Late Night Comedy Does Work-from-Home

Last week both Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon attempted to put on a show with no audience. Both attempts were funny only because they were such terrible failures. On October 29 and 30, 2012 David Letterman did shows without audience just before and after hurricane Sandy as seen here. Telling a joke with only Paul Schaefer with his signature annoying laugh just didn’t work. Colbert’s audience consisted of about 20 staff members. Part of the way through his monologue he asked “Is this going okay?” And they all cheered and applauded. He thanked them and then reminded the viewers “Of course I pay these people so who knows.” Another good line was he said “Each night in my mind the show is perfect. All of the jokes are hilarious. And the only thing that goes wrong is when an audience shows up and proves me wrong. Tonight with no audience to disprove it, this show will be perfect.”

Seth Meyers and James Corden went to reruns rather than go audience free.

Now the late-night comedians have taken to YouTube to do 10-20 minute monologues. Here’s a sampling. Suggest you subscribe to their YouTube channels to see remaining episodes. It’s sort of reminiscent of amateur YouTubers who haven’t quite yet figured out how to do lighting and audio in a home environment. Click on the show title to get to their entire YouTube channel. And then click the links on individual shows.

The Late Show Was Stephen Colbert

March 17 Colbert broadcasts from his bathtub

March 18 Colbert in his backyard fire pit. Includes a very funny parody of “Danny Boy” and a nice piano concert by bandleader Jon Batiste.

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live

March 17 Quarantine Minilogue. Discovers by staying at home that he actually has children. Says that they watched Frozen 2 more times than the animators who created. Apparently first in a series.

 

Late night with Seth Myers

March 12: A Closer Look. Seth Myers canceled his Thursday night show but went ahead and recorded his “A Closer Look” segment that they had already written the night before. He hasn’t done any additional YouTube since then.

 

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon

March 17 Home Edition (The First One). Shot by his wife on an iPhone apparently from his kids play room. Wonderfully amateurish 🙂

 

LastWeek Tonight with John Oliver HBO

March 16: Did his regular show without an audience. Could not do it in his regular studio because it had been contaminated by someone who tested positive. Clearly the most successful non-audience show of the group.

 

The Late Late Show with James Corden

He is showing reruns on broadcast and has not contributed anything to YouTube

 

 

Overall I’m giving the entire collection a rating of “I’m watching”. It’s really nice that I don’t have to record the entire show and fill up my DVR. I could just watch these monologues on YouTube whenever they come up. Hope you are staying safe and healthy during this crisis.

“Devs” is a Creepy Reflection on the Nature of Reality.

A new sci-fi thriller called “Devs” is available on Hulu. This eight part miniseries is released under the branding of “FX on Hulu” however the series doesn’t appear to be available on FX network at least as of yet. Nick Offerman plays a billionaire genius Forest who runs a computer company that has made major breakthroughs in quantum computing. If you’ve not heard of quantum computing it’s a new type of computer processor that takes advantage of some of the bizarre properties of quantum mechanics. Pundits currently claim that it has the potential to create the most powerful computers we’ve ever seen. It could be a disruptive technology that could unlock any current encryption techniques rendering all computer security obsolete. In real life quantum computing has yet to deliver on its promises but in this series it has delivered way beyond expectations.

The story follows Lily Chan played by Sonoya Mizuno works for a computer company called Amaya along with her boyfriend Sergei. Sergei gets promoted to the company’s top-secret division known as “Devs” but disappears the next day. She goes on a quest to uncover what really happened to him and to try to figure out what’s really going on in the company she works for.

The entire show has a very creepy feel to it. The Amaya company campus is in a wooded area featuring a giant 60 foot statue that looks like a two-year-old girl dressed in a dress. It sort of looks like a giant baby doll. No explanation is given why they have this bizarre monument. We get lots of creepy looking shots of this figure towering above the trees. The soundtrack that runs continuously beneath the show also adds a very creepy feeling to the entire thing.

At this point I will just say that after 3 episodes I’m really enjoying it and giving it a strong rating of “I like it“. It is being described as a miniseries of 8 episodes so don’t expect a second season. If I’m going to continue to talk more about it I really need to get into some spoilers. If you read on, I don’t think it will ruin your enjoyment of the show but some people are especially sensitive to any spoilers so if that’s you… stop reading now and go watch the show.

spoilers below

 

 

 

In the opening episode, Sergei is taken on a tour of the Devs facility by CEO Forrest played by Nick Offerman. It is housed in a completely separate building on the Amaya campus. A giant quantum supercomputer is housed in a vacuum sealed building that hovers inside the building using magnetic levitation. The entire thing is completely sealed from the outside world. Sergei is invited to sit down at a workstation, look at the code they are developing and then he will realize what the Devs project is all about. After several minutes of staring at the screen he suddenly jumps from his seat, runs into the restroom, and vomits violently.

We don’t have to wait long to find out what disturbed him so much. Forest explains to him that indeed this quantum computer has proven that the entire universe is deterministic. Every event in the world is the inevitable consequence of chemistry and physics working on the conditions prior to that moment. Everything is total cause and effect. Essentially free will does not exist. Everything that we do is 100% the inevitable consequence of what has happened prior to that. So this computer has the ability to accurately predict the future as well as run the equations backwards and look into the past.

