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Television Shows

Archer Review – Archer’s Got a Brand New Suit (11×03)

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This season it’s clear Archer has something to prove. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, whether blowing up plans with his clingy mother or putting a wrench in the carefully laid plans of his teammates as he does at the start of this episode.

We begin with Cyril and Lana expertly maneuvering around traps as they try to enter a vault, Mission Impossible-style. Their mission is to steal an exo-suit from a tech genius billionaire whose mind Krieger seems to have a pseudo-sexual fascination with.  Cyril continues to do his best Archer impression using his impressive new physique but quickly runs into the real deal. Archer has taken down the enemy single-handed and when asked how simply proclaims it’s because he is the “world’s greatest spy.”

Lana can’t help but be impressed for just a moment before she realizes Archer never disarmed the traps and they are quickly thrust into a tense situation dodging lasers and machine guns.  We also learn that the team is on a time crunch. A rival spy agency named Juno has popped up on the scene while Archer has been away and it is a race against the clock before they show up.

Meanwhile, Mallory is focused on the more important things like Sterling missing lunch dates. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in their family. Voice actor Jessica Walters continues to impress with the way she can still Mallory’s haughty narcissism for laughs much as she does with her similar character in Arrested Development. While the Agency might have become more professional in the last three years, Mallory and Archer’s personal issues are always there to complicate things and pull everyone in their egomaniacal gravity. 

The vault they break into is filled with what seems like children’s toys. Archer, being the man child that he is, can’t help touch everything despite the many warnings to the contrary.  Archer pulls out a pinata that releases confetti and danger. Archer continues to screw up, unleashing trap after trap and making everything much worse. It’s good to be back. 

Krueger and Pam are providing backup just outside in Krueger’s van. These characters aren’t paired together often but after this episode, I’m hoping for more scenes together. There is fun chemistry where Pam’s insane horn dog energy matches up well with Krieger’s insane evil scientist energy. The montage of them failing miserably at matching the ease with which Lana and Cyril broke into the vault is the highlight of the episode.

Mallory reveals to Cheryl the reason she’s been lying to Archer is to protect him from getting back into the spy game too early and injuring himself further. Her efforts are of course thwarted by the manic Cheryl. She figured they were just trying to break down Archer’s psyche. At this point, you would think they would just hire a new secretary. 

Mallory tries to call Archer but gets what turns out to be his horrifying post-coma voicemail. The darkly funny voicemail is so perfectly in character as is Archer’s attempt at a call back where Cheryl and Mallory throw his prank back at him. 

In the midst of the chaos, we finally get confirmation on what happened to Lana and Archer’s mysteriously absent daughter. Lana shipped her off to Swiss boarding school to both get a better education and not slow down the plot with parenting.

Archer stumbles into finding the right move and falls into some kind of evil genius arcade where he’s greeted by the billionaire, named Hands, wearing the exo-suit. She lets Archer test drive the suit which not only lets him move around with ease but also heightens his strength and speed exponentially. For a moment, Archer is back to his old happy-go-lucky- self throwing basketballs through walls and knocking speed bags off their joint. 

While this is happening, Juno has finally arrived and pinned the team down. The doctor encourages Archer to abandon his friends but Archer is surprisingly selfless and goes to help his friends. He also can’t help but be a showoff and uses the suit to take out Juno. The episode ends with an errant rocket destroying Kreuger’s cherry customized van as Kreuger weeps for his lost love.

Archer has always been the James Bond circa Sean Connery era ideal of an alpha male.  He could balance being a world-famous super spy while entertaining women all over the globe all with a constant blood-alcohol level that would kill most people.  This new season seems to be toying with the concept of who Archer is when stripped of all his prowess in the field and in bed and is left a bitter, useless alcoholic. However, it appears they are walking back from going full-throttle on having a broken Dark Knight Returns-esque figure in Archer. It’s too bad because seeing Archer actually have some serious character development could do wonders in rejuvenating this aging show narratively, but as it is there is still plenty to laugh about. 

 

Favorite Lines

-You cannot have sex in the suit.

-If I wanted my food to rot in the kitchen looking sad I’d be ordering a big bowl of you on your break.

