Resin Heroes

Wally Wood Daredevil drawing






The best TV series of 2016



Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul

I’m not sure I’ve ever been connected to a show as I am to Better Call Saul. I’m so interested in each new episode that I’ll actually get up a bit early for work so I can watch 10 or 15 minutes of the latest episode via DVR, even though I know it’ll be the first thing I watch the minute I get home in the evening.

If the first season of Better Call Saul was all about Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a low-level attorney starting to flirt with a life of crime, then the second was about McGill if not embracing whole heartedly becoming a “bad guy,” not entirely turning his back on doing bad things if that means him getting an advantage on the competition either.

McGill has it all — an amazing job, an expensive car and a wonderful girlfriend. But for whatever reason it’s just not enough and rather than accepting his spectacular fortune he instead chooses to intentionally tank his career at every turn. Be it producing and airing a questionable TV commercial for the firm he works for or even setting up his brother to take an embarrassing career fall even if he kind’a deserves it.

The stories of Better Call Saul are deceptively simple. There aren’t any life or death stakes and much of the series rides on McGill navigating the slopes of questionable business practices with him slowly becoming the bad guy. But the things he does aren’t too bad and usually affect only a few people. Where Better Call Saul excels again and again and again is with the characters. They’re so nuanced and complex and unique that the underlying story almost doesn’t matter here — it’s what the characters are doing and how they interact with each other that makes Better Call Saul one of the best shows of the decade.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

What can I say about Stranger Things that hasn’t been discussed ad nauseam since the series debuted last summer? This early 1980s period show about a little girl with strange powers who escapes from an institution and is taken in by three boys was the highlight of my, and I suspect many other people’s, summer. Stranger Things was this weird, wonderful unexpected bolt of goodness that quite honestly I didn’t think was going to work when I first heard about it. The marketing from the show screamed “THIS IS GOING TO BE LIKE STEVEN SPIELBERG!!!” and I’d been burned by that with the movie Super 8 that also featured a group of boys and a girl that period who come across some weirdness going on around their small-town. Heck, Super 8, much like Stranger Things, is shot in such a way to be a love-letter to Spielberg.

Except that where Super 8 was a disappointment is that while the film looked and had some of the themes of Spielberg it was totally missing the emotions of Spielberg. Which is what Stranger Things got totally right, it doesn’t look quite as much like a Spielberg movie as the marketing materials would have you believe but it’s overflowing with the heart of something Spielberg would have been involved with.

That and a sense of underlying creepy horror that feels like it’s some long-forgotten Stephen King book put to TV. But in a good way.

Westworld

Westworld

As I began writing this article in October Westworld was much lower on this list. But as time went on and I saw more and more episodes the series it kept rising higher and higher here. And that’s saying a lot for a show that seemed to be damaged goods before it even aired with it arriving more than a year late after having suffered through “script problems.” Yet almost from the beginning Westworld was a brilliant show that asked a lot of very interesting questions about the nature of reality and what it means to be human.

The Expanse

The Expanse

For years now, perhaps since the end of Battlestar Galactica, I’d been yearning for a new “very large ships in outer space” series. There’s just something about people out in the depths of the cosmos flying around in little tin cans that appeals to me. And while there’s been loads of “very large ships…” series that have sucked since BSG, the first good one to emerge since then is The Expanse on SyFy.

This series takes place in a future that’s near enough to right now that we can still recognize the architecture and people, but far enough away that some of this architecture is on asteroids zooming around the solar system and we can’t quite understand some of the characters who have new and different accents. And these characters live normal, ordinary and dull lives except the places they live in space are incredibly dangerous where one mistake can result in an agonizing death. Into all this are the survivors of a ship destroyed in an attack who hold the key to exposing a mystery that might just be the beginning of the end of mankind.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from The Expanse because it’s on SyFy, a network known mostly for cruddy original movies mostly starring sharks and crummy original series post BSG. But The Expanse is quite different. Much like BSG it’s based on a previous work, here a series of books by James Corey, and much like BSG the storytelling in The Expanse is excellent.

American Crime Story

The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story

What new info can be gleaned from a crime and trial that took place more than 20 years ago and was covered and dissected by the media for years? That’s what I thought going into The People v. O. J. Simpson anyway since I’d lived through the whole Simpson media fiasco and aftermath. But I think that the clarity of years after the trial, being that it’s not yet another “torn from the headlines” series, made for some darn interesting TV here. Instead of focusing on the obvious, what everyone’s already seen from the constant media coverage when the trail took place, series creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski instead put the focus of the series on what happened when the cameras weren’t recording, behind the scenes at the courthouse and behind closed doors.

If you’ve yet to checkout The People v. O. J. Simpson because “you know how it ends,” take it from me that you really should watch The People v. O. J. Simpson because it’s one of the best things about this TV season.