In subsequent episodes we see them looking in on the crucifixion of Jesus, the burning of Joan of Arc at the stake, and then more personal items such as Marilyn Monroe having sex with her husband Arthur Miller. The latter was done so in violation of company policy and earns the programmers a reprimand. One of the female scientists Katie played by Alison Pill bemoans “Why do male techs always feel the need to caricature themselves? Step one: Create a new technology that reinvents the nature of human existence. Step two: Use it for porn.” Personally I would’ve gone for Marilyn and JFK.

One of the other consequences of the revelation that the universe is completely out of our control means that the enigmatic CEO feels no sense of guilt over anything. If one is not responsible for one’s own actions then one can do whatever they want because that choice is not theirs. It is inevitable.

The main part of the story is Lily trying to uncover Sergei’s disappearance. She is shown a video of him committing suicide but she doesn’t believe it’s real. She comes to discover that he is in fact an industrial spy for Russia. She had no idea. This furthers her feelings that everything isn’t what it seems to be. I’ve only seen the first 3 out of 8 episodes sort remains to be seen how deep the conspiracy goes or where the story will turn after this.

The questions raised by this strange technology and the bizarre revelation that the universe is not what it seems to be along with the mystery of the boyfriend spy and a hidden agenda of the company make this very compelling viewing. As stated before it gets a rating of “I like it” and if you like creepy technology shows sort of like Black Mirror then I highly recommend it.

“Star Trek: Picard” Shows Great Promise

The much anticipated “Star Trek: Picard” premiered on streaming service CBS All Access today. Only the first episode is available and a total of 10 episodes will be released on a weekly basis. The story revolves around former Enterprise Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in his retirement from Starfleet.

There’s no way I can really describe what’s going to happen in future episodes without giving some major spoilers as to what happens in this opening episode. So if you don’t want to know what happens in the opening episode I will just say that I like what I’ve seen and if you are at all a Star Trek fan you definitely want to check it out. One suggestion I will leave you with is you should watch “Star Trek: Short Treks” season 2 episode 6 “Children of Mars” also available only on CBS All Access before watching this premier episode.

SPOILERS BELOW

 

 

 

 

 

The series takes place 14 years after Picard has left Starfleet. It opens with a dream sequence where he is playing poker with Cmdr. Data. Brent Spiner returns to play the role and somehow doesn’t look a day older than we last saw him years ago when he sacrificed his life to save Picard in the film “Star Trek: Nemesis“. One little bit of nitpicking, Data’s eyes didn’t look quite right to me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we are seeing him in HD compared to the analog TV in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or what the reason was. It just seemed that during the close-ups it was more obvious than usual that he was wearing yellow contact lenses.

The dream ends when they look out the window and you see the destruction of Mars. You might not immediately recognize it unless you’ve seen the Short Trek “Children of Mars” that I mentioned earlier. That short subject depicts an attack on Mars that devastates the planet but doesn’t really explain who is attacking or why.

Picard is living in a French château surrounded by vineyards that are being cared for by robotic machines. He’s accompanied by a pet bit bull which he affectionately refers to as “Number One”. He is tended to by what appeared to be a butler and maid who I initially thought were Vulcans but on further reflection they are probably Romulan. They show great affection for the retired admiral.

Picard is about to be interviewed for a news program and through the course of this interview we get a lot of back story about what has happened in the days since we last saw him. In short, the Romulan sun was going to go supernova. Picard persuaded Starfleet to help with a mass evacuation of the entire planet before it was destroyed. This was despite the fact that the Romulans were a long time enemy of Starfleet. Picard makes it clear he was there to save lives… the fact that they were Romulan lives was immaterial.

The rescue effort was aborted when Mars colony was attacked by so-called “synthetics” which are apparently androids. The reporter points out that Mars is still burning yet to this day. The end result is that synthetic life forms have been completely banned and all research into creating them has been terminated. By interplanetary treaty they are forbidden.

Intercut with Picard’s story we meet a young woman named Dahj played by Isa Briones. She is celebrating with her boyfriend that she has been accepted to a position at the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa to do artificial intelligence research. Suddenly three black clad assassins transport into her apartment, murder her boyfriend, and try to take her captive saying along the way “She hasn’t activated yet”. Suddenly she does “activate” and despite having a hood placed over her head she quickly attacks the three assassins and with almost superhuman moves ends up killing them all. It is obvious she has no idea how she obtained the skills to save her own life and kill these three assassins. As she wanders the streets in a daze, she sees Picard being interviewed on TV and is irresistibly drawn to seek him out.

Picard does not know the woman and has no idea why she would come to him even after she recounts the story of the attack and her unusual ability to easily dispatch her attackers. Through a series of events, Picard concludes that not only is she an android despite the fact she appears completely human (she bleeds real blood), he also theorizes that she is somehow the daughter of Cmdr. Data. Data had once painted a portrait of a woman exactly resembling her and titled the painting “Daughter”.

