Community Season 1 – TV Series Review

It was the tail end of a Friday board game night at Bubble Bee Tea Tea House. We were packing up our last board game (I can’t remember its name, but it was a Japanese-themed game of bluffing and assassination), when we began talking about television series.

Dan Harmon was mentioned, followed by Community, a television show he created and produced. The show had an amazing ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ episode that everyone in the group had watched and loved. Everyone except me.

I felt so left out, that I immediately Googled the show upon getting home that night. Fast forward a month or so later: and I’m now enjoying Season 2 of Community. It’s one of the funniest television series I’ve ever watched. Thank you, board game friends!

Community is an American sitcom about a group of students and teachers enrolled in Greendale Community College. The show is inspired by Harmon’s own experiences as a community college student. It frequently parodies move and TV tropes and clichés, by making use of meta-humor ad pop culture references.

community-wallpaper

Central characters include Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a sarcastic, manipulative, and self-confident former lawyer booted from his law firm for having a fake bachelor’s degree; Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), a high school dropout and self-proclaimed anarchist, atheist, and activist who often comes across as hypocritical and pretentious.

There’s also Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), a socially-awkward film student with uncanny knowledge of movies and TV series; and Annie Edison (Alison Brie), a compulsively overachieving former Adderall addict who was unpopular in high school, but is actually seen as extremely attractive and intelligent.

And that’s not even half the band of misfits in Community‘s ensemble cast of characters.

community-tv-series-x-men-image-01
The Community cast as X-Men

I love Community! Watching the show makes me wish I studied in community college back in the day. I think Jeff Winger and his group are the best. I like how they are all odd and awkward in their own ways because these quirks are what make them so amazing.

Among the characters, I connect with Annie the most. Like her, I am an overachiever. In my case, it’s because I didn’t apply myself back in my elementary and high school years, leading to poor grades and summer school.

Back in college, I’d join so many organizations, participate in one extracurricular activity after the next, run for class president and student council, and volunteer to be group leader whenever I got the chance—while studying my ass off in the pursuit of academic excellence.

I never did get those A’s. But B’s are definitely much better than F’s!

community_3

I obsess over things I am passionate about to the point of being-off putting especially to non-geeks/nerds and people who don’t know me well. And I can be passionate about a lot of things, often simultaneously.

It’s this connection I—and many others—have with the show that allowed it to run for six seasons despite its low viewership. News is Netflix is producing a Community feature film, which will allow Dan Harmon to give his beloved TV series an epic end.

I loved season 1 of Community and I’m loving season 2 even more. The show’s meta-humor and endless stream of pop culture references is a joy to watch, and I’m looking forward to more.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

Fargo Season 1 – TV Series Review

fargo-poster

I have not watched Fargo, the 1996 Academy Award-winning film, but I had some inkling into its narrative and theme. My interest in dark-crime murder-mystery shows interested me enough to give the television series a try.

Fargo the TV series premiered on FX in April 2014. Season one starred Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo, a gun-for-hire to is forced to visit the hospital in Bemidji Minnesota after hurting himself in a car accident. There, he meets insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman, who was injured during an encounter with a childhood bully.

Malvo manipulates Nygaard into commissioning Malvo to murder this bully. So begins a series of murders in the small town of Bemidji.

Hot on the case are young police officers Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). As Solverson and Grimly pursue their separate investigations into the murders, the more Malvo and Nygaard are implicated in them.

fish-poster
The icon poster in Lester Nygaard’s basement.

I love season one of Fargo so much, it’s among the top five TV shows I watched in 2016. The show was really intense. The odds were stacked so high against Solverson and Grimly it seemed there was no way they could beat Malvo and Nygaard. It often felt like the conflict between Malvo and Nygaard took center stage, and the cops were just flies for the swatting.

There’s also the story of supermarket king Starvos Milos, who hires Malvo to track down who’s blackmailing him. Then, there’s Chaz Nygaard, Lester’s brother. And also Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, whom I thought could take Malvo down.

fargo-poster-2
Clockwise from center: Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), and Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman)

There are so many pieces moving in this crime-drama. That all the characters were essential to the story and all the stories were told in just ten episodes shows how Fargo season one is a narrative masterpiece. It also helped that all the actors were marvelous.

The first season of Fargo is an intelligent TV show filled rich in story and dark-humor. I am overwhelmingly looking forward to watching season two.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

Wayward Pines Season 1 – TV Series Review

Wayward Pines (2015) is mystery, thriller, and science fiction television series based on the Wayward Pines trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch. The show was created by Chad Hodge and produced by veteran filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.

The first season centers on Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) a U.S. Secret Service agent on his way to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents in the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. On the way, Ethan and his partner get into a car accident. Ethan wakes up hospitalized inside Wayward Pines. Soon, he finds himself unable to leave the town.

