Author: Michael Cook

A theatre kid dabbling in the art of reviewing the things he reads, watches, listens to, and sees.

REVIEW: Doctor Who S11E02 – “The Ghost Monument”

Doctor Who Series 11How do you follow up from an excellent season premiere of Doctor Who? With a dangerous romp across an alien planet and an excellent mystery, of course! Picking up pretty much where the previous episode ended, The Ghost Monument takes the 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her new friends, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) to their first alien world together. Stranded without the TARDIS, will the team be able to survive their first foray on an alien planet? (THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW)

1102: The Ghost Monument (written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Mark Tonderai)
Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough in a hostile alien environment to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley)?

The Doctor and her new friends have barely had a chance to recover from their first adventure together before they are plunged into another – which will take Graham, Ryan and Yasmin on their first journey to an alien planet. The unlikely travelling companions are faced with a struggle for survival as they try to solve the mystery at the heart of this strange, dangerous new world.

(more…)

REVIEW: “The Good Place” S03E03 – The Snowplow

The Good Place - Season 3I really love how the writers of The Good Place don’t dawdle with this series. They never drag their feet when it comes to moving the story along. Last season featured Michael rebooting the neighborhood over 800 times in a single episode. Tonight’s episode featured a similar thing as more than a year passes within a single 22-minute episode, rapidly advancing the plotline of the season while also showing the continuing evolution of our favorite awful humans.

Episode 304: The Snowplow (Written by Joe Mande and Directed by Beth McCarthy Miller)
After the shocking events of last week’s episode, Michael and Janet are, essentially, trapped on Earth as they continue to supervise Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) as the four of them continue to try and improve upon themselves. As a year goes by, Chidi’s thesis project comes to a close and Tahani gets engaged to Larry Hemsworth, Michael and Janet start to fear that all their work has come to naught and frantically try to keep the group from going their separate ways.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich

51t4hrr2yllI’m on the record as not being a particularly big fan of the musical Dear Evan Hansen. I always found Evan to be a super unlikable character (what with the whole lying to a grieving family for the entirety of the musical thing) and so that made it a bit hard to fully connect with the, admittedly interesting, plot. But my bigger problem with the musical was the songs. I just didn’t like them. They didn’t work for me. They didn’t feel like they were serving the story and they just sorta brought everything down. So, when I saw that Hachette Book Group was publishing a novelization of the musical, I figured I’d give it a shot. I did like the plot of the musical, and novels often make even the most unlikable character sympathetic in ways that more visual mediums aren’t able to. I’m happy to report that while Val Emmich’s novelization of the musical still has that one pretty big flaw in relation to Evan as a character, the novel is far more enjoyable than the musical is.

From the show’s creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the hit Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen, Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s griefover the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend.As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

(more…)

REVIEW: Doctor Who S11E01 – “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

episode 1 - grace, yasmin, thirteen, ryan, and grahamIt’s the first episode of the Thirteenth Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) run. It’s the first episode of Chris Chibnall, the new showrunner’s, era. It’s the first episode to feature new companions Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole). It’s the first episode featuring Segun Akinola, the new composer for the show. To say there’s a lot riding on this new episode would be an understatement. The big question is: does it deliver on all it sets out to? Does it work as a jumping on point for new viewers and a continuation of the show beloved by millions? How’s Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the first female Doctor? How’s Chris Chibnall’s first episode fully crafted by him (and not overseen by a separate showrunner)? Is it a good episode of TV? The short answer to that final question is: yes. (NOTE: There will be spoilers within this review!)

Episode 1101: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Jaime Childs)
“We don’t get aliens in Sheffield.” In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed forever as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city?

Guest starring Sharon D. Clarke, Johnny Dixon and Samuel Oatley.

(more…)

REVIEW: “You Might Be The Killer”

You Might Be The KillerWho doesn’t love a good scary movie around Halloween? I’m a bit of a wuss, so I like my scary movies to not be too scary. I enjoy being spooked but not being scared so far out of my wits that it’s unpleasant. Because of that, it’s often hard for me to find good, new scary movies to watch since so many modern horror movies rely on jump scares that just make me anxious to a degree that’s entirely unenjoyable. Then along comes You Might Be The Killer, written by Brett Simmons, Thomas P. Vitale, and Covis Berzoyne and directed by Brett Simmons. Based on a viral twitter thread from authors Chuck Wendig and Sam SykesYou Might Be the Killer is a horror-comedy where Sam (Fran Kranz) finds himself trapped at a summer camp, being hunted by a masked killer, and calls his friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) for help.

A camp counselor suffering from blackouts finds himself surrounded by murder victims. He turns to his horror movie enthusiast friend for advice, and to contend with the idea he may be the killer.

(more…)

REVIEW: “The Good Place” S03E02 – The Brainy Bunch

The Good Place - Season 3After last week’s excellent cliffhanger featuring the return of everyone’s favorite demon, Trevor (Adam Scott), I was really excited to see just what would happen next and how it would live up to the season premiere. As expected, The Brainy Bunch continues to push this season into new, exciting, and hilarious situations. Plus, it’s always fun to get to see Adam Scott interact with this cast again.

