tv

July 22, 2018

24: Season One

Premiering November 6, 2001 – 24 aired it’s first episode marking the beginning of one of the greatest shows to ever appear on TV. Season one is simply “Historic“.

Counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer fights the bad guys of the world, a day at a time. With each week’s episode unfolding in real time, “24” covers a single day in the life of Bauer each season. Jack deals with assassination attempts, nuclear attacks, bioterrorism, torture, traitors, sleeper cells, other bad guys and the alarming tendency for his romances to end badly — very badly.

March 16, 2015

Rant Corner (Ep.4) – Drunk Edition – “Arrow S3 and Hiatuses” or: Shut up Laurel Lance! Shut that Piehole or I’ll shut it for you!

It’s Sunday Funday! and I’m Pissed!


Let me first say, I Love Arrow!

But this has been the weakest season yet. It’s been bloated and the story doesn’t feel as tight like past seasons. It’s true it is getting better but there is a lot that I have to get off my chest like I did a couple podcasts ago. Problem is I had some left inside of me since I couldn’t get everything out on the Simplistic Reviews Podcast #38

So this is Rant Corner 4. Grabbed a beer and lets talk about what I would change and what is pissing me off!

January 7, 2015

Simplistic TV: Agent Carter Premiere Episode

SPIRIT

Maybe it’s because I’m an unapologetic Marvel “fanboy”.  Maybe it’s because strong female heroines like Ellen Ripley, Beatrix Kiddo, and Sarah Connor have always been more interesting to me than their stereotypical square-jawed Dudley Do-Right male counterparts.  Maybe it’s because several other shows in the same genre, including its parent company predecessor, underwhelmed out the gate.  Maybe it’s because my male physiology reacts to seeing the flawless Hayley Atwell by raising my endorphin levels to a staggering amount.  Hell, it may be all of those reasons combined which resulted in my enjoyment of the premiere for Agent Carter. 

Agent Carter, a spin-off of Marvel’s best One-Shot short film of the same name and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes place about a year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and follows that film’s standout character, Agent Peggy Carter.  Carter, a war hero of the highest order, is now forced to find her way and try to do her job as a spy while stuck in a chauvinistic, male driven world keen to keep her serving coffee and answering phones.  So yeah, it’s like Mad Men meets Alias.  Truthfully, the series gives Marvel a real opportunity to flesh out the Peggy Carter character.  Thus, bringing more understanding as to why Cap’ still pines for her and why she would be the one chosen as the first Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Carter has got the no nonsense determination of a Nick Fury and the beautiful but deadly charm of Black Widow.

“Love The Hat.”

In defense of Agent Carter’s less enjoyable programming peers, shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, and even (gulp) Gotham have story arcs meant to be spread across the normal 20 to 26 episode season structure.  Agent Carter is meant to be a strong, short arching, cinematic punch of 8 episodes; much like a standard UK television series.  (Which is why UK television is of a higher quality than American television in my opinion.  Although, that’s a conversation for another day)  However, it is clear from at least the first two episodes that showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas are confident in what they are doing, know what their show needs to accomplish, and know how to SMOOTHLY insert elements of its comic book and MCU source material in a way that enhances the experience instead of hindering it.  (Ahem!  Gotham.  Ahem!)  And really, it’s just plain fun.  The 40s era SPIRIT and charm has always been a great vessel for any absurd or unbelievable concepts the show wants to try.  (See: Indiana Jones)  And don’t worry about punches being pulled either.  Agent Carter may not be Boardwalk Empire in terms of graphic violence, but it is not from a lack of trying.  There is death and brutality in this female led, 40s era, 8 o’clock, comic book show, owned by Disney that may surprise you. 

Hayley Atwell seems to be born to play this role.  You can see why Marvel had the confidence to give her a big showcase show like this that she has to practically carry alone.  She not only nails every countering line to the volley of sexist insults hurled her way, she seems to have the ability to share an instant chemistry with whichever actor they put across from her.  She fortunately gets to separate herself from Scarlett Johansson and Ming-Na because they both play very guarded characters.  Peggy Carter is guarded in a different way in my opinion.  While Melinda May and Black Widow use lies to protect themselves, Carter, armed with truth, almost dares anyone wanting to crack her shell to step up try.  Her confidence as a character and Atwell’s portrayal of that confidence is perfect.

