Jessica Jones: AKA Ladies Night

It’s the female mirror image of Daredevil, this new Netflix dark slow superhero story/mini-series called Jessica Jones. It’s another 10-episode season of annoyingly dark scenes with unlikeable characters, voiceovers and echoing jazzy trumpets playing in the background; can someone please shut those trumpets up?

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Freaking Trumpets
In order to create a ‘series noir’, you need two things: darkness – which the fans will stubbornly continue to call ‘grittiness’ – and a freaking trumpet as the soundtrack. As if there’s a trumpet player on every street corner – just out of sight – doing the same old thing over and over again. Atmosphere; that’s obviously the goal here, but apart from being a cliche that should’ve room 101’ed long ago, it reminds me of ancient detective shows. Boring ancient detective shows. It’s not very exciting, quite the opposite, actually. The tune kind of rounds up a scene, as if to say ‘end scene’. It’s the musical equivalent of putting the words ‘The End’ underneath an article.

Watercolor
I had to get that off my chest. Okay, secondly: the main title sequence is, compared to Daredevil’s, a bit of a letdown. It’s like someone found the watercolor filter in the editing room. If there’s one good thing about Daredevil, it’s the cool underwater still lives at the beginning of the episodes.

P.I.
Who is Jessica Jones? I have no idea. She’s got great strength. Lifts up a car with one hand. Climbs up buildings rather fearlessly. But she’s no superhero. She’s a private investigator. Taking pictures of people who happen to stand in front of their windows, lights on, no curtains, sniffing women’s shoes. I know it’s New York City, but come on. That’s a little on the nose, isn’t it? I know it works that way in a comic book, but I expect something more from television.

The Lovely Doctor
There’s a lot more on the nose. I guess making a gritty superhero show still allows you to create situations as dumb as you want. The thing that they actually got right, is how they’re working towards presenting the villain. He’s hardly seen in the first episode ‘AKA Ladies Night’, since he’s still only a figment of Jessica’s imagination – or is he? His name is Kilgrave (speaking of noses and things being on it), and will be played by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch, Gracepoint). The lovely David Tennant? O yes. Apparently he’s got the ability to force his will upon people – something he’s done to Jessica before. He’s been presumed dead, but is back. It seems like he uses innocent victims to flush Jessica out. It’s going to be up to her to stop him.

Jesse Pinkman’s Once Upon A Time Junkie Girlfriend
Daredevil is played by Charlie Cox, and because Matt Murdock is blind, you’d expect an actor with a strong voice. Unfortunately, Cox’s voice is nothing special. The casting of Jessica Jones is also a bit peculiar. The title role is played by Krysten Ritter. Jesse Pinkman’s once upon a time junkie girlfriend that nobody liked. And I still don’t. She’s got big eyes, but nothing about this character makes me the slightest bit interested. It’s nothing more but an irritating presence. Sure, leading characters don’t have to be nice people, but they do have to make you want to watch them. For whatever reason.

Supporting Cast
The supporting cast is, however, interesting. Somewhat. Mike Colter (Agent X, The Good Wife) plays Luke Cage, Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Vegas, Chuck) plays Jeryn Hogarth and Rachael Taylor (Grey’s Anatomy, 666 Park Avenue, Charlie’s Angels) plays Trish Walker. They don’t get much to do, though, so far. Anyway, I’m sure that if you enjoyed Daredevil, you’re going to love this one, too. Let’s leave it at that.

Master of None: Plan B

After Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace and Frankie and Wet Hot American Summer, Netflix has launched another original comedy series, called Master of None. Starring Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), it’s a show about life (relationships, kids) philosophies and… puberty.

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Puberty?
Well, not puberty per sé, but subject matter that would make kids going through puberty giggle. Like sex. Like talking about sex, and not having sex. The first scene of the first episode, ‘Plan B’, deals with an intimate conundrum. The condom broke. In the middle of what turns out to be a one night stand. Dev (Ansari) doesn’t feel comfortable, so he and the girl in question both take out their phones and search for sperm + pre-cum. They want to be sure, so they call an ‘Uber’ – the only reason for mentioning it, is to seem totally connected to current trends. I don’t suppose Uber paid the producers to be mentioned, would they? On second thought, why wouldn’t they? The hitchhike company could definitely use some positive product placement – to get a pill at the nearest pharmacy.

Familiarity
Apart from Dev paying for the pill – ‘It’s on me’ – with a look that says he wants to do something nice, but knows full well it’s the wrong time at the wrong place, this whole opening scene isn’t really funny. It’s perfectly relatable, probably familiar to a lot of people, but familiarity doesn’t equal humor. You’re watching it, thinking: okay, that could happen. Dev comes off as a very sympathetic individual. Nuanced as nuanced gets, really. The easy going, better safe than sorry character. Mr. Nice Guy.

