TV Show of the Week! Amazon’s THE GRAND TOUR! Great Car/Humor Show!

 

 

https://scontent-lga3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/15107271_528972003968012_8096998581861718912_n.jpg?oh=95c9ebb5ab9cccbcb1845e214046fcb2&oe=58C181A9

Last year I became a huge fan of the BBC car show TOP GEAR. Thanks to catching episodes of past seasons on Netflix.  It took a couple episodes for me to warm up to the show, but quite quickly the natural camaraderie of the hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May  made a believer out of me.

The shows were just plain fun. So when news came that one  of the trinity was no longer going to be on the show, due to punching out one of the producers, and the other 2/3rds quitting to join him, I was dismayed. No more of the show that I had in quick order made a binge watch favorite.

And yes there was the American TOP GEAR, but the hosts there came off as annoying frat boys, making the show quite unwatchable. Nope it was clear that what made BBC’s TOP GEAR a long running hit, was the fun dynamic of the three hosts they had stupidly lost.

So when it was announced that AMAZON was giving the three ex-hosts a new car show, I couldn’t wait. Well tonight the waiting ended as the first episode of THE GRAND TOUR  dropped. And it’s great. Different but great. There are minor quibbles, the biggest being the absolutely awful ‘THE AMERICAN’ driver.

Their take on the very popular “STIG’ driver of TOP GEAR, but a very poor take it is. Being something of a very unfunny send-up of Ugly American cliches.  The ‘AMERICAN’ is very annoying, very unfunny, and is a bit that hopefully they will pull the plug on in short order.

That aside, the rest of the show and the skits and the cars and the banter of the hosts is great! And the opening sequence is quite frankly awesome. A welcome premiere and looking forward to the upcoming Friday release  of new shows!

 

http://amzn.to/2ePIPSa

 

 

The Grand Tour

 

 

TV REVIEW : Netflix’s LUKE CAGE Season 1 Episode 1-13 by Cheo Hodari Coker

serveimage-1

serveimage

 

Well I’ve just finished watching the 13th episode of Netflix/Marvel Studios LUKE CAGE, and I have to say… I loved it. Full stop. Show runner Cheo Hodari Coker manages to in many ways do the impossible, and take a character already spotlighted in the JESSICA JONES series, and whose origins are the milieu of the Black Action or Black Agency film of the late 60s and 70s (mislabeled under the derogatory misnomer of Blaxploitation) and with him tell a rich, evocative, exciting, deeply layered cultural and historical and prescient love letter, to a place, Harlem, New York, and to an idea of local determination, and local agency, and self love, and colored love, and Black love in the age of Ferguson.

 

 

Or you can just look at it as a great action/drama series, set in the wonderfully expansive universe of Marvel shared superhero universe.🙂.

 

 

But what has exemplified the Netflix/Marvel collaborations to date is how grounded they are in a world not so dissimilar from our own. The gritty street level nature of DAREDEVIL’s 1st season, and ground breaking fight choreography, and fantastic writing made for a justifiably lauded 13 hours of television. (lost a bit in its less cohesive and interesting 2nd season)

 

luke-cage-mike-colter-3-600x401

LUKE CAGE takes that to another level, in being a show that is as much about cultural signposts and idioms that define us, as it is the ‘A’ story of conflict and resolution. The literary and historical and musical references are not just littered throughout the story, they help define the scope of the character and the scope of the neighborhood that this story takes place in. A man is the things he loves, the things he reads, the things he listens to, the heroes that inspired, the places that mattered, and immediately in one episode Coker defines LUKE CAGE the character and the series in broad strokes, that for me reverberate deeply.

 

 

The first two episodes floored me in how good and rich and beautiful, they are. Coker here hitting, for me, the conversations I have in my soul and my head, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Denis LeHane, George Pelecanos, Donald Goines??? Come’ on Son!!! Kenyatta??? Those few strokes and I knew this was a writer with a deep love and understanding of genre fiction, and those who make it.

 

 luke-cage-alfre-woodard-600x438

 

But it’s more than name dropping, our influences define us, and define our world, and define who we care for, so immediately they make us part and parcel of this story that Coker and his team of writers tell. It’s a beautifully structured 13 hours of television, in that the first 6 episodes are very much their own chapter. You could bundle those 6 episodes up and have a great season.

