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Orphan Black (2013 TV Series)

Temple Street Productions, BBC America, and Bell Media’s Space

Status: Complete (5 seasons/50 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Accomplished grifter Sarah Manning walks into the train station and witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like Sarah herself. Both curious and ready to take advantage of the situation, Sarah assumes the identity of the woman, Beth Childs, with the help of her foster-brother Felix. What follows is a whirlwind of monumental proportions as Sarah discovers that she is but one of many clones. Meeting her newfound “sisters” is just the beginning as they face their own dark past, those in the present who would destroy or manipulate them, a defect built into their own DNA that is slowly killing them, not to mention being completely unsure who to trust. But at the same time, they discover a new family and a strength in each other to help them face the maelstrom with defiance as they choose their own ways to live.

Orphan Black is one of those shows that, as incredible as it sounds at first, delivers so much more than it initially promises. It’s really quite amazing. Well, Tatiana Maslany is amazing, that’s for sure. She manages to pull off multiple clones with distinct styles, mannerisms, personalities, etc. and keep them all unique–sometimes with multiples of them in the same room conversing and even physically interacting with each other. Her grasp of each of the characters is incredible–to the point where you can even tell where one sister is pretending to be another sister by super-tiny but well-realized tells. Maslany’s acting in this series truly blows me away! Not to mention the sheer cinematography required to pull off some of the scenes; it’s seamless and beautiful. The characters are great as well–thoroughly developed with uncertainties and flaws and emotional subtlety and moral ambiguity and all the complexities that make people truly human. You’ve got a ton of diversity, even just among the clones, too. And the other characters are brilliantly cast and played as well. Felix is quite possibly my favorite character in the whole show; he’s the heart and the artist, the home-like softer side of things, which is kind of hilarious since he tries so hard to be defiant and brash. I love him, though. And Siobhan, Sarah and Felix’s foster-mother–all the mystery and protectiveness in her character is fabulous! As for the plot, well, again it’s so much more than we are initially promised at the beginning. I mean, you start out with a girl taking over the life of a cop who looks like her, encountering a couple other girls who claim to be her clones, dealing with trying to be a mom to her daughter–intense stuff for sure, but fairly contained and small-scale. But by the end of it, you’ve got decades-long, multinational plots and huge, interconnected organizations and hundreds of clones and major life-or-death situations. It’s all pretty overwhelming and hard to keep track of, to be honest–the main reason I can’t give this a full 5 of 5 rating, actually. Still, it all ties up better than I expected by the end, and the conclusion was enough to make me cry but also be quite satisfying. This show is definitely not for the faint of heart and is only for a mature, adult audience, but I would still highly recommend Orphan Black for many, many reasons. It’s a great show that I will enjoy re-watching many times over.

Created by Graeme Manson & John Fawcett/Executive Production by Ivan Schneeberg, David Fortier, Graeme Manson, & John Fawcett/Produced by Russ Cochrane, Alex Levine, Claire Welland, Tatiana Maslany, & Aubrey Nealon/Cinematography by Aaron Morton/Music by Trevor Yuile/Starring Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Évelyne Brochu, Ari Millen, Kristian Bruun, & Josh Vokey

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Doctor Who, Series 10 (2017 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (12 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The Doctor has made a vow. No more gallivanting off through time and space, no. He’s committed to staying at a  college, teaching a class, all the while guarding the vault hidden beneath the school and the secrets it contains. He could have just managed it, too, if it weren’t for her–Bill Potts, the chip girl from the school cafeteria who’s been attending some of his classes–standing in his office with her eyes full of that rare combination of wonder and wit and compassion and curiosity and  intelligence that The Doctor can never resist. After all, what’s the harm of just one trip, so long as Nardole doesn’t find out and scold him over it.

It’s always interesting (and just a bit scary) coming into a new series of Doctor Who when you’ve got a new Doctor or a new Companion, because there’s a different dynamic that’s not fully developed yet. I quite enjoyed the dynamic that developed between Twelve and Bill over the course of Series 10, however. Bill is unexpected, her reactions sometimes coming from a completely different line of reasoning that what I was expecting. It works, though, and she’s exactly who The Doctor needs at this point, someone who will challenge his way of viewing the world and who will make him feel alive. Adding Nardole into the mix is fabulous as well–I’m soooo glad they kept his character on for this season. His sass and worry-wart attitude serve both to keep The Doctor grounded and to keep the humor in the story, even in the dark points. And yeah, there are some pretty dark episodes here, although there are also some classic running-around-hand-in-hand-saving-people episodes. But I feel like, overall, this season’s a bit darker. It works, though. I feel like Twelve’s personality really shines through well, and he’s forced to wrestle with some stuff he’d rather not confront about himself. Ooh, and we get some more Missy involvement in the latter parts of the series, which is always fun. Also random, but kind of notable, while Doctor Who has always been a haven for diversity, I feel like it’s a more intentional focus in this series, in a good way. I enjoyed Series 10 quite a lot, and am eagerly anticipating the Christmas special–because we got left with quite the cliffhanger ending!

