Things I’ve watched on Netflix while feeding my infant

Before they send you home from the hospital with your newborn, they really should surgically attach two more arms to all moms.  Because everything with babies requires two hands: nursing, feeding bottles, holding them while they cry for seemingly no reason, making sure their pacifier doesn’t fall out of their mouth. Et cetera.

So all you can do to keep your brain from turning to baby mush is watch TV, because this requires no hands at all.  Bonus points if you never have to change the channel.  At Christmas, I watched every single holiday movie on the Hallmark channel at least once.  Now it’s HGTV or Food Network.

But the better option obviously is binging TV shows on Netflix.  So here are a few of the things I’ve enjoyed recently.

Castlevania

Image result for netflix castlevania

This is a Netflix original animation inspired by the classic video game of the same name.  The story follows vampire hunter Trevor Belmont as he and his group attempt to stop Dracula from taking revenge on humanity after the vampire’s wife was unjustly executed for witchcraft.  I’ve never played that game series, but my husband recognized several elements from it.  It is also quite violent and gruesome, so I wouldn’t recommend it for children despite the fact that it’s animated.

I give it major points for the quality of the writing and animation, plus the voice cast is great, featuring Richard “Thorin Oakenshield” Armitage as Belmont.

The first season is only four episodes, which mostly just sets up the story, introducing characters, etc.  The second season will be out this year, and there are more planned after that.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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I read and enjoyed this series of books around 15 years ago, and this adaptation is quite frankly all I could have asked for.  The story follows the three Baudelaire orphans as they try to escape the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, who is after their fortune.  It is narrated by the fictitious author Lemony Snicket with a tone of surrealist dark humor.  Also the theme song is absurdly catchy.

The cast is excellent, featuring Patrick Warburton, Alfre Woodard, Catherine O’Hara, and especially Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf.  The three Baudelaire children are also excellent and carry the series easily.

The first season covers the first four books in the series, with two episodes per book, and the pacing is perfect.  The second season, which I am looking forward to in March, with cover the next five books over ten episodes.

The Punisher

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I’m still working my way through this one, but so far it’s been on par with the better Marvel Netflix series.

This is a series I certainly would not have had much interest in…until the portrayal of Frank Castle was the best thing about season two of Netflix’s Daredevil.  Now he has his own series, and his own season two is on the way.  Frank is still dealing with the loss of his family as well as secrets from his time serving in Afghanistan; after the events of Daredevil, only a few people even know he’s alive.

This show has the intensity you would expect, and I thought the violence was about on par with Daredevil, perhaps a little more brutal.  I tried watching this back in December, and while I thought the first episode was a great start to the series, I just could not handle it in my post-partum state.  I cried straight through the last ten minutes of it.  So now I’m trying again.

I don’t think this show has gotten as much hype as the other Marvel Netflix shows, so I would encourage you to check it out even if you haven’t seen the others.  It’s nice to have a story with an antihero every now and then; Punisher is much more “grey” than the other Defenders main characters.

Sword Art Online

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People have been recommending this one to me for years, and with good reason.  It follows a group of gamers stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG.  The premise reminded me of .hack//Sign, an anime from the 2000s that I enjoyed.  Having played MMORPGs, a lot of the concepts were familiar and worked well with the story (but you don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy it).

I actually watched the English dub for this one and I thought it was pretty good.  The animation is nice, too, but nothing revolutionary.  I very much liked the episodic way the story is laid out; it sometimes skips ahead months to the next quest/raid/boss battle.  The two main characters, Kirito and Asuna, are great, and there’s a nice supporting cast.

The tone of the story is a nice balance; it’s not very dark, but it does deal with some serious concepts about life and death and reality.  The second story arc is less impressive, sidelining Asuna in a weird, rapey plot.  Overall I would definitely recommend it, but it’s probably not among the best anime I’ve ever seen.

Others

I’ve been further catching up on my anime with Death Note, and enjoying the new Japanese drama The Many Faces of Ito.  I always enjoy a good BBC drama, and Call the Midwife has been really interesting to me, having recently had to do just that!

What are you guys watching right now?  Any recommendations?  Especially light comedy or drama!  I also have Amazon Prime, and I’m contemplating getting Hulu so I can watch The Handmaid’s Tale and Runaways.

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Iron Fist: Yup, it’s just kinda there.

