Hulk was awesome. Both had some good moments. Ultimately though, neither were amazing, The 1970s versions of Spider-Man and Captain America were pretty awful. The 1960s gave us Batman, which is one of my favorite shows of all-time but as a faithful adaptation, it falls in more ways than it succeeds. In 1990, we got The Flash, which I particularly liked even with the villains being pretty bad (excluding Mark Hamill’s role as the Trickster). However, that show didn’t make it more than a season, despite a great Danny Elfman score and popping up on the heels of the super successful 1989 Batman movie (the first one with Michael Keaton). We got other shows based on superheroes like Heroes and M.A.N.T.I.S. but neither were adapted from a comic book and both had promise but fizzled. There were other superhero shows but nothing that really captured the essence of a comic book.

Then there came Arrow.

This CW show followed up Smallville and its ten year run. While there was a Green Arrow on that show, with this show, they decided to start from scratch and I am glad they did. Green Arrow was one of the cool things about the later seasons of Smallville but for the character to have his own show, it needed to be darker and more real. The climate changed between the start of Smallville and the end of it, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films completely changed the game. Arrow is a reflection of that and a pretty solid contrast from Smallville.

The acting on this series is pretty damn good. Stephen Amell is great as Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Arrow. In fact, he may be close to perfect. His sidekicks played by David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards are quite awesome. The other main cast members also hold their own. Doctor Who and Torchwood alum John Barrowman owns it as the sinister Merlyn. I would say that my favorite character on the show thus far though, is Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke, who is played by Manu Bennett.

While the tone of the show is gritty, it often times doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously, as there are good lighthearted moments and some humor worked in. It also makes use of flashbacks very extensively, as each episode follows two stories – the story of the present and a story from five years earlier, when Oliver was trapped on an island.

Arrow is a unique show in that it feels like Batman Begins meets Lost. Two seasons in, it is off to a good start and I hope that the show keeps moving forward and improving as it goes. Its success has already led to a spin-off show for the Flash, which starts pretty soon. I hope Arrow and The Flash can maintain the quality I’ve now come to expect from this new era in DC Comics television shows.

Update:

Arrow lost some steam in the third and fourth seasons but in season five, it picks up steam again and gets closer to its roots. It becomes more of a flawed show as it progresses but cast changes and new threats keep it interesting enough to stick with it. At the end of season five, the game has seemingly completely changed going forward and I am still ready and willing to check out season six in the fall.