Produced by Steven Moffat & Brian Minchin/Written by Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Mike Bartlett, and Rona Munro/Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, & Matt Lucas

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Class (2016 TV Series)

BBC

Spinoff of Doctor Who

Status: Incomplete (1 season/8 episodes)

My rating: 5 of 5

What on this strange Earth does Quill know about children?! She’s a freedom fighter from an alien planet, bound by a nasty little creature in her head to serve and protect the princeling of her sworn enemies. Yet somehow, following the destruction of their planet and both of their peoples, she finds herself on Earth, responsible not just for the prince but trying to manage four other teenagers as well. It might not be so bad if she were just dealing with the series of alien threats that seem drawn to Coal Hill Academy and to these five kids. But throw teenage angst, romance, and moral development into the mix, and Quill is definitely over her head.

Having watched BBC’s Class, I am blown away by the fact that it hasn’t received more love and attention; it’s incredible. It’s written by Patrick Ness for crying out loud! I just don’t understand. I wouldn’t have even heard of it if not for the (welcome) post of a fellow blogger. And can I just say how crushed I am that this story will not be continued beyond the first season?! Especially since it leaves us with a cliffhanger ending of killer proportions?! Still, this show is well worth the watching, despite the inconclusive conclusion. It tends to a more YA audience, with some definitely darker (and gorier) themes and a willingness to face moral ambiguity and tough choices head-on that I found impressive. I love that Ness wrote the whole series rather than handing off episodes to other writers; because of this there’s a consistency in the story and the characters that just shines. The basic premise is that Miss Quill (and alien disguised as a physics teacher), Charlie (an alien prince disguised as a student), and April, Ram, Matteusz, and Tanya (human students) are all at Coal Hill Academy, and due to their exposure to space/time inconsistencies, they are ready targets for anything alien that comes through the cracks in space/time surrounding the school. Basically, you’ve got the Scooby Gang at a school on top of a Hellmouth (sound familiar?), only aliens rather than the supernatural. This definitely makes for some exciting episodes, but that is so not what makes this TV show so incredible. The depth and complexity of the characters’ personalities, the development of them over the course of the show, the way their relationships grow, the fact that there are real friendships developed as well as romances, the tough choices they have to make, and the acting that brings all of that to light–that is what I absolutely loved. And yeah, this show is basically a poster child for the whole diversity thing; you’ve got a gay couple, POC, a Sikh family, etc. But the great thing is that these aspects of the characters are so naturally a part of who they are, as opposed to something that feels forced. And there are tons of other aspects of their characters that are just as much developed and a part of the storyline. Another thing I loved is that the kids actually have families that are involved in their lives and are supportive of them; how cool is that? Also, Quill’s character is angsty and totally badass in an awesome way; I love her and how totally not the nurturing sort of teacher she is . . . yet how she gets totally shoved into the role and works with it. So yeah, Class is an awesome show that I would definitely recommend, especially to those who enjoy Ness’s writing or contemporary YA. And yes, I’m definitely going to be tracking down lots of fanfic to fill the hole left in my heart by this series not being continued.

Created and Written by Patrick Ness/Produced by Patrick Ness, Steven Moffat, & Brian Minchin/Music by Blair Mowat/Starring Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, & Jordan Renzo

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Psych (2006 TV Series)

USA Network

Status: Complete (8 seasons/121 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (TV-14)

Just what are you supposed to do when your dad’s been training you to be a cop your entire life but you have neither the discipline, the motivation, nor the maturity to work within the regulations of an actual police department? Shawn Spencer has an idea–why not open up his own private psychic detective agency? Use his observational skills to solve cases. Indulge in a little (okay, a lot) theatrics on the side. Getting to work alongside the police department without being bound by their rules is a plus. Especially if it involves bugging their uptight head detective and flirting (or trying to flirt) with the attractive new detective assisting him. Dragging his best friend away from his boring job in pharmaceuticals to join the fun? Definitely happening, despite Gus’s protests.

Psych has got to be one of the weirdest yet most fun detective/police series I have ever watched. Typically, not my genre. But this show has a lot going for it. The characters are fabulous, both because the actors are amazing and because the characters are just written well. The dynamics between them are interesting, and there’s a ton of character growth over the course of the series. The Shawn and Gus bromance is off the charts, but it manages to avoid sappiness. More like an overload of nerdiness, actually, but it works for them. The balance of the story elements works well–you’ve got drama, police/detective work, romance, and comedy all mixed together into this rather weird but wonderful conglomeration. I do have to admit, the humor can sometimes be a smidge off-color, at least compared to what I’m used to, but never to the point of being offensive (I think). And this show is definitely funny, making me laugh out loud at least once or twice an episode. Recommended, especially for those with a quirky sense of humor and an interest (at least somewhat, or you probably won’t like this) for detective shows.

