REVIEW: DISENCHANTMENT – PART 2

Disenchantment (2018)

MAIN CAST

Abbi Jacobson (The Lego Ninjago Movie)
Nat Faxon (Life of The Paerty)
Eric Andre (2 Broke Girls)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Billy West (Futurama)
Maurice LaMarche (Team America)
Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons)
David Herman (Angel)
Matt Berry (Christopher Robin)
Jeny Batten (Discount Fitness)
Rich Fulcher (The Mighty Boosh)
Noel Fielding (The Mighty Boosh)
Lucy Montgomery (Badly Dubbed Porn)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)

MV5BMTc0MzY1ODc2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTkxMzY2._V1_When a show follows in the footsteps of not only The Simpsons, one of the greatest (and longest-running) shows of all time, and the very funny Futurama, chances are expectations can run a little high. That’s certainly the case with Matt Groening’s latest animated offering, Disenchantment, which made its streaming debut on Netflix in the fall of 2018. The series, a familiarly irreverent take on fairytale and fantasy tropes, told primarily through the lens of a very unconventional princess named Bean (Abbi Jacobson), as she discovers her place in the world isn’t to wait for Prince Charming — or whatever pig (literally) her father has arranged for her to marry — but to carve a path on her own… or at least carve a path with her friends Elfo (Nat Faxon) and the demonic Luci (Eric André).1babdae0-bf05-11e9-a4b9-7fc396b153ea_800_420Season 1 (or Part 1) was largely concerned with fleshing out the world Bean and the other characters inhabited, particularly the kingdom of Dreamland, which she would one day rule, so long as her father, King Zøg (John DiMaggio) didn’t completely destroy it beforehand. But it was also preoccupied with the opportunity to toy with common fairytale constructs, usually turning them on their ear or poking fun at them as a demonstration of the show’s self-awareness. It worked, to an extent. Disenchantment was often capable of producing a chuckle and its three core characters — Bean, Elfo, and Luci — were an interesting enough combo, but still, something was missing.disenchantment-part-2-netflixLike most TV comedies, Disenchantment’s writers needed time to figure out what sort of comedy it was, and to get a better feel of their characters and setting before the show could truly come into its own. While there’s still some room to grow, Disenchantment Part 2 takes a considerable step forward in terms of storytelling, plotting, character development, and, above all, being laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, most viewers’ mileage may vary, but from the start, Part 2 just feels more confident in its presentation, practically from the top down. That confidence began building late in Part 1, when the story took on a more serialized nature, building on Bean’s past, her connection to her absent mother, and the fateful decision she made that not only brought Queen Dagmar (Sharon Horgan) back, but resulted in Elfo’s death and caused the population of Dreamland (minus King Zøg) to be turned to stone. Though that kind of forward momentum late in the game made the series’s early episodes look too much like unnecessary preamble, it nevertheless afforded the writers a perfect jumping off point for Part 2.disenchantment-part-2-netflixThe effect is essentially twofold: Bean is tasked not only with finding a way to bring Elfo back to the land of the living, but to also learn of her mother’s nefarious true intentions, by means of Bean’s creepy aunt and uncle in what plays a bit like a low-key spoof on Dany’s misadventures in Meereen in Game of Thrones. The circumstances are simple enough — at least for an animated comedy about a fantasy world — but they do something far more important than simply offering a sense of progression and conflict: they get Bean out of Dreamland and plop her in a series of situations where she’s no longer lamenting her life as a princess in a patriarchal society, but actively setting the course of the story and impacting the lives of her companions.FEWFWEFWith the newfound energy and sense of direction, everything in Disenchantment seems to fall into place — or, at least get closer to doing so. The series’ many jokes, pop culture references, and snarky asides are a more believable product of the character’s conversation at hand, making them feel less forced or Family Guy-like. The humor, then, becomes less a distraction and a more integral part of what makes the show work. As such, the writers are able to layer more jokes and references on top of one another without stopping to point them out. It’s still nowhere near the level of what The Simpsons was able to accomplish in its heyday, but for those in the market for a close approximation, Disenchantment will do in a pinch.UntitledAnother upside is that Disenchantment is much more bingeable in Part 2, as the easy progression and rhythms of the series’ storytelling are much more in synch with the Netflix all-at-once streaming model. It’s not just Bean who benefits either, as Elfo, Luci, and Zøg all get more significant storylines that not only rounds out their characters a bit more, but help push the overarching story along in a more satisfying way. In other words, Disenchantment Part 2 is an impressive improvement built upon the somewhat shaky foundation of Part 1, and it puts the descendent of The Simpsons and Futurama in league with some of the best adult animation available on Netflix right now.

REVIEW: DISENCHANTMENT – PART 1

Disenchantment (2018)

MAIN CAST

Abbi Jacobson (The Lego Ninjago Movie)
Nat Faxon (Life of The Paerty)
Eric Andre (2 Broke Girls)

Nat Faxon, Eric André, and Abbi Jacobson in Disenchantment (2018)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Billy West (Futurama)
Maurice LaMarche (Team America)
Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons)
David Herman (Angel)
Matt Berry (Christopher Robin)
Jeny Batten (Discount Fitness)
Rich Fulcher (The Mighty Boosh)
Noel Fielding (The Mighty Boosh)
Lucy Montgomery (Badly Dubbed Porn)
Lauren Tom (Futurama)

