25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: MERRY HAPPY WHATEVER – SEASON 1

Merry Happy Whatever (2019)

Starring

Dennis Quaid (Midway)
Bridgit Mendler (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel)
Brent Morin (Undateable)
Ashley Tisdale (Scary Movie V)
Siobhan Murphy (Murdoch Mysteries)
Adam Rose (Veronica Mars)
Elizabeth Ho (Fifty Shades of Black)
Hayes MacArthur (Super Troopers 2)

Dennis Quaid and Garcelle Beauvais in Merry Happy Whatever (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Garcelle Beauvais (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Tyler Ritter (Arrow)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Kimberley Crossman (Power Rangers Super Samurai)

Merry Happy Whatever (2019)After following in the footsteps of the TV movie Christmas romcom, Netflix charts a new course through the seasonal snow with Merry Happy Whatever, the first scripted Christmas TV series. The format makes perfect sense, as the last weeks of December are jam-packed with situations that are just ripe for comedy. The setup is one you’ve seen in countless holiday movies and one-off sitcom episodes before: a boyfriend (Morin) travels back home with his longtime girlfriend (Mendler) to meet her intimidating dad (Dennis Quaid), all of her siblings (Ashley Tisdale, Hayes MacArthur, Siobhan Murphy), and all of her in-laws (Tyler Ritter, Elizabeth Ho, Adam Rose). While this is a concept you’ve seen before in a comfortable multi-cam format, there’s a new twist in that every episode is a Christmas episode.60d6bfce-d263-43c7-96f3-89c9eb70e562-mhw_105_unit_01435_rThere’s a reason why Merry Happy Whatever drops on Thanksgiving: it is tailor-made to be a big family binge-watch. In fact, watching Merry Happy Whatever manages to feel just like going home for Christmas–in all the cozy and some of the awkward ways.How you feel about Merry Happy Whatever will largely depend on how you feel about the multi-cam sitcom and the big personalities and set-up/punchline formula that MHW enjoys. I, for example, love their storied history and am always rooting for them to succeed. The choice to go multi-cam also makes perfect sense considering the target audience: this is a format that literally everyone in the family is familiar with, whether they never missed an episode of The Big Bang Theory or grew up watching I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Friends, or the million kid-coms on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. It’s lowest-common-denominator, but honestly, that’s what wins out when you’re back home for the holidays.merry-happy-whateverBut Merry Happy Whatever also works if you’re not in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by your in-laws and a pack of toddlers and dogs. For anyone that’s moved away from home, the show manages to make you feel like you’re back where you came from. That’s largely thanks to the cast, who take the crystal clear family dynamics of Tucker Cawley’s script (himself a veteran of Everybody Loves Raymond) and bring them to life. The first episode does a solid job of setting up immensely relatable family conflict that feel worth spending a whole season unpacking. The in-laws commiserate over marrying into a family that’s a Pepsi-loving, “G-rated cult,” and patriarch Don (a perfectly stubborn Quaid) refuses to let anything wreck his family traditions, especially the arrival of his daughter’s nervous and nerdy boyfriend Matt (Morin).61faa280-10fc-11ea-a7aa-45e901af2227_800_420Morin and Quaid have a great onscreen dynamic, one (obviously) reminiscent of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. Morin, previously the lead of NBC’s Undateable, easily transcends the “nervous and nerdy” description I just tagged him with. The nervous outsider who keeps goofing up role is a tough one, one that so easily veers into annoying territory. That doesn’t happen with Morin, who is low-key affable throughout and whose nerves are justified because Quaid is so intimidating). But just like any family get together, there are moments in Merry Happy Whatever that’ll make the more liberal members of the audience go “Wait, what?” I’m particularly thinking of a scene where Sean (MacArthur) reacts to what he thinks is his tween son coming out of the closet. Sean’s wife, played with heartfelt snark by Elizabeth Ho, barely flinches and offers the unwavering support that we’ve come to expect from these kinds of scenes in 21st century sitcoms, but Sean’s response is tinged with the kind of discomfort, played for laughs, that was par for the course in the ’80s. It’s jarring, especially because it feels like Merry Happy Whatever thinks Sean’s flash of fear when he thinks his son may be gay is actually funny and not just the literal definition of homophobia. But y’know, what’s a trip home for the holidays without a dose of discomfort? It’s accurate!MV5BYWU3ZWJlYmMtOTFmNy00OGE2LWEyMGYtNjgwNTgyNDEzZWM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQTNwaW5nZXN0._V1_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_The entire cast is a real gift, all with clearly defined personalities set up to create sparks. Of particular note is Siobhan Murphy as older sister Patsy, whose suburban cheeriness seems to hide a bit of sadness, and Ashley Tisdale’s borderline bratty little sister who’s in full-on crisis mode. But Elizabeth Ho, fresh off of Netflix’s Disjointed, gets some of the best lines in the episode, playing the blunt ringleader of the seen-it-all in-laws.8658eb90-11a2-11ea-8827-85e5c6e9935d_800_420Whether or not you’ll like Merry Happy Whatever as a solo viewing experience largely depends on your feelings about multi-cam as a format. But with a cast and creator as experienced as this, Merry Happy Whatever is definitely a STREAM IT for everyone that’s spending time with family this holiday season.

