I used to be a much bigger TV buff than I am now, but I still catch a few shows every now and then.
Okay, I'm a little heated. I don't know why exactly, but I assumed this was a miniseries in the typical HBO vein: eight episodes of a book adaptation, straight shot. And there was so much I liked about it — Ansel Elgort not being part of that, but otherwise this was a laundry list of great things: incredible setting, incredible direction, beautiful cinematography, knockout performances by Ken Watanabe and Show Kasamatsu (the latter whom I have never seen before, and if this show doesn't propel him into atmospheric orbit I will be devastated!). I was easing into what was sure to be a glorious finale, with a number of thick and fascinating plot threads all set to collide.
And then. Nothing happened.
I can't say nothing happened — things happened. The final hour of this first season of television had a lot of pieces moving on the ol' chessboard; it also had a truly gratuitous ten minutes devoted towards two leads tweaking on meth. You know what didn't happen? A single iota of plot resolution. There was no gestalt! I'm not a purist — I don't think a season of television has to be a complete entity unto itself — but I was legitimately shocked when the episode ended as it did and we discovered that no, there is no more story for it to tell, try again next summer.
Again, I'm heated. Perhaps this is an overreaction, because as a mood poem this show works so well. There is a lot to like about it, and I had a great time watching it. But I spent eight hours following this thing with nothing to show for it; the chessboard has progressed, but no single plot thread has reached any sense of closure or climax. It feels cheap; I was promised a story, not an unceasing arc of rising action.
My understanding is that Azumanga Daioh is the ur-"cute girls doing cute things" anime, and I 100% get why it spawned an entire subgenre unto itself. There is no substantial drama or stakes, just, well, high schoolers being very dorky high schoolers.
The word "dorky" is important, I think. At this point in my life I reflexively cringe from almost anything set in a high school unless its very deliberately and self-referentially insane (c.f. Riverdale ↗); the storytelling, whether it veers into YA writing or into melodrama, tends not to be very good.
What I think made this show so fun and so believable is that these are a bunch of massive dorks just hanging out. They veer into archetype every now and then, but they all feel like legitimate friends and legitimate people in their own right (besides perhaps Osaka, whose utter weirdness is so entertaining it comes off as earned.) That combination of realistic sweetness and the show's utterly perfect sense of comedic timing is potent!
I can absolutely understand this show as the perfect comfort food, and as something that would set me down a long quest to find a similar vibe. I'm still not the biggest slice-of-life person — there's nothing wrong with it, it's just not what I want out of the medium. Also Kimura's inclusion alone brings this down — feel like there should be a Machete version of this show that has him excised outright.
By far Dorohedoro's greatest strength is its incredible and unique world, which feels grimy and lived-in and unlike anything you've seen before. The closest comparison I can think of is... Planescape: Torment ↗, maybe? It's an absolute delight, and most of the 'rules' don't make sense and it doesn't matter. You want to spend time with the world and you want to spend time with the characters in the world, who are all pretty fascinating & well-developed.
The overarching plot is interesting though at times intentionally circuitious. The anime has a lot of fun playing around with conventions (the mafia episode! the carnival episode! etc.) and the violence feels stylistic; it's a fairly warm show when you strip away all the blood.
I'll start with what the show does obviously and unequivocally extremely well: the staging & cinematography, the acting, the set design, the sound design. Other people who write about television for a living can do a better job extolling all of the virtues Severance has in those departments, and they are all absolutely right.
(The one bit I'll add — I am obviously a huge Adam Scott fan. One of the biggest. I did not think he had the subtle chops it required to play two versions of yourself in the way that he does here.)
The show, as of writing, is in the nexus of "critical darling" and "all of my friends are obsessed with the show." I get it: it hits the sweet spot of prestige, good actors, weird, Reddit-pilled, corporate dystopia, Ben Stiller. And Haley and I loved it — we binged through it over the course of two weeks, our excitement level starting high and only growing higher over the nine episode run.