In the canon of shows created by Matt Groening, Netflix’s Disenchantment is markedly closer to Futurama than The Simpsons. Developed by Groening and golden age Simpsons showrunner Josh Weinstein, this foray into a medieval fantasy world starts small on a big canvas, then starts to paint outwards. Although it quickly develops into an ensemble sitcom, this approach starts with a more straightforward protagonist. As the first daughter of the financially embattled kingdom of Dreamland, Princess Bean (voiced by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) is a single young woman who longs for some individual freedom outside of her landed status.But like Homer Simpson and Bender B. Rodriguez before her, she’s more interested in having a drink and a good time than singing to animals like other fantasy princesses. Much to the chagrin of her dad, King Zøg (John DiMaggio at his most John DiMag-nificent), Bean spends her days tooling around the kingdom and getting into misadventures with her elf friend Elfo (Nat Faxon) and her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre).4E7C158100000578-0-image-a-7_1532261217715The first season of ten episodes landed on Netflix. Unlike Groening’s previous shows, Disenchantment is lightly serialised, with more plot elements recurring across episodes than his usual network sitcom mode of restoring the status quo at the end of the half-hour. The extra-long first episode, A Princess, An Elf And A Demon Walk Into A Bar, ends on a cliffhanger that’s picked up in the following episode, but it appears as if the continuing story elements wax and wane throughout the run.disenchantment-netflix-escape-from-dreamland-excl-globalFunnily enough, the show is immediately better when it hews closer to the running time of a Netflix show. If this were going out on a traditional network, it could be even tighter, but the marked uptick in comedy from the first episode to the second is in part due to it being ten minutes shorter. Creative freedom is great and all, but like BoJack Horseman and Kimmy Schmidt before it, this shows why a quicker running time is generally a better thing for TV comedy. The other issue that Disenchantment has to overcome early on is finding a unique selling point. From Monty Python to Shrek, plenty of other creators have ploughed the fantasy-comedy trough before now, so it takes a couple of episodes for the show to find its groove.Disenchantment-photo-screenshot-600x361This is positioned as “Simpsons meets Game Of Thrones” and you can definitely see the influence of the latter show. In the first seven episodes alone, there are marriages, incestuous ruling couples, bloody coups, murderous plots, and more. Dreamland’s castle even has a handy Moon Door like the one at the Eyrie, which plays in much the same way as the trapdoor in Mr Burns’ office. Groening and Weinstein also push past their network constraints with some more violent slapstick than we’re used to seeing from their shows, even in the bloodiest Itchy & Scratchy shorts. We get a taste of this in the very first episode when Elfo leaves his happy woodland realm for the first time and learns about war by crossing the battlefield of an epic clash between gnomes and ogres, and over the following episodes, there are a number of laugh-out-loud climactic sight gags to enjoy.disenchantmentWhile the show sometimes leans a little hard on this, its most endearing quality is that it never gets overpowered by any of the weaker stuff, because it always has so much going on per episode. In the strongest, best-plotted episode of this run, Bean starts out attempting to find a job and contribute to society but winds up in the Dreamland equivalent of a slasher movie riff, which also crosses into the territory of Get Out, Indiana Jones, and a well-known Grimm fairy tale. Theshow is certainly more polished than Groenings other shows were at their outset, but it’s doomed to suffer from being compared directly to either of them. It’s not as consistently funny all the time, but it hits the ground running and its characters and style are more than entertaining enough to get us interested in further adventures.

REVIEW: UNDONE – SEASON 1

Undone (2019)

Staring

Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Angelique Cabral (Friends With Benefits)
Constance Marie (Switched at Birth)
Daveed Diggs (Zootopia)
Siddharth Dhananjay (A Name Without A Place)

Prayers And Visions (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Nicholas Gonzalez (Sleepy Hollow)
Tyler Posey (Truth or Dare)
Jeanne Tripplehorn (The Firm)
John Corbett (The Silence)
Percy Daggs III (Veronica Mars)
Keiko Agena (13 Reasons Why)

