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Luke Cage Season 2

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Following on from the events of last season and crossover series The Defenders, season two of Luke Cage (or Marvel’s Luke Cage if you prefer) sees the titular Hero for Hire (Mike Colter) settling into the groove of being Harlem’s champion-about-town. Old enemies are still around to make life difficult for him, chiefly politician-turned-crime-boss Mariah Dillard/Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and major-domo Shades (Theo Rossi), and a new threat arises in the form of Jamaican gangster Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), who wants to take Harlem for himself and has no qualms about employing horrifying violence to do so.

Which sounds like there should be plenty for our man to deal with this year, but unfortunately Luke Cage Season 2 is a fairly sluggish affair. It’s a show that absolutely shines in the details but fumbles the big picture, filling the screen with fascinating and vibrant elements of African American culture (the soundtrack, again highlighted by live performances at the nightclub Harlem’s Paradise, is all killer), but hampered by leaden pacing and an almost terminal lack of narrative direction. It’s always fun to hang out in Luke Cage’s Harlem, but this season it seems to have a real problem with figuring out what kind of story it’s trying to tell.

That’s weirdly appropriate in a way, as Luke’s main arc is figuring out what kind of hero he’s going to be. He spends a lot of time this season ruminating on his position in the community, and figuring how to get paid (Hero for Hire, remember?) without compromising his ethics – and he’s not always successful. In parallel, we get Mariah trying to negotiate her transition from political player to, ultimately, gangster, which is a rough journey and not as well written as you might hope. The series seems to have a real problem with understanding who Mariah is or who they want her to be, and as a result her characterisation is wildly erratic and inconsistent, lurching from calculating mastermind to drunken mess to aggrieved matriarch and back. Luckily Alfre Woodard is an absolute gun and remains eminently watchable even when the script doesn’t give her the support she deserves.

Season 2 also continues the grand Marvel thematic tradition of Oh No My Dad Was Problematic, bringing in the late, great Reg E. Cathey (this was his final role and the series is dedicated to him) as Cage Senior, a preacher who has been alienated from his son since the latter was jailed, and who blames the stress of that ordeal for putting his wife into an early grave. Mariah is also struggling with her legacy, trying to reconnect with her daughter, Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis) a doctor-turned-naturopath who has turned her back on the family legacy. Between this and season 2 of Jessica Jones that’s two instances of Oh No My Mum Was Problematic we’ve had from Marvel this year, which is some kind of blow for representation, we guess.

Still, themes of family, legacy and community run deep in Luke Cage, with pretty much every character directed by, or struggling to get out from under, generational issues – old debts, bad blood, family shame, cycles of violence and revenge. Even Bushmaster, a charismatic and ruthless villain with a nice line in capoeira kick-fighting, is driven by the desire for vengeance for crimes against his family. This is the good stuff – by grounding the action of the series in this palpable sense of place and history, the whole thing has a greater dramatic weight.

That weight does slow things down though – although perhaps that’s just Netflix’s insistence on sticking to their unwieldy 13 episode season plan, which we have griped about before. Once again, there’s not enough story to stretch over the 13 hour framework comfortably, and we spend a lot of time spinning our wheels or dealing with needless complications that don’t forward either the plot or the themes of the series. This is a problem endemic to the Marvel Netflix stable, and perhaps it’s no more prevalent than in most episodic entertainment, but given we’re encouraged to binge this stuff, it becomes all the more apparent and damaging in this context.

It does allow time for little detours and fun moments, though, and as we pointed out, it’s in these little details that Luke Cage sings. We get a few fun cameos from the broader Marvel Netflixiverse, and we get to spend a lot of time with tough cop and – since the events of The Defenders – amputee Misty Knight (Simone Messick), who refuses to let the loss of a limb slow her down (even if it is eventually dealt with in the most Marvel way possible). One of the most fun interludes involves Knight hanging out with Iron Fist’s Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and kicking an impressive amount of ass in a barroom brawl – this might be the closest we get to a Daughters of the Dragon show, but we’ll take what we can get.