 

Episode 7 feels like a swerve, very much like a start over, so if you rush into it, not recognizing that peak at the end of 6, that culmination, it’s going to feel stretched out. One of the possible dangers of binge TV… you have to pace yourself.

luke-cage-mahershala-ali-600x406

Take a break after episode 6, let that sink in. It is very much, in comic book terms, the end of the first trade paperback or story arc. Episode 7 begins the 2nd story arc, so you have to go into it not rushing to a conclusion, but gearing up for the start, because start it does. As everything from the first arc gets turned on its head, and new major players break on the scene. It’s a jarring ride, but once it hits episode 9 its has picked up steam and by 10 is on a full sprint to the finish. Episodes 11, 12 and 13 are Brilliant.

 

There is a saying out there that ‘it’s not how you begin, but how you end that matters’; that saying is wrong. All of it matters. It is about how you begin, how you endure, and how you end. Cheo Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE does the extremely unlikely, in doing all three exceptionally well.

 

 

I want a Blu-Ray of this show, complete with Director’s and cast commentary, like yesterday. It is that good, and replete with episodes you want to go back to and know more about.

 

 

And I have to say it’s wonderful to see here in 2016, that TV is making great strides to not be exploitative, and to have shows where you can have more than a token number of characters of color.

 

 luke-cage-poster-claire-temple luke-cage-poster-misty-knight

 

One thing I love about LUKE CAGE, particularly about the 2nd half (I love the first half as well) is it is so wonderful to see 6 beautiful women of color in major speaking parts, taking center stage in moments of strength and weakness, and owning the stage. It’s so rare to see a three shot of powerful, beautiful Black women in uplifting, exciting, dramatic, heroic material. It’s non-existent in Hollywood but thankfully, through great show-runners of color, and the success of shows such as BEING MARY JANE and EMPIRE is becoming finally available on the small screen. And the same love extends to being able to see multiple men of color in powerful, uplifting, heroic roles.

 

 

And the appearance of Method Man, and that song… Amazing. This series in addition to a DVD/Blu-Ray, must release a sound track, because in addition to the songs, the score for some of the episodes… is stunning.

 

 

I’ve recently become addicted to listening and purchasing scores, and LUKE CAGE has a world class score.

 

 

Now, is the series perfect ? No. I thought episode 3, they had a real opportunity to do an action sequence as talked about as DAREDEVIL’s hallway fight, but the director/fight coordinator wasn’t up to it. You’ll know the scene when you see it, it’s perfectly fine, but never rises above fine, when it should have been spectacular. And it’s a different show from DAREDEVIL , so the action will be different, I get that, but you can still do different and STUNNING.

 

Also, my problem with a character like Luke Cage, is the same one I have with a character like Wolverine, just because you can stand there and take being shot by a hail of bullets, doesn’t mean you want to or have to.

 

 

Luke Cage’s character (minor spoiler ahead) is revealed as a former police officer, former Recon soldier, former Prison MMA Fighting champ, former Boxer, all this to say… HE CAN FIGHT. So speed the dude up! Rather than standing there and waiting for someone to unload a clip on you, he should be disarming them and wrapping the gun around their necks before they can get off a shot. Especially since ricochets can kill just as well as any other bullet. I understand visually it’s an exciting thing to depict, but it should be the exception for talented filmmakers, not the rule. When he is shielding people from gunfire, sure… let the bullets fly. But in combat mode he should be disarming these guys before they get a shot off. Particularly later in the season that attitude would have made for exciting sequences.

 

mahershala-ali-alfre-woodard-and-theo-rossi-in-luke-cage

So that was another issue I had. However, the sequences do improve as the series progresses. Plus it’s not a show that is about fisticuffs like DAREDEVIL, as much as it is about the fight for a soul of a neighborhood. And that tale it tells expertly.

 

 

It is a superlative 13 hours of television, and all involved should take a bow. Cheo Hodari Coker has made not just a great Netflix series, but a great television show, and the one to beat as my favorite show of 2016.

 

Marvel's Luke Cage

Marvel’s Luke Cage

And among the Netflix shows so far where do I rank it? It’s much better than DAREDEVIL Season 2, which was good, but not great, it edges out JESSICA JONES, which was great, and it battles it out with DAREDEVIL Season 1 for the top spot. DAREDEVIL Season 1 which was clearly the best show of 2015, outdoes it in terms of action, a definite A of a show.

