On the one hand, Reservation Dogs’ third and final season felt more directionless and less cohesive than its first two, with episodes meandering around the reservation and focusing on a wider array of characters, both in the present and the past. Which sometimes made for a frustrating experience, particularly when compared to the previous seasons’ more defined arcs. On the other hand, I just love spending time with every single one of these characters: the titular foursome, their aunties, uncles, and grandparents, and even the various spirits who interact with them all and offer (occasionally) helpful advice. Furthermore, Reservation Dogs’ focus on the necessity of maintaining and respecting one’s community, exploration of life’s cyclical nature, and depiction of the “thinness” between the physical and spiritual worlds have given me much to think — and laugh — about. A truly special and unique series.
If I were to describe Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace as a Hammer horror parody set in a cursed hospital where Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D. must battle occult forces, I’d only be telling you half the story. Because it’s also a show-within-a-show about noted horror author (or “dreamweaver,” as he prefers) Garth Marenghi (played by Matthew Holness), who finally has a chance to unleash his show — aka, the most significant televisual event since Quantum Leap — on the unsuspecting public. Filled with hammy acting, stilted dialog, gloriously ’80s hairstyles, and special effects that make classic Doctor Who episodes look positively cutting edge, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is the Platonic ideal of a cult classic, the kind of show you either get completely or hate absolutely. I fall into the first category. Be it Marenghi’s arrogant assessment of his writing skills, Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry’s performances, or the outlandish storylines involving psychic doctors, eyeball children, and alien broccoli, all six episodes had me consistently cracking up.
It was still satisfying to watch Reacher dispatch a bunch of really slimy bad guys — in this case, some corrupt cops hoping to make millions by selling advanced weapons to terrorists — in all kinds of inventive and violent ways, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as Reacher’s first season. I missed that season’s dark sense of humor (e.g., Reacher beating some morals into a dog’s negligent owner, Reacher dropping one-liners while dispatching bad guys). Without that to add some levity and self-awareness, season two often felt rather sullen and morose as it dove more into Reacher’s military past and the fates of some of his comrades. Also, the result was a less likable Reacher. Granted, he’s a big, beefy dude who prefers to ignore the law and let his fists and guns do the talking, but in season one, such lone wolf activities came with a wink at the audience. Not so much with season two, to its detriment.
I feel like Monarch wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, it wants to be an intriguing Lost-esque mystery about the origins of a super-secret agency tasked with protecting humanity from giant monsters. And on the other hand, it wants to be a thrilling series where the threat/promise of those same giant monsters attacking humanity constantly looms in the background. As a result, it ends up being neither. But not for lack of trying. As with Foundation, Apple has clearly spared no expanse for Monarch; the effects are easily on par with any Hollywood blockbuster. And the series boasts some strong performances, particularly from Wyatt and Kurt Russell (who play the same character in different time periods) as well as Mari Yamamoto as a brilliant scientist dedicated to better understanding creatures like Godzilla. (It was also neat seeing The Expanse’s Dominique Tipper in a quasi-villainous role.) Given my fondness for Godzilla, though, I confess I don’t fully understand the point of Monarch. Sure, it looks great, but does it really add anything to Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse? I’m not sure.
In my review of Foundation’s first season, I wrote that it tried to fit way too much into just ten episodes. That’s still my biggest complaint with the second season. To be sure, Foundation remains eminently watchable — Apple has clearly spared no expense — and I’m frequently in awe of its world building, from the various space ships and fantastical technology (e.g., Hari Seldon’s vault) to the religious movements and shifting political allegiances. But I still felt like I’d somehow missed one vital episode that tied all of various narrative strands together. Which is a shame, because there were some individual stories that I really enjoyed, like the various revelations about Demerzel as well as the push and pull between Bel Riose and his husband Glawen Curr. (Glawen, by the way, is one of my favorite characters from 2023.) But even with my aforementioned criticism, I’ll still tune in for season three; getting to watch space opera this ambitious on the small screen is a real treat.