Which is a good attitude to go into this one with. Luke Cage isn’t a bad show, but it definitely falls short of its obvious inherent potential. It’s entertaining enough and sports excellent performance scenes, but the whole thing doesn’t hang together as well as it should. If we’re getting a third season – and S2 leaves us in a place where that seems like a certainty – hopefully it’s a tighter and more focused affair. We’ve hung out enough – it’s time to get moving.

 

 
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Happy

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There’s a point later on in Happy where Nick Sax, Christopher Meloni’s substance-addled, self-loathing cop-turned hitman, is using a mob boss’s family as body armour. Literally – he’s got the guy’s wife strapped to his front, he’s got the kid in a papoose kind of arrangement, they’re both alive, and the squad of mafia goombas he’s up against are fearful of firing, lest they accidentally kill one of their boss’s beloveds.

Sax has no such compunctions about firing at them. He slaughters the lot. He slaughters a lot of people over the course of Happy’s eight episode first season, dispatching all and sundry in outrageous, over the top, blood-soaked ways, all the time ruminating on his own apparent inability to be killed in turn. Sax isn’t immortal, per se; it’s just that his life is a complete toilet and he figures the universe can’t be bothered sending him to hell when he’s suffering just fine here. There’s nothing supernatural about him.

Unless you count the tiny, blue winged unicorn he’s been seeing lately, telling him he has to save a little girl from a very, very bad man.

The unicorn’s name is Happy, and he sounds an awful lot like Patton Oswalt. He’s the imaginary friend of a Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), who’s been kidnapped by a grotesque pervert dressed in a macabre Santa suit (Joseph D. Reitman). Happy went out to find the one guy who can save her – and that’s our man Sax. Sax might be delusional. He might be hallucinating. Or he might have one last shot at redemption – if he can kill his way to Hailey. And we’re off.

Based on the comic series by Grant Morrison (The Invisibles) and Darrick Robertson (Transmetropolitan), Happy draws on a lot of influences, but reconfigures its sources into something wholly new and original. Imagine if Sin City had the good sense not to take itself too seriously. Imagine if Jimmy Stewart shot a bunch of guys in Harvey. Imagine if Law & Order SVU‘s Elliot Stabler went riiiiggghht off the rails and descended into drugs, alcohol, and murder for hire.

The whole thing is gloriously, gleefully, perverse, brutal and ugly – a trademark tone for executive producer and principal director Brian Taylor, whose works include the pretty decent Crank movies and the pretty terrible Gamer and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Everything is gritty and grimy, bathed in multicoloured neon, a nightmare New York populated by criminals, scavengers, hookers, psychopaths – and the odd innocent in need of salvation.

At the centre of it all is Meloni, who just nails it as the all-too-self-aware, all-too-self-destructive, anti-heroic Sax. It’s a bravura turn, with Meloni managing to tun every throwaway tough guy line into one for the ages. It’s an absolutely fearless performance, too; Sax might be an unstoppable killing machine once he gets up a head of steam, but he never looks cool doing it. He’s the universe’s chew toy, the butt of every joke, a loser’s loser, and he knows it.

He’s counterbalanced by Oswalt’s voice work as Happy, who is something right out of a Dsiney cartoon (well, maybe DreamWorks) and is determined to get this hulking hitman to do the right thing. The central joke is, of course, the contrast between this refugee from a Saturday morning kid’s show and the horrible urban milieu he’s forced to navigate, and the series plays with that in a number of fun and clever ways. It also toys with the nature of Happy’s “reality” a lot. The little unicorn is a self-described imaginary friend, but how imaginary is imaginary? As the season progresses the show teases out a background mythology that is more complex than first taste might suggest.

So urban fantasy fans will enjoy getting that box ticked, but they may have trouble shouldering their way through the tsunami of black, bad taste humour that is Happy’s stock in trade. The show is gleefully venal, delighting in presenting almost every single one of its characters at their worst. Happy’s supporting cast is a menagerie of sadistic killers, corrupt cops, vain mafia widows, coke-snorting card sharks, and worse – and why not? When your nominal hero is a suicidal alcoholic who kills for money, the sky – or rather the gutter- is the limit when it comes to the opposition. But don’t worry if you don’t like these people – most of them die. Horribly.

But the point is that Happy is not for everyone, and it doesn’t want to be. Having said that, those of us in its sights are in for a wild ride. It’s a perfect example of its type – deranged, hyper-violent, grotesque, too clever by half, but with a hidden heart that won’t stop beating no matter what the world throws at it. You’ll love it. Unless you don’t.

