I have been quite unwell, and with all the time spent glaring at a screen from behind my diseased haze I have consumed quite a lot of the newer releases on Netflix. Rather than draw out reviewing each of the more interesting titles until past the point where anyone is interested, here’s a trio of opinions in quick succession, and relatively spoiler free.
The Umbrella Academy
What do you get when you cross X-Men with Preacher?
It’s an academy of kids with super-powers being trained by an eccentric old lunatic with a monocle, his monkey butler and robot maid! It’s been a while since they all got together, one died, one vanished through time, the others just filtered away to live their own lives until the only one that remained was sent to the moon. This all makes sense, right? We’re keeping up? Based on the 2007 Dark Horse comic series of the same name, the show takes us on a story of loneliness, time-travel, family conflict, and why eccentric billionaires shouldn’t keep secrets from the children they purchase.
Plot beats are fairly predictable once you’ve got a solid grasp of the characters involved, the end of the world is coming, there’s a time-travel plot including a time-cop agency that’s done moderately well, although it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to the agents of heaven from Preacher. Also like Preacher the tone strikes an odd balance between comedy and heavy drama, you have Robert Sheehan playing his own typecast of troubled class-clown with super-powers that he laid down in Misfits* alongside a fifty-something time-traveller in a child’s body, and opposite them you have Ellen Page as “the plain girl”, a mother torn apart by celebrity and relationships, an edgy “Nightwing” dealing with his own ego, and a man who has spent years alone on the moon.
All in all, not a bad watch, nice to see something that is neither Marvel or DC, and the performance from all parties is thoroughly enjoyable. The series does not balance its tone as well as Preacher, which can make it hard to invest in the stakes or characters, and of course the constant reveal of secret after secret does rather have you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next “grand reveal”. Still, not a bad series, and easily worth watching an episode or two.
*Another Misfits and Preacher bridge, after a dramatic cast-shift in Misfits the character niche occupied by Robert Sheehan was taken up by Joseph Gilgun who plays the vampire Cassidy in Preacher! I hope those two are friends.
The Dragon Prince – Season 2
An improvement on season 1 which was already good, and I’m glad I gave The Dragon Prince chance to develop. We pick up where we left off, a potential war between humans and elves is beginning to reach the boiling point, and the only ones actively trying to put a preemptive stop to it, the newly orphaned prince who has the inexplicable ability to talk to animals, his older half-brother whose determined to learn magic despite the human inability to tap into primal energy, and an elf who is slowly learning to trust humans but whose scrutiny is proving far to useful to ignore.
Again, the real strength of the showrunners shines through in their character and world building that they proved in Avatar: the Last Airbender, although the narrative is still hitting some fairly tame plot-beats. Our main villain is, once again, evil for the sake of being evil, and I can see no reason for him to have gone kill-crazy. His best friend, the deceased king, was nothing but loving to him, heeded his counsel, gave reasons when he turned it down… anyway, let’s kill that rant early.
The show sticks to the D&D party paradigm, each party member fulfilling a role within the group and within the adventure, you can practically see the DM’s screen in the backgrounds of certain scenes. At times it feels a lot more “kids show” than Avatar ever did, but it doesn’t make it less fun, and the fact that you can consume a season in an afternoon makes it worth committing a bit of time to.
End this with one hell of a moodshift, a new horror that has been on Netflix for a couple of weeks now, we have a story of a mad artist whose work causes strange deaths among those who sell it. Told from the perspective of those in the art industry, the world we occupy is quite removed from a classic horror setting, bright, cheerful, full of life and business, no one is isolated, no one is removed from society or cut off from rescue, and that alone makes this an abnormal and interesting approach.
Our cast of characters are cutthroat and volatile, consumed with their own dramas, almost oblivious to the terror unfolding around them, more caught up in their own dramas, undermining and outdoing one another, that by the time it occurs to anyone that anything spooky is going on they’re already screwed. It’s a joyous thing to enjoy watching a cast of characters that you utterly despise, and there’s something a little cathartic about watching a horror film where you are not encouraged to feel bad for anyone except for Zooey Deschanel in the role of “innocent”.
It’s different, but I cannot say that it’s all good. The all star cast is great, sure, but it’s never proof against a failed experiment or a horror film that lacks tension. While I enjoyed what I watched, I found it all too easy to simply not pay attention to the story, skipping great chunks of the inter-personal drama, having to backtrack occasionally for bits of tension I’d inadvertently ignored while working on something else (work’s good, you?) and coming back to enjoy the grizzly moments and Zooey Deschanel finding another body and none of the nearby police thinking to arrest her for always finding the bodies.
I may have mentioned I’m a bit of a late-to-the-party Avatar fan, I marathon’d the entire series a few years ago, and it’s become something of a node, a go-to point in my creative reference library whenever I create something fantasy. It’s an off-piste and indirect approach to the classical westernised fantasy of elves and dragons that Tolkien drew together from Arthurian, Norse, and Christian mythologies. The series embraced eastern viewpoints and philosophies, the notions of household and local gods or spirits, the Qi-like elements of elemental bending, and with it brought profoundly human elements, and rich political analogues.
That’s a tall order for a kids show! (more…)