Reservation Dogs is usually billed as a comedy, but that doesn’t feel quite right. True, it’s frequently hilarious, albeit in a slightly skewed and often surreal way. But it’s also deeply sad as the ten episodes explore the effects of death on a closeknit community. Death of friends and loved ones, most obviously, but also the death of one’s dreams, of friendships, of innocence. Season two starts off a bit awkwardly as it tries to pick up where season one left off, but it’s also filled with delightful (and delightfully poignant) moments: Bear slowly maturing and getting a job; the reservation coming together to mourn and honor Elora’s dying grandmother; a group of middle-aged Indigenous women trying to hook up at a conference; or a couple of influencers imparting some “wisdom” to Bear, Elora, and the rest of the reservation’s youth. (I probably could’ve done without the catfish sex, though.)
I hope I can critique Loki’s second season without sounding like one of those YouTube bros who post video screeds whining about how Captain Marvel is too woke, so here goes… There’s a lot to like about Loki: Tom Hiddleston’s performance, the TVA’s immaculate production design, the visual effects, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s direction. (The less said about Jonathan Majors’ performance, however, the better. He was underwhelming as He Who Remains and even more so as Victor Timely.) But given the MCU’s currently aimless state, it feels rather pointless and disconnected. Admittedly, earlier Marvel series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Daredevil were only tangentially connected to the MCU, but they didn’t focus on a character as prominent, or beloved, as Loki. Nor did they end with an event that’s arguably more significant than Thanos’ snap. But much like that Celestial corpse Eternals left floating in the ocean, it doesn’t seem like it’ll matter all that much, which robs Loki’s final triumph/sacrifice of some emotional and thematic heft.
Is Star Trek: Lower Decks finally growing up? While this latest season still contained (juvenile) jokes and references aplenty, there was some distinct maturation as our lowly ensigns finally got promoted, sometimes against their will. Lower Decks has always had an outsider’s connection to the larger Star Trek universe. Sure, Riker and Q might pop up here and there, but the series’ events often felt disconnected from the rest of the canon. But this season contained some developments — e.g., the Ferengi applying for Federation membership, Nova Fleet — that ought to have some broader ramifications for the franchise. Also, Tendi and Rutherford are my favorite on-screen couple of any series right now, so I loved seeing Lower Decks finally address their relationship in a way that seemed set-up for one direction, only to go in a different direction that was subversive in its delightful wholesomeness.
A year after their close friend’s death, four Indigenous teens plot to escape their small Oklahoma town and start over in California. That, however, proves to be easier said than done, as their various schemes never quite go the way they’d like and they find themselves in conflict with a rival gang. That, and they discover their bonds to their families and community are perhaps stronger than they’d like. Reservation Dogs is notable for being the first TV series to be written and directed entirely by Indigenous individuals, which gives it a truly unique perspective. It’s filled with memorable characters (e.g., the spirit of a warrior who died at The Battle of Little Big Horn and now doles out cryptic advice to the series’ characters, some rapping twins who roll around town on their bikes) as well as an understated sense of humor that occasionally verges on the absurd.
Here’s the thing about Netflix’s Lupin: You have to suspend your disbelief. And I mean, really suspend it in order to overlook all of the hand-waving and glossing over the complexities of the protagonist’s various heists and schemes. And for the most part, you won’t really mind doing so because the series is so darn charming thanks to Omar Sy’s lead performance. Unfortunaely, the disbelief is harder to suspend during this third season, which finds debonair thief Assane Diop (Sy) racing to save his family from an old enemy. The season gets increasingly convoluted, including an awkward storyline in which a disguised Diop charms his ex-wife. The threat from Diop’s past never actually feels all that threatening, the constant flashbacks are a bit much, and the season never quite earns the emotional pay-off that it’s so clearly trying to achieve. There are some interesting twists and wrinkles, though, as Diop tests his allies’ loyalty and forges some unlikely alliances. Not surprisingly, season three ends on a cliffhanger that totally sets up Lupin’s fourth (and hopefully final) season.