 
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Lost in Space

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The old Irwin Allen inter-generational staple of after-school TV gets the prestige treatment as Lost in Space comes to Netflix, boasting a bigger budget, flashier effects, a notable cast, and a curiously old-fashioned approach to sci-fi adventure.

The broad strokes of the plot map onto the original reasonably closely: the Robinson family are part of an interstellar colonial effort, but when things go awry they – and a larger number of supporting cast than we’re used to – find themselves sucked through a wormhole and flung across the galaxy, crashing on an alien planet where they must contend with hostile conditions, aggressive critters, and threats both exotic (the series iconic Robot is re-imagined as an alien combat drone that imprints on young Will Robinson) and insidious (Doctor Smith, now played with deliciously evil glee by Parker Posey, is a murderous saboteur).

By largely restricting the action to one alien world, this new Lost in Space hearkens back to the original’s literary antecedent, Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel, The Swiss Family Robinson. By keeping the focus more or less on 11 year old Will (Maxwell Jenkins), it recalls the early young reader work of SF patriarch Robert Heinlein – the sort of freewheeling adventures typified by Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. That’s a good thing; SFTV has been trending darker of late (The Expanse, Star Trek: Discovery, Altered Carbon), and it’s a nice change of pace to have a genre series you might actually be able to watch with your kids.

Indeed, the series falters a little when it recentres the frame on the familial issues of John (Toby Stephens) and Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker), or the more disturbing machinations of the sociopathic Smith; tonally, they don’t jibe with the more innocent adventures of the Robinson kids, who also include medical prodigy Judy (Taylor Russell) and eternal middle kid Penny (Mina Sundwall). Ignacio Serricchio’s Don West tends to fare better, largely because he’s been re-positioned as a bumbling rogue in the Han Solo/Mal Reynolds/Star-Lord mould.

The biggest problem with the new Lost in Space is the tension between these two drives (that and the usual Netflix issue of being a couple episodes too long). Going forward, a commitment to one or the other will be needed and, flying in the face of conventional wisdom, a lighter, less dour approach to the material will probably serve it best. At this stage of the game, Lost in Space is promising; with closer attention to tone it could be a future classic a couple of seasons down the track.

 
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Santa Clarita Diet Season 2

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Television’s perkiest zombie returns in the second season of Santa Clarita Diet, aka: the show where Drew Barrymore is a zombie. Whereas the first season was mostly table setting, demarcating our characters – chiefly affluent suburban husband and wife realtors Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Barrymore) Hammond – and their situation – chiefly holy crap, Sheila’s undead! – the second course expands the menu somewhat, serving up interesting character dynamics and beginning to lay out a background mythology that looks to be more detailed and involving than the pop culture’s default zombie lore.

This season is marked improvement over the first, which was no slouch itself, benefiting from a more consistent tone and having put all that set up behind itself. We’re in full-on story mode now. The show knows its central activity (looking for a cure while concealing Sheila’s condition and inevitable murders), it’s go-to gags (contrasting extreme gore against the pastel banality of suburbia), and its tone (upbeat cheerfulness stretched skingraft-thin over howling madness – that’s a tough needle to thread). Everyone involved is pushing in the same direction; uneven performances have been smoothed out, the stakes and buy-in have been established, and the overarching narrative is underway.

Not that Santa Clarita Diet is overly concerned with the big moments and sudden reveal theatrics that plague so many shows – instead, it piles minor complication upon minor complication until we and the characters look up and realise we’re hopelessly mired, overworked, under-rested, and a hair’s breadth away from snapping. It’s the old rat-race rigmarole of having to get to work, do the shopping, pick up the kids, make a dental appointment, do the laundry, make dinner, only with the added complication of clean the blood off the kitchen, get rid of the body in the freezer, and obtain the bile of a Serb. If it ain’t one damn thing, it’s another.