 

 

However I have minor quibbles with it, like I didn’t like the loss of Ben Urich, I found the character of Karen page annoying through most of it, the character of Matt Murdock was a bit unlikable, and the last episode it failed to stick the landing with an unimpressive looking costume, and just a bit of a dour ending. So those nitpicks, are the reason LUKE CAGE edges it out, and gets a big A+ grade from me. It possesses a story and characters that I want to revisit… often.

 

serveimage-5

Final Verdict: Seminal, Must Watch TV! Will appeal to fans of mystery novels, especially fans of Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, or fans of movies such as TROUBLE MAN.

 

If you are not a fan or are made uncomfortable or nervous or have unexamined issues with women of color, you probably will have an issue with the later episodes.

 

‘The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Brother, it always does.🙂.

 

But for the rest of us who watch the series, LUKE CAGE is phenomenal television at its best.

 

Netflix Series of the Month : LUKE CAGE by Cheo Hodari Coker! Report card on Episodes 1 to 8!

The long awaited third Netflix/Marvel series, LUKE CAGE, has launched, and helmed by relative unknown show runner, Cheo Hodari Coker, eight episodes in and I’m LOVING IT!!!

Here’s a minor recap of the eight episodes seen to date. It’s relatively innocuous comments, but to cover my bases I will say minor spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen the episodes. But really I don’t think it spoils anything. But if in doubt, watch the episodes first.

Episode 1 and 2 written by Cheo Hodari Coker and directed by Paul McGuigan are exceptional. As strong, if not stronger of a start than the previous Netflix entries. It’s really some fantastic, rich, long overdue writing that touches on everything from Crispus Attucks to Walter Mosley to Dennis Lehane.

Episode 3 is good but I have minor quibbles with it. The first 2 episodes sets up Luke Cage as someone who doesn’t curse and doesn’t like profanity, so his going into a battle listening to a profanity laden rap song seems questionable.

Also the Director has the chance to make a pivotal action scene to match the wonderful episode 3 highlight of the DAREDEVIL season 1, and misses a mark with a pretty unremarkable action sequence. However the remaining episode, good dialogue, nice twists, and a literally explosive ending keeps this episode in the winner category.

Episode 4 is FANTASTIC. An excellent origin story. Superlative story

Episode 5 is FANTASTIC! Yes!

Episode 6 Wonderful wrap-up. If this was a 6 episode season it would rock! In many ways this is the end of the first story arc, if this was a comic trade-paperback. And episode 7 begins the 2nd arc.So you should really approach starting the 7th episode, after a small break, like you are starting a new story arc.

Episode 7 – Fantastic score highlights this episode. Probably the best score of any of the episodes. A fantastic origin story, this time for the antagonists. What makes a great hero, is a great villain. And this episode shows you the roots of two of them. One of the best episodes!

Episode 8 – The machinations against Luke tighten as his life, and the lives of those around him come tumbling down. Another engrossing episode, that I was thoroughly entertained by from beginning to end.

3/4ths done and I think this series is a Home Run. I like it much better than Daredevil Season II, and have to wait to see if it sticks the landing… to see if I like it as much as DAREDEVIL Season 1 and JESSICA JONES.

The Marvel/Netflix juggernaut continues to be, like Luke Cage, bullet-proof.🙂

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Netflix Daredevil Season 2 Television Review

https://i1.wp.com/static1.techinsider.io/image/568e9787e6183e28008b795c-960/daredevil-season-2-poster%20.jpg

The first season of Netflix’s DAREDEVIL was with one or two missteps, a masterpiece… and now the long awaited 2nd season has broken onto Netflix. And the verdict after watching all 13 episodes… it’s good overall, great in sporadic parts, and uneven throughout most of it. It feels tired and maudlin in a way the first season never did.

And much of the weakness of the 2nd season is directly related to carrying over the missteps of Season 1. The death of Vondie Curtis Hall’s character of Ben Urich was a mistake, and the sometimes screeching, sanctimonius, annoying nature of the Karen Page charater, also was always poised to upset the ship.

