REVIEW: ARROW – SEASON 5

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Main Cast

Stephen Amell (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: OOTS)
David Ramsey (Blue Bloods)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Echo Kellum (Girlfriend’s Day)
Josh Segarra (Trainwreck)
Paul Blackthorne (The InBetween)

Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Katie Cassidy (Black Christmas 2006)
Alexander Calvert (Supernatural)
Rick Gonzalez (Reaper)
Chad L. Coleman (The Orville)
Tyler Ritter (Merry Happy Whatever)
Mike Dopud (Stargate Universe)
David Nykl (Stargate Atlantis)
Emy Aneke (Izombie)
Aaron Pearl (Bates Motel)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)
Joe Dinicol (Diary of The Dead)
Madison McLaughlin (Chicago PD)
Garry Chalk (Beast Wars)
Carly Pope (Popular)
Cody Runnels (WWE)
Michael Rowe (Tomorrowland)
Vincent Gale (Van Helsing)
Wil Traval (Jessica Jones)
Dolph Lundgren (Aquaman)
Christopher Rosamond (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
John Barrowman (Torchwood)
Neal McDonough (Van Helsing)
Grant Gustin (Glee)
Susanna Thompson (Cold Case)
Caity Lotz (The Machine)
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
Carlos Valdes (The Flash)
Nick Zano (2 Broke Girls)
Melissa Benoist (Jay & Silent Bob Reboot)
Jamey Sheridan (Homeland)
Erica Luttrell (Westworld)
Amy Louise Pemberton (Suspense)
Garwin Sanford (Stargate SG.1)
Audrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Juliana Harkavy (Last Shift)
Lexa Doig (Andromeda)
Steve Bacic (Smallville)
Kacey Rohl (Hannibal)
Patrick Sabongui (POwer Rangers)
Olivia Cheng (Warrior)
Samaire Armstrong (Stay Alive)
Laara Sadiq (2012)
Kelly Hu (X-Men 2)
Amy Gumenick (Supernatural)
Adrian Holmes (V-Wars)
Rutina Wesley (Hannibal)
Venus Terzo (Beats Wars)
Eliza Faria (Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2)
Jack Moore (Republic of Sarah)
Byron Mann (Dark Angel)
Manu Bennett (Spartacus)
Katrina Law (Apparition)
Nick E. Tarabay (Pacific Rim: Uprising)
Anna Hopkins (The Expanse)

