Top Gear Season 27 Premiere Review | ScreenRant

Since the departures of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, Top Gear has been in a state of flux, as the BBC and the show’s producers have brought in various hosts in an attempt to reproduce the unique onscreen alchemy of the opinionated, sometimes controversial, and typically very funny gearheads, who’ve since found a new home at Amazon with The Grand Tour. Needless to say, it’s been something of a bumpy road for the series, as the past few years have seen Chris Evans (not “America’s ass” Chris Evans, but rather the British TV presenter and DJ), Eddie Jordan, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmidt, and perhaps most famously, former Friends star Matt LeBlanc step up to fill the shoes of the show’s departed frontmen. 

At the start season 27, Top Gear once again has new hosts to introduce, in the form of comedian and TV host Paddy McGuinness and former cricket star and TV presenter Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, who have joined returning co-host and motoring journalist Chris Harris for the show’s latest new look. To the series’ credit, as well as the new hosts’, Top Gear addresses the change outright, having Flintoff compare the revolving door of presenters to Doctor Who’s frequent casting changes via the character’s regeneration. But while the show itself, as well as McGuinness and Flintoff, are quick to acknowledge the way in which their newness will take some getting used to, the season premiere makes the wise decision to settle into a comfortable Top Gear-like routine, as a way of assuaging viewers’ concerns. 

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More than that, however, the season 27 premiere ingratiates the new hosts to the show’s sizable (and presumably still devoted) audience by adhering to the comedy-meets-earnest-admiration-for-foreign-locales format popularized by the guys whose names are still synonymous with Top Gear.

It works, for the most part. Season 27 is deliberate in its efforts to get the hosts out into the world where their team spirit can perhaps flower into the kind of bromance that will sustain the series for another few years. It’s a smart move, as Flintoff in particular appears more at ease when he’s actively engaged in driving around, waxing nostalgic about a Porsche Boxster, or competing in one of the episode-specific challenges meant to determine which host chose the best car (or rather, which host’s personal history dictated the best car) for the trek through Ethiopia and into the Danakil Depression. 

The premise of the trip is simple, and it affords the trio a chance to engage in a seemingly organic “getting to know you” exercise, in which each presenter must purchase the type of car that was the first car they ever owned. This leads to some interesting driving situations, with Harris tooling around in a Mini Cooper, while McGuinness is behind the wheel of a Ford Escort, and Flintoff — being a professional cricket player at a very young age — drives the aforementioned Boxster. It all makes for a necessary surface-level introduction for audiences who might not be familiar with McGuinness’s past work and especially those in the States whose exposure to the sport of cricket is likely extremely limited, to say the least. But as the journey through Ethiopia is more about finding out how the personalities of these three men will result in some entertaining (and limitedly informational) situations, it turns out to be exactly what the show needs. 

There’s a performative aspect to Top Gear (and The Grand Tour), wherein the audience is asked to suspend disbelief and allow that many of the situations and competitions are the result of spontaneity and the hosts being “on the road,” and the season 27 premiere certainly takes advantage of that. This results in a collection of challenges that are entertaining enough (particularly one where Paddy, Freddie, and Chris must drive on an airstrip blindfolded and try to get as close as possible to a stationary target), but as is sometimes the case with Top Gear, (and, again, The Grand Tour) they have little to do with the episode’s chosen locale. While the hosts do get out of their cars long enough to play some foosball with a few locals, the episode itself spends too little time with people from the region, much less making exploring what life is like there outside of commenting on its stunning scenery. 

It’s easy enough to say that Top Gear isn’t really a travel show and therefore isn’t beholden to the kinds of cultural explorations one might expect from similar series, but the arm’s length at which the show often holds its chosen setting does feel especially glaring when a second segment compares two supercars (a McLaren 600LT and a Ferrari 488 Pista) with price tags equivalent to a modest single family home. Nevertheless, given the changes the show has undergone in recent years, it’s easy to see why producers would be eager to keep its content as familiar to the audience as possible, maximizing the car-centric shenanigans and focusing on the burgeoning and believable camaraderie of its new hosts. 

That “steady as it goes” approach proves useful in the series premiere and many of the new season’s episodes that follow, as McGuinness, Flintoff, and Harris’s various personalities and areas of expertise begin to gel, and their interactions feel more natural and consistent. For now, it’s the beginning of a new era of Top Gear, one that will hopefully last long enough for the series to feel as distinct and entertaining as it has in the past. 

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Top Gear continues next Sunday @8pm on BBC America.

2019-07-14 02:07:31

Kevin Yeoman

Gotham Series Finale Review: Batman Prequel Series Punts In Its Final Hour

Throughout its five-season run, FOX’s Gotham made a point of marching to the distinct beat of its own campy drummer. But while the show’s take on the crime-ridden streets of Batman’s home town and his classic rogues’ gallery of villains stood out for being deliberately exaggerated and theatrical, it never quite managed to be the show it could have been. That’s not to say Gotham had to be yet another attempt to ape the stylistic and tonal aspirations of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but it wouldn’t have hurt if the series felt as though its approach to storytelling was more than throwing remixed versions of Bat-villains against the wall to see what sticks. 

So much of the final season of Gotham has been a mixed bag of ambition and inevitability. The show’s producers have long said that the Caped Crusader won’t make an appearance until the series’ finale, leaving the 12 episodes of this last season with a lot of heavy lifting to do, so the show’s resident Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) would be ready to don the cape and cowl before spending his nights punching bad guys really hard. That was in addition to the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline that dominated much of the first 11 episodes of the season. After the city was separated from the rest of the U.S. and besieged by roving gangs headed up by the likes of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and more, what remained of the GCPD — including James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) — was left to maintain some semblance of control. That was until Bane (Shane West) showed up and everything went predictably to hell. 