Daredevil

Daredevil

I was lukewarm with the first season of Daredevil on Netflix. It was good enough, but was essentially a 12.5 episode long character origin story with the Daredevil (Charlie Cox) character really only being introduced in the last episode. That being said, the second season really hit its stride with the character of Daredevil being joined by the likes of ex-girlfriend and now dangerous assassin Elektra (Elodie Yung), the vigilante Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and a group of zombiefied ninjas. And what’s not to love about “zombified ninjas?”

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle

They say that computers need a “killer app,” or some program that’s so good people will buy the whole system just to get the application. And to me the “killer app” for the streaming service Amazon Prime is the series The Man in the High Castle since I subscribed to the service just to be able to watch this show. Set in an alternate America in the early 1960, in The Man in the High Castle it was the Axis powers who won WWII and Japan and Germany have split the US in half with the Germans taking everything east of the Rockies and Japanese west. At times the series is extremely disturbing with all freedoms that we know and love being dissolved under the occupations and people disappearing and being executed on the streets for minor offenses. But in The Man in the High Castle these weird cans of films start appearing that indicate their reality might be one of many, one where the Allies won WW2 and one where the Russians won it all themselves.

So, if this is true it means that for characters in The Man in the High Castle there might be a better world waiting for them and for the occupiers a threat to their total victory and their way of life.




Direct Beam Comms #26



TV

Daredevil

latestI finished the second season of Daredevil last week after having spent most of last spring pacing myself by watching one episode a week since the series launch — that is until Memorial Day weekend where I blew through the last three episodes in quick succession. The first season of Daredevil mostly dealt with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) slowly becoming the bad guy fighting, anti-yakuza and Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) battlin’ Daredevil we know and love. And the second season featured a more confident Daredevil taking on the mysterious Hand ninja clan who will stop at nothing to achieve their own ends with only Daredevil standing in their way.

Which is one point about the second season of Daredevil that I didn’t care too much for; the Hand might be too mysterious for the story going on here. I’m not totally sure exactly what the Hand was after all this time — other than what they get in the very last episode — or why they were willing to sacrifice so much in order to get it?

That being said I really enjoyed the second season of Daredevil. It was much better than the first season which was pretty good to begin with and had one of the best supporting cast on TV.

There’s Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll playing Foggy Nelson and Karen Page respectively. In lesser hands these characters would have been pushed to the background, in the series only to move the Murdock/Daredevil story along. But here they feel like real people with their own needs, wants and desires that sometimes are with, and sometimes go against the main Daredevil story.

There’s also Elodie Yung who plays Elektra Natchios, a spoiled rich girl from Murdock’s past who has much more depth as a character, and is much more dangerous, than anyone expected. I was surprised as to just how good Yung is playing the character of Elektra here — one minute soft and demur and the next scary and strong. I’d only ever seen her before as Jinx in G.I. Joe: Retaliation but she’s absolutely wonderful here.

A special nod goes out to Jon Bernthal who plays Frank Castle/The Punisher. There’s been at least three different actors to play the Punisher on-screen all the way back to Dolph Lundgren in the late 1980s. But it’s Bernthal who seems to have finally cracked and perfected him. He’s always on edge, always in the shadows who operates within his own moral code. It’s also an interesting version of the Punisher that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in any form — brain damaged from the attack that killed his family and never sure if what he remembers from his past is real or if it’s just a figment of the fragment of the bullet he took to the head?

Here, the Punisher is the anthesis of Daredevil — both want to stop crime yet it’s the Punisher who’s willing to kill to do so. And it’s where these to characters bump up against each other; both trying to do the same thing but are somewhat enemies because of their different ethos, that makes the Punisher/Daredevil relationship so interesting.

And apparently Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle was so well received that a Netflix Punisher series is now in the works. Which does beg the question — can a third season of Daredevil without Punisher be as good as the second with? And too, can the character of the Punisher carry his own show when, as shown here, he works best operating in the shadows of some other super-heroes’ storyline?

I was also surprised as to just how gory the series is. Compared to other Marvel series like Agents of SHIELD and films like Captain America: Civil War where a lot of blood means a tiny tricky out of the side of a characters nose, Daredevil is positively The Evil Dead in blood in comparison. In the series people are cut and they bleed, and it sometimes takes stitches to close up the wounds.

Though this gore is more comic book in nature than realistic — people are cut and bleed but somehow things never get that bloody — it’s still adds to the realism of the show.

Regardless of what the future holds, right now I’d say that to me so far in 2016 Daredevil ranks as one of the very best shows of the season so far.

Grade: A

The Carmichael Show

lead_960The second season of The Carmichael Show wrapped up last week on NBC. It’s a different kind of sitcom in that it’s actually about something.