What I am worried about — and what I'm hoping they do well in season two — is that the show is really focused on giving answers and making it a thriller. It started out really working the message (what does this say about us?), and I think that was perhaps slower from a pace and payoff angle but is a much more interesting and rewarding show than the show it became in the last three episodes, which was more about the plot (what's going on to these people?) Maybe that's what you have to do, but I hope there's an endgame in mind that doesn't involve explaining each and every little detail and mystery, robbing the weirdness of all its potency.
(One of the things that Legion ↗ did really well here I think was give you enough background shenanigans to very obviously paint a picture of something is not right here, we are unmoored from reality without agonizing over having explanations for every single aberration.)
And, for the record, Haley and I predicted one of the two big plot twists. That's the ideal ratio, I think: predicting two means the show's obvious, and predicting zero means the show's illegible.
(We watched seasons one through three.)
Wonderful and silly, like a very low-stakes live-action anime: there's a rich and inconsistent (but delightful) world, an emphasis on laughing with over laughing at, and a bunch of weird vampire stuff. It is not High Comedy and it is not perfect but I struggle to think of a single episode that we regretted spending the time to watch. (The first season starts a little slow, and then finds its form.)
This felt like the best possible version of a bildungsroman anime: incredibly sweet, memorable characters and a penchant for surprisingly deep characterization, lovely art and a simple-but-not-too-simple plot. (Bojji and Kage are the absolute best, and their bond somehow never feels too saccharine.)
There were probably two things that I didn’t quite love (and I think it’s fair to say that this was a show that I 80% loved to the moon and 20% didn’t like, which is often more interesting than a show that I 100% thought was pretty good):
I can’t find the exact tweet, but someone described this as “a weird experiment where you take people in the year 2022 and you force them to make content with the comedic stylizing of 2012.” That’s exactly correct. There’s nothing particularly offensive about the show beyond its intense commitment to a brand of milquetoast, comfortable comedy that is just slightly below replacement level. The acting is not terrible but not particularly good (the British Barney stand-in is probably the stand-out, for at least a commitment to the over-the-top emoting). The hackneyed and, frankly, desperate callbacks to the original series don’t really hit any emotional notes beyond “oh, I remember that!” We might watch a second season of this if it comes out, but less out of excitement and more out of “well, sure, might as well.”
I struggle to think of analogues for this — four short, sweet episodes about “the evening of the world”, a quiet and blissful post-apocalyptic slice-of-life. It is ethereal and wistful and deeply, deeply warm — not an easy task for an anime which stars two robots and two humans, none of whom really talk or develop that much. The only two complaints I can level against the show: it was too short (give me more of this in the same vein!) and this felt so clearly like snapshots of a rich and veiled world, rather than a number of things that added up to a gestalt.
This was neither as bad as I thought it could be nor as good as I hoped it might be. The vast majority of the blame I think has to go towards the scriptwriting, which has a Joss Whedon-esque self-referentiality to it that completely undermines the philosophy of the original and, more than that, is just bad on its own merits. ("Welcome to the ouch, motherfuckers" should not get past the writer's room.) The most interesting swing-and-miss of the show was the decision to dedicate a huge amount of time and energy towards Vicious and Julia. The anime's depiction of them — scant — works because we don't need to know that much about them. They're caricatures whose nuances we can paint in on our own. By the time the season wrapped up, I actually enjoyed some of the shades we got — the flashback episode was perhaps my favorite in the show, and ironically it's the one where they weren't forced to hit the same plot beats of the original — and then the characterization of the finale is tired, a hook for a second season.