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As far as final seasons go, that premise isn’t bad. Gotham City has always been the problem child the rest of the DC Universe would rather forget about, and putting its survival on the line like that (despite the obvious comparisons to Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises) fittingly raised the stakes for the series. And to see Gordon and Bullock paired up with Penguin, the Riddler, and more to save the city from destruction made for the sort of story the show often struggled mightily to be: one not about the rise of Bruce Wayne to become Batman, but that of Jim Gordon, the titular city’s other protector. 

In many ways, last week’s ‘They Did What?’ served as the series’ official series finale, with ‘The Beginning…’ serving as more of a coda to the overarching story. With the city saved and Bruce on his years-long quest to become the hero his city needs, Gotham was ready to hand the reins over to its pointy-eared protector, but what the series actually delivers is a shallow pastiche of previous Batman origin stories, one told too hastily and from too many different perspectives to deliver a truly dramatic punch, much less an enticing new spin on the character’s early days. 

The issue stems mostly from the decision to jump forward 10 years in time, putting the characters in the unenviable position of having to explain what’s transpired over the last decade, while also dealing with the arrival of Gotham’s golden boy. Bruce’s homecoming is hamstrung by the fact that Mazouz only makes a brief appearance at the episode’s beginning, before the time jump takes place. And while the series scores some points for the clever casting of in Lili Simmons (Banshee), as the now-grown Selina Kyle, Selina’s role as the cat burglar extraordinaire Catwoman feels unmoored from the character viewers have gotten to know over the past five seasons.

It’s a problem that carries through the hour as the arrival of both Bruce Wayne and Batman is the talk of the town, but both characters are shunted off to the margins, with Bruce never actually being seen and Batman only showing up in his bargain-basement suit at the episode’s end. Throughout the episode, Gotham seems to be wrestling with how much time it wants to devote to the character audiences have been waiting to see, with the awed reactions of street-level characters like Gordon, Bullock, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk). In the end, it the hour winds up punting on both accounts. 

Credit to Taylor and Smith who are tasked with screaming through most of the episode as they’re either revealed to be patsies in Jeremiah Valeska’s grand scheme to dunk Gordon’s daughter in a vat of Ace Chemical-brand green goo, or are besieged by an offscreen guy presumably dressed up as a bat. Cameron Monaghan, meanwhile, gets to be the Joker — but not in name — wearing some garish makeup and doing his level best to sound sort of but not too much like a mashup between Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s versions of the character. In the end, neither Jeremiah nor Penguin and Riddler have any sort of meaningful run-in with the Batman. Instead, that’s saved for Selina, who speaks to Bruce without ever making eye contact (otherwise the show would have to focus on his costume), in a scene that provides little to none of the emotional closure either character probably should have had in that moment. 

Though it often succeeded in being exaggerated and weird, Gotham struggled to match its odd-duck status with its ambitions to be a compelling comic books story. As the final hour demonstrates, the series was ultimately too concerned with where Bruce Wayne was headed when it should have been more invested in what the arrival of Batman meant in the city for which the show was named. 

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Gotham seasons 1-4 are available to stream on Netflix.

2019-04-25 06:04:46

Kevin Yeoman

Chambers Review: A Muddled Horror Story Stumbles Through Identity & Grief

Netflix’s Chambers is essentially a teen horror drama that skirts around notions of identity, race, and grief. It centers on Sasha Yazzie (Sivan Alyra Rose) who in the series’ opening moments suffers a freak, near-fatal heart attack at the age of 17. After receiving a life-saving heart transplant, Sasha begins to experience visions and takes on new personality traits ascribed to the young woman whose untimely death gave her a second lease on life. Sasha soon begins to investigate the life of her donor, Becky Lefevre (Lillya Scarlett Reid), an act that’s made entirely too easy after she’s invited into the affluent lifestyle of Becky’s family. That family, Ben (Tony Goldwyn), Nancy (Uma Thurman), and Elliott (Nicholas Galitzine), and their radically different class and social standing in the small Arizona town of Crystal Valley, becomes one of the series’ many potentially engaging but ultimately underdeveloped concepts.

A lack of clarity on what the central mystery actually is — contenders include Becky’s backstory, the circumstances of her death, the weird, cult-like atmosphere surrounding her parents, and what it means for Sasha to take on more of her donor’s personality — muddles the series from the outset, leaving the viewer with only a vague idea of what’s going on and what, ultimately, is at stake. The series is partly a ghost story and partly a possession drama, one that plays openly with notions of race and class and the divisions that emerge along those lines. Sasha lives with her uncle Frank (Marcus Lavoi), the proprietor of a fish store, in close proximity to a Diné reservation where Sasha’s semi-estranged grandfather still lives. In that same town exists the moneyed friends and acquaintances of the Lefevre family, including Lilly Taylor (The Nun) and Matthew Rauch (Banshee).

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The obvious dissimilarities between Sasha and the Lefevres drive much of the early tension in the series, as Becky’s parents begin to take a greater interest in Sasha’s well-being and her future. They go so far as to offer her a scholarship in their daughter’s name, one that sends her to a predominantly white, well-to-do, seemingly progressive high school, and later, by gifting Sasha Becky’s old Prius, much to the chagrin of their son, Elliott. On the surface, Ben and Nancy’s altruism appears to be born of their grief over having lost a child and desire to see her live on in an oblique way through another young woman. But it’s not long before their supposed selflessness begins to take on more sinister implications, ones that begin to threaten Sasha’s identity and eventually her soul. 