REVIEW: VERONICA MARS – SEASON 4

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

 

Starring

Kristen Bell (The GOod Place)
Jason Dohring (Izombie)
Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint)

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Percy Daggs III (American son)
Francis Capra (Heroes)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Ken Marino (Agent Carter)
Daran Norris (Izombie)
David Starzyk (Bring it On 5)
Adam Rose (Santa Clarita Diet)
Ryan Devlin (Big Shots)
Julie Gonzalo (Freaky Friday)
James Jordan (Wind River)
Dawnn Lewis (Izombie)
Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place)
Patton Oswalt (Two and a Half men)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld)
Izabela Vidovic (Supergirl)
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Tyler Alvarez (American Vandal)
Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)
Mido Hamada (Unknown)
Kyle Secor (The Flash)
François Chau (The Tick)
Logan Miller (Escape Room)
Josh Duhamel (Transformers)
Patrick Cox (2 Broke Girls)
Rodney Rowland (Legacies)
Barry Livingston (Argo)
Clark Duke (Kick-Ass)
Jacqueline Antaramian (Side Effects)
Paul Karmiryan (In The Vault)
Lukas Gage (American Vandal)
Christopher B. Duncan (Legacies)
Patrick Wolff (Starship Troopers)

Chino and the ManIn Hulu’s revival of Veronica Mars, the title character (Kristen Bell) visits one of the many men she put behind bars as a teenager. Realizing that she’s still working as a private investigator, he snipes, “That was your job in high school, right?” Television shows are a product of a particular time in the lives of their characters, creators, and audiences. One of the biggest problems with the recent trend of belated-sequel seasons is that they try to act like nothing has changed for any of those groups when, say, a 32-year-old Rory Gilmore shouldn’t still be acting like a 20-year-old. This issue should be especially acute for Veronica Mars, which in its original run drew much of its power and verve from presenting a hard-boiled gumshoe who looked like she had just quit the school dance team. (She had, actually, in the wake of her best friend’s murder.)Chino and the ManBut the new eight-episode Hulu season is keenly aware that its heroine is stuck in neutral. It’s less surprising for her as an adult to be doing stakeouts and fending off gangsters at gunpoint. But it’s also sad and self-destructive — in a very film-noir kind of way — that she’s retreated to the role she had before she was old enough to vote. When her high school frenemy Weevil (Francis Capra) asks what’s wrong with her, she cracks, “You know, there are a range of opinions.” She spends as much of her narration beating herself up for mistakes and character flaws as she does helping us follow the complicated case that’s brought her back to television. And Bell is just as charismatic, vulnerable, and slick with the banter as she was when she could pass for an 11th-grader.newgirl-ep708_sc9-ray_1203_originalVeronica creator Rob Thomas presciently set the original series in a California beach town with no middle class — only the ultrarich and the people who work for them. The setting works even better amid our present-day class warfare, and the plot involves a series of bombings that may be connected to a movement to drive out the city’s few remaining mom-and-pop businesses. Chief among the early suspects: “Big Dick” Casablancas (David Starzyk), a real-estate mogul (and holdover from the original series; he’s the father of Ryan Hansen’s Dick) publicly insisting that “we need to get back to a better time.” There’s a healthy mix of new faces, including Patton Oswalt enjoying his celebrity as witness to the first bombing; J.K. Simmons at his most charming as an ex-con now working as Big Dick’s enforcer; Kirby Howell-Baptiste as a bar owner Veronica befriends; and Izabela Vidovic as a teen reminiscent of Veronica back in the UPN days. And Veronica of course works the case with her beloved father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni, appealingly relaxed as ever, even as Keith battles health issues), while still trying to make things work with high school flame Logan (Jason Dohring, who apparently lives at the gym now).9a8851bc-3c87-458d-9481-8e4ea386bca3-vmars_101_md_2021r_fThis is the second time Bell and Co. have returned to this world: A 2014 movie introduced us to Veronica as an adult. Perhaps because the film was funded by Kickstarter, Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright (who also co-wrote the new season) leaned hard into fan service, with a mystery that was largely an excuse to bring back as many old favorites as possible. It was fun in spots, but a violation of the bleak noir ethos of the original series, which was at its best when it denied the audience what it wanted and gave them what the story demanded. The Hulu version also features a host of familiar faces, like Max Greenfield as Veronica’s ex Leo (now an FBI agent looking into the bombings), but they turn up only when the plot calls for them. And the ending to this new mystery feels satisfying both to the narratives and to the themes of Veronica’s life as a woman who can’t stop looking for the truth, no matter how much it hurts.Keep Calm and Party OnThe conclusion is darker than some fans may want, but feels like a necessary corrective for this new phase of our heroine’s life. It’s a terrific return to form for one of television’s all-time great underseen gems

