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Netflix and Marvel are teaming up to bring four new superhero shows to viewers, showcasing characters that are not as popular in the comics pantheon. The first of these shows, Daredevil, saw its digital premier this weekend, with all 13 episodes in the first season releasing at once. One 13-hour binge watching session later, it’s clear that this is a good show. Good, but not great. It has a lot of action, a lot of fighting and a lot of fantastic stunts, but it also spends a lot of time standing around talking. For this, the source material is to blame: Daredevil simply isn’t that exciting of a superhero. By day he’s a lawyer and by night he’s a vigilante who is simply human, with all the vulnerabilities that anyone else would have. Still, if you liked Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, this is a show that you’ll enjoy – only the names were really changed.
Matt Murdock, the main character, was struck blind in an accident as a child. He pushed a man out of the way of an incoming truck, and then got dowsed in the hazardous chemicals that the truck was carrying. These chemicals may have blinded him, but they also enhanced his other senses. As a result, he became incredibly sensitive to the smallest sounds, changes in air currents, the slightest fluctuations in temperature and the like. He developed a way to see the world around him without seeing it.
His father was an amateur boxer who was in on a scheme to rig fights, and he would often lose intentionally as a way to earn extra cash. After Matt’s accident, his father decides he wants to be a hero to his son for once, and wins a fight he was supposed to lose. The men rigging the fight lose a lot of money because of it, and have him killed, orphaning Matt. While at the orphanage, Matt meets a man called “Stick” who is also blind and who teaches him how to utilize his remaining senses as a fighting technique. Matt eventually becomes a lawyer and returns to where he grew up, the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York. He begins patrolling in the night, using his super hearing to listen for crimes in progress that he can stop. While he starts with petty crime, he soon ends up involved in a battle for the entirety of Hell’s Kitchen, thanks to a case he gets hired onto in the course of his day job. The Russian, Chinese and Japanese mafias are all working together under the leadership of a man named Wilson Fisk – known in the comics as Daredevil’s greatest adversary, “Kingpin” – and Matt is determined to keep his home safe.
The show does a good job of balancing Matt’s nighttime activities with his daytime life, as well as the lives of his friends and allies. His law partner and best friend Foggy Nelson, along with their secretary Karen Page and journalist Ben Urich, spend their days working to take down Kingpin using the legal system, not knowing that Matt is spending his nights working outside of the system to accomplish the same goal. At the same time, the show also gives viewers an in-depth look at Kingpin himself. It looks at his background being abused by his father, explores his motivations behind attempting to take over the area (spoilers: his motives are actually noble, though his methods are underhanded), and it even shows his warmth in dealing with those he loves. In many ways, Kingpin comes off as a more believable and likable character than the titular hero.
Normally, when a show has this many moving parts, it’s hard to keep all of the plates in the air at once. Daredevil manages to keep them aloft by not overreaching with any of them. The characters are not one dimensional by any means, but most do stop at two dimensions. This problem is likely due to the limited number of episodes, and will be corrected with a second season. The plot mostly revolves around the characters finding some new piece of information and then hiding from or getting roughed up by Kingpin’s men until that information can be put to use while Daredevil is either beating up gang members or getting beaten up badly himself. The show does shine during the action sequences, though, and anyone who is a fan of watching acrobatic fighting maneuvers as one man takes out an entire army of gang members will love this show for that. It just begins to feel formulaic and repetitive after a while.
The show is being praised by many for being darker and grittier than anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is at that. It is the first Marvel product to get a Mature rating on television. This fits with the tenor of the comics; Daredevil is more of an antihero akin to Punisher or Batman than he is a hero like the MCU has given audiences so far. This is a trend that is likely to continue in the upcoming Netflix/Marvel shows, as Jessica Jones has a rather dark history, as does Luke Cage. However, just because it is dark and gritty and mature does not mean that it is a great show. That’s not to say it’s bad, and it is, in fact, a good series. However, it is being overhyped due to its realism as stacked next to other Marvel properties, and that is praise it simply does not deserve.
I recommend Daredevil to anyone who likes the Dark Knight trilogy because that is the mental comparison I made throughout every episode. I recommend it for those who like shows based on comics, particularly if you plan to watch the other upcoming Netflix/Marvel shows leading up to the Defenders miniseries. I recommend it for anyone who just likes to watch action and violence. I do not recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like these things or who is just looking for a new crime procedural or cop drama. This is so much more and so much less than that.
Daredevil is a Netflix original series that began streaming on April 10, 2015. It stars Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Netflix’s latest original series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, began streaming this weekend, a new comedy produced by Tina Fey. Given Tina Fey’s normal comedy genius, this show is a huge disappointment. In the entire 13-episode first season, there were no laugh out loud moments that stick in the mind. The premise of the show is original, the main character – played by Ellie Kemper – is well-written, bright and strong, and some (but distinctly not all) of the supporting roles are entertaining. But, despite that, this remains a comedy that fails to bring the funny. Let’s take a closer look.
