The Good Place – Season 1 (2016)

This was a binge watch in varying states of sobriety so my recollection may not be as detailed, and unlike every other time I say I’ll keep things short and then write loads, I really think this one will be short.

Written by Mike Schur, the creator of Parks and Recreation, a favourite sitcom of mine, The Good Place is similar in some ways regarding the tone especially, but at the same time an entirely different beast. The main similarity comes in the form of kindness, one of the things that made Parks and Rec stand out so much was that everyone was overall kind to one another (excluding poor Jerry). With The Good Place being set in heaven, this niceness is a common thread and its reflected by the bright, colourful aesthetic and characters who by and large treat each other nicely. This setting also provides some clever humour as expletives are not fit for heaven and as such they are replaced by similar sounding, albeit unrelated words, a clever and humorous solution to the limitations of cable TV. However unlike, Parks and Rec, The Good Place isn’t actually particularly funny, its very pleasant and enjoyable but I can’t recall any jokes that actively made me laugh, perhaps this is due to a much smaller ensemble and a less compelling lead than Leslie Knope. This isn’t Kristen Bell’s fault, she does a good job with a not particularly interesting character, in fact none of the characters are particularly interesting and therein lies the problem. The ensemble does a good job with their material, particularly Kristen Bell and Ted Danson (also wonderful in Fargo S2) and a standout performance from D’arcy Carden who provides the bulk of the show’s humour and she does it so fantastically. However the characters lack chemistry and dont feel like a particularly united ensemble, perhaps due to the lack of group scenes or scenes where we have odd character pairings as the focus is almost always on Bell. This seems like a somewhat unfair critique as all sitcoms take time to find their footing and develop that chemistry, which is particularly hard with only 13 episodes, perhaps in the next season they’ll form a more cohesive group.

What the show lacks in outright laughter, it makes up for with its incredibly finely tuned and precise narrative which is unlike any sitcom I can recall ever seeing. The show has a great concept that could last many seasons but the show never rests on that, they completely change the dynamic about halfway through and then have a finishing plot twist that makes season 2 incredibly exciting, but also incredibly difficult to figure out how it will work. The plot twists never feel extraneous or forced but rather quite natural to the world Schur created, you can tell this show was intricately planned before production, as these plot twists are pulled off perfectly, more so than Westworld (which I loved) that prided itself on its twisty narrative but got quite messy. The writers employ an Orange is the New Black-esque mode of flashbacks to provide insight into the characters’ backgrounds, showing life before death as opposed to life before prison.

Despite not being the funniest show ever, it is really very enjoyable and must be applauded for the commitment to the complex narrative especially in a genre that doesn’t expect it. I’ll definitely watch season 2, but maybe wait for it to be over so I can binge it as that feels like a good way to watch this show.

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Mr Robot – Season 2 (2016)

This has been my only series over the Christmas break, university and having to worry about internships sucks cause it really takes your time away from whats important, being television. This may be a little sporadic and not very in depth at all since I watched this series over 3 weeks with some big gaps here and there for various reasons. Oh also spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll try to mark them but just be careful.

I loved season 1 when I watched it but for some reason I wasn’t particularly excited to watch this but I’m really glad I did. Narratively I can understand criticism levelled towards this season but I feel that watching it as a binge can help to brush past those concerns. (Spoilers ahead) I did feel that Elliot was slightly wasted as a character this season, I felt like he had very little impact on the story of f society, especially in the first half of the season with his status in confinement. The reveal of his confinement was wonderfully done albeit quite expected, and I really enjoy how Esmail plays with having an unreliable narrator, somewhat of a rarity in television and film. Even if he only really served to give Elliot something to do, I really enjoyed Ray as a character, I thought he was an interesting and well rounded character who served his limited purpose well.(Spoilers end) Despite the character being sidelined, Rami Malek was fantastic this season, I don’t know if I noticed how good he was in season 1 but I was pretty blown away by him this season. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Christian Slater who was given very little interesting material to work with but I suppose that was only natural after the season 1 plot twist. The power struggle between Elliot and Mr Robot did get a little tiresome and seemed to make very little progress.

This really was a season for the ladies, with the fantastic addition of Grace Gummer as FBI agent Dominique and Carly Chaikin’s Darlene moving the story on more than anyone else and Angela with a surprisingly interesting arc this season. I cannot say enough good things about Grace Gummer’s character Dom, I had found Gummer quite annoying in American Horror Story so I wasn’t thrilled to see her addition to the cast but I was so so wrong. Dom is one of my new favourite characters on television, she is such a layered character with perhaps more depth than any of the other characters on the show. It was refreshing to see a female character who is exceedingly capable, neither sexualised or sexless, equal parts sensitive and tough with a sense of humour and can handle herself not only intellectually but in a fight, yet she never felt preachy or like they were making a point with her being a woman, she just was. She was a grounded and believable character I was always eager to see more of and to see her survive any perilous situation.and Grace Gummer did a wonderful job. Chaikin stepped up her game with Darlene this season who is a fun chaacter but has yet to be given much more depth beyond what she has. Angela was a a nice eye into the mysterious world of E Corp and her inner turmoil was interesting and performed well, although I must admit I am growing tired of the same nervous expression with the furrowed brow three times an episode, although hopefully we’ll see Angela have more backbone with her new circumstances. Whilst talking about the ladies, we have to mention the terrifying and terrifyingly beautiful Joanna Wellick, at the start of the season you may wonder why we’re seeing so much of her, not that you’ll be complaining, she’s fantastic, but she seems unrelated, but it all pays off. (Spoilers) She pulls some serious Claire Underwood shit which could really change circumstances for Tyrell going forward. Tyrell was one of the big mysteries of the season, only coming back for the last two episodes, I honestly found him pretty tiresome with the constant crying which wasn’t quite believable but I’m excited to see him return as a regular next season (spoilers).

The cinematography continues to be top notch and distinctive through out with its cold and distant offices and unconventional extreme close ups, its such a pleasure to watch. I particularly enjoyed any scenes shot outside at night time, one example that comes to mind is the end of episode 10, a really fantastic sequence which was beautifully shot. (spoilers) Talking about that particular sequence, one thing I’ve loved in Mr Robot since that incredibly unnerving but brilliant suicide in season 1 is the way this show depicts gun violence. The stand out moments are Gideon’s murder, the shooting in China and the restaurant shooting in episode 10, the choice to show that restaurant shooting from outside is the kind of inspired direction that makes the show stand out. I cant quite put it into words, but theres just something about the gun play that feels so unique to this show, its quick, its brutal and its bloody but never over the top, it feels more real than most shows and movies which is perhaps why its so effective. However the show didn’t handle violence so well in the case of Elliot’s beating being swapped out for an overly long, heavy handed 90s sitcom sequence was a swing and a miss (spoilers).

The development of the dark army has made them into a formidable and very threatening possible antagonist, they really do feel dangerous and the addition of Whiterose gives them a face which is greatly appreciated. I admittedly got a little lost with some of the Whiterose/E Corp drama and the powerplant but I imagine that all will become clear next season. (spoilers) Although I liked the cinematography, I didn’t care for the Lynchian meeting between Angela and Whiterose with that child, it didn’t feel like it belonged in the world of Mr Robot stylistically and was a little too self indulgent but its one small moment in a great season (spoilers).

I thought this was a really great season particularly thanks to the brilliant Grace Gummer and expanded roles for other characters. The stakes feel very real with the deaths of big characters early in the season and violence that feels indiscriminate and real. Along with the usual great performances from the old regulars and beautiful cinematography I’d say this is a great season that avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.