What Disney’s Full Control of Hulu Means for the Consumer and the Streaming Wars

Big news today on the subscription streaming services front! Yet another battle was fought and won in the ongoing saga of the Streaming Wars. Effective immediately, Disney will assume full operational control of Hulu. It’s been an interesting ride the last few months, but up until this morning, NBC Universal (the division of Comcast that includes NBC, USA, Universal Studios, and MSNBC) owned 40% of the streaming service while Disney owned the majority stake with 60%. It appears Disney wasn’t happy with just 60% and wanted the full 100%. While the good news is that Hulu can now be distributed internationally, the bad news is that a lot of content will eventually go elsewhere. Though this is great for Disney’s bottom line, it is bad for the consumer.

Disney is planning to release its own new streaming service later this year with Disney+, so initially one might be inclined to believe that owning a second one would be cannibalizing. However, Disney has let on that their plan is to host more family-oriented content on its own service and stream their adult-oriented content on Hulu. If a consumer could only pick one of the two, they certainly still have that option. On the other hand, the unfortunate truth for the consumer is that these developments ensure that streaming content isn’t as cost-saving as it once was. For a number of years, if you wanted to cut the cord in favor of streaming, the go-to choices for subscription were Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. Just having internet and these three services gave you access to a ton of content and was cheaper than paying for an expensive cable bundle full of channels and services you would never use. Other niche services have come along and tried to cut into those Big 3 but have never been anywhere near as popular.

Today, Netflix is losing a sizable chunk, upwards of 20%, of its content while simultaneously creating an overwhelming amount of its own programming and increasing subscription prices. Disney now exclusively owns Hulu along with Disney+. No one knows what Amazon’s plan is, but their UI still looks like it was built in 2011. Meanwhile, Apple is ramping up their eventual service, CBS All Access is (kinda) going strong, and today’s developments almost assuredly mean that NBC Universal is planning to release their own service in the near future. And I haven’t even mentioned DC Universe or WarnerMedia. While today’s developments mean that we, as consumers, will have more choice and availability of content than ever before, it also means that cord-cutters will be squeezed dry so that it’s not as viable of an option as it used to be.

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‘Russian Doll’ Is a Thought-Provoking Examination of Mental Illness and Drug Addiction

I’m a little behind the ball with this one, but please forgive me as I’m finally starting to develop a system. Russian Doll is a dark dramedy released on Netflix in early February, and I’m only just now getting around to reviewing it. Though I’m getting a little fatigued by the constant churning of original content from the company, after noticing the show earned critical acclaim, I felt I should give it a look. The series is created by three extremely talented women, actress Natasha Lyonne, comedienne Amy Poehler, and playwrite Leslye Headland, with Lyonne starring in the lead role as Nadia. The production credits alone should at least warrant a look, but I’ll give a small description of where we start the series.

Nadia is in the bathroom at a party celebrating her 36th birthday. The party is graciously being hosted by best friend Maxine (Greta Lee) at her apartment. After discussing her missing cat Oatmeal and wondering if it’s too early to have a mid-life crisis (prescient considering the events to come), Nadia hits it off with rando-sex-guy Mike (Jeremy Bobb) and the two resolve to go back to her place to bang one out, stopping at the corner market on the way. Later, post-intercourse, Nadia sees her cat chilling across the street, so she runs into the street to nab the feline. She gets hit by a car, dies, and immediately regains consciousness back in the bathroom at the party where and when she started.

I’m afraid to say too much more about the story because part of the fun of this show is experiencing it. A lot of things that you may overlook in the first few episodes become more important as you go through the series. Each episode digs further and further into the main characters’ deep-seeded issues and exposes them. There aren’t a lot of shows that delve into mental illness the way this one does, but it is beginning to be a popular trope the more humanity comes to terms with its particular psychoses. Lady Dynamite on Netflix examined bipolar disorder while Legion on FX was inspired by schizophrenia. The difference with Russian Doll is that the theme is something almost all of us have experience with–burying things we don’t like about ourselves and letting them fester, eventually leading to irrational behavior.

Similar to the recently reviewed Us, there is so much to dissect here that it could easily fill a college course. It would be easy to dismiss the series as another take on Groundhog Day, a plot device which is so overused it borders on cliche, but that is merely the catalyst for making our characters confront the parts of themselves they’ve bottled up. Moreover, as opposed to the one-note movie, there a lot more unexpected twists here that completely change how you view it, such as the appearance of Alan (Charlie Barnett) at the end of episode 3 and his subsequently explored role. Lyonne even manages to flip the viewer’s expectations in the final episode, having directed and written it herself. The way Russian Doll can switch between introspective drama and laugh-out-loud dark comedy is absolutely a feature.