The series plays with the latter elements in frustrating fashion, often appearing indecisive over whether or not the mystery of Becky’s death is intended to offer insight or open the door to more terror. At first, Sasha begins to relive moments of Becky’s past, seeing, feeling, and fully experiencing parts of her life, up to and including the moments right before her death. The visions are only part of the package, however, as Sasha gradually begins to see changes in her personality and even her physical body, with her naturally dark hair turning blonde and even her skin whitening as the threat of possession becomes more evident. 

Even as the series foregrounds ideas of racial and cultural erasure and forced assimilation, it struggles to turn them into the compelling, propulsive narrative they deserve. It comes down to intent versus execution, and although the intent of Chambers allows it to deliver a subversive take on horror and its many tropes, the manner in which those ideas are carried out — or laid out for the audience — often feels (oddly) of two minds, the seeming uncertainty of which ultimately proves unable to give the story the energy it needs to sustain itself through 10 (almost) hour-long episodes. 

The series attempts to balance the terrifying subsumption of Sasha’s identity with the palpable grief of Becky’s family. In doing so, it briefly flirts with humanizing an ostensible Great Other that is more or less the boogyman of this story. But, like everything else in Chambers, the road to discovering who the Lefevres are and what they want is long and ponderous. And that’s saying nothing of how labored Becky’s possession of Sasha proves to be. Instead, Chambers seems uncertain how best to utilize the presence of Thurman and Goldwyn and too often settles on repetitive scenes in which their unguarded emotions result in various interactions with Sasha, Frank, or even the privileged Elliott becoming overwhelmingly awkward. 

Although it offers a thought-provoking ideas, a socially relevant premise, and a clear desire to subvert horror tropes, the series’ execution fails to match the ambition of its conceit. Filled with dialogue that is often stilted and dull, and plagued by a meandering pace that frustrates in its refusal to commit to the concept, Chambers settles for intriguing when it could have been outstanding.   

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Chambers will stream exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, April 26.

2019-04-25 04:04:03

Kevin Yeoman

Cobra Kai Review: Karate Kid Sequel Series Continue To Defy Expectation In Season 2

The biggest surprise of YouTube Premium’s original series Cobra Kai was how successful it was in capitalizing on nostalgia for the Karate Kid without relying on it entirely. The return of original cast members Ralph Macchio and William Zabka for a half-hour TV series on a fledgling streaming service initially looked as though it was going to be a tongue-in-cheek goof on the ‘80s coming-of-age hit that launched a franchise. Instead of clowning around with crane kicks and fence-painting training montages the series took a sincere interest in the lives of Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (Zabka), and how a single kick to the face appeared to have overwhelmingly influenced the next 30 years of their lives. 

But in the case of Cobra Kai, sincerity doesn’t translate to humorlessness. In fact, the show’s willingness to lean into comedy and occasionally poke fun at both Johnny and Daniel is perhaps its saving grace. The push-pull of two competing martial arts philosophies, headed up by two very different men, could have resulted in an overbearingly moralistic or cloyingly sweet message, but as the series (and creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald) has demonstrated from the beginning, it’s very concerned with striking the right balance with regard to it core philosophies without resorting to schmaltz to get its point across. 

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That’s not to say Cobra Kai isn’t aware the sometimes awkward sincerity prevalent in the sports genre, and certainly the franchise from which it was spawned. There’s still plenty of that here, especially in season 2, as Daniel’s feud with Johnny has escalated considerably following Miguel Diaz’s (Xolo Maridueña) dirty win over Johnny’s son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), in the All Valley Tournament at the end of season 1. It’s now dojo vs. dojo — or Cobra Kai vs. Miyagi-Do — in an all-out war that may or may not see a bunch of kids’ futures as collateral damage. 

Through it all, though, Cobra Kai maintains a healthy sense of humor, and its secret weapon is Zabka’s performance as Johnny, a man so stuck in the past he’s living an almost Rip Van Winkle-like existence. Between his morning routine of chugging cans of Coors and eating Slim Jims, utter un-wokeness, and ongoing relationship with ‘80s rock, Johnny Law is a light snack for today’s “call out culture,” a man just waiting to be “canceled.” Though the series dangles the villain bait with regard to Johnny, it doesn’t take it. Instead, the ostensible protagonist of the series becomes a prime example of season 2’s major through-line: the question of second chances and who, if anyone, deserves one. 

To answer that, Cobra Kai brings Johnny’s old sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) back from the dead. Instead of dying in the wake of losing the Cobra Kai dojo following the events of Karate Kid, the steely ex-solider gets a re-engineered story, one in which he re-enlisted and did some black ops work in the intervening decades. Whether there’s any truth to what Kreese tells Johnny is almost beside the point; the guy epitomizes not only the notion of second chances, but also the season’s other overarching theme of fathers (or father figures) and how their influence shapes the future of their sons. Or in the case of Johnny and Daniel, how a pair of mentors shaped the lives of their surrogate children. 

The series allows this to play out in a variety of ways, building on the dynamic between Daniel and his own children Samantha (Mary Mouser) and Anthony (Griffin Santopiero), as well as his Miyagi-like relationship with the estranged son of his sworn enemy, Robby. Similarly, Johnny’s relationship with Miguel continues to evolve, as the recently crowned All Valley Karate champ has to learn a little humility, and also that his sensei is a flawed human being who’s learning how to be a role model as he goes along. 

