Happily

I knew nothing about this moving going in, other than it had a stellar cast. With names like Joel McHale, Al Madrigal, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Stephen Root, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Morales, and Charlyne Yi, how could this not be funny? Well, turns out it’s not much of a comedy but rather a sci-fi-ish thriller that just happens to star comedic actors. And that’s fine, too. There are some fun twists in the story that will keep you guessing as to what’s really going on. I liked the initial setup of the two leads “murdering” Stephen Root’s character only to later realize that Root might have just been part of a harmless prank. This creates a nice mystery where they aren’t sure which friend is responsible for the prank and if it was a prank at all. Unfortunately, it’s revealed too soon that Root is still alive, so you already know something supernatural is at play when the movie isn’t even halfway over yet.

Happily still has other twists up its sleeve, though, like when someone went ahead and injected Joel McHale with the serum that Root was trying to “prank” them with even after the group had agreed to wait to get it tested. Because this movie ultimately has so little substance, though, it takes two minutes from the moment we see the injection scar on McHale to when he opens the briefcase and sees the empty syringe. Yes, it’s that kind of plodding movie. Happily only has a few good twists and not enough content to connect them together. But it’s the final “twist” that ruins it all, if you can even call it a twist. We never learn who Root is or what his motives are. He makes the characters sit in a circle and admit to their relationship problems, then everyone goes home. It’s so anticlimactic, especially since we don’t know most of these characters well enough to care.

Paper Mario: The Origami King

Paper Mario is such an odd franchise. This feels like a series of games where Nintendo does whatever the hell it wants. You can’t even say they are consistently turn-based RPGs, because Super Paper Mario on Wii changed that up. And Origami King is only partially turn-based. Smaller enemies and boss battles are still turn-based, but there are several medium-sized enemies that you fight in real-time. I wish they’d just ditch the turn-based battles altogether, because this series has stopped doing them well since the Gamecube. The gimmick this time around is that you have to line up the battle field before you attack. Against smaller enemies, this becomes a tedious chore that I’d rather flee from (if fleeing didn’t have such a high failure rate).

The boss battles are actually pretty fun, though. Instead of lining up the enemies, you need to create a path for Mario to follow that will stop at useful power-ups along the way. Bosses also have different gotchas that make each encounter feel fresh, as opposed to the repetitive minion battles that boil down to “use hammer or jump.” I did appreciate that you could smash and kill an enemy in the overworld to prevent a turn-based battle, but it was never clear which enemies were susceptible to this trick. It’s supposed to be tied to how strong you are, but the only indicator of your strength is how much max HP you have. And since battles reward no experience points—hell, there are no experience points in this game—the only way to increase your health/power is to stumble across explicit upgrades in the overworld.

For me, the best thing about Paper Mario games now is simply exploring the world. Uncovering hidden Toads in Origami King was a fun side goal, and the environments were always fairly clever and visually stunning. I didn’t care for the “flat paper vs origami” storyline, but I will admit that the origami art style is cool. In typical Nintendo fashion, though, they hit you over the head with the story. Yeah, Paper Mario games are always on the wordy side, but didn’t they recently trim down the dialogue in Skyward Sword? Nintendo hasn’t learned its lesson here. Your travel companion will not shut up and has to comment on everything. This is when we need voice acting. It would have been great to listen to Olivia talk while you’re moving about. But being forced to stop and read her dialogue turns this into more of a slog than it needs to be.

Ted Lasso – Season 2

The first season of Ted Lasso was gonna be a hard act to follow. Not only did it come out at a time when some positivity was sorely needed, but the overall theme of people warming up to Ted was just fun to watch unfold. So where does a second season go, when everyone likes Ted now? Well… it goes nowhere, apparently. The first several episodes of Season 2 felt very meandering, like there was no end goal in sight. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a show that’s more bite-sized and laidback, but the stakes are sooooo low. Even the most saccharine content needs some conflict. To be fair to Ted Lasso, things do pick up about halfway through when we start to see Ted’s anxiety and Nate’s selfishness manifest themselves. I don’t have a problem with either of these developments, but I also don’t feel like they were foreshadowed very well and kind of come out of nowhere.

For Ted, maybe that’s the point. We, the audience, only see what Ted, the character, allows us to see. And I’m okay with Ted not being able to keep up the facade 24/7. I think it was needed to see him break down. I can’t say the same for Nate, though. Nate is a huge asshole in Season 2. While I get where this is possibly coming from, it requires me to fill in some of my own blanks, and none of it is forgivable to this character. He’s beyond redeemable now. At least Season 2 did something with him, though. Other characters like Rebecca have so little to do in Season 2. For her especially, it’s such a waste of talent. The only character who gets better in Season 2 is Roy Kent. Seriously, he is the best thing about the show, and I’m glad they found ways to include him even though he no longer plays on the team. If Season 3 is nothing more than ten episodes of Roy grunting at people, I’m still on board.