Where I’m less impressed is with how much time is spent pursuing leads that end up going nowhere toward ending Nadia’s predicament. Much like how Phil Connors tries to improve himself, thinking that will break the spell of the groundhog, Nadia initially thinks there’s something in the joint she smokes, that the building is beset by a Jewish curse, or that she needs to befriend the homeless guy, Horse (Brendan Sexton III). None of these threads add anything to the story except to maybe allow for more exposition on how terrible of a person she is or have her learn a lesson. The real story is in her interactions with Maxine, Alan, her aunt Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), and her mother Lenora (Chloë Sevigny). As such, there is so much going on at once, but so little of it actually matters.

The human condition sometimes can’t easily be described with words. In these situations, we often look to references and metaphors to help us understand what is going on. Russian Doll has constructed an apt metaphor for how necessary it is for our mental health to confront and address our inner demons, including drug addiction. However, while the series is short with a roughly 3.5 hour runtime so you don’t have to devote a lot of time to it, the message the creators wanted to convey could probably have been told in half that time or at least be more succinct. That said, it is often hilarious, giving us such lines as “Nothing in this life is easy except for pissing in the shower,” and this is probably the standout performance of Lyonne’s career. Give it a few episodes and see what you think.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

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After Marvel Cancellations, Netflix Missing Out on Prime Crossover Opportunities

There’s no denying the fact that the Defenders on Netflix a failed experiment. The entire concept was grand, meant to give people a TV version of the MCU’s Avengers concept. Unfortunately, since the hugely anticipated team-up miniseries was a dud, that lead to a precipitous decline in viewership for the other related Marvel series. Once the streaming giant essentially gave up on future seasons of the Defenders, the spirit behind all the solo efforts fizzled out as well. Now that all 6 series to come out of that original agreement have been cancelled, we can look back and appreciate what an immense endeavor it was from the start. However, instead of lamenting about what could have been or analyzing what went wrong (it was actually a confluence of many things), I prefer to look to the future.

Though Netflix is not a fan of releasing numbers, subscriptions likely increased in anticipation of the superhero crossover. People were initially excited for the Defenders when it was announced. Perhaps that same excitement is what led to its downfall as subscribers were less impressed with the result. But maybe there is a lesson in here for the company. Maybe they tried to go too hard, too fast into their first crossover when they should have gone small. It is a fact that audiences love crossovers and ratings spike with them, so there is no reason why they couldn’t or shouldn’t try it again on a smaller scale. They could draw people to the service who still watch live TV exclusively. Or they could simply cross-pollinate some of their original series to help keep subscribers entrenched in the service.

Here are just a few ideas I have for the next great Netflix crossover:

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina/Riverdale

This one is the most obvious on this list because the two series take place in the same universe and are made by CW. They even have the same showrunner! Though I haven’t seen Riverdale, I have seen Sabrina, and the characters mention the rival high school a handful of times. I’m not familiar enough with the source material to guess what a crossover would look like, but even a proper cameo from Riverdale might suffice, though they kinda did that already. As recently as October, the showrunner spoke favorably about the idea, but questioned whether it would ever happen. Get on it people!

Stranger Things/Big Mouth

I know it seems silly, but stranger things have happened. (See what I did there?) Ahem. This idea was actually inspired by a GQ article I read recently about how the monster in season 3 of Stranger Things is puberty. You what show is entirely about kids going through puberty? Big Mouth! I see no reason why the cast of the former can’t be animated and shoved into the plot of the latter considering the Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover was a thing that happened. All the teenagers’ puberty monsters can battle each other or have an orgy or something.

The Crown/Downton Abbey

I know Downton Abbey as a series is over and a film is being released later this year. I also know that The Crown takes place about 40 years after the show. But hear me out on this one. The film will possibly reinvigorate an audience that will have missed the Crawleys, so why not ride that wave of enthusiasm? Characters depicted as children in the show could be fully functioning (and scheming) adults taking care of their parents in their advanced age. It would be a first for historical dramas, which I don’t believe have ever crossed over. We know that not everything in The Crown is completely factual, so the Crawleys meeting the Queen wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary.

Grace and Frankie/Queer Eye

This script practically writes itself! Obviously Grace or Frankie gets into a rut and needs to be saved by the Fab 5. Everyone is supportive, doing personal interviews like they do on Queer Eye, and the makeover is amazing, giving the recipient a new lease on life. Or everything goes wrong and one of the leading ladies causes a huge scene. Honestly, I could see it going either way, but the resulting episode would be must-watch TV. Even better if the effects are felt for the rest of the season.

