Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly.  Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago.  And you would have been wrong.  I never did.  Now this might have been because it was an animated series.  Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show.  Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly.  Who knows?  Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week.  My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop.  Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits.  Now let me qualify that second statement.  It’s a cartoon.  The characters and the action are larger than life.  When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist.  Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes.  Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level.  Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters.  Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show.  But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable.  As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.

 

Alright, now what’s it about?  Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi.  They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day.  Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture.  Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system).  Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres.  Their biggest problems seem to be monetary.  They are chronically short of funds.  The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards.  In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss.  Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight.  The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong.  The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.

I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.

 

So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration.  And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 5 – Season 5 & 6 (Conclusion)

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 4 – Season 3 & 4

 

Wow!

That’s some damn show.  I won’t drop any spoilers.  Suffice it to say that in the last four episodes everything seemed to be going to hell and I was incensed at the trajectory I saw for the plot.  But by the conclusion I was satisfied that there wasn’t a better possible ending.  I’ll take a while to digest the whole story.  There’s a lot there.  Criminals and cops and their girls.  But at the end Raylin and Boyd together are the motor that runs the show.  They are like the two poles of a magnet.  Opposite and linked.  And then there’s Ava.  Who’s responsible for that disaster?  And then there’s just the sheer scope of the mayhem. By the end of the show the killing becomes like a steady rain.  I seriously wondered if the last episode would close on nothing left of the cast but body bags in the morgue.

Justified is a very well-made crime drama.  The main characters are interesting and in some ways sympathetic.  The run of the show is neither too short nor too long to provide a solid entertainment experience.  The story runs its course and the potential of the situation like the coal in one of the Harlan County mines is extracted and exhausted.

In a crime story that has both, it’s sometimes difficult to strike the correct balance between drama and comedy.  In my opinion Justified manages that balance unusually well.  With the large and shifting parade of criminals and lawmen, victims and friends, there were many colorful characters that provided ample opportunities for laughs.  But often that laughter was tinged with disgust at the ignorance, greed or stupidity that was the source.  And the laughs were often at the expense of the lawmen too.  Trying to outsmart idiots sometimes ended up poorly.  And Raylin consistently had troubles with his love life.  Too often it intersected with his work.  And when that happened, his boss Art would call out, “Raylin, would you come in my office and close the door?”

Critiquing entertainment is far from an exact science.  Objectivity is not even a theoretical consideration.  Why I like Justified so much probably has more to do with me than with the show.  And if your tastes are at all different from mine then we could completely disagree on the quality of this TV show.  With all of that said, I highly recommend Justified to anyone who likes well written and acted drama with a healthy dose of ironic humor thrown in for leavening.  Everything about the show is well done and enjoyable.  And probably best of all it has the correct balance.  There is a beginning, middle and end.  At the end, it was enough.  Anymore extracted from these characters will need to be a different chapter in a different place and with a different flavor.  Harlan County, Kentucky has been successfully mined and the treasure collected and sold to the consumers.  Amen.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 4 – Season 3 & 4

Justified – Part 3

Camera Girl and I have polished off the first four seasons of Justified and only have seasons 5 and 6 left.  Although a sort of pattern has emerged vis-à-vis the season finale we remain extremely satisfied with the quality of the show and the progression of the story line.  Over the course of the first four seasons we’ve really gotten to know Raylin Givens and his friends and family and enemies and their families.  We’ve seen some major characters come and go (mostly to the great beyond courtesy of Raylin’s pistol) and we’ve seen Raylin’s personal life undergo several painful dislocations.

And we’ve watched Boyd and Ava Crowder move steadily to the dark side.  When I say this, I don’t mean that the shows have gotten a lot more more violent.  It’s already at intermittent gang war levels.  But what the show is doing is chronicling Boyd’s ascent from small-time gangster to Appalachian mob-boss.  Along the way his scruples and humanity are peeled away crime by crime.  At each step he’s only doing what he has to to avoid the law or his rivals but eventually you see that nothing good remains.  Now I think this is similar to what was done in the series “Breaking Bad.”  There a man was driven by circumstance to adopt crime to help his family and finds himself and those around him consumed.  The difference being Boyd’s family already was criminal and his only attempt at honest life is pretty much extinguished in season two.  The Good/Evil dynamic is more represented by Boyd’s earlier friendship with Raylin.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Raylin and Boyd are two sides of a coin flip.  Either might have ended as the other.  Probably the show itself is a meditation on why they’ve so far ended up on opposite sides of that very narrow line.

And I don’t want to claim any dramatic depth to the show.  It’s entertainment pure and simple.  But the characters are engaging and the mixture of action, drama, comedy and suspense is very nicely prepared.  What I’m not sure about is whether Raylin Givens will end the show better, worse or the same as he started.  He straddles a lot of lines and he seems to be willing to cross those lines when he thinks he has to.  I can see that may bring him to a bad end.  It’ll be interesting to see where the arc of this story lands him.