Mellow Observational Dramatized Reality
The rest of the episode suffers from the same thing. Dev’s a talkative young man, who knows how and when to come up with a smart oneliner, but there’s not much more to him. I guess that’s the reason why he’s paired with Arnold (Eric Warheim), who’s your typical average Kramer-esque goofball, lost in the wrong show. Arnold’s just too much of an eighties over the top side character to feel appropriate for this world. I have no idea which category Master of None should be in, but neither one of drama, dramedy and comedy fits. I guess a term like ‘mellow observational dramatized reality’ would be most accurate.

Standup
Dev gets himself into situations that are potentially funny, but the show never goes straight to a joke. It’s not trying too hard to be funny, like Wet Hot American Summer, for example, so the lack of jokes doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t engage me either.
At the root of the problem lies the fact that Ansari’s a standup comedian. I think he wrote down what he believes are hilariously awkward situations, and they could be, but on screen, it all falls flat. The material would probably have been much funnier if told on stage, instead of seen on film.

Seinfeld
It’s actually something Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were very aware of, when writing Seinfeld. It shouldn’t be just Jerry, in character, kind of doing a standup act in front of his friend, instead of just talking to them casually. Having a real conversation. There should be a story and an organic way of speaking to each other.
Now, it’s not like Ansari plays Dev too much like a standup comedian. It’s that he’s too little of one. He’s put himself way into the background, observing things, without commenting on anything. Also, nothing he does has any consequence, like he’s never really there. Basically, Dev is Dr. Malcolm Crowe (I had to look his name up too: Bruce Willis played the doctor in The Sixth Sense).

Sense8: WWN Double-D?

The harvest of the seventh episode of The Wachowskis’ metflixum opus: one great, wild guest star, one kiss that almost happens, one lollipop, two hands, and finally one antagonist reporting for duty.

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Sun
Sun has taken the blame for her brother’s crime and ends up in prison. There she finds herself sharing a cell with three roomies in light blue jumpsuits. The Wachowski sense of style’s present even behind the walls of incarceration. So what kind of labour do women do in a women’s prison? Sew, obviously.

Riley
Riley’s trying to escape her life, friends and she doesn’t find pleasure in music anymore either. She travels to her father – judging by his accent he’s Scandinavian. On the flight over there, she gets company from Capheus, who can’t believe he’s on a plane. He isn’t, really, because it’s one of those typical Sensate tricks. When Riley steps off the plane, her father’s waiting there, singing a song on a little guitar for her. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other. When she’s having breakfast in his house, a woman appears behind her, saying she should’ve never come, and immediately vanishes again.

Capheus
Capheus doesn’t just occasionally pop up on aeroplanes, he’s also still the babysitter of the daughter of a powerful man. How powerful exactly, that’s what the man wants to show Capheus. On an empty floor of one of his buildings, a small army of bodyguards is standing around a chair. On that chair sits a guy, with a bag over his head. A traitor. The powerful man wants to make it abundantly clear to Capheus that he doesn’t like it when people take matters into their own hands.  If you do, say goodbye to those same hands.

Wolfgang and Kala
The love affair between Wolfgang and Kala seems to go to the next level, when they continuously switch from rainy Berlin to sunny Bombay, while having a conversation about science and religion. Not quite a sexy subject, if you ask me, but apparently it doesn’t matter what they talk about; they’re drowning in each other’s eyes. As their heads slowly turn into what should’ve been the kissing position, their bubble’s rudely bursted by Wolfgang’s friend Felix. He’s just heard their buyer wants the rest of the diamonds he and Wolfgang stole together. However, shortly after, the buyer’s gone and Felix gets gunned down by a mean looking guy with an even meaner looking gun.

Will
Will’s doing police work, walking the streets, and bumps into someone he’s got history with, but more importantly, he gets to see a picture taken of ‘Whispers’. When you least expect it, Sense8 suddenly drops the antagonist into the fold and puts the hammer down.

Lito
Lito’s got a different picture to freak out about. After a nice, romantic dinner with his boyfriend Hernando – who’s actually his undercover lover, acting like his bodyguard – and other lightning conductor Daniela, the three of them come home to find Daniela’s ex sitting on the couch, wearing a mask, no less. Still not over her, Joaquin wants to see her and Lito have sex. Something about making sure Lito’s indeed better than he ever was. A bit thin, and lame, from a writing standpoint, but he might not have been serious anyway; maybe the whole point of his visit was to nick Daniela’s phone, which he did. In there he finds a picture taken of Lito and Hernando, in a pretty compromising pose. Blackmail is only one click away.