Of the series’ parallel storylines, the Johnny/Miguel relationship is the more engaging one, and not only because being the “bad guy” is more fun, but because Cobra Kai has positioned Johnny as the character with the most to lose and the most to gain. That might seem impossible considering where he was when the series began, but everything that Johnny has, everything that means something to him, has only come to him since the series began. And the biggest threat to what Johnny’s built isn’t Daniel LaRusso and his Miyagi-Do; it’s Kreese and Johnny’s own baser instincts. 

As the season attempts to demonstrate through the escalation of the rivalry between the two dojos and their respective sensei, bad people aren’t born, they’re made. This way of thinking is what turns Johnny Lawrence into a surprisingly and satisfyingly compelling character, one who is wrestling with the poor choices he’s made in the past, even as his current circumstances threaten to push him down a similar path. That Cobra Kai can pull that off, all while being an entertaining mix of comedy and drama in a half-hour package is another example of how the series continues to defy expectations. 

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Cobra Kai season 2 will be available to stream beginning April 24 exclusively on YouTube Premium.

2019-04-23 02:04:14

Kevin Yeoman

Bosch Season 5 Review: TV’s Most Reliably Entertaining Cop Show Returns

Consistency in often an overlooked quality in TV shows during the Peak TV era. With so many series competing for viewers’ eyeballs, it seems like more and more of them are swinging for the fences with increased regularity. And while many are hitting it out of the park, just as many are striking out at the plate. Then there’re shows like Amazon’s Bosch, a reliable hitter that may not bring a whole lot of flash to its game, but makes up for it by being remarkably consistent. 

That steadiness has followed the cop show through its first four seasons (though it didn’t really hit its stride until season 2), as central protagonist, Det. Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch (Titus Welliver), solved various cases, dealt with his myriad personal problems, quashed the efforts of those in the LAPD to sully his good(ish) name, and, at the end of season 4, solve the mystery of his mother’s murder (for a second time). But while Welliver perfectly embodies the kind of steely cop character this sort of modern noir depends on, the series itself, developed by executive producer Eric Overmeyer, has become an ensemble with an enviable cop show pedigree that begins with a pair of The Wire alums in Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector, and continues with Amy Aquino as Lt. Grace Billets, and a pair of (overly) seasoned detectives “Crate” and “Barrel,” played by Gregory Scott Cummins and Troy Evans, respectively.

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The show’s cast is a big part of what makes Bosch work. The subplots and other cases investigated by the various members of the LAPD make for compelling asides to the central Bosch storylines, ensuring that even though the show’s attentions are occasionally focused elsewhere, the forward momentum of the season as a whole never slows down. In essence, Bosch is one of the rare streaming series that hardly ever sags in the middle parts of the season, mostly due to the fact that its supporting cast is strong enough to sustain the narrative for short periods of time. 

That’s certainly the case in season 5, as the series takes a slightly different approach to its two central storylines: Bosch defending himself against allegations that he planted evidence in a old case, and the grizzled detective going undercover to expose an elaborate criminal enterprise dealing prescription opioids. The latter case works as the season’s inciting incident in two ways – first by employing a flash forward narrative in which Bosch is posing as a physically impaired drug seeker whose found himself at a basecamp for the opioid ring. This puts him under the suspicion of the group’s ostensible leader Dalton Walsh (Chris Vance, Supergirl). The second begins two weeks earlier, with the violent armed robbery of a smalltime pharmacy suspected of supplying Oxycontin to the dealers. 

Despite the setup, Bosch differs from the typical police procedural. The police investigations and especially the inter-office dynamics of the main cast establish the show’s modern noir credentials, showcasing a stark Los Angeles that at times feels like it’s thousands of miles away from the glitz and glamour so often associated with the City of Angels. This time around, the dual narratives, and the prospect of seeing Bosch go undercover, keeps the various goings-on in the overarching storyline from becoming too overwhelming. That was an issue with much of season 4 as, in addition to the high-profile, racially charged murder case on Bosch’s desk, he also had to attend to solving his mother’s murder, the assassination of his wife, and re-establishing his friendship and partnership with Jerry Edgar (Hector). 

In other words, while Bosch season 4 was in many ways the most ambitious season in the show’s run so far, it also felt as though the writers may have had to many balls in the air. That’s not the case in season 5, which more effectively balances the personal with the professional, as well as the two main investigations currently posing as a threat to Bosch’s future — both personally and professionally. 

Some of the best moments in Bosch attend to the internal politics of police work, and season 5 is no different. Whether it be an argument that Crate and Barrel are too old to be speeding to the scene of a crime, questioning the legitimacy of Bosch’s past convictions, or watching Irvin Irving (Reddick) square off against DA Roselyn Hines (Judith Moreland) regarding a controversial police shooting caught on the body cam of the officer in question, the series gives each plot the attention it deserves. This time around, that includes a subplot for Bosch daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz), who is working in the DA’s office and discovers the investigation into one of her father’s old cases. 

After the events of last season put her and her father into a grief spiral, Maddie finally gets the chance to come into her own here, demonstrating a resourcefulness and growing independence from her father, as she begins to question some of his tactics on the job while also working diligently to defend Harry from the accusations leveled against him. It’s a compelling place for any character to be, and Bosch capitalizes on it by virtue of Maddie being the one person who likely knows Harry better than anyone else. 

The exploration of such moral gray areas makes Bosch more captivating than the average police procedural, and with five seasons now under its belt, Amazon’s long-running cop show has once again proven itself to be the most reliably entertaining series of its kind on TV. 