At the centre of it all are Barrymore and Olyphant, who are just killing it this season. Barrymore’s chipper and cheerfully homicidal Sheila is, of course, the main focus here, and its always fun to watch her try to conceal the fact that she is clearly loving being an undead cannibal (real talk: if a cure is found, will she take it?), while Olyphant continues to deploy comic gifts that could hardly be guessed at during his previous tenure as a tough guy in Deadwood and Justified. His ability to convey almost constant near-panic while maintaining a semblance of outward composure is remarkable.

The returning – which is to say, surviving – supporting cast are all in fine form. Liz Hewson as daughter Abby and Skyler Gisondo as professional dork Eric get a little more room to move on their own, with Abby becoming a kind of rebel hero at high school after she scones a bully with a lunch tray, while Eric continues to try and fail to be helpful. Andy Richter remains a perpetual thorn in the side as Sheila and Joel’s self-centered boss, while Natalie Morales is on hand as eccentric sheriff’s deputy Anne to crank up the tension whenever it needs cranking.

We also get a few new faces, some of which remain uneaten, including Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson as a ruthless rival realtor couple, and old Deadwood hand Gerald McRaney as a retired army colonel who may hold clues to Sheila’s contagion.

Santa Clarita Diet remains a consistently funny, weirdly amiable watch. For all that it deals with murder, cannibalism, and lashings of gore, there’s something nice about seeing a family sticking by each other through thick and thin, even when their matriarch is using a human heart as a stress ball. There’s nothing else quite like it out there at the moment, which is not something we get to say often. If subsequent seasons can maintain this level of quality, we’re all in.

 

 
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Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 2

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Following on from the events of Season 1 (and last year’s The Defenders, barely referenced), life goes on for Marvel’s resident superpowered private sleuth, the titular Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Of course, the past is never too far away in this series, which makes the processing of trauma its key concern, and so the hard-drinking, poor-life-choice-making Jones must now deal not only with the ongoing PTSD born out of her enslavement by the horrifically evil Kilgrave (David Tennant), but fresh mental wounds opened up by her breaking his damn neck in last season’s climax.

She does, however, have plenty to distract her, thanks to her messy life and career. Indeed, the first few episodes of JJS2 throw out a number of seemingly disparate plot threads and character arcs that will doubtless cohere by the final episode in true hard boiled/film noir fashion (this season really leans into its noir influences, up to and including dry voice-over narration and moody sax on the soundtrack). A paranoid, overweight speedster wants protection from mysterious forces that may or may not be threatening him (he knows he’s not well – “With great power comes great mental illness,” he quips). An arrogant, high class PI (Terry Chen) wants to buy out Alias Investigations for the prestige of having a superhuman on his staff. Neighbour-turned-assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) is bucking for more responsibility, while bestie Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) deals with a multitude of issues, from professional ambition to romantic drama to the continued oppressive presence of her toxic AF mother (a deliciously vile Rebecca de Mornay).

There are a lot of balls in the air to keep track of, but in terms of plot the season is definitely canting in the direction of the past, specifically what would be termed Jessica’s “super hero origin story” in a lighter series that could stand including such a trite descriptor. It turns out her powers are the result of being experimented upon by a shadowy black science outfit called IGH in the aftermath of the car accident that killed her parents. She has no memory of the period, but events conspire to force her to look inwards and backwards.

Not something she’s particularly good at – what sets Jones apart as a female protagonist is how incredibly flawed she’s allowed to be. She’s a self-destructive alcoholic who engages in dangerous sex and is absolutely loathe to turn her incredible powers of insight and deduction inwards – so, of course, that’s exactly what the series forces her to do. Krysten Ritter has really settled into the role since her first outing back in 2015. With a character like this, whose demeanour is predicated in prickly abrasiveness and snarky patter, there’s always a risk of drifting into affectation. Ritter give her layers, and it can;t be easy portraying the inner life of a character whose standard operating procedure is to pretend that inner life doesn’t exist.

Incredibly, Ritter isn’t the MVP in the acting stakes thus far – that honour goes to Carrie-Ann Moss, whose icy lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, has been a frequent flyer in the Netflix MCU properties but here really gets to shine. A medical and professional crisis shakes Hogarth’s normally rigid self-control and, what do you know, it tuns out that she can be just as self-annihilating and reckless as our eponymous heroine – she’s just normally better at hiding it. Moss is flat-out fantastic as a woman coming to terms with the fact that, for all her wealth, power, intelligence and sheer will, she’s vulnerable to things completely outside of control.

