Sorry For Your Loss (Season 1, 2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Four months ago, Leigh’s husband, Matt, went for a walk; a walk that he never came back from. And ever since then, she, her sister Jules, her mother Amy, and Matt’s brother, Danny, have struggled to cope with his death. Some, like Amy, have put on a brave face, and acted as emotional support to others. Others, like Jules, have used this event as the catalyst to do things that they’ve always been meaning to; in her case, getting sober. And others, like Leigh and Danny, have resorted to lashing out, at friends, at family, and especially each other, for not knowing how to explain, or process, Matt’s loss. No matter how they do it, though, one thing is for certain; the road to recovery will be a long and hard one.

Sorry For Your Loss is probably the first work of art I’ve ever seen, be it in film, television or literature, that shows the grieving process realistically. It shows how slow it is. It shows the anger, the confusion, and the denial that all come from losing someone, or something, important to you. It highlights how little things, like donuts at a grief support group, can make all the difference. It portrays how some people use the grieving process to get attention, and how others use it to cut themselves off from the world. And unlike a lot of other films about grief, which tend to dramatize emotions with bold, symbolic visuals and over-the-top scenarios, it never once veers into histrionics. What I mean by that is, many artists, like Lars Von Trier (Antichrist), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal) have used fantastical elements, like monsters, to convey things like anger and grief, but Sorry For Your Loss never once veers into surreal or expressionistic territory. This show is set 100% in the real world, with the acting, dialogue, and cinematography all being plain and naturalistic. At no point does the series try to cram in quests, arcs, or artificial conflict. Instead, each episode focuses on a very small, but very real aspect of grieving, such as not being able to go back into your house, not knowing what to do with your loved one’s possessions, and being unable to attend parties, for fear that others will look at you as “that” person.

Now you might be thinking, “okay, the show portrays grief realistically. Fine. Is it any good?” Yes! Yes, it is. Not only does Sorry For Your Loss tackle the messy, complex topic of grief with both grace and care, but it’s really good, and very funny. That last part is key. As much as this show is about sadness, it’s also very humorous, and not in a way that feels forced, or like it’s trying to undercut the seriousness of the situation. A substantial portion of this humor comes from the character Jules, played by someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses, Kelly Marie Tran. She’s got great dialogue, and she brings the same energy and joy to this role as she did to Rose in The Last Jedi. But she’s not the only one in this show to get some great lines. Matt, who is seen entirely through flashback, has one exchange with Leigh that was so good I had to write it down. Matt: I just wanna bury my feelings. Like White people. Leigh: Oh? Tell me more about White people. Matt: White people spread smallpox through blankets, and take improv classes. The show is full of moments like that, moments of humor that help elevate what would ordinarily be painful to get through. And when you combine that with the realistic portrayal of grief, some absolutely stellar performances from Elizabeth Olsen, Kelly Marie Tran and Jovan Adepo, and a very quick runtime (the whole first season is 10, 30-minute episodes) you’ve got yourself a winner. I seriously think this might be my favorite new show. I urge you all to give it a look. It’s on the “watch” section of Facebook, it’s completely free, and It’s a breeze to get through. Please, please, please give it a chance.

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Maniac (2018 Miniseries)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In an oddball future, a future where you can avoid paying for things by listening to a certain number of ads, and where tiny robots patrol the streets, looking for poop to scoop, two broken people enter an experimental drug trial. One, Owen, is the neglected, schizophrenic son of a wealthy Manhattan family, who’s being forced to lie under oath to prevent his brother from going to jail. Another, Annie, is a selfish, mean-spirited drug addict, who still feels guilt over having contributed to her sister’s death. Owen is there for the money. Annie is there for the drugs. But regardless of why they came, the head of the program, Dr. James Mantleray and his partner, Dr. Azumi Fujita, are confident that their drugs will solve ALL, yes, all, of their patients’ personal problems. But what happens when the computer administering the trial develops emotions, and begins messing with the process? James and Azumi will be forced to bring in the former’s awful mother, whom the computer is modeled off of, while the patients will have to contend with a series of strange visions and increasingly surreal simulations.