Michael Dorn in Arrow (2012)More than any other Arrowverse series, Arrow had a lot to prove when it returned in fall 2016. The series had fallen quite a bit from its peak in the Deathstroke-dominated Season 2. Following the thoroughly disappointing Season 4 finale, Arrow was at its lowest point ever. It wasn’t clear at that point whether the show would continue beyond Season 5. Moreover, it wasn’t clear whether the show should continue. But thanks to a change in approach, a terrific new villain and a generally more consistent level of execution, Season 5 wound up redeeming a troubled series and recapturing the appeal of those first two years.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)Arrow had fallen pretty far down the metahuman rabbit hole in Season 4, what with the focus on supernatural villain Damien Darhk and all the magical tomfoolery that resulted. Even ignoring the various interviews leading up to Season 5’s debut, the premiere made it plainly obvious that showrunners Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle were eager to take a “back to basics” approach this year. The series didn’t necessarily ignore the more colorful side of the Arrowverse this year, but it did downplay those elements in favor of a darker, more grounded take on Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) ongoing crusade. The early episodes were very much about Ollie getting back to his roots and shooting arrows into the criminal scum of Star City.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)Initially, there was a worry that the series might be playing things too conservatively, recycling old conflicts and well-worn tropes rather than actually pushing Team Arrow forward in meaningful ways. A lot of that worry was personified in new villain Tobias Church (Chad L. Coleman), a would-be criminal kingpin cut from the exact same cloth as Vinnie Jones’ Danny Brickwell. As enjoyable as Coleman’s performance was, those similarities were impossible to ignore. Nor did it help that the season introduced another dark-clad archer villain in the form of Prometheus (voiced by Michael Dorn). With little real connection to the Prometheus of the comics, this villain initially came across as a poor man’s Malcolm Merlyn.
Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)The other major focus early in the season involved expanding Team Arrow into a true, ensemble fighting force. Alongside returning allies like Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), Diggle (David Ramsey) and Curtis (Echo Kellum), the team ranks swelled with the addition of up-and-coming vigilantes Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), Artemis (Madison McLaughlin) and Ragman (Joe Dinicol). Ollie also assembled a secondary Team Arrow for his new day job of Star City’s mayor, with Thea (Willa Holland) becoming his chief of staff and Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) his deputy mayor and new District Attorney Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra) joining the fold. Coupled with a new love interest for Ollie in the form of intrepid reporter Susan Williams (Carly Pope), and the new season was never short on character drama.Joe Dinicol, Rick Gonzalez, David Ramsey, Stephen Amell, Madison McLaughlin, and Echo Kellum in Arrow (2012)Looking back, the biggest flaw with Season 5 is that it tried to juggle more characters and conflicts than was really feasible. The second episode of the season, “The Recruits,” exemplified that problem more than any other. That episode focused mainly on Ollie and Felicity’s efforts to build the ranks of the new Team Arrow in Diggle’s absence. And even though each new member showed promise, there was a strong sense that these new characters were falling over each other competing for limited screen time. The show struck a better balance after that point, but it never felt like there was enough room to do each supporting character justice. Artemis felt especially under-served. The writers never devoted much energy to fleshing out her background or motivations beyond what was already established in her initial Season 4 appearance. That didn’t change even after a major Artemis-related twist midway through the season. Susan suffered a similar fate, as she never really developed into a compelling love interest and was treated as little more than a damsel in distress.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)Ragman fared somewhat better. It was nice having at least one metahuman member of Team Arrow just to maintain that bridge to the larger Arrowverse. And the quiet, contemplative Rory made for a welcome counterpoint to testosterone-fueled characters like Ollie and Rene. But Rory was unceremoniously written out of the picture, for no apparent reason other than the fact that he gave Team Arrow too much of an advantage in their war with Prometheus. Between that and the late introduction of new Black Canary Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy), it was clear the writers were still fine-tuning and experimenting with the ensemble cast well into the season. But those problems aside, the show tended to make pretty good use of its supporting cast this year. The unlikely friendship between Quentin and Rene helped both characters immensely and allowed Quentin to do something other than wallow in grief-induced alcoholism for a change. Curtis underwent a memorable transformation this year, finally claiming the “Mister Terrific” name and learning firsthand the terrible toll the costumed vigilante game can take on one’s personal life. Even Felicity fared well, with the writers wisely downplaying the Olicity romance and focusing more on her induction into the sinister hacking group Helix.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)But even with the growing supporting cast, this season really was all about the Green Arrow/Prometheus rivalry. Prometheus not proved himself to be more than a mere Dark Archer redux, he developed into the series’ best villain since Deathstroke. That was due both to the actor’s strong performance and the very personal nature of his feud with Oliver Queen. Prometheus wound up being a breath of fresh air for the series. His plan didn’t involve holding Star City hostage, but merely putting Ollie through a complex, painstakingly designed gauntlet of psychological torture. The midseason finale, “What We Leave Behind,” did a great job of establishing the threat posed by Prometheus and setting the stage for everything to come. There were still a few lackluster episodes that followed, including the pseudo-bottle episode “Underneath” and “The Sin-Eater,” an episode predicated on the questionable idea of grouping together several of the series’ more forgettable villains. But for the most part, Prometheus’ revenge plot gave the series a momentum that carried it forward.
Michael Dorn, Stephen Amell, and Josh Segarra in Arrow (2012)The personal nature of that conflict tended to bring out the best in Amell’s acting, as well. The increasing darkness wasn’t merely superficial. Ollie was put through hell this year as Prometheus tested him both physically and psychologically. Amell rose to the challenge with a series of raw, emotionally charged performances that really highlighted his characters inner torment. In many ways, Season 5 as a showcase for how far the show has come in the last five years, and that goes for Amell’s acting as much as anything else.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)The Green Arrow/Prometheus rivalry also allowed the writers to explore the use of violence on the show and address Ollie’s often nebulous stance on killing. As the season opened, Ollie had once again become a dark vigilante not averse to killing his opponents should the need arise. Prometheus forced Ollie to confront his actions, both past and present, and question whether he had actually done any real, lasting good for his city after five years. Nor did the show have any easy answers to provide. The moral wasn’t “Killing is bad,” but merely that actions have far-reaching, unintended consequences. Even going into Season 6, it’s not clear what Ollie’s stance on lethal force is or how his final showdown with Prometheus will influence his actions in the future.Stephen Amell in Arrow (2012)Season 5 marked the final go-round in terms of Ollie’s five-year flashback odyssey. The flashbacks had pretty well worn out their welcome in Season 3 and 4, often doing little more than filling space and drawing pointless parallels between past and present. The Season 5 flashbacks weren’t immune to these problems, but they were a significant improvement. It helps that the flashbacks were used to fill in a key hole in the Arrow tapestry, fleshing out the shared history between Ollie and Russian gangster Anatoly Knyazev (David Nykl). The flashbacks added much needed context to that relationship while also banking on the viewer’s knowledge that the two characters are doomed to have a falling-out later in life. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lundgren, was cast as the main villain for the Russian storyline. In a season full of strong action sequences, Ollie’s brutal clashes with Konstantin Kovar ranked among the best.
Stephen Amell and Josh Segarra in Arrow (2012)Again, the flashbacks still dragged from time to time, especially in the final couple months of the season when the Russian conflict was all but resolved. But in addition to fleshing out the Ollie/Anatoly relationship, this running subplot helped enhance the season’s larger focus on lethal force and the struggle that men like Ollie face to keep their souls once they position themselves as judge, jury and (sometimes) executioner. The flashbacks showcased Ollie at his darkest – a man who now possesses all the skills needed to become a great warrior but still in search of a symbol to shape his crusade.Stephen Amell and Josh Segarra in Arrow (2012)All of this culminated wonderfully in the season finale, as the series literally and metaphorically came full circle and Guggenheim and Mericle rolled out a who’s who lineup of heroes and villains. Compared to the Season 3 and 4 finales, both of which only managed to make their respective seasons seem worse in hindsight, “Lian Yu” gave Season 5 the punctuation mark it needed. It proved to be not just the best episode of Season 5, but of the series as a whole. Considering where the show was at the beginning of the season, that’s quite an impressive accomplishment.

