The Last of Us – Season 1

I haven’t played the Last of Us games, which has made following discussions about the show difficult. Every thread is full of comments like, “The actors on the show blink, and the characters in the game blink. They thought of everything!” To be fair, it does sound like the show is a faithful adaptation of the game, but that doesn’t mean much to me. So when viewed as a show first, it’s… okay. The Last of Us is basically what The Walking Dead was like during its post Season 1 peaks. The Walking Dead was never an amazing show, though, and I don’t think The Last of Us is amazing, either. Sure, all of the pieces are there. Great acting (save for one freedom fighter leader who falls a bit flat). Believable apocalyptic set pieces and backdrops. Scary zombies. Tense action moments. And, of course, the classic message that “humans are the real monsters.” Oh, that message is hammered in so hard, you’ll end the show not really knowing who to root for.

And yes, I know, that’s the whole point. I don’t think you are necessarily supposed to like Joel, just understand his motivations given the state of the world. I guess what holds the show back for me is that a lot of the character development we should have gotten with him (and Ellie) is instead given to side characters who often only show up for one episode. You could approach this as more of an anthology series, where Joel and Ellie are merely the connective thread, and that’d be fine. But then the moments with Joel and Ellie that are supposed to pack a lot of weight… don’t. For instance, Episode 3 is definitely a standout episode that follows two dudes finding love at the end of the world. These two only had a passing relationship with Joel, though, and they never meet Ellie, so their story feels abruptly placed and inconsequential. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that episode, and I like a lot of the show’s other “pieces.” I just wish it all fit together better.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law – Season 1

I’ve followed all of the MCU movies so far, but this is the only Disney+ TV show I’ve had any interest in. I just really like Hulk as a character and feel he constantly gets done dirty in the movies. So a TV show centered around a different Hulk sounded promising, especially with all of the other subtexts it has going for it. She-Hulk not only has to live in her cousin’s shadow but has to navigate life as 1) a woman hounded by incels, 2) a superhero whose identity is not a secret, and 3) a superhero living in a world that, frankly, has as much superhero fatigue as we have MCU fatigue. I also appreciate the show’s attempts to give us a more lighthearted side of the MCU. And not lighthearted in a “Thor + screaming goats” sort of way but lighthearted in that Jen/She-Hulk doesn’t have to save the world every week.

Alas, She-Hulk sometimes suffers from the same critiques I threw at Ted Lasso. If the stakes are too low, it’s hard to stay engaged. Like, there’s an episode where Jen goes to a wedding, and that’s… it. That’s the conflict. These weaker episodes also highlight just how pointless and dumb the B stories are. I really don’t care what Jen’s co-workers are up to when they aren’t interacting with Jen. The best parts of the show are when Jen still has to do her normal job (lawyering) but in a superhero-driven world. It’s fun to see her take on super clients and try to rein in their ridiculousness even as she, herself, is seen as a ridiculous “monster.” Speaking of, the episode where she loses her temper and “Hulks out” to stop a sex tape from playing highlights the kind of stakes this show can and should do.

Of course, there’s a lot that doesn’t work. The CGI is distracting, which is not good for a show where your main character frequently has to be CG. A lot of the humor falls flat, too. I understand the She-Hulk comic frequently broke the fourth wall, but the show doesn’t do it enough for it to feel natural. I think some episodes only had one quick aside to the audience and that was it. So it felt particularly silly when—major spoiler, by the way—the finale sees She-Hulk literally climb out of the Disney+ menu screen and into another thumbnail, where she berates the writers of She-Hulk. It’s funny once you get onboard with what’s happening. The self-digs at the state of the MCU are cute, after all. But we needed to be eased into this over-the-topness, much like how Jen needed to ease into her new alter ego.

What We Do in the Shadows – Season 4

I’ve never been a huge fan of this show, but I thought the first two seasons were fairly amusing and the third season rocky but still funny at times. Season 4, however, felt like a huge misstep. The only stuff that worked for me was the relationship between Baby Colin Robinson and Laszlo, which was oddly sweet to watch unfold. But I don’t think rebooting the Colin Robinson character as a rapidly growing child was the right trade off. Regular Colin Robinson brought so much more comedy to the table in how his dry vampire lifestyle clashed with the others’. When the real Colin Robinson returned in the finale, it was immediately obvious how much better he works in adult form. So, hey, at least he’ll be back in Season 5, though I don’t think I will bother tuning in after such a disaster of a season.

The bigger problem I have with the show is just how ridiculous it’s gotten. These are not vampires that “do things in the shadows” anymore. Like, yeah, of course you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy a show such as this, but they’re not even trying to keep a low profile at this point and rely on hypnosis too often to fix their mistakes. I mean, these are characters who murder celebrities with impunity and openly advertise a night club for vampires, and the world is none the wiser. Nadja’s sudden obsession with having a night club was pretty obnoxious, by the way. Every joke with her this season was basically, “LOOK HOW LOUD I CAN YELL.” And Nandor bringing his previous wife back from the dead and then slowly wishing away her personality was a little too icky, even for what is supposed to be a dark comedy. Alas, What We Do in the Shadows has totally forgotten how to do the comedy part right.

