Saturday, July 09, 2016

What Ben's Watched On Streaming for June/July

I've watched a bunch of things on streaming media recently. Here are my short-ish reviews:

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Season 3 (Netflix)

A friend of mine recently said, "yeah, I was watching Agents of SHIELD, and then it got really stupid." I think she was referring to sometime in Season 2. 

Which is true, Agents of SHIELD perenially has a plot which I'd describe thematically as "peak comic book," where all plot threads come together into a unified whole no matter how disparate they seem to be at the beginning, and some stuff seems shoehorned in. It is apparently inconceivable to the Agents of SHIELD writers that SHIELD could have to deal with two major issues at the same time and they never team up or subsume each other. 

The show is also knocking off characters at a Game of Thrones rate (okay, pre-season 6 season finale Game of Thrones rate) sometimes seemingly because Joss Whedon doesn't want to pay for an actor anymore. Similarly, the "big bad" for the last half of the season sometimes seemed to be down a henchman because, I think, either the actor they had for him (who's B-list famous) was too expensive to be in every episode if he didn't have lines or he had a prior commitment so he couldn't appear in half the episodes you'd expect to see him in.

That said, as a guy who just read all the issues of Radioactive Spider-Gwen and spin-offs available on Marvel Unlimited (Gwen Stacy is a much more interesting Spider-Person than Peter Parker! Also she's in an alternate universe where Captain America was always an African-American woman and Daredevil is evil! You really should read it!), I have a pretty high tolerance for comic book stupid (I had to read through several issues with Spider-Ham -- yes, the Spider-Man that is an anthropomorphic pig -- crossovers) if a show is otherwise diverting. And Agents of SHIELD remains entertainingly diverting.

Also, Clark Gregg is still clearly enjoying his job and is a joy to watch.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Amazon Prime)

Elevator pitch for this show: "It's Attack on Titan, but with zombie mobs instead of naked giants, and it's set in a steampunk late Tokugawa Japan where most of the action takes place one of the armored supply trains for the rail system that keeps the last few human outposts connected."

The execution is, at best, fair. Writing seems to be done by folks given the directive: "use the formula we know works for shounen [teenage boy-marketed] anime for the elevator pitch you just heard. Do not, under any circumstances, take any risks with plot or characterization or otherwise give the audience something they likely have not seen before in another anime."
It's always magical zombies with glowing hearts covered in some sort of difficult-to-penetrate metal alloy. isn't it?
I could go on and give details, but it would really be a waste of your brain space. It's not good.

Penny Dreadful (Netflix)

This was reviewed before on this blog, but I actually like it a little more.

Let's not get too excited: I don't love Penny Dreadful as high art. I like it as a television version of a gothic horror (which also has influence from - and name-checks - the Grand Guignol style of gory theater) acted by people who are capable of much more substantial work than being "morally compromised supernatural evil-hunting team."

And that's what Penny Dreadful is -- Timothy Dalton plays the rich African explorer father of Mina Harker -- yes, that Mina Harker -- who assembles a semi-random team of dangerous misfits to rescue his daughter from a vampire. They are:
  • the African explorer's mysterious African warrior butler/something (Danny Sapiani)
  • demon-possessed psychic childhood friend of Mina (Eva Green)
  • American gunslinger whose dark secret would be only revealed in the last episode of the first season if it wasn't spoiled by the credits sequence (Josh Hartnett)
  • Dr. Victor Frankenstein -- yes, that Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway)
In a parallel plotline, for reasons I can't quite understand, there's Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney); yes, the Oscar Wilde one with the painting. He seems to be there mostly to create multiple romantic issues with Josh Hartnett's character; Gray has sex with two women Ethan Chandler (Hartnett) is romantically entangled with, plus Chandler himself. I don't think this spoils much in the first season because, as I said, Dorian Gray has no direct relationship to the main plot. 
Here's Ethan Chandler and Dorian Gray making out. While there is a bunch of male full-frontal nudity in this show, sadly not of these guys. 
Also, Billie Piper is in this as a prostitute dying of consumption. She needs a better post-Doctor Who agent. 

As I said above, this show is sort of an update of gothic horror and Grand Guignol; the point is not that it's good, it's that it's constantly entertaining or at least shocking in a visceral way. There is a plot and there is dialogue. As the previous blogger on this beat noted, neither are particularly compelling (although the pacing of the story is good). But the production values, the acting, and the fact that everyone making this is taking it seriously instead of winking at the audience somehow raise it above "dumb" to "weirdly fun." 

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