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Bosch season 5 will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video beginning Friday, April 19.

2019-04-18 04:04:11

Kevin Yeoman

Game Of Thrones Season 8 Review: Reunions & Introductions Raise The Series’ Stakes

It’s safe to say that, after nearly two years away, expectations for the final season of Game of Thrones, were sky high. With only six episodes in its final season (some longer than the average episode) series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are under a tremendous amount of pressure to bring what is arguably the biggest television show in the history of the medium to an end that lives up to the seven (okay, six) seasons of subversive storytelling that came before. To their credit, the pair, along with credited writer Dave Hill and director David Nutter, delivered a season premiere that carried itself with the same kind of urgency and insistence as a group of desperate characters fortifying themselves against the coming end of the world. 

Though ‘Winterfell’ was light on action — nary a White Walker was killed, let alone anyone else — the hour fulfilled its obligations to the audience through other, perhaps more poignant means. The premiere was used, ostensibly, as a vehicle for as many reunions as possible — namely between anyone in the Stark family. While the season began with the pomp and circumstance of Daenerys and Jon arriving at Winterfell with a massive army and two full grown dragons in tow, the biggest moments were undoubtedly those that have been in the making for several seasons. And given just how much George R.R. Martin (and, by extension Benioff and Weiss) likes to deny his characters such things, it is something of a genuine shock when Jon is happily reunited Arya, or when Tyrion and Sansa have an opportunity to discuss all that’s transpired between them. The shock being, of course, that no one died immediately thereafter. 

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That’s clearly on the way, though, as the new opening credits sequence demonstrated with its icy tiles representing the Night King and his army flipping their way toward Winterfell and its crypts, as well as the towers of King’s Landing. That the opening sequence, which once illustrated the immense geographical scope of Game of Thrones, has been whittled down to just those locations (the fallen Wall is an afterthought at this point) is, in and of itself, a potent reminder of just how close tot the end the game is, and how perilous the road to that end will inevitably be. 

As an hour of television, then, ‘Winterfell’ is tasked with setting up the game pieces on the smaller board the narrative’s destructive circumstances have crafted for its push toward the finale. Spending the better part of the episode within the walls of the Stark home, as the Northerners get used to the idea of Dany and her army, is an example of the series putting its best foot forward. Though Cersei’s welcoming of the Golden Company and Euron Greyjoy (without elephants, much to Cersei’s chagrin) sets up the battle after the one that’s slowly marching its way south, it doesn’t carry the same narrative weight as what’s transpiring up north. In fact, it actually underlines just how high the emotional stakes of the series are at this point. 

Euron may well be the most arrogant man Cersei has ever met, and she may well have tasked Bron with assassinating Jaime and Tyrion, but there’s little chance the audience will shed a tear should Cersei or Euron (or both) meet their end before the finale’s credits role. Winterfell, on the other hand, is ground zero for a twenty megaton emotional detonation that’s only an episode or two away. The hour, then, is essentially designed not only to disseminate some important information, it also works to remind everyone watching why they care about these characters so much. 

As such, the hour doesn’t skimp with the sentiment, especially not when it’s time to get Arya and Gendry back in a room together — moments after the Hound recognizes just how much she’s changed, and into what. Nor does it fail to recognize the significance of Jon riding Rhaegal. And just in case the gravity of the moment escaped those watching, Sam’s there to tell Jon the difficult truth about his parentage. 

And in an instant, the stakes of the series are suddenly, almost impossibly higher. Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne and all that stands in the way of his claiming his birthright is an unstoppable army of the undead, a murderous queen who’s currently on the throne, and a would-be (mad?) queen he happens to be in love with. That Game of Thrones would opt to deliver that news to Jon in the season premiere is probably partially due to the truncated nature of the final season, but even if season 8 were the standard 10 episodes, it still would’ve been the right choice. Jon being the legitimate son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen is information the audience has been sitting on for too long to not see the ways in which it might pay off as soon as possible. 

Jon’s earlier discussion with Sansa about never wanting to be King in the North and his reasons for bending the knee inform the way he processes the information as much as Sam revealing how his father and brother died. Though it nearly overwhelms the audience with regard to all it asks them to process, and it seems some of the show’s signature smaller, more character-driven asides are sacrificed as a result, the final season seems to understand what’s really expected of it: big, meaningful moments that effectively complicate an ending that will be expected to subvert everyone’s expectations. 

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Game of Thrones continues next Sunday @9pm on HBO.

2019-04-14 11:04:12

Kevin Yeoman

Killing Eve Review: Still Worth Obsessing Over In Season 2

Though its story of a spy and a psychopath sharing a mutual obsession with one another deservedly became the central selling point of BBC America’s Killing Eve in season 1, the wicked will they or won’t they between Sandra Oh’s intelligence agent Eve Polatstri and Jodie Comer’s fashionable assassin Villanelle wasn’t the show’s only selling point. The series’ early character- and world-building moments were marked with memorable instants of casual weirdness, like Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn Martens’s off-hand remark of watching a rat drink a can of soda. That was due in large part to the writing of creator and executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a singular talent who, among other things, specializes in turning seemingly innocuous, off-hand digressions into a detour worth obsessing over. It’s the sort of thing that made her a perfect fit for this tense but often very funny adaptation of Luke Jennings’s Villanelle novellas. 

