Category: TV Reviews


Showtime’s Who Is America? is simultaneously one of the funniest and most horrifying shows I’ve seen in many a long, cold night. I don’t know what solidifies this more; the fact that anyone in 201X still falls for Sacha Baron Cohen’s put-ons, or that it doesn’t seem to take that much “fooling” to get people in power to agree with the proposal of a program that supplies American school children with firearms as a measure AGAINST school shootings.

It seems I have implied that Sacha Baron Cohen’s routine, where he performs a character from a different land well enough that he can dupe horrible people into saying horrible things without ever being unveiled, is “so yesterday”. His Borat was a success, even funnier because of its exposé of humanity than because of Cohen’s stellar performance, but Brüno left many dissatisfied. The Dictator was good, but lacked the documentary format that allowed Cohen to use his characters to get content out of people in real life.

Now, Cohen returns to that format, and we realize that the contemporary climate is what was needed to bring Cohen back to form and give his parnkster shtick a place to resurge. Because, as clips from Who Is America? will confirm, the truth about life is still (perhaps more than ever) “you can’t make this shit up”.

When I reviewed Beatriz at Dinner, I feared that too many films and shows would henceforth be reactions to the Trump presidency and that messages of girl power, black rights, and fat baby-man politicians would get too old and repetitive to be striking. Colbert’s adventures of Cartoon Trump are indeed stale and The Opposition sloppily tries to achieve that which Cohen now has. THIS is what we needed; Cohen getting back in Borat-tier shape when the world of politics, not to mention political TV, demanded it most.

Cohen plays a multitude of characters, including conspiracy theorist Billy Ruddick, a textbook liberal activist named Nira, and an Israeli anti-terrorism expert who spearheads the Kinderguardians movement, which aims to put weapons in the hands of school children to keep them safe (try to follow along). We learn from such interviewees as Congressman Joe Wilson that the founding fathers did in fact never put an explicit age limit on the Second Amendment, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America is happy to explain that toddlers are “pure” as they are still “uncorrupted by fake news and homesexuality”. Again I dare you to write something more amazing than this.

As mockumentaries and social experiments that blur the line between reality and fiction go, this is not as impressive as, say, Nirvanna the Band the Show. There’s just not as much tension here when it seems that the cover of the performer might be blown. Even so, it turns out Cohen’s still got it (as Sarah Palin, Roy Moore and others will also tell you) and I hope he keeps it up. This is more like it, ya godless media libruls.

4/5

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Worth checking out.

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HBO’s Westworld is a well-produced show, gorgeous enough to rival Stanley Kubrick in one half (with its shot composition and symbolism) and the best of Spaghetti Westerns in the other, that tries to be more clever and complicated than it can necessarily pull off. I enjoyed its first season quite a lot, but side with the critique that the way it played with its own timeline wasn’t entirely thought-out, and that its promises that something big would soon be revealed weren’t always to be trusted.

I don’t know why this has to happen whenever J.J. Abrams‘ name is placed on something. Hell, even the new Star Wars trilogy could end up retconning that which Luke said of Rey’s parents, and reveal that she was in fact raised by smoke monsters. But that’s for another time. We are talking science fiction, not space opera.

The season 2 opener, Into the Night, offers intriguing concepts and mysteries, but falls short in terms of making me connect with the characters – or at least all of them. Back when season 1 aired, my good friend Charlie noted that he had trouble fully recalling the events of a given episode. I couldn’t tell you if this is related, but I invite my readers to tell me if they too end up bored by some of these characters and whether they stick (I suppose, a partial point of Westworld is to challenge our perception that these robots are just robots).

Still, there are characters I liked the first time around. I liked the robot/”host” played by Thandie Newton and her storyline more than I liked that of Evan Rachel Wood‘s Dolores (the “real” main character), even if both of these AI’s yearn for similar things – it warmed my Swedish heart to see Fares Fares and Gustaf Skarsgård as well, of course. The humans are losing control of the AI’s, and I will want to see where this goes.

As long as there is a plan this time and the lack of answers isn’t explained away by some “Mystery Box” speech (I agree that riddles are often more interesting than the answers but I would argue it depends on the show).

3/5

‘The Big Bang Theory’ Review (TV)

Worth skipping.

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‘ReBoot’ Review (TV)

This one I recommend.

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Works as punishment.

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‘Black Mirror’ Review (TV)

Must-see!

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“I will see you again in 25 years” – Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks finale, 1991. Close enough!