Undone (2019)One of the first things you see in “Undone” is a car crash. One of the last things you see, in the pilot at least, is a car crash. One of the things you see the most over five episodes of Season 1 — in a myriad of different ways, interrupting various other moments — is this same exact car crash, where Alma (Rosa Salazar) gets T-boned after running a stop sign because she sees… something… on the side of the road. That “something” holds great meaning to the central mystery, but, as it first appears in the show, it’s just a few brush strokes on the giant canvas that is “Undone”; it’s an important part, but also a means to the bigger picture — and I’m not just talking about the show’s groundbreaking format.undone_UNDONE_102_SG_016_rgb“Undone,” the new half-hour original program from creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg (both of whom work on Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman”), is the first serialized TV show made with rotoscope animation. Rotoscoping is a process where artists trace over images that have already been captured, alter that footage with original artwork, or find a way to do both at once — you’ve seen it before in films like “A Scanner Darkly,” and the same team who made Richard Linklater’s 2006 film helped animate “Undone,” as well. The visuals, which are breathtaking in and of themselves, also compliment the series’ wide-ranging ambition, from the genres it smashes together to the themes of its core story. Together, the animation and the writing compliment each other to form a unique new form of television; one that’s easy to get caught up in, even when it stumbles a bit while explaining itself. “Undone” is a fascinating project to examine, but it’s also a very good, very human story, sans the flashy packaging.undone_UNDONE_102_SG_025_rgb.0Leading up to the crash, Alma’s life is presented as mundane to the point of frustrating. She’s stuck in a rut, bouncing between her routine job at a daycare center and a quiet life at home with her live-in boyfriend, Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay). Further exacerbating Alma’s discontent is her all-too-normal sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral) and all-too-traditional mother, Camila (Constance Marie). Becca is recently engaged, which serves as a) a reminder for Alma that her best friend and drinking buddy will soon be domesticated, b) a trigger for Camila, who’s hoping Alma will soon follow in her sister’s footsteps, and c) a trigger for Alma, who needs a change and doesn’t know exactly where to look.undone-amazonThese conflicts heat to a boil over the course of an engrossing debut episode, leading to the aforementioned car crash and a twist on the narrative only hinted at in the initial half-hour. Ostensibly, “Undone” revolves around one question: What happened to Alma’s father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk)? He died in a car crash when Alma was an adolescent, but he resurfaces after Alma’s own accident to ask for her help. Is he a hallucination? A symptom of brain trauma? A time-traveling pseudo-spirit trying to help his daughter from behind the grave?undone-amazon-series-images-13-600x338From Episode 2 onward, “Undone” focuses on training and practice, as Jacob urges Alma to tap into a mysterious ability he claims to have mastered: the power to travel through space and time, altering timelines along the way. Perhaps she can save his life. Perhaps she can save her own. Or, by indulging in her visions, perhaps Alma is ruining the life she’s already built — are her choices self-healing or self-destructive? Is she burning down everything and everyone around her because she’s fed up with a banal existence, or is she actively addressing her mental illness in order to save those very same things?This kind of confusion should be deeply relatable to anyone who’s taken risks, broken the status quo, or made difficult life decisions. It’s often hard to know you’re doing the right thing as it’s happening, and “Undone” brings that confusion to beautiful, convincing life through its animation. As Alma tries to sort out one issue, others come crashing through — literally. She might be sitting in a hospital bed, but then she’s suddenly transported behind the wheel of her car. Or she’s having a fight with her sister, and the sky comes crashing down around them, sending Alma adrift into the cosmos.undone-undone_102_sg_018_rgb-h_2019_0Purdy, Bob-Waksberg, and director Hisko Hulsing (“Montage of Heck”) find more and more inventive ways to transition between scenes, emotions, and stories as the series progresses, creating a wild atmosphere always grounded in Alma’s perspective. The format helps you see things as she experiences them as much as it helps you feel what she’s going through, but the creative team takes things one step further and realigns the series’ structure, too. After starting off with a pretty traditional pilot (introducing characters, a central problem, and an intriguing mystery), the following episodes have atypical start and end points, fluctuating narrative arcs, and sudden shifts in focus.undone-s01e07-720p-web-h264-phenomenal-largeA lot of that is acknowledged in the storytelling itself, as Alma will comment on the abrupt departure from one topic to another, sometimes steering us back to the original point. In a weird way, it’s like an action movie — except the fights or chase scenes that break up the emotional story are thought experiments or time travel, and Alma can decide for herself if she wants to run with it or go back to what she was doing before being interrupted. This creates a feeling of drifting between stories as much as it blends them together; there’s a murder-mystery, a personal journey of self-fulfillment, and existential queries about what makes a person who they are, all incorporated into 30-minute episodes. Like Alma losing her tether to reality, “Undone” loses momentum while it’s wrestling to work through so much (not to mention while trying to explain itself, which mainly works because of Odenkirk’s dulcet professorial voice).Undone-comic-con-700x300Odenkirk, who also produces, is the show’s beating heart. His mysterious father figure pokes and prods his daughter into action, as Odenkirk creates an endearing, self-aware know-it-all; a guy who has all the answers, dispenses them as he best sees fit, and yet does so in a way that feels earnest. (Odenkirk shows a particular talent for delivering lines like “try, but don’t try try,” making them believably helpful without feeling condescending.) Meanwhile, Salazar carries the entirety of Alma’s crazy journey with a deft touch and quick wit. She’s a grounding rod and a spark of energy, turning exposition into entertainment without betraying the import of the situation. Salazar taps into Alma on every level, and the lived-in performance helps keep the sci-fi story from feeling too out there.undone-undone_102_sg_018_rgb-h_2019_0In  case it’s not obvious from the above descriptions, the animation takes nothing away from these immaculate performances. Each actor shines through just as they would in live-action and deserve accolades accordingly. Every level of “Undone” compliments another, which encourages belief that the ending of the series will be as strong as the start. With three episodes left in the first season, much of “Undone’s” commentary on mental illness has yet to fully form, but given the way Purdy and Bob-Waksberg tied similar themes together in “BoJack Horseman” (like the Season 4 masterpiece, “Time’s Arrow,” written by Purdy), it feels like those answers are coming. For now, there’s enough to admire in the way their new series plays with time to blend significant people with significant events, while allowing its characters to reassess both by taking control of their temporal reality — in doing so, the experimental new series finds significance itself.

REVIEW: CAPRICA – PART 2

 

Starring

Eric Stoltz (The Butterfly Effect)
Esai Morales (Titans)
Paula Malcomson (The Hunger Games)
Alessandra Torresani (The Big Bang Theory)
Magda Apanowicz (You)
Sasha Roiz (Grimm)
Brian Markinson (Sanctuary)
Polly Walker (Pennyworth)

Caprica (2009)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Kendall Cross (X-Men 2)
Peter Wingfield (Highlander: The Series)
Andrew Airlie (Fifty Shades of Grey)
Hiro Kanagawa (Izombie)
Panou (Flash Gordon)
Zak Santiago (Shooter)
Bridget Hoffman (Darkman)
Scott Porter (Speed Racer)
John Pyper-Ferguson (The Last Ship)
Anita Torrance (Smallville)
Genevieve Buechner (The Final Cut)
Ben Cotton (Stargate: Atlantis)
Teryl Rothery (Stargate SG.1)
Patton Oswalt (Veronica Mars)
Ryan Kennedy (Smallville)
Christopher Heyerdahl (Van Helsing)
Calum Worthy (American Vandal)
Tom McBeath (Stargate SG.1)
Aleks Paunovic (Van Helsing)
Elisabeth Rosen (Cult of Chucky)
Sina Najafi (Stargate SG.1)
Carmen Moore (Flash Gordon)
Mike Dopud (Arrow)