There are a couple of plot twists I have not revealed. So I didn’t completely spoil the story. I hope I just set it up for you to anticipate what comes in future episodes. The rest of the series will cover Picard trying to figure out who this woman is. Unfortunately (sorry spoiling) she is killed in a subsequent attack by more assassins who are revealed to be Romulan. Picard then goes on a quest to go in search of her twin sister.

Previews for upcoming episodes reveal that we will see Jonathan Frakes reprise his role as Cmdr. Riker a.k.a. Number One and his wife Deanna Troy played by Marina Sirtis. Although these will only appear in a single episode, it doesn’t appear that this is a flashback or dream sequence. Frakes is also listed as the director of 3 of the episodes. We will also see Jeri Ryan reprise her role as former Borg “Seven of Nine” from the TV series “Star Trek: Voyager“. Unfortunately IMDb.com does not yet list her as part of the cast so we don’t know how big her role will be. But the previews indicate it might be significant. There may be other cameo appearances from other previous Star Trek series.

Overall Patrick Stewart credibly re-creates an older version of his most famous character. We also look forward to seeing more of Alison Pill in her role as an artificial intelligence researcher named Dr. Agnes Jurati. I’ve been a big fan of hers ever since her role in “The Newsroom“. Apparently Picard will spend the next episode recruiting a crew and a ship for his quest so we will have new characters introduced soon.

With the exception of one brief shot, the special effects are state-of-the-art. The stunts and action sequences were well done. The plot has great promise leaving many mysteries to be solved over the course of 10 episodes. The show has already been approved for season 2 as well. What is the origin of these extremely human looking androids? Why did the androids attack Mars? And what are the surviving Romulans up to?

I’m sure somewhere along the way Star Trek fans will nitpick a variety of issues. I’ve loved every episode of “Star Trek: Discovery” for the past 2 seasons on CBS All Access but some fans say it’s terrible. I seriously disagree.

I’m giving it a strong rating of “I Really like It” and suggest you check it out. Together with the third season of “Star Trek: Discovery” and the excellent series “The Good Fight” CBS All Access is well worth the money. I’ve also been using it to watch current episodes of CBS programs because I am typically many weeks behind and I don’t have room on my DVR to record them all. Although I’m endorsing the service, of course I have no financial connection to it and the opinions are all my own.

“The Morning Show” Best New Drama of the Year — Says Me

When I heard that the new Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show” starred Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, I naturally assumed it was a comedy. I knew that it revolves around a morning network talk show similar to “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America“. Seeing the two of them sit behind a desk and crack jokes or perhaps a sort of ripoff of “The Office” that went behind the scenes at such a show just didn’t appeal to me.

Then I heard it was nominated for three Golden Globes in the drama category. Perhaps there was more here than I initially believed so I decided to check it out. I ended up binge watching all 10 episodes in a little over two days and at times it took my breath away. Jennifer Aniston and her costar Reese Witherspoon well deserved their Golden Globe nominations as well as the series nomination for best TV drama. Aniston, Carell, and Billy Crudup have also received Screen Actors Guild nominations.

Late Update: Aniston won the SAG award for Female Actor in a Drama Series.

There will be very minor spoilers ahead but I don’t believe it will ruin the show for you. If you are worried about spoilers just watch this show because it gets my highest recommendation.

Aniston plays Alex Levy and Carell plays Mitch Kessler. They are the anchors of a network morning news talk show called “The Morning Show” or TMS for short. In the opening episode it is announced that Kessler has been fired for sexual misconduct paralleling the true life story of Matt Lauer being fired from “The Today Show”. Note however that this is not at all intended to be a thinly disguised telling of that story. It is very much complete fiction.

Initially there is a scramble by the network to decide how to deal with this disturbing situation. Aniston’s portrayal of Alex is exceptional as she tries to express sensitivity towards the accusers, outrage towards Mitch, and her own personal hurt that such a thing could happen to someone who is her friend and with whom she has had a great working relationship for 15 years.

In the next few episodes Alex is in a fight with the network to keep her job and to try to have a say in who will be her replacement cohost.

Along the way she happens to interview Bradley Jackson portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. She is a local TV reporter that has a slightly embarrassing viral video moment where she gets into a shouting match with a protester at a coal mine. The network tries to intimidate Alex by hinting that she could be replaced by someone like Bradley Jackson at the drop of a hat. Alex reverses the tactics by publicly announcing that Bradley Jackson will be her new cohost starting Monday morning. Of course neither the network nor Bradley herself have any idea that this is going to happen. Rather than fire Alex for making an unapproved announcement, they decide to roll with it thinking that if it fails they can blame her. Although Bradley realizes she’s a pawn in a big chess game she goes ahead and takes the job.

While all of this politics of network TV makes for fairly interesting drama, the real story is the #MeToo issues about the firing of Mitch Kessler. Throughout the 10 episodes, we the viewers ride a roller coaster of emotions in regard to his character. He insists that although he had affairs with coworkers, everything was 100% consensual and that he doesn’t deserve to have his career ruined or to be lumped in with sexual predators the likes of Cosby and Weinstein. You can’t help but believe him that in some ways he is a victim of these accusations.