House of Cards/Orange is the New Black

This one isn’t a serious suggestion, merely bemoaning a missed opportunity for two of Netflix’s first, and at one point best, original series. Orange is the New Black was created with the premise of showing how truly unjust the prison system is. Having a politician from House of Cards show up to tour Wakefield (or whatever prison) could have been a powerful statement. Sadly, both series took a nosedive after a couple seasons. Today, one has already been cancelled while the other will release its final season later this year. C’est la vie.

Santa Clarita Diet/Get Shorty

This one probably couldn’t take place in Get Shorty’s world because it’s more grounded in realism, but it would be so easy in Santa Clarita Diet for a Hollywood film crew, led by gangster cum movie producer Miles Daly, to show up in town for filming. Miles meats Sheila and wants to cast her in the movie. Somehow her secret gets out and Miles wants to use her to complete a job that he has in town. Hilarious horror ensues.

‘Love Death + Robots’ Is a Short but Riotous Romp Through the Apocalypse

To Lacie, thanks for the suggestion

The anthology series succinctly titled Love Death + Robots (LDR) requires a little bit of context to fully appreciate. Back in 1981, there was an animated anthology movie released called Heavy Metal. It was based on the dark fantasy adult magazine by the same name, was produced by said magazine’s publisher, and featured a heavy metal soundtrack that was released simultaneously. Though the film received a lukewarm reception from critics, it’s become something of a cult classic and is notable for moving American animation in a more R-rated direction. A sequel by the name of Heavy Metal 2000 was eventually released. It was not well-received.

In 2008, there were talks of a reboot of the original film with directors David Fincher and Tim Miller involved in some capacity. Subsequently in 2011, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez announced that he had purchased the film rights. As of this writing, that production is in limbo. It seems that LDR is largely inspired by what Fincher and Miller had created before Rodriguez bought the property, an anthology of shorts more science fiction in nature vice Heavy Metal’s fantasy themes. The general premise feels like Miller, as creator, sat down in a conference with all the other directors and said, “Future dystopia…and…go!”

Keep in mind that this animated anthology is not your dad’s Bugs Bunny. Heck, it’s not even Family Guy. There’s gratuitous nudity, blood and gore, and flagrant language. That said, the animation is often outstanding. There were times when I couldn’t tell that the CGI wasn’t real life. In fact, when Topher Grace stepped into one short, I wasn’t initially convinced he was flesh and blood (he was). Many of the episodes were great fun as well in spite of, or perhaps because of, the nudity and gore. My eyes were glued to the screen a number of times when scenes were just too dazzlingly displayed to look away or I didn’t miss what would happen next.

Though many of the episodes are amazing and sometimes emotional, there are others that are either forgettable or nearly pointless. One episode uses a concept that was better-executed by the Futurama episode “Godfellas”. Still another has a woman running around naked for nearly the entire short. I get the symbolism of her being defenseless, but a lot of the violence toward women and the full-frontal nudity of both sexes throughout the series feels like it’s just inserted for shock value instead of serving the story. The numerous F-bombs also get a little irritating. I curse like a sailor myself, but using the word constantly makes a script sound lazy. I mean, there are a bevy of curse words out there besides just the one.

Love Death + Robots is a very mixed bag with some outstanding episodes–Three Robots, Zima Blue, Lucky 13–and others that are just barely worth watching–Blindspot, Sucker of Souls, The Witness. Generally speaking, this show feels perfect for the YouTube generation; Black Mirror or Aeon Flux-level concepts in short, bite-sized chunks. But its length is definitely in its favor, as what makes this show worth watching is the fact that all the shorts together are only around 3.5 hours, and for that amount of time, any viewer will be thoroughly entertained.

Score: 4 out of 5

The Oscars Should Add a Streaming Film Category

As a rule, I generally don’t watch awards shows. Though I love seeing all the men on the red carpet in their best eveningwear, the silliness that follows which substitutes for entertainment is usually so dumbed down and spread out that I’d rather do something constructive than tune in. The Academy Awards are the most lauded of the bunch yet are also the most egregious offenders. As if the show itself wasn’t bad enough, the process by which award-winners are chosen is so ridiculous and political that it makes the purpose of the award, acknowledging artistic achievement in film, a little dubious. Of course, I realize that if not for the Oscars, the general public wouldn’t know about many of the great movies released the prior year.

So the 2019 Academy Awards show is over. Whether you agree or disagree with their controversial choice for Best Picture, that boat has sailed. Every year seems to stir up new controversies, which is notable for a show that should be bringing people together to celebrate artistic achievement. This year, between having no host, being amused by Lady Gaga’s affection for Bradley Cooper, and getting mad over how the Academy appealed to a racial reconciliation fantasy against its better judgment, it would have been easy to miss another underlying contention: the role of streaming media in the film industry.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, many great movies are being made these days exclusively for streaming platforms. The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro, The Big Sick, Manchester by the Sea, The Handmaiden, Beasts of No Nation, The Meyerowitz Stories, Mudbound, and Private Life, not to mention 2018’s multiple Oscar-winner Roma, have all been great movies and that’s just skimming the surface. Many of these were first shown at film festivals, then picked up by Amazon or Netflix for distribution. Others were financed by said companies with small releases on the big screen. Either way, there’s no denying the power of these two platforms for their ability to create and distribute films that even the snootiest critics love (yours truly included).

