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

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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)

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

Surprise of the Day : TATE on Amazon Prime and DVD

The thing I like about Amazon Prime, and that sets it apart from Netflix is how deep its library of classic and obscure movies and tv shows goes.

It’s a wonderful Rabbit hole of films and TV shows that have been unseen in many cases, since their airing.

 

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TATE I discovered this morning. Its episode HOMETOWN is the pilot of a series that, despite excellent casts and scripts, only lasted 13 episodes..

Filmed in 1960, the show is set almost a 100 years earlier to right after the civil war, and stars a one-armed vet, and an ornery but honest sheriff,  who must hold the line in a town set against them.
Amazon Prime only has the first episode, but what an episode. Watching it in 2016 for the first time, it is just gripping television
I liked it so much that I picked up the entire 1960 series on DVD!
If you are similarly moved, you can get it here:

Tate Entire Series DVD

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Deputy:    I got a wife and family, Morty!

Sheriff:    You took your pay in the summer.

                     Now it’s winter.

                     You either in it, or crawl out of my sight!

                     I SAID CRAWL!

“Even with introspective, personal-story scripts from the always excellent Fink and good casts populated by James Coburn, Royal Dano, Robert Culp, Louise Fletcher, Robert Redford, Paul Richards, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, Peter Whitney, Chris Alcaide, Cathy O’Donnell, Pat Breslin, Mort Mills, Ted DeCorsia, Julie Adams and others, the 13 episodes of the surly gunfighter failed to catch-on with viewers, finding strong opposition from “I’ve Got a Secret” on CBS and “Wednesday Night Boxing” and “Hawaiian Eye” on ABC. Sponsored by Kraft, the series ended September 21 and Como returned to his time-slot in October ‘60.

Akin to the best of “Have Gun Will Travel”, “The Westerner”, “The Loner” and “The Rebel” scripts, “Tate” deserves a second viewing (if not a first if you missed it in ‘60) as an overlooked western gem.”

—WESTERN CLIPPINGS

Best current TV Show : BBC One’s and Hulu’s MUSKETEERS!!

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MUSKETEERS courtesy OF BBC One and currently available on Hulu is far and away my current favorite show. From series creator and main-writer Adrian Hodges comes this wonderful reworking of Alexandre Dumas perennial classic, THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Perhaps outside of Shakespeare and the Bible, the work of Alexandre Dumas (the son of the Black Giant, The Black Devil, Napolean’s greatest general, Thomas Alexandre Dumas) has been the most adapted into film of any body of work.

Napolean’s Greatest General

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–Olivier Pichat’s portrait of Alexandre the Elder

And with good reason, its themes of heroism and villainy, liberty and tyranny, corruption and honor, love and lust, are timeless, and its characters… iconic, and its swashbuckling action lends itself to the cinematic.

I’ve seen many of the films, and a few different TV shows, seeking to adapt the work of this most brilliant of France’s writers (a writer whose work was infused with a pride in his father, and his heroic exploits) and unfortunately none of the adaptions, none of them, ever refect the rich Haitian, and Black, and African, and Moorish nature not just of the writer, nor of the inspiration for these stories… his father, but of a France and Spain and an Europe that was teeming with a melting pot of a people… a rich vibrant stew of exslaves, freemen, and emissaries from distant lands.

So adaptions have always felt for me lacking, due to this sense of a fiction, less rich than the facts, this lack of any characters of color. Which is no great plot, it is infact an extension of Dumas himself writing for a mainstream audience, so the grestest mass of france could see themselves in his writing.

And so finally 172 years after Alexandre Dumas first wrote of his d” Artagnan and the Three Musketeers (serialized in the Parisian paper Le Siecle) in Adrian Hodges MUSKETEERS we finally get a Black Musketeer, played awesomely by Howard Charles. And on top of that you get a multicultural France, sprinkled with people of color.

In many ways I find the BBC One Adaption superior, because it takes risks in terms of ethnicity and politics that are, if not completely absent, dialed down, in at least the English translation of Dumas THREE MUSKETEERS. But the current adaption appeals to a 21st century audience, the original had to appeal to a 19th century audience, and be published.

“In those times panics were common, and few days passed without some city or other registering in its archives an event of this kind. There were nobles, who made war against each other; there was the king, who made war against the cardinal; there was Spain, which made war against the King. Then, in addition to these concealed or public, secret or open wars, there were robbers, mendicants, Huguenots, wolves, and scoundrels, who made war upon everybody.”
—THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Alexandre Dumas

I really think the series, wonderfully speaks to a little bit of the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ lives of the Alexandres. The wonder of their lives, the height of their challenges, the magnificence of their victories. You get just a smidgen of this in the new series, but its enough… to finally allow me to completely embrace this show.

That and the fact the writing in the series is great, the direction is great, the performances are great, and the action is fun and swashbuckling. I love this show.