Ahoska’s first season was far better than The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian’s superfluous third season, and maybe even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Some note that it’s “basically” season five of Star Wars Rebels, with Ahsoka, Sabine Wren, et al. trying to find Ezra Bridger and prevent Thrawn’s return. (I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Rebels, but I never felt lost watching Ahsoka.) I really dug the extra-galactic travel and the more fantasy-like elements (e.g., the Dathomirian witches and their magick), as well as the samurai angle. The Star Wars franchise owes a huge debt to samurai movies but Ahsoka really plays up that influence, from her garb and the costumes of the Peridea bandits to the music and the lightsaber stances. Finally, I’d be sorely remiss if I didn’t mention Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll. What could’ve been a token villain turned out to be something far more nuanced and interesting thanks to Stevenson’s understated performance. When Skoll talks about missing the idea of the Jedi Order, I felt it in my bones. Sadly, Stevenson died earlier this year, so we’ll never get to see where he would’ve taken his character in subsequent seasons.
Sometimes, you just want to see bad guys get their butts kicked. That was the main appeal of Amazon’s Reacher, and I experienced a similar impulse watching this Korean drama on Netflix. Set during the height of the pandemic, Bloodhounds follows a pair of amateur boxers named Gun-woo and Woo-jin who must punch their way through Seoul’s underbelly after a notorious loan shark threatens Gun-woo’s mom and destroys her business. The series’ action sequences are crisp and well-choreographed, and all the more satisfying in light of the bad guys’ overall sliminess. But given that Bloodhounds is a Korean drama, there’s a lot of, well, drama. Which means some really odd tonal shifts. One minute, the duo’s grimly fighting for their lives against an army of bat-wielding thugs, and the next, the series tosses out some quasi-absurdist humor (often due to the boxers’ differing personalities) or dives headlong into super-earnest bromance or teary-eyed family drama. It doesn’t help that Bloodhounds’ female lead, Kim Sae-ron, was dropped from the series after being charged with drunk driving, which abruptly ended one of the series’ primary character dynamics. While it’s a lot of fun watching Gun-woo and Woo-jin punch thugs, gangsters, and greedy millionaires in the face over and over again, I wish Bloodhounds would’ve made up its mind: be a gritty crime thriller or a light-hearted buddy dramedy, but not both.
Ted Lasso’s final season was frustrating, to put it mildly. On the one hand, it had some truly delightful moments, the sort of big-hearted storytelling that made the first season so perfect. Rebecca’s memorable evening in Amsterdam. Jamie maturing into a fully-functioning adult. Richmond learning how to play Total Football. It’s a shame, then, that the season wasted so much time on storylines that were ultimately pointless, like the mercurial Zava or, worst of all, Jack and Keeley’s relationship. As a result, other, more deserving storylines — like Nate’s redemption or Rebecca finally moving past Rupert (played to slimy perfection by Anthony Head in the series’ most unflattering performance) — were left shallow and underdeveloped. I’m inclined to give season three an even lower score, but I’ll pull a Ted Lasso here because all misguided storytelling aside, I do believe Jason Sudeikis et al. had their hearts in the right place. Plus, they gave us Jamie’s pronunciation of “poopy,” which is worth at least half a star on its own. Overall, though, the season squandered too much of the series’ tremendous potential and good will.
I was almost half-way through this Netflix series when I realized several things. First, I didn’t care one whit about these characters or what happened to them. Second, this “action comedy” had elicited, at most, four mild chuckles. Third, if I want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger star as a secret agent who has to juggle his secret life with his family life, then I should really just watch True Lies again. And fourth, I’m all for gun safety and believe that modern visual effects have removed the need to have real guns on a set. But for heaven’s sake, make sure sure that your gun-related visual effects (e.g., muzzle flashes, blood splatter) don’t look as cheap or rushed as they do in FUBAR. It actually made me feel bad for Schwarzenegger that, despite being one of the greatest action stars of all time, he starred in a series with such poorly executed action. Did not finish.
I liked the first volume of Star Wars: Visions — an anthology of shorts by the world’s best animation studios that plays fast and loose with Star Wars canon — well enough. But I enjoyed Volume Two quite a bit more. Not surprisingly, “I Am Your Mother” by the legendary Aardman studio (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep) was enjoyable. But my favorites shorts were Studio Mir’s “Journey to the Dark Head” and Triggerfish’s “Aau’s Song.” The former is packed with stunning action and visuals, as you’d expect from the studio behind Voltron: Legendary Defender and The Legend of Korra. As for the latter, I was utterly entranced by its artistic style, which looks like stuffed animals come to life in a vividly realized CGI world. Interestingly, several of the shorts feature young children leaving their loved ones to begin their Jedi training. This is often handled in a melancholy manner that (1) reminded me of Obi-Wan’s reminiscing about his family in his live-action action series and (2) raises some questions about the morality of the Jedi Order.