Dominic Cooper, although having a minor role, is still great as Howard Stark.  He does not take the easy way out by doing a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation.  He leans more toward the Howard Hughes/Citizen Kane type of billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist.  My one tiny gripe would be the Edwin Jarvis character, played by James D’Arcy.  D’Arcy is a great choice for the role and plays Jarvis well, but I hope the writers turn up his snark a bit more.  I realize I am contaminated by Paul Bettany’s brilliant A.I. version, and I know they are utilizing the role reversal of Peggy being tough and Jarvis being foppish.  I just want the banter between the two of them to be a little more biting, much like it is with Downey Jr. and Bettany.  It is there between the two…but I’m greedy for more. 

The rest of the supporting cast is fine in their roles, more or less not getting in the way of the story.  I say that hoping the Lyndsy Fonseca waitress character Angie either amounts to something much bigger or falls a little more to the wayside.  Shea Whigham’s character Roger Dooley is a preferable boss to Peggy Carter than Bradley Whitford’s Agent Flynn from the Marvel One-Shot.  Dooley seems to fit better in the era than Whitford’s Agent Flynn did.  Now, that may just be because I’m used to seeing Whigham on Boardwalk Empire.  However, I like to think it’s his gruff and unapologetic use of chauvinism as apposed to Flynn’s snarky approach.  Whigham is clueless to Carter’s activities, but I don’t see him as a cliched idiot. 

While staying up to see a humdrum Ant-Man trailer, I managed to find something even better cooking right under my nose.  Agent Carter is a show that hits the ground running with a quality to it that might catch you off guard.  It is a welcome addition to the Marvel universe and seems to bring hope that Marvel shows to follow will also learn from its predecessors mistakes.  Scan yourself for vita-rays…have someone tie you to a chair…turn on some Benny Goodman…oh and tip generously…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

October 25, 2014

Yet Another 31 Nights of Halloween: Go to the Head of the Class (Amazing Stories TV Show – S2:E8)

Okay so I’m going to try something a little different here. In the late 80’s, Steven Spielberg came out with a TV show called Amazing Stories that seems to ether grab a ton of flack or a ton of love. I never really watched the show, maybe a totally of two episodes of which I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about. I do remember the show and that opening but not a bit of memory regarding the episodes. So since Amazing Stories is on Netflix, I’m going to pick a couple of episodes out of order strictly do to the crew and actors that appear in that episode.
Go to the Head of the Class: Enjoyable
Season 2, Episode 8 (November 21 1986) 60 mins
The reason why I picked Go to the Head of the Class was because of the involvement of Christopher Lloyd as Professor B.O. Beanes, Bob Gale (teleplay), Alan Silvestri (Music) and Robert Zemeckis (Directing). Yes the majority of those who worked on my favorite movie of all-time, Back to the Future.

Right off from the start this has the Zemeckis look. The opening is classic Zemeckis just like Back to the Future, it tells a lot about the character. We start off on the TV that slowly comes out showing our main character’s room filled with pictures of a girl. We start to pan down from a window with a basketball and baseball bat, band posters, stickers, a phone going off and a clock. Our main character (Peter Brand) picks up the phone to find a screaming mother yelling at him about being late for school.

Cut to a shot of Peter Brand jumping out the window running to school, its so McFly like and that is just too damn awesome. 

The next scene is where Christopher Lloyd comes into the story. He plays a teacher who is pretty hard on his students. Seeing a student crewing gum, he questions the student who quickly swallows the evidence. The Professor then picks a piece of gum from under the desk of the student, ask what is this then? The student says thats not the kind I chew, which in a silly way catches the student in a lie. So he requires the student to swallow the random piece of gum. I love this scene a lot because Brand is trying to sneak into the classroom during this time. The way the whole scene flows just reminds me of Back to the Future, which isn’t a bad thing mind you. Alan Silvestri scores this episode just like Back to the Future. When Peter falls into the grave around the 18:20 mark, just listen, it just screams Back to the Future and damn do I loved that. 