This is why Steven Speilberg’s comments and movement in favor of adding more rules for Oscar consideration leave me a little irritated. Speilberg is proposing the addition of even more rules as a barrier for the award, specifically geared toward keeping streaming movies out. In his mind, the theatrical experience is sacred and can’t be replaced by a television. He feels that the theater is the pinnacle of a director’s career and as such that streaming movies should only be Emmy territory, akin to the made-for-TV movies of old like Parent Trap II or High School Musical. Traditionally, if you wanted to see a good movie, you went to the cinema; if you wanted to see good TV, you turned on the boob tube. But times have changed and those lines are blurred. “You kids get off my lawn!

But seriously though, there are many reasons why Speilberg is (gasp!) wrong. Foremost is the sheer state of the film industry that, like any other, is constantly changing and now doesn’t have to revolve around the cinema. The fact is that many people get a superior experience from their TVs vice a movie screen–better picture, better sound, a more comfortable environment, no one checking their phone or talking in the row in front of you, available 24/7–so more people will choose to watch from home instead of go out. Sure, you lose out on some of the social aspects, which I would argue is essential for any art form to be appreciated, but most people would rather take their chances. The movies being released via streaming are also not made with commercial breaks baked in, so they really aren’t made for network television.

Consumers shouldn’t have to drag themselves to a specific location, which can be halfway around the world, in order to enjoy a movie the “proper” way. Moreover, whether or not a streaming movie was ever viewed via analog means does not degrade its artistic merit or messaging, which is purportedly what the Oscars reward. What we see here with the Academy mirrors what is also taking place in American politics; an organization previously run by rich, old, white men is having to reconcile with a younger, less wealthy, more diverse generation. In both situations, it seems like the old guard has a knee-jerk reaction when they think their relevancy is being threatened. Thus, they dig in their heels to prevent newcomers from completely changing the system they cherish.

Instead, they should come to terms with the change and figure out how to thrive within the shifting landscape. At this point, it’s not a matter of if the Oscars will transform but rather when. With many new streaming services just on the horizon, the award show may have anarchy on its hands within a few years if it doesn’t quickly and correctly adapt its rules to survive. If a large number of objectively great movies are left on the cutting room floor instead of being recognized simply because they didn’t reach a high bar of entry, more and more people will turn away from the show as they realize it is nothing more than a sham for ad dollars.

This is why, in lieu of their proposed Best Popular Film category (What exactly constitutes a “popular” film anyway? And is it something that really needs to be rewarded? Like Prom King?), I propose that the Academy create a Best Streaming Film category. Instead of completely shutting out a viable form of media, the best thing to do is embrace it as an equal artform separated only by its means of distribution. This would also be better for the entire industry as legitimate studios won’t be forced to show their movies unnecessarily in some random theater, film festivals excluded of course.

With the Academy having such a sordid history with diversity and inclusion, combined with ratings that continue to decline, the organization needs to lower the bar to entry, not raise it. Otherwise, people will stop giving the show the small amount of credence it currently receives and it will fade into obscurity. The Academy should go back to the premise of rewarding artistic achievement and build their rules in support of that objective with a much broader definition of the word “film”.

The Punisher Season 2 Review

CAUTION: I’m going to get into some spoilery territory in this review, so if you don’t want to know anything that happens, just skip to the last paragraph.

The Punisher wasn’t one of the original properties Netflix signed up to make with Marvel, but there was such a clamor from fans after season 2 of Daredevil that they wanted to see more of the character. The character has notoriously never been a hit with general audiences when it came to film adaptations, but this version of the anti-hero was different. He seemed to have a moral complexity which made him more relatable and entertaining than past incarnations. We could sympathize with his struggles even though we didn’t support his methods. In response, the streaming service decided to take and a chance with the character and develop his series as a spinoff.

Season 1 was a success. Though it didn’t reach the highs achieved by the first seasons of contemporaries Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Frank Castle’s (Jon Bernthal) particular intricacies and backstory took to the forefront. The character ended up being more of a reluctant hero than the villain he was made out to be initially. As such, even though law enforcement didn’t approve of his ways, they let him walk free as a sort of necessary evil. The acting and character development were strong points, as was the action choreography, but the season suffered mostly from its grim atmosphere, length, and drawn out plot.