Maniac is a TV show I never would have heard of were it not for my friend, the supremely talented actress and dancer Momoko Judy Abe. Earlier this year, she told me she had a supporting role on a Netflix show that Cary Fukunaga was directing, and that Emma Stone and Jonah Hill were starring in, but didn’t say anything else. (Not allowed to). Then, a few months later, I saw an ad for Maniac, which mentioned that it was from Cary Fukunaga, and showed Stone and Hill as the leads, and I realized that this was what Momoko was referring to. So as soon as it hit the streaming platform, I cued it up. I figured, even if it’s bad, I can at least say I know someone who was involved with it. And, I’ll be honest; it was a lot of fun seeing Momoko onscreen. She doesn’t have many lines, but she’s featured in all but one episode, standing behind Sonoya Mizuno, aka Dr. Fujita, as one of her assistants. Hopefully, this role will allow her to be in bigger projects, where she can show off her immense range, and fantastic dance skills. But I realize that I haven’t actually said anything about the show. That’s because my feelings on it are pretty mixed.

As a work of art, it’s definitely not without merit. The cinematography, the music, and especially the production design, are superb, working together to create a strange, but oddly believable vision of the future. There are so many weird little details in it, I already mentioned the ads, and poop scoop drones, that make this show’s reality feel off kilter and unique. There are services that offer “friends for hire,” you can play chess with mechanical koala bears, and everything in the labs looks like it was pulled straight out of an 80s anime. The drug trial setup also serves as a framing device to a series of vignettes, each of which acts as a parody or send-up of a particular genre. In one episode, for instance, while under the influence of anesthesia, Stone and Hill hallucinate that their in an 80s sitcom, trying to steal a monkey from some gangsters. In another, they dream that they’re in a fantasy movie, complete with elves, wizards and dragons. And as distracting and disjointed as some of these vignettes are, they’re all staged with such love and craft that they’re definitely enjoyable in their own right. All this, coupled with some fun, quirky performances from Justin Theroux as the sex-addicted Dr. Mantleray, and Sonoya Mizuno as the chain-smoking, hard-talking, Velma Dinkley-looking Dr. Fujita, do make Maniac an interesting, if not always enjoyable watch. I say “not always enjoyable” because, like some of its characters, the show doesn’t seem confident enough in its own story to stay focused on one thing for very long.

As I mentioned earlier, the whole drug trial setup is just a framing device for the filmmakers to make a bunch of parodies of other movies and TV shows. Several episodes take place within the patients’ fantasies, and have their own, entirely insular stories, so that, when the show does cut back to the real world of the drug trial, it’s jarring. And sometimes, within those various vignettes, the rules get broken. In the fantasy episode, for instance, Emma Stone’s character, who, for the first half, was doing a British accent, and behaving like an Elf, suddenly starts talking like an American and commenting on how “none of this is real.” I understand that, in the context of the episode, it’s meant to represent her character realizing that something is wrong with the trial, but it honestly comes off more like a cheap meta-textual joke that the writer’s threw in to prove how clever they were. Which raises the question, if you’re not confident in your recreation enough to stick with it, why do it at all? It honestly feels like, these days, writers are scared to commit to a single tone or idea, for fear that they’ll be labeled as “cheesy.” So, instead, they constantly disrupt their own stories to let us audience members know, “hey, it’s cool, we get that this is silly. No need to make fun of us. Look, we’re doing it already.” And speaking of disrupting the narrative, there are several instances where the filmmakers will throw in things that are meant to be jokes, but which just come off as awkward and painful. In one scene, for instance, Justin Theroux is using a VR device to have sex with a weird, CGI fish-lady, and it feels so out of place and made me so uncomfortable that I almost stopped watching. That’s this show in a nutshell; put off the main story for as long as possible with weird genre parodies and awkward humor. And, sadly, I can kind of understand why the filmmakers did that. Neither Stone nor Hill’s primary characters, Annie and Owen, are that appealing. Stone is just a mean, selfish junkie, and Hill is just a sad, pathetic mess, and the latter’s performance as Owen consists almost entirely of vacant stares and monotone whispers. Yes, I’m aware that he has schizophrenia, but the filmmakers never attempt to give him a personality beyond that. It’s as if they’re hoping that, by saying he’s disabled, we’ll instantly sympathize with him, but they never once tell us his interests, or hobbies, or anything that makes him worth following as a character. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Hollywood often uses disabled characters as cheap, pity props, and very rarely bothers to show them as anything other than their condition. Maniac does as well, and you can tell that they don’t know how to give Owen any real humanity by how quickly they replace him with his simulation counterparts, who aren’t disabled, and who instantly have more discernible personalities than he does. So when you take all this into account, the unlikable lead characters, the disjointed tone, and the fact that the writers spend far more time on parodies and side quests than the main story, you’re left with a visually interesting, occasionally engaging mess of a miniseries. Does it have strong elements? Sure. And I’m hoping my friend Momoko gets a career boost off of this. But, on its own terms, I can’t really recommend the show.