The premise of the show is a novel one that lends itself to a great story: four women are rescued from an underground bunker where they spent the last 15 years believing that they were the only survivors of the Apocalypse, saved by a doomsday preacher/cult leader. Kimmy Schmidt, the main and titular character, is one of those four women, dubbed the “Mole Women of Indiana.” She was the youngest of the group, kidnapped by the cult leader when she was only in the eighth grade. While the other three women choose to go back to their lives and homes in Indiana, Kimmy decides that she does not want to go back to Indiana, where she’ll only be seen as one of the Mole Women, but wants to make a new start for herself somewhere that she won’t be known. She moves to New York City, unaware of any of the major technological, linguistic, historical and cultural events of the last 15 years, and so must learn how to make her way in a world she doesn’t comprehend, with a childlike naïveté regarding everything about 2015 and without even a middle school education.
Kimmy is a great character, optimistic hard-working, with a great amount of inner (and outer) strength. She was able to resist the brainwashing of the cult leader, she refuses to leave New York even after a slew of bad luck ends with her losing her job and $13,000 dollars in the same day, and she even manages to rally those around her into bettering themselves, to varying degrees of success. Kimmy inspires her GED study group to band together to pass the class, holds together the Mole Women both in and out of the bomb shelter they had lived in, and helps her wealthy boss Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski) cope with a divorce that leaves her with only a paltry twelve million dollars. Kimmy is a well-developed character, and the plots surrounding her are what make the show watchable. The storylines around the other characters, however, are of a far lower quality.
When Kimmy first arrives in New York, she answers an ad in a newspaper regarding a place to live. The landlord – played by Carol Kane – placed the ad so that she could find a roommate for her favorite tenant; she doesn’t want to evict him, but he won’t pay rent, so she insists that he get a paying roommate. The landlord is a kook who gets some personal development, but doesn’t receive much time in the overall plot. Her character mostly seems to be wrapped up in the single word “kook.” Her tenant is an unfortunate walking stereotype named Titus Andromedon. Many of the jokes in the show are either originated by him or revolve around him in some way, which explains why the funny is missing. He is a poorly written and poorly developed character whose absence could only improve the show. His only redeeming quality is his singing voice which, while beautiful, is implemented into episodes with terrible timing.
The parts of Kimmy’s life that aren’t flashbacks or spent at home or with members of her study group revolve around her job, nanny for Mrs. Voorhees’ two spoiled rich kids. Or rather, that’s supposed to be her job, but she becomes more of a caretaker for Jacqueline herself. Kimmy helps Jacqueline gather up the courage to begin divorcing her husband after Jacqueline discovers he’s been cheating on her. Jane Krakowski may be in danger of getting typecast for the “rich, narcissistic woman” role, since she plays almost the same character that she played on 30 Rock, though her backstory in this show is quite different. It is shown, via flashbacks, that blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jacqueline is actually Native American, but decided that she wanted to be a part of white culture, where she could marry rich and live the high life. The ridiculousness was probably meant to be funny, but the show again missed its mark.
The show had a number of big names as guest stars, including John Hamm, Nick Kroll and even Tina Fey herself. However, their characters were lackluster and uninspired. The show quickly gets to a point where any scene without Kimmy is to be dreaded, and even the scenes that she’s in she sometimes can’t save for the poor execution and writing of the other characters.
There is little that can redeem a comedy that has no laugh factor. The story premise is original, and the main character is a powerful positive force in the show’s favor, enough so that she makes the show nearly worth watching. But a dismal cast of supporting characters who tell boring and easily-forgotten jokes brings the show crashing down. The show had two seasons ordered by Netflix from the start, so there will be more episodes in the future. Hopefully they can make improvements in the next season.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a Netflix original series. It is produced by Tina Fey and stars Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski.
With 104 days at your disposal, what sort of adventures and activities could you come up with to keep busy? For most of us, work or tv or books or video games would consume our time, cementing us to our couches and chairs. We wouldn’t take advantage of all the adventure and excitement that the world holds. The Disney X D show Phineas and Ferb explores this idea of making the most of each and every day, turning 104 days of sitting in front of a screen into 104 days of exploration and imagination. With three seasons and a full-length movie on Netflix, anyone can and should spend time watching how these creative kids spend their time.
Before delving too deeply into this review, I should point out that, yes, this is a cartoon, and one originally aimed at kids. However, Disney is masterful at making cartoons for kids that appeal to adults too. The company knows that the parents are going to be dragged into watching whatever the kids are watching, so small jokes and references are added into most Disney cartoons. Phineas and Ferb takes that to an even higher level. Many of the jokes are ones that kids would never get without explanation, ones that adults will find uproariously funny. So, even if you think that cartoons are for kids, and that you won’t enjoy the show, give it a chance. You may find the show funnier than you imagined. Each episode of Phineas and Ferb follows a pretty standard formula. Without commercials, the runtime of each episode is around 23 minutes, broken into two parts. Sometimes a storyline will take the whole 23 minutes, but most episodes have the two separate stories. Within each story, there are three intermingling plots.