Understanding the limits of control is one of – if not the – major thematic concern of Season 2. For all that it deals with PTSD, abuse, addiction (Oh, Trish), the casting couch (Trish again), common across the board is the notion that characters are grappling with their frustration over their lack of control over their lives, or else learning to draw strength from understanding what they do have influence over. It’s all very Stoic. The past is set, the actions of others are difficult to change without conflict, scars are permanent, diseases are indifferent, and entrenched power structures and covert conspiracies alike grind ordinary people to dust, but knowledge and mastery of the self is a goal worth fighting for – and the only real goal attainable. It’s a smart and logical extension of the first season’s explorations – don’t forget, what made Kilgrave such a compelling and terrifying villain was his ability to take away that self-mastery from anyone.

So far (the first five episodes were released to critics for review purposes) season 2 lacks a singular villain of such narrative power, but this is, let us not forget, a mystery, and some confusion and murkiness in the early stages is to be expected. What makes Jessica Jones great television is its thematic coherence – it knows what its about, more so than any other Marvel series on Netflix or off. If the new season manages to carry that forward through to the final episode, it’ll be one for the books.

 
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The Tick Season 1 Part 2

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The second half of the first season of the third television iteration of Bed Edlund’s big, blue, befuddled superhero, The Tick, picks up where it left off: accountant turned superhero Arthur (Griffin Newman) has been captured be returned megalomaniacal supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earl Haley), and The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz, still brilliant), Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Currie) and hyper-violent vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser) must mount a rescue.

While The Tick in general delights in parodying the entire swathe of superhero culture and history – and demonstrates plenty of deep dive nerd cred while doing so – the back half of season one is more concerned with the somewhat convoluted internal history of the show’s setting, delving into relationships, back-stories, old rivalries and romances. As a result, it’s more plot-focused than the first six episodes, and less funny – its hard to keep the one liners coming when you’re trying to sketch out a narrative that starts with the Tunguska Blast of 1908 (the show’s ground zero for superpowered heroes and villains), plus decades of relationships and rivalries.

Of course, in this instance “not as funny as the first half” means “still pretty goddamn funny”. This is a show where an artificially intelligent boat (voiced by Alan Tudyk) ponders the ramifications of identifying as a gay man; where a supervillain obsesses with the movie Whiplash; where a talking dog (voiced by Townsend Coleman, who voiced The Tick in the animated series back in the day); where the title character, still mystified by his origins, spends an episode convinced he’s a robot, much to Arthur’s consternation.

It’s delightful stuff, unafraid to be silly and unashamed to be poignant. Stepping to the emotional foreground in this run of episodes is Arthur’s stepfather, Walter (Francois Chau) an amiable Asian-American retiree whom Arthur utterly resents. The show gets a lot of mileage out of Arthur’s largely unfounded anger at Walter, playing it mostly for laughs but never forgetting there’s a complex emotional dynamic at work under the surface. It’s an incredibly well-written relationship, and the show makes sure to leave narrative threads dangling that indicate it’s only going to get more complicated down the track.

Hopefully there’ll be something down the track to look forward to; tucked away on Amazon Video, The Tick has mostly flown under the radar here in Australia, which is a shame. It’s an absolute delight of a series: riotously funny, defiantly geeky, and big-hearted – a rare bit of alchemy by any measure. If you enjoyed the first six episodes, you’ll be well served by the remainder of season one. If you’ve yet to sample The Tick’s weird delights, marathon the lot.

 
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Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 3

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Ash vs Evil Dead is, for fans, a kind of pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming experience. A continuation of the beloved cult classic Evil Dead trilogy originally directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell), and starring the mighty Bruce Campbell (My Name is Bruce, Bubba Ho-Tep) as the titular Ash Williams; the series overflows with goofy charm, graphic violence and absurdly cathartic humour.

AVED has now hit its third season and FilmInk managed to catch the first five episodes (of ten) and can happily report that watching Campbell and company shred deadites and chew scenery has lost none of its lustre. In fact if anything season 3 seems a little more focused than previous entries, possibly because the action remains mostly localised to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan (actually located in New Zealand – where fellow AVED superfan, Travis Johnson, recently visited).