Created by Steve Franks/Produced by Pacific Mountain Productions & TagLine Television/Starring James Roday, Dulé Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, & Corbin Bernsen

 

 

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012 Movie)

Mutant Enemy Productions

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Rated R for basically everything. Consider yourself warned.

Five college kids get together for a weekend trip away at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s supposed to be a time to indulge in scary stories, exploration, drugs, and each other without the judgement and pressures of the world. But the rush of freedom quickly changes to horror as they find themselves attacked by zombies coming out of the woods, picking off the kids one by one. What the kids don’t realize at first is that this is all part of something bigger, that there’s someone behind the scenes manipulating them and orchestrating this little calamity. And when the survivors decide to take the horror back to the source, things begin going spectacularly wrong on the end of the manipulators. . . . Will the world even survive the aftermath?

Anyone familiar with Joss Whedon’s works, particularly Buffy and Angel will find a certain amount of familiarity in The Cabin in the Woods, although this movie is quite possibly darker and certainly more graphic than those shows. There’s a feeling about it that carries over though; it’s certainly Whedon’s story. The story both is a horror story–with all the blood and campiness and creeping dread that such a story entails–and also is a satire of the contemporary horror movie, pointing out the ways that such stories have gone wrong. And I kind of both love and hate it. I’m not big on the genre in general–honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that Whedon wrote it and Fran Kranz (love his character!) and Amy Acker were in it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Because the violence in that sort of show really feels almost pornographic to me, even in instances where there isn’t a lot of sexual content. But in this instance, that’s actually one of the things that’s dealt with satirically, so . . . yeah. I really did like the group of kids they chose; they had a good dynamic, and yeah, Fran Kranz (as a stoner idiot who may actually be the smartest of the group). The way the manipulators behind the scenes was developed was unexpected, but it definitely added a lot of interest and, while super creepy, I enjoyed that aspect of the story. The ending (no spoilers, promise) surprised me a lot, although I found it fitting. And the production of the movie itself was quite well done, with some interesting camera angles, lots of atmosphere, and tons of creepy monsters. I would definitely not recommend The Cabin in the Woods for everyone, but for those who enjoy Whedon’s work or the horror movie genre, it might be interesting to try.

Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/Directed by Drew Goddard/Produced by Joss Whedon/Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker/Music by David Julyan

 

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Merlin (2008 TV Series)

BBC

AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 Movie)

Heyday Films

My rating: 4 of 5

1926, New York City. Something magical is wrecking havoc, and the magical community is desperately trying to keep the whole thing under wraps and the muggles out of it all . . . which would be easier if there weren’t obsessive, outspoken muggles crying witchcraft from the street corners. Enter into the mix a bumbling young idealist from England carrying a suitcase (bigger on the inside, naturally) full of magical creatures just dying to get out and roam the city. Obviously, trouble is going to ensue, especially when said wizard manages to get himself and his (possibly illegal) creatures seen not just by a muggle but by a straitlaced ex-Auror as well.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fun jaunt in the world Rowling’s creation. It’s clearly Rowling’s work, but on the other hand, it’s most definitely not Harry Potter, by any means. And it was odd to me that there was this big plot involving the entire local magical community and tying the story into the whole Harry Potter storyline . . . but that part of the story felt almost artificial or forced to me. Like it was there to tie everything together and to make Newt’s story bigger and more exciting, only I wasn’t really interested in that part of the story. But there were other parts of this movie that definitely made up for my not loving the big plot part. For one, the setting was really interesting–1920’s New York, with the added bonus of getting a peek into American wizardry, what’s not to love?! And all of the creatures . . . there’s a sense in which parts of the story almost feel like just a catalogue of magical creatures, but they’re so interesting/cute/wonderful that it’s totally okay. Even better (absolutely without a doubt my favorite part) are the main four characters and their interactions. Newt Scamander himself is the best. He’s a hearty helping of Eleven, a touch of Merlin (especially the sass and attitude), a bit shy and awkward, but thoroughly idealistic and devoted to his creatures and his mission to protect them and educate people about them. I don’t know; I just really enjoyed his personality and the unusual friendship he develops with the others. Jacob, Tina, and Queenie are also rich, well-developed characters who were cast brilliantly. I really loved that they weren’t your typical likeable protagonist types, none of the four were; they’re awkward or bristly or just unusual, and I loved them for it and for the friendships they formed. I would really love to see more of these characters. I think their small (but significant) personal story was what made this movie, and it is certainly what would make me recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to anyone looking for a quirky, magical tale.

Written by J. K. Rowling/Directed by David Yates/Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, & Lionel Wigram/Music by James Newton Howard/Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, & Carmen Ejogo

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