The Carmichael Show follows the Carmichael family with son and lead of the show Jerrod (Jerrod Carmichael), girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) and Jerrod’s mom and dad played by David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine with Jerrod’s brother (LilRel Howery)and his brother’s ex-wife (Tiffany Haddish) too. So far, episodes of The Carmichael Show have dealt with things like racism, gentrification, pornography and the current political climate. Jerrod’s girlfriend is going to “Feel the Bern” next November while his father’s voting for Trump since he’s, “Going to bring the jobs back…”

It’s not the typical show and I think that might be part of the reason The Carmichael Show hasn’t been doing well in the ratings — though it was recently picked up for a third season. Most sitcoms find a formula, and if it works, pound it into the ground for years and years and years. But The Carmichael Show isn’t like that. Since each episode deals with different topics and themes, each one feels different that the one before.

While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shows being about “nothing” ala Seinfeld, it’s nice that there are still shows out there that are about something. Be it series like Community, Arrested Development or, though not yet in those two show’s league, The Carmichael Show.

BTW — it’s nice to see David Alan Grier in a TV series again. To my generation Grier was one of the cornerstones of the In Living Color TV series. And while Grier’s worked consistently the last two decades, it’s nice to see him back on a weekly TV series.

Grade: B+

Angie Tribeca

960The second season of the TBS series Angie Tribeca begins this Monday at 9(EDT). The first season that aired in a “bingeathon” last winter was pretty funny. The show takes its cue from the irreverent humor of series like Police Squad and movies like The Naked Gun and Airplane. It’s goofy, silly fun.

In the spirit of Police Squad, Angie Tribeca follows the title detective (Rashida Jones) and her partner Jay (Hayes MacArthur) as they investigate all sorts of weird crimes from a ventriloquist dummy lead crime ring, illegal pet ferrets being smuggled into California as well as every single cop show cliche from the last 20 years from forensic scientists who seemingly know everything to gruff, but lovable bosses and everything in between.

That being said, Angie Tribeca does feel more like an Adult Swim style show than a TBS one. In fact, it sure seems like Angie Tribeca took a lot of the core elements from its show from other series like NTSF:SD:SUV that seems to share a lot of the same character types and themes too.

Grade: B

The Reading List

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1982: E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial premiers in theaters
  • 1984: Gremlins opens in theaters
  • 1989: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier opens in theaters
  • 1993: Jurassic Park opens in theaters



Direct Beam Comms #15



TV

The Carmichael Show

The Carmichael Show returned last week for a second season and is still pretty darn funny. The first preview episode that aired a few Wednesdays ago entitled “Everyone Cheats” was funny enough as were the two that aired last Sunday night; “Fallen Heroes” and “The Funeral.”

The Carmichael Show has a lot of controversial elements, from the characters debating on seeing Bill Cosby in concert even with his trial looming to the pros and cons of cheating on significant others. While it might have controversial elements, it never goes out of its way to simply be controversial, to try and stir up controversy for controversy’s sake. Instead the show tackles weighty subjects head on and doesn’t pull any punches. B

The Americans

Space-Ghost-Variant-Bill-Sienkiewicz

Bill Sienkiewicz Space Ghost comic cover

The Americans returned last week for a fourth season — which is amazing in of itself since the series has never been embraced by the masses so simply getting more than one season is a huge win for those of us who are fans of this show. This new season felt very much like a direct continuation from the last, with daughter Paige learning of her parent’s dual identities and exactly the wrong time in her life and falling into the abyss of depression.

Of course there’s loads of sexy spy stuff too!

The only other thing I the creators of The Americans could’ve done differently this season would have been to move the series ahead a few years in time. To pick up at some point in the future where the Jennings are a bit older and have passed Paige’s crisis where how they dealt with it could have been told via flashbacks. But sometimes handling story this way feels like gimmicky, so I’m not at all disappointed the creators of The Americans handled things like they did.

One prediction for this new season; some major characters won’t make it until the end — and I’m not talking about Pastor Tim whom I’m surprised has made it as long as he has. 😉 I mean it wouldn’t surprise me if a character like Martha or Stan aren’t around at to see the last episode this year. B+

Daredevil

The second season of The Punisher & Daredevil Show, err…, I mean the second season of Daredevil was released on Netflix Friday and so far I’ve watched the first episode. It was actually kind’a great. My big worry was that the Punisher would be “saved” for later episodes, but he had a big presence in the very first episode and from what I’ve heard seems to be a big part of the second season of the show overall so I’m very happy.

The New York City of Daredevil is an interesting place. It seems to take place in some dark reality where the “bad” New York of the 1970s and 1980s never ended and went right into the 21st century. New York City in Daredevil is a dark and dirty and dangerous place where someone like Daredevil really could exist to try and bring order to all this chaos.