-Is it unsettling to anyone else how comfortable Cyril is playing Jim Henson with a dead guy?

-I’m just seeing what appears to be a bunch of random useless crap.

– Are you looking in a mirror? Burn.

 

11 seasons in and Pam still delivers the heat.


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Utopia

Utopia Season 1 Review – A Pale Imitation of the Original

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Utopia Season One Review

*Warning. Spoilers ahead.

Full disclosure here: I am a massive fan of the UK version of Utopia that first aired on Channel 4. I would go so far as to say that the first season of the original series might be my favorite season of any television show, going toe-to-toe with the best from prestige television like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. The combination of whip-smart writing, eye-popping visuals, and memorable score come together beautifully in the British version and it was truly a shame that it never got the recognition it deserved. That is why when I came across the trailer for this Amazon remake written by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame and executive produced by Dennis Kelly, the original creator, I assumed it was a can’t miss prospect. After all, when you match such superb source material with someone who has an impeccable track record like Flynn, how could you go wrong? The answer, after watching Amazon’s Utopia, is apparently quite easily with one baffling decision after another.

Adapting a British series that is critically beloved for American audiences has been done successfully in the past with shows like The Office, Shameless, and Veep. These shows have even arguably surpassed their British counterparts. Utopia is not one of those examples. The season kicks off with a different spin on Utopia’s comic book origins. We start with a happily engaged couple moving into their new house left to them by one of their grandfathers. They stumble onto a manuscript with bizarre artwork titled Dystopia and the couple believes they can get some serious cash by putting it up for auction at a local comic book convention. 

The post goes live kickstarting the plot into motion as we meet this series’ version of Becky, Ian, Wilson Wilson, and Grant as well as a new character made for the show named Samantha. (On an unrelated note, I did get a kick out of the cosplayers in the first episode especially the man wearing pigtails as he was my improv coach here in Chicago. ) The show plods, not for the last time, from scene to scene slowly introducing the rest of the main cast. There are some highlights here as John Cusack and Rainn Wilson, playing Dr. Christie and Michael respectively, manage to wring some tension out of the script whenever they are on screen. There are some lowlights, however, in the show’s versions of Arby and Jessica Hyde. Arby, paired with his accomplice Rod, play as low-rent versions of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. It is hard to see this version of Arby taking a sympathetic turn as the original did. Jessica Hyde is even worse. Her character isn’t so much pragmatic as she is bloodthirsty which makes you wonder if she isn’t the real villain of the show.

It was hard not to compare these versions of the characters to their British counterparts. Mostly for the fact that for much of the season, they just simply aren’t fleshed out and rarely rise from being one-dimensional pieces being moved from set-piece to the next. The most interesting of the friend group is Samantha, who is an idealist despite living in a cold, uncaring world. I was very excited to see what new dynamic she would bring to the show, so of course, she was gunned down in what was perhaps the worst scene in the entire show by Jessica Hyde.

 In the original series, Hyde is a pragmatic survivalist who has spent her entire life away from normal society but still had recognizable humanity that we get glimpses of beneath her cold exterior. Here, Hyde kills Samantha for no better reason than “a group can’t have two leaders.” It is a moment that makes this version of Hyde instantly unsympathetic and the friend group is briefly alarmed before nonchalantly going about their business.  It’s just one of many examples of characters never behaving like actual humans. 

The tone is also all over the place as well. You get the sense Flynn was trying to go for a darkly comic take on the conspiracy but almost every one of the jokes falls flat. For example, the sequence where Wilson Wilson tries to take the wheel while half-blind and gets bit by Hyde wouldn’t feel out of place in a CBS sitcom airing at 7 P.M. on a Tuesday. The original was able to mine the absurdity out of the mundane moments in-between the action while here every serious moment gets undercut by some character behaving unnaturally or attempting some lame one-liner. 

In fact, the dialogue might be one of the worst aspects of the remake. In every conversation, characters love saying exactly how they feel and rattling off plot-points to each other. Not a single moment of subtlety can’t be explained away immediately. I’m reminded of the bit in Futurama that goes “You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”

The show also has the misfortune of releasing during a pandemic. It’s hard to watch the show, based around a government conspiracy around vaccines for a flu-like virus, and not think about the real-life parallels to a conspiratorial fringe in our own country. Just another misfire in a show filled with them.