Esai Morales in Caprica (2009)Nothing would’ve made me happier than to deem Syfy’s decision to cancel Caprica a grave and unwarranted one, but that’s something which simply can’t happen. Bear with me now, because there’s a reason for saying this. As a defender of the series when it was on the brink of cancellation, there’s no joy in stating that it’s easy to see why Ron Moore and David Eick’s offshoot from Battlestar Galactica received the axe when it did. Though far from faultless, the first half of the series established a fine foundation for a world rife for exploration: the mechanics of a society that would ultimately create a sentient lifeform, robots which would rebel and eventually annihilate most of the human race. But concept’s only part of the journey, and Caprica saw tonal and storytelling issues that shaped it into a rough, erratic exploration of those ideas, reaching an especially stagnant point at the beginning of this second half. It’s a shame, then, that the writers and producers finally discover their rhythm in the last five-and-a-half episodes, as it truly becomes the series I had hoped it’d become.Paula Malcomson in Caprica (2009)The story revolves around the polytheistic, technologically-advanced colony of Caprica roughly sixty years before “the downfall”, focusing on the conflict between, and within, two families: The Graystones, and the Adamas. Lawyer Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) lives a somewhat normal life with his wife and two children, Tamara and Billy, attempting to juggle his high-profile stature in the legal realm with his domestic life. He fights a bit with keeping himself as distanced as he can from his unsavory lineage, the Tauron mob Ha’la’tha, though it’s hard since the organization funded his education and requires his services regularly — usually by messages delivered through his brother, Sam (Sasha Roiz). BSG devotees with get a jolt in seeing the blossoming of young “Billy” in this environment early on, watching the growth of the semi-troubled youth that’d transform into the disquieting, powerful Galactica commander Bill Adama.Magda Apanowicz in Caprica (2009)Caprica’s central draw, however, is the Graystones. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) heads a tech development firm working on a mechanized super-soldier that’s just not cutting the mustard, all the while generating profit (60% of net, to be exact) with virtual reality headsets — holobands — that connect to a network of fully-interactive, realistic digital worlds. Graystone’s seemingly safe digital construct quickly broke down into a laissez-faire underground, filled with hacked sections that exploit sex, drug-use, and violence. Daniel’s daughter, a silver-tongued high-school student named Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) who battles with her mother Amanda (Paula Malcomson) over authority, frequents the holoband V-Club with boyfriend Ben (Avan Jogia) and timid best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz), yet they’re beyond the carnal satisfaction that the place has to offer. Instead, they’ve found purpose in monotheistic religious belief within an activist organization, the Soldiers of The One (STO), and, in the process, created an exact digital copy of Zoe who will somehow aid the resistance.Eric Stoltz and Paula Malcomson in Caprica (2009)Caprica utilized a cliffhanger episode at the end of the first half of the season, one that leaves the mortality of several characters up in the air. It’s uncertain whether the depression-driven grief that Amanda’s been going through truly led her to suicide; similarly, we’re unsure if the full-throttle abrasiveness that Zoe was enacting inside the U-87 Cylon body destroyed her at the end. Then, Syfy opted to go on a very lengthy mid-season break (read: they shelved the episodes), leaving curious minds in the dark for roughly seven months and, effectively, knocking the wind out of Caprica. Already, the series wasn’t on the strongest of legs; as mentioned before, it establishes a fine world that explores the emotions coursing through decisions to either reject or embrace digital memories of loved ones, while also giving some deep-rooted glimpses into the underpinnings of Moore and Eick’s Emmy-winning Battlestar Galactica. Yet it wasn’t all gelling together as of yet, only improving as the series went along but ultimately lacking the joie du vivre that pumped its inspiration forward.Eric Stoltz in Caprica (2009)Therefore, when Caprica’s second half starts off sluggish and overbearingly dour, it’s almost like a death toll. Let’s be perfectly honest here: the first three installments following a seven-month hiatus end up being misfired glut, something the series couldn’t withstand at that point. Starting with a jump-forward in time that echoes the end of Battlestar Galactica’s second season, it throws the story in a pit of depression, despair, and cutthroat politics surrounding Daniel that bloats beyond its boundaries. When the Ha’la’tha use killing one’s mother — someone unassociated with the crime syndicate — as a sign of loyalty, when the STO enact murderous power moves over their religious heads, or when Zoe’s avatar is bludgeoned to near-death for simply looking like the STO terrorist she’s perceived to be, the tone gets molasses-level thick and fairly objectionable. It’s as if Moore and Eick are overcompensating so their audience knows they’re not pulling any punches, while the output they produce leans toward ham-handed and hard-faced discomfort — and extremely awkward in “Things We Lock Away”, a sloppily glued-together hodgepodge of poorly-orchestrated arena brawls in New Cap City and intent Lacy/STO development.Esai Morales in Caprica (2009)None of Caprica’s issues root in the performances, however, or the production design. From the ground up, Moore and Eick continue the shrewdly-cast and stylish thrust of science-fiction with a fine vein of suspense, capturing the city’s expanses with a unique blend of metropolitan polish, futuristic gris-gris, and slick ’50s-esque allure. Locations like the Graystone mansion sport angular windows and a glaring pour of cold light, while the Adama household encapsulates a warm yet dark demeanor. These fitting aesthetic touches cradle some exceptional dramatic performances, including Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales whom have come into their own as tried-and-true denizens of Caprica. The same can be said for Magda Apanowicz as Lacy, who takes the complications surrounding a semi-innocent girl lost in the world of terrorism and runs with them with stalwart momentum. Lacy’s role, which gets sloshed around in the first half of the season, begins to grow more focused as she embeds further into the STO (and learns of her affinity with post-Zoe Cylons). The faces of Caprica are what keep the series afloat, both during the well-executed and bungled stretches in the show.Still from CapricaReally, the issues hinge on a general question: “What’s the driving force behind Caprica?” At first, the series closed in on the machinations of the Cylon origins, as well as exploring monotheism vs. polytheism, the benefits and hindrances of an abandon-free V-World, and the reluctance for people to let go of those whom have died. Upon the second half of Caprica, all that’s somewhat switched out for direct drama involving the robots’ “creator”, as well as concentration on the gangster Adama network and the blossoming of the terrorist organization as idealists — which, by the way, the STO material’s fairly bland and oddly-executed during that stretch. In essence, it starts to go down a fairly generic path of aggressive human drama, leaving the intrigue behind Zoe’s presence somewhat alone for a two-hour burst. It’s pretty clear that the minds behind the show tinkered with some new (and time-weathered) ideas to try and wrangle together a new audience. And it didn’t really pan out as such.Caprica with Eric StoltzFortunately, the creative team seems to have had an inclination towards this. Starting with “False Labor”, Caprica begins to see an awakening, as if they both discover where their weaknesses lie and resurrect the spirit of Battlestar Galactica — which carries over in “Blowback”, marking the first of five episodes that Syfy shelved around the time of cancellation. In this episode, Daniel attempts to recreate Zoe’s “resurrection” software, while in the process using an avatar of Amanda as a basis for comparison. Since he knows all the mannerisms and minutiae of his wife, he’s able to determine exactly how human or inhuman she’s acting, and the content that unfolds as he dissects this digital Amanda can be both penetrating and emotionally stirring. On top of that, Lacy gets her first hearty taste of the STO’s domineering, contentious presence, while meeting other “recruits” similar to her. Moreover, it rediscovers its tonality; difficult drama remains, but the way it’s handled regains the excitement of its inspiration. In short, it gets good. Really, really good.With Syfy cancelling the show and five episodes still left to run, the big question likely will be: “Does it get a proper, strong conclusion?” Piggybacking off the regained proficiency that it rediscovers in “Blowback”, Caprica sprints through the remaining episodes as if it knows that the end’s coming, losing its abandon in a furious, gripping rush that certainly echoes to Battlestar Galactica’s aptitude in 11th-hour intensity. It hits the accelerator and really doesn’t stop until an unquestionably finite conclusion, bringing together Daniel’s hunt for Zoe’s avatar in V-World and the unsavory connections between Graystone Industries and the Tauron mob to a very fine, robust head. Moreover, the content surrounding Lacy’s presence in the STO finally reaches a meaningful point, instead of evoking the sensation that it’s a time-killing subplot like it did at first. But, much like the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica, it also ditches some sensibility in lieu of excitement, breaking some of its own rules and established character mannerisms just to find a definite close. When it all melts together, though, it’ll be worth gritting one’s teeth through a few questionable moments.Those who’ve watched Caprica and cashed in their chips owe it to themselves to check out the tense follow-through, with the knowledge that the tone’s anything but consistent. There’s only a handful of great moments scattered within; however, there are assuredly some really great moments, ones that ensnare the type of essence I’d hoped would resonate in a depiction of the pre-Cylon world. In the middle of that, along with blatant reflection on the current climate of terrorism, it also provokes thought about the extents that some might go to preserve the memories and essence of those they love, and whether the recreation of an individual would push the boundaries of their belief structure. Caprica’s an intelligent show at its core, one with a complex network of emotion buttons that simply never properly learned how and when to push them. What’s a shame is that the show reveals a few glimmers at the end that suggest it might’ve found out how, ones that likely hadn’t even been seen by those that made the decision to power down this tale of the pre-war Cylon race.