Regarding the story it’s definitely not the strongest but still enjoyable to watch. It’s a revenge plot after Brand and his best friend; Cynthia Simpson (Mary Stuart Masterson) gets caught with the same paper. Brand takes the blame and is punished in front of the class by the Professor. So the two decide to cast a deadly spell on the Professor which doesn’t go to plan. I really enjoyed this episode mostly because it felt so Back to the Future like. That said Go to the Head of the Class was still enjoyable to watch especially with Halloween around the corner.
June 24, 2014

22 Jump Street

COMFORTABLE
22 Jump Street – Comfortable
Taking a chance on a film that really doesn’t need to be made is one thing, but taking a chance on a film that was a surprise success is another thing entirely. In there lies the beauty of “22 Jump Street,” a film that is so comfortable with how good it is it’s willing to take itself entirely unserious (a word?) during its entire run-time. I usually would save this for the end, but this will possibly be the best comedy of 2014.

“22” once again stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Detectives Schmidt and Jenko, respectively, as they try to stop a new(er) designer drug called “WHYPHY” being spread across college campuses. Basically, it’s “21 Jump Street” with a different drug….in college….and a bigger budget. The film’s self-awareness and the chemistry between Hill and Tatum are once again the highlights of a film that could have easily been a mockery and easy cash-in, but both Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were also responsible for stellar “Lego Movie” earlier this year, find just enough originality and heart to make this sequel equal, if not better, than it’s predecessor.

What differentiates “22” from “21”is also the pacing and the use of ancillary characters from the first film. You have some great cameos, and the use of Ice Cube in a larger supporting role yields some of the funniest moments of the film, including a twist you probably don’t see coming. Speaking of Cube, it’s interesting that when he actually gets good material to work with, he’s a real good actor. Yes, I didn’t see “Ride Along” but it’s hard to forgive films like “Are We There Yet?” Sorry Cube, maybe I’m playa’ hating a little bit, but it looks like you’re back on the right track.

While most of the performances are very funny and memorable, not all of the performances are memorable for the right reasons, namely Jillian Bell, who might know from “Workaholics.” Now I’m not saying she isn’t funny, she just happens to be the least funniest part of this film. Her schtick wears thin pretty quick and while she ends being a bigger part of the film come the end, she really wears out her welcome with her brand of comedy. Will Bell doesn’t ring all that well for me, Wyatt Russell, the son of the legend Kurt Russell, and the Lucas Brothers, give some memorable performances and balance out the zaniness of both Hill and Tatum.
With self-aware comedy, Hill and Tatum at the top of their game, and some real great action set pieces, “22” is a winner for all the right reasons. Granted, I will say if you’re a fan of the first film, I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy the sequel, even though this sequel makes sure that even if your didn’t see the first film it provides you with a handy “previously on” segment to start the film, which I think was a stroke of genius that only a film this comfortable with itself would be able to provide.
Fun Fact: Across the United States there are five 22 Jump Street address; include two Florida.
April 23, 2014

Simply TV: Fargo on FX

TONE

Fargo – Tone

Some movies should just be left alone…for the most part. I’m not a huge fan of taking films and trying to shrink them down to the small screen. It’s like trying to find sense in a Pauly Shore movie (thanks Clueless). See examples like, ironically, “Clueless” and “Blade: The TV Series” for prime examples of bad adaptations. You could imagine my reservations for “Fargo” the new series on FX.  I mean, how could you add on, or create a show, to a film that pretty much had a definitive ending that needed no more explanation. Well, in the case of “Fargo” I stand corrected, and I’m excited to see what direction this newest FX offering goes into.

Whereas the film version of “Fargo” took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota this version takes place in the small town of Bemidji, Minnesota. A mysterious drifter named Lorne Malvo has arrived in town and immediately begins to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, a milquetoast insurance broker named Lester Nygaard is having a hard time dealing with a demanding wife, family members that have no respect for him, and an old high school bully that loves to remind him that he slept with his wife before they were married. A chance encounter with Malvo in a hospital turns Lester’s world upside down and sets off a chain of events that leave behind quite a few dead bodies….and that’s only the first episode.