Nomi
The most interesting storyline is Nomi’s. She’s convinced there’s a conspiracy and she’s determined to figure out who the famous ‘they’ are. She gets help from an old friend, called Bug. A brilliant character; this is what a guest role is all about. Michael X. Sommers makes the absolute most of his appearance as wild, quirky, funny, likeable hacker goofball. He provides Nomi with some highly advanced hardware thingie, which allows her to bug Dr. Metzger. While uploading software onto his computer in his apartment, she and Amanita (who like to take turns sucking on a lollipop, which is the most distracting thing happening in the entire episode) get caught. First by Dr. Metzger, who’s frozen by fear when Nomi mentions the name of a ‘Dr. Matheson’, then by a hitman – looking just like Nomi’s catatonic nephew. Is it ‘Whispers’, taking over somebody else’s body? Doing a shapeshifter trick? Whatever or whoever it is, he shoots Dr. Metzger first, then turns the gun on himself. It looks like the premise of the show, namely somebody’s hunting down the Sensates, has finally gone into effect.

Narcos: Descenso

‘Descenso’, as in ‘relegation’, or ’distribution’. The pilot of Netflix’ newest series/10-part movie Narcos sets up the story of Pablo Escobar. It’s a crash course in the rise of the Colombian drug lord, including English voiceover and subtitles.

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Language
It once again shows Netflix has the balls to do things differently; Colombians not speaking English? Not even English with a Spanish accent? No, Narcos keeps everything fairly real, at least in terms of language. I’m no expert on Escobar, but when it comes to television series, a completely accurate reconstruction of every event that happened is not what you want anyway. You should always review a drama series based on its drama, not source material, biography or influence.
It’s because of the characters speaking their own language, that the show feels very authentic. When we take a look at Tyrant, for example, it comes across as a bit aloof, everybody speaking English to each other. Sure, subtitles take away certain things that make it entertaining to watch a show, like being able to quote a character, reproduce a line you loved, but they bring something else to the table. A depth, if you will, and authenticity.

Plant-to-Miami
The pilot mostly tells the tale of Escobar setting up a professional, streamlined cocaine-from-plant-to-powder and powder-from-Colombia-to-Miami organisation. We kind of just follow him along, watch him negotiate and negotiate some more. There’s hardly any background information about him, his inner feelings – the first episode deals with Escobar as a strategist more than anything else – but he’s being portrayed by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura (Elysium). Someone with a demanding screen presence.

Reagan
The other side of the law, detective Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook, The Big C, Gone Girl), doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, although we get to know much more about him. He’s the voiceover, too, explaining the rise of Escobar through not just scripted scenes, but stock footage of the real Escobar, Ronald and Nancy Reagan and images from around 1980.
Murphy’s a man with a mission, but it’s only in the last minutes that he’s assigned to an operation in Miami. And then it’s suddenly a year later and he’s in Colombia. Facing off against the goons of Escobar, and since everything’s set up nicely, hopefully next time the voiceover will be dropped, the stock footage will be dropped and there’s probably going to be a lot more spoken English.

Fragmentary
It’s a show about good versus evil. The one cop against a criminal mastermind. That means we’re going to be waiting until the two look into each other’s eyes. If they keep circling each other for too long, the viewer’s interest might vanish, no matter if all 10 episodes are released on the same day or not. I hope the pilot was intended for setting the stage thoroughly, educating everybody about a guy called Escobar and his empire in the making, so come episode 2, the suspense and action will be brought out.
Then again, they could stick with the voiceover, Ronald Reagan and the slow pace. In that case, we’d definitely need story. Right now, there isn’t much of an arc. The only thing to look forward to at this point, is the tactical fight between Lion Pablo and Tiger Murphy. There’s been a lot of making drugs, smuggling drugs over the border, negotiations, alliances, selling drugs out of a specially prepared suit, negotiations again, drugs, etcetera. ‘Descenso’ felt very fragmentary, in that sense.

Flow
The show looks quite good, in terms of directing. José Padilha was in charge of the pilot, and does a fine job. This guy was responsible for the 2014 reboot of RoboCop, the movie that only Alex Murphy’s head used for the Robo-suit (every other body part was optional), which was somewhere between freaky and disgusting. The movie, unnecessary as it was, did have a nice flow, if I remember correctly. The same goes for Narcos.