It’s obvious why Wednesday was such a huge hit for Netflix: Jenna Ortega’s acclaimed performance as the eponymous goth-y heroine. The series lives or dies on Ortega’s shoulders, and she acquits herself well as the creepily aloof character. (I also really liked Gwendoline Christie as the harried Principal Weems.) Combine that with the world building (i.e., Wednesday is sent to a Hogwarts-esque private school for vampires, werewolves, and other monsters) and a conspiracy involving the neighboring town’s puritanical founder and her own father’s criminal past, and I was never not entertained. That said, Wednesday is pretty one-note, with our heroine struggling to maintain her icy exterior even as she (reluctantly) bonds with her classmates. (Another minus: the series’ macabre humor loses its punch half-way through the season.) A second season’s in the works, but honestly, the season one finale does a weak job of setting it up. As such, the show’s team have their work cut out for them if they want to recapture this season’s spark.
I enjoyed Abbott Elementary’s first season well enough, but the show really started coming into its own during this latest season. Parks and Recreation remains the most obvious touchstone, and while Abbott Elementary doesn’t quite reach that series’ level of joy and delight, it’s well on its way. It’s optimistic without being saccharine, topical without being too preachy. More importantly, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Gregory’s flustered reactions, Jacob’s awkward wokeness, Barbara being a good Christian woman, Mr. Johnson’s eccentricities, or Janine’s pluck and determination. (Any and all jokes about her height and lack of fashion sense are just an added bonus.)
I never finished Star Trek: Picard’s first season and had no interest in its second (even with Q’s return), but the prospect of the entire Enterprise-D crew returning for season three was just too much to pass up. A few quibbles aside — would people really still say “hipster” in the 25th century? — Picard’s final season was a great example of how to do nostalgia well. There were plenty of throwbacks, references, and familiar faces (e.g., Ro Laren, Moriarty, Elizabeth Shelby, Tuvok), but it all felt organic and earnest. And yes, I absolutely choked up when the Enterprise-D made her triumphant return. For my money, Riker was the season’s MVP. He brought a nice dose of humor and was critical to some of season three’s most intense emotional moments. The ebb and flow of his and Picard’s relationship was delightful to watch, and felt like a true decades-long friendship that, while full of love and respect, was not without tension. As for the season’s actual storyline, it was OK, if a little rushed. But the actual details mattered less to me than just getting to see some of my favorite TV characters back in action again.
When The Mandalorian debuted back in 2019, it was a delightful space-Western riff on Lone Wolf and Cub. Since then, the series has piled on ideas and lore (e.g., Grogu’s Jedi training, the Empire’s hijinks, the New Republic’s growing pains, Mandalorian history). Some of these ideas, like the rehabilitation of former Imperials, are interesting, but I’m not convinced that The Mandalorian is the best place for them. Not when the results feel as aimless, distracted, and perfunctory as they did this season. And it certainly doesn’t help that The Book of Boba Fett was basically Mandalorian season 2.5, or that we’re all still reeling from the awesomeness that was Andor’s first season. Mind you, the sight of Mandalorian warriors flying through the sky on their jetpacks will never not be cool, and Mando and Grogu’s bond is always cute, but unfortunately, the series as a whole just doesn’t seem to have much of a point or identity any more.
I like a good espionage thriller. You know the kind I’m talking about, filled with secret agents, black ops, innocent people on the run, and conspiracies that reach all the way to the highest levels of government. Netflix’s The Night Agent, adapted from Matthew Quirk’s 2019 novel, has all of these elements, as an FBI agent races to uncover a traitor in the US government while also protecting a woman targeted for assassination. But for all of these plot elements, The Night Agent lacked some necessary urgency or intensity. While I was never not entertained, I was never really on the edge of the my seat, either. Not helping was Hong Chau’s performance, which was — I think — supposed to be guarded and secretive, but just felt strained. Don’t get me started on the side-plot involving a pair of lovestruck assassins that felt like it was from a different title altogether. And the fact that the characters cussed like they’re in a Tarantino film only added to the series’ incongruity.