REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 2

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)

Starring

Jon Bernthal (The Accountant)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Amber Rose Revah (The Devil’s Double)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Josh Stewart (No Ordinary Family)
Floriana Lima (Supergirl)
Giorgia Whigham (13 Reasons Why)
Deborah Ann Woll (Mother’s Day)

Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Royce Johnson (Demolition)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Corbin Bernsen (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Annette O’Toole (Smallville)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)

Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Frank Castle doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who gets out to the movies very often, so we’ll probably never know what he thought about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But you have to assume he’d identify with Kylo Ren’s infamous monologue, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” That pretty much sums up Frank’s struggle since losing his family in a hail of bullets and transforming himself into a remorseless vigilante.Amber Rose Revah in The Punisher (2017)That same struggle takes on a new form in The Punisher Season 2. Having finally tracked down and punished every single person responsible for the deaths of his family, Frank is finally a free man. But can someone who spent so long being defined by hate and a thirst for revenge actually find peace? Can Frank let his past die and rebuild his life, or is he doomed to forever be defined as the Punisher? It’s a compelling dilemma. But ironically, it’s only when Season 2 clings to the past that it becomes the show it was meant to be.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Initially, Season 2 comes across as a major departure from its predecessor. The premiere touches base with Frank (Jon Bernthal) as he aimlessly wanders the Midwest and finds his true calling as a Shooter Jennings groupie. It’s a slow start to the new season, but one that sets the mood nicely. We see Frank coming so close to remembering how to live as a normal human being again, to the point where he even develops a romance with a local bartender. But the fact that Frank so quickly and recklessly throws himself into the first fracas he can find shows that he was only ever waiting for a new mission to come along. If the driving question of Season 2 is whether Frank Castle can find peace, the first episode alone makes it pretty clear that it’ll only be with a gun in his hand.Josh Stewart in The Punisher (2017)The first few episodes of the season attempt to make a fairly clean break from the events, characters, and setting of Season 1. Sure, the show touches base with old favorites like Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), but the focus in this early part of the season is fixed more on newcomers like wayward teen grifter Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham) and former Neo-Nazi-turned-God-fearing assassin, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart).Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)Unfortunately, it’s here where one of the fundamental flaws of Season 2 becomes apparent. These newcomers struggle to measure up to the strong supporting cast seen in Season 1. Amy initially comes across as an obnoxious, conniving brat, as well as a crude attempt to replace both Karen Page and Micro in one new character. It’s a good four or five episodes into the season before she finally begins to gain some semblance of depth and forges a more believable bond with Frank.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Pilgrim (who’s loosely based on a character from the comics called The Mennonite) often shows potential as a man whose struggle to leave his dark past behind him mirrors Frank’s own journey. But both Pilgrim and his handlers, the nefarious right-wing billionaires Anderson (Corbin Bernsen) and Eliza Schultz (Annette O’Toole) are badly underdeveloped. This season creates the impression that showrunner Steve Lightfoot wanted to create a conflict that could rip from as many headlines as possible. You’ve got your right-wing extremists, your shady Russians blackmailing politicians, and your rampant gun violence plaguing Middle America. But none of this material seems especially well thought-out or ever comes together as a satisfying whole. By the time the focus shifts back to New York and the renewed feud between Frank and Billy, the Schultzes and their dirty dealings become a light afterthought.Ben Barnes and Charles Brice in The Punisher (2017)Fortunately, at least Season 2 capitalizes on the foundation established in Season 1 where Billy is concerned. We see Billy Russo, handsome businessman, transform into Jigsaw, psychologically tormented killer. The series only loosely adapts the Jigsaw from the comics, however. Rather than depicting him as a hideously scarred supervillain out for blood the moment he escapes police custody, Season 2 takes a more understated approach to Billy. His scarring is less dramatic. Early on, he wants only to understand his sad lot in life and the skull-clad demon that haunts his dreams.Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)The result of all of this is that Billy remains a sympathetic figure throughout the season. Even when his dark, depraved side begins to burst forth again, we understand the pain and trauma fueling his actions and the profound sense of loss that plagues him. Barnes’ performance improves leaps and bounds over that of Season 1. At times it’s bigger and flashier, but often Barnes is able to bring a wounded subtlety to the character. In some cases, Barnes is even required to act from behind a mask for prolonged periods, showing a gift for using body language and voice to make up for his concealed features. Jigsaw may not quite rival the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave as the best of Netflix’s Marvel villains, but he’s close enough.The new season also further cements Bernthal’s Frank Castle as the best live-action incarnation of the character to date. To be fair, Bernthal has had far more time to make the character his own than actors like Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson. Regardless, the show really benefits from that crucial combination of nuanced characterization and Bernthal’s captivating performance. This season is careful never to paint Frank as either hero or villain. If anything, it’s preoccupied with the narrow line separating a soldier like Frank from a craven mercenary like Billy. Bernthal brings a wide range to the role, playing Frank as a roaring powerhouse of rage, a grieving survivor, and various degrees in between those two extremes. Season 2 is also kind to both Revah’s Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore’s Curtis Holt. Both characters are able to take a more active role in the conflict, including directly joining Frank in his war against Billy. Dinah’s emotional gauntlet is one of the highlights of the season, as she continuously grapples with her profound betrayal from Season 1. As for Curtis, we see his loyalties tested and his life begin to buckle under the weight of being Frank’s friend, culminating in his decision to forge his own path and choose for himself what he believes to be the greatest good.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Season 2’s fundamental flaw is that it forces viewers to accept the good with the bad. It makes some significant improvements to Season 1’s formula in terms of pacing and action. Following the methodical “Roadhouse Blues,” the season’s narrative quickly builds momentum. Whereas it seemed like Season 1 was content to go multiple episodes without giving Frank a chance to do some punishing, pretty much every chapter of Season 2 includes at least one significant action sequence. There’s also a greater variety to the action this time around, with some fights unfolding as raw, gritty, hand-to-hand brawls and others ending with hundreds of bullets littering the streets of New York. Honestly, the best thing that can be said for Season 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it didn’t seem overly drawn out at 13 episodes.Jon Bernthal and Giorgia Whigham in The Punisher (2017)But the flip side to this is that Season 2 leaves me wanting so much more in some areas. Again, so much involving the Schultzes, John Pilgrim, and that whole halfhearted conspiracy feels poorly developed. These characters disappear for multiple episodes at a stretch and even when they return, they connect to Frank’s struggle only in the most tenuous ways. More often than not, Pilgrim comes across as a refugee from a completely different show. This season may be more eventful than its predecessor, but it’s also far less focused. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) may be the biggest offender of all. This is a character who is obviously a villain lurking in plain sight from her very first appearance. Yet never do the writers make more than the most rudimentary effort to flesh out her background or justify her erratic behavior. She functions in her capacity as someone to shine a brief, fleeting light into Billy Russo’s demented life, and that’s it.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Looking back at Season 2 as a whole, it was like watching two completely different story pitches being crudely grafted together. And that’s to say nothing of some of the other questionable storytelling choices made over the course of the season. However little this season succeeded in tying together these loose narrative threads, it did at least manage to give characters like Frank, Dinah, Amy, and Billy’s story the closure they needed. “The Whirlwind” is both the most action-packed and most emotionally charged installment of the season. It’s here we see Frank take those final steps toward becoming the Punisher through and through. With little prospect of a Season 3, it’s heartening to see the series end on such a definitive note. The Punisher Season 2 improves on the first in some key ways, establishing a stronger sense of narrative momentum and giving fans much more action. At the same time, the series also falters in other areas. Its narrative is more unfocused, and its new characters struggle to measure up to the old guard. This season does capitalize on the foundation established by Season 1 in terms of the Punisher/Jigsaw rivalry, however, and it leaves Frank Castle in a good place in the finale.