And here those two blips combine to I think after the first 3 strong episodes, bog down the remaining 10 episodes. Every scene with the Karen Page character (doing her Nancy Drew with the Editor), just highlights how much better those scenes would have played with Hall’s Ben Urich character bringing gravitas to those moments.

And while the actress who plays Karen Page, is definitely striking, her character is written and played annoyingly, so giving her more screen time this season is analagous to nails on a chalkboard. Her voiceover to round out the last episode, I’m sure was meant to be this poignant summation of the season, but came off as so much trite, cliched fluff. A failure of writing and delivery.

On top of that example, the writing which was a standout of most of season 1, stumbles here in season 2. I thought episode 5 was a complete trainwreck, boring, navel gazing, let down by both the writing and directing. It tried to mirror the emotional intensity of the 5th episode of Season 1, but lacked a story and writing and performances capable of carrying the episode.

Add to that the whole Daredevil/ Elektra/ Black Sky plotline, was delivered in a bit of a muddled fashion, it all reeks of perhaps needing more rewrites. I who am familiar with these characters, found the season a bit unclear and unsatisfying at times.

Those negatives acknowledged, there was much to like about season 2, I thought the action scenes were excellent, the characters of Stick and the Punisher compelling, the performances of most of the leads stellar.

So overall, glad to have seen the 2nd  season, but I didn’t love it.

And here’s hoping season 3 brings the magical return of Ben Urich’s character, and less screen time for the Karen Page character and the Paper’s Editor (who I found equally uninteresting),

Overall Grade:  B-.

 

 

Black Faces, White Messages : Doctor Who

With Season 9 of BBC slated to start in a month, season 8 of DOCTOR WHO finally makes its way onto Netflix. I’ve watched more DOCTOR WHO than the vast majority of you reading this. My compulsive personality at work, I’ve seen all of the current reboot, and all of the classic existing series.

And I’ve seen the series go from great to mediocre and back again. One thing the series has suffered from, at times, in both its classic and modern incarnations is its depictions of people not WASPish.

Russell T. Davies was the visionary largely responsible for the rebirth of Dr. Who after an absence of over a decade; bringing a 20th century creation successfully into the 21st century. In terms of effects, and scope of story-lines Davies reboot was a massive win both artistically and commercially. That said one of the few failings of Russell T. Davies tenure, especially early on, was his use of characters of Color.

His Mickey character, played by the Shakespearean trained Noel Clarke (And I hold both creator and actor complicit for such a portrayal) from the first was a neutered, constantly emasculated character of color much in the vein of Step and Fetchit Hollywood, not just an offensive character, but worse a detriment to otherwise watchable story-lines, of which the Russell T. Davies run, had many.

I would rather creators avoid using characters of color, than use them offensively or ignorantly, as nothing more than tokens or stereotypes or outlets for their biases, which I think unfortunately is how Russell t. Davies approached such characters, particularly early in his run.

However by the Tenant years, Davies had a far better grasp on utilizing characters of color, as his Martha Jones character, brilliantly played by Freema Agyeman and her extended family were from the most part brilliantly written.

The post Tenant years, starring the youngest Doctor Matt Smith, and helmed by new Show Runner Steven Moffatt, I felt were pretty uneven, as the character was saddled with companions for most of his run that I found almost as annoying as the Mickey character.

That brings us finally to the new incarnation of the Doctor played by Peter Capaldi in Season 8, which definitely had me intrigued.

However, initially, the introduction of a Black character (love interest for the companion Clara), named Mr. Pink had me groaning audibly. I saw another Mickey in the making. A Black character called Mr, Pink? Really? Why not just call him snowball. But thankfully, the series, six episodes in is smarter, better written, and the character of Mr. Pink, stronger and more compelling and likably written and performed, than initial episodes and the unfortunate name… would imply. As well as other characters of color in far more humanistic and enjoyable and non-stereotypical roles than most stateside shows.

Add to that Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara are fantastic. Capaldi brings a less manic, measured performance and is a welcome touchstone to the Doctor as teacher and mentor and father. And Jenna Coleman’s Clara an excellent companion.

Episode 6 CARETAKER is my favorite of the season so far and season 8 as a whole my favorite season since the Tenant/Agyeman series. Let’s hope the writing continues to transcend the easy crutches of stereotype that sometime marred earlier seasons, and continues to broaden and enrich the history and mythology of Dr. Who.