For my part I’m interested to see where the relationship between Art and Raylin heads.  Art is sort of a surrogate father figure for Raylin.  But whether he’ll end up a stern old testament type father who has to sacrifice his son on the altar of the law or the father of the prodigal who is able to welcome him back into the fold, I don’t know.  But either way I do hope he gets more time in front of the camera.  He’s been limited lately and I want to see him assert some order over the wild west atmosphere of the Harlan County Marshall’s office.

Oh, and for the record, although Raylin has an assortment of fine looking women jumping into bed with him, he certainly has no instinct for avoiding criminals.  Then again maybe he isn’t trying.  Maybe he thinks they’re more fun and he can always arrest or shoot them if he has to.

Currently we’ve received the first two DVDs for season five.  We usually restrict ourselves to two episodes at a sitting.  But we’ve been waiting for these disks for several days now and I suspect we’ll binge through both disks by Saturday.  Patience is definitely not a virtue when Justified is in your DVD player.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 3 – Season 2

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 2 – Season 1

Thanks to the magic of Netflix’ DVD service, I and Mrs. Photog (aka Camera Girl) have been burning through Justified at a goodly clip.  We finished Season 2 last Friday and are now barreling along through Season 3 like a meth-head racing to a pawn shop with an ill-gotten Rolex.  But that’s a story for another post.  Right now, I’m reporting on Season 2 and I’m happy to report that it lives up to Season 1 and maybe even surpasses it too.  In Season 1 we met Raylin Givens and his kin and spent the season getting to know the Crowder clan.  That was fun.

In Season 2 we meet the Bennetts.  The matriarch is Mags Bennett and she has three sons.  One of them is the sheriff of Bennett, Kentucky.  The other two help Mags run the Bennett store and their thriving weed business.  It goes without saying that Raylin has history with the Bennetts and the season builds up to a climactic encounter.  Along the way Ray becomes more formally involved with his ex-wife Wynona and Ava becomes Boyd’s girl.  Many sub-plots involve all manner of exciting and amusing scenes.  Probably the outright funniest is Ray’s boss Art trying to apprehend a geriatric outlaw trying to escape onto a private plane at the airport.  Having reached a certain maturity myself I could see the humor of two old men in a foot race that neither can possibly finish.  By the finish both are gasping on the ground recovering their breath for the slow stroll back to Art’s waiting car.

Just as an aside, a recurring role, Loretta, is played by 14 year old Kaitlyn Dever, who played youngest daughter Eve to Tim Allen on “Last Man Standing,” another show that I enjoyed until its recent untimely cancellation by social justice network jerks.

Justified is fast becoming my favorite series of all time.  And that is saying something.  I’ll always have a soft spot for Firefly but if Justified can continue to be as good as it’s been for another season or so I don’t rightly see how I can deny it a place of preference if for no other reason than more hours of enjoyment.  It’s really a show that does not disappoint.  I know I’m beginning to sound like a paid shill for the network that produced the show but I must say I highly recommend it to anyone who likes crime drama with a heapin’ helpin’ of humor thrown in on top.

Stay tuned for Season 3.  It’s already looking very good.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 2 – Season 1

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 1

I just finished watching the last two episodes of Season 1.  This is some kind of crazy show.

I guess I better preface my opinions by saying I haven’t been a member of the audience during the much touted “golden age of cable television” that’s been going on for the last decade or so.  I never cared about “The Sopranos” and I didn’t care about “Madmen” although I watched a few episodes a while back.  Likewise, I started watching the “Breaking Bad” episode where he is burning his money on the barbecue and then throws it into the swimming pool.  All I saw was Hal from “Malcom in the Middle” in his underwear making funny noises that weren’t particularly funny.

So maybe I’m not up on what’s current in TV Land.  Take that as given.

This is some kind of crazy show.  Apparently, Kentucky is located in the Twilight Zone where endless criminal activity and gun play is completely routine.  Timothy Olyphant’s character (Raylan Givens) is literally submerged in family, friends and strangers who all seem to be at each other’s throats twenty-four, seven.  Over the course of those two episodes at least sixteen people were shot dead.  And this is ignoring beatdowns, kidnappings, arson, non-lethal shootings, and even shoulder mounted rocket attacks.  And the cast of characters are almost exclusively highly conflicted and dangerous individuals.  Perhaps the only exception (and it’s a little early for me to be sure of this) is Ray’s boss, Art Mullen, the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal (played by Nick Searcy).  He is, of course, surrounded by the insane happenings but so far seems to be operating as a sane law enforcement agent trying to manage his team and stay within the law.  But I’m sure in the course of the show’s six-year run he must crack.