His investigating reveals that one of his partners is dead, while the other—his former lover Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino)—is alive and married. Why has she settled down in this town, and not reported back to the U.S. Secret Service. And why is she so afraid of speaking with him? “They’re watching us,” she says.

Soon, Ethan discovers Wayward Pines is more than a strange small town. For one, it’s surrounded by an electrified fence. Any attempt at escape is punished by a public execution known as a “reckoning,” carried out by Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), the town sheriff.

Everyone in this town is acting strange, one way or another. All of them seem to be keeping secrets from Ethan who continues searching for the truth.

04c2e86ab92f75a13923be1949e47b27

Meanwhile, Ethan’s wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan), drive to Wayward Pines to investigate Ethan’s mysterious disappearance. They too get into a car accident and wake up hospitalized and trapped in Wayward Pines.

Although I love watching small town television mysteries like Broadchurch (2013-) and Harper’s Island (2009), I was a bit skeptical about Wayward Pines, given M. Night Shymalan’s track record as a filmmaker. I love his earlier work, but his more recent films keep getting worse and worse. The Last Airbender (2010), for example.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by how good the series’s pilot episode was—and M. Night both produced and directed that episode! Maybe M. Night has found his true calling as a television series producer? But that pilot episode convinced me to give the series a chance, and I’m delighted that I did.

wayward-pines
Among the many stellar cast members of Wayward Pines (Source: 1)

Every episode of the first season gives off an ominous vibe. There is never a dull moment throughout the series, and the suspense built at a steady pace.

The cast was also excellent. I was especially terrified by Melissa Leo’s portrayal of Nurse Pam. Even the secret service agent Ethan was more afraid of her than he was of Sheriff Pope, who carried out the public killings in Wayward Pines. Another standout was Megan Fisher who played Hope Davis, the former hypnotherapist now principal of Wayward Pines Academy.

Science fiction elements are introduced in later episodes. This may surprise viewers who were expecting a usual small town mystery show. However, I very much enjoy the sci-fi genre. The sci-fi elements were a welcome addition for me.

VERDICT: Wayward Pines puts a sci-fi spin on the small town television mystery  genre, and is a thrill to watch. It’s also a welcome back to form for M. Night Shyamalan. If you’re a sci-fi fan searching for an intelligent and entertaining television mystery I strongly recommend watching season 1 of Wayward Pines.

wayward_poster
Definitely one television event you shouldn’t miss! (Source: 1)

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

The Magicians TV Series – My Impressions so Far

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman is in the fortunate and unfortunate situation of being labelled as “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” for adults. On the one hand, it’s an honor to have one’s works compared to J.K. Rowling’s and C.S. Lewis’s. On the other hand, how dare fans of Lev Grossman say his works even come close to being as good as “Harry Potter” or “The Chronicles of Narnia!”

This is conflict is one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten around to reading “The Magicians,” the first book in Lev Grossman’s trilogy, yet—aside from being a really busy person, and having a never ending  reading list. However, that didn’t stop me from watching the television series by Syfy. Truly, it’s much easier to watch television shows than read books.

“The Magicians” follows the story of Quentin Coldwater, who discovers that magic is real and that he is capable of doing magic. He mysteriously finds himself  at Brakebills University. He aces the university’s entrance exam and is accepted into the university of magic.

tumblr_o1fhdscn941s1oo2eo1_1280
Source: 1

The TV series also follows a young woman named Julia Wickers, who was Quentin’s childhood best friend. She also takes the Brakebills entrance exam at the same time Quentin does. Unfortunately, she fails.

Right before magic was revealed as real, Quentin and Julia were about to embark on different paths in life. Both of  them loved the Fillory books, a fantasy series for children, when they were young. Julia was ready to leave her childhood fantasies behind. She was applying for Harvard, and was ready to take on the real world. Meanwhile, Quentin was stuck in a rut. He couldn’t get over the Fillory novels and was diagnosed clinically depressed as a result of this. It turns out he wasn’t crazy after all.

The Magicians - Pilot
Quentin, Julia, and the other examinees nervously submit answers to their Brakebills University written exams. Source: 1

After taking the Brakebills exam, their situations are reversed. Quentin is no longer depressed. He is studying in the university of his dreams. Only now, his dreams are real. After a failed attempt by the Brakebills administration to erase her memory, Julia is distraught. Now that she knows magic is real, she can’t just let it go. Magic is her drug.

Before she completely goes insane from her magic additction, Julia is recruited by a group of hedge witches led by Marina Andrieski. It turns out Julia can do magic and she’s apparently a very powerful magician. That begs the question of why she wasn’t accepted into the Brakebills in the first place? So we have Quentin, learning magic the “traditional” way at university, and Julia self-learning magic along with a group of hedge witches.