Along the way as he’s trying to fight for his reputation, he reaches out to a friend who is a filmmaker whose career has been similarly ruined by #MeToo allegations. This part is brilliantly played dramatically by Martin Short. But they are not far into the conversation where Mitch is trying to say “We aren’t like Weinstein or the other perverts out there” when he begins to discover that his friend really is a sexual predator. The contrast between Mitch and his predatory friend makes you more still sympathetic for him.

However in later episodes as we hear the other side of the story from his accusers, we get a different perspective of the whole thing. You begin to see in a very dramatic way that although Mitch can accurately say that everything was “consensual”, the power dynamic of the situation puts him in a much more negative light. You begin to feel deeply for his accusers. Although not the same kind of despicable sexual predator as the Short character or other Weinstein types, Mitch is not at all an innocent victim in the situation.

Bradley Jackson is a fascinating character as well being thrust into a national limelight overnight and basically being in over her head. Yet when presented with the opportunities to investigate the story deeper and perhaps uncover how the network brass had long known about and covered up Mitch’s affairs she has to run with the story. She ends up in a sort of conspiracy to overthrow the network president with the help of the head of the news division played by Billy Crudup. Also is the noteworthy performance of Mark Duplass as the show’s producer who assists in this network coup when he realizes that he is going to be the fall guy for allowing Mitch’s behavior to continue unchecked.

A brief aside for a moment… When looking up Mark Duplass on IMDb.com I came across this video interview in which he reveals that originally “The Morning Show” was supposed to be a quirky fast-paced comedy… the show that I didn’t want to see. But then they realized they could do something significant with #MeToo and they completely scrapped their original scripts and rewrote the show. Many of the episodes were written just in time to be filmed. I still find it amazing that shows like this and “The Watchmen” can be written on the fly like this.

Aniston has many outstanding dramatic performances throughout the series but the most touching revolve around the subplot of Alex’s family life. She has been separated from her husband and he asked for a divorce. Naturally the publicity people are worried that the public will think it’s related to Mitch’s departure when in fact it’s not. Her concerns about the effects of the divorce on their teenage daughter are also quite dramatic and well portrayed by Aniston.

At times this series is reminiscent of the Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom” which ran on HBO for three seasons from 2012-2014. This is especially true in the flashback episode where they go to Las Vegas to cover the mass shooting that occurred there. We also go on location to cover California wildfires.

The writing is superb. The performances by Aniston, Witherspoon, and Carell are all top-notch. Although there are a few funny moments it is mostly breathtaking drama throughout. It is very much the single most thought-provoking TV series I’ve seen in a long time. In a recent review of Netflix’s “The Messiah” I described it as the most thought-provoking show I had seen in some time but this one clearly eclipsed it.

On a variety of talkshows and news programs ever since the wave of allegations that launched the #MeToo movement, pundits have been saying “We need to have a national conversation on this topic.” As far as I’m concerned, these 10 hours of dramatic television are an excellent attempt to have that conversation. You really get an in-depth and personal look at the issues from all sides. Anyone who has any interest in understanding #MeToo or anything concerning sexual dynamics in the workplace absolutely must see this program.

In fact anyone who enjoys good dramatic television should consider watching this. I’m giving it my highest rating of “Must-See“.

I previously had high praises for 2 other Apple TV+ series “See” and “For All Mankind” and even said that the latter was almost worth subscribing to Apple TV+ on its own. But those both are fantasy or sci-fi genre shows that might not appeal to a wide audience. This however is an important TV series that needs to be widely viewed.

I got my subscription to Apple TV+ because I recently purchased a new iPhone and iPad. There is a seven day free trial which should be enough that you could watch the show if you set aside time to binge 10 episodes at about an hour each. The subscription is $4.99 per month which is very cheap compared to other services but note that their catalog is quite small containing only original programming. They’ve announced no intent to license outside TV shows or films that are not exclusive to their service.

The bottom line is you should sign up and binge this. It’s well worth $4.99 if you can’t get it all watched during the seven-day free trial. And if you have time check out some of the other series from this service. Links to my reviews below.

Related reviews.

“For All Mankind” is almost worth subscribing to Apple TV+

Fans of Dystopian Action Should See “See”

Would You Recognize Jesus If He Arrived Today? “Messiah” on Netflix Seeks the Answer.

Would You Recognize Jesus If He Arrived Today? “Messiah” on Netflix Seeks the Answer.

Theologians and pundits have often wondered what kind of reception Jesus might’ve had if he had appeared in modern times or what would happen if the promised second coming came in modern times. The new Netflix series “Messiah” gives us a glimpse into what might happen if that occurred. Some spoilers included below.

A charismatic figure who looks like a stereotypical image of Jesus begins preaching in Damascus initially to a mostly Muslim audience. He claims responsibility for a giant dust storm that wipes out the terrorist organization ISIS. The crowd gives him the name “Al-Masih” Arabic for the Messiah. He then leads approximately 2000 refugees to the Israeli border demanding to be let in. As he crosses the border, he is immediately arrested leaving his followers alone in the desert creating a political and humanitarian crisis. Al-Masih is played by Mehdi Dehbi.