Yet into Daredevil trying to bring order is injected a true agent of chaos; The Punisher. Someone who’s simply interested in destroying all crime in the city by any means necessary be it by gun or grenade or garrote. A

Malcolm-Jamal Warner & Max Casella

It’s great to see Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Max Casella on TV again. Warner* is best known for playing Theo in The Cosby Show and Casella* as Vinnie Delpino in Doogie Howser, M.D. Warner currently plays Al Cowlings in The People vs OJ Simpson on FX and Casella as Julie Silver in Vinyl on HBO.

Though that’s not quite fair, over the years Warner and Casella have been in many movies and films outside of those roles. For example, Casella did 28 episodes of The Sopranos* and Warner has appeared in Community, Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story to name a few.

Movies

Star Trek

Other than budget, I think the main difference between the Star Trek TV series and the Star Trek movies are there are more people on the bridge of the Enterprise in the movies than the TV shows. 😉

X-Men: Apocalypse

Toys

Starship Troopers Roger Young 35″ Long Studio Scale Model Kit

The $650 model in question

The $650 model in question

I’m a huge fan of Starship Troopers and am always on the lookout for a good collectible from the film. And a few collectibles have been released for the film the last few years, but they’re always quite expensive. Take this $650 MODEL KIT, yes, this is a kit you put together yourself that costs $650!

The Reading List

This week in pop-culture history

  • William Shatner turns, and Leonard Nemoy would’ve turned, 85 this week.
  • The last episode of the modern Battlestar Galactica aired seven years ago this week.



Daredevil: The Punishement Due



The first season of Daredevil was the finest live-action superhero TV series since … well, since forever. The series creators flawlessly built a show around a strong and skilled yet non-superpowered lead living in a world of superheroes like Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. And the latest season brings the introduction of one of Daredevil’s biggest foes; the Punisher.

The character of Punisher has a bit of a checkered history. He first appeared in issues of The Amazing Spider-Man where he was portrayed as a sort of dimwitted assassin who could be tricked into going after heroes like Spider-Man by less dimwitted villains. Over time the Punisher’s history would expand and be filled in.

Originally created in 1974, Frank Castle aka the Punisher, was a Vietnam vet living in New York City who’s family was gunned down in Central Park by mobsters. Afterwards, Castle, with nothing to lose, decided to battle crime expecting that it would one day cost him his life. A b-list character at the start, it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s that the character of the Punisher would find popularity. So popular that for a time in the early ‘90s there were three different Punisher comic titles all being produced simultaneously.

The comic book The Punisher was a sort of Death Wish-like series of adventures where the Punisher would destroy various drug cartels, street gangs and even military contractors skimming from Uncle Sam. The Punisher War Journal was like a Tom Clancy-like techno-thriller where the Punisher, along with a host of gadgets like his “battle van” and with help from computer expert Micro would battle a high-tech criminal element. And Punisher War Zone had Punisher infiltrating the mob in order to take it down from the inside.

How comic book readers could accept essentially three different versions of the character at the same time in these titles is beyond me, but we did!

PunisherWJ5As the Punisher comic series went on over the years he would be used to prop up lower selling comics titles. But as the Punisher appeared alongside the then very unpopular The Avengers and in the pages of the Vietnam war comic The ‘Nam he would lose more and more of his edge.

As the years went by and Punisher’s popularity began to wain, more recent comics turned Frank Castle into Frankenstein in (no joke) Frankencastle and a doughy-eyed serial killer of criminals ala the horror icon Jason in later Punisher series.

Three low-rated movies would also be made of the Punisher over the years; The Punisher in both 1989 and 2004 and Punisher: War Zone in 2008. I consider myself a Punisher super-fan — he’s always been one of my favorite characters and I can’t imagine how much money I’ve spend on Punisher comics. I watched the first two Punisher movies but couldn’t bring myself to watch even a minute of the crappy-campy looking Punisher: War Zone.

While early runs of The Punisher by Mike Baron and War Journal by Carl Potts might be some of my favorite comics books, to me the Punisher works best when he’s the antagonist in some other character’s comic. Like when he was Daredevil’s nemesis in early ‘80s issues of Daredevil by Frank Miller.

daredevil_ver17Maybe “nemesis” is too strong a word. Really, both Daredevil and Punisher want the same thing — an end to crime. But Punisher is willing to kill people as a means to an end whereas Daredevil is not — and will actively try to stop the Punisher from doing so. Which is where much of the two character’s conflicts arises.

In Miller’s Daredevil, rather than having entire stories developed around the Punisher he would just show up and cause havoc before disappearing for a while. Which to me is how he’s handled best and is how the Punisher is being handled in the second season of Daredevil.

This TV Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal, is a kind of ally and kind of enemy at the same time. Someone who might help Daredevil one minute but be enemies the next when he’s trying to murder someone Daredevil’s trying to protect and take to justice.

All episodes of the latest second season of Daredevil are currently streaming on Netflix.