July Binge Edition
It’s not just a question of how much I can watch between personal hygiene breaks; it’s a question of what’s good to binge out there right now! With a little more time than usual in July, I managed to knock out a few seasons of a few shows and break in the cushions on my couch far past the factory warranty levels…
Dark 2 (Netflix)
The mind bending German time travel series Dark requires intense concentration to follow. And not just because it’s subtitled. The storyline from season 1 started with a slow burn, but in extremely over simplified terms, it revolves around a small village in Germany with a nuclear power plant built over a cave with tunnels that lead 33 years into the past and 33 years into the future (sort of- it’s complicated). The characters mostly originate from three families that are interlinked through time and romance, which can be problematic when you find out you may be dating your toddler’s daughter- or some such. What season 1 got right: Time travel. Spot on, like up there with 12 Monkeys with attention to details and cause and effect. What it got wrong: Sometimes it’s too convoluted for its own good. I had to pause repeatedly to remember relationships and connections across the families and decades.
Unfortunately, I think season 2 doubled down on what’s wrong and weakened what was right, but I guess when you’re going from missing kids to the apocalypse, that’s a risk you have to take. Events become even more complicated, and a version of the grandfather trope gets employed, but don’t worry, you can, and probably will, google flowcharts to follow all the relations. I guess to dig themselves out of the cliffhangers they left in season 1, the writers had to open up the idea of time travel and as a result the consequences become unfathomably difficult to follow, and while I appreciated the explanations and answers to question, not every resolution has to spawn three more mysteries. But it was pretty cool how they widened the universe in the past and future by building on one of those cliffhangers. Several characters still remain compelling; no matter which version you’re watching, they’ll tug at your heart, and the drama between them all across time is as captivating as the idea of cults and self-fulfilling prophecies are boring.
Season 2’s ending didn’t really grab me. The concept just seemed like too much afield of what made Dark work, but I’ll be sticking around for season 3. Knowing it’ll be the conclusion, I’ve got faith that the brilliance behind season 1 can be recaptured to bring it all together in a fulfilling manner.
Musical note- Goosebump worthy theme song.
So should you watch it? Tentatively, yes. It’s adult oriented and requires complete attention, but can be compelling and richly rewarding for those who appreciate the mechanics of time travel and period pieces. The attention to detail is spot on from post war 50s Germany to Cold War 80s Germany. But speaking of traveling back to the 80s…
Stranger Things 3 (Netflix)
You couldn’t go online in early to mid-July without being bombarded with Stranger Things spoilers and quick takes. The general consensus seems to be that Season 3 was the best so far, and I’m inclined to agree. The kids are growing up and they’ve reached that special age where all young teenagers begin to discover something they’ve never really noticed before, something that makes them feel a little strange inside- The Mall. Make no mistake, from the music to the architecture to the clothes, Stranger Things’ greatest strength is its nostalgia and the showrunners use it with Terminator laser focus on their audience, almost to over saturation.
That said, the Duffer brothers still managed to put out a good story which in many ways felt like it had more immediate threat than the previous seasons. There were a couple of twists on the usual and not so usual Big Bad(s), which played right into everything 80s. For the most part, the characters’ actions flowed organically with new relationships developing, and while the larger cast seemed to break apart in ways that were at times infuriating with their lack of communications (no group text? really… oh yeah…), it also made sense to their individual natures and could even be considered a facet of growing up and growing apart. Even the much maligned actions
Dad Hopper takes makes sense, in light of his history as a grieving parent with probable PTSD from Vietnam who’s clearly a barely functioning alcoholic.
Stranger Things is one of those series you don’t want to nitpick, you just want to sit back and remember that song you haven’t heard in a decade and recall how much fun it was to just “hang out”, without questioning too much. That way lies madness and eye rolling. The season ended with both a measure of finality but also teasers of what may come. Personally, with season 4, I hope we do see more of the growth of the kids, more Team Ahoy, and another twist on the dangers Hawkins may face. There’s still plenty of awesomely cheesy 80s to mine.
Musical note- You’ll want the soundtrack, because, 80s.
So should you watch it? I mean, yeah, if you want to know what all the memes mean. If you spent any time in the 80s, especially as a young teenager, this show resonates with you. It has the bonus of being family friendly with (not so) subtle messages relevant today. And it doesn’t hurt that they cast everyone you had a crush on in the 80s as the adults, either.
Black Spot 1 & 2 (Netflix)
Black Spot or Zone Blanche if you prefer, is a French police procedural that only barely qualifies as genre, and you have to wade through all of season 1 for any real confirmation. In that sense, it reminded me a bit of Lost, trying to pretend to not be science fiction, nudgenudgewinkwink. The premise is there’s a small town deep in the woods of France (oh yeah, more subtitles) where cell reception doesn’t work, hence the name Black Spot, and also people get murdered on like a weekly basis. The local gendarmerie, all four of them, somehow manage to keep the peace despite corrupt politicians, a nosy DA, eco-terrorists, and the… demigod living in the woods?
The acting was decent, but the motivations and relationships between characters was inconsistent as they go from allies to enemies on a weekly basis. It played too much to the drama and not enough to the mysticism, although again that’s not unlike Lost. Or maybe it’s just a French thing. But how can you not like a show where one of the cops is named Teddy Bear?