Season One documents Ray’s return to Kentucky.  And the circumstances highlight Ray’s already unorthodox perspective on law enforcement.  He has a code of behavior that allows him to supersede normal legal protocol when he determines that someone isn’t just a normal criminal.  In other words, if someone has figured out how to game the system to commit acts that Ray cannot allow to occur he is determined to use extra-legal activities to curtail them.  He takes the law into his own hands.  That’s the premise of the show.  In his mind, he’s justified.  I guess we’ll find out if the world confirms this or changes his mind.

So as of the end of season 1 I am enthusiastically a fan of the show.  As I said the character are conflicted and most of them are not good people by any definition of the word.  But several of them have been shown to be interesting.  Of special importance seems to be Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins.  Boyd’s criminal family is the focus of much of season one’s action.  Boyd is both a career criminal and Ray’s boyhood friend.  They worked together in the Kentucky coal mines.  And it seems apparent they are meant to be two sides of a coin throw.

The show maintains a very active pace with rarely a dull moment.  Ray’s romantic life is, so far, the least interesting part of the show but perhaps with additional insight into the motivations and back story of the main women in his life we’ll get a better understanding of why we should care which of them is his leading lady.  Of course, that is assuming any of them lives long enough to develop a domestic back story.

And as a point of information on the female reaction to Justified, Camera Girl (or more formally, Mrs. Photog) is also enthusiastically a fan of the show.  But she is more blood thirsty than I and less philosophical.  So that makes it less surprising to me.  Stay tuned and I will update this as I view the succeeding seasons in the coming weeks.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 3 – Season 2

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 1

There’s not much left on TV for me to watch anymore.  I remembered hearing over the last few years from several reviewers who were not progressives that “Justified” was pretty good.  Well, last week my Netflix queue was completely empty so I added season one of Justified to my queue. With some trepidation, photog and camera-girl settled in this week and watched the first two disks.  And eight or nine episodes into the season we still haven’t seen a bad show.  It’s actually very good.  Timothy Olyphant is the protagonist playing a US Marshall named Raylan Givens.  He’s been sent back to his home state of Kentucky after shooting a drug lord in Miami under questionable circumstances.  This puts him in contact with his family, friends, associates and enemies.  And the amount of overlap between all of these categories in the episodes I’ve seen is quite remarkable.  And here we run into the expected stereotyping of the Appalachians.  For instance, Ray’s father is married to Aunt Helen.  I’m not far enough into the story yet but it appears she was Aunt Helen before she was married to Ray’s father Arlo.  So, the incest and inbreeding jokes can’t be far off.  Also, one of Ray’s old friends from his time as a coal miner is now a bank robber who dabbles in white supremacy and shoulder launched rockets.

Needless to say, Ray’s personal and professional lives become extremely entangled and pretty early on he finds himself sleeping with a woman he shouldn’t be.  He had been investigating her for shooting and killing her husband.  Subsequently she is his witness in his shooting of her brother in law.  Add into the mix that the brother in law is also that coal miner / bank robber friend of Ray’s and it starts getting extremely complicated and confusing.  Also, Ray’s father is a criminal.  Ray’s ex-wife is married to a man in hock to mobsters and Ray’s boss is starting to think he’s unstable.  Oh, and the investigation into that drug lord he shot is getting complicated by all the other guys Ray’s been shooting since he got to Kentucky.  And finally, the drug lord’s friends really, really want Ray dead.  It’s a really fun show.

I’m only about half way through season one and so it’s hard to say where this will all be by season six but so far this is a crime drama that’s well written, filled with action and includes characters that while far from unconflicted are quite sympathetic for the audience.  Timothy Olyphant is the obvious star but the supporting cast is quite strong and fun to watch and listen to.  I especially enjoy Nick Searcy as Ray’s boss, Art Mullen.  He brings a dry wit and long suffering attitude to the job of overseeing Ray’s overcomplicated work-life balance.

So, that’s my first installment.  I will be watching a bunch more of these in the next few weeks and will give an update on my recommendation.  But so far, I’d have to say watching Justified is definitely justified.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2 – The Series Finale

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

 

Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, don’t read this.