GLOW (season 2, 2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

After months of hard work, the ladies of GLOW have finally done it. They’ve gotten their show picked up by a TV station, and are pumping out new episodes every week. But all is not well, as they face a variable cornucopia of new challenges, such as keeping the ratings up, making sure their sponsors don’t leave them, and personal demons, such as divorce, AIDS, and the possibility of getting deported.

If you read my review for the first season of GLOW, you’d know that I thought the series had a lot of strong qualities–such as an all-female cast, an intriguing premise and some good acting–but I was put off by some of its more offensive jokes, and inconsistent tone. I mentioned how the show was, for the most part, pretty light-hearted and up beat, but then, out of nowhere, it’d throw in these really macabre gags, like someone pretending to have a miscarriage to make fun of someone else, or having one of the main characters try to fuck his daughter. And, of course, there were all the racial stereotypes, and the fact that the supporting characters, particularly the Asian ones, were just there to be ethnic punch lines. Well, someone must have read my review, because GLOW, season 2, just about addresses all my concerns. The tone is much more consistent, there are considerably fewer racial jokes this time around, and the show runners actually manage to give the Asian characters some depth. Sunita Mani’s character, in particular, becomes much better rounded. We learn that she used to be a medical student, there’s an episode that shows her being uncomfortable with her wrestling persona, and trying to change it, and she even gets a love-interest in the form of Yolanda, one of the new wrestlers. The season also does a good job of introducing queer elements into the story, and addressing homophobia in the 80s. There’s a season-long subplot where Bash is trying to find his butler, Florien, only for him to realize that Florian was gay, and died of AIDS. The way he reacts to this information–with disgust and disdain–is heartbreaking, but also very accurate to how people did back then. So, for all of these reasons, I have to give GLOW, season 2, props.

That said, the show still has problems. The biggest is the fact that there’s not really one, overarching story this time around, so there are moments where the pacing drags, and the show feels kind of listless. In the first season, there were subplots, but they all tied into the larger narrative of trying to get the show picked up by the network. This time around, there’s not really that one, master goal for the characters to pursue, so you wind up with smaller side-quests, like Ruth wanting to go out with a guy, but feeling she can’t, one of the wrestlers not wanting her son to see her on TV, Bash trying to find his butler, and one of the wrestlers worrying that she might get deported back to the UK. And as much as the show runners did for Sunita Mani, they still did nothing for Ellen Wong, who might as well have not been in the season, that’s how little she has to do. The show also has a bad habit of introducing complicating factors very late into the narrative, such as the aforementioned fear of deportation, which doesn’t materialize until the second to last episode, and Justine’s mother, who wants to bring her home, and who, again, doesn’t show up until the very end. If they’re so important, and are such big sources of conflict, why didn’t you introduce them earlier? Ugh. But, like I said, this season is, in many ways, an improvement over the first. Does it have problems? Sure. But I still think you’ll have fun if you watch

Dear White People (Season 2, 2018)

Greetings Loved ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

One week after the climax of the first season, the Black students of Winchester University have a new problem to deal with. Actually, they’ve got several. Due to someone setting another dorm on fire, Armstrong Parker, the campus’s traditionally all-Black residence hall, has been integrated, and the locals don’t like their new White neighbors. On top of this, there’s an alt-right troll posting horrible things online about Sam, Coco, Troy, and pretty much all the other main characters. And as if this weren’t bad enough, each of our protagonists has personal demons to deal with. For Coco, it’s an unplanned pregnancy. For Sam, it’s her father’s ailing health. For Reggie, it’s PTSD from the time a cop pulled a gun on him for no reason. And for Troy, it’s a sense of listlessness after losing a clear direction in his life. How will they deal with these issues? Watch the season, and find out for yourself.