The third season has wrapped up, BBC says it is the last season. Hopefully Netflix will pick this up for a fourth season. But whether or not they do, for my money they have left us with the definitive version of Alexandre Dumas’ MUSKETEERS. (At least until Carl Franklin releases his version of the THREE MUSKETEERS, with multiple musketeers of color 🙂 )

I am going to buy all three seasons, because this is a series, (much like the 80s ROBIN OF SHERWOOD that is also the definitive treatment of that property) that deserves to be always readily available; whether or not you have an internet connection.

Highly Recommended!

 

 

 

Musketeers, The (BD) [Blu-ray]

Musketeers, The: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

Musketeers, The: Season 3 [Blu-ray]

Roku TV Watching Guide : 15 Favorite TV Shows on Amazon April/May 2016

15 Favorite TV/Cable Shows on Amazon

 

THE GOOD WIFE – all seasons

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GRIMM all seasons

FRINGE – All Seasons

POLDARK 1st Season

MR. SELFRIDGE 2 Seasons

STRIKE BACK 2 Seasons

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THE AMERICANS – 3 Seasons

HOUSE OF LIES

BANSHEE – 2 Seasons

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – All Seasons

TWILIGHT ZONE – All seasons

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – All Seasons

BETTER OFF TED – All seasons

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AMERICAN HORROR STORY – Only 2nd season is recommended

DOCTOR WHO – many seasons

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

ROME

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FALLING SKIES

TORCHWOOD – All seasons

 

 

 

 

Roku TV Watching Guide : 15 Favorite TV Shows on Netflix April/May 2016!!

15 Best TV/Cable Shows on Netflix

 

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RIPPER STREET Seasons 1 to 3 – Hands down the best BBC show, and one of the best TV shows period. Ranks up there with GRIMM and THE GOOD WIFE as television’s greatest

DAREDEVIL Seasons1 to 2 – Season 1 is a game changing masterpiece, season 2 stumbles a bit, but still very good

ARROW Seasons  1 to 3

HOUSE OF CARDS Seasons 1 to  4

BURN NOTICE Seasons 1 to 7

BLACKLIST Seasons 1 to 2

AGENTS OF SHIELD Seasons 1 to 2

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PERSON OF INTEREST Seasons 1 to 4 (Season 3 Ep 11 is television at its best, but you can’t just watch it without watching the previous episodes. You have to build naturally to that episode, but it is well worth the journey)

ALPHAS Seasons 1 to 2

WALLANDER (Swedish) Seasons 1 to 2

AKA JESSICA JONES Season 1

LONGMEYER Seasons 1 to 4

CLONE WARS Seasons  1 to 6

SPARTACUS Seasons 1 to 4

HELL ON WHEELS Seasons 1 to 4 – (9TH episode of season 1, is among one of the finest hours of television. Series jumped the shark with Season 4, but those first three seasons are television at its finest.)

 

Four honorable mentions:

MARON Seasons 1 to 3

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SUPERNATURAL Seasons 1 to 10 – Jumps the shark after season 5, but those first 5 sessions are a lot of fun

ZOO Season 1

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MESSENGERS Season 1

 

Snowed In? Binge Watch Gerry Anderson’s UFO on HULU!!

If you are like a great majority of the North East, you are very much snowed in this weekend; so let me suggest something perfect for such a weekend.

HULU offers a bevy of shows worthy of binge watching, here is one of the best:

UFO – This series, the brainchild of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson is them making the leap from their very popular children’s Marionette series to, not only Live Action, but also more Adult fare. This show, embodying many of the obsessions of the late 60s, the Space Race, ESP, the James Bond Spies, A more global, diverse perspective, and UFOs,tells an imaginative tale of a secret cold war between these mysterious UFOs and the Earth’s protectors… SHADO.

A few episodes in, getting past the wonderfully kitschy depiction of the far flung year of 1980 (Sylvia’s designs for dress and uniforms, is at once sexy, ludicrous, surreal, and ultimately captivating), and the crudeness of the effects (which I personally love, Gerry Anderson being the king of marionette and minature based effects, which he would further perfect in SPACE 1999, which itself would inspire some of the effects in STAR WARS) and you quickly realize this is a serious and at times shockingly dire and brilliant show. The scripts are surprising, in that out of this far fetched world comes moments of pathos, and thoughtfulness, and sometimes strivings toward the profound. It was a welcome tone, a morality to the writing that would be even more in evidence in the 1st season of SPACE 1999 (avoid Season 2, and make sure you watch Season 1 in the correct order).

But despite its quality UFO was an unfortunately, but possibly understandably, short lived show.

The unfortunate part because the show when originally broadcast in the US, was done out of sequence, which made it just not work from week to week. A similar fate would befall both UFO’s follow-up series and (as a 21st century example) Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY

HULU thankfully presents the series in order, and it makes all the difference, as you get to grow with the characters as they grow with each other. Treat yourself to this 46 year old, way out 60s infused tale of spies and Aliens in the far-flung future of 1980.

Highly Recommended!