For anyone who was a fan of the original, there’s nothing in this new season that improves on the original conceit. For new viewers, I would recommend just finding the UK version and skipping out on this version altogether. It is simply not worth your time.  


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Television Shows

Archer Review – Back from the Dead (11×1&2)

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Archer Back From the Dead Review

It can be difficult for many shows to stay fresh deep into their run. The Simpsons have been accused of declining in quality anywhere from season two to season twelve by die-hard fans. Series creator Adam Reed’s attempt at avoiding the typical pitfalls that have befallen many other once critically adored shows was to try to literally reinvent the narrative starting with season five. That season, dubbed Archer Vice, took on the trappings of a cheesy 80’s television series with the gang running drugs, flying twin-propeller planes, and cruising down jungle rivers. 

The show would go back to the status quo the following season but at the end of season seven, we learned Archer was stuck in a coma. This gave Adam Reed the license to spend the next three seasons having Archer reinvent itself as 40’s noir, 30’s adventure, and sci-fi a la Aliens. These three seasons were all apart of a dream taking place in Archer’s comatose mind reminiscent of  Bobby Ewing in Dallas.  Archer’s overarching plot could finally move forward, but it would do so without Adam Reed’s presence in the writing room. 

Season 11 premiered with two new episodes. We begin with a high octane motorcycle chase.  The animation shines in this sequence, managing to fit in an incredible amount of detail and polish while still keeping the same Archer style. The high-speed pursuit ends with a reveal that the team is back to normal sans the titular Archer, who is finally out of his three-year coma but much worse for wear. Archer is in bad shape, now walking with a cane due to nerve damage and a five o’clock shadow painted on his chiseled chin.

Archer returns to the office but it’s quickly apparent the natural order of things is off. Cheryl isn’t acting crazy, Pam isn’t being raunchy,  and Cyril, the oft punching bag for Archers barbs, has bulked up and assumed a leadership role in his absence. Archer is now at the bottom rung of the totem pole.  Predictably, he does not take these new developments well but there’s no time to dwell on things. The team has been tasked with guarding a priceless statue. It’s clear that the team has become quite professional in the absence of Archer’s self-absorbed toxicity and Archer can’t stand being sidelined.  Even worse is Lana, his on-again-off-again beau, and mother to his child has moved on and married.  Its clear Archer is a ticking time bomb that is ready to upend the dynamic.

After a few drinks and a nice moment with Pam, Archer reluctantly accepts his new support role. This new status-quo is upended quickly as the plan organized by Cyril quickly goes to pieces, causing Archer to spring into action. The thieves are thwarted and Archer has taken the first steps in taking back control. 

The second part involves the team infiltrating a martial arts tournament and extracting a man named Win Li. This was the much weaker of the two and tries to walk back some of the changes introduced in the first episode. Cyril flashes signs of competency before quickly becoming a punchline. Pam valiantly holds herself together but after mid-way reverts back to being the crude quip machine. Cheryl is back to being insane. The plan goes belly-up and once again it is up to Archer to save the day. 

It’s here I also remember just how brutal Archer can be for a comedy. Henchmen are callously shot by Archer. Characters get injured and bleed from every part of their body. A scene involving a man getting his foot cut off by a falling piece of glass is particularly hard to watch. The violence works in juxtaposing how ludicrously dangerous the job is against just how little these people care.

There is a lot of good in the two-parter. The animation is extremely crisp, the voice performances are excellent, and many of the jokes still land.  However, the absence of Reed’s guiding hand can be felt in the writing. It simply isn’t as sharp as it was at its height and relies on recycling some of the same gags it’s pulled out for years. There are only so many times the audience can be expected to laugh at sploosh and phrasing.  Still, there is plenty to like and the wheels haven’t fallen off yet which is remarkable for any show that has been on as long as Archer has. Both Archer and to some extent his show’s fans must come to terms with getting older but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of good moments to left to enjoy. 

 

 

Best Lines

– I would like expensive whiskey.

We only have beer and wine.