Final Word:

On the accusation of Black Faces/White Message we find Season 8 of Doctor Who… NOT GUILTY. It is TV done right, as Showrunner, Stars, and stories combine to make addictive, fun, ethnically diverse, and smart television.

TV Review : BEING HUMAN UK

91dorbHOcwL._SL1500_

This review is on the original UK series BEING HUMAN. The quick one sentence breakdown on this series? This five season series, goes on two seasons two long.

The first three seasons tells the unconventional tale of a werewolf, and vampire, and ghost that end up sharing the same house. REAL WORLD for the universal monster set. Alternately funny and imaginative and dramatic the series over three seasons sports first and foremost solid casting, actors who are magnetic and likable and you want to follow their journey. That’a a significant point, that I think gets missed by too many shows, the casting and the chemistry of the cast.

Shows like AGENTS OF SHIELD sport bland cookie cutter casts with negative star power, and then have an uphill battle making the audience care enough to follow the boring cast. Thankfully for the first three seasons the UKs BEING HUMAN had a cast with chemistry, great writing, wonderful performances, and excellent effects all building up to a great cliffhanger third season finale.

For all intents and purposes that’s really where the show ends. After that  a pitiful fourth and fifth season limps out with largely a new cast and atrocious writing. The saying ‘jumped the shark’ is never truer than with season 4 and 5 of BEING HUMAN UK. My advice get the first three seasons, and let this series end in your memory with that intriguing cliffhanger and erase all belief that a season 4 or 5 was ever made (much like season 2 of SPACE 1999 and season 4 of BATTLE STAR GALACTICA [new series] should likewise be forgotten). Grade: Great for seasons 1 to 3! Price Blurays below.

Being Human: Season 1 [Blu-ray]

Being Human: Season Two [Blu-ray]

Being Human: Season Three [Blu-ray]

Being Human – Series 1-5 Boxset [Blu-ray] (Region Free)

Happy Holidays, Merry Mass of Christ and Improbable Heights

‘When you strip everything away from Batman, you are left with someone who doesn’t want to see anyone die.’ — KINGDOM COME by Alex Ross and Mark Waid

When I think of humanity in general, and the holiday season in particular it strikes me that that should be our goal. The pursuit of a world, where nobody dies in vain.

But the reality, particularly in America, this time of year is that with the eyes of the media diverted; government sponsored mass-murders actually ramp up, bombings ramp up (now of the drone and unmanned variety, machines murdering men.. what an unholy road we walk), the terrorism of the rich… ramps up.

I’ll not forget the media celebrating the death of Bin Laden. Death and Murder and Torture are never things to celebrate, no matter the justification.

While I am savage enough to know that killing may be a necessary evil, I am human and moral enough to know it is never a joy, never a victory, never a cause for celebration.

Be the murdered Bin Laden, or Hitler or insert bogieman here, bringing murder to murderers is never anything less than a soiling, and a failure, necessary though it may be, it is a failure of reason. And as such is a solemn time, not a glorious one.

Because to do otherwise, to take joy from death, and celebration from degradation and horror… is to devoid you of moral high-ground, is to make you (in ways stark and true) worse than those you would revile, worse than your Hitlers and Bin-Ladens. It makes you a lynchmob, a coward, and an opportunist of carnage.

We must strive to be better than that, otherwise your protestations of Christianity, and Holy Nights, and piety are just lies, are hypocrisy and mendacity most foul, that you use to conceal your roman desire to see people bleed and suffer and die.

You become that lowest form of life, a gibbering coward among cowards, you become nothing more than a grasping claw, a rolling eye, and a screeching mouth… in the creature we call lynchmob. And there is no lower, and ultimately, more inhuman form of life.

Our goal therefore must be to reject that, to reject the easy lies and the easy hates, and work toward this wildly improbable world where no one dies in vain.

But humanity’s very existence is an improbability, so we can bend that already fanciful existence to either improbable heights of good, or improbable depths of evil. We just have to pick a direction.

‘We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. ‘ — John Fitzgerald Kennedy when imploring men into space

Here, on this holiday season, more fiction than fact, ‘goodwill to all’; look into yourself and find what is hypocrisy, what is lies, and find it in yourself to make truths, and truly believe and act on this idea…. of a time of peace.

Here endeth the lesson.