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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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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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Psych: The Musical

USA Networkpsych-the-musical

Psych Season 7, episode 15/16

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Santa Barbara: murder capital of the world . . . or so fake-psychic detective Shawn Spencer would have us believe. But when former playwright and suspected murderer “Z” escapes from the institution (where he had been kept since the night he was found in the burned theater with the murdered critic who was going to ruin his show), Shawn’s assertions begin to appear more accurate. Especially when his only lead is an escaped serial killer with an addiction to show tunes. As the body count begins to rise, it seems Shawn’s gut may just be wrong . . . perhaps the obvious suspect is also the correct one.

I love when TV shows do random musical episodes, and Psych: The Musical is no exception. This extra-long double episode is classic Psych, playing up the both the strengths and the long-running gags of the show with aplomb. I do feel that, since such a large portion of the focus is on the music, a bit of the detective side of the show slips to the wayside . . . but you do still get a solid murder mystery with an interesting twist here. Really though, the main focus is on the humor and hijinks, and that comes through strongly in the songs and choreography. In fact, I would almost say that the whole point of parts is solely to be goofy and mess around–which is not to say that the music and choreography is not impressive in its own strange way. The cast actually has a remarkably solid pool of vocal talent; James and Dulé are quite good, and I’ve mentioned previously that I love hearing Timothy Omundson’s singing. His duets with James are probably the best (and silliest) parts of the show. Maggie’s ability to dance in heels is quite impressive as well. The music was pretty typical showtunes, although nothing majorly catchy. “I’ve Heard It Both Ways” is probably the most memorable as well as the song which embodies the characters and the show the best; it’s probably the only track I would listen to outside of watching the episode. All in all, Psych: The Musical was neither my favorite Psych episode nor my favorite TV musical, but it was still a fun show–mostly recommended for Psych fans as opposed to musical fans in general.

Written & Directed by Steve Franks/Music by Adam Cohen/Produce by James Roday & Dulé Hill/Starring James Roday, Dulé Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, & Corbin Bernsen/Guest Starring Anthony Rapp, Ally Sheedy, Barry Bostwick, Brooke Lyons, Kurt Fuller, Sage Brocklebank, & Jimmi Simpson

 

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The Return of Doctor Mysterio

BBC

My rating: 4.5 of 5

NOTE: This TV special takes place following The Husbands of River Song” and immediately preceding series 10 of Doctor Who. It’s relatively spoiler-free, but you should still be sure to watch “The Husbands of River Song” first because you’ll miss half the feels of this episode if you don’t.

On Christmas Eve of 1992, the Doctor is in New York, trying to stabilize the mess he’s made of time there. That night, he encounters a young boy named Grant and accidentally gives the boy superpowers (don’t ask; it’s the Doctor) . . . and a strict command to never use those powers. Twenty-four years later, the Doctor returns to New York to investigate an alien invasion (surprise) only to encounter Grant–who is living a double life as both nanny to a small baby and local masked superhero “Ghost.” So much for never using those powers. . . .

At first, I was kind of exasperated with the writers for choosing a superhero story–I mean, that’s basically the only sort of movie that seems to be coming out right now! And honestly, I’m not the superhero movie type. But “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is Doctor Who, and I have to admit that it brings in the best of both worlds. You’ve got all the quirkiness and geekiness of Capaldi’s Doctor (absolutely brilliant!) and the classic Who alien invasion story. Plus you’ve got a good guy trying to protect the people he loves and live up to the ideals of the old superhero comics he read as a kid . . . all the while keeping his true identity a secret from the very clever and insightful (except as it regards him) journalist that he works for. The lightness and action of the superhero plot (and the sweet, innocent romance they work in) actually do a lot to counterbalance what may otherwise have been a very dark and angsty story (if you’ve watched “The Husbands of River Song,” you know why). On the other hand, the interactions between the Doctor and the journalist, Lucy, are humorous on the surface but serve to draw out and develop the Doctor’s inner turmoil, which is neat to see. In any case, I would definitely recommend “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to any fan of Doctor Who.

Written by Steven Moffat/Directed by Ed Bazalgette/Produced by  Peter Bennett/Music by Murray Gold/Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin, & Charity Wakefield

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