The series has made some changes behind the scenes for season 2, with Waller-Bridge handing the writing reins over to Emerald Fennell. Though it’s clear that Fennell and the show’s writers’ room still have a firm grasp on what makes Killing Eve tick, in terms of generating tension between its two main characters, it’s also reassuring to find out that, early in the season 2 premiere, the series still has impeccable timing when it comes to the little idiosyncratic deviations that keep it light and weird. That moment comes midway through the first hour when Eve and Carolyn are snacking on burgers in a morgue, as the medical examiner explains — with no small amount of pleasure — that the smell of formaldehyde and cadavers causes cravings for meat. Whether that’s true or not is almost beside the point; it’s like the soda-drinking rat: a welcome reprieve from the intense cat-and-mouse game at the center of the show. 

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‘Do You Know How to Dispose of a Body?’ is, oddly, like a collection of those moments, complied into a single hour of television. For the most part it works because of how much effort the show has put into building Eve and Villanelle’s strange obsession with one another and how much fun it is to watch Oh and Comer do their thing. But because the first season ran at such a frantic pace through its first half, building to that inevitable and bloody climax in Villanelle’s Paris apartment, Killing Eve is forced to take a step back, put some distance between its would-be lovers, and reassess the situation. Most of this is for the presumed longevity of the show, and it’s also a fundamental concern with a serialized television series like this one. How can a show built on the tension of a psychopathic infatuation between its two leads maintain narrative rigidity while still turning out eight episodes a season for what the powers that be at AMC would almost certainly love to be several more years?

The seeds of that answer — for the time being, anyway — were sown in season 1, with the discovery of the clandestine group known as The Twelve. The mystery surrounding the group is part of its appeal, but its most enticing element is in how it creates a mutual adversary for both Eve and Villanelle. The only problem is, it’s not nearly as enticing as watching Oh and Comer’s characters contend with their undeniable magnetism.

Early on in season 2 it’s clear that Killing Eve is working its way back as close to square one as possible, using The Twelve as a de facto new end point. That makes the premiere a mix of table setting and careful extrication from some of the narrative corners the first season painted itself into. Much of that has to do with Eve and everything she’s learned about herself, her job with MI5, and her relationship with her husband Niko (Owen McDonnell), who disappeared last season after it became clear he was getting in the way of all the fun Eve and Villanelle could have together. The season premiere employs an impressive level of hand-waiving in order to re-align its various players. What makes those moments work, though, is the willingness to let the seams show, as when Carolyn reinstates Eve to MI5 with all the ceremony of placing a drive-thru order, or when Niko attempts to reconnect with his wife in the midst of a vegetable-chopping nervous breakdown. 

While Eve’s situation requires the series to perform a narrative u-turn of sorts, Killing Eve is free to plow straight ahead with regard to Villanelle, who is recovering from the near-fatal stab wound delivered by her would-be paramour. It was no secret that Villanelle would survive her injury, and that her obsession with Eve would not only continue in spite of the stabbing but apparently thrive (“love makes you do crazy things,” after all). As such, Villanelle’s portion of the premiere is what helps give Killing Eve season 2 its legs early on. And, much like the cadaver-induced burger cravings, the show takes its time to inject some levity into the proceedings. The only difference is how wildly it can swing from the relatively light humor of a fashion fetishist cringing while slipping into a pair of abandoned Crocs, to something far, far darker and, consequently, lethal. 

The return of one of television’s most highly anticipated series isn’t entirely a return to form, instead its offers a chance for the show to move backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s a delicate balancing act that will become more precarious as the series moves along, as it can’t keep Eve and Villanelle apart for very long without the central tension going slack, but it also can’t go too far in the other direction without the same thing happening. If nothing else, then, watching as the series manages and teases out this anticipation and uncertainty is reason enough to get obsessed with Killing Eve all over again. 

Next: Warrior Review: Cinemax Unleashes A Pulpy Martial Arts Period Drama

Killing Eve continues next Sunday with ‘Nice and Neat’ @8pm on BBC America and AMC.

2019-04-07 02:04:51

Kevin Yeoman

Warrior Review: Cinemax Unleashes A Pulpy Martial Arts Period Drama

The last time Jonathan Tropper brought a television series to Cinemax it was with Banshee, a crime thriller that fit in perfectly with the high-octane, revved-engine quality so often employed by HBO’s little sibling with series like Strike Back and the regrettably one-and-done hitman drama Quarry. All three series radiate a similar kind of overtly masculine and overwhelmingly pulpy energy that makes them admittedly part of a brand and usually a lot of fun to watch. That’s certainly the case with Tropper’s latest Cinemax outing Warrior, a martial arts epic set in mid-19th century San Francisco, the idea of which comes from none other than perhaps the most famous martial arts master of all time, Bruce Lee. 

Lee wrote the treatment for what would become Warrior more than half a century ago, but was unable to see the project come to fruition. The treatment told the story of Ah Sahm, a hatchet man during San Francisco Tong Wars, who would eventually set forth on a journey to liberate Chinese people in the American West. Decades have now passed and Lee’s daughter, Shannon, along with executive producer Justin Lin and the aforementioned Tropper have assembled to bring that story to life and see it updated to fit not only the sensibilities of television in 2019, but also those of the network on which is airs. 

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Though Warrior could have easily been a straightforward action series and period drama, one that mixes in and proves its martial arts bona fides with stunning regularity. During the first few episodes (eight of the first season’s ten were screened for critics ahead of the premiere) that is mostly what audiences get. Highly choreographed fights break out with regularity, mostly to show off the cocky brilliance of Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) and to establish who’s who in the dusty, still wild streets of 1870s San Francisco. There are other brawls, too, like the bare knuckle dust-ups favored by the city’s Irish population — headed up by Dean Jagger’s corrupt Dylan Leary — and some bloodier battles that involve sharper instruments, like knives and, yes, hatchets. In other words, the series very quickly gets to the work of checking off the requisite boxes proving it is in fact the stuff Cinemax’s dreams are made of. 