Sense8: Demons

The sixth chapter of the intercontinental saga where 8 random people are living through, inside and alongside each other, is all about conversation. Conversation and sex.

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Madly
The Wachowskis have a thing for bombast. Whether it’s sweet or tough, their vision’s usually presented through a pair of hugely saturated glasses – they’re the Meat Loaf of movies, basically. That’s why it’s a remarkable choice to start off ‘Demons’ with a song by The Weepies. Bands don’t get any more lovely and low-key than that. Still, it’s one of their best songs – ‘The World Spins Madly On’ – and the title may have been reason enough to include it in an episode of Sense8; no other show’s spinning on more madly, all across the globe.

Love and Confusion
We’ve reached the turning point of the season and finally the different Sensates are talking to each other – really talking. Again, Jonas is nowhere to be found, so they’re doing it all by themselves. Do they confuse it with love? Feeling a strong connection with someone does tend to cause butterflies. Surely Wolfgang knows what I’m talking about. He seems to be very interested in Kala, but not quite on a spiritual level; more on a let’s get naked kind of level.

Advantage
I don’t know if it’s possible to be a couple within the Sensate Cell, maybe it is. Who knows where all of this is going. The show’s moving at such a slow pace, it’s hard to remember how it all started, let alone imagine what the Wachowski endgame is. They’re definitely not in a rush. Netflix has given them 12 hours to fill as they saw fit, which is very nice, in terms of confidence and from a writer’s standpoint, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an advantage. It could work against the show, because most of the scenes just go nowhere. They might be of some significance, in the bigger scheme of things, but the siblings Loaf and Meat Wachowski have to watch out not to strangle themselves with the details.

Cerebral Sex Scene
So Wolfgang’s putting on the charm for Kala, Will’s talking to Riley – very first date-ish, Riley’s talking to Sun, while Lito still doesn’t quite know what’s going on. In the end, though, they all come together – except for Capheus, who doesn’t have anyone to feel sexy with, so he has to resort to old Jean-Claude van Damme action movies – in a bath, where everyone’s doing it with everyone. Yes, ‘Demons’ has a sort of intercontinental and cerebral sex scene. Maybe the Sensate Cells aren’t just groups of connected consciousness; they’re also outlets for very down to earth, primal, basic human tempers.

Typewriter
That brings me to another point. Clearly, the show’s about the ethics and values that the Wachowskis hold dear. They constructed a science fiction concept, and then stuffed it with a lot of their own approach to life. Now, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The best works in film and television come from single, creative minds, with an artistic vision. It does however get into troublesome territory when your characters stop to talk and start to proclaim mottos. In the case of Sense8, when its characters take a second to say something profound, I can’t help thinking of one of the Wachowskis behind a typewriter – speaking through one of their creations.

Mushy
Characters need to be their own selves. It’s okay if they strongly believe in something, but when everyone on the show believes in the same things, there’s nothing to distinguish them anymore. That may be the goal; fusing 8 strangers together into one entity, but it doesn’t work on film. You’d better make sure the different ingredients you cook with are still recognisable when it’s become a dish. Don’t just boil them until there’s nothing left but a mushy mishmash.

Wet Hot American Summer Night Live

Netflix’ newest series offering is a sequel to the 2001 movie Wet Hot American Summer, called Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. And camp it is.

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Everybody’s Worst Nightmare
The season’s a short one; 8 episodes in total. Much more comedy probably couldn’t be made from a summer camp, populated by kids playing kids, 35-year olds playing 17-year olds, a dangerous, B-movie type radioactive waste site, and a whole lot of goofiness. We’ll focus on the first episode ‘Campers Arrive’, in which, you guessed it, busloads of kids – together with Ant-Man – come cruising in, for their first day of camp AKA everybody’s worst nightmare, starring the biggest bullies you’ll ever meet.

Ant-Man
Did you say Ant-Man? O yes. Paul Rudd is part of a huge ensemble cast, playing a sort of uncool version of The Fonz. He’s really grown as a (character) actor. He doesn’t exactly have a funny face (but can make one, though), so that’s a disadvantage and may have also been the reason he’s usually cast as a colorless supporting actor. Memorable his roles were seldom. 2015 might just be the year his career really took off.

Story
In ‘Campers Arrive’, it’s June 24, 1981. Apart from the clothes – and not a cellular phone in sight – the date doesn’t really make a difference to the story. I’m sorry, did I say story? Wet Hot American Summer feels less like a comedy and more like a sketch show à la Saturday Night Live. It’s basically sketch after sketch, all taking place at a summer camp – but that’s the only thing the scenes have in common.