The first revolves around the titular characters, Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, step-brothers who are inventive and mechanical geniuses. The pair are not content with just sitting lazily around, they have to be building something new or else they get stir-crazy. These inventions often defy logic, explanation and physics. The science of the world seems to bend itself backwards in order to accommodate the brothers. Also included in their story for the episode are their three closest friends, a bully named Buford, a nerd named Baljeet and Isabella, the leader of the local Fireside Girls troop (think Girl Scouts meet Navy SEALS).
The next story involves their older sister, Candace Flynn, and their mother, Linda Flynn-Fletcher. Candace is spending her summer caught between trying to “bust” her brothers to their mom – her version of tattling and getting them in trouble – and trying to pursue the boy she likes. Linda tries to keep her daily life going despite all the interruptions by her daughter, and she never manages to see the crazy contraptions that her sons build, much to Candace’s dismay. Over time, Candace begins to believe that there’s a mysterious force at work that is plotting against her, ensuring that their mother never sees what the boys are building. More often than not, though, it’s just the work of an evil scientist fighting his nemesis.
The third plot line centers on the family’s pet platypus, Perry. While it’s weird enough for a family to have a pet platypus, this particular platypus also happens to be a secret agent named Agent P working for a group known as OWACA – the Organization Without A Cool Acronym. OWACA utilizes unusually smart and strong animal agents to combat evil; though the animals are talented, they cannot speak – they are just animals, after all. Perry the Platypus spends his days fighting Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, an inept evil scientist scheming to take over the Tri-State Area. Dr. Doofenshmirtz has a new device – which he calls an “inator” (as in “forgetinator” or “turn everything evil-inator”) – that complements whatever painful backstory he has in mind that day. The fight between Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz follows roughly the same formula each episode: Dr. Doofenshmirtz traps Perry in an overly elaborate trap, gives his backstory monologue, begins to activate his machine (which invariably causes whatever the boys are doing to escape the notice of their mother), and then Perry escapes, blows up the machine (and Dr. Doofenshmirtz at the same time) and flies back home, where he resumes his secret identity.
In the course of these three interwoven stories, there is always at least one musical number. The music is original to the episode, and the songs are often catchy enough that you’ll find yourself humming them days later (one of the most popular songs can be found below). Disney even released a cd of the top songs from the first season, well worth a listen. The songs are usually either funny or touching, sometimes both, and the stellar vocal cast that the show has gathered performs them to perfection. In fact, the musical numbers have earned the show four Emmy nominations, an impressive feat for an animated show.
One of the best features of this show that separates it from other cartoons is how it deals with the characters. Most cartoons – especially ones aimed toward children – will give the main character some sort of flaw that lasts for exactly one episode, and that they must overcome in order to beat the bad guy and resolve the story. Phineas and Ferb doesn’t do that. The characters have remained fairly stable since the beginning. Major changes in character are due to long-term story arc changes or due to outside forces such as one of Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s devices, not some personal failing that suddenly surfaced just in time for the character to learn some important lesson.
The language used in the show is a key factor in its appeal to adults. Now, by that, I don’t mean to suggest that the cartoon kids are doing their versions of the “Seven words you can’t say on tv.” Rather, the show does not talk down to the audience, either the kids or the adults. In fact, at times the show’s use of words may be beyond what a child could handle. Words such as sesquipedalian, techno-mimetic and septuagenarian have all appeared in just the last few episodes that I re-watched. The show managed to work them in seamlessly, too. Sesquipedalian is not an easy word to use in a punchline, but Phineas and Ferb found a way.
No show is perfect, though this one comes close. Apart from the pains of waiting for more episodes to go up on Netflix and the suspense of whether the show will continue to run, the only downside is in comparison to itself. The show has some phenomenal episodes, including two episodes that featured Disney’s recently acquired properties Star Wars and Marvel Comics. While there are no truly bad episodes of the show, some are weaker than others. This is mainly noticeable if you watch multiple episodes back-to-back in marathon style, though it can also be seen in the first few episodes of the series, while the show was still working to set itself up. Fortunately, there’s no real over-arching plot, so you can skip the early episodes and come back to them once you’re a devoted fan of the show.
Overall, I rank this in my favorite shows, so I recommend it to anyone of any age. I was introduced to the show by my 40-year-old high school physics teacher and my 22-year-old (at the time) best friend, independently of each other. I was resistant at first, thinking it to be a show for kids, and then laughed my way through the whole series. Multiple times. I’m even re-watching it as I write this review. There’s a lot of humor that will resonate with people of all ages. Give the show a try; watch two episodes, and if you’re not in love with it by then, you don’t have to watch any more. But I’m willing to bet you’ll be singing along to the theme song as you make the choice to start the third episode.
Phineas and Ferb is written by Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and airs on Disney and Disney X D. Three seasons and the movie are available to stream on Netflix Instant.