The Other Two – Season 2

I might have spoken too soon about how great this show is. Season 1 still makes for some really funny TV, but Season 2 is definitely not as good. The main issue I have is that they’ve changed what it means to be an “other two.” For most of the season, Chase takes a backseat, because it’s their mom who is the famous one now. Though Molly Shannon is fantastic in this role, I liked her more as the stage mom in Season 1 instead of being a talk show host in Season 2. That also completely changes Streeter’s reason to exist, as he is no longer a manager but Pat’s love interest. Ew. Well, technically, Streeter is still a manager, but he co-manages with Brooke now. This means Brooke is a successful businesswoman, which makes the “other two” gimmick no longer work for her. Granted, the position stresses her out, and there’s comedy in watching her fail upwards, but it doesn’t carry the same charm as her being a lowly assistant in Season 1.

At least we can still delight in Cary’s struggles to be an actor. I was sad that he really did replace his agent from Season 1, though the agent that wanted him to write a screenplay, then couldn’t bring herself to read it was funny. I also liked the running gag of so many staff members in the hospital being actors practicing for their roles. Again, it felt very Arrested Development-y. And they got me pretty good with the callback to Brooke camping out in the real estate unit, so much so that I had to keep checking if I was watching the right episode until I realized what was going on. So, yes, the writing is still pretty sharp. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t watch Season 2 if you liked Season 1. Just know that the character dynamics change a lot. Maybe this means a new Dubek family member becomes famous in every subsequent season. We’re running out of family members if that’s the case, though.

The Other Two – Season 1

This is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time. The writing is really sharp with expertly crafted callbacks and amusing lampoons of pop culture. It kind of reminds me of Arrested Development, not only because of its approach to comedy but the fact that it’s about a family navigating the public eye. Plus, actor Drew Tarver totally feels like a young Jason Bateman. His reactions and delivery are perfect. So it sucks that he’s often given the worst storylines. In the first few episodes, his character, Cary, struggles to understand what his relationship is with his roommate, but it ultimately goes nowhere and provides zero laughs. Later in the season, Cary gets a little too fame hungry and pushes away the high school teacher he met earlier, a charming character I was hoping we’d get to see more of.

The best material is when Cary and his sister, Brooke, have to deal head-on with living in their younger brother’s celebrity shadow. Chase’s sweet naivety clashes so perfectly with Cary’s and Brooke’s jealousy that it’s a shame Chase isn’t in the season more. I get that the show is about “the other two,” but I’m more interested in what makes them “the other two” and not just Cary and Brooke as themselves. Like, Cary becoming somewhat famous because of Chase’s song about his gay brother and Brooke having to be Chase’s assistant are perfect plot points. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Ken Marino as Chase’s manager, who is perhaps the best thing about the show. I love how incompetent and insecure he is, and I hope future seasons find ways to keep him around now that Chase is apparently off to college.

Blue Fire

This is a game I liked enough to beat, but I’m hesitant to give it a full-blown recommendation. Blue Fire has a lot of issues. It’s been touted as a cross between Hollow Knight (a game I couldn’t get into) and Zelda (a series I obviously love), so it’s no wonder my feelings are mixed. The main problem I have with the game is that the combat is clunky and pits you against unfair enemies. The second area of the game is particularly frustrating, because that’s when you fight floating ice monsters whose stun/freeze attacks do a huge amount of damage. Worse yet, it takes your character a full second to consume a healing item, and if you have to move before he’s finished, it cancels the healing. So you’re pretty much screwed in some boss battles that never leave you an opening to heal.

What takes the edge off is the fact that you can find/earn lots of upgrades. I’m a sucker for platforming and exploration, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the game. There are two towns with NPCs who dole out side quests, as well as several voids scattered throughout the world that feel like Super Mario challenge levels. These voids are the only way to get health upgrades, though, and some of them are pretty devious. I eventually had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to max out my health meter. But you can also get upgrades like a double jump or double dash that allow you to cheese your way through parts of these voids. I appreciated that the platforming became easier over time instead of harder, as is usually tradition.

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to miss out on important upgrades due to the way the world is built. This is one big, interconnected castle a la Metroid, but you’re given no map to help you get your bearings. I walked right past the room with the projectile attack upgrade early on, which would have come in handy against those flying ice monsters in Part 2. I did go back and find it after fast travel was unlocked, but there was another early skill—a spin attack—that I never found. The loading screen hints frequently alluded to this spin attack, and yet I somehow beat the entire game without it. On one hand, I guess it’s nice to have a game that doesn’t force your path so much (ahem, Zelda), but that also really screws with the difficulty if you’re not careful.