Dear White People, Season 2, is a rare achievement. It’s a follow-up to a hit series that maintains the quality of the original. The dialogue is sharp as ever, the performances are top notch, and the drama feels very real. I was honestly kind of amazed as I was watching it at how much emotional depth was being given to the characters. My two favorite episodes, easily, are a tense, 30-minute conversation between Sam and Gabe, where they air their grievances, and eventually fall back in love, and the one directly afterward, where Sam has to go home for personal, tragic reasons. These episodes were the ones where the characters felt the most like real people, and the more political aspects of the show were toned down in favor of telling more grounded, human stories. They’re great, and, honestly, I think you could watch them without having seen the rest of the show, and still appreciate them. This season also drops some weird plot threads from the first, like Troy’s affair with one of his professors, despite the fact that she’s married, and a lesbian, which I’m personally glad about, because that just raises far too many problematic questions to count. And, as if this needs saying, Lionel is an absolute gem. He’s the nicest, and certainly the most put-together of the main cast, having a pretty stable personal life, and just not being an asshole to people out of hand. Every episode with him as the primary focus is super fun, and I loved watching him and this one guy named Wesley fall for each other. In short, Dear White People, Season 2, is quite good, and you all should give it a look.

But do so knowing a few key things. For starters, there’s a lot from the first season that doesn’t carry over. I mentioned Troy’s affair with his professor, but there’s also some characters, such as Reggie’s friend Ikumi, whom I liked, and who were introduced in the first season, that never get brought up again. They might as well have not existed, that’s how little attention the show pays to them in this season. On top of this, there’s a multi-episode subplot, involving a secret society, that ends with the narrator, who, up till that point, was just a voice who explained stuff to the audience, actually becoming a person the protagonists can interact with. I thought it was kind of weird, and I’m not sure where the show will take it. Finally, there’s something that the writers do that, admittedly, I thought was pretty clever at first, but just got on my nerves after a while, and that’s having the characters acknowledge that they’re in a TV show. It’s not quite breaking the fourth wall, but it gets very close. Sometimes, it’ll be meta-textual jokes , like when Sam asks her roommate, Joelle, to go running with her, and the latter says, “what, like that thing White girls do in TV, so the show runners have a visually interesting means of getting out exposition?” Other times, it’ll be characters commenting on TV shows they’re watching, which themselves are parodies of real programs, like Scandal and Empire. It’s fine, at first, but they do it in almost every single episode, and it honestly gets kind of distracting after a while. Part of this is because the first season isn’t like this at all. It’s not like Deadpool, where the whole joke is the fact that this character knows he’s in a movie, and is making fun of the tropes we see in movies. Dear White People, at least initially, was all about addressing real issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity on college campuses that exist today. It wasn’t some big parody of the kinds of movies and shows that do that, and when the characters constantly reference that they’re in a TV show, it feels like they are making fun of the exact type of program they are.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, none of these issues are enough for me to tell you all to not check the show out. It’s well-written, well-acted, and always entertaining. Go ahead and give it a watch.                                             

GLOW (Season 1, 2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

It’s 1985, and Ruth Wilder is a struggling actress in Los Angeles. Desperate for money, she answers an ad for “unconventional women,” and finds herself at a gym with several other, equally-confused ladies. Two guys, B-movie director Sam Sylvia and pampered rich boy Sebastian Howard, then come out, and explain that they are looking to put together an all-female wrestling show, GLOW, or the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Ruth, like everyone else, is shocked to hear this, but decides she’s willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t “like your ass. Or your face, and dismisses her straight off the bat. Ruth, however, isn’t taking no for an answer, and after putting on an elaborate show, including an unscripted fight with a friend who’s husband she’s been sleeping with, lands the job. And, from that point on, the story just gets bigger and more ridiculous.

