TV Review – We Are Who We Are

We Are Who We Are (HBO)
Written by Paolo Giordano, Francesca Manieri, and Luca Guadagnino
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino has a talent for making small, everyday moments bubble over with emotion and energy. In his mini-series, We Are Who We Are, the daily travails of American teenagers living on a military base in Italy will be going along as expected, and then the right music cue and change in camera speed elevate the outing into something mythic, poetic, beautiful. Just as he’s done in I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino is once again exploring ideas of love and of being an uncomfortable outsider in a new place. The result is the best television program of 2020, a work of art that reminds us why HBO is a powerhouse for quality television that allows artists to manifest their vision.

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TV Review – Monsterland Season 1

Monsterland (Hulu)
Written by Nathan Ballingrud, Mary Laws, Scott Kosar, Wesley Strick, and Emily Kaczmarek
Directed by Anne Sewitsky, Kevin Phillips, Craig William MacNeil, Eagle Egilsson, Logan Kibens, Nicolas Pesce, Desiree Akhavan, and Babak Anvari

Oh, dear. As I have said many times before that television horror anthologies are a tough feat to pull off. So, I want to acknowledge that making this series had to be a challenge. You have a new cast every episode with a new director. That can’t be easy to do. You have between forty-five minutes to an hour to tell a full character arc, which is another near impossibility. All of this said, I really hated Monsterland. It was a real slog to get through all the episodes, and I found myself forcing the last two down just so it could be over.

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TV Review – Lovecraft Country Season

Lovecraft Country (HBO Max)
Written by Misha Green, Wes Taylor, Jonathan I. Kidd, Sonya Winton-Odamtten, Kevin Lau, Shannon Houston, and Ihuoma Ofordire
Directed by Yann Demange, Daniel Sackheim, Victoria Mahoney, Cheryl Dunye, Helen Shaver, Charlotte Sieling, Misha Green, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and Nelson McCormick

Back in 2017, I read & reviewed Matt Ruff’s novel, Lovecraft Country. My main take away is how I didn’t feel that the book lived up to the title, barely connecting its narrative to horror tropes associated with author H.P. Lovecraft. I think the exploration of ties between the Black experience in America, the racism woven throughout Lovecraft’s work, and the cosmic horror he presents are all ingredients for something that could be incredibly special. My thoughts were that I hoped the pending HBO series would find a way to deliver on the promise of the book, mainly because the showrunners were Black. Sadly, Lovecraft fizzled out in the same way as the novel.

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TV Review – The Third Day

The Third Day (HBO Max)
Written by Dennis Kelly, Kit de Waal & Dean O’Loughlin
Directed by Marc Munden & Philippa Lowthorpe

I have been a massive fan of Dennis Kelly & Marc Munden since I first saw their collaboration in the UK version of Utopia. I haven’t yet sat down to watch the American remake on Amazon, but the reviews & comments I’ve seen from those familiar with the original doesn’t put me in any rush to do so. These two creators are brilliant at constructing character-centered stories around fantastic concepts and presenting them in visually striking ways. The bells & whistles never got in the way of the story and, in fact, served to enhance the narrative, a rare feat. The duo has done it again, this time with more collaborators on HBO’s recent The Third Day.

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TV Review – Raised by Wolves Season 1

Raised by Wolves Season 1 (2020)
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, Heather Bellson, Don Joh, Karen Campbell, & Sinead Daly
Directed by Ridley Scott, Luke Scott, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Alex Gabassi, & James Hawes

It’s hard to argue about the influence Ridley Scott has had on science fiction since the late 1970s. Through two movies, Alien and Blade Runner, he was one of the chief figures in elevating science fiction movies above the B-flick reputation they had garnered since the 1950s. My feelings on Scott have waned since Prometheus and revisiting some of his work. He is excellent in production design, but most of his work is very shallow thematically and frequently features undercooked plots. I was interested to see what Raised by Wolves would be like, a television series, a format that demands more character development. The result is a mixed bag with many things to love but a season finale that feels like everything went off the rails.

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TV Review – Pen15 Season 2 Part 1

Pen15 Season 2 Part 1 (Hulu)
Written by Sam Zvibleman, Gabe Liedman, Anna Konkle, Vera Santamaria, Josh Levine, and Maya Erskine
Directed by Sam Zvibleman

The first season of Pen15 was a wonderfully funny, absurd examination of female adolescence at the start of the 21st century. The creators and writers managed to balance the pathos & pain of growing up with inventive moments of comedy, most notably the two leads being played by thirtysomething against a cast of age-appropriate classmates. Season two took a slightly different route and ended up being much heavier & downbeat in its episodes’ conclusions, highlighting the melancholy nature of being a young teen in the 2000s.

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TV Review – The Best of The Simpsons Part 5

The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show (Season 8, Episode 14)
Original airdate: February 9, 1997
Written by David S. Cohen
Directed by Steven Dean Moore

The Simpsons has always been focused on lampooning and critiquing the medium of television. The method of doing this frequently comes from episodes centered on Itchy and Scratchy, the in-universe children’s cartoon series featuring a hyper-violent cat and mouse. In 1990, the series did its first episode with Marge against Roger Meyers Jr. and the animation studio that makes Itchy & Scratchy. In 1997, with The Simpsons looking like it would last forever (and arguably has), the writers decided to comment on what happens when a show has been around for so long that it appears it might be going stale.

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TV Review – The Best of The Simpsons Part 4

22 Short Films About Springfield (Season 7, Episode 21)
Original airdate: April 14, 1996
Written by Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Jennifer Crittenden, Greg Daniels, Brent Forrester, Rachel Pulido, Steve Tompkins, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, & Matt Groening
Directed by Jim Reardon

In season four, the staff realized they were short a couple of minutes for the runtime of “The Front.” They tacked a very short “bonus” Ned Flanders cartoon complete with a theme song and title card, a la Looney Tunes, or Hanna-Barbera. The staff loved the silliness of the short they tried to find places for them over the ensuing years but just could never fit them in. 

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TV Review – The Best of The Simpsons Part 3

Deep Space Homer (Season five, episode fifteen)
Original airdate: February 24, 1994
Written by David Mirkin
Directed by Carlos Baeza (with David Silverman)

For some staff and crew, including creator Matt Groening, this episode felt like jumping the shark. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it is derived from a pretty ludicrous episode of Happy Days and has come to mean a moment when a television series goes off the rails, losing touch with what made it special, and instead becomes centered around an outlandish weekly gimmick. I can definitely see the argument for Deep Space Homer being that type of episode, but I still contend that the “jumping the shark” moment was later in The Simpsons’ development.

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TV Review – The Best of The Simpsons Part One

Like an old relationship, I fell out of love with The Simpsons a lifetime ago. When we were together, it was an all-consuming passion, a primary element in shaping who I am today. When we fell out of love, it was sudden and cold. No regrets. That said, revisiting these episodes was a lot of fun, and I was reminded of how comprehensively the series was a part of my regular communication as a child and adolescent. So many of these phrases were uttered by myself and my siblings. I think The Simpsons was one of many touchstones that taught me about humor and how to be funny.

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