The latest Marvel Netflix outing, Iron Fist, came out last Friday with some pre-emptive strikes from critics.  But keep in mind, critics only saw the first six episodes; I (and many other fans) have now binged the whole thing in less than a week (less than a weekend for some), so I’m here to give my spoiler-free thoughts.

Marvel's Iron Fist

In short, I enjoyed it, and if you were already planning to watch it, or have seen the other shows and are interested in The Defenders, I think you will too.  Just keep your expectations on the low side going in, because it is not nearly as good as the three previous series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage), and if you have no interest in superheroes/the MCU/etc. don’t even bother.

I went into Iron Fist hoping for a kung fu show, but what I got was a corporate drama with some occasional ninjas…sorry, not even ninjas, mostly just random thugs.  Unlike the three previous shows, this show didn’t really have much to say.  Danny Rand’s origin story appears as a watered-down version of Batman or Oliver Queen.  His parents are killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas; he’s rescued to the hidden mystical city of K’un Lun where he trains and earns the title of Iron Fist; he returns to reclaim his parents’ company.

It gets off to a very slow start.  The first episodes that the critics saw could easily have been condensed into two or three with better pacing.  (It even manages to make sex scenes boring.  How does that happen?!) But it does pick up quite a bit in the second half as new characters are introduced and twists revealed, and I really enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we hardly get to see anything of K’un Lun or Danny’s time there.  There are a few flashbacks, but mostly just the same one of his parents dying over and over.  There’s a reason the first season of Arrow worked so well, and I think this show should have taken some notes.  We don’t get any sense of where Danny is coming from until really late in the season, which I think hampers our ability to relate to him and understand his mood swings.

The show also suffers from lack of focus on a villain.  DD season 1, JJ, and the first half of LC all have one thing in common: a strong, compelling, central villain.  There are several antagonists throughout this series, and while some are great (particularly Madame Gao and Harold Meachum), it sometimes felt more like a set-up for the Defenders series than a story for Iron Fist in his own right.

The side characters are the real shining light in the show.  Colleen Wing is great overall and has a great character arc.  The clip of her cage fight in her classic white tracksuit had already convinced me I would like her.  Ward Meachum consistently improves as the series progresses, also getting his own character arc.  Danny’s friend Davos is a wonderful foil for Danny, and I hope we will see more of him in the future.  And Claire Temple immediately breathes life into the show when she appears in episode five.

My biggest disappointment with the show was probably the martial arts action.  Again, it wasn’t bad…it was just kinda there.  I was hoping for a real martial arts show, but the choreography was no more impressive than Daredevil, and I really disliked the use of lots of quick cuts during the fights.  There is a bit of discussion of different styles of martial arts, but I wish they had shown the differences even more, especially when Colleen with her katana faces off against a Chinese wuxia-style fighter.

The best fight comes in episode eight where Danny faces a Hand guardian who’s using the “drunken master” style.  (During that fight, I said to my husband, “Can we keep this guy instead of Danny?”  Because he has about 10x the charisma.)  But if you really want to see a martial arts show, go check out Into the Badlands instead—the first season is now on Netflix and the second season is currently airing on AMC.

I would put this show at least on par with the DC shows currently airing on the CW (Arrow, Flash, etc.)–least anyone think that is an insult, I’ll reiterate that I enjoyed all of them.

Anyone else have opinions?  We can get spoilery down in the comments if you want.

Luke Cage

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The third Marvel/Netflix series released last weekend, and why, yes, I have already watched all 13 episodes of Luke Cage.  Although it didn’t quite reach the heights of Daredevil s1 and Jessica Jones, it’s a solid addition to the line-up and really has me excited for the upcoming Defenders team-up.

Luke Cage, previously introduced in JJ, has decamped to Harlem where he’s trying to hide his super strength and impenetrable skin while working two jobs.  He’s trying to live a normal life.  But he gets caught up in protecting a local kid who’s crossed a powerful nightclub owner known as Cottonmouth, and little by little he steps up into his role as a protector for the neighborhood.

My primary issue with the series was that the story did not have as tight a narrative as DD and JJ.  It was slightly messy at times, which lead to a little unevenness and confusion.  I felt the series started out a little slow, but it really picked up steam as it went, and by the second half it was definitely binge-worthy.

Luke Cage has a very different feel, lacking the exciting fight choreography of DD and the psychological thrills of JJ.  I think this is the first time I felt like a Marvel property was not made for me…and that’s great!  I lacked a lot of cultural touchstones that would have helped me relate to LC.  I never felt that way before because of elements like the Catholic guilt that infuses DD and the unapologetically female lens of JJ.  But LC doesn’t slow down to explain African American cultural references; it just lives and breathes them.  (For a black perspective on the show, check out Evan Narcisse’s roundtable on io9.)