The story mostly follows an Israeli interrogator presumably Mossad named Aviram Dahan played by Tomer Sisley and an American CIA agent Eva Geller played by Michelle Monaghan. While being interrogated Al-Masih seems to have secret knowledge of his interrogators that gives him an air of mystical power that shakes them up considerably. He escapes the Israeli prison by an unknown mechanism and Aviram is suspected of releasing him although he did not. After appearing briefly in Jerusalem and miraculously healing a young boy of a gunshot wound, he disappears again and then reappears in a Texas border town that is wiped out by a tornado. Only the small church run by a troubled pastor and his family survives the devastation. Although he originally preached to a Muslim audience he claims to have no particular denomination affiliation and speaks openly to this Christian community challenging them reform their lives to live out their life in peace and harmony with their fellow human beings.

From there he leads a cross-country caravan to Washington DC but no one is sure exactly what his agenda is.

Eva spends much of the series trying to figure out who he really is. Is he a con man? What is his political agenda? There are hints of Russian connections and connection to a known terrorist who hacked Wall Street. All the while she and Aviram struggle with their own personal demons and are haunted by Al-Masih’s mysterious ability to know their life story.

The entire 10 episode series explores the nature of faith, fame, politics, and what it means to really live out one’s peaceful religious convictions. I suppose the main spoiler that I will include is that although his true past is revealed and there is ample evidence that he is a charlatan, there is also ample evidence that there are some supernatural forces involved and that he may in fact be legitimate. He never claims to be the Messiah himself only saying that that’s what his followers call him. He claims to be “The Word” sent from the Father which is a reference to the Gospel of John which describes Jesus as “the Word made flesh”. The series pretty much leaves you to make up your own mind about who or what he really is. Were the supernatural events simply illusions of a skilled magician or was something real happening?

Overall it is extremely well written and well acted by all involved. It is one of the most thought-provoking TV series I had seen up until the time I completed the 10 episode binge which took me just two days. However the title of “most thought-provoking TV series I’d seen in a long time” was eclipsed just a week later by another show that I will review soon.

I highly recommend this series to anyone of faith or those who are interested in religion and its role in modern society. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I really like it“. Check it out and form your own opinions. Would love to hear from you on Facebook about what you think of the series.

“The Mandalorian” Is the Best Star Wars Since “The Empire Strikes Back”

Moving along to our next review of a streaming TV series we have to take a minute to discuss the new Disney+ Star Wars series “The Mandalorian“. If you’ve been on social media at all the last few weeks you’ve already seen hundreds of memes about this series most of them featuring a character that has come to be known as “Baby Yoda”. This adorable little green creature is the same species as the Yoda character from the original Star Wars series. Unfortunately George Lucas never did tell us the name of the species of this iconic character. In this series he is only referred to as “the child” but immediately the Internet has dubbed him “Baby Yoda” even though the original Yoda is already dead at this point in the timeline of the Star Wars universe.

While Baby Yoda is central to the 10 episode plot of this series, it really is about the journey of the title character. Mandalorians are a race of fierce warriors who have a rich history throughout the Star Wars novels and especially the various Star Wars animated TV series. Our title character, often referred to as Mando is played by Pedro Pascal who is most known for playing Oberyn Martell in “Game of Thrones” and 30 episodes of the Netflix series “Narcos“. He is, as many of his people are, a bounty hunter and mercenary. He is given an assignment to retrieve dead or alive (preferably alive) an unknown subject. All he knows is that he is 50 years old and he has a tracking device which can locate the subject.

When he finally battles his way into a compound to retrieve the subject, he discovers it’s an infant Yoda like character. Star Wars fans know that when we met the original Yoda he was 900 years old. So a 50-year-old infant is not out of the question given what little we know about the species. Being duty-bound to fulfill his mission, he turns the child over to the client magnificently played by documentary filmmaker Warner Herzog. After turning over the child and fulfilling his contract, he begins to worry about what their intentions are for the creature and decides to steal the child back again to rescue it from whatever nefarious purposes the client might have. This sets off a whole wave of consequences in which his Mandalorian friends have to help him escape at the expense of revealing their secret hideaway. The entire rest of the series chronicles their journey to try to escape a horde of bounty hunters who are trying to retrieve the child.

Along the way we have a number of notable guest stars such as Nick Nolte who voices a CGI character that marginally resembles him named Kuiil. In later episodes we see Giancarlo Esposito as an imperial officer named Moff Gideon, Amy Sedaris as a spaceship mechanic and Ming-Na Wen as an assassin. Gina Carano also appears in three episodes as a former rebel soldier who accompanies the Mandalorian on a couple of missions.

Each episode is approximately 30 minutes and includes a great mixture of action and story. The Baby Yoda character is undeniably so cute he is irresistible but is not just about his cuteness. The real story is the personal journey of the Mandalorian who is trying to make his way in the universe and protect his new adopted charge Baby Yoda. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Mando is not a native Mandalorian but is a so-called foundling who was adopted as a child by Mandalorian warriors. That helps explain his empathy for the child who is caught up in circumstances not of his own making.

