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Banshee

Show: Banshee

Verdict: Pretty Good

How much I’ve seen: All of it (four seasons)

You should watch it if you like: Any cop drama, but especially if you like The Shield or Luther.

Where you can stream it: Seasons 1 and 2 are free with Amazon Prime. The other 2 seasons are on Amazon streaming, but not free.

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Colony

Show: Colony

Verdict: Amazing

How much I’ve seen: All of season 1, 6 episodes of season 2 (everything that’s aired)

You should watch it if you like: This show has a lot of overlapping themes, so it’s hard to say, but definitely you should check it out if you like movies about resistance to authoritarian governments. At the moment for whatever reason only Red Dawn is coming to mind. Just read the summary below and see if it grabs ya.

Where you can stream it: As far as I can tell, you can see the 5 most recent episodes of season two on USA’s website, and that’s it, which is really a shame.

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The Magicians

Show: The Magicians

Verdict: Amazing

How much I’ve seen: Season 1

You should watch it if you like: The book series its based on, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia

Where you can stream it: Unfortunately, I don’t think you can. Syfy, like FX, is too restrictive about streaming their shows.

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Atlanta

Show: Atlanta

Verdict: Amazing

How much I’ve seen: Season 1 (everything to date)

You should watch it if you like: Louie, Better Things, Master of None

Where you can stream it: You can’t, unfortunately. At least not as far as I know. FX is really restrictive with its original series, which is a real shame. But this show is so good it’s worth finding a way to watch it even though it isn’t convenient.

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The Expanse

 

Show: The Expanse

Verdict: AMAZING

How much I’ve seen: First 4 Episodes

It’s kind of like: Game of Thrones IN SPACE

Where you can watch it: Syfy.com is streaming all four episodes, but episode 5 airs on Jan 5th so they might expire soon.

The Expanse was completely off my radar, but after hearing about it in an episode of Still Untitled I decided to check it out, and damned if I’m not glad I did. There have only been four episodes so far, but I can’t wait for more.

The Expanse takes place about 200 years into the future. Mars has been colonized. Long-enough-ago that it has severed ties with Earth, developed its own Navy, and is in a cold war scenario with the United Nations. Additionally, humanity has expanded far enough out into the galaxy that the asteroid belt has its own colonies, and its own citizens, referred to as Belters.

Wikipedia describes the show as a space opera, which is fine, but I like to think of it as Game of Thrones in space. Like GoT there are lots of things going on in lots of different settings, swapping back and forth throughout each episode, and there’s some kind of multi-layered plot involving all three groups (Earthlings, Martians, Belters), but we don’t know what is going on yet. But they’re on the brink of war.

So far I’m most interested in the UN Deputy Undersecretary character, but that’s probably only because she’s played by Shohreh Aghdashloo and I would listen to her read a phone book. Tom Jane plays an affected Belter detective on a privatized security force who caught a case of a missing rich girl. Somehow that’s going to tie into the overarching plot, but it isn’t clear exactly how yet. There’s also some stuff involving a salvage crew that got mixed up with the flagship of the Martian Navy.

One of the things I thought was most interesting is the emphasis on mormons in the show. Early on in the first episode I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a poster for The Book of Mormon, which seemed like odd product placement, but then mormons became part of the world-building. They have spread the good news to all of Earth, apparently, because now they’re expanding beyond the solar system. The show is based on a book series (the first season is going to cover only the first book) by “James S. A. Corey” which is actually the pen name of a pair of writers. I couldn’t find any info on this, but I’d venture to guess that they are LDS.

Although that bit of world-building is a little quirky, I think it totally makes sense, and the rest of it is really good. Early on they show Earthlings torturing a Belter by taking him out of a water tank and exposing him to Earth’s gravity. After 200-ish years, humans have already started evolving, and this guy is (by modern Earth standards) freakishly tall and thin. Like a whale, he can’t survive in Earth’s gravity out of water. Amazing. Not only that, but the UN has banned the practice of gravity-torture (which of course doesn’t stop them from doing it).

I don’t think I’ve reviewed a show mid-season yet, but I’m so pumped to see more of this that I’m sending this email out now in hopes that more people watch it, boost the ratings, and keep it on the air. The show’s on Syfy, which amazes me for a number of reasons. A) It’s good, 2) the production value is *way* high for a show on basic cable, and D) it’s actually science fiction and not ghost hunters or wrestling or fish-weather.

