Author: Michael Cook

REVIEW: American Gods S03E01 – A Winter’s Tale

After a nearly two-year break, American Gods is back on our TV screens—and not a moment too soon. And, as is customary for the show, a lot’s happened in those two years. There have been more shakeups in front of, and behind, the camera, leading to the departure of actors like Orlando Jones, Kahyun Kim, and Mousa Kraish. However, unlike the previous season, it appears that the making of season three was a far smoother affair—an assumption that is borne out on screen. Despite everything that may have happened behind the scenes, the season premiere of American Gods is great. It does everything a premiere should do—establishes where the characters are as the season begins and where they’re headed, lays the groundwork for future episodes, and energizes audiences for the season to come. While the premiere sometimes feels like a pilot episode for a new show, it remains distinctly American Gods-esque and is genuinely fun and exciting to watch. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review contains full spoilers for the episode. Read at your own risk.)

American Gods S03E01 – “A Winter’s Tale” (written by David Paul Francis, directed by Jon Amiel)
After months apart, Wednesday reappears in Shadow’s life, resolved to drag him back into his divine war effort. A meeting with the god Wisakedjak leaves Shadow with a prophecy about his destiny—a destiny that seems determined to bring him to the idyllic, snowy town of Lakeside, Wisconsin.

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REVIEW: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” Season Two

The first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was one of the biggest surprises of 2020 and easily ranked among my favorite shows of the year. It was filled with so much heart, joy, and emotion that it was infectious to watch. I love a good dramedy and I love a good musical show that knows how to utilize its musical numbers in unique, creative, and emotional ways. Everything about the first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was—pun intended—extraordinary, and I couldn’t have been more excited when a second season was confirmed. However, one big question lingered: could a second season maintain the energy, heart, and originality of the first without feeling stale? Well, having season the first three episodes of season two, I can safely say that the answer is a resounding yes! Season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a perfect continuation of the first season. It pushes the story and characters into new exciting and emotional directions while maintaining the show’s heart, joy, and emotional introspection. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review will be as spoiler-free as possible. However, your mileage may vary; read at your own risk.)

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Season Two
In its second season, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” continues to explore the feelings we keep buried on the inside, the human impulse for connection and the undeniable healing power of music and dance. Following a tragedy, Zoey (Jane Levy) and the Clarke family begin to recalibrate and navigate their new normal. As she finds herself in a new dynamic at work and in her love life, Zoey’s musical powers will continue to both awkwardly complicate and inform her worldview as she attempts to rediscover joy and connect with those around her.

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REVIEW: “American Gods” Season 3 (Spoiler Free)

American Gods is one of my favorite TV shows. Its quality isn’t always consistent and there seems to be a lot of turnover in front of, and behind, the camera, but there’s nothing else like it on TV and I find myself returning to it time and time again. Its source material being so fantastic helps a lot, of course, but I still find much to enjoy in Starz’s TV adaptation. So, naturally, I was beyond excited to see what they’d do with season three. With another round of cast and crew shakeups, season three had a lot working against it. But it was said to be adapting one of the best parts of the book (the Lakeside arc) and featured a slew of new and exciting cast members, so there was still much to be hopeful about. And, having seen the first four episodes, I’d say that hope is fulfilled. The third season of American Gods feels simultaneously familiar and new—it’s identifiably the same show we’ve fallen in love with but it’s bursting with new energy and momentum. It’s not perfect, but it’s a promising start. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

(NOTE: This review strives to be as spoiler free as possible. There may be mentions to information officially revealed in trailers and promotional material, but no major plot points will be discussed.)

American Gods – Season Three
Following his discovery last season that Mr. Wednesday is his father, Shadow attempts to break away and assert himself as his own man. As he settles into life in Lakeside, he uncovers a dark secret while exploring questions of his own divinity. Guided on this spiritual journey by the gods of his black ancestors, the Orishas, Shadow must decide exactly who he is—a god seeking veneration or a man in service of the “we.”