REVIEW: VERONICA MARS – SEASON 3

Starring

Kristen Bell (The Good Place)
Jason Dohring (The Originals)
Percy Daggs III (Detention)
Francis Capra (Izombie)
Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Tina Majorino (Waterworld)
Michael Muhney (The Young and the Restless)
Julie Gonzalo (Cherry Rush)
Chris Lowell (GLOW)

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Ken Marino (Agent Carter)
Patrick Fabian (Better Call Saul)
Jason Beghe (One Missed Call)
Charisma Carpenter (Angel)
Brandon Hillock (Villains)
James Jordan (Destroyer)
Andrew McClain (Alienate)
Rodney Rowland (Legacies)
David Tom (Swing Kids)
Samm Levine (Inglourious Basterds)
Rider Strong (Cabin Fever)
Chastity Dotson (Patriot)
Keri Lynn Pratt (Samllville)
Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Ryan Devlin (Izombie)
Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger)
Lindsey McKeon (One Tree Hill)
Krista Kalmus (Fired Up!)
Ed Begley Jr. (A Mighty Wind)
Parry Shen (Hatchet II)
Robert Ri’chard (House of Wax)
Michael B. Silver (Jason Goes To Hell)
Daran Norris (Izombie)
Blake Shields (Heroes)
Ryan Pinkston (Will & Grace)
Jaime Ray Newman (Bates Motel)
Richard Grieco (21 Jump Street)
Adam Rose (Santa Clarita Diet)
Dianna Agron (Glee)
Laura San Giacomo (Pretty Woman)
Amanda Walsh (Disturbia)
Michael Grant Terry (Bones)
Sandra McCoy (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Charles Shaughnessy (Sabrina: TTW)
Patricia Hearst (Cry-Baby)
David Blue (Stargate Universe)
Jamie Chung (The Gifted)
Eric Jungmann (Not Another Teen Movie)
Brittany Ishibashi (Runaways)
Brianne Davis (Six)
Amanda Noret (She’s Out of His Mind)
Chris Ellis (Armageddon)
Carlee Avers (The Changed)
Toni Trucks (Grimm)
Juliette Goglia (Mike & Molly)
Jeremy Roberts (The Mask)
Anthony Azizi (Lost)
Jack McGee (Gangster Squad)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
Duane Daniels (First Strike)
Paul Rudd (Ant-Man)
Suzanne Cryer (Two Guys and a Girl)
Edi Gathegi (Beauty and The BEast)
Tangie Ambrose (Why Him?)
Patrick Fischler (Birds of Prey)
Kyle Secor (The Purge: Election Year)
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Christopher B. Duncan (Legacies)
Jim Jansen (A.I.)

Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring in Veronica Mars (2004)In its third season, Veronica Mars steps away from any season-length stories. Slightly truncated to twenty episodes, season three is neatly grouped into three distinct chunks of episodes. The season opens with Veronica settling into her freshman year at Hearst College, but the campus continues to be plagued by a spree of sexual assaults. Mac’s bubbly roommate Parker (Julie Gonzalo) is the latest victim to be roofied and raped, with the attacker leaving his calling card by shaving her head. Having suffered through the past couple of years as a rape victim herself and unwittingly in a position to have caught Parker’s rapist during the attack, Veronica’s grim determination to put an end to this reign of terror makes up the first and the lengthiest of the season’s arcs.The season’s second arc picks up a couple of months after the grisly final shot of “Spit and Eggs” as the police have shrugged off the death of someone close to Veronica as a suicide.Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)A devastating emotional blow delivered just hours earlier, a gunshot to the temple, a vague suicide note typed on a PC…it’s tragic, yes, but the pieces fit neatly together just the same. Still, it’s a scenario lifted directly from a paper Veronica penned for her criminology class on how to commit the perfect murder. Throughout the course of their investigation, Veronica and her father become entangled in a pair of other murders, among them the death of one of Veronica Mars’ most enduring characters.Facing cancellation and attempting to make the largely serialized series more accessible to new viewers, Veronica Mars draws to a close with a set of five standalone episodes. There aren’t any overarching investigations, although some threads leak from one episode to the next, including a sheriff’s race between Keith Mars and an unlikely contender.The season premiere introduces two other Hearst students who’d go on to stick around for the rest of the year: Wallace’s roommate Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and Mac’s roomieuntitledThe hunt for Hearst’s rapist, which runs for the nine of the season’s twenty episodes, is the highest point of the set. It’s the most engaging of the season’s various arcs, which is impressive considering that these episodes have to juggle the weekly mysteries, the overarching search for the rapist, and introduce the new characters and Hearst College as a whole. There seems to be some connection between the rapes and the Greek system at Hearst, pitting Veronica against a group of feminists determined to bring the frats down, forcing her to defend the same lecherous halfwits she thought were tied to the rapes last season, and clawing her way into the Zeta Theta Beta house.Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)This first half of the season also gives the supporting cast a reasonable amount of screentime, including Wallace and Logan on opposite ends of an Abu Ghraib-inspired prison experiment, Logan stumbling onto a life-changing discovery when trying to find out why his trust fund is dwindling so quickly, and Keith making the same sorts of excuses with a married client as the skeevy men whose infidelities pay his rent. The arc comes to a close with “Spit and Eggs”, which, in true Veronica Mars form, plays like more of a thriller than a mystery, and it’s by far the most intense episode of the season. Veronica Mars was an excellent a show spread across 3 seasons and become a great cult show, and with the arrival of the movie saw resurgence in its popularity.