By the end of season 2 though, all problems aside, they committed to the notion of genre, and even threw in a twist I wasn’t expecting that may have taken the show from leaning fantasy to leaning science fiction. I haven’t read anything about a season 3, but I’d watch it if it comes out, because if they go all in on the cliffhanger, like I suspect they might, it could be really cool, with a great payoff. But if it doesn’t come back, I expect I’ll get along just fine.
Musical Note- The theme’ll make you wonder when the US version set in the Appalachian Mountains is coming out.
So should you watch it? Wait to see if their’s a season 3, and if so, I’d say work it in if you have the time. I think there’s a potential here, but it’s only hinted at in the first two seasons and if there isn’t any way to delve into that, I couldn’t recommend it. Or maybe you just want to learn French the hard way, in which case assomme toi.
Cloak & Dagger 2 (Freeform & Hulu)
Granted, Cloak & Dagger season 2 came out awhile ago on Freeform, but I only just binged it on Hulu this month, to record a podcast with the 42Cast. Look for it… soon? Season 1 might have been the slowest burn for a series I’ve ever experienced, but it mostly paid off with a climax that featured a bad Styx cover that’ll forever haunt me, but otherwise was a solid introduction to these versions of the characters and their place in the MCU and, maybe more importantly, New Orleans.
Season 2 followed up on a lot of what came before, with the protagonists, Tyrone & Tandy, cruelly never once called Cloak & Dagger, coming into themselves and dealing with the consequences of their actions and the actions of people around them. They begin like all 18 year olds, confident in their abilities and positive they can achieve whatever they set their mind to- from stopping crime to stopping domestic abuse- but the showrunners, like life, quickly disabuse them, and push the characters to dig deep, challenge themselves and each other, and continue to grow. At the height of the season, Cloak & Dagger managed to deal with issues like redemption and human sex trafficking in a compelling way that frankly, I was amazed they went to. I mean, it was dark and Netflix level stuff, but they handled it almost perfectly, perhaps constrained to telling a better story by not being on HBO or Netflix. Just as in season 1, New Orleans remained a character in its own right in the show, heavily influencing the villain’s origin and quest for power with local flair. Likewise, a couple of the tertiary characters made consequential decisions which I’d love for the series to explore, I mean, I’ve heard of bad rebound relationships, but that’s got to take the cake. All that, plus transporter accidents, interdimenional shopping, an argument for vinyl over digital, and (new?) divine pairings.
My criticism of the end of the show might be in its vagueness. It both seemed too small a danger while also being so large I expected Zephyr 1 to show up with Quake and Yo-Yo. But on the plus side, they didn’t ruin another hair band’s song, though they tried with A-ha. Sorry, Cloak & Dagger, but no one’s gonna top the Magicians use of “Take On Me”! While we haven’t gotten a confirmation of a season 3, I do take inspiration from the announced crossover with Hulu’s Runaways. Maybe unlike the stepchildren of Netflix, the MCU PTB are going to find a way to keep and fold in a few of their other shows into the All Mighty Disney Collective.
Musical Note- Mute the final episodes of each season to avoid the badness, but otherwise, about what you’d expect of a show targeting a younger demographic.
So should you watch it? You betcha! Season 1 had its moments and I felt as a part of the MCU deserved the benefit of the doubt, but season 2, while never breaking into the “oh my god why aren’t you watching this?” sphere, manages to tell a captivating and surprisingly mature story for a network that was once called ABCFamily. I’m not completely sure they stuck the landing, but the journey there is worth it.
The Boys (Amazon Prime)
At the beginning of the month everyone was talking about Stranger Things, and before that it was Good Omens, but hold on to your delicate natures and any inhibitions you have because in the way of the constantly-bombarded-with-awesomeness genre shows of the present, now we’re all talking about The Boys.
Amazon Prime’s take on Garth Ennis work is, frankly, better than the original source material (not unlike AMC’s Preacher, yeah I said it), and managed to convey the sheer terror of what a world with real supes (superheroes) would really be like while still managing to make each character surprisingly nuanced and… sympathetic? No, but maybe understandable? Nah. But definitely Fascinating. Beyond the shocktastic trailers and the parental warnings at the start of each episode are surprisingly in depth character studies of grief, revenge, addiction, ambition, naivety, and narcissism. If the past ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the golden age of Big Screen superheroes, then The Boys is the beginning of the post critique that consumes itself to prove the genre has depth and merit beyond CGI and feel good action poses. The show plays with so many concepts of the traditional comic book hero and fan in the best most awful way. Each supe is recognizable with their DC equivalent, from Superman to Aquaman, with the one that talks to fish being the joke in every universe. The Boys will leave you thinking, “yeah, that’s probably how it would be.” But don’t fret, the ultimate message of the show isn’t that supes are the worst, it’s that supes aren’t gods, they’re just people. And people are the worst. I can only imagine that with the way it was shot and finished that Amazon had to have greenlit a season 2 because that last episode, or more specifically, the last ten minutes of it-if the show had ended there, I would have written my congresswoman.
Musical Note- I will never be able to listen to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” without compulsively giggling again.
So should you watch it? It’s high budget, great effects, good acting, decent (but not perfect-don’t over think it) story, cringeworthy creepy, morally gray, but also curiously inspiring in moments- before turning right around and metaphorically kicking the dog. The Boys not going to be for everyone. The good guys are bad, the bad guys are bad, and in typing that, I’m not sure which are which, even though I have my favorites of both, but never mind all that, it has Karl Urban with an accent killing people with Baby Laser Eyes and that’s all you really need to know.