REVIEW: CAPRICA – PART 1

Starring

Eric Stoltz (The Butterfly Effect)
Esai Morales (Titans)
Paula Malcomson (The Hunger Games)
Alessandra Torresani (The Big Bang Theory)
Magda Apanowicz (You)
Sasha Roiz (Grimm)
Brian Markinson (Sanctuary)
Polly Walker (Pennyworth)Eric Stoltz and Paula Malcomson in Caprica (2009)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

William B. Davis (The X-FIles)
Sina Najafi (Stargate SG.1)
Hiro Kanagawa (Izombie)
Genevieve Buechner (The Final Cut)
Anna Galvin (Unspeakable)
Karen Elizabeth Austin (The Eye)
Scott Porter (Speed Racer)
Avan Jogia (Shaft)
Françoise Yip (The Predator)
Anita Torrance (Smallville)
James Pizzinato (Godzilla)
Michael Eklund (Bates Motel)
Patton Oswalt (Veronica Mars)
Kendall Cross (X-Men 2)
Peter Wingfield (Highlander: The Series)
Luciana Carro (Helix)
Teryl Rothery (Stargate SG.1)
Alex Arsenault (Tucker and Dale vs Evil)
Panou (Flash Gordon)
Eve Harlow (Bitten)
James Marsters (Buffy: TVS)
John Pyper-Ferguson (The Last Ship)
Leah Gibson (Jessica Jones)
Richard Harmon (The 100)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)
Jill Teed (Battlestar Galactica)
Zak Santiago (Shooter)
Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary)
Kacey Rohl (Hannibal)

 