REVIEW: BONES – SEASON 4

Starring

Emily Deschanel (Boogeyman)
David Boreanaz (Angel)
Michaela Conlin (Yellowstone)
Tamara Taylor (Lost)
T. J. Thyne (Ghost World)
John Francis Daley (Game Night)

David Boreanaz, Michaela Conlin, John Francis Daley, Emily Deschanel, Tamara Taylor, and T.J. Thyne in Bones (2005)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Eugene Byrd (Heroes)
Sean Blakemore (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Andrew Buchan (All The Money In The World)
Indira Varma (Game of Thrones)
Carla Gallo (Superbad)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Elizabeth Lackey (Heroes)
Jill Wagner (Blade: The Series)
Michele Greene (LA Law)
Brennan Elliott (Curse of Chucky)
Richard Gant (Rocky V)
Dean Norris (Breaking Bad)
Devon Graye (The Flash)
Adam Rose (Veronica Mars)
Demetrius Grosse (Rampage)
Eric Millegan (Phobic)
Michael Grant Terry (Grimm)
Joel David Moore (Avatar)
David Gallagher (Super 8)
Ryan Cartright (Alphas)
Bruce Thomas (Army of Darkness)
Blake Shields (Heroes)
Patricia Belcher (Jeepers Creepers)
Jonathan LaPaglia (Seven Days)
Nichole Hiltz (Smallville)
Eric Lange (lost)
Brendan Fehr (Roswell)
William R. Moses (JAG)
Ryan O’Neal (Love Story)
Gina Torres (Firefly)
Molly Hagan (No Good Nick)(
Aisha Hinds (Cult)
Sterling Beaumon (The Killing)
Mageina Tovah (Spider-Man 2)
Stephen Lee (Robocop 2)
Andy Richter (Scary Movie 2)
Bianca Lawson (Buffy: TVS)
Nathan West (Not Another Teen Movie)
Noel Fisher (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Deirdre Lovejoy (The Blacklist)
Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers)
Oliver Muirhead (Like Crazy)
Betsy Rue (Halloween II)
Zachary Knighton (Flashforward)
Christine Lakin (Hollywood Darlings)
Spencer Breslin (The Happening)
Pej Vahdat (Arrow)
Kayla Ewell (The Vampire DIaries)
Dana Davis (Prom Night)
Audrey Wasilewski (Red)
John Pyper-Ferguson (Caprica)
P.J. Byrne (Black Lightning)
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Tania Raymonde (Lost)
Brian Tee (Jurassic World)
Ally Maki (Cloak & Dagger)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Jaimie Alexander (Thor)
Rick Peters (Dexter)
Edwin Hodge (The Purge)
Lorna Raver (Drag Me To Hell)
Jeff Yagher (V)
Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy)