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – Revolution of the Daleks” (2021 New Year’s Special)

It feels like ages since a new episode of Doctor Who has aired. I know season 12 finished airing this past March, but it feels much longer than that. After a year like 2020, it feels good to have a new Doctor Who episode to look forward to. And, let’s be real, a new episode of Doctor Who is always something to be excited for, even if you’re not loving the current run. Every episode of Doctor Who is a blank slate. There is a chance for that episode to be something great or, conversely, to be less-than-stellar. And that’s the joy of the show—you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s with this mindset that I approached the 2021 New Year’s Day special, Revolution of the Daleks. I enjoyed the previous New Year’s special, Resolution, so I was pretty excited going into this. Plus, there’s the added excitement of the proper return of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness and the drama of two companions departing by the end of the story—Bradley Walsh’s Graham and Tosin Cole’s Ryan. Revolution of the Daleks had a lot going for it, but how did it fare as a story? Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks is a rollicking adventure. Filled with action, drama, a surprising amount of introspection, and plenty of heart, it’s an excellent special that should prove plenty pleasing. (4.5 out of 5 wands.) 

(NOTE: This review features spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Lee Haven Jones)
The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass” by Una McCormack (Time Lord Victorious)

So far, the Time Lord Victorious event has been a bit of a mixed bag. The first novel, The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead, set up a solid premise but didn’t explore any of its ideas with the depth needed to make them memorable. The two comics were well-written and illustrated but short and seemingly-disconnected from the larger story. And, as of this review, I haven’t listened to any of the Big Finish audios, so I can’t speak on them. But those parts of Time Lord Victorious that I have consumed have left me conflicted. I really want to enjoy Time Lord Victorious—I like a lot of the ideas and many of the stories are solid on their own, but the whole event hasn’t felt like it was coalescing into anything yet. So, I hoped that this second (and final) novel, the conclusion of the storyline, All Flesh is Grass, would tick those boxes. And it sort of does—it deftly ties together the seemingly disparate elements of the story into an explosive conclusion. However, it also maintains all of the flaws of the first book and wastes the intriguing premise set up in that novel by devolving into another Doctor vs Dalek story. (3 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There will be some spoilers for the book within. I wouldn’t consider any of them to be major ones, but your mileage may vary. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack
A wasteland. A dead world… No, there is a biodome, rising from the ash. Here, life teems and flourishes, with strange and lush plants, and many-winged insects with bright carapaces – and one solitary sentient creature, who spends its days watering the plants, talking to the insects, and tending this lonely garden. This is Inyit, the Last of the Kotturuh.

In All Flesh is Grass we are transported back to The Dark Times. The Tenth Doctor has sworn to stop the Kotturuh, ending Death and bringing Life to the universe. But his plan is unravelling – instead of bringing Life, nothing has changed and all around him people are dying. Death is everywhere. Now he must confront his former selves – one in league with their greatest nemesis and the other manning a ship of the undead…

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REVIEW: “Wonder Woman 1984”

Three years after its theatrical release, 2017’s Wonder Woman remains one of the best entries in the DCEU. Perfectly capturing the spirit of Wonder Woman, the film is a testament to how good the DCEU can be when it allows itself to take risks and tell character-based stories. So, naturally, anticipation and expectations were high for Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins’ return to the character. Now, after numerous delays (some pandemic related, some not), a sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, is finally out. And it’s good. While having a couple of underbaked character arcs, running a bit too long, and being light on action, Wonder Woman 1984 is a marvelous return to the world of Wonder Woman. It’s buoyed by gorgeous visuals and even better performance and is sure to delight fans old and new. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984. Read at your own risk.)

Wonder Woman 1984 (written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and David Callaham; directed by Patty Jenkins)
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s — an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts, and only performing heroic acts incognito. But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength, wisdom and courage as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a villainess who possesses superhuman strength and agility.

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REVIEW: Doctor Who 2010 Christmas Special – “A Christmas Carol”

For over a decade, the whole family could gather around the TV on Christmas Day and watch a new Doctor Who Christmas special. These episodes were rarely as all-around well-executed as the series’ best episodes, but they were always packed with holiday spirit and undeniably fun to watch. No Christmas special exhibited these qualities more than the 2010 special, A Christmas Carol. Being both Steven Moffat and Matt Smith’s first Doctor Who Christmas special, it had quite a lot to live up to—and boy did it. I’d argue that A Christmas Carol is not only a great Doctor Who Christmas special but also a great episode of Doctor Who in general. Loosely adapting Charles Dickens’ classic book, A Christmas Carol, the special is jam-packed with Christmas spirit, spectacular performances, and a suitably timey-wimey plotline perfect for the 11th Doctor. It is easily my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special. (5 out of 5 wands.)