And this barely even scratches the surface of everything that happens in Syfy’s adaptation of “The Magicians.”

image
From left: Alice Quinn, Quentin Coldwater, and Eliot Waugh. Source: 1

One of the best things about “The Magicians” is its cast of characters. Every person is Quentin’s and Julia’s story seems interesting in his or her own way. Quentin’s friends include Alice Quinn, an intelligent book-sexy magician obsessed with figuring out how her brother died. Penny Adyoni is a badass pantie whisperer who can teleport anywhere, physically or through astral projection.

Eliot Waugh is an openly gay character. He is also a kind of student-mentor to the freshmen and an extremely powerful magician. Eliot’s best friend Margo Hanson is the most delightfully mean girly character ever. And those are just some of Quentin’s closest companions at Brakebills.

Julia’s mentor Marina Andrieski was kicked out of Brakebills months shy of graduating. Her memories were successfully erased. She is an extremely powerful magician with no qualms about killing anyone who gets in her way.

Syfy’s “The Magicians” is definitely for adults. Firstly, it has booze, drugs, sex, and violence aplenty. When things get violent in is show, they get really violent. And it’s these moments of physical and magical bone breaking, eyeball gouging, blood vomiting, and face popping (among other things) violence that are the most shocking and sometimes disturbing moments of the show.

The TV series’s ability to unveil completely surprising yet entirely plausible twists and surprises when you least expect it to is one of the reasons why it’s so exciting to watch. There’s no hand-holding for the characters in and viewers of this show. Brakebills is no safe haven where you can learn magic safely under the tutelage of expert magicians. I mean the Brakebills equivalent of Dumbledore got his wrists snapped broken and eyes magically squished in the shows first episodes. Talk about scary!

recaps-magicians
From left: Marina Andrieski and Julia Wickers. Source: 1

So, if others want to say “The Magicians” is “Harry Potter” for adults because of Brakebills being a school of magic. Fine. But there are so many other fantasy books with their own schools of magic. Quentin maybe the chosen one, like Harry Potter was “the boy who lived,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if Quentin just dies at the end of season one.

Yes, Jane Chatwin from the Fillory books enters the world of Fillory through a wardrobe. Oh my gosh! What a “Chronicles of Narnia” rip-off. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two books seems to end there. Fillory isn’t some magical world filled with rainbows and unicorns.

“The Magicians” is for adults. It is serious, dark, and filled with real world magic and the real world consequences of using magic. It’s probably the grittiest and most realistic fantasy series I’ve ever watched, and I’m loving it. If the books are better than the series, I’m moving them to the top of my reading list immediately.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 out of 5 beans

Killjoys Season 1 – TV Series Review

Title: Killjoys
Creator: Michelle Lovretta
Producers: David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg
Starring: Hannah John-Kament (Dutch), Aaron Ashmore (John Jaqobis), Luke Macfarlane (D’Avin Jaqobis)
Genre: Science Fiction
Number of Episodes: 10

I found out about Killjoys through an article on my Facebook feed. The article compared two simultaneously airing Syfy science-fiction series—Killjoys and Dark Matter. It also compared both shows to Firefly, one of my favorite albeit short-lived sci-fi TV shows of all time. According to the reviewer, both shows were not yet as good as Firefly, but had the potential to be better than it in the long run.

I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoyed watching Killjoys. Its space bounty hunters chasing down and eliminating marks across the galaxy premise is really exciting. And there was plenty of action in the first season, several sequences of which were truly remarkable.

I remember one scene when bounty hunters John and D’avin are pinned down during a gunfight with several men. Dutch, still wearing her red cocktail dress from the party she was attending, sneaks up behind the assailants. She removes her necklace and tosses her golf ball sized necklace beads toward them. The beads quickly transform into spider mines, crawl towards them, and blow them up. Another man attempts to blitz attack her from behind, but she beats him and the two other guys who follow in hand-to-hand combat.

One problem I have with the first season is how the story got really deep, really fast. One episode, the protagonists are going through their weekly bounty hunting adventures, and the next it’s all lore, seriousness, doom, and gloom. This is understandable, since the show’s producers were unsure if Killjoys would be renewed for a second season (It was). But compacting large chunks of story at the tail end of the first season did provide a satisfactory and understandable, though rushed ending. The season could have surely benefited from several more episodes.

Is Killjoys as good as Firefly? I’d have to agree with the critics and say, ‘not yet.’ I was heartbroken when Firefly was discontinued in a way that I wouldn’t have been (not even close!) if Killjoys were given the ax. Still, I greatly enjoyed watching Killjoys. And since Dark Matter was also renewed for a second season—even though Syfy is working on (and has just launched) a new Battlestar Gallactica-level space opera show called The Expanse—now is an amazing time to be a fan of science-fiction TV series.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 Beans

4 beans out of 5