So, watch The Expanse. And tell your friends. (And tell them about this list while you’re at it.)

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The Bastard Executioner

 

Show: The Bastard Executioner

Verdict: TERRIBLE

How much I’ve seen:
All of it (cancelled after 10 episodes)

It’s kind of like:
Game of Thrones + Da Vinci Code?

Where you can watch it:
¯_(ツ)_/¯ (It aired on F/X; maybe it’s on Hulu?)

I really wanted to like The Bastard Executioner. It was created by Kurt Sutter, who created Sons of Anarchy and was involved in most of The Shield in various capacities. The Shield is the best TV show of all time (tied with The West Wing) and I loved Sons of Anarchy too. I had high hopes for TBX but it just straight up sucked. In fact, while watching the 10th episode last night, I noticed it had a longer than usual run time, so I checked to see if it was the season finale and found this on Wikipedia:
“On November 18, 2015, FX announced Sutter had canceled the series.”

I can’t think of another show that was cancelled by the creator (NOT the network). If a show runs its full course, like Breaking Bad, it isn’t “cancelled.” You know a show is bad when it gets mercy-killed by the guy that made it.

The whole show is based around this “secret,” except from the pilot most of the people who matter know the secret, but choose not to act on it. And as the show progressed more and more people learned it, and still no one did anything about it. It made no sense in the pilot and somehow got worse as the series went on.

The rest of the show was never really any better. When it wasn’t brutally over-the-top violent it was basically just white noise. Nothing interesting ever happened (until the weird Da Vinci Code plot twist halfway through the last episode). My guess is that Sutter sold the show based on the popularity of Game of Thrones, and then he just never figured out how to make it interesting. There were some characters with great back stories, like the ex-assassin priest, but the story was never really focused on that.

If Kurt Sutter wasn’t behind TBX I wouldn’t have watched past the 3rd episode. I kept waiting for the show to make sense or to get interesting, and neither ever happened.

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Longmire

 

Show: Longmire

Verdict: AMAZING

How much I’ve seen: Four seasons

You should watch it if you like: Westerns or cop procedurals (CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, etc)

Where you can watch it: Netflix

There are a TON of cop procedurals out there, and the genre itself is as formulaic as the plot of an episode. So when one breaks the mold, it’s definitely worth …

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investigating.

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Yes, Longmire is basically just another cop procedural, but it has a lot going for it. The show isn’t about a big city police department or a federal agency with a a ton of resources at its disposal. It’s about a five-person sheriff’s office in Wyoming. They have no tech. The title character doesn’t even carry a cell phone. Cases don’t get solved by TV-magic-forensics, or pseudo-scientific profiling. They get solved with investigation, knowing the people & area, and gut instinct.

It’s always annoying when you hear things like “New York City itself is a character!” But if NYC can be a character, then Wyoming definitely is in Longmire. There are some beautiful shots of big sky country in this show. (Yes, I realize “Big Sky Country” is Montana and the show takes place in Wyoming, but it’s filmed in New Mexico, so all bets are off as far as I’m concerned.) Not only do I recommend you watch this show, but I also recommend you watch it on the biggest screen you can get your hands on. A phone, tablet, or laptop screen isn’t big enough to appreciate the beauty of this show.

Of all the ways in which Longmire is unique, I think the most interesting is the large cast of native American characters. From his best friend to his greatest enemy, Sheriff Longmire deals with the native population frequently; maybe in every episode. I can’t think of another show that deals with native American culture, except maybe Hell on Wheels. Jurisdictional issues aren’t typically interesting. In fact, the only plot lines involving them I can think of involve someone somehow having diplomatic immunity and the cops figuring out how to arrest them anyway. Longmire frequently has cases somehow involving the local reservation. People flee to it in order to escape arrest. In at least one case, the criminals were going to the reservation to commit crimes because they couldn’t be arrested by tribal police after they left the scene. What other cop show has that?

I like this show so much, I read a handful of the “Walt Longmire Mysteries” books the show is based on. This is the only show or movie that I can think of that I liked the book(s) less.

If you like cop procedurals and/or westerns, Longmire is definitely worth checking out. If nothing else, watch the first episode and tell me you didn’t at least consider moving to the Great Plains.