“Fargo” is developed by Noah Hawley, who had success as a writer on “Bones” but also put out clunkers like “The Unusuals” and “My Generation.” While I can’t say such for his two failed TV experiments, the name recognition of “Fargo” and the Coen Brothers on as Executive Producers certainly gives this series name recognition, and I haven’t even gotten to the show’s lead actors yet.

It’s easy to forget that Billy Bob Thornton is a really good actor, and when given a role like Malvo in “Fargo” you can see a twinkle in his eye. I liken Thornton as Malvo to Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight;” he is truly an agent of chaos. He’s a cold, calculating, yet charming drifter who befriends a down on his luck Martin Freeman, who plays Lester Nygaard. I guess my best summation of Malvo would be a combination of The Joker, Anton Chigurh and maybe throw in a little Rust Chole from “True Detective.” The great cast also includes Colin Hanks and Bob Odenkirk in supporting roles.

The one thing that “Fargo” might lack at this time is a strong female lead. I see potential in Allison Tolman, who plays the lone female police officer in the series, Molly Solverson, but will she be able to match Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson? There are quite a few similarities, including their commitment to police work and family, but Tolman has extra motivation in the series which I think will add that extra dimension to her character.  

Despite my early reservation for “Fargo” I see a very bright future for the series. Whether FX decides to continue after the initial 10-episodes, I would love to see either an “American Horror Story” type anthology direction for the series where we meet new hitmen like Malvo from around the Midwest, and hopefully some tie-in’s with the film, and perhaps situating the show as somewhat of a prequel. Either way, “Fargo” has legs, and in the deft hands of FX, I believe it will be a series that gets better and better.

Fun Fact:The tallest building in Fargo, North Dakota is the Radisson Hotel, standing at over 206 feet and built in 1985.

November 1, 2013

This is Halloween: The Haunted Mask

The Haunted Mask: Fun
22mins each/44mins Total/Horror/1995

The Haunted Mask is the 11th book and episode 1 and 2 of season 1.

It’s about a girl, Carly Beth who gets picked on because she’s easily scared. She’s the joke of the school and because of that is pushed into buying a mask that will turn her weakness into her ultimate revenge.
This book stands out as of of the more popular stories. I became a big fan when the 2 part episode was released on VHS. As a kid this was one of the films that I would play ever year for Halloween. 
The acting is what you would expect from a 90’s children’s TV show. The real reason this is a staple of 90’s kids is the story. It works almost too good. It’s not just about a girl who wants revenge, but the mask Carly picks changes her, it attaches to her and takes her over.

The Mask
The “unobtainable, unloved ones” all look pretty cool. In fact I find that I like some of the others more then the one she picks. But that’s not to say the one she picks isn’t good, it really is badass looking. The issue is the lighting. They should of made it a bit darker because the mask doesn’t work as awesome in the brighter night shoots. But the voice and the darker scenes really make the mask work, especially when she begins to get angry and the mask begins to sweat.
These episodes aren’t the scariest of the show. But they’re very enjoyable and have a deeper meaning of excepting ones self and not trying to be different for anyone else.
Thanks for reading guys and girls!
Happy Halloween!
October 27, 2013

Simplistic TV: Dracula: Premiere Episode

ORDINARY

Hey!  You know what the entertainment world needs more of?  Vampires!!!  I’m sorry.  My sarcasm is turned up to eleven because I’m a little jaded.  This will probably sound like an old man boring his grandchildren about the “Good Old Days”, but I truly long for the days when vampires were frightening, bloodthirsty monsters.  The days when they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that clothing wasn’t True Religion jeans or Tom Ford suits.  The days they plucked at the entrails of their victims, not their own body hair.  The days of Blade, Bram Stoker, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  I know I’m not covering any new ground here.  No one can argue that over the past decade, Hollywood’s use of vampires has…well…sucked.  Oh, there are some outliers.  However, for every Let The Right One In, there’s a fifth sequel to Twilight.  For every Angel, there’s a Vampire Diaries.   Even True Blood has steadily declined into nothing more than an oversexed softcore porn film set at a Louisiana college frat’s Halloween party.  (Seriously, I’m more afraid of the city of Compton than Bill Compton.)  Now NBC, with all the timing of a Jay Leno punchline, tries to pick the bones of this dead genre with a show about the king of all vampires.  A show about Dracula.