Season 2 picks up where the first left off, with Frank attempting to move on with his life after putting the past behind him. To that end, he stops off in a random backwater town and has a chance encounter with a teenager by the name of Rachel/Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham). Though she seems anxious about something, she saunters off alone. After an attempted abduction by and shootout with an as-yet-unknown group of nefarious people, Frank takes an unwilling Amy under his protective wing. Simultaneously, a mask-wearing Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) has awoken from his comatose state and is being stalked by distrustful Special Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) while Dr. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) tries to heal his broken psyche.

I have a lot to say about this season and not much of it good, so let’s get that out of the way first. The action is still as great here as it was in season 1, so there’s no worry there. It really feels like I’m experiencing every punch and gunshot as they’re inflicted on their victims. Bernthal still embodies the Punisher just as well as he ever did even if he seems to yell “RUSSO!” twice every episode. In fact, most of the acting is pretty spot on for a low-budget TV show, including a great performance by Josh Stewart as John Pilgrim. I really like how the season starts out with a small-scale conflict that wouldn’t be out of place in the Punisher comic–the man just happens into a gunfight while trying to live his life as a drifter and wants to protect the innocent by any means necessary.

This one conflict, and everything that goes along with it, would have made for a decent movie in a series of Punisher flicks. Hell, so would the conflict with Russo, aka Jigsaw, if the screenwriters would have played that story properly. Instead, we get two completely different stories told concurrently which each would have comprised 2-3 hours’ worth of content but are stretched out over 13 hours. Though there are breadcrumbs of Amy and Pilgrim’s low-key story scattered about, Russo’s story is portrayed as the main conflict until the very end of the season, when Pilgrim takes center stage and becomes more fleshed out. The whole narrative is so boring and slow, with characters either complaining about things already covered in season 1 or repeatedly fighting after resolving disputes in the previous scene, that I was able to do other things on the side while mostly following the show. I needed something else to pass the time. Even the end to Russo is anti-climactic.

Maybe this narrative style would have worked if either of the stories would have been fully compelling. Amy’s story is interesting until we find out that the reason she is being desperately hunted, which doesn’t get revealed until 6 hours into the season, is because she has photographic evidence that a Senator is secretly gay. (The SCANDAL!) I understand the Schultzes are super religious and power-hungry and have groomed David since birth, but in the real world, we now have an openly gay mayor, Pete Buttigieg, who is running for president. Not to mention the fact that other industrialized nations have already elected openly gay heads of state. It strikes me as especially absurd because exactly 500 people were killed in the show in order to keep the information from getting out. Seems extreme. Apparently, there’s a theory that this plotline was supposed to be an allegory for the Trump Administration, with the Russians having dirt on the future presidential candidate mirroring real life, but even that line of thinking comes off as sort of half-assed because I didn’t get that impression on my own.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Jigsaw plot is similarly out of touch. In the beginning, Russo is unhinged and kills a few people breaking out of police custody. Yeah, that’s bad. But after that, he unwittingly adopts a style similar to the Punisher. First, he kills a pedophile who abused him when he was young. Then, he and his buddies beat a tow-truck guy. Again, that’s bad, but if he has health insurance, he’s fine. After that, they rob a payday lender. This seems bad at first, but in the real world, these businesses are so flagrantly predatory that there was recent legislation to curb their practices. (Of course, the Trump Administration subsequently hindered those efforts to protect consumers, but that’s another story.) It’s worth noting that no one was killed or injured during the robbery. So Russo actually comes off as a modern-day Robin Hood on closer inspection until Frank shows up, guns blazing, and starts shooting people, as he does. PTSD-sufferer Russo then flips out when he sees the skull vest and starts a gang, which by the way only seems to target other gangs.

So the concurrent stories are largely boring and not well thought out by the screenwriters. The action, set design, and character portrayals are all decent, but if there’s nothing compelling or realistic to tie those things together, what’s the point of even watching? As such, this season is right down there with the Defenders and Iron Fist’s first season. Your valuable time would be better spent watching something else.

Score: 1.5 out of 5

The Umbrella Academy Season 1 Review

CAUTION: I’m going to get into a little spoilery territory in this review. Nothing too specific, but if you don’t want to know anything that happens, just skip to the last paragraph.

Netflix has been in some hot water lately with comic book adaptation enthusiasts due to their sudden cancellation of all Marvel shows. It wasn’t a huge surprise after the somewhat lukewarm, but still watchable, sophomore seasons of Iron Fist and Luke Cage were axed. When the streaming service followed up with canceling Daredevil after its explosive third season, it became clear that the company was not just clearing mediocre entertainment from their lineup but all shows from which they weren’t benefiting financially. Now that The Umbrella Academy has been released, an adaptation of the Dark Horse comic by the same name, it’s a little clearer what Netflix had in mind for its future in adaptations, as this deal was signed in 2017 well before the Marvel cancellations.