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Hannibal

 

Show: Hannibal

Verdict: AMAZING

How much I’ve seen: All 3 seasons

Where you can watch it: Seasons 1 & 2 stream free w/Amazon Prime

The Hannibal Lecter movies never really did anything for me, although I’m not totally sure why. Maybe I need to rewatch at least Silence of the Lambs. … ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Anyway, while the movies never did anything for me, I was (as I think most people are) fascinated with Hannibal Lecter. But not enough to actually get into this show until it was basically too late. This show is incredible and deserving of a much bigger audience than it apparently got, because it was cancelled after three seasons.

I honestly don’t really remember much of the movies – the only thing I can remember well is Ray Liota eating his own brains out of his head in Hannibal (the movie), and thinking that that was cheesy and too over-the-top for the rest of the movie – and I never read the books. So I don’t know how much of the early seasons is canon. But the show starts out when Hannibal is a consultant for the FBI, and advises them on serial killer cases. It eventually ends up covering the stuff in the movie (and presumably the book) Red Dragon, but never makes it to the Silence of the Lambs stuff. (Silence was the “first” Lecter movie released, but not the first chronologically. “First” b/c Manhunter was the real first Lecter movie, but it wasn’t Anthony Hopkins that played Lecter.)

If I had to try to describe Hannibal, I guess I’d say it’s like a combination of Criminal Minds (another show about the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit chasing serial killers) and Dexter (another show with a still-active serial killer as a main character). Although I don’t think that comparison gives this show the justice it deserves, since I think it’s much better than both. Though to be fair, Hannibal burned out (was cancelled) before it could fade away (end after sucking for a few seasons).

The idea of Hannibal consulting on serial killer cases as a serial killer himself is amazing to watch. Particularly when he’s investigating himself. There’s a lot to be impressed by with this show. It’s smart, it’s decadently shot and contains visual effects that don’t exist on TV beyond maybe the opening credits to True Detective, but it’s also brutally violent. It also tries my attention span a little. Sometimes with the weird sound effects and tough to digest visuals it’s easy to lose focus on the show. But maybe that’s part of the plan? There was one scene in the third season I remember, specifically, because it seemed like a fairly mundane, not really important part of the plot, right up until Hannibal drove a damn ice pick into a dude’s temple. The violence was swift and brutal, and you couldn’t see it coming. As a viewer, or as the other characters in the scene. And it fit in perfectly with the pathology of a psychopathic serial killer.

The biggest negative to this show is how graphic it is. I was floored when I realized this show aired on network TV! It feels like a Showtime series, but it’s on NBC. I have a pretty high tolerance for graphic violence on TV, and even I got close to the limits of what I was willing to subject myself to watching at one point during season two.

This isn’t really part of the review, but it’s related: I found this video on Boing Boing the other day. It’s the same scene from Red Dragon acted out by three different sets of actors for Manhunter, Red Dragon, and Hannibal (the show).

Recovering the Mindset from Matthew Morettini on Vimeo.

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Mr. Robot

 

Show: Mr. Robot

Verdict: AMAZING

How much I’ve seen: Season 1

Where you can watch it: Airs on USA, but the season just ended. The last five episodes are available to stream here.

This show had me from jump street. As soon as I saw the MR. ROBOT title screen of the first episode I knew I was watching something special. Imagine if Fight Club was about a group of Anonymous-style anarchist computer hackers, rather than a group of anarchist soap makers. If you liked Fight Club, you’ll almost certainly like this show.

I was surprised at how good the technobabble was too. It’s so common to see shows get that wrong. I think the details were a little off, but the terminology itself seemed good. (For example: they correctly referenced 256-bit AES encryption, which is a real thing; and they said it’s practically impossible to crack in any reasonable amount of time, which is also true as far as people outside the NSA know; but the attack was to encrypt financial records when they were already in a system. It makes no sense that they encrypted all the copies rather than destroying them all.)

I was surprised at how intrigued I am by the character of Angela. I was not expecting to care about her character at all, but her development through season 1 was really interesting, especially the scene in the shoe store in the last episode.

I will say, like Bloodline, I’m worried about season two. I hope this isn’t too spoilery, but the plot was completely resolved. They don’t have the element of surprise anymore either (although I saw that twist coming from the pilot).

Added bonus for me was that I recognized several shooting locations, because I’ve been at/in several of them.