GLOW has a lot of things going for it. It’s got good acting, a premise with a lot of comedic potential, and some nice period decor. I also really like the fact that it features an almost entirely female cast, and that it passes the Bechdel Test. And yet, despite all this, I can’t really say if I like GLOW or not.

A lot of it comes down to personal taste. First off, I’m not a big fan of the 80s. The poofy hair styles, the huge shoulder pads, the annoying synthesizer music; it all gets on my nerves. I also don’t like how casually racist and homophobic movies and TV shows from that era are, and how, nowadays, when we fetishize the Reagan years, we neglect to mention the negative aspects of the time. If you read my review of Stranger Things, a show that I really loved, you saw that I didn’t like how it failed to touch on the darker facets of 80s culture. This show does a slightly better job at highlighting the racism and sexism of the time, but, still. The period in which this show is set kind of annoys me, so maybe I went in somewhat biased. On top of this, I didn’t grow up with wrestling, so the series doesn’t hold any nostalgic charm. Literally the only two things I know about professional wrestling are the scene from the original Spider-Man film, where Toby Maguire has to fight Macho Man Randy Savage,  and the VH1 reality show, Hogan Knows Best, which was on when I was a kid. So, yeah.

But by far the biggest thing I had a problem with was the writing; specifically, the humor. It’s very, very dark. If you are easily offended, then don’t watch this show. Because they go places I wasn’t expecting them to. Every taboo topic you can think of–racism, incest,dead babies–gets touched upon. There’s a whole episode devoted to making miscarriages funny, and the season finale includes a substantial father-daughter incest subplot. It’s really kind of creepy. Now, look, I don’t want to sound like I think gallows humor can never work. I think In Bruges is one of the most underrated films of all time, and it features tons of offensive jokes. But there, the tone was a whole lot darker. Here, the show is pretty light-hearted and upbeat. But then, out of nowhere, it’ll throw in these very macabre bits of humor that, one, aren’t funny, and, two, don’t feel as earned. Another aspect of the writing I didn’t think worked were the characters. Oh sure, the four main people–Ruth, her friend, the director, the trainer–are all pretty fleshed out and interesting. But everyone else kind of just fades into the background. Yes, that’s to be expected in an ensemble piece, but here, it’s very noticeable. Two characters in particular, an Indian-American wrestler played by Sunita Mani, and a Cambodian-American wrestler played by Scott Pilgrim vs The World‘s own Ellen Wong, get the shaft when it comes to background and personality. We know next to nothing about them–Sunita’s grandma likes wrestling, Ellen likes birthday parties–and they are treated the worst when it comes to stereotypes. The wrestling personas they are given are, and I swear I’m not making this up, Beirut the MadBomber, and Fortune Cookie. Yes, Fortune Cookie. And the racist jokes don’t stop there. At every single opportunity, the writers throw in a “Asians can’t speak English” jab, or an “Asians know Kung Fu” barb. And, yes, they have characters comment on how offensive these  stereotypes are, but most of the time, someone else in the scene will say “shut up” or “get over it.” This is actually a very old writing technique, referred to as “ironic lamp shading,” where a character in a work of fiction will point out how stupid, illogical, or offensive something is, but then go right ahead and do it anyway. It’s meant to keep us, the audience, from questioning the tropes we’re seeing, but I’m not taking the bait here. Just because you know something is offensive doesn’t excuse you from doing it. If anything, that makes it worse. It shows us that you lack moral fiber, since you know something is wrong, but chose to go ahead and do it anyway. If you want to comment on racism or sexism, have there be negative repercussions for all the bigotry. Or, and here’s a novel idea, don’t write racist jokes, or characters who are racial cliches. Just a thought.

Guys, I really don’t know what to say. There’s enough good in GLOW to keep you invested, I finished all 10 episodes, but the dark humor, offensive characterization, and inconsistent tone are also quite off-putting. I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. But if anything in the review spoke to you, maybe go and give it a look. You might find something in it that I didn’t.

Atypical (Season 1, 2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Sam is 18, and he’s never had a girlfriend. This is due, in part, to the fact that he’s on the Autism spectrum, and has trouble reading social cues. Now, though, with only one year of High School left, and a newfound attraction to his therapist, Julia, he’s determined to get a “practice girlfriend,” so he can learn how to please a woman. This quest brings him into conflict with his mother, Elsa, whose whole life has been consumed by taking care of him, and whose confusion over not being able to micromanage his existence leads her to make some bold new choices of her own.