Paula Malcomson in Caprica (2009)Creators Ronald Moore and David Eick relied on three key components for their hit SyFy series, Battlestar Galactica, to stay fresh and compelling for as long as it did: complex ideas behind evolved sentient lifeforms, religious parables, and the fondness for the characters’ home worlds — especially that of Caprica. The characters all look back at their previous lives almost as ghosts; Admiral Bill Adama painfully drudges up memories of his ex-wife and lawyer father, while Kara “Starbuck” Thrace carries memories of her small, ramshackle apartment and Samuel Anders yearns for the thrill of a sports stadium. Seems like such a rich mythos created just to be the ruminants of a past life, doesn’t it? The Moore-Eick team also sees this potential, now capitalizing on the gap left by Battlestar Galactica’s end to create the appropriately-titled Caprica. Though it moves slowly at first while constructing an involved narrative framework in its predecessor’s shadow, this mythos-rich offshoot eventually finds the footing needed to fall in-line with the original series’ current of storytelling.Patton Oswalt in Caprica (2009)The story revolves around the polytheistic, technologically-advanced colony of Caprica roughly sixty years before “the downfall”, focusing on the conflict between, and within, two families: The Graystones, and the Adamas Adams. Lawyer Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) lives a somewhat normal life with his wife and two children, Tamara and Billy, attempting to juggle his high-profile stature in the legal realm with his domestic life. He fights a bit with keeping himself as distanced as he can from his unsavory lineage, the Tauron mob Ha’la’tha, though it’s hard since the organization funded his education and requires his services regularly — usually by messages delivered through his brother, Sam (Sasha Roiz). BSG devotees with get a jolt in seeing the blossoming of young “Billy” in this environment early on, watching the growth of the semi-troubled youth that’d transform into the disquieting, powerful Galactica commander Bill Adama.Hiro Kanagawa in Caprica (2009)Caprica’s central draw, however, is the Graystones. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) heads a tech development firm working on a mechanized super-soldier that’s just not cutting the mustard, all the while generating profit (60% of net, to be exact) with virtual reality headsets — holobands — that connect to a network of fully-interactive, realistic digital worlds. Graystone’s seemingly safe digital construct quickly broke down into a laissez-faire underground, filled with hacked sections that exploit sex, drug-use, and violence. Daniel’s daughter, a silver-tongued high-school student named Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) who battles with her mother Amanda (Paula Malcomson) over authority, frequents the holoband V-Club with boyfriend Ben (Avan Jogia) and timid best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz), yet they’re beyond the carnal satisfaction that the place has to offer. Instead, they’ve found purpose in monotheistic religious belief within an activist organization, the Soldiers of The One (STO), and, in the process, created an exact digital copy of Zoe who will somehow aid the resistance.Alessandra Torresani in Caprica (2009)Observant fans will see where Caprica’s going with the duplicate Zoe, coming together in an introductory pilot that realizes the germ of an idea behind the genesis of the Cylon race, but it certainly doesn’t leave newcomers in the cold. Moore and Eick, with this freshness in mind, go in a startling direction with the content surrounding the Cylon conception; a murderous STO-related terrorist attack on a train rattles the city of Caprica, leaving the Graystones without their daughter and Joseph with only his son, Billy. The grief they endure becomes a convincing dramatic catalyst for what’s to come, breaking a floodgate for aggressive decision-making regarding family memories and Daniel’s technological advancement — with the idea of an exact digital replication of both mind and memory, such as the avatar of Zoe that lingers after her death, propelling it forward. It’s a thought-provoking launch that tackles some rather challenging concepts, including that of the human psyche as raw data and the extent that open-minded intellectuals might go to preserve those they’ve lost. And, of course, the narcissistic power behind potential immortality.Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales in Caprica (2009)Upon the second episode, “Rebirth”, one fact becomes very clear: Caprica isn’t cut from the same cloth as its inspiration, instead existing as a compelling new creation with its own hurdles to cross. In retrospect, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica painlessly continued the momentum from its original two-part miniseries, thrusting forward with space warfare and political components into the dazzling episode “33”. With Caprica, a shrewd character-driven thriller with complexity surrounding terrorism and family grief, the carry-over isn’t as easy. Thankfully, the Moore-Eick team never shies away, hitting the gas with some rather incisive writing as they drive deeper into Caprica’s unraveling and the Graystone company’s waning success in the wake of the terrorist attack. Along the way, they also grapple with themes of Tauron racism (“dirt eaters”) and religious extremism through the STO and one of its leaders, Zoe’s teacher Sister Clarice (Polly Walker), that correlate to actual issues, while also cleverly using the concept of a digital underground — especially in the anarchistic “New Cap City” game simulation, a mix of World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto — as a way of escape and purpose-finding.Esai Morales and Sasha Roiz in Caprica (2009)Yet as Caprica focuses on these modern analogous ideas while its characters develop into a mixture of morally desolate entities, the first batch of six or so episodes move at a deliberate, slow-burning tempo that shifts between intrigue and sluggishness. The harsh chemistry between Daniel and Joseph as scorned parents electrifies, driven by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales in two stark, authentic performances, and the pacing focuses on the causal events that unfold around their family-affecting decisions. But focusing on this calculated slow-burn can, at times, temper the series’ manner and cause the multiple plot threads to stray from the course, weaving intuitive dramatic performances around a lot of existential meditation and shots of neo-religious content without the right energy to propel it forward. I still find it compelling; the depth of Daniel’s egotism reaches a genuine depth that’s unexpected, while offering a cluster of explosive moments — such as the board meeting in “There is Another Sky” that actually starts the Cylon race — spliced within the persistent, astute drama.Polly Walker and Magda Apanowicz in Caprica (2009)Then, as Caprica approaches “Ghosts in the Machine” and the mid-season finale “End of Line”, the gradual tension sees a much-needed outburst. These prior episodes extend into what’s essentially a rather lengthy fuse leading to this batch of dynamite, using brewing family turmoil and growing suspicions into an emotionally-taxing, brilliantly-realized culmination point. “Ghosts in the Machine” plays with the intensity of psychological torment in a staggering rush of emotion, while “End of Life” finds the first episode of the series to use the familiar “__ Hours Before” time mechanic frequently used in Battlestar Galactica. Quite simply, the build-up becomes worth the time at this point, igniting the series with the narrative outbreak it desperately lacked to become fully involving. Whether Caprica can maintain this momentum still remains to be seen, but the succession of these explosive developments that derive from subtly-evolving plot points — Amanda’s weakening sanity, Daniel’s obsession with meeting the development deadline, and the presence of the STO as violent radicals — satisfies with evocative, edge-of-your-seat chills at this midpoint, finally achieving that addictive science-fiction adrenaline that hallmarked its predecessor.