I am not sad that this show didn't get renewed: it didn't deserve it. At the same time, I don't regret watching it: I groaned and sighed a lot, but it was fun. (And the acting I thought was really well done; the core three cannot be m
I think this was a classic case of high highs and low lows. The animation & aesthetic is incredibly fun, even if it's only "cyberpunk" at a visual level (big metropolis! lots of neon! paramilitary cops!) and the sheer amount of propulsion on a scene to scene basis means you're never bored. The ending episode or two are also delightful, and the show does a really great job of having interesting and satisfying arcs for every character (especially the protagonist, whose evolution over the short thirteen episodes is predictable but fun). Where the show really lost me was the middle section: every episode had two too many plot twists, and it's clear that the screenwriting lost some of the forward drive after the original heist that brought the cast together was completed. Can't help but wish this was a movie instead (I think a tight 110 minutes would have been wonderful), but still worth watching.
This is a very sweet, fun, imaginative, delightful show. I'm not really sure what else to say about it: it did not change my life, but every single episode made me either laugh or grin out loud. I am, in general, not a huge fan of slice-of-life (or perhaps to phrase it more accurately: non-fantastic) anime, but this was a clear exception, mostly because it takes great use of anime as a medium to explore the bounds of imagination and creativity.
I've watched the thing front to back three times, including once during the show's initial run. There are things that haven't aged well — much hay has been made about a contrast between Amy Poehler's tendency to punch up and Tina Fey's tendency to punch down — and the show, like most seven-season network sitcoms, simply runs out of stories to tell after a certain point, but here's the thing: it is simply a very funny show, that remains funny and interesting after three watchings, and it never thinks of itself as anything else than a show whose job it is to be as funny as possible, a task at which it almost overwhelmingly succeeds.
I wanted to like this one so much. It seemed tailor-made to what I love in anime: interesting, anachronistic setting; weird alchemy stuff; a huge slew of characters and viewpoints; framing devices within framing devices.
Instead, it felt...scattered? The character design made things muddled, and the disparate points of view made it difficult to tease out the tangled web of loyalties and interpersonal relationships. None of these things would be that big of a deal if the core action was coherent and propulsive enough, but it... wasn't, and many of the climactic showdowns felt inert.
(None of my complaints apply to Isaac and Miria, who for my money are probably my two favorite anime characters...ever? Certainly my two favorite comedic characters.)
This is the first Gundam show I've watched since my Toonami days, and it was — excellent. There was nothing silly or sophomoric; it was a mature and frankly brutal miniseries on the cost of war. What was surprising to me was how "un-Gundam" it was; there were maybe two or three mecha battles and really there was nothing unique about them that couldn't have been expressed in, like, climactic shootouts of any other sort.
Also, the music was great
It is rare for me to complain that I wish a show was longer, but: I wish this was longer! The tropey interplay was fun but there wasn't that much of it because 13 episodes meant an extremely tight arc, and the most fun aspects of these sorts of shows — getting to try and figure out the mystery before the show reveals it — is nigh-impossible because the actual investigation scenes happen in the span of seconds. The setting is weird and fun and the characters are great, but too brief — really all this did was act as an effective advertisement for the game on which it was based.
What a weirdly unsatisfying season of television. I did not love WandaVision but it was something that was obviously meant to be television: episodes were self-contained, interesting, and true to form.
This was a six-episode-long movie, and not a particularly well-paced movie at that. Hiddleston was okay! Jonathan Majors was excellent (and should have been inserted much earlier than the finale.) Owen Wilson was fun but underused, and none of the other characters particularly mattered. Some of the special effects were particularly bad, and the script-writing was just....yeesh.
A bit of a slow-burn start with a few too many tropes, but I think the back half of the season — once we got into an interesting and multifaceted cast of characters and a sense of real unchartered territory (both literally and in terms of plot) it really blossomed into something great. (Also, Thorkell is just a classically excellent character, a JRPG protagonist come to life, and his ethos and compass keeps the show from being a melodrama.)
Perfect series. The Bojack comparisons are obvious, but what this show really demonstrates is a warmth and humanity for every character in its orbit (okay, with maybe one or two exceptions). The central crime & tensions is very fun — and the protagonist's demeanor makes the entire thing feel very Murakami, even if that's an obvious comparison — the music is great, and it's just a rollocking good time all around. I loved it, I thought it was flawless, I thought it nailed the landing, I think
Incredible, incredible anime. The visual aesthetic alone is terrific, and the core premise is fun-if-not-revelatory, but the show's sense of humor and chaos (perhaps best encapsulated in Ozu, who reads most as like some sort of Shakespearean imp) just had me straight up grinning in every episode. I loved it, and it was fun, and it was delightful to watch.