What am I, 12?

 

-He was doing a fundraiser for kids with cancer.

Oldest trick in the book.

What book?

 

-Well, thank you, Onan the Barbarian.

Thar she blows you mobey dicks.

 

-The recently decomafied brain is a complete mystery to science like dark matter or why squirrels get so enraged when they see me naked.


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Netflix

Lucifer Season 5A Review – Let’s Get Celestial!

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Lucifer only gets better with each subsequent season.

Starting off as the little Devil that could, Lucifer began with a strict procedural setting, and while Lucifer sticks to the mold for the most part, with its growth and network change, it has more room to stretch the mold. Moving to Netflix was an obvious blessing for the series, allowing each episode to reach new heights as it can play with mature content with episode length that works for the series and not for ads and scheduling necessities.

Thank the Devil for the streaming model.

Sidebar: If you haven’t noticed, I’m going for Devil puns whenever I find the opportunity.

Following the trend of growth, Lucifer’s first half of season five is the most impressive run of episodes the fantasy procedural has aired yet. With intriguing enough ‘case of the episodes’ that directly push character growth and spiritual revelations, Lucifer does what many other shows that share an audience cannot do: it stays true to its characters and knows what its fans want.

Lucifer luckily was saved due to the passion of its fans and the potential the series showed from the beginning, and the creators don’t take that lightly. Lucifer hits the sweet spot of avoiding a premature cancellation and respecting its fans to the point where characterization and dynamic relationships remain at the forefront of the series and aren’t sacrificed due to plot or boredom.

Lucifer is what fantasy television should be. When watching this show, I, like many others probably wondered, asked, “How is this so good?” But the question remains: Is Lucifer great or is everything else kinda bad?

We hypothesize: a little bit of both.

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One of Lucifer’s mightiest strengths is its talented cast and the immaculate chemistry each cast member has with each other. The first part of season five is no exception.

While Tom Ellis always has an acting challenge in front of him with the complexities of playing the Devil, season five presents even more of a challenge as he plays both Lucifer and his brother, Michael, and Michale pretending to be Lucifer.

Tom Ellis rises to the challenge. He plays the two characters with ease, reminding the audience of his acting chops. Michael is significantly different from Lucifer, and that’s not taking the accent into account (which felt surprisingly wrong after watching Lucifer for four seasons).

Michael only plays his charade for a short amount of time, thanks to the knowledge of Lucifer’s friends and family around him. It doesn’t take Chloe long to figure out that Lucifer isn’t Lucifer, which is impressive. Many creative teams would have let the act play out for longer, opting for dramatics instead of consistent characterization, but Lucifer knows better than this. It puts character above all else, a nice change of pace for the genre, respecting not only the Lucifer, Chloe, and their relationship, but the relationship that fans have for these characters as well.

However, Chloe did not escape Michael’s initial manipulations unscathed. As a final curtain call, he informs her of the truth of her existence, which sends Chloe into a spiral, to say the least. It’s impossible to blame her, however, that’s a bomb if there ever was one.

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Thankfully, Lucifer’s return helps Chloe process this information and move forward. That’s not to say their eight-episode journey is a smooth sailing one — Chloe struggles with how to deal with Lucifer with this newfound information and Lucifer wants to make sure Chloe is okay before he returns to Hell.

Until Amenadiel returns from watching over Hell and informs Lucifer that Hell no longer needs a caretaker — which is highly suspicious, quite frankly.

However, some of Lucifer’s best character work is done through Lucifer and Chloe’s relationship, and the repercussions their newfound honesty and self-awareness have. Both characters have different insecurities that have rung through the course of the series, but never before have they bounced off in such a rapid-fire way as they do in the first half of season five.

After Chloe is able to accept her newly-realized role in the world, which is now celestial in a way even deeper than it was before, and is able to resume her relationship thanks to Amenadiel, it begins to affect Lucifer’s powers — namely his “mojo” and his vulnerability around Chloe, which sends both of them into bouts of analyzation.

This is a lot to begin with without adding Chloe’s very human insecurity about not hearing Lucifer tell her he loves her in exact words.