Ash now runs his dad’s old hardware store – adding dildos to the shop’s inventory and shooting cheesy TV ads for publicity – and basks in the fame of being a small town hero instead of “Ashy Slashy” the murderous pariah. Of course shit goes bad quickly and Ash is forced to re-team with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to face down evil in the form of returning Dark One, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and deal the additional burden of fatherhood, as he meets the daughter-he-didn’t-know-about, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neil).

If that all sounds like kind of a lot – especially for a show whose episodes run under half an hour a piece – you’re not wrong. In fact the premiere episode, “Family”, groans under the weight of the heavy plot load and skews the comedy a little too close to weightless slapstick at times. Happily this appears to be the exception and not the rule, as second episode “Booth Three” features an emphasis on mood building before everything kicks off, and showcases an inspired semen gag that rivals season 2’s gross-out episode, “The Morgue”.

The following three episodes “Apparently Dead”, “Unfinished Business” and “Baby Proof” bring the series barrelling towards an epic confrontation that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch yet – but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be a big one.

AVED season 3 gives you more of what you want, but also takes the time to ruminate, however briefly, on themes of parenthood and legacy. Bruce Campbell is, as always, majestic playing the role that made him famous but the supporting cast are also strong, now comfortable in their roles, with Ray Santiago in particular giving Pablo nuance, elevating him above mere sidekick status.

Ultimately Ash vs Evil Dead is a gleefully loopy fever dream, a hugely entertaining adventure and a love letter to the fans. That letter is bound in human flesh and inked in blood, naturally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
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Everything Sucks!

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They say high school is the best time of your life – except for when you’re living it. As the title of Netflix’s new high school ten-episode series suggests, Everything Sucks!, set in the mid-‘90s in Boring, Oregon, follows freshman student Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston – Proud Mary, The Upside) and his AV club friends as they join forces with the drama club to make a movie. It’s nostalgic, it’s all that and a bag of chips, and it sets out to answer the question: has high school always sucked this much?

Turns out, it has. Everything Sucks! is full of first-relationship drama, coming-out drama, over-dramatic drama students – basically, all the drama you remember from high school and could want from a teen show. And while much of this makes you cringe, it’s surprisingly not in an overdramatic, Riverdale-esque way; rather, it’s so realistic that it takes you back to the days when you were sitting at the lunch tables, cringing at the drama yourself. Things are kept light, however, by our absolute gem of a main character: Luke O’Neil is serious, yet joyful; funny, but dramatic, and is somehow the only teenage character within our traditional band of misfits and losers with his feet somewhat planted on the ground, even as he tackles first loves and first heartbreaks.

But the others have got nothing but drama on their mind. Quiet principal’s daughter Kate (Peyton Kennedy) is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; Emaline and Oliver (Sydney Sweeney and Elijah Stevenson) are the Shakespearean leaders of the drama club who have hit puberty way sooner than everyone else, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) is nothing but a pessimist, and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) is the most awkward, Showgirls-loving high school boy you’ve ever seen. Put all of these people in a room and make them work on a highly ambitious student film together, and you’re sure to butt heads and change lives.

With relatable characters and interesting-enough drama, Everything Sucks! is worth the watch – its short episode length is a saving grace, too; any longer would be too much. The only problem may be figuring out who this is for: packed full of Tamagotchis, Hi-C and VHSes, Everything Sucks! is chock full of nostalgia that may not always translate or come across as relatable to a younger, high-school aged audience. Yet the show is neither deep nor adult enough to draw a wide older audience, being written much more like a young adult’s show. Hopefully the show will find its audience along the way – after all, high school is all about figuring out who you’re meant to be.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E15: “Will You Take My Hand?”

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The Federation-Klingon War is nearing its end, as Klingon battlecruiser zero in on the planet Earth. The Federation’s only hope? The USS Discovery, enacting a plan for a surprise victory under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). When the price of victory proves too high, however, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may be forced to betray her captain a second time.

