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: THE ORVILLE – SEASON 1

 

Starring

Seth MacFarlane (Sing)
Adrianne Palicki (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Penny Johsnon Jerald (Star Trek: DS9)
Scott Grimes (American Dad)
Peter Macon (Shameless)
Halston Sage (Goosebumps)
J. Lee (Family Guy)
Mark Jackson (The Royal Today)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Victor Garber (Legends of Tomorrow)
Chad Coleman (Arrow)
Norm Macdonald (Jack & Jill)
Larry Joe Campbell (Hall Pass)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Joel Swetow (Alice In Wonderland)
Jeffrey Tambor (Hellbnoy)
Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men)
Ron Canada (Wedding Crashers)
Deobia Oparei (Santa Clarita Diet)
Rena Owen (Siren)
Lamont Thompson (Evan Almighty)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Robert Knepper (Cult)
Liam Neeson (Chloe)
Rachael MacFarlane (American Dad)
Charlize Theron (The Road)
Kelly Hu (X-Men 2)
Michaela McManus (SEAL Team)
James Horan (Transformers Prime)
Giorgia Whigham (The Punisher)
Steven Culp (Jason Goes To Hell)
Loren Lester (Batman: TAS)
Brian Thompson (The Terminator)
Rob Lowe (Wayne’s World)
Derek Mears (The Flash)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: DS9)
Molly Hagan (Izombie)
Mike Henry (The Cleveland Show)
Erica Tazel (The Good Fight)

Scott Grimes, Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, J. Lee, and Halston Sage in The Orville (2017)When we first heard the news that Seth Macfarlane (Family Guy, Ted, A Million Ways to Die in the West) was making a comedy homage to Star Trek we thought hell yeah. It didn’t take long however before we started thinking it would just be another Family Guy-styled series with cheesy “adult” jokes, something that many people thought would be the case. Now that we’ve seen the first season, I can happily say that this is one of his finest works. It’s hilarious and pays tribute to the classic sci-fi series perfectly.Adrianne Palicki and Jasper McPherson in The Orville (2017)Seth Macfarlane plays Ed Mercer, an up and coming officer in the Planetary Union who has recently separated from his wife after finding her in bed with a blue alien. Shortly after these events, he is given a chance to prove himself after being given the Captain’s chair of The Orville, a mid-level exploratory vessel.Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki in The Orville (2017)The other members of the crew include Penny Johnson Jerald (24, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Castle) as Dr Claire Finn, Scott Grimes (ER, Band of Brothers, Critters) as Lieutenant Gordon Molloy, Peter Macon (Shameless, Dexter, Supernatural) as Lieutenant Commander Bortus and Halston Sage (How to Rock, Crisis, Paper Towns) as Lieutenant Alara Kitan.Scott Grimes, Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, and Mark Jackson in The Orville (2017)The crew is missing a first officer and the Officers of the Planetary Union chose to place Adrianne Palicki (John Wick, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Red Dawn) who plays First Officer Kelly Grayson in the role. The only problem is that she’s Captain Mercer’s ex-wife.Scott Grimes, Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, J. Lee, and Halston Sage in The Orville (2017)Whilst this sounds like your typical cheesy sit-com scenario, and it is, this is one of those rare occasions where it just works. The casting in this series is brilliant and the characters play off each other so well that every now and again you forget that this is a homage and actually start to believe that this is a new Star Trek series. The interactions between Mercer and Grayson are first class and the comedy stoic nature of Bortus is inspired. There are also several brilliant interactions between Dr Finn and her long-time admirer, a gelatinous blob named Yaphit, as he tries to seduce her at every opportunity.Adrianne Palicki in The Orville (2017)The Orville tackles some fantastic issues, worthy of any Next Generation episode. From discovering a massive ship floating In space that houses a holographic world that the inhabitants don’t realise isn’t real to getting trapped on a planet ruled by social media where everyday justice is dished out in popularity points which are displayed live on peoples clothing. The latter is probably the best episode of the series and tackles some very real subject matter involving the current state of social media, public opinion and controlled media based on distraction and frivolity and proves The Orville can be both both funny and intelligent at the same time.MV5BMWEyM2ZkYmQtOTQyMS00NjRmLTk5NzItMzYwMmU2NDUzZDg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc5Mjg0NjU@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_I can’t recommend this series enough so you should probably go now and watch it immediately. Oh, and as an added bonus it has been renewed for a second season so it won’t just be a flash in the pan one-off either, which is great news. Essentially if you love comedy and you love Sci-Fi then you can’t go wrong with The Orville!