So, last night I watched it.  Oh, Good Lord.  The only theory that could deflect shame from everyone involved in this fiasco is if the writers had all been fired and instead the Producer’s teenage daughter wrote it, while attending a school dance, while texting her best friends, while breaking up with her boyfriend, during a hurricane.  Even as an ironic joke or as part of a drinking game (let’s say a tequila shot after each important character is brutally slaughtered) it’s unwatchable.  Rather than belabor the point with countless examples of awful television viewing let me cut to the chase.  At the climax of the show the hero is about to betray the world to the devil by surrendering to him this ultimate weapon when he is stopped by a young woman snatching it away.  He then chases her down, beats her into submission and is heading back to surrender it again when his dead mother and dead aunt calling to him from heaven shame him into a debate about fighting back.  But he’s so broken from the beating he’s been given by the devil that the only way he agrees to fight is if his mother and his aunt will fight for and with him.  Think about this for a moment.  A grown man has to be helped in a fight by his mother!  And in fact, most of the damage in the battle is done by his dead female relatives.  This truly represents the low ebb of masculinity on broadcast TV.  After the victory, there’s a sort of alternate reality scene change where all the main characters are alive again and don’t remember any of the climax as if it didn’t actually happen.  Nick starts hugging them all and seems pretty close to blubbering and it’s reminiscent of Dorothy awaking in her bed in Kansas.  “You were there and you were there, and there’s no place like home.”  Good Lord.  Then the very final scene is twenty years in the future and his son and his baby mamma’s daughter (by his mortal enemy and police chief boss) are now Grimms getting ready to head off with Mom and Dad for some good old American Wessen slaughtering.  Good clean fun.  Good Lord.

I confess I liked this show when it first came out.  My only defense is that it was in the early Obama years and I needed something absurd to allow me to think that maybe none of what was going on in the world was real.  After all, if a whole American city could be composed of monsters without any humans suspecting then maybe somehow the world would manage to escape the Obama presidency without mortal damage being done.  Silly me.  Luckily, now we’re in the age of Trump and I don’t need fantasies to distract me.  The reality is bizarre (and entertaining) enough.  So, farewell to Nick and Juliette.  Farewell to Monroe and Rosalee.  Long may you inhabit Wessen-infested make-believe Portland Oregon which is a distinct improvement over the actual horror of SJW infested Portland.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

A eulogy is supposed to be praise spoken over the deceased at his funeral.  It literally means “good speech” in the Greek.  So technically I suppose this should be called a kakology* because I won’t be saying too much good.  Maybe what this should be called is a post-mortem.

I started watching Grimm when it premiered in 2011.  When it began I thought it was fun.  The special effects were alright and the conceit that just about everyone in Portland Oregon was a monster (called Wesen) hadn’t yet become a reductio ad absurdum.  Also, I hadn’t grown to despise most of the characters yet.

I’ll give my analysis for what went wrong with Grimm.  I think the problem with any of these urban fantasy TV series is the open-ended aspect of weekly TV.  While it is possible to advance the “mythology” component of the show toward some long-term plot line in a way that can be sustained for several seasons, the single episode plot component needs to have some interesting writing each week to prevent the show from seeming repetitive and boring.  I mean, how many ways are there to have the protagonist (Nick, the Grimm) skewer the monster du jour with a sword or a pitch fork or a lawn dart?  Eventually the look of boredom starts showing up even on the well-paid actors’ faces.  This is similar to the problem that occurs on all long-running TV shows but it’s especially dangerous to these fantasy shows because the action is already incredibly close to ridiculous from the get go.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the reductio ad absurdum I mentioned earlier.  After all, hiding the prodigious body count of terminated monsters (who revert to human form upon being deep sixed) is kind of hard to justify over the course of years.  And with just about every individual introduced in the series being a Wesen it seems laughable that they haven’t already taken over Portland and massacred Nick and his friends.

Another problem is the lack of likeability of most of the main characters.   Nick’s girl-friend (Juliette) becomes a Wesen and eventually murders and beheads his mother.  And after Juliette is killed (and then re-animated as an emotionless zombie named Eve) Nick becomes intimate with the Wesen (a hexenbiest or witch named Adalind) that was responsible for Juliette becoming evil.  Her ex-lover (Sean who also happens to be the chief of police and Nick’s boss) goes from being an enemy to an ally to a mortal foe of the good guys,  He is also the step father of Nick’s son.  Basically it’s hard to really take any of the relationships seriously or even remember how we got to where the story stands.  However, over the course of the series, the only character that I didn’t come to despise was Monroe.  Regardless of how idiotic the script that this vegan werewolf clock repairman was given, the actor managed to inject humor and interest in the character.

And finally, the biggest reason Grimm stinks is because the plots are all the same.  The variations for why Wesen were murdering the few humans that exist in Portland or each other were wholly unimportant and extremely boring.

I stopped watching the show a year ago.  When I heard it had been cancelled and only a half season was being produced this year I started watching again.  I wanted to see if a short span allowed the writers to sharpen up the plots and give us something worth watching.  So far it hasn’t.  This Friday (March 31st) is the series finale.  I’ll report back afterwards to document whether they could even salvage that.  I’m not very hopeful.

 

*I prefer transliterating the Greek letter kappa into English with the letter k instead of c.

 

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2