David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, Indira Varma, and Andrew Buchan in Bones (2005)World-renowned forensic anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan is as brusque and tactless as ever, as confounded by the subtleties of social decorum as ever (or as Sweets exclaims: “She is wicked literal!”). Bones is still very much that intimidating icy intellect, still a wounded soul, and still solving murders. FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth is still the one with the people skills and that well-developed bump of intuition. More onions are peeled in this season as we learn even more about the underpinnings of our core characters. The absolute big draw of this show is that sizzle between David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, their fabulous interplay tantalizing and frustrating the viewers. Could this be the season that they get together? Well, kind of, sort of. Taking what the show is giving, I wallow in their ever evolving relationship.David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel in Bones (2005)Staying on the personal, Hodgins and Angela are trying to move past their break-up. “The Skull in the Sculpture” demonstrates that Angela is more ready to move on than Hodgins, and if you thought Angela was a free spirit before, well, now… This episode also has Sweets demonstrating the best way ever to fire someone. Young FBI psychologist Lance Sweets, by the way, becomes a regular cast member in this season, and I like him more and more as each episode progresses, even if Booth and Bones continually treat him like a pesky little brother. Even Dr. Saroyan’s past is delved into.Emily Deschanel and Cesar Millan in Bones (2005)Zack Addy, apprentice to the Gormagon Killer, has been institutionalized, which doesn’t keep him from strolling out to help the squints on a baffling case. Still, this gives rise to a running theme, that of the rotating roster of interns as Saroyan and Bones attempt to fill Zack’s spot, and the fun thing is that each of these interns comes with baggage. There’s the morbid one, the excessively chirpy one, the one constantly dispensing trivia, etc. The most martyred one may well be that repressed intern who insists on keeping things professional at all times – except that, the squints being a tight bunch, he keeps getting exposed to a deluge of innuendo and gossip in the workplace.David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel in Bones (2005)There isn’t really a running mystery arc to tie these episodes together – no one like the Gormagon Killer running around, for example. But that doesn’t mean that the cases aren’t gripping; some of them are really interesting. The season opens with “Yanks in the U.K.” which plants Brennan and Booth in jolly old England, investigating a murder and running into a British version of themselves. In “The Passenger in the Oven” Bones and Booth are on a flight bound to China and have only four hours to solve a murder before the plane lands and Booth loses jurisdiction. “Double Trouble in the Panhandle” has Booth and Bones infiltrating the Big Top as “Buck & Wanda and their Knives of Death,” and their circus act is actually fraught with more suspense than in just about any other scene in this season.David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel in Bones (2005)Some other favorites? In “The Double Death of the Dearly Departed,” Bones and Booth steal a corpse due for cremation from a funeral home, Bones believing that the body had been “translated,” which is Booth’s made-up code for murder. “Mayhem on a Cross” unveils some dark stuff about Sweets’ past, this episode also featuring the return of the awesome Stephen Fry as FBI shrink Gordon Gordon Wyatt. It also had me cracking up whenever Bones insisted on correctly pronouncing “skalle” (the Norwegian word for “skull”). “The Hero in the Hold” features the return of the Grave Digger serial killer. “The Princess and the Pear” plonks Bones and Booth’s temp replacement in the world of comic book conventions, and Bones finally gets another chance to flash her martial arts mojo.The-Critic-in-The-Cabernet-Screencaps-bones-10968392-653-435In “The Critic in the Cabernet” Bones drops a bomb on Booth and Booth gets advice from a cartoon character, a frivolous conceit which goes on to have a terrifying payoff. Finally Season 4 closes with a quirky fantasy episode featuring a re-shuffling of roles. In this reality, Dr. Saroyan and Booth’s brother are homicide detectives and Booth and Bones are a married couple who run a nightclub and who end up as suspects in a murder case. It’s neat that just about everyone is in this one.

REVIEW: SANTA CLARITA DIET – SEASON 2

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant in Santa Clarita Diet (2017)

MAIN CAST

Drew Barrymore (Charlies Angels)
Timothy Olyphant (Hitman)
Liv Hewson (Inhumans)
Skyler Gisondo (The Amazing Spider-Man)

scd_201_unit_00282_r

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Jee Young Han (Why Him?)
Zachary Knighton (Flashforward)
Maggie Lawson (The Ranch)
Ramona Young (Z Nation)
Nathan Fillion (Firefly)
Joel McHale (Spider-Man 2)
Andy Richter (Elf)
Natalie Morales (The Grinder)
Richard T. Jones (Terminator: TSCC)
Adam Rose (Veronica Mars)
Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Masterminds)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Sarah Baker (The Campaign)
Jonathan Slavin (My Name Is Earl)

santa-clarita-diet-season-2-joel-mchale-castSeconds are seldom as good as the initial meal. You’ve already eaten. Your stomach is beginning to fill. The mystery of the menu is gone. And because a food analogy isn’t strong enough to encompass a television show, the same thing about seconds can also be said with zombie films. There are rare occasions where the sequel is stronger than the original movie, but there’s usually a diminishing return the more you see zombies. These are areas where the “second course” is inevitably disappointing in comparison to the first, however Santa Clarita Diet season 2 rises above these expectations. If anything this new season will leave the audience hungry for more rather than feeling full from these undead antics. When the last season of Santa Clarita Diet ended, the series started to finally find a fitting groove and the tone. Santa Clarita Diet’s second season overpowers season one in practically every way possible.t5sbiwdabipjop4ures7The biggest strengths from the first season of Santa Clarita Diet came from Victor Fresco’s (Better Off Ted, Andy Richter Controls the Universe) irreverent, fearless comedy that was allowed to inject itself into an outrageous premise. All of that is still present and some of the rougher patches from the series’ freshman year like Barrymore’s broad performance or the show’s inconsistent tone during its beginning are now smoothed out. The series also benefits from everyone going into “rescue mode” over Sheila and her condition rather than the whole “let’s hide the central story” aspect that dominates so much of the first season. The training wheels are now off and this show really starts to get creative and have fun with its premise.6ccb292a-6ab9-4760-8a4d-dbdcec443b43Much of Santa Clarita Diet season 2 focuses on the Hammond family’s attempts to normalize their situation. For instance, if Sheila is chained up in the basement, then why not dress up the basement and slap a fresh coat of paint on the ugly situation? Right from the jump of the season there may be people who are anxious that Sheila should just be murdered, but clearly the family is in for the long haul. Joel, Abby, and even Eric are all blissfully hopeful towards their unique situation. Curiously enough, in spite of all the high stakes life and death undead material, Joel and Sheila still worry about their real estate job and it occupies a reasonable part of the season. That might seem like a considerably less important aspect of the series, but it’s encouraging to see the show try to embrace this normalcy, for better or worse. Meanwhile, Joel and Sheila’s murder-happy misadventures still go down under the nose of Deputy Ann, who’s only a few doors away. The ways in which they both squirm out of conversations with Ann and proceed to make matters worse for themselves is always the best kind of awkward mess. Sheila and Joel also find themselves in the weird situation where murder seems to be the best way to handle their problems, but they don’t just want to resort to murder whenever they’re caught in a bind, regardless of how good they may have gotten at it.Skyler Gisondo and Liv Hewson in Santa Clarita Diet (2017)At the same time, these middle-aged parents also realize that without these adrenaline-pumping murders in their lives they’re pretty boring people who don’t have much game. At one point Joel laments, “We’re realtors, so killing people and stuffing them in our fridge doesn’t come naturally.” That’s basically this show in a nutshell. Sheila’s “condition” is an obvious problem, but this season is just as interested in the fact that that Joel and his wife haven’t been able to have a date night, build a bookshelf, or write a yelp review since all of this undead business started. Santa Clarita Diet season 2 also starts to expand the show’s world in bigger ways. There are more undead individuals that are out there in addition to organizations that are on the hunt for a cure or a means to exterminate this epidemic. These secret factions begin to come out of the woodwork this season and it’s a good creative move on the show’s part. Joel and Sheila’s secret life continues to intersect with their job and social lives in interesting ways, all of which make the two of them continue to ponder whether they’re good people or not. It’s great to see Joel and Sheila use death and horror as a prop for comedy. You really don’t see that perspective anywhere else in this context—it’s almost like a suburban Dexter or The Walking Dead. Sure there are programs like Ash Vs the Evil Dead or Stan Against Evil, but this is so deeply entrenched in its family dynamic and is a comedy first and horrorsecond.santa-clarita-diet-season-2-netflix-feature