It’s about time we had a superhero show like this.  The creators don’t shy away from social commentary, whether it’s the difference of opinion between the characters on the use of the n-word, or the powerful image of a bulletproof black man in a hoodie.  I think Luke Cage is the best contemporary update of a superhero since the first Iron Man movie eight years ago.

Also, the use of music is amazing.  The score had echoes of Daredevil to me, and the club scenes allow for a constant flow of hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, etc.  And even I know who Method Man is!

Marvel fans will notice plenty of little fun details throughout the series.  There’s a great visual joke about Power Man’s original costume, a flier for Colleen Wing’s self defense classes, and the requisite Stan Lee cameo.  There’s also some great crossover with DD and JJ, including characters Turk and ADA Blake Tower from DD, and an episode of Trish Talk from JJ.  (I was hoping for a Danny Rand/Iron Fist appearance, but no such luck.)

The crossover with the rest of the MCU is less impressive.  The “incident” of the first Avengers movie is still mentioned and seems to have lingering effects, but there’s no mention of the Sokovia Accords, or Ultron, or Inhumans, any of which might have been known to the characters.

One last gripe: the science is…not good.  They did try a little to explain scientifically how Luke got his powers, but they just kind of ended up flinging around sciencey terms like CRISPR that don’t really add up to a plausible explanation.  But it doesn’t bother me too much because, hey, superheroes.

Favorite good guy: Misty Knightmisty-knight-poster

Misty’s character has a pretty rough job in LC: she’s both a black woman and a cop, and she has to carry a good chunk of the show.  And she pulls it off with flying colors, showing great range of character.  In a show that featured so many different of women of color, Misty stood out to me as being intelligent but still having her heart in the right place.  She’s already confirmed for Defenders and I couldn’t be more excited.

Runners up: Bobby Fish and Claire Temple

Bobby Fish, the chess-playing fixture at Pop’s barber shop, contributed his humor and practicality, helping to keep this superhero show grounded.  Claire Temple, who has already appeared in DD and JJ, kept on being awesome.  I was pleased with how much she was in the show, and I loved her “old married couple” relationship with Luke, but it does seem to be a little problematic that she keeps falling for all the superheroes she patches up.

shades-posterFavorite bad guy: Shades

Shades really stood out to me with his ubiquitous sunglasses, unshakably cool demeanor, and “I know something you don’t know” attitude.  He always has a plan, and I had no doubts he’d come out on top.  Also, I swear this actor looked super familiar but I can’t figure out what I know him from.  Any ideas?

Runner up: Mariah Dillard

Mariah, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, had the most interesting character arc in the whole show.  She’s the only bad guy here that could possibly reach Wilson Fisk/Kilgrave territory in terms of awesomeness.  Looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.

What did you guys think of Luke Cage?  How did it compare to the other Marvel properties for you?

 

 

Fall Geek TV, 2015

I haven’t talked about TV shows yet this fall, have I?  Right now during NaNoWriMo, TV is exactly the kind of vice I’ve been struggling with as it kills my writing time.  But I just can’t help it.  Here’s what I’ve been watching (or not, as the case may be).

What I’m loving:

  • Jessica Jones (Netflix): Because Marvel likes to torture all of us who are doing NaNoWriMo.

This show came out a week ago and I’m halfway through right now.  I think it is technically even better than Daredevil, though I’m not finding it quite as enjoyable (I think it’s the lack of fight scenes).  I especially like its treatment of mental illness, abusive relationships, and addiction (both literally and in metaphor), as well as the fact that it has TWO female lead characters, giving us a perspective that Marvel’s never really done before.

  • Into the Badlands (AMC): Here’s how I’m getting my fight scene fix.

This is an actual, legit martial arts TV show.  Plus it airs after The Walking Dead, so you can just stick around.  We’re 2 episodes into this 6-episode season, and I felt the second episode improved on the first (which was mostly just set up).  The characters are still a bit flat, but the show makes up for it by being stylish as hell.  The design is great and the fight choreography is lovely.  Plus we get an Asian-American male lead (Daniel Wu), with a non-white girlfriend no less.  I’m kind of in love with his character Sonny; he has these amazing, subtle facial expressions.