I suppose if you’d never seen any Star Wars, you could enjoy this on its own as an action-adventure sci-fi series. But the real fun comes from all of the references to the original Star Wars stories and even deeper and more obscure Easter Egg references to the extended Star Wars universe especially the animated series which gives you much of the back story of the Mandalorian people. Along the way we visit Luke’s home planet of Tatooine including Moss Eisley spaceport and a familiar booth in a familiar cantina. A plethora of classic Star Wars characters including sand people and Jawas make appearances. There is a hilarious scene in one of the later episodes where a couple of storm trooper scouts are killing time by taking target practice and famously missing horribly. They are portrayed by Adam Pally and Jason Sudeikis.

As the title of this review suggests this is the best Star Wars we’ve seen since “The Empire Strikes Back“. All of the characters, not just Baby Yoda, are interesting and have memorable moments. The action sequences and special effects are state-of-the-art and worthy of theatrical film. Because these are essentially new characters, the fans don’t have a backlog of expectations about what they want to see so they have been free to enjoy the series on its own merits. The show has already been renewed for a second season and I suppose the fan fiction writers are already hard at work trying to guess what’s going to happen and unless it meets their predictions they are going to be disappointed. That’s a shame because such practices have destroyed the latest Star Wars films. Expectations about what the fans want to see have been so high that when they aren’t met exactly, the fans rebel as if they owned the franchise. Perhaps this new series will inspire fans to just sit back and enjoy it and not try to impose their own expectations on the plot lines or characters. It also helps that creator/writer/showrunner Jon Favreau has done a wonderful job extending the Star Wars universe to these new characters while maintaining a deep reverence for the rich traditions of everything that has come before.

I’m giving it a strong rating of “I Really like It” and it is recommended for any fans of action-adventure, sci-fi whether or not you have a deep knowledge of the Star Wars franchise.

Overall the Disney+ platform may be the most cost-effective streaming subscription service because it includes not only the entire Star Wars catalog but the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the entire Disney and Pixar catalogs. At just $6.99 a month or $69.99 per year it is quite reasonably priced. There is also an option to bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for just $12.99 per month which is a significant savings for what it would cost to subscribe to those individually. A number of Disney+ films and series are planned. We’ve already got the “live-action” version of “Lady and the Tramp” and more Star Wars series are in the works as well as season 2 of “The Mandalorian”. So there’s a lot to like here. By the way none of my reviews are sponsored by anyone and the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Fans of Dystopian Action Should See “See”

The next in my series of reviews of new streaming series is another offering from Apple TV+ titled “See“. I’ve seen all eight episodes of season 1 and it has already been renewed for season 2. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the entire human race has lost their sense of sight. No one has been able to see for many generations and so the entire concept of vision is impossible to explain to anyone. It is viewed as an evil mystical power that was responsible for the fall of civilization.

However there exists one person named Jerlamarel who claims they have the ability to see as does his children. This makes him and the children targets. Not only is vision believed to be evil witchcraft, if by chance you can control someone who has this mystical ability of sight, you would have great power over everyone.

Our main character is Baba Voss played by Aquaman star Jason Momoa. He is the leader of a clan of people who live in the woods. His wife Maghra played by Hera Hilmar. She is pregnant with twin children that were fathered by sighted Jerlamarel. She came to their clan as a pregnant refugee and Voss took her in and agreed to raise the children as his own. In the opening episode, the clan comes under attack from witchfinders who do the bidding of a bizarre leader named Queen Kane played by Sylvia Hoeks. She is in search of the sighted man and/or his children. The Queen rules over the area from a hydroelectric power dam that is still barely operational.

The entire thing is sort of a mixture of “Game of Thrones” and “Bird Box” with a little bit of “Mad Max” thrown in.

The action sequences as Voss defends his community from the witchfinders are exciting, bloody, and actually make you believe that a bunch of totally blind people could not only survive on a day-to-day basis but can defend themselves from a bunch of evil invaders. The entire society is created in detail and we learn a lot about how they survive. For example writing is accomplished by tying knots and pieces of cord.

The clan survives the initial attack but concludes that their main line of defense will no longer hold and the raiders will be back again so they have to flee their habitat in the woods. The sighted biological father of these hunted children have left them a trail to a new habitat where they relocate out of harm’s way. The series then fast forwards to when the children have grown. They have inherited their father’s ability to see and they are given a chest full of books left to them by their father. Voss and Maghra are assisted in raising the children by the clan’s medicine woman Paris played by Alfre Woodard. She gives the children the books despite their parents insistence that she not. The children teach themselves to read and educate themselves in the history of the fallen civilization. Eventually as they reach their teens, they go on a quest to seek their biological father and their destiny as one of the few human beings left alive who know what it is to see.

Although some critics didn’t think much of Momoa’s portrayal of Voss, I found him to be an interesting character. He is a devoted family man who is trying to protect his children and his clan without reverting to the violent mercenary he once was in his past. He does an adequate job of portraying the character torn between his violent nature and his desire for a peaceful family life.

I suppose you have to be a fan of dystopian post-apocalyptic genre and enjoy seeing a muscleman like Jason Momoa engage in all sorts of bloody battles. But if you do enjoy this kind of story, this is a really good one. The world they live in is richly drawn. The characters especially Queen Kane are a bit bizarre but that makes her all the more interesting as a maniacal leader obsessed with finding her white whale that is these children.