This season also digs into the bigger questions, like how Sheila became infected in the first place. Joel and company assume that if they figure this out then they can reverse engineer the rest of this mystery. The show’s mythology explodes in a big way here and the story turns into something that’s so much more interesting than simply a comedic take on zombies, which the show could be guilty of during its first season. The show’s lore goes to some fascinating places that touch on territory like the Knights of the Templar and all sorts of things that you wouldn’t expect. One of the best things about Santa Clarita Diet is its phenomenal cast and in the show’s second season everyone’s only more comfortable in these roles. There’s seriously such chemistry between the reluctantly murderous Hammond family. Their dynamic really clicks this year and they all feel more natural in a way that was absent last season. Timothy Olyphant’s Joel continues to play unhinged and flustered in the best way possible. The wide-eyed, beleaguered way in which he does comedy is perfect for this universe.santa-clarita-diet-season-2-trailerDrew Barrymore does an even better job as Sheila this season now that she’s acclimated to the role a little better. She plays the role with the glee of a puppy who’s just found a new toy. The show also really explores the beauty in how becoming undead can allow people to finally become the people that they wanted to be in life. It just happens to be something that comes with the awful side effect of needing to consume human flesh. Some of the best work from this season comes from the younger half of the show’s cast. Skyler Gisondo really gets to step up his game as the hapless Eric Bemis and he finds himself overwhelmed in a whole new way this year. His burgeoning relationship with Abby continues to make for believable tension between the two of them as well. On that note, this season is also a real showpiece for Abby’s Liv Hewson. The character goes through a metamorphosis that is a lot of fun to watch. Abby redefines who she is in both school and real life and it’s a fascinating arc for her character. Sometimes your mom turning into a zombie can be just as life changing as turning into the zombie yourself.20190221-PAGEONE-SANTA-CLARITASanta Clarita Diet’s second season features strong storytelling and performances, but it also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the extreme visuals and gore. This season features gruesome sights like broken thumbs, the lesson of what microwave settings to apply to frozen body parts, spider balls, and explosions of blood that make it seem like humans are carbonated soda that are just waiting to burst. In this sense, the show’s humor is still particularly on point and many conversations should make audiences laugh out loud, such as the prospect of sprucing up a kill room so it doesn’t so obviously look like a kill room or the debate of whether it’s discriminatory to kill a Nazi who’s in a wheelchair and the moral relativism of such a murder. Santa Clarita Diet proves that it has a sustainable vision and that this show is more than just some one-season fad. If anything the show is only getting better and it doesn’t suffer from the usual problems that can afflict Netflix shows, such as the season’s pacing. Admittedly, some of the show’s fight scenes play out a little awkwardly and look low budget, but it’s hardly a big deal. This isn’t Daredevil. The show’s second season snowballs and culminates in an impressive way where the year ends on a huge note that once more questions the status quo of the series. The bottom line here is that it’s consistently compelling and enjoyable to see if Joel and Sheila can continue to keep all of their blood-soaked balls in the air.

