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 Comic Book Greats: Episode 10 – Spotlight on Jim Lee (1992)

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

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 51 Minutes

Review:

Well, I think I have found my favorite installment of The Comic Book Greats video series!

This episode was stupendous and Jim Lee was such a treat to see on this show. He has a great rapport with Stan Lee and he does an fantastic job of talking the audience through his method for creating comic book art that it works even for the most inexperienced layman.

Jim Lee, as I also said about Todd McFarlane, would be a great teacher. He is thorough in his lessons here and covers a lot of ground in a limited amount of time.

I also liked the interview segment of this episode a lot, as Jim Lee gets very personal about his life up to the point when this was recorded and it’s just an interesting story, as comic books weren’t where he originally intended to end up, career-wise.

Lee would go on to be one of the most prolific creators in the history of the comic book industry. Seeing him so young and this early in his career is a real treat for anyone that’s a fan of the medium.

Jim’s got a great personality, a real love for what he does and he still does all these years later. This is why I watch his YouTube channel where he live streams periodically and talks to his fans as he works on new art.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 9 – Spotlight on Bob Kane (1992)

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

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 38 Minutes

Review:

Batman is the character that really made me buy comic books on a monthly basis. Because of my love of everything Batman, especially after seeing the 1989 movie, I always had a love and appreciation for Bob Kane, the creator of the Caped Crusader. Granted, I knew nothing about Bill Finger back then because Bob Kane was a credit hog and a dick.

This episode of The Comic Book Greats doesn’t help Kane when you watch this now, knowing what we all know about the man. I didn’t see this episode in 1992 and I’m not sure if I would have picked up on it back then but man, Kane really is a dick… like all the time.

Stan Lee was a gracious host, as always, but Kane would get sidetracked in this interview to bitch about people taking credit for his work. Funny, because that’s something he was guilty of for decades. The dude just has a hell of an ego and he probably bottles his own farts to sniff later.

That being said, I wouldn’t call this episode off-putting or a waste of time, it’s actually one of the more entertaining ones because Kane is animated and charismatic. The banter between these two men is good, even if Kane tries to take shots at people and it’s obvious Stan isn’t comfortable in those moments.

The Comic Book Greats is a solid series that I wish would have lived on longer than it did. While I don’t like Kane, the man, I still found this to be pretty damn engaging.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

 

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.