Severance – Season 1

This show gets off to a really slow start, but it’s worth hanging in there. I’ll admit that I dozed off during the first few episodes, though. They’re longer than the others, about an hour each compared to the later episodes’ 45-ish minutes. This is mostly because the show loves to indulge in long takes of people doing monotonous things. I get that there’s thematic reasoning for that, but so early in the show, when you don’t know what’s going on yet or have any connection to the characters, it is a bit of a slog. However, Severance gets better and better with each episode and culminates in a really satisfying season finale. Yeah, it still ends on a cliffhanger with a lot of unanswered questions, but there’s enough payoff otherwise to make you feel like you got your time commitment’s worth.

Without spoiling too much, Severance is about a very weird, future-ish company that’s figured out how to “sever” people’s brains. The employees’ out-of-office personas have no memory of what they’ve been doing at work and vice versa. It opens some intriguing philosophical questions, like are these two separate personalities or individuals? Who ultimately “owns” the body and gets to decide when the other retires? It’s fascinating to watch the in-office personalities slowly realize things aren’t on the up-and-up and try to reach out to their outer selves. We mostly only get to see Mark’s outer self, but Adam Scott does an amazing job of playing the depressed “real” him and the more confident office version of himself. In fact, the whole cast is great, and I cannot wait to see more of them, in and out of the office, going into Season 2.

Outer Range – Season 1

I love good science fiction and the premise of Outer Range is intriguing. A rancher in Wyoming finds a giant black hole in his pasture and wants to keep it secret, but why? (Not like an event horizon gravity-well black hole, just an inexplicable hole in the earth/reality.) Outer Range is kind of Yellowstone setting meets a Twin Peaks premise. It has very strong acting, characters, setting, and a lot of mystery. I can’t think of a time I was disappointed in seeing Josh Brolin. I really enjoyed all of the actor’s performances. I watched the whole season in less than a week. Now, I like to think of myself as someone who is a patient viewer. I can appreciate a slow build over 8 episodes, if it has a big payoff in episode 9. I can even appreciate a good cliffhanger setting up the next season, but Outer Range season 1 is something else.

There is not a payoff here and the show is already pretty slow-paced.  They explain some of the mystery, but not much. I still have a lot of questions. As far as a cliff hanger goes, it feels more like a pause mid plot-arc. I definitely want to know what happens next, but it ended at a very unsatisfactory point. Even beyond the mystery, I am honestly pretty confused when I think about where some of the characters are. The worst part is they haven’t announced a season 2, yet. I definitely enjoyed season 1, but it’s hard for me to recommend it at this point. I just have so many questions. The biggest of which is, will any of them be answered?

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty – Season 1

I’m a sucker for a good sports story. I’ve watched a lot of the ESPN 30 for 30 specials, more baseball documentaries than I can count, and of course, the Last Dance. When I saw the preview for Winning Time, I didn’t question it at all; I was going to watch it. I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the characters and performances, even though everyone claims it’s not accurate. Honestly, everyone is great! My surprise favorites were Jerry West as a rage-aholic. It is something to behold and Jason Segal and Adrian Brody play the two most sympathetic characters in the show. There’s controversy as to the accuracy and depiction of most of the people, it’s probably justified, because everyone is almost cartoonish in their personalities. There’s an emphasis on entertainment, not accuracy. The basketball was fun, the story is good, but the unique thing is how it is filmed. They did some very fun things to make it look vintage. A lot of it looks like it was actually shot in the early 80s. Winning Time has a lot of style, for sure!

I did leave the show somewhat dissatisfied and I’ve tried to figure out why. The show starts with Magic going to the doctor to presumably find out he has HIV. That was in 90-91. Then the show goes to 1979 and never mentions it again. Why did it start there? It made the entire show feel like a dramatic bomb would drop at any moment, but it never does. Magic definitely gets around in the show, but that’s a dour note to start the show, that isn’t going to deal with it. It’s essentially sitting an elephant in the room. Also, Winning Time treats women very poorly, which I assume is to be period accurate, but when one time someone is called out for being horrible, he says, “That’s enough!” and seems like he’s about to learn a lesson. Well, the next time you see him, he uncomfortably forces himself on the woman he was called out about. There is no recourse. No lesson. No follow-up. In a show that is happy to take liberties with characters, why not take a few more liberties to make things less awkward? It’s a weird choice. So while I love the premise of the show and I found most of it quite enjoyable, the show is quite surface level, except when it isn’t, and then it feels a little incomplete. In the end, the show is worth watching for the Larry Bird portrayal if nothing else. Which, even if it is completely made up, is perfection.