 

REVIEW: IZOMBIE – SEASON 2

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MAIN CAST

Rose McIver (Power Rangers RPM)
Malcolm Goodwin (The Bellman)
Rahul Kohli (Happy Anniversary)
Robert Buckley (Killer Movie)
David Anders (Alias)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Steven Weber (2 Broke Girls)
Molly Hagan (No Good Nick)
Nick Purcha (Cold Zone)
Adam Rose (IUp In The Air)
Leanne Lapp (Grace Encounters 2)
Bryce Hodgson (Kid Cannabis)
Carmen Moore (Arrow)
Robert Knepper (Cult)
Justin Prentice (13 Reasons Why)
Carrie Anne Fleming (Supernatural
David Starzyk (Veronica Mars)
Brian Markinson (Tribal)
Aly Michalka (Two and a Half Men)
Serge Houde (50/50)
Ona Grauer (V)
Lucia Walters (Stargate Atlantis)
Anne Marie DeLuise (Smallville)
Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon A Time)
Jessica Harmon (The 100)
Robert Salvador (Arrow)
Eddie Jemison (Waitress)
Steven Williams (21 Jump Street)
Rick Fox (Oz)
Kevin McNulty (Timecop)
Natalie Brown (Bitten)
Emy Aneke (The Predator)
Greg Finley (The Flash)
Brooke Lyons (2 Broke Girls)
Anna Galvin (Tin Man)
Ben Lawson (No Strings Attached)
Lee Garlington (Cobra)
Daniella Alonso (The Hills Have Eyes II)
Fiona Vroom (Power Rangers)
Kristen Bell (The Good Place)
Colin Lawrence (Watchmen)
Patrick Gallagher (Glee)
Bradley Stryker (Smallville)
Michael Kopsa (Fantastic Four)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)
Kacey Rohl (Arrow)
Genevieve Buechner (Caprica)
Ali Liebert (Wonder)
Zak Santiago (Shooter)
Chasty Ballesteros (The Internship)
Sarah Grey (The Order)
Wesley MacInnes (Power Rangers)
Andrea Savage (Veep)
Ken Marino (Agent Carter)

Consistently offering clever, witty and fun episodes, iZombie solidified itself as one of the most entertaining series on TV in its second season. Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright had already created an offbeat yet inviting world in Season 1 and in Season 2 they built upon it, putting the characters into more intense and involving situations, all while still maintaining the show’s crucial, knowing sense of humor.The cast continue to be one of the most likeable you’ll find, anchored by the excellent Rose McIver. Okay, it’s one of the show’s reaches that pretty much every brain Liv eats is a very focused, specific type of person, but that’s just part of the deal here. And it gives McIver so much to work with, as she goes all in playing Liv taking on personas as varied as a coach, a stalker, a costumed vigilante or a tough stripper. Every week, McIver is given something different to play and she consistently nails it, with ongoing mileage gotten out of how out there and uncharacteristic Liv gets, depending on her latest brain meal.After his heartbroken ex-fiancé character take a surprising (and awesome) turn at the end of Season 1, Robert Buckley’s Major got a great storyline in Season 2, as he found himself working for Vaughn Du Clark (Steven Weber), tasked with assassinating zombies – all while actually locking them up instead, which put him in a very precarious position both with Du Clark and the cops and the FBI, who were getting closer and closer to him for his actions in both Season 1 and 2.The fact that those investigating Major’s crimes were Clive (Malcolm Goodwin) and his FBI partner/love interest Dale Bozzio (Jessica Harmon) only increased the tension, even while Clive and Dale made a great pairing – with Harmon effortlessly fitting in on the show, as the somewhat goofy Dale provided a great foil for the somewhat stoic Clive. And in the midst of this, having Clive begin to slowly notice the things that were off about Liv was continually intriguing, since it was inevitable that Clive would one day find out The Secret.Blaine (David Anders) in the meantime had to adjust to life as a human again – for awhile at least, as he never kept his nose clean and eventually became one of the undead again, with Anders always bringing a wonderfully quirky/funny approach to the character. McIver and Rahul Kohli continued to be a delightful duo in all the scenes between Liv and Ravi and Kohli shined throughout the season, though I do hope Season 3 can perhaps give Ravi more of his own storyline at some points beyond the ongoing search for a cure or the burgeoning love triangle between Ravi, Peyton (Aly Michalka) and Blaine. The end of the season, as Ravi began to suspect Major was up to no good – and their big confrontation about it – showed how strong it can be to use the usually comic presence of Ravi in a dramatic manner that would be interesting to explore again.As Season 2 progressed, one really strong element was how it began to bring together several storylines. We began to see Major’s growing interaction with Blaine begin to bring him even more in focus as a suspect for Dale and Clive, while Peyton’s return — it was good to see Michalka, who also fits in great with this cast, get more to do — had her wrapped up with Blaine (in more ways than one) and helping lead us to a new villain on the show, Stacey Boss (Eddie Jemison).