Dracula comes to us from Cole Haddon and HBO’s Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf.  The show centers around Dracula, going by the name Alexander Grayson, as he hunts down the members of an evil Illuminati-esque organization in 19th Century England.  That concept might sound interesting on paper.  However, when Dracula explains his reasons why, something feels a bit strange.  I mean, he is a vampire after all.  It works when a Hannibal Lecter punishes people he finds disgusting, but here it’s like watching Freddy Krueger take out members of Halliburton.  I know it’s an attempt to place Dracula in the sympathetic protagonist role.  Though, after watching the first episode, I’m not sure if it totally works.  No matter how evil of an organization it is, no matter what they did to Dracula (I won’t spoil it), do you really think he’d have any difficulty taking them down in about eight seconds?  Do you really think we as an audience can look at them in a light harsher than that of a demonic creature that randomly slaughters innocent people?  Hypocrisy aside, I hope Knauf and Haddon don’t end up neutering the character in an attempt to make us like him.  We like him because he’s a wicked, deadly, unscrupulous creature of the night, not some mopey introvert. 

There are some positives I took away from the premiere.  First, Dracula doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight, he burns.  Thankfully, most of the traditional vampire motifs are back at play here.  Secondly, it is pretty graphic for a show on NBC.  The limitations broadcast television presents hasn’t seemed to hinder the bloodshed.  Third, the show looks very expensive.  Making a show a period piece tends to shoot the budget up a few million dollars.  That’s something networks usually shy away from or alter into modern day re-imaginings.  (See Elementary & Sherlock)  NBC says that Dracula will be a limited series for now, which may account for the liberal use of elaborate costumes, sets and locations. 

In regards to performances on Dracula , this show is totally a John Rhys Meyers vehicle.  I think he’s a solid actor and I’m happy to see him in something for mass American audiences.  His run on The Tudors and a brief role in Mission Impossible 3 had him poised to be a big star at one point.  (We’re not gonna talk about From Paris With Love)  As Dracula, Rhys Meyers is good.  He has the charm, the air of mystery and brings the appropriate…um…bite when the character needs it.  Sadly, everyone else in the cast stands out as well as wooden furniture in a log cabin.  The closest you get to a pulse is Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby.  They appear to be having fun with their parts and relish every bit of the setting.  No one else manages to grab your attention.  Even Thomas Kretschmann’s Van Helsing feels ORDINARY and boring.  To be completely fair, Francis Ford Coppola did have in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a British speaking Keanu Reeves and a supposedly sultry Winona Ryder.  So, glass houses and all that.  But the gulf between fun acting to forgettable acting wasn’t as large as it is on this show.

As a whole, Dracula does try and put some of the teeth back into the vampire genre.  However, it doesn’t really grab you as much as it should.  A television show focusing on the origins of the most famous monster ever should feel like more of an epic experience.  This show only winds up feeling kind of ORDINARY.  With its expensive budget and its Friday night time slot of death, I fear Dracula is not long for this world.  Bring your garlic…and your crosses…and your holy water…and your overly elaborate staking methods…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

July 12, 2013

(Turn on the TV) The Bridge

AGAIN

The Bridge – Again

FX is known for putting out fantastic programming.  Just look at the catalog; “The Shield,” “Justified,” “American Horror Story,” “Louie,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Of course I’m missing a few, including “Archer” but you look at their lineup either currently or in the past, and you see the quality.  This brings me to FX’s newest show “The Bridge” a look at crime on the border of Texas and Mexico.  After watching the pilot I was left thinking, “again?”

“The Bridge” is based on the Swedish TV series “Bron” which deals with crime on the Denmark-Sweden border.  Who’d of thought; crime in Denmark and and Sweden, I thought that only happened in Steig Larsson novels.  In this American version, two cops, Diane Kruger, who is ironically German, and Demian Bichir, who is in fact Mexican, so that helps, both find a body on the US-Mexico border.  It’s discovered that the body was cut in half and comprised of two different bodies.  Intrigued?