Atypical is funny, well-acted, and very well-written. Seriously. The dialogue alone should be enough to get you to watch this series. It’s sharp, witty, believable and specific to each individual character. And the characters themselves feel like real people. They have quirks, interests, show a wide range of emotions, and at times are lovable, and at other times, loathsome. From a pure story and dialogue perspective, I have no complaints about Atypical. It’s a well-written, well-acted sitcom, with only eight, half-hour episodes, so there’s no need to worry about it dragging. And if you’re like me, and want to see greater representation of Asian people in media, you’ll be happy to learn that several key supporting characters, such as Sam’s therapist, and unrequited love interest, Julia, and his best friend, Zahid, are Asian, and not at all stereotypical. They’re well-rounded, have personalities, arcs, and even some flaws. They’re some of the best aspects of the show, and its’ refreshing to see Asian characters like this in a mainstream series.

All that said, I do have some thoughts on Atypical. They’re not complaints, per se, just thoughts. First of all, I’m not sure how accurate the series is in it’s representation of Autism. As I’ve mentioned before, many films and TV shows exaggerate certain disabilities so as to make disabled characters more pitiful or sympathetic. As such, I’m always somewhat wary whenever a film or TV series comes out where the whole concept is that a character is mentally or physically challenged. And I’m sure that, to some people, Sam will come off as a stereotypical representation of Autism. Yes, he’s a likable, compelling character. And when you watch the show, you can tell that the writers did do research on the symptoms of Autism. But his condition is still somewhat exaggerated, and should not be seen as a be-all-end-all portrayal of the spectrum. In the show, Sam is extremely sensitive to bright light, and loud noises, and is virtually incapable of speaking about any topic other than Antarctica; his obsession. I’ll tell you right now, not all Autistic people are like that. My best friend has Aspergers, a high-functioning form of Autism, and he isn’t sensitive to light, or loud noises,  and he can talk for hours about virtually everything. Autism, as I’ve mentioned before, is a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity specific to each individual person. There probably are people like Sam out there. And they might be very happy to see themselves represented on the small screen. But for people who don’t have as severe a condition as he does, or who want to know what Autism is really like, this might not be the perfect portrayal to watch.

The second thought I have on Atypical is really more of a nitpick, but one that I think is worth bringing up. And that is the character of Paige. She joins the show about two episodes in, and ends up becoming Sam’s “practice girlfriend.” She’s sweet, understanding, sympathetic, and I don’t buy her character for a second. I don’t buy that, A, she would ever be attracted to Sam, and, B, that she would be able to put up with him when they start going out. For starters, she’s way too attractive. She’s the classic Hollywood beauty; tall, blonde, and thin. She legitimately looks like a model, and yet she’s chasing after a guy who looks like the love child of Michael Cera and Dobby the House Elf. And if that’s not ridiculous enough, her character is supposedly the smartest girl in school. Between her brains and her looks, she could have literally anyone she wanted. So why is she so determine to get with this kid who, initially, doesn’t even recognize that she likes him, and then, later on, acts like a total dick to her? And not in a “he doesn’t know any better” way, but in a legitimately mean-spirited, jerky kind of way. I would have believed her character more if she were also disabled, less attractive, or just less perfect in general. As it stands, though, she’s too nice and too pretty, and she just doesn’t feel like a real person. Maybe I’m being unfair here, and I do want to mention that the actress playing Paige does a great job, but I would like it if, for once, Hollywood cast, and forgive the pun here, atypical leading ladies. Older Women. Large Women. Disabled Women. Women Of Color. They’re all just as interesting, and capable of love, as blonde super models, and they exist in higher numbers than the latter group. I would like it if, in the future, female characters would be allowed to exist in all the shapes, sizes and colors that their real-life counterparts do.

But, in the end, those are both small nitpicks, and not any real harm to the show. Atypical is funny, well-acted, well-written, and the perfect length for a sitcom. If you’re looking for something fun and charming to watch, give this Netflix original a look. You will not regret it.

Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.