The first episode of the season recounts the significant occurrence that resulted in the events of the series; 43 women around the world, who were not pregnant when the day began, gave birth at the exact same time. The billionaire industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) tracks down and adopts/purchases 7 of the newborns to bring back to his mansion and raise. 6 of them were trained in combat to form a team of crime fighters. Their adventures and lives continued until one-by-one, each of the children left for their own reasons. At the sudden death of Sir Hargreeves, the now 30-year-old Academy students–Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), Ben (Justin H. Min), and Vanya (Ellen Page)–reunite to put him to rest, subsequently unearthing old skeletons.

The character setup could basically be described as Watchmen by means of dysfunctional X-Men with a small side of Preacher. If you enjoyed all 3 of those, as I did, you will probably like this series as well as it doesn’t stray too far from the paths already tread by its predecessors. That being said, the show definitely has its own distinct style to it; while it can get thematically dark at times, juxtaposing heavy moments with an uplifting musical track, that doesn’t keep it from being bright and funny the next moment or action-packed after that. The acting and delivery are top-notch from all the actors, but especially Page and Hopper, which is something we’ve come to expect from them already given their chops. Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton certainly impress in their roles as Cha-Cha and Hazel, respectively.

The unexpected highlights of the show come from Sheehan and Galagher. Sheehan, I didn’t realize until after the fact, starred in the cult hit British TV show Misfits. He has been cast in a few badly reviewed movies but also in very well received series, so he is worth looking into. His emotional beats here seem so heartfelt and real that the viewer can’t help but empathize with his character’s struggles. Gallagher is a breakout star in the making, having gone straight from a few small Nickelodeon shows to a starring role in the Umbrella Academy. He proves himself to be completely capable as the time-traveling Number Five despite his young age, and I think we can expect great things from him in the future.

Overall, the show looks and sounds great, but not all is perfect. My main issue is with the story and pacing. Sir Hargreeves started Umbrella Academy, but having done so, he is responsible for the chain of events that lead to the thing that he was supposedly attempting to stop. We are given a small amount of backstory for him very late in the season, but it doesn’t explain anything about who he is or what he planned to do. Our heroes aren’t much less culpable as even though they are trying to stop it as well, they only end up making matters worse. If they would’ve done absolutely nothing or, you know, stopped excluding Vanya, they would have prevented this entire thing. Ending the season on a cliffhanger is an irritating leftover from network television that shows up here and feels very out of place when so many questions are left unanswered.

One of the great things the show does is give us a number of fully-realized characters. Each of them has their own arc and development that makes you empathize with their struggles. The flipside of that is there is so much going on that it starts to weigh down the middle of the season. It seems like the creators tried to give us a little levity at times, but compared to all the heavier scenes, the lightness tends to come off as slow. And then we get to one episode whose events are almost completely undone by Number Five due to time travel. That is a sign that writers have written themselves into a corner: all these horrible events are completely undone by traveling back in time. It’s one of the laziest tropes in TV. Except then, events start playing out a little differently and we’re not sure which version is occurring. Does the character know they’ve done this already or don’t they?

The Umbrella Academy is quite a mixed bag. While the action, script, and cinematography are superb, the story leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it though. There were moments when my eyes were glued to the screen wondering what was going to happen next. If you like superhero shows, you will like this one as well. Even people who like character dramas should get a little something out of it. I’ll be interested in seeing what happens next season, hoping more nagging issues get resolved.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Stuff I’m Digging This Week

Schoolhouse Side Table

Last week’s little visit to the Schoolhouse website got me to look at this new bad boy they have in stock. This thing is handsome enough to serve as either a nightstand or an end table with plenty of storage built in for both.

Rhude Plaid Overcoat

I’ll give you the short version and simply tell you that plaid is HUGE right now. Seems like every label from Todd Snyder to Gucci is going all in on the pattern with wacky variations. Plaid coats are especially big, and this one looks like a dream. I love Rhude for their modern takes on classic menswear staples.

$2 off Hulu Subscription

Remember the uproar Netflix caused a few weeks ago when they said they were raising the price on their subscriptions? I have feelings on that, but I won’t get into it here. Anyway, Hulu made the best move ever and said that, in response, they would be lowering the cost of their own subscription service. The catch is that it’s only for their higher-tier no-ads service, but still, it was pretty genius marketing. It convinced me to upgrade.