Moving from the plot aspects to the character aspects for a second, I just want to comment on the character Sonya Cross, or North, depending where you read her character’s name from.  Now this is the third show in the past year where the creators decided to go the now-cliched detective route, namely giving the main detective symptoms of Aspergers.  We’ve had “Sherlock” on the BBC, “Hannibal” on NBC, and now “The Bridge” on FX.  There used to be an age where cops or detectives had the cliche of having a gruff exterior with a soft interior, usually involving “a past event” that shaped their character, but now we are stuck with detectives and cops who have some sort of autism.  It was cute the first time, but personally I think it’s time find a new cliche.

Being that the pilot was an “extended pilot” (clocking in at just over 90 minutes as opposed to your standard 60 minute program) we get some extra time with our main characters and our “killer.”  Yet, I didn’t really feel any type of investment with either North or her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz.  The stakes seem higher for Ruiz who is balancing both personal and professional business in one of the most corrupt cities in Mexico, whereas the only thing we know about North is that she is a little off.

Stylistically, if you took the film “Savages” and gave it the Michael Mann treatment, that’s exactly how “The Bridge” looks, which means it looks great.  I would even say that it even has a little “No Country For Old Man” vibe with the look and feel of the desert landscapes.  They always say imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Overall, “The Bridge” has potential, but in a TV landscape with every cop and procedural show trying to one-up the other when it comes to violence, gory, and autistic detectives, where does this show fit?  Being it’s on FX, the pedigree is there, but it’s where they decide to go with the characters that really matters.  If I want to see gory murders and detectives with problems I’ll stick with “Hannibal.”

Fun Fact:  According to The International Boundary and Water Commission, the US-Mexico border is approximately 1.954 miles long.

June 30, 2013

Simplistic TV: Utopia: Series 1

UNSETTLING

I haven’t been the most feverish fan of ‘out there’ shows like X-Files, Lost, or Fringe, but I have watched all three shows to completion.  I mainly started watching to see what all the hype was about, and I eventually finished to figure out where each show was going.  The results for shows like that, unfortunately tend to always be underwhelming.  Why?  High concept shows are harder for audiences and networks to digest.  It’s much easier to plop some cheaper to make reality show/carbon copy cop procedural on Thursday nights than an ‘out there’ show that goes in a wild new direction.  Networks give high concept, ‘out there’ shows just so much rope before they start interfering.  After the allure of ‘the new show’ wears off, networks move these shows to crazy time slots, under promote them, and quietly execute them from the line-up without a peep.  To avoid that, showrunners of these shows are forced to reveal huge plot points too early in order to keep viewership up.  They betray established characters by shoehorning in romantic relationships or deaths to boost ratings.  Ultimately though, showrunners fall into the habit of losing focus and setting their bar so high, they can’t possibly give their viewers a truly satisfying ending.  Thankfully some networks have begun understanding shows like that DO have an audience and DO need their space.  They understand that shows like that DON’T need to rush and DON’T need gimmicks.  They just need freedom and time to tell their stories.  Cable has been that refuge here in the states recently.  However, UK television has been providing that creative environment for as long as I’ve been watching television.  That is why shows like Misfits, and Orphan Black thrive there.  Hell, Doctor Who may be the most ‘out there’ show ever made and it’s been around for seventy years in the UK.  Series one of Utopia has not only thrown it’s hat in the ring with the other ‘out there’ shows I’ve mentioned, but also stands out as one of the most crazy, unpredictable, original, and UNSETTLING shows I’ve ever seen.

How do I describe Utopia?  Hmmmm.  Okay, let me try this.   Four fans of a strange, impossible to find, comic book go on the run when a shadowy government agency tries to hunt down and kill anyone who knows about or is in possession of the book.  The book itself, being a tome or blueprint for some evil master plan to be enacted upon the planet.  Sound silly?  Well, it kind of is.  However, from the first scene of the first episode of the first series, Utopia takes your preconceived notions and whacks them over the head with a baseball bat by showing you a disturbing and UNSETTLING interrogation/multiple murder.  The silly is the smokescreen this show uses to catch you off guard time and time again.  The graphic nature of the violence comes out of nowhere and grabs your attention.  It is used like a super strict nun’s ruler over a parochial school classroom.  The thing about the violence, however, is that it is always in service of the story or the situation.  It is not violence for violence sake.  It is violence that is a result of things that occurred or the catalyst for things that need to happen.  I say that because of a controversy this show was swept up in due to the events of it’s third episode and the horrible events of Sandy Hook.  I read the story and then watched the scene and I did not see it as a glorifying act.  To just chalk it up to irresponsible glorification is a lazy way of viewing it.  However, this is a discussion for another day.