  • Supergirl (CBS): Not the world’s greatest show, but I’m liking it well enough so far.

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Melissa Benoist makes an adorable Supergirl/Kara Danvers, and I’d watch anything with Mehcad Brooks, who plays Jimmy Olsen…I mean James.  I’m kind of used to Kara being the cool girl and Jimmy being the dork but the show interestingly switches that around.  The writing and characters have been ok so far, leaning a bit too heavily on a villain-of-the-week structure.  I did really enjoy their take on DCAU character Livewire in the 4th episode.

What I need to catch up on:

  • The Flash/Arrow (CW)

I just finished watching the previous seasons of these shows, which were great.  Everything from the crossovers to Gorilla Grodd was squee-inducing.  The Flash finale actually made me cry a little.  Even Laurel has improved.  I just wish they would give Felicity something more to do, and decide on a pronunciation for “Ra’s.”  In any case, I have the current seasons waiting on my DVR, and I can’t wait to start!

  • Agents of SHIELD (ABC): Same deal.
This show has the best posters.

Last season was quite enjoyable, and I have this season waiting for me on the DVR.  It seems like there will be a focus on the Inhumans, so we’ll see how that’s going to mix in with the rest of the MCU and the upcoming movie of that name.

What I’m dropping:

  • Once Upon a Time (ABC):

I was willing to give this season a try for Merida, but I watched a couple episodes and kinda lost interest.  I might catch up when it gets to Netflix or something, but I’m not really in a hurry.

  • Gotham (Fox):

I watched about half of the first season, and while I enjoyed it for what it was, it wasn’t good enough for me to keep going on a regular basis.  And it seems like every week it just gets crazier.

What I’m waiting for:

  • The Expanse (SyFy): Episode 1 is up online!

expanse

This show is an adaptation of a great space opera book series; the first is called Leviathan Wakes.  I’m excited for real sci-fi back on the SyFy channel.  I’ve heard good things about the pilot and I’m planning to watch it online this weekend; the show premieres on TV December 14.

  • Legends of Tomorrow (CW): Coming next year.

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After last season of Flash and Arrow, how could I not be excited for this?  I know the current seasons are busy setting up for this show, introducing Hawkgirl, etc., and they just released a trailer that looks amazing.  The characters!  The special effects!  IT’S LIKE A MINI JUSTICE LEAGUE ON TV AND I’M SO EXCITED. Ahem.  Anyways, it premieres January 21.

Sense8 is a slow, mindbending adventure

Sense8 (2015) PosterI usually give TV shows a few episodes to hook me before I decide whether I want to keep watching or not.  In the first two episodes of Sense8, the new sci-fi Netflix series from J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis, my husband and I sat through the introduction of eight characters with no discernable connection between them, except that they all had something to do with this woman that committed suicide on a mattress, and the cryptic mutterings of Naveen Andrews’s character (whom I continued to call Sayid, despite his name being Jonas, or something). At that point, I told my husband I would even be thrilled if they were all aliens, because then at least something would make some kind of sense.

I love character-driven stories, and even I thought this was slow. I was pretty much ready to quit, but B seemed to like it, so we kept going, and finished the series in about a week.  If you are patient enough, the story unfolds nicely and the eight characters come to life, not just within their own stories, but as a group, psychically connected to each other.

They live all over the globe: Chicago, Seoul, Berlin, Nairobi.  They are gay and straight, cops and criminals, loving sons and troubled daughters. They make bad choices and fight for their loved ones.  And their lives are changed forever when discover they are a “cluster” of sensates, empathetically linked, and the true joy of the series is watching them learn to use their various talents to help each other and become something more than individuals.

I liked all the characters, especially the women. Here’s a video intro to one of my favorite characters, Sun (also shows Capheus and Nomi):

Netflix is really the perfect venue for this show, both because of pacing and content.  It is eminently binge-able, because watching it in succession helps build a little more of the momentum that the show needs.

Sense8 was also not destined for broadcast TV due to its graphic content.  There are graphic depictions of sex (including gay sex and masturbation), violence (including gunplay and suicide), drug use, and childbirth.  Though most of it is in the service of character or story, it was a little raw for me at times.

The end climax of the story was suitably dramatic, but the resolution felt a little weak to me because it leaves the fate of the group, and one member specifically, a bit open.  I was hoping for a more complete, self-contained story.  This was more of an origin story for the group, and it doesn’t seem like their journey together is over yet.