All-Stars
The cast is great. Really. They’re all all-stars, but they seem to have been given the assignment to make each of their characters as weird, off and goofy as possible. It’s the 21st century comedy rule – as described in our post Goofballa Commedia – to stuff as many off-beat characters into a single show, but you need at least one moral hallmark, a normal, everyday (wo)man. Someone to relate to, someone to keep the series grounded. Imagine The Office without Jim Halpert, The Brink without Rafiq Massoud, Seinfeld without Jerry Seinfeld.

The Cast
Still, the cast is great. And big: Janeane Garofalo (Saturday Night Live, 24, The West Wing), Marguerite Moreau (Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy), Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Bradley Cooper (Alias, The Hangover, Limitless), Zak Orth (Revolution), John Slattery (Mad Men), Lake Bell (Boston Legal), Josh Charles (The Good Wife, In Treatment), Rich Sommer (Mad Men), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death), and soon to join the party: Christopher Meloni (Oz, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), Richard Schiff (Manhattan, The West Wing, House of Lies), Weird Al Yankovic (Eat it), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Chris Pine (Star Trek).

Camp
Wet Hot American Summer (we’ve yet to see what’s so wet and hot about it) certainly isn’t for everyone. An ‘acquired taste’, is the appropriate term. ‘Camp’ another one, although maybe it wants to be camp a little too badly. That’s why it feels more like a reality show about a summer camp for comedy actors, instead of a comedy series about a summer camp for kids.
Maybe there’s no difference.

Sense8: Art is like Religion

The fifth chapter of Sense8 is a slow – not including a totally unnecessary Matrix-like shoot out – examination of, well, art? Religion? Neither one, actually. It’s more like a wedding ceremony – including people talking about everyday things.

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The Weather
The lives of the Sensates are starting to merge more than ever. Everyone’s getting used to these realer than real hallucinations; there might be something wrong with my brain, but let’s just see what happens, is what they all seem to think. In ‘Art is like Religion’, a few of the Sensates are getting acquainted, properly, with a big dose of small talk – British DJ Riley and ‘Kenyan Van Damme’ Capheus exchange their thoughts about the weather.

Wires
It’s another Absent Jonas episode. He’s the only one who’s able to move the story along. Without him, everything’s kind of at a standstill. Sure, it’s nice to see Lito and Sun touch each other’s fingers in the mirror, but I’d guess we were past the whole mirror play by now. Speaking of Lito, he’s in the middle of shooting a movie – literately. I’m not sure what the purpose could be of showing a big movie shootout – think The Matrix including the wires – where nothing’s at stake, but action just for the sake of action isn’t really all that compelling. Not even when you intercut the scene with cop Will chasing a suspect.

Mother Tongues
Whenever a Sensate comes in contact with another Sensate, they tend to change languages. However, in everyday life, everyone speaks English. They only switch to German (Wolfgang) and Korean (Sun), for example, sporadically. I know, it’s an American show, initially made for the American market, but it might’ve been better if everyone just spoke their mother tongues. We’d have to deal with a lot of subtitles, but at least the characters would speak fluently. It’s a bit confusing to hear them speak (a type of) English, then switch to their own language and then switch again to the language of one of the other Sensates.

Peekaboo
‘Art is like Religion’ is the part of the story where the characters basically ‘go about their days’. Riley has a conversation about the weather, Will’s doing police work, Nomi shares her fear of having an actual tumor that’s going to be fatal, Capheus loses a bag and reclaims it later, only to discover it was a test, Sun’s in two minds about saving her brother and subsequently her father’s company, Lito can’t seem to stop crying, and then there’s Kala and Wolfgang.
What started out as a sort of peekaboo, it’s now upgraded to the next level. As Kala’s in the process of getting married – reading her vows, taking 7 steps – suddenly Wolfgang appears right before her eyes. Naked. I mean full frontal nakedness. She knows of the existence of ‘the internet’, but a naked German guy still has the power to make her faint, apparently.

Not in Love
But he’s her, and she’s him. They share each other’s thoughts – ‘I am also a we’ – and therefore Wolfgang knows what’s in her heart. She’s not in love with the man she’s about to marry, so what is she thinking? What the wienerschnitzel is she doing?
He’s right. She knows he’s right – but does he knows what he’s doing? Wolfgang may be ahead of the curve; because of his attraction to Kala, he might have a better grip on things, more so than the other Sensates.
No matter the final, exciting minutes – ‘is Kala going to go through with it?’ -, the show needs Jonas. Every episode with him absent, is like a nice dip into a bubblebath, but you have to remember to step out on time, otherwise you’ll find yourself asleep and the swimming pool closed.