The UNSETTLING nature of this show is apparent as well in the cinematography.  I don’t usually get into the technical ways things are shot too much, but I think it deserves mentioning here due to the purposefulness of it.  Each episode of Utopia is in a psychedelic ultra high contrast. (An LSD user’s heaven.) Shots themselves are nearly always oddly framed and camera movements are sometimes jarringly unconventional.  You could be watching a scene of two people talking, and they’ll be completely out of focus from a high angle while an obligatory wall fixture on a nearby building is in focus.  A character will be talking directly into camera almost completely obscured by the sun’s glare over their shoulder.  Negative space takes center stage more times than not as characters are given tremendous headroom or moved almost completely to one side of the frame.  There are super wide establishing shots of sickeningly colorful scenery where the main characters are just dark specks on the horizon.  Your eyes in every scene will be darting around trying to find out where the danger will come from.  It might be creator Dennis Kelly’s attempt to mimic comic book visuals themselves or just a way to spit in the face of conventional filmmaking in order to stand out.  Either way, it oddly works for Utopia, given it’s strangeness.

The performances on the show are all solid.  A blessing, seeing as there are some unbelievable situations that happen in this show.  However, I never doubt the truthfulness of each character for a second.  Nathan Stewart-Jarrett proves that the charm and watchability he displayed on the aforementioned UK show Misfits wasn’t a fluke.  Alexandra Roach shines with each witty one-liner she gets to drop.  Paul Haggins and child actor Oliver Woollford put in tremendous work. (Though I hope Oliver is eventually given even more things to do on this show.)   However, there are three standouts, in my opinion, that give performances you might not have seen before.  They are Adeel Akhtar as Wilson Wilson, Neil Maskell as Arby and Fiona O’Shaughnessy as the infamous Jessica Hyde.

We’ve seen conspiracy theory computer geeks done to death in film and televison before.  But there is something about Akhtar’s Wilson that separates him from the rest.  He doesn’t have the same angst and bitterness portrayed in those geeks before him.  He seems happy and at peace with his life.  Sure he spouts out some paranoid governmental rumor now and then, but when we meet him, he genuinely likes himself and his family.  That warmness helps you relate to him more than if he were angry at the world and didn’t trust anyone.  Fiona O’Shaughnessy has the task of playing the girl with all the secrets.  The badass.  The loner and rebel.  Jessica Hyde is like a darker cross between River Tamm from Firefly and Leeloo from The Fifth Element.  There are times when her curiosity, brutal honesty, and compassion make her appear very sweet.  However, there are other times when it is revealed that she has been feigning those emotions to get what she wants.  Thus, leaving us unclear of her true nature.  And when she wants to, Jessica Hyde can be downright frightening.  O’Shaughnessy plays her like a sphinx most of the time.  But when true emotions do come, she pulls them off without shortchanging the character.  I’ve talked about the talents of Neil Maskell before in my review of the equally UNSETTLING Kill List.  What he does here in Utopia, however, is truly amazing.  He takes such a despicable, sociopathic, hauntingly scary, unrelatable character like Arby the hitman and somehow gets you to sympathize with him.  Some of the…check that…most of the show’s deplorable acts are done by Arby.  You think that he is a lock to be the shows main uncompromising villain.  But by the third episode you’ll begin to rethink your feelings on him.  How Maskell does that with a character that is a step above robotic, is beyond me.  Of course the writing is a huge factor, but there is something beyond Maskell’s eyes that reflects a man that is just lost in himself.  A man who knows he is a monster but can’t help his nature.  It is a truly great character and performance you’ll be hard pressed to find on American television.

Utopia is an ‘out there’ show with a concept that is dark, UNSETTLING, interesting and very relevant to our society today.  Thanks to UK television and a shorter but more potent 6 episode a season quota, it has enough rope to truly tell it’s story.  Hopefully, this time, it will be a show with a satisfying ending.  Buy a box of chocolate covered raisins….stay away from spoons….make sure to know where Jessica Hyde is….watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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