Ovadia x Mouse T-shirt

Yeah I know, another collab. I’m not going to highlight the entire thing like I did last time, even though I really want to. Ovadia & Sons, another label that blends streetwear and fashion, has teamed up with Grateful Dead album cover artist Stanley Mouse to capitalize on the popularity of tie-dyed and GD-style clothing. This tee is just one of many pieces I find interesting. You might want to take a look at this gorgeous sequined jacket while you’re at it.

Burberry Plaid Trousers

I told you plaid was huge right now! Another thing that’s big is wearing clashing plaids together in the same outfit, as displayed here. I have a confession to make. Ever since I played through Persona 5, I’ve been dying to own a badass pair of plaid pants like the ones the Phantom Thieves wore to school. They don’t have to be exactly the same color scheme, but something audacious yet versatile would be great. This pair fits the bill.

HMS Owl Air Control Tower

I am always on the hunt for new travel experiences, which is one reason I follow Uncrate. They like to show off interesting places to stay or own like this old renovated military control tower in Scotland. The industrial furnishings sleep up to 4 with a king-sized bed overlooking the sunset. It even has a hot tub!

Kingdom Hearts III

After 14 years of waiting, we finally got the end to this long-running, beloved series. Reviews are out and they are mostly good. The one major drawback I’ve heard about the game is that the Final Fantasy characters were completely forgotten and left out, which is a bummer. Unfortunately, due to my sizable backlog which I decided I’d complete before starting on more modern games, I won’t be getting to this one for quite some time. Though exceptions have been made in the past.

“The Terror” Season 1 Review

A good horror TV show can be difficult to come by. Sure, there’s American Horror Story, but that series is often more camp than scares. There’s The Walking Dead, which has always felt more like a soap opera to me because it goes on and on with no endgame in mind. Speaking of soap operas, The Haunting of Hill House serves as a recent example of great horror TV, striking an ingenious balance between shock and family drama. As I’ve said before, in order for horror to succeed these days, it has to be creatively blended with other genres so it will be unique. This is especially true for TV because straight horror doesn’t really work for the medium.

The concept behind The Terror is twofold. First, the series is an adaptation of a book by the same name. Second, it is historical fiction based on actual events with some supernatural elements thrown in. The events on which the show is based revolve around two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, that departed England in 1845 in an effort to find a route through the Northwest Passage, a theoretical trade route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific via the Arctic. Both ships were lost and all the men are presumed to have perished in the attempt. The novel was written in 2007, but the wreckage of the ships was discovered more recently in 2014 and 2016, circumstances which were likely the inspiration behind creating the show.

Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), captain of the Erebus, is steadfast in his need to complete his mission. Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), his second-in-command and captain of the Terror, is less optimistic and doesn’t want to take any chances on the off chance the ships get stuck in the ice. As the series continues, Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) plays a pivotal role as well, first as a foil to Crozier, then as a partner. These are the main three characters who drive much of the plot for the first couple of episodes while we get to know others along the way.

The series doesn’t waste any time getting into the story, and since there are only 10 episodes, such expediency is warranted. Almost immediately, the ships are having troubles getting through the icy waters of the Canadian Arctic. The first few episodes do a great job of setting up the main characters and the few side characters we’re led to care about such as Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), one of the local Inuits native to this barren world. The mood and atmosphere are perfectly set for what promises to be a depressing plot, complete with murderous, seemingly otherworldly creatures. Slowly the crew is driven apart and destroyed by forces from within and without.

The only issue I had with the season is that there are a lot of characters, and each one has their own motivations. Some of them end up being more important than others, but in the beginning, it’s not very obvious which are which. It can be difficult to keep them all straight when some have their faces partially occluded by winter gear and general filth. Then they start growing beards and look completely different again. It’s possible this is by design in order to make the viewer anxious about not really knowing what’s going on or who’s doing what. If that’s the reason, it’s very effective. There was barely a moment when I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The Terror had an excellent way of going through various events while still making the pace seem slow, plodding, and melancholic. The oppressive mood will make you begin to empathize with the men who went on this doomed voyage. Even the crazy ones can come off as somewhat sympathetic, like they’re just trying to survive in this hostile environment that just wants them dead.

I think you might be guessing where I’m headed with this one. When even the few faults seem like they may have been intentional which simply adds more to the show, it’s safe to say that if you love historical fiction or horror–psychological, Lovecraftian, or otherwise–you will love this show. Season 2 should be out this year and will be based on events taking place on the west coast during World War II.

Score: 5 out of 5

“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and “Fyre Fraud” Comparison

Last Tuesday night, as I sat back in the recliner with my paleo freezer dinner, I shuffled through the endless options on Netflix. Suddenly, a short movie displayed on the screen that I’d heard about but still wasn’t sure if I cared enough to watch. That movie was Fyre Fraud. Of course I’ve heard of Fyre Festival. Or at least, I was aware it existed, as is most anyone who pays attention to popular culture. But I didn’t really know the specifics of when or where it took place or what happened to make it so notorious. I decided to push play because I didn’t feel like getting too deeply invested in anything over my meal.