 

REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004) – SEASON 4 (PART 2)

Starring

Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner)
Mary McDonnell (Donnie Darko)
Katee Sackhoff (Riddick)
Jamie Bamber (Marcella)
James Callis (Flashforward)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0)
Michael Hogan (Red Riding Hood)
Aaron Douglas (Chaos)
Tahmoh Penikett (Dollhouse)
Kandyse McClure (Mother’s Day)
Alessandro Juliani (Smallville)

Michael Hogan and Tricia Helfer in Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Callum Keith Rennie (Impulse)
Rekha Sharma (V)
Kate Vernon (Heores)
Jen Halley (Red Riding Hood)
Don Thompson (Slither)
Sonja Bennett (The Fog)
Richard Hatch (InAlienable)
Donnelly Rhodes (Legends of Tomorrow)
Keegan Connor Tracy (Bates Motel)
Bodie Olmos (Walkout)
Sebastian Spence (First Wave)
Mike Dopud (Arrow)
Ty Olsson (War For The POTA)
Leah Cairns (Interstellar)
Colin Lawrence (Watchmen)
Vincent Gale (Bates Motel)
Craig Veroni (Dark Angel)
Mark Sheppard (Doom Patrol)
Michael Trucco (Sabrina: TTW)
Adrian Holmes (Skyscraper)
Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap)
Roark Critchlow (V)
G. Patrick Currie (Stargate SG.1)
Torrance Coombs (Reign)
Leela Savasta (Stargate Atlantis)
Rick Worthy (The Vampire Diaries)
Tobias Mehler (Young BLades)
Kevin McNulty (Elektra)
Sarah Deakins (Andromeda)
Tiffany Lyndall-Knight (I, Robot)

 

Wrapping up a beloved TV series with an enormous cult following is no easy task. Sci-Fi devotees like me can be tough to please since we’re deeply invested in the characters and the final trajectories their lives take. Fortunately, thanks to the Gods (plus executive producers David Eick, Ronald D. Moore, and a top-notch cadre of actors, writers, directors, and production staff), ardent followers of the outstanding series, Battlestar Galactica, are provided satisfying closure with the must-see release of Season 4.5.
Based on the original series, created by Glen Larson and first aired in 1978, the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (abbreviated as BSG or Galactica) began as a three-hour miniseries in 2003 and ran for four seasons ending in 2009. Its premise: a civilization of humans, who inhabit the Twelve Colonies, develop a cybernetic race (Cylons) to serve as workers and soldiers. The Cylons, who become sentient and monotheistic, eventually rebel, opening a can of nuclear-style whoop-ass on their sinful creators. With billions of people annihilated, the remaining 50,000 or so survivors are on the run, led by the last remaining warship, the battlestar Galactica. Humanity’s hope is to reach the fabled Thirteenth Colony (Earth) before the Cylons wipe them out.Jamie Bamber and Aaron Douglas in Battlestar Galactica (2004)In Season 4.5, the wounds of New Caprica (a would-be refuge overrun by the Cylons at the end of Season 2) fester among humans and Cylons alike. Trust and betrayal take center stage for both sides as new, tenuous alliances are formed and mutinous elements take hold. As with previous seasons, it’s evident that Larson’s Mormon beliefs, the post-9/11 War on Terror, and Moore’s agnostic, humanist views influence Season 4.5’s, context, characters, and events. The result is thought-provoking stories that make this sometimes passive viewer sit up, take notice, and consider how the show’s religious, political, and ethical issues are critically relevant today. For folks who prefer not to delve too deeply into the storytelling – no worries. The visuals (both actual and CGI) are frakkin’ amazing. The menacing, mechanical, chrome Cylons send shivers up my spine and several of the human-looking, “skin-jobs” are, well… really HOT! Throw in some heart-stopping CGI space battles and its hands down the best looking show I’ve ever seen.Not to be outdone by the special effects are the stellar performances. Edward James Olmos (Galactica’s Commander William Adama) and Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), both 2009 Saturn Award winners, are outstanding in their respective roles as strong but flawed leaders who support and deeply love one another. With all the May – December romances depicted in film and television, it’s refreshing to see a strong, yet tender relationship between age/power-equivalent adults over 50. Katee Sackhoff (Captain Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace) is terrific as the hot-headed, ace viper-pilot who’s grappling with her past familial dysfunction and current romantic and identity crises. Sackhoff effectively and realistically balances the opposing sides to her character: the confident feminist action heroine and the abandoned, damaged woman. Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama), James Callis (Dr. Gaius Baltar), and Tricia Helfer (Number Six) all give remarkable performances as well. Also, since the series was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was pleasantly surprised to see other standout Canadian actors added to the Season 4.5 cast; especially Darcie Laurie (who played the chief lieutenant and down-to-earth henchman Bob in the series Intelligence).Battlestar Galactica expertly tells the tales of complex, flawed characters; however, Season 4.5 is not without its own faults. For example, I found the flashbacks in the two-part series finale, “Daybreak” to be needlessly slow and irrelevant in advancing the plot. The purpose might have been to further round-out the characters, but the few added details given are misplaced at a time when viewers are seeking answers to larger questions. In addition, some may be frustrated that Season 4.5 doesn’t solve all of BSG’s mysteries. But life rarely reveals all its secrets, and the closure that’s provided will likely be sufficiently satisfying to most.