The series runs for eight episodes and to be honest that was probably enough. Although I really enjoyed it, it didn’t leave me anxiously awaiting for season 2 which has already been approved. I will watch it however when it returns. I’m giving it a strong rating “I’m watching” and if you like the genre I strongly recommend it.

“For All Mankind” is almost worth subscribing to Apple TV+

I barely have time to write reviews of new broadcast TV shows so I rarely write reviews of shows on streaming networks. But there has been such a lack of interesting new shows on broadcast that I need to point out a couple of really interesting series recently released on streaming. (See my recent blog “Is Broadcast TV Dead?“)

We are going to start off with a new offering on Apple TV+ titled “For All Mankind“. It’s a bit of alternate history sci-fi about what might’ve happened if the Soviet Union had landed on the moon before us. In real history, once we had made it to the moon first, the US visited the moon 6 times but with nothing left to prove, the space race was over and decades later we still haven’t been back. But in this alternate history, the space race continued.

The series is created and produced by Ronald D. Moore who is most known for the reboot version of Battlestar GalacticaClick and the romantic time travel series Outlander as well as several Star Trek series and films.

Our main characters are fictional astronauts and their families but most of the other characters in the series are based on the real life people who worked on the space program. Fictional Astronaut Edward Baldwin is played by Joel Kinnaman who has been in a variety of TV shows but is most known for playing detective Holder in “The Killing“. We also have astronaut Gordo Stevens played by Michael Dorman, a NASA engineer Margo Madsen played by Wrenn Schmidt and a memorable performance by Chris Bauer as real-life NASA astronaut/manager Deke Slayton. Colm Feore appears in three episodes as former German rocket scientist Warner von Braun who oversaw the design and construction of the Saturn V moon rocket. You can click on the names in this or any of my other entertainment blogs to see their resumes on IMDb.com. I won’t bother mentioning their many roles.

Before writing this review I have seen all 10 episodes and I’m pleased to report that it is already renewed for season 2. There are going to be some minor plot spoilers in the rest of this but I don’t think it will ruin your viewing. After the Russians landed on the moon one month ahead of Apollo 11, the US goes ahead and sends Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon as planned. But I will spoil the story this much to say that this mission doesn’t go exactly as smoothly as history’s real Apollo 11. The series also covers Apollo 12 but makes no mention of the accident suffered by real-life Apollo 13. There is a time jump in the series and from that point forward all of the missions are fictional.

As mentioned before, the story follows the continuing space race between the US and the Soviet Union. It now becomes a race to build a permanent moon base. On one of the missions, water is discovered in the permanent dark areas of Shackleton crater near the Moon’s south pole. In real life, water wasn’t discovered there until a few years ago when satellite reconnaissance detected the presence of frozen water. This early discovery makes a permanent moon base feasible and both countries race to build a moon base on the edge of this crater some distance apart from each other.

The Soviets also get one up on us by landing the first woman on the moon paralleling the true life events where they put the first woman in orbit years before we did. In this alternate history, we respond by rapidly recruiting and training a group of female astronauts and several of the episodes through the middle of the season forward deal with that story. Not only does the series deal with women’s issues it also touches on LGBT themes. It dramatically illustrates the way such issues were dealt with or not dealt with in the 70s and 80s. We get a glimpse of the political background of this alternate history which has some interesting twists and turns as well. The world these characters live in feels very real. An excellent bit of alternate world building on the part of the show’s creators and writers.

The writing is excellent. The acting is wonderful. The drama is compelling. There are surprises and tragedies that will break your heart. I will warn you don’t watch episode 9 unless you are prepared to watch the finale episode 10 immediately following.

I have to admit a bias because I grew up in the Apollo era and have always been a spaceflight enthusiast. But I don’t think that you have to be a space history buff or a spaceflight enthusiast to really enjoy this series.

For the most part the science is reasonably accurate. There are a couple of places near the end where I thought they glossed over a couple of issues for the sake of keeping the story moving. However I found much less of what I call “plot driven technology” then I find in many sci-fi series. I should mention that the special-effects are excellent as well for a TV series. Also a big tip of the hat to the set decorators. On the wall of one of the astronaut’s homes there is a wall decoration identical to one that has been hanging in my living room since the early 1970s.

I was fortunate enough to get a free subscription to Apple TV+ when I purchased my new iPhone 11. There are at least 2 other series available on Apple TV+ that are worth checking out.One of them is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series titled “See” starring Aquaman star Jason Momoa which I will review soon here. And a drama series called “The Morning Show” starring Jennifer Aniston which I have not yet seen but which earned a number of Golden Globe nominations. Ultimately whether or not it’s worth the subscription price to you is something you alone will have to decide. Overall Apple TV+ does not have a huge catalog of programming. There are less than a dozen original series but I suppose it will grow over time.

I’m giving this a strong recommendation of “I Really like It“. If you do have access to Apple TV+ this is something you should definitely check out. Really quality stuff with more to come next season.