In a nutshell, Fyre Festival was marketed to be the one to which all others would eventually be compared. Models, influencers, private jets, music performances, beach houses, yachts…it was an early-twenty-something millennial’s dream come true. However, the promise was never to be fulfilled. By the time guests showed up to the festival, there were hurricane shelter tents erected instead of the expected luxury accommodations. Attendees were served cheese sandwiches. There was an absurd amount of alcohol, which was certainly welcome concession. Oh, and none of the musicians showed up. By all measures, the festival was an absolute disaster.

But the festival itself is not necessarily the subject of Fyre (the movie). It’s more concerned with spelling out who was responsible for committing the massive amount of fraud that resulted in the catastrophic failure. The movie goes to great lengths to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Billy McFarland, at the time a seemingly genius entrepreneur as well as the founder and CEO of Fyre Media, Inc. The company was created in order to develop an app that would make it simple for average people to book musicians for events. If I’m being honest, it seems like a great concept. The company wanted to throw a shindig to celebrate the app coming to fruition. Unfortunately, McFarland and Ja Rule pumped the entire thing up so big that it was an impossible task.

As the movie closed out, it was heartbreaking to realize that, though no one was physically harmed, this festival had a long-lasting detrimental effect on the lives of people who were taken advantage of. Besides the local Bahamians, the effects were also felt in the influencer community as well. I’ve never understood this culture personally, and it was hilarious to watch these kids be inconvenienced when they didn’t receive the luxury they felt they deserved. On the other hand, the ones that promoted the thing initially learned a harsh lesson about protecting your brand and doing research before attaching your name to something. When Fyre ended, I was left with lingering questions like, why doesn’t Ja Rule bear any responsibility for this? and why is the hot dude seen in an early clip and picture important to the sequence of events?

The following day, in thinking about Netflix’s movie, I decided I didn’t need to see the Hulu film, assuming I got the gist and that I had other things to do. That night, lying in bed, bored and coming down with a cold, I changed my mind. Initially, the plot of Fyre Fraud was difficult to follow as it kept jumping around to different events with no definitive direction. It didn’t help much that the visuals seemed to do the same thing. This is opposed to the almost contemplative and nearly chronological direction of the Netflix movie.

The movie began to get more interesting once they sat McFarland down for an interview. So I know what you’re thinking: this is when he becomes a sympathetic villain. Nope. He is just as slimy and remorseless as Fyre made him seem. The interviews that follow paint a clear picture of all the fraudulent activity in which he was involved to the point of calling him pathological. The festival is treated as more of an afterthought, merely the event that brought everything crashing down.

Whereas Fyre developed its narrative around the stories of the people who directly organized the festival with McFarland, Fyre Fraud was focused more on those who were tertiarily involved, the more average individuals. That is a pretty distinct difference when you think about it. Netflix’s version is filled with people saying they didn’t do anything wrong and McFarland kept them in the dark when, in truth, they were all just nodding their heads the whole time hoping for a big payday eventually. Hulu wants the viewer to see and relate to people like themselves saying that the whole lot of them are culpable.

Fyre Fraud also answered my lingering questions from the Netflix movie. The hot guy is a member of FuckJerry, and Ja Rule was indicted with McFarland in many of the charges, though he still claims he is innocent and had no knowledge what was transpiring behind the scenes. For those who are unaware, as I was until this movie, FuckJerry is a massive media company whose sole reason for existing is to make memes. They were in charge of the advertising campaign for Fyre Festival and were also named in many of the indictments that came out. It is still debated how much they knew about what McFarland was doing behind the scenes. Come to find out, there’s a reason their and Ja Rule’s roles were downplayed and they were made to look like victims in the Netflix version: they were executive producers for the film!

Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t rightly give review scores to either of these movies because they are both pointless and terrible. The events revolving around the Fyre Festival are emblematic of the kind of culture that birthed it and are not worth trying to glean a message from. Though they are perfect for watching on a rainy day when you’re bored, my life was not made any more whole by watching them. I can say however that Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened made for a better movie-watching experience. Considering that watching the Netflix version is enriching some of the people behind the fraudulent festival in question and Hulu paid McFarland in order to get him on camera for Fyre Fraud, you will feel a lot less dirty if you don’t watch either film. You won’t be missing much. On the other hand, if you watch one, you really need to watch the other to get the full story.

Oh and don’t feel too bad for the Bahamians. Thanks to many generous people and GoFundMe, the local laborers are close to being made whole.