Star Trek: Discovery comes to a temporary conclusion with this first season finale, although fans will be comforted by the show-stopping cliffhanger that promises a second in the future. The season-long story arc is by-and-large brought to a tidy conclusion that should mostly please most viewers; anybody left not enjoying it at this point likely didn’t enjoy the entire series. Sure, there are problems with the episode, but they are relatively minor in contrast to the satisfying way the story comes to an end. The series’ strongest asset from episode 1 has been Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, and she gets plenty of strong material with which to work. Discovery has played with conventions of Star Trek quite a lot, and while I’ve chafed with some the decision to base the series almost exclusively from Burnham’s point of view has delivered tremendous dividends.

If one overlooks the slightly preposterous cliffhanger that led into this episode, there’s a remarkable amount of pulp fun to be had here. Fans of Michelle Yeoh will have an absolute ball, as will fans of the inexperienced and enthusiastic Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman). It occasionally over-steps its mark – there’s a string of rather sleazy moments in a Klingon nightclub that the episode could really do without – but ultimately this feels like a very traditional episode of Star Trek. More than that, it feels like a franchise statement of purpose; it just feels a little weird that it took 15 episodes for the series to get there. There is even a beautiful little cameo for the longer-term Star Trek fans in the shape of Clint Howard, who as a child actor played the alien threatening the original Enterprise in 1966’s “The Corbomite Maneuver”.

In the end, Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery finishes on a much firmer footing than when it began. You can see the traditional Star Trek ensemble beginning to form, although I hope Season 2 spends a little bit of time fleshing out Lieutenant Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich). Both characters have been there on the bridge and in the crew mess hall since the beginning and seem ripe for interesting stories and characters. I also hope we are done with the Klingon Empire for now: the redesign was poorly thought-out, and their ongoing civil drama during the series’ early episodes really worked to drag things down.

Discovery has carved itself a worthy place alongside its fellow Star Trek series, despite what felt like some very poor and uneven episodes during the first half of its run. Its gradual improvement – the story shifting to more interesting places, and its characters finding some consistency – has been wonderful to see. Anyone who abandoned the series last year should absolutely give it a second viewing. Anyone who’s enjoyed the whole ride needs no such encouragement. They’re probably rewatching the first episode already.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E14: “The War Without, the War Within”

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The USS Discovery has successfully returned to its own universe, only for the crew to find the Klingons have almost completely overrun the Federation. While plans are drawn up for the final offensive, within Discovery the consequences of recent events take their toll.

With its sojourn into the Mirror Universe complete – at least for now – Star Trek: Discovery returns to its original storyline, bringing the entire season full circle to the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It is a war that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) helped to start, and it is becoming evidently – and satisfyingly – clear that it is going to be down to Burnham to help finish it. That is all presumably going to go down in next week’s season finale. That leaves this penultimate episode to essentially do some tidying up.

It’s an episode packed with character moments, and on the whole they are great ones. The big emotional beats come with Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), recently revealed as a surgically constructed Klingon sleeper agent but now with his own personality permanently restored. He must face Stamets (Anthony Rapp) after murdering his partner. He must face Burnham after almost murdering her. The best scene of the episode comes when he arrives in the mess hall, expecting to eat alone – only to be greeted by Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who refuses to abandon him despite what has occurred. It’s a beautifully moment for Tilly, and emblematic of how much more smoothly the series is handling its characters in the season’s second half. In her early episodes she was a victim of same kind of awkward writing that made viewers of the 1980s hate Star Trek: The Next Generation punching bag Wesley Crusher; she feels far more rounded and focused here. It’s a shift that is visible in most of the regular and returning cast.

The other major element of this episode is Terran Emperor Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), rescued from her own universe by Burnham and now an unwilling guest of the Federation. While it is always a pleasure to see Yeoh on screen, the inclusion of Georgiou in the context she is presented here stretches credulity. By the end of the episode it stretches further still, and would seem to require intelligent and highly competent people to act like complete idiots for the sake of a dramatic cliffhanger. It will require a wait until the season finale to see how this evil Georgiou’s story plays out, but it is not looking promising.

“The War Within, the War Without” does feel like a let-down after the high drama of the previous few episodes, but that is ultimately more a factor of those episode’s climactic nature than any specific shortfall on this episode’s part. It is an act of re-centering the story and setting up the climax. In that regard it does a tremendous job. The path through Discovery’s maiden voyage has been a shaky one, but it is important to celebrate and applaud how effectively it is reaching its end.