The first season was messy and a bit spottily plotted but glorious: the acting was top notch, the subversions were all there, and it was just joyous. The plot alone would have been great, and the acting alone would have been great, and the aesthetic & costuming just brings everything over the top!
The second season, though... much less so. No characterizations make sense; Sandra Oh’s character becomes uninteresting and unconvincing, and the plot feels... like fanfiction. (Someone called “The Ghost”? Really?) It left a bad enough taste in our mouths that we’re not interested in a third season, which is a shame. (I am going to start calling this the Mandalorian Effect.)
Incredible music and some very fun (if more than a little MHA-inspired) character design but good lord is the plot stale. The soundtrack is really really delightful and I would watch a spin-off starring the mercenary crew who were vastly more fun and interesting than the titular protagonist or the
A one-season show that was not exactly a wonder, but it knew exactly what it was: low-prestige silly television. It had a terrific commitment to bits; Rob Lowe was terrific (essentially playing himself). Timothy Olyphant was terrific literally playing himself. Fred Savage and Mary Elizabeth Wilstead were solid and game-y! The kids and side characters were poorly fleshed out but that would have been ameliorated with more time. I am going to miss this show; it deserved a second season, and the level of metacommentary it hit in the last few episodes (in particular the final scene of the show!) was worth the price of admission on its own.
I knew the film more than the series, and a lot of what I was expecting is colored by that lens. The first season in particular was less cerebral and more, uh, traditional — not in a bad sense, but besides the subplot of the Tachikomae slowly becoming supercomputers (which I loved, and every character beat was pleasant and earned!) it felt something like more of a low-rent CBS drama. NCIS: Cyberpunk Japan.
The second season was much better in almost every realm. The standalone episodes were less “The Major Goes On An Adventure” and more focused on fleshing out the rest of Section 9; even truly one-off episodes, like the Taxi Driver pastiche, were finely crafted. I cared less about Individual Eleven / Kuze than I did Laughing Man, but the general plot and atmosphere felt like a step up.
It’s not as good as the film, but that’s a high bar to reach. It is good cyberpunk anime that didn’t always nail the landing (the finale of both seasons was less gripping than the actual lead-up and middle plot), but was worth watching.
(Also, the music was uniformly great. Yoko Kanno at her peak.)
A remarkable show (in the literal sense.) Clearly a talented writer's room that learned way too late that the plotting and characters they had set up were absolutely insufferable, and by the time they started to course-correct in the second season it was too late. Billy Eichner's straight-man character was really well-done, and there are a couple moments of genuine glee (the first half of the finale!), but it was drowning in a sea of melodrama and uncharitable assholes.
Two things I will share about Emily In Paris, a truly bad show:
What to say about this show that isn’t damning with faint praise?
The first three episodes were terrific, and amongst the best things Marvel has done. Every time after that we exited “the universe of the show” it sucked! Why are we dealing with the most generic bad guy in the world! Who gives a shit about these awful action scenes? Why do we have to pull the most obvious subtexts into the foreground?
The answer, of course, is that because this is a Marvel property, and I am not the perfect audience — I liked this despite its MCU heritage, not because of it. But there was a path for this show to be truly great, and it’s a bummer that they steered away from it. (Maybe what I wish is that this show was Legion, which this certainly took a few beats from.)
The show owns! I liked the back half much more than the front half, but the transition from silly slice-of-life to thriller was really well done, and the "working backwards" of it all turned out incredibly well I think. You grow attached to almost every character — even the protagonist shifts from anime annoying weirdo to someone you genuinely feel for — and the show made me legitimately laugh pretty often. Just very very well done!