Best of all, the “brain of the week” storylines began to becoming increasingly tied into the main stories as well. And yes, this meant sometimes you had to accept a bit more coincidence on the show, but it still was exciting and gratifying to see how all the different elements were intersecting in different ways and how Liv could learn new info thanks to a new murder victim connected in ways that were sometimes not apparent on the surface.When it came to Big Bads, Vaughn Du Clark certainly delivered. Stephen Weber seemed to be having a ball in the role and was delightfully awful as the energetic, confident mega-douche of a sports drink company CEO. He was also given a great foil in Gilda (Leanne Lapp), his daughter, who was just as corrupt as her dad. Gilda has no qualms about manipulating Major, Liv or anyone else and Lapp brought just the right attitude to the character – even as we saw just how awful Du Clark was as a dad, giving us a tinge of sympathy, or at least understanding, about why she was the way she was, even as it was clear she needed to be stopped. The season also ended in an epic, satisfying manner, with Clive finally finding out the truth, an all-out “Romero Zombie” attack and both Du Clark and Gilda being taken out – all while we met a huge new player on the scene that looks to be upending the show in a huge way.Nearly every week, iZombie continued to deliver in its second season and the show easily overcame any sophomore slump worries. The creators and cast seem to know exactly the right  tone to go for here, offering up a show that has a fun, accessible vibe but can get suitably intense, dramatic and gory when need be. When the CW gave all of their series early renewals last year, iZombie was one of the ones I know I was celebrating the most. Bring on Season 3!

 

REVIEW: UP IN THE AIR

CAST
George Clooney  (The Ides of March)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Anna Kendrick (Into The Woods)
Jason Bateman (Identity Thief)
Amy Morton (Blue Bloods)
Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men)
J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man)
Sam Elliott (Hulk)
Danny McBride (The Pineapple Express)
Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover)
Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars)
Adam Rose (Santa Clarita Diet)
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works for an HR consultancy firm which specialises in termination assistance, and makes his living travelling to workplaces across the United States in order to conduct company layoffs and firings on behalf of employers. Ryan also delivers motivational speeches, using the analogy “What’s In Your Backpack?” to extoll the virtues of a life free of burdensome relationships with people as well as things. Ryan relishes his perpetual travels. His personal ambition is to become only the seventh person to earn ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. While traveling, he meets another frequent flyer named Alex (Vera Farmiga) and they begin a casual relationship.
Ryan is unexpectedly called back to his company’s offices in Omaha, Nebraska. An ambitious, freshly-graduated new hire, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is promoting a plan to cut costs by conducting layoffs via videoconferencing. Ryan argues that Natalie knows nothing about the actual process, live or not, and does not know how to handle upset people. He plays the role of a fired employee to demonstrate her inexperience. His boss (Jason Bateman) assigns him to take Natalie with him on his next round of terminations to show her the ropes, much to his annoyance.
George Clooney in Up in the Air (2009)
As they travel together and become better acquainted, Natalie questions Ryan’s philosophy, but he is satisfied with his lifestyle. During the trip, Natalie is shattered when her boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her by text message. Ryan and Alex try to comfort her. Natalie later lectures Ryan about his refusal to consider a commitment to Alex in spite of their obvious compatibility, and becomes infuriated; she apologizes later, but soon afterwards they are both ordered back to Omaha to begin implementing Natalie’s program. There are problems during a test run; one laid off person breaks down in tears before the camera, and she is unable to comfort him.
Instead of returning immediately to Omaha, Ryan convinces Alex to accompany him to his younger sister’s wedding. He learns that the reason the couple had him take photos of a cutout picture of them in various places was because they cannot afford a honeymoon trip. When the groom gets cold feet, Ryan’s older sister talks him into using his motivational skills to persuade him to go through with it. Although this runs counter to Ryan’s personal philosophy, he successfully argues that the important moments in life are rarely unshared. The wedding goes off without any further hitches.
George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (2009)
Ryan begins having second thoughts about his own life. As he starts to deliver his “What’s In Your Backpack?” speech at a convention in Las Vegas, he realizes he no longer believes it, and walks off the stage. On an impulse, he flies to Alex’s home in Chicago. When she opens the door, he is stunned to discover she is a married woman with children; Ryan leaves without saying a word. She later tells him on the phone that her family is her real life and he is simply an escape. Again, he ends the conversation wordless. On his flight home, the crew announces that Ryan has just crossed the ten million mile mark. The airline’s chief pilot (Sam Elliott) comes out of the cockpit to meet Ryan. He notes that Ryan is the youngest person to reach the milestone. When asked where he is from, Ryan can only respond “here”. Back in his office, Ryan calls the airline to transfer five hundred thousand miles each to his sister and brother-in-law, enough for them to fly around the world for their honeymoon. His boss tells Ryan that a woman he and Natalie fired has killed herself, and that an upset Natalie has quit via text message. The company also puts the remote-layoff program on hold because of related concerns.
George Clooney and Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air (2009)
Natalie applies for a job in San Francisco, the city she was originally offered a job before following her now ex-boyfriend to Omaha instead. The interviewer is impressed by her qualifications and a glowing recommendation from Ryan, and hires her.The film concludes with Ryan standing in front of a vast destination board, looking up, and letting go of his luggage.
The acting is exemplary; Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are perfectly cast as muse and apprentice respectively.  The movie is sad at times, funny at others, never giving right or wrong answers just an observational peice in the study of life.