REVIEW: ANGER MANAGEMENT – SEASON 1-2

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MAIN CAST

Charlie Sheen (Machete Kills)
Selma Blair (Hellboy)
Shawnee Smith (Saw)
Noureen DeWulf (American Dreamz)
Michael Arden (Bride Wars)
Daniela Bobadilla (The Middle)
Derek Richardson (Hostel)
Barry Corbin (Windsor)
Brian Austin Green (Terminator: TSCC)
Laura Bell Bundy (Scream Queens)
Image result for anger management tv show
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire)
Michael Boatman (Hamburger Hill)
James Black (Kick-Ass 2)
Darius McCrary (15 Minutes)
Aldo Gonzalez (Sons of Anarchy)
Stephen Monroe Taylor (Texas Rising)
Kerri Kenney (Role Models)
Denise Richards (Valentine)
Martin Sheen (The Amazing Spider-Man)
Meredith Salenger (Lake Placid)
Mimi Kennedy (Mom)
Steve Valentine (Mike & Molly)
Stacy Keach (Two and a Half Men)
Danielle Bisutti (Curse of Chucky)
CeeLo Green (Sparkle)
Ken Lerner (The Running Man)
Bryce Johnson (Popular)
Lindsay Lohan (Scary Movie V)
Eddie Shin (That 80s Show)
Don Stark (That 70s Show)
Marion Ross (Happy Days)
Steven Krueger (The Originals)
Carol Kane (Gotham)
Nicole Travolta (House of Dust)
LeAnn Rimes (Reel Love)
Greg Cipes (Teen Titans)
Kristina Anapau (Black Swan)
Brea Grant (Heroes)
Anna Hutchison (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)
Bob Clendenin (Birds of Prey)
Ajay Mehta (Spider-Man)
Meera Simhan (Miss India America)
Gina Gershon (Ugly Betty)
Odette Annable (The Unborn)
George Wyner (Spaceballs)
Ron West (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Bary Livingston (Argo)
Cheech Marin (Machete)
Carla Gallo (Bones)
Julia Duffy (Looking)
Brooke Lyons (Izombie)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
Isaiah Mustafa (Chuck)
Aly Michalka (Izombie)
Tiffany Dupont (Greek)
Michael Gross (Tremors)
Elaine Hendrix (The Parent Trap)
Jacqueline MacInnes Wood (Arrow)
Ivar Brogger (Andromeda)
Eric Steinberg (Stargate SG.1)
Will Sasso (Movie 43)
Arden Myrin (Shameless USA)
Mercedes Mason (The Finder)
Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin)
Ciara Hanna (Power Rangers Megaforce)
Robin Riker (Big Love)
Izabella Miko (The Cape)
Corbin Bernsen (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