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (written by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes)
Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are trapped on a crashing space liner, and the only way the Doctor (Matt Smith) can rescue them is to save the soul of a lonely old miser, Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon, Laurence Belcher, Danny Horn). But is Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown, beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve?

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REVIEW: “The Mandalorian” Season Two

The first season of The Mandalorian left me with a lot of mixed feelings. The show was filled to the brim with interesting and creative ideas but plagued by a lack of focus and an adherence to stand-alone stories at the cost of narrative momentum. Nearly half of the season felt completely disposable, but when the show worked, it worked extremely well. Ultimately, there was enough good in that first season to keep me hooked and eager for the second one despite whatever reservations I had. Now, having finished the second season, I can honestly say that I don’t know what I was expecting. Season two of The Mandalorian is identical to the show’s first season—with all of the pros and cons that come with that. This time, however, those cons begin to outweigh the pros—though the latter half of the season makes up for the sins of the first half. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are spoilers for all eight episodes of The Mandalorian’s second season. Read at your own risk.)

The Mandalorian and the Child continue their journey, facing enemies and rallying allies as they make their way through a dangerous galaxy in the tumultuous era after the collapse of the Galactic Empire.

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REVIEW: Team Starkid’s “A VHS Christmas Carol”

A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time.It’s been adapted numerous times—for television, the stage, and the big screen. If you can think of an angle, it’s probably been applied to A Christmas Carol. In that light, I don’t know how novel an idea Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol—someone must have done A Christmas Carol in the style of 1980s pop music—but honestly, I don’t care. A VHS Christmas Carol is exactly the kind of thing I wanted this holiday season. It’s an album (and virtual live visual album) that’s packed with catchy, earwormy tunes, energy, and heart. It’s the perfect holiday pick-me-up. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

A VHS Christmas Carol (written by Clark Baxtresser, directed by Corey Lubowich)
Join StarKid for a new holiday tradition blending Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with 80’s music videos into a synth-elating Live Visual Album experience! This reimagining of the classic tale from composer Clark Baxtresser features and all-star(kid) cast serving up vibes from Christmases past, an escape from Christmas present, and a cutting edge blend of live and filmed performances straight out of Christmas future!

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REVIEW: NBC’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!”

Everyone is familiar with Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s been adapted multiple times for the screen—an animated special, a live-action film starring Jim Carrey, and a full length animated film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the mid-2000s, it was also adapted for the Broadway stage by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin. That production starred Patrick Page (of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Hadestown fame) and quickly became a go-to favorite for regional and community theaters. And now, NBC is giving it the primetime TV treatment. Similar to their ongoing tradition of staging live musicals during the holiday season, NBC has decided to broadcast a newly-filmed production of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical straight from London—this time starring Matthew Morrison as the Grinch. While it isn’t live, like the other NBC musicals, it’s still a fully staged production. And, to be honest, it’s so much worse than I expected it to be. Unlike most of the NBC live musicals, which have been plagued by technical problems and questionable casting choices, The Grinch Musical is plagued by a bafflingly bad script, woefully miscast lead actors, and a score that is almost uniformly boring. (1.5 out of 5 wands.)

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (written by Simon Nye and Mel Marvin; composed by Timothy Mason, Albert Hague, and Dr. Seuss; directed by Max Webster and Julia Knowles)
Dr. Seuss’ beloved book tells the story of a reclusive Grinch (Matthew Morrison) who plotted from his cave atop snowy Mt. Crumpit to steal Christmas from the Whos in Who-ville. Then on Christmas Eve, disguised as Santa Claus and enlisting his loyal dog Max (Denis O’Hare as Adult Max, Booboo Stewart as Young Max) as a reindeer, the Grinch traveled to Who-ville to scoop up the Whos’ gifts and decorations. Much to his surprise on Christmas morning, the Whos were unfazed and celebrated the holiday with a heartwarming display of joy and love.

This musical version, with book and lyrics by Tim Mason and music by Mel Marvin and featuring the hit songs “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” (by Albert Hague & Dr. Seuss), breathes new life into this timeless story. The lush and whimsical staging by award-winning director Max Webster, directed for television by BAFTA winner Julia Knowles, with additional script material by BAFTA-winning writer Simon Nye and featuring sets by acclaimed designer Peter Bingemann, will set the mood for a beautiful holiday celebration.

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