This was a series with lots of flaws, but it was so relentlessly interesting and unsettling — in aesthetic, in content, in message — that I don't think I will stop thinking about it or connecting with it for a very long time.
Season one: terrific, and my favorite piece of Star Wars content ever. I get that it's just a space veneer around Westerns, but its done so damn well — the characters are engaging and interesting, the direction & score is fantastic. I can't really think of any huge complaints.
Season two: they certainly doubled down on the Star Wars, didn't they? This was a bit of a disappointment: the music was lovely and there were a couple of really great emotional beats (the final ten minutes of the season were wonderful not because of the big spoiler but because of the tearful goodbye Mando gave), but overall this felt too fanservicey. Too many gratuitous action scenes; too many backdoor pilots; too much Star Wars talk.
This is probably my least favorite season of Fargo and it was still really solid.
But the entire thing was just too long. This was eleven episodes that could have been trimmed down to eight fairly easily; it feels like a consequence of Hawley's stature within FX being so sacrosanct that nobody can tell him no. (That's projection, of course, but if he was going to be indulgent I would have preferred him to be at least interestingly indulgent.)
Delightful. I’d recommend pacing out your consumption a bit more than we did — like the books themselves, and perhaps like the format writ large, the formula wears a bit thin and obvious when you’re giving yourself ninety minutes of it each night — but Suchet’s acting is delightful, the production elegantly scales from low-budget camp to high-budget elegance, and sometimes you just want to curl up with a whodunit.
It is not an elevatory iteration of the form, but it is perhaps the purest version of it possible, and consistently well-executed.
This, to me, is the perfect sit-com. It’s that simple: for two seasons (skip the first season; you don’t need it and the show tries to be too conventional) it shits out an outrageous level of humor with a cast that has a perfect chemistry. There is a tiny bit of “aw, shucks” relationship drama and camaraderie, but mostly it’s just about an insanely high number of jokes. This is the apex of the “six friends hanging out” show; there are shows that go in different directions with it (like How I Met Your Mother ↗ and their innovation/reliance on pseudo-postmodern narration) but I have yet to encounter a show that improves upon the formula.
Sports Night is, in the final calculus, a not very good show that is the obvious prequel to West Wing ↗ (a show which itself is probably Not Very Good but I love it dearly, perhaps especially for its flaws.) I think you can excuse many of its faults — it was a “prestige show in a network landscape” before that was really a thing, and there is no sharper hallmark of such a descriptor than the gradual move away from the laugh track over the course of the first season. I think if you grade it as a sitcom it’s actually fairly easy to love, and if you grade it as a sort of beta test for West Wing it’s fairly easy to appreciate (though the number of monologues Sorkin directly airlifted from this to the latter is comical).
When I think of Sports Night, I think of the finale of the show, and the deus ex machina television executive yelling brashly and firmly:
Anybody who can't make money off Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.
What a very sweet and awful way to send off a show. You can litigate Sorkin to hell and back, but you can never fault him for earnestness.
Okay, so, Game of Thrones.
I don't think I have a lot of interesting material to cover here: no show before or since will ever be so completely trampled upon by the content-industrial complex quite like this one. Yes, I hated the ending — I was "out" on the show a few seasons more than the average person, I think, mostly because I was always more interested in the "High Fantasy Sopranos" angle more than the "Dragons & Zombies" angle and the plot understandably shifted from the former to the latter over time.
That being said: still a good show! I don't regret spending time with it, and if someone somehow appeared in the world without a preconception about it I very easily and very quickly recommend them the show.
The thing that will stick with me about Game of Thrones, though, is the first few seasons, and the pitch or lens that I'm sure is relatively common but I can't find the original source where I encountered:
Take the most stereotypical fantasy premise possible: a king has become insane with power and a loyal group of warriors unite to overthrow him and improve the world. Now what happens after that?
I love that, and that vaguely postmodern genre lens fulfills its promise and then some. Game of Thrones was — is — at its best when its deconstructing the genre with equal parts adoration & malice.