Though it probably could be Warrior isn’t wall-to-wall fight sequences, instead it very quickly sets out to address the overt racism and oppression of the Chinese in and around San Francisco. The show’s opening sequence does its level best to exemplify the two sides of its narrative ambitions, putting Ah Sahm face-to-face with a trio of dock workers abusing Chinese immigrants as they arrive in the city. This, of course, puts Ah Sahm on the radar of the local crime syndicate by way of Wang Chao, played by Banshee alum Hoon Lee. Soon, Ah Sahm is the favorite new toy of Young Jin (Jason Tobin), who, along with Lee, is part of a primarily Asian cast that brings plenty of charm and force of personality to the series.

But Ah Sahm hasn’t arrived on American soil just to throw some punches and serve as a low-rent hatchet man for a crime boss, he’s searching for his estranged sister Mai Ling (Dianne Doan). The brother-sister dynamic helps give Ah Sahm’s story some weight, as it leads directly into his and Mai Ling’s mysterious backstory, one that involves tough choices made by both that set them on what appears to be a morally destructive path. That Ah Sahm and Mai Ling continue to walk down that troublesome path is part of what makes Warrior interesting beyond its copious fisticuffs and the increasingly bloody encounters for which it will likely make a name for itself. 

Other subplots aren’t quite as interesting from the start, but show promise nevertheless. Kieran Bew plays corrupt cop Bill O’Hara, whose emotional scars from the Civil War cut deeper than the physical ones, and are made worse by his new partner Richard Lee (Tom Weston-Jones, Copper) being a Southern-born transplant to the West. Also represented is the city’s mayor Samuel Blake (Christian McKay) and his new wife, Penelope (Joanna Vanderham), as they find themselves in an awkward position as San Francisco sits on the brink of an opium war between the rival Tong clans. 

Koji makes for a charming lead who is as convincing in the martial segments as he is during other, more heated exchanges, like those between him and Mai Ling or with local courtesan Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng). Notably, Koji doesn’t attempt to do an impersonation of Bruce Lee — something Shannon Lee told Screen Rant she wasn’t interested in seeing — and instead infuses Ah Sahm with a similar sort of confidence and sense of humor Lee brought to many of his roles, while still making the character distinctly his own. That will likely serve the series well, as it continues to define itself over the course of the first season, though it doesn’t have far to go since the blend of martial arts and blood-and-thunder drama makes Warrior a fascinatingly exaggerated period piece that’s part and parcel with Cinemax’s brand.

Next: The Tick Season 2 Review: The Superhero Comedy The World Needs Right Now

Warrior continues next Friday with ‘There’s No China in the Bible’ @10pm on Cinemax.

2019-04-05 03:04:52

Kevin Yeoman

The Tick Season 2 Review: The Superhero Comedy The World Needs Right Now

Certain comedies get better as they go along, when the writers and the actors have all had a chance to gel and figure out what everyone’s strengths and weakness are. That’s certainly true of Amazon’s The Tick, as it feels almost like an entirely new show at the start of season 2. Some of that is certainly due to the show’s continued refinement of Tick’s (Peter Serafinowicz) suit (or is it his body?), which has entered its third iteration since the series began in August of 2017. The new suit is much more practical, and it allows for a greater range of motion for the man wearing it, which in turn lets The Tick worry less about how its title character looks and more about the level of self-awareness it wants to infuse into its ongoing story of hopelessly flawed superheroes fighting crime in a city called the City. 

At times it felt as though season 1 of The Tick was an attempt for the show to find how it fit with the current glut of superhero films and TV series as much as it was about the effort of Tick and his nascent sidekick, Arthur (Griffin Newman), to root out evil and discover their place among the alleged pantheon of heroes sworn to protecting the City. Tone and pacing were common issues throughout the first season, which were then exacerbated by a protracted midseason break (almost six months). And still, even upon the series’ return, the balance between humor and superhero action felt off and the serialized nature of the series couldn’t quite turn a plot involving the return of the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) into the kind of energized storytelling previous incarnations of The Tick enjoyed. 

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That isn’t an issue for season 2, which returns a funnier, faster-paced, and far more confident series than it was in season 1. From the first episode on, The Tick feels very much like the buddy comedy it was meant to be. Serafinowicz and Newman enjoy an easy chemistry with one another, which along with the self-aware, super-heroic dialogue, becomes key to the season’s early success. It helps that Arthur is fully committed to his role as a superhero, and that his family is (for the most part) supportive of his decision to pursue a life of crimefighting while also being an accountant. Removing the will they or won’t they from Tick and Arthur’s relationship gets the series off on the right foot, allowing the show to lean into the absurdity of its premise and its characters by making it all seem perfectly normal for these two heroes. 

Season 2 has some help in the normalizing department, as the defeat of the Terror has brought a huge influx of extremely weird (and often ridiculous) heroes and villains to the City, thanks in large part to A.E.G.I.S (The Tick’s cheeky riff on S.H.I.E.L.D.) re-opening a branch in Tick and Arthur’s neck of the woods. That opens the door for the series to get precisely as weird as it need to, introducing characters like Steve Ogg’s semi-retired Flexon (a Tick analogue to Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic), John Hodgman’s Hobbes, and Marc Kudisch as the hyper masculine, tough-as-nails head of A.E.G.I.S., Tyrannosaurus ‘Ty’ Rathbone. 