 

REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004) – SEASON 4 (PART 1)

Starring

Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner)
Mary McDonnell (Donnie Darko)
Katee Sackhoff (Riddick)
Jamie Bamber (Marcella)
James Callis (Flashforward)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0)
Michael Hogan (Red Riding Hood)
Aaron Douglas (Chaos)
Nicki Clyne (Saved!)
Tahmoh Penikett (Dollhouse)
Kandyse McClure (Mother’s Day)
Alessandro Juliani (Smallville)

Aaron Douglas, Grace Park, and Michael Trucco in Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Rekha Sharma (V)
Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary)
Keegan Connor Tracy (Bates Motel)
Leah Cairns (Interstellar)
Jen Halley (Red Riding Hood)
Leela Savasta (Stargate Atlantis)
Callum Keith Rennie (Impulse)
Rick Worthy (The Vampire Diaries)
Matthew Bennett (Stargate SG.1)
Sebastian Spence (First Wave)
Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap)
Bodie Olmos (Walkout)
Tiffany Lyndall-Knight (I, Robot)
Eileen Pedde (Juno)
Donnelly Rhodes (Legends of Tomorrow)
Richard Hatch (InAlienable)
Colin Lawrence (Watchmen)
Don Thompson (Slither)
Michael Trucco (Sabrina: TTW)
Laara Sadiq (Arrow)
Alisen Down (Smallville)
Lori Triolo (Smallville)
Nana Visitor (Star Trek: DS9)
Craig Veroni (Dark Angel)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Vincent Gale (Bates Motel)
Sonja Bennett (The Fog)
Kate Vernon (Heores)

Jamie Bamber and Grace Park in Battlestar Galactica (2004)For the Season 4.0, Universal has included the ten episodes that made up the first half of the final season: “He That Believeth in Me”, “Six of One”, “The Ties That Bind”, “Escape Velocity”, “The Road Less Traveled”, “Faith”, “Guess What’s coming to Dinner”, “Sine Qua Non”, “The Hub”, and “Revelations”. Those episodes are presented across three discs, but for some reason they have also included the unrated extended edition of Razor in this set as well. Its position in the boxed set promotes itself as the first disc, though in all frankness Razor doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to do with these episodes. It feels out of place with regards to the continuity of the series and in all honesty, Battlestar fans probably already have it in their collections. I get that the episode was released in between seasons three and four, but even so it’s already on the market. Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber, and Rekha Sharma in Battlestar Galactica (2004)Regardless of Razor’s inclusion, it’s worth noting that it’s a damn fine episode. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Razor takes place during season two with a story revolving around the Battlestar Pegasus and Admiral Cain. It’s a compelling episode that brings about the Cylon hybrid in a way the series hasn’t quite presented it yet. It also brings us some nice flashbacks with a younger Adama on a recon mission during the first Cylon War. Michael Hogan and Tahmoh Penikett in Battlestar Galactica (2004)Battlestar’s fourth year has several themes that run through its ten episodes, but four big ones emerge during the course of the season. Of course there is still the quest for Earth, the hatred between Cylons and humans continues, Roslin is still dying of cancer, and all around there is talk of prophecy and religious visions. There are many familiar elements in this season, but there are some unfamiliar ones as well. Some startling revelations come about in these ten episodes as humanity and the Cylons march towards annihilation on the way to Earth.Aaron Douglas and Rekha Sharma in Battlestar Galactica (2004)One of the first things introduced in the opening episode “He That Believeth in Me” actually comes from the final moments of “Crossroads Part II” from the third season. Starbuck has returned from the dead and Lee soon realizes that it’s not just a hallucination. It seems to actually be her, but naturally since she’s been presumed deceased for months everyone thinks it’s a Cylon trick. She arrives on the Galactica spouting about how she found Earth and she knows the way, however, everyone on board thinks she’s not who she says she is and the fact that her ship seems brand new doesn’t help matters. This is compounded by her behavior because with every jump away from their previous location she screams and whimpers that they’re going the wrong way. She’s eventually given a ship with her own dysfunctional command and ordered to go find Earth. They don’t find exactly what they were looking for, but let’s just say it’s almost as interesting as their objective.Probably the biggest event to come about in the fourth season is the Cylon Civil War. The skin-job models are split right down the center, with the Ones, Fours, and Fives wanting to lobotomize the Raiders and the Sixes, Sevens, and Eights wanting to keep them the way they are. There are also some debates between them regarding the Final Five and what they should do with the D’Anna model. The shots fired are the sparks that ignites all-out war and it brings the power of the Cylons down a peg.Tahmoh Penikett and Katee Sackhoff in Battlestar Galactica (2004)The splintered Cylon faction winds up coming into contact with humanity’s fleet and naturally there is a lot of distrust between them. Toss in the reactivation of the D’Anna models, a mission to destroy their resurrection hub, and Starbuck hanging out with Leoben again and you have one heck of a situation. Things only get worse with Tigh, Tyrol, Tory, and Sanders exploring what it means for them to be Cylons. Their relationships suffer, they are having a crisis of identity, and they also fear what they will become. Tory gets power hungry, Tyrol deals with a tragic loss, Sanders is confused, and Tigh struggles with his sense of duty, friendship, and who he is. These four are starkly different from the known Cylon models and it’s fascinating how the show portrays their emergence.Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan in Battlestar Galactica (2004)And of course let us not forget about Gaius Baltar. In this season he finds himself a new little home with a cult of mostly women who want to follow his teachings about the one god. His visions allow for some near prophetic moments and he becomes an emissary of sorts to the cult which grows over the course of the season. Gaius still has some interesting roles to play in the show and I’m definitely interested in the path they are bringing his character down. Those are the major events that shape things to come, but even so there are plenty of little snippets of life among the Colonial Fleet. Each episode is packed with plot exposition yet the writers still found time to add in some solid character development as well. I won’t divulge the nitty-gritty details of what transpires here, but let’s just say that the writing and acting is every bit as solid as you’d expect it would be. Battlestar’s cast is one of the best on television and whether you’re a lover of drama or science fiction you’re going to be on the edge of your seat.Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica (2004)Each episode of this season is seamlessly weaved together as the show begins a breakneck sprint towards the finale. All roads lead to Earth and each episode in the fourth season is full of climaxes and building pressure. Sitting through all ten episodes is an exhausting, yet rewarding, experience that will leave you salivating for January 16th and the beginning of the final episodes. Hopefully all of our unanswered questions will be resolved, but that seems like kind of a tall order to fill. Battlestar Galactica is a show that constantly raises the bar for itself and let’s just say that by the end of this boxed set that bar is pretty damn high. Consider this set highly recommended.