Episode 303: The Brainy Bunch (Written by Dan Schofield and Directed by Jude Weng)
After Trevor (Adam Scott), a demon sent by Shawn to infiltrate and break up Chidi’s new study group in order to ensure their return to the Bad Place, joins the study group, Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) must figure out a way to get him to leave before he can tear the group apart and ruin the experiment.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek” by Anthony O’Neill

dr-jekyll-and-mr-seekThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was one of the only books given to me as assigned reading in high school that I actually enjoyed. It’s a wonderfully macabre Gothic novella that explores the duality of man within a really interesting sci-fi scenario. I enjoyed the book so much in high school that it actually led to me watching the fantastic BBC series Jekyll (a show that actually ended up being a really interesting sequel to the original story). So, naturally, when I saw that Anthony O’Neill’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek, a sequel to the original Jekyll & Hyde, I was immediately interested. The question is: how good is this book? Is it a worthy sequel to such an amazing original? The short answer is: no, not really. But it’s more complicated than that.

In this dark, atmospheric sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless classic, the strange case continues with the return of Dr. Jekyll . . .

Seven years after the death of Edward Hyde, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr. Henry Jekyll. Only Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidant, knows that he must be an impostor―because Jekyll was Hyde.

But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming the estate, and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life . . . and questioning his own sanity.

This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements, as well as subverts, Stevenson’s gothic classic. And where the original was concerned with the duality of man, the sequel deals with the possibility of identity theft of the most audacious kind. Constantly threading on the blurred lines between reality and fantasy, madness and reason, self-serving delusions and brutal truths, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek honors the original Stevenson with a thrilling new conclusion.

(more…)

REVIEW: “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green

an absolutely remarkable thing coverA book about giant robots from space that mysteriously appear out of nowhere in 64 cities all around the world written by Hank Green, one-half of one of my favorite YouTube channels? Sign me up! An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is the debut novel from Hank Green, co-creator of the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers and the brother of best-selling YA novelist John Green. It’s a book about more than giant alien robot statues invading the Earth. It’s a book about how fame corrupts us, the dangers of radicalization, and what makes us human. It’s also really, really good.

The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring from the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye.

(more…)

REVIEW: “The Good Place” Season 3 Premiere – Everything is Bonzer!

The Good Place - Season 3After a lengthy hiatus, my favorite comedy on TV is finally back! After a pretty stunning season 2 finale that featured our four humans being given a second shot at living a decent life, aided by their guardian demon, Michael (Ted Danson), The Good Place has returned even better than before! With lots of new jokes, lots of emotional scenes, and lots of really fun surprises, this premiere episode of the show is as good as you could hope for!

Episode 301-302: Everything is Bonzer! (Written by Michael Schur and Jen Statsky and directed by Dean Holland)
After the surprising events of the season 2 finale, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself returned to Earth, no memories of her time in the Bad Place, given a new chance to live a good life. Realizing she’s gonna need some help in order to be a good person, Eleanor travels to Australia in order to meet Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), a professor of ethics at a local university, in order to convince him to teach her how to be a good person. Nudged along by Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden), elegant Pakistani-British socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and dance-obsessed Floridian Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) also make their way to Australia in order to join a new study, headed by Chidi, in which he studies the brains of people who have survived near-death experiences.

Unbenknowst to them, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), a demon from the Bad Place, is hellbent on hacking into the Judge’s (Maya Rudolph) computer in order to find out where Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason are so that he can get them back to the Bad Place.

Can Michael and Janet help the humans lead better lives and get into the Good Place, or will all of them fail?

(more…)

Spoiler Free Preview for “The Good Place” Season 3

The Good Place - Season 3Last season of The Good Place turned that show into one of my absolute favorite shows currently airing on TV. It had brilliant world-building, superb characters, and genuinely funny situations. Not to mention a whole lot of genuine emotions. It’s such a well-written show that it’s always a little worrying to think about how the cast and crew could possibly live up to, or even top, all that had already happened. Would this third season be a bit of a disappointment after how last season’s finale ended? The short answer is: Nope! The longer answer requires a bit more time to get into. I’m gonna try and keep this preview/review as spoiler-free as possible, restricting any potential spoilers to things that have already been revealed (the clip of the first three minutes of the premiere revealed by NBC a few weeks ago, the official sneak peek of season three released about a week and a half ago, the Entertainment Weekly first look images, or any other public information from Comic-Con or other interviews).

From creator Michael Schur comes a unique comedy about what makes a good person. The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife, and thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place (which is definitely where she belongs). While hiding in plain sight from Good Place Architect Michael (Ted Danson), she’s determined to shed her old way of living and earn her spot.

The first two seasons featured surprise after surprise and twist after twist, including a world-upending season one finale that threw everything up in the air. At the end of season two, Michael appeared in front of the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to argue that the humans may have been judged unfairly, and deserve a second chance. With a snap of her fingers, the Judge sent the humans back to Earth, in a new timeline where they never died.

Also seeking redemption, along with Eleanor, are Senegalese philosopher Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), who is tortured by decision-making; elegant Pakistani-British socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and dance-obsessed Floridian Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto).  Michael is aided by Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a human-esque repository for all of the knowledge in the universe.

(more…)