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: ARROW – WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND

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MAIN CAST

Stephen Amell (The Vampire Diaries)
David Ramsey (Con Air)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Echo Kellum (Ben and Kate)
Josh Segarra (Trainwreck)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Rick Gonzalez (Pulse)
Joe Dinicol (Scott Pilgrim vs The World)
Maddison McLaughlin (Chicago P.D.)
Tyler Ritter (The McCarthys)
Carly Pope (Popular)
Katie Cassidy (Black Xmas)
Audrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)

The Mid-Season finale of Arrow was a great way to cap off the first half of a season that’s been all about rebuilding, regrouping and looking to the past in order to shape the future. There was plenty of progress on the Prometheus front, all of which fueled a suitably dark and depressing ending that suggests things are going to get a lot worse before that light at the end of the tunnel appears for Team Arrow.
One of the few things the Arrow producers have revealed about this year’s big villain is that he has ties to Oliver Queen’s past. Those ties became much more clear in this episode, which featured one of the more memorable uses of flashbacks in the show’s history. In the last couple seasons, there’s been an odd obsession with drawing as many direct parallels between past and present, usually to the detriment of the flashback scenes. But here that approach made sense. In effect, the flashbacks were giving us a glimpse of a lost, early Season 1-era episode, one that also served as the beginning of Prometheus’ origin story.

On one hand, it was fun just to go back and revisit that simpler time. All the details were recreated perfectly, from Ollie’s original, mask-less costume and lair to his goofy interplay with a pre-sidekick Felicity to Diggle being the nonplussed bodyguard. On another, these flashbacks really emphasized how much Ollie has changed as a person and a vigilante over the course of four years. He may flirt with killing now, but back then he was a veritable murder machine. It was chilling watching him mow down those guards with impunity. Enough so that you can’t help but empathize with Prometheus a bit. Maybe Ollie had all of this coming. The way in which this episode regularly bounced between past and present helped build the tension leading into Ollie’s final showdown with Prometheus.

But before getting to that, it’s worth discussing the lead-up to that final showdown. This episode built up an engaging mystery as Prometheus attacked Curtis and then sent Team Arrow on a quest to uncover his identity and motives. There’s still plenty we don’t know about this villain. The implication is that he’s the bastard son of Justin Clayborne (Get Carter’s Garwin Sanford), one of the Hood’s first victims, though even that can’t be taken for granted yet. But even if that is the case, Prometheus’ actual identity remains a mystery. What we do know is that he harbors a serious grudge, and not an entirely unwarranted one, at that. Whomever is under the mask, Prometheus is one who will force Ollie to atone for his mistakes he made when he was still a killer, not a hero.
So after much soul-searching and one early brawl with Prometheus, Ollie finally confronted his foe at the exact spot where he shot down Clayborne four years earlier. And that’s where Prometheus really upped his game. He delivered quite the blow by tricking Ollie into killing Billy. But again, you can see Ollie proving Prometheus point for him. If he wasn’t so reckless and so quick to pull the trigger, Ollie wouldn’t have fallen for that ruse. He tried the killing game again, and this is where it led him. All of this makes Prometheus a more compelling villain because it’s so easy to understand his point of view. He may not be the hero of this story, but he makes a strong case for the idea that Ollie isn’t either. That, more than anything, is what’s distinguishing Prometheus from the rest of the show’s major villains.

That dramatic twist led to a terrifically emotional scene as Ollie felt the crushing weight of his mistakes bearing down on him. To his credit, he didn’t try to hide the truth from Felicity, which is another sign of how much he’s matured in the past four years. But it was quite a depressing way to cap off the first half of the season. The montage where Ollie reflected on his knack for ruining lives while Curtis, Felicity and Diggle all dealt with their new tragedies was an extremely effective way of highlighting the darker turn the season is taking. Echo Kellum in particular gave a terrifically raw performance during Curtis’ breakup with his husband.  It’s funny to compare this episode to the mid season finale of Flash (Season 3). Both leaned pretty heavily on the Christmas motif towards the end, but where Flash tried to find room for hope and optimism in the midst of a dark new threat, Arrow just went all-in on the depressing darkness. But honestly, optimism probably would have felt forced given everything that happened tonight. The final scene was a shocking way to end the episode, seeing Laurel show up at the Arrowcave gives the episode one last WTF moment to see us into 2017.

Arrow has steadily been building steam over the course of Season 5, and that trend continued in the mid-season finale. This episode capped off 2016 on a fittingly dark and gloomy note. Viewers were given more insight into Prometheus’ background and motivations, while also getting the chance to revisit the show’s Season 1 status quo. Things are looking up for the series as it moves into the new year.

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.