tv shows

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.

“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson
The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Law & Order: SVU” and “Organized Crime” Crossover

I haven’t regularly watched SVU since Christopher Meloni’s Detective Stabler left the show, so I was pretty excited to see his long-awaited return in this two-part crossover/pilot for the latest Law & Order spin-off. And, as expected, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a lot of stuff I liked and a lot of stuff I didn’t like. On the good side, it’s nice seeing Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson reunited with Meloni’s Stabler. You can feel the years of chemistry they’ve got, mixed in with the years of tension caused by Stabler’s disappearance from her life. As a fan of those older episodes, there’s a certain nostalgic joy found in simply seeing the two of them interact with each other again. And I appreciated the way the show embraced the idea of Stabler’s sudden disappearance (he was unceremoniously written off the show between seasons when Meloni didn’t renew his contract) having weighed heavily on Benson. The scenes they shared, and the way the two episodes dig deep into that trauma, make the whole event worth watching.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” Episodes 1-3

I didn’t think I’d like this show. At all. The trailers made it look indistinguishable from the rest of the MCU’s normal fare. But, honestly, I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying this show. It’s not as creative and risky as WandaVision, but The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is no less fun. If you told me to imagine a somewhat standard MCU story, I’d probably reply with something that sounded similar to this. To be fair, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve seen other reviewers describe Falcon and the Winter Soldier as reminiscent of the second Captain America film, and they’re right. This show is a character-driven political thriller. Its plot is kind of weak, but the character moments are fairly strong. This is the most character development Sam and Bucky have ever seen, and fans of them should be pretty pleased by how the characters are handled—Bucky in therapy was something I didn’t know I needed to see until I saw it. The way the show explores Bucky and Sam—their backstories, their trauma, and who they want to be—is a pretty compelling reason to watch the show, and the show mostly gets their characterizations right (though it stumbles a bit in the third episode).

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“American Gods” Season 3: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What’s Next?

The third season of American Gods came to quite an explosive ending last week, with Shadow holding Wednesday’s vigil on the World Tree. It’s an ending that was well prepared for, concluding a season that spent ample time building up Shadow’s struggles with his divinity, his desire for power, and the cyclical nature of him trying to escape Wednesday’s shadow, only to be drawn further into it. On the whole, it was the most consistent season of American Gods to date. While it might not have reached the same heights of past seasons, it maintained a level of quality that ensured the show never reached the same lows of past seasons. Now, with the future of the show in flux, it seems like a good time to revisit the third season, looking at what worked and what didn’t.

NOTE: There will be full spoilers for all three seasons of American Gods. Read at your own risk.

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REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E10 – “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree”

And with that, another season of American Gods comes to a close. Tonight’s episode caps off what’s been the most consistent season of American Gods so far—and what an episode it is. If last week’s episode felt more like a traditional season finale, then this week’s episode acts as a beautiful coda to the season, bringing many of the character arcs to a conclusion while throwing the narrative door wide open for the show to go in any number of directions. It raises more questions than it answers, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It straddles a nice line between faithfulness to the book and faithfulness to what the TV adaptation has become and I feel it works very well—even if there are some developments I’m not entirely sold on just yet. (4.5 out of 5 wands.) 

NOTE: This review features spoilers for episode 3×10 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.

American Gods: Episode 3×10: “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree”
Written by: Laura Pusey and Ryan Spencer
Directed by: Russell Lee Fine

Teetering on the edge of war and peace, the gods gather to mourn a loss. Bilquis’ divine journey brings her to an unexpected revelation, while Shadow finally embraces a destiny that could bring him either greatness or death.

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REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E09 – “The Lake Effect”

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve reviewed an American Gods episode—but that’s not because they’ve been bad. Episode seven felt the victim of quick edits (which were needed to remove Marilyn Manson from the episode) but largely served as setup (albeit good setup) for the rest of the season. Episode eight was extremely beautiful when it focused on Salim’s plotline, but then the stuff with Tyr, Wednesday, and Shadow felt a bit under-baked. The same remains true for this week’s episode. On the surface, it feels a lot like a season finale, wrapping up many of the season’s ongoing plotlines while setting up future ones. But it also reveals one of the season’s biggest problems: in its effort to juggle so many plotlines, it’s forgotten which ones are more important and needed more focus, resulting in a moment that should’ve been a big, explosive reveal landing with more of a thud. Still, most of the episode works very well. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×09. Read at your own risk.

American Gods 3×09: “The Lake Effect”
Written by: Laura Pusey and Damian Kindler
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin

Shadow has to decide the price he’s willing to pay for his idyllic Lakeside life. As Laura and her new ally close in on her target, Wednesday has to persuade Czernobog that it’s time to make peace with their enemies.

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Was the “WandaVision” finale disappointing?

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by WandaVision. Of all the Disney+ MCU shows, WandaVision was the one that seemed most interesting. But I never expected to like it as much as I did. Was it perfect? No, but it took a lot longer for it to devolve into the more typical MCU fare than I’d expected. And, underneath all of that guff, was a compelling and moving story about grief—the kind of character-driven narrative that the MCU films aren’t equipped to deliver. For me, the character work balances out any problems I had with the show’s overarching narrative, but others seem to disagree quite heartily. The question of the week appears to be: was the WandaVision finale disappointing? For me, the answer is both yes and no. Allow me to explain.

NOTE: Full spoilers for the entirety of WandaVision’s first season.

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REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E06 – “Conscience of the King”

While last week’s episode of American Gods saw quite a lot of stuff happen, things slowed down some this week. In “Conscience of the King,” we finally get some answers about Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Demeter’s (Blythe Danner) past, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) confronts Mr. World (Danny Trejo) about his endless glitching, Laura (Emily Browning) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) struggle to find Wednesday, and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) spends some quality time in Lakeside with Marguerite (Lela Loren) and her family. It’s a quieter episode, but one with a focus on the characters and their future. As usual, though, the show may have tried to cram a few too many things into its fifty-minute runtime. It’s a great episode, but some parts feel woefully underexplored. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×06 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.)

American Gods S03E06: “Conscience of the King”
Written by: Aric Avelino
Directed by: Mark Tinker
Despite his past following him to Lakeside, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) makes himself at home and builds relationships with the town’s residents. Laura (Emily Browning) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) continue to hunt for Wednesday (Ian McShane), who attempts one final gambit to win over Demeter (Blythe Danner).

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REVIEW: “American Gods” S03E05 – “Sister Rising”

A lot happens in this week’s episode of American Gods. So much, in fact, that it feels like the episode is comprised of two different episodes that have been forced together. The first is the conclusion to the previous episode’s Bilquis (Yetide Basaki) arc; the second is a heist-themed episode seeing Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Cordelia (Ashley Reyes) finding dirt on Hutchinson (Sebastian Spence), Demeter’s (Blythe Danner) conservator. The combination of these two storylines creates a tonally weird experience, with the first half of the episode being emotional and philosophical and the second half being more comedic. This doesn’t result in a bad episode, though, just a somewhat uneven one. Still, there’s a lot of exciting highs to be found here. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review contains spoilers for episode 3×05 of American Gods. Read at your own risk.)

American Gods S03E05 – “Sister Rising”
Written by: Damian Kindler
Directed by: Nick Copus

Shadow (Ricky Whittle) explores notions of purpose, destiny and identity with a newly enlightened Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). Elsewhere, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) struggles with an identity crisis of his own. In his efforts to free Demeter (Blythe Danner), Wednesday (Ian McShane) asks a reluctant Shadow to assist in a new con.

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