Part of what has made The Tick an enduring character since the 1980s is the ever-changing community of oddballs he is surrounded by. While Arthur is and will always be the Watson to his dim-bulb Sherlock Holmes, the franchise has proven adept at introducing new characters who are inherently ridiculous but just serious enough to work, and to keep things fresh, interesting, and funny. 

Season 2 also introduces a new plot line for Arthur’s sister Dot (Valerie Curry), as she begins to wonder whether or not Arthur’s the only one in the family destined to spend their spare time seeking justice. This thread works to give Tick and Arthur some breathing room, but it also spares Curry from being primarily relegated to reacting to the danger her onscreen sibling finds himself in. In her expanded role, Dot manages to get into some trouble and forge a bond with Overkill (Scott Speiser), which, in turn, offers that character a chance to be something more than a spoof on hyper-violent vigilante characters who rose to prominence in the ‘90s. 

The biggest improvements in season 2, however, are in how the season is structured. Though the overarching narrative of the season is still serialized, each episode functions on its own as a complete episode of television. Having a distinct beginning, middle, and end focuses the story and the comedy on more specific elements integral to the episode at hand. As a result, the jokes are funnier, the action livelier, and the story threads more compelling.

All in all, The Tick returns with the terrific new season of television. More heroes, more villains — all of them ridiculous in their own way — means more opportunities for laughs and for superhero action. Much like the Tick’s costume, the series received the right kind of upgrade in between seasons, and in doing so has become a real contender in the world of superhero TV. 

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The Tick season 2 is available starting April 5 on Amazon Prime Video.

2019-04-04 04:04:15

Kevin Yeoman

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Part 2 Review: Take A Walk On The Dark Side

The continuation of Netflix’s delightfully campy and surprisingly dark Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gets off to an entertaining start with ‘The Epiphany,’ a fast-paced re-entry into the twisted teen world of the Archie Comics character that’s been re-envisioned by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa into a progressive, modern, supernatural romp. It’s a welcome return for the teen witch, who got off to a strong start on Netflix in 2018, bringing a sensibility similar to that of The CW’s Riverdale, but with fewer unhinged storylines (which is saying something when Sabrina counts the Dark Lord himself as a recurring character). And this new 10-episode season (or Part 2, as Netflix is calling it) has a lot going for it — namely the fact that Sabrina’s secret double life is more or less out of the bag, making the choice she faces between the human and supernatural world weightier as it’s no longer competing with an unnecessary secret as far as the plot’s concerned. 

Instead, the continuing story of Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) takes on a more familiar form as an overt metaphor for teenage rebellion as it travels the sometimes morally complicated road to maturity. That doesn’t mean Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has shed its identity as a campy teen drama filled with eccentric characters and splendidly arch performances — particularly those of Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), her new principal, the demon Madam Satan, who is pretending to be Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), and more recently, Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). If anything, the attention Part 2 pays to its main character’s adolescent confusion affords the series an even greater opportunity to capitalize on the various elements that initially made the series work. 

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Part 1 was concerned with Sabrina’s choice to embrace her witch-y side and sign the Dark Lord’s book, Part 2 is largely about the followthrough and fallout of that fateful decision. But as the season points out early on, Sabrina’s choice is not nearly as black and white as it seems. And as the Dark Lord continues to scheme with Madam Satan with regard to the teen’s uncertain role in his grand plans, it appears Sabrina’s fate is far from decided, at least for now. That presents Aguirre-Sacasa and the show’s writers a number of attractive choices moving forward, as Sabrina gets her first taste of real power, faces real temptation, and, makes deliberately bad decisions because, well, that’s what teens do. 

What makes Chilling Adventures of Sabrina work is how readily — by virtue of its premise — it gives those choices much higher stakes, as they so easily imperil Sabrina’s mortal soul and the lives of Roz (Jaz Sinclair), Susie (Lachlan Watson), and her on again, off again salt-of-the-earth love interest, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). But Sabrina’s dark dealings aren’t the only source of drama around Greendale in Part 2. Love is in the air, which means while Sabrina’s exploring her feelings for Harvey, she’s also getting swept off her feet by the dashing young warlock Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). That love triangle is made more complicated by Harvey and Roz’s relationship intensifying beyond their mutual connection to Sabrina.

The teen soap opera-ness of it all is intensified through numerous aspects of the main narrative, as Sabrina’s first few days as a full-time student at the Academy of the Unseen Arts are spent speaking truth to power and challenging the patriarchal standards of the institution by competing with Nicholas for the position of Top Boy (which Sabrina renames Top Person). Her insubordination rankles Father Blackwood’s feathers, who goes to extreme lengths to see her fail. Witches and warlocks putting their knowledge to the test by concocting potions and conjuring demons hews a little too closely to another magic-based moppet attending a clandestine school studying the dark arts (one that also falls under the massive WarnerMedia umbrella), but Aguirre-Sacasa wisely pulls back on the throttle before going the full Goblet of Fire. 

Besides, Sabrina doesn’t need to hang on the coattails of any boy wizard; it has its own means of making its particular corner of the WarnerMedia content mill feel distinct and appealing. Much of that is wrapped up in Shipka’s take on Sabrina, who in Part 2 not only wrestles with the dramatic choices she’s asked to make, but actively revels in making some bad ones (like stealing a pack of gum). The character’s dichotomy and the breadth of Shipka’s performance makes the morality aspect of Part 2 as compelling as anything Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has done in its brief tenure. 

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 2 will stream on Netflix starting April 5.

2019-04-04 03:04:24

Kevin Yeoman