Just as Samurai Jack finally got to wrap things up (one day earlier, to be exact), an old classic even more overdue for a continuation resumes; one with a truly singular legacy. The series itself, which masterfully mixed all sorts of genres and tones, influencing decades of TV to come; the books, that delved into even more dark corners of the titular town; the film, which explored murder victim and town sweetheart Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) more intimately than ever; and the special Blu-Ray collection which, among other things, showed us deleted scenes that would have restored some of the show’s eccentric humour and character for the film, but migh have ruined its pacing and downright horrific mood. As Red Letter Media speculated, the final frame of the film, showing Laura smiling again at last, may have signified the end of her agony, but also the knowledge that at some point in the future, the tale will continue. The Black Lodge is said to exist outside of time and space, so who’s to say what its inhabitants know and do not know?

Indeed, Twin Peaks has finally returned and so too has David Lynch to the director’s chair after years of trying other things, along with fellow show creator Mark Frost. Set 25 years after the original series, as promised, it shows us what happened to the old characters we love – the quirky townsfolk, the law enforcement, the high school kids, the families, others we might see later – and how new characters are headed for a journey of unnatural mysteries they scarcely suspect. The camera work, lighting, ambience, scenery and music are just as powerful in this as they were back in the day, but complaints may arise as to how it is slower in pace and darker in mood. To me, it seemed appropriate. I bought for each second that this is truly what’d come of the world of Twin Peaks over the decades we never saw. It is sadder; it is more modern yet still so very familar (not unlike the closing song by Chromatics); the dark magic of the Lodge has spread.

Of course, there are some actors who will not be returning to reprise their roles, which is either due to disagreements or, well, death. This is especially unfortunate with characters like BOB, who is such a central part of Twin Peaks lore that it is hard to imagine the show without his sinister presence.

It’s reasonable to assume that BOB will continue roam the Earth in the form of, spoiler alert, the dark doppelgänger of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, still great) from the Black Lodge, wherein the real Agent Cooper still wanders. Re-casting him would be futile; nobody else could create a grin as bone-chilling as that of Native-American set actor/set dresser Frank Silva. The equally iconic Log Lady appears briefly, in the final scene Catherine Coulson recorded before she too left us.

Having seen the opening two-parter, I can affirm that Lynch is still in great shape (not just the directing, but also the dream-esque horror imagery that no other artist would have visualized) and that out of all the countless reboots and continuations of the year, this is thus far the one I am the most satisfied with. Not too different, not too reliant on fanservice; it was like returning home to find that while things have understandably changed, it is still very much home. So put on some coffee, get yourself a plate of cherry pie, and share my joy that, indeed, the gum is back in style. Let’s rock!

5/5

Worth skipping.

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If 2016 was the year of incessant sequels and reboots, 2017 is the year that our old favorites straight-up came back, or at least got to resume where they left off. Already we’ve seen the return of Samurai Jack, just one month from now we’re getting more Twin Peaks, and, oh, Lasagna Cat. Don’t forget Lasagna Cat.

And now, thanks to the magic of Internet fandom and crowd-funding, a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has come to Netflix, ready to provide us with more deliberately corny sketches followed by a human plus his robot friends commenting over a B-movie aboard their space station. Alas, and I may step on a few toes when I say this, MST3K is probably the comeback I was the least excited for, mostly because I never felt like the series needed to continue and also because the last people to have portrayed the main characters – Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett – moved on to do RiffTrax, thus giving the fans a quencher all the same. Therefore, this new season feels more like it belongs in reboot territory after all and not only because Mike is no longer our host and the robots are all re-cast. I’ll bet you the J. Elvis Weinstein fans are angrier today than ever.

Some who did return, however, are people before the Mike era, such as show creator Joel Hodgson (even if actors from later seasons are slated to cameo), here to pass on the torch to a new generation of riff-ers and evil scientists supplying said riff-ers with torturous films. Jonah Ray is our host, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn voice Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, and the son of Dr. Clayton Forrester’s henchman TV’s Frank is played by Patton Oswalt. Forrester himself apparently had a child too (presumably before he was turned into a Star Child by an enlarged VHS tape), played here by Felicia Day.

The film that Jay and the bots are forced to watch is Reptilicus, a Danish monster movie that Cinemassacre covered a long time ago – this is all I know about it, aside from the fact that it involves a dragon-like puppet and slime.

The episode is technically not bad and I had a good time watching it. I didn’t find Felicia Day terribly funny and some of the riffs were, expectedly, weaker than others (the pacing was also off, with a new joke being made before the punchline of the previous one had sunk in) but it was lovingly put together, with the campy special effects, obscure references, and all that. I suppose I just feel like I haven’t really wished for this day the same way I’ve longed to see the endings for Twin Peaks and Samurai Jack. Like I said, we’ve already had RiffTrax and Joel himself even tried out an idea called Cinematic Titanic, but considering the reception of the latter show, I guess it makes sense he’d want to tread safer waters in the not too distant future.

3/5