anger-Management-2D-DVD-packshot

If there is anything that can be said about Charlie Sheen it’s that he lands on his feet, even when having very public melt downs.  After losing his job on Two and a Half Men the fact he managed to find himself another show where he was the star is surprising in ways, but in others it could be said to be a cheap attempt to cash in on the fact that he is quite a huge public figure.  Anger Management Season One is a show that rests firmly on Sheen’s shoulders and relies on his talents, which is both a good and bad thing.
Charlie, played by Charlie Sheen is a failed baseball player who ended his own career when he lost his temper and tried to break a bat over his knee, doing more damage to himself than the bat.  Having to find another form of employment he becomes an anger management therapist ranging from a group that meet every week at his house to a group in prison who are in need of the therapy to curb their violent actions.  Managing his patient’s therapy while trying to control his own anger issues he finds things further complicated by his own therapist that he’s sleeping with, his ex-wife and their daughter who suffers from OCD.
It’s quite interesting that Anger Management starts with an opening scene where Sheen shouts into the screen with a blatant message to his past employers over at Two and a Half Men, because Anger Management is very similar to his past show.  His character, although he drinks less and actually seems quite a smart guy but he is very much Charlie.  The other characters also have that oddball appearance about them that you expect to see in Two and a Half Men, it’s just missing the people he left behind.  In the defence of Anger Management defence though I found the show to be quite likeable and the fact that Selma Blair, who is very easy on the eye spends most of it in various stages of undress is nothing to be complained about.  Of course she also provides sound advice as his therapist and constantly challenges him to do the right thing.
If we further compare the show to Two and a Half Men the reason that show worked and continues to survive is down to the characters themselves, although most recently it seems that not only Charlie Sheen are causing it issues.  Looking to Anger Management though, with a more well behaved Sheen, a guest appearance from his father Martin Sheen and a good ensemble cast and we have a show that Sheen can work off quite well.  Shawnee Smith as his ex-wife pulls off a suitably fiery performance, verbally sparring with Sheen and holding her own, she’s the type of actress who seems to effortlessly have that edge to her characters, and in this she does it to good effect, though it’s obvious she still cares about her ex-husband.  Daniela Bobadilla as his daughter Sam is one of the quirkier of the characters, with her OCD giving her quite a few episodes when she’ll get herself into strange situations just as part of her daily life.
The highlight of the show though is arguably Charlie’s patients, Lacey (Noureen DeWulf), Patrick (Michael Arden), Nolan (Derek Richardson) and Ed (Barry Corbin) who display different varieties of anger that needs to be managed.  The sessions where they tell their tales of being in “control” are some of the funnier moments and I’d say for me Barry Corbin (Ed) is the stand out with his hatred of everybody in equal measure.  There are even episodes where the theme actually looks at ways for them to curtail their anger, which is a nice change.
Anger Management is a show that is enjoyably, but it does rely on Charlie Sheen which is always a risk.  It’s interesting that the show plays off the events that took place in Sheen’s life, which does include the shadow of Two and a Half Men.  It will be nice to see in the second season if the show can pull itself out of that shadow and Sheen can move on with the success, and it is believable that both he and the show can.
Charlie Sheen is in heaven. ‘Anger Management’ is the perfect show for him. He gets to walk around a set, cracking badly written jokes while a laugh-track validates them. The entire show is laden with attractive women who were probably in grade school when Sheen was doing ‘Major League.’ He gets to pretend to have a sex-filled no-strings-attached relationship with Selma Blair. And, to top it all off, the man who once pronounced “I’m different. I have a different constitution. I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man,” is playing a psychologist. One of the world’s greatest ironies I guess.
The problem – well the show has a ton of problems, but the biggest – is the fact that ‘Anger Management’ doesn’t play on the Charlie Sheen is batshit insane. It tries to make him a level-headed psychologist who happens to simply be way too addicted to females. At least one thing carried over from Charlie’s real-life shenanigans. Whenever one of his patients professes something crazy, or over-the-top, Charlie rolls his eyes, the laugh-track guffaws, and then he tries to set them straight. How much funnier would a show be about a therapist who happens to be just as crazy as Sheen is in real-life?
The show’s formula hasn’t changed from the first season. Sheen begins almost every episode gathered in his living room with his group of patients. Season two features maybe one or two semi-interesting storylines. In one episode Charlie’s father (played by his real-life father Martin Sheen) comes to visit. The gimmick is light-hearted fun for the first 10 minutes. There are a couple other episodes that focus more on the patients, which is a nice respite from chronicling Charlie’s endless female conquests. Yet again, most of the season revolves around Charlie trying to get into the pants of (extremely) younger women. Yes, it’s just as sleazy as it sounds even if there is a laugh-track trying to lighten the mood.
Anger Management is neither a bad show, nor a great one. Though there are some fairly talented people involved, the show is mediocre at best, happy to recycle the same gags repeatedly. This third volume picks things up partway through the series’ second season, but you could pick up this series at any point and not miss much. The show continues to try and find comic gold in the interactions between therapist Charlie Goodson (Sheen) and his ‘interesting’ array of patients including cantankerous old codger Ed (Barry Corbin); sexpot Lacey (Noureen DeWulf); passive Nolan (Derek Richardson), who has an unreciprocated crush on Lacey; and gay, disingenuous Patrick (Michael Arden).Since the characters haven’t been developed much beyond a surface level, generating any genuine, lasting laughs is near impossible.
Derek Richardson and Noureen DeWulf in Anger Management (2012)
This volume also has a handful of episodes continuing the “will they or won’t they” angle of Charlie’s relationship with Dr. Kate Wales (Selma Blair). It’s worth noting that Selma Blair look utterly uncomfortable in her appearances, making the storyline seem ridiculous. As many with an interest in entertainment news are aware, Blair complained that Sheen was a menace to work with…Charlie subsequently fired her, and she was soon replaced by eventually replaced by Laura Bell Bundy as Dr. Jordan Denby, a rather airheaded psychologist.
To be fair, even a mindless show like Anger Management can muster a laugh or two on occasion, and I always enjoy Martin Sheen’s appearances as Charlie’s father. By and large though, Anger Management has the feel of a show that’s put together on the fly, so as to not interfere with Charlie Sheen’s busy social schedule. A Nice addition to the series was Anna Hutchison who played a reformed hooker who Charlie falls in love, this kept my interest for the remainder of the show as she is one of my all time favorite actresses.