However, Lucifer handles their issues with both humor and grace, using very physical manifestations to represent the headspace each resides in as they tackle these newfound bumps in their relationship.

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Maze’s arc stands out as season five’s most emotional arc so far, as she embarks on a journey of facing the root of her abandonment issues. After being abandoned in one way or another by the major players in her life, Maze truly begins to feel alone, and the weight of existing soulless weighs heavily on her. She even perceives abandonment from Linda in a way, due to Charlie, but Linda acts as her rock this season and her shoulder to cry on.

Maze’s story is heartbreaking, from the moment when she showed up to find her mother has died, to the very end when she makes a desperate choice for an option that Lucifer never presented to her (probably because Michael is playing her and she can’t have a soul).

But Maze’s story and journey are the most soulful of them all.

Lesley Ann-Brandy is perhaps the MVP of season five so far, bringing life to Maze’s story while also excelling in the heavily genre-ed episode, “It Never Ends Well for the Chicken” where she plays the root of it all, Lilith.

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The rest of the cast play smaller roles in the first half of season five, but with eight episodes still to air, there’s no doubt that season five will give them all their due, as Lucifer is a show that knows how to give all of its players interesting arcs and respects its character and fans to provide proper closure, as this season was written as a final season before later finding out about its season six renewal.

Linda spends most of the season supporting Maze and being an obsessive new mon in between, but she is explored a bit further as she reveals her past with abandoning her baby which complicates things temporarily with Maze. This also indicates why Linda before has expressed her belief that she is going to Hell. And with God in the mix… she may very soon find an answer to this question.

Amenadiel also serves as a supporting player the first half of the season, but his best episode, “Detective Amenadiel” more than makes up for it with both an emotional and heartfelt story, with his interactions with the nuns also providing Chloe with more insight on her situation and on Lucifer himself.

Amenadiel’s biggest moment of the episodes aired doesn’t occur until the final moments of the show when his stress about his son allows him to stop times once again, leading to the revelation that his son is mortal. This, combined with the appearance of his Father are sure to launch Amenadiel into a larger role in the second half of season five, giving Amenadiel much more to come to terms with.

Dan, who seems to have a less important role most of the time, especially since his unawareness regarding celestial matters, finally gets his celestial cherry popped. His reaction is probably the most relatable one of all. Another victim of Michael, he attempts to kill Lucifer to protect Chloe and Trixie, which would be easy to sympathize with even if Michael had nothing to do with the train of events.

Kevin Alejandro, who also directs the final episodes of 5A, does a fantastic job showing the confusion, heartbreak, and fear that Dan experiences throughout the revelation and aftermath, leaving a usually lackluster character much more intriguing.

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Lucifer’s first half of season five is sold all around, but perhaps the weakest link of the run would be Ella’s plot with Pete aka The Whisper Killer. That’s not to say her arc is bad! It’s not. The struggle of being drawn to people who aren’t right for us is something that many people can understand. And Aimee Garcia plays Ella fantastically — from the crime scene to looking at herself shamefully in the mirror after hooking up with another no-good man.

And while her the heartbreak of finding out that the first good person she found was actually bad could lead to dramatic development moving forward, the plot still feels a bit far-fetched and contrived, even for a show about angels and demons.

Still, the reveal is well executed and besides the slight forcefulness of this arc choice, Ella is still such a loveable character, and with Lucifer centering itself in hope and change, Ella can be expected to overcome this hurdle in her personal life (and finally be inducted into the Celestial club).

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Lucifer’s first part of season five is an unarguable success. Even beyond characters, dynamics, and lore, Lucifer succeeds in the procedural aspect as well, providing intriguing mystery-of-the-weeks at a mock Mars base, a convent, a writers’ room, and not to mention its flashback noir episode.

Lucifer is unique because in a climate with differentiating opinions on what shows should provide and how much weight creators should give their fans, Lucifer transcends all of this. It provides interesting and fangirl-worthy relationships, dynamic character development, interesting supernatural lore, and fun episodic mysteries which are interestingly symbolic to the characters’ personal struggles.

And with a cliffhanger culminating with an angelic fight and an appearance from Dennis Haysbert’s God, there’s hardly any qualms to be had with Lucifer’s new installment.


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