“Deputy” is Nothing Special

The first new show of the midseason is Fox’s procedural cop drama “Deputy“. The show stars Stephen Dorff who has most recently been seen in the 2019 season of HBO’s “True Detective“. In this show he plays LA Sheriff Deputy Bill Hollister. He’s your typical hard-nosed cop who hates authority and breaks all the rules. As the show opens he’s being disciplined for refusing to engage in an ICE operation to round up illegal immigrants saying that it’s his job to protect them and not round them up just so that LA County Sheriff Department can get federal grant money for cooperating with ICE.

The show then goes to a case in the field where he engages in a high-speed car chase that is ridiculously over-the-top. Not quite “Fast and Furious” ridiculous but clearly unrealistic. It involves all sorts of dangers to the public such as him speeding down side streets and narrow alleys at high speed and eventually running the suspects off a bridge where they crash into a street below. That kind of reckless behavior would have someone kicked off any police force.

As the chase concludes, the higher-ups come to inform him that the sheriff has recently died of a heart attack and because of an arcane law from the days of the wild West, his most long serving deputy will be made interim Sheriff until an election can be held. And of course that’s him. So suddenly this almost rogue cop who everyone hates and who can’t follow the rules is now in charge of the entire LA County Sheriff Department.

The entire premise is so ridiculously contrived that you have to hold your nose just to buy into the concept. If the characters were compelling and the stories interesting you might be able to get by the ridiculous premise but unfortunately none of that happens.

Hollister is accompanied by his only friend in the department Detective Cade Ward played by Brian Van Holt most recently seen on TV in the series “Cougar Town” which I never watched. The show also features his driver/bodyguard a young lesbian woman named Deputy Breanna Bishop played by Bex Taylor-Klaus most recently seen in “13 Reasons Why” and also appeared in 9 episodes of “Arrow” as the character “Sin”. These two sidekicks are mildly interesting but can’t save this otherwise un-extraordinary cop show.

The plot of the opening episode was nothing special. The action sequences were okay although as I said before quite unbelievable. If you want a good action filled cop show you should skip this and watch SWAT or Hawaii Five-O on CBS.

I’m giving this a solid rating of “Skip it“.

“The Unicorn” Verifies Walton Goggins Can Do Anything

Ever since his starring role as Shane Vendrell on the hit police drama “The Shield” I’ve been a big fan of Walton Goggins. Like the rest of the strike team in that series he was a tough hard-nosed detective who had no qualms about breaking the rules to get the bad guys and making a little money on the side. Staying true to his tough guy image he followed that up by playing Boyd Crowder in “Justified“. Another memorable role. Along the way he then proved his versatility by playing the transgendered prostitute Venus Van Dam in six episodes of “Sons of Anarchy” proving that he could play a comedic role with a touch of pathos thrown in. A truly memorable performance all around. Going back to his roots as a tough guy he did 11 episodes of military drama “Six” playing Navy seal Rip Taggart. He is also recently appeared in “Deep State” and “The Righteous Gemstones“. When I heard he was going to do a sitcom at first it seemed to me he would be out of place since he always plays such bad ass characters. But remembering his comic chops playing the transgendered prostitute gave me hope that he can master a full-fledged comedy.

Much to my delight, my hopes were fulfilled in the new CBS sitcom “The Unicorn“. Here he plays Wade Felton, a widower who is trying to raise 2 teenage daughters on his own. As the series opens it has been a year since he lost his wife. The family has been eating frozen casseroles that people made for them when his wife died. He has a sort of a meltdown when he takes the last casserole out of their freezer. Meanwhile his friends are trying to get him to go out in the world and start dating again.

Through various scenes we see that he has dealt with his grief by being highly involved in his daughter’s lives. He is fluent in videogame jargon in a way most parents would not be. His daughter Grace is played by Ruby Jay most known for playing the title role in the Hulu children’s series Holly Hobbie. The other daughter Natalie is played by McKenzie Moss who is most known for voice work on the “Pup Star” films.

Wade is accompanied by 2 couples who are his best friends Forest played by Rob Corddry and his wife Delia played by Michaela Watkins. Also his friend Ben played by Omar Benson Miller and his wife Michelle played by Maya Lynne Robinson. Corddry is a comedic character actor recently seen in Ballers and voice work on a variety of animated shows. Watkins is most known for being on the 2008-2009 season of SNL. Miller was also in Ballers but is most known for 63 episodes of CSI: Miami. Robinson appeared in last year’s episodes of “The Conners” as DJs wife Geena who spends much of the show away in the military.

After going through a sort of sitcom clichĂ© scene as his friends help him fill out an online dating profile, he soon discovers he’s quite a catch. He’s available but not divorced or not some sleazy guy who has been sleeping around. He is what all single women have been looking for. An elusive creature like a unicorn. He can’t believe the number of women ready to throw themselves at him. He finally goes on a first date which of course is a disaster. In the end the woman is ready to take him back to her house for a night of passion but he realizes its pity sex because he’s a widower. He just isn’t ready for this.

The characters are all likable. The situations are not overly contrived although having contrived situations is a staple of most sitcoms. Goggins proves he can pull off comedy. The show has a lot of heart. The kids are funny without being pretentious. His friends are a little bit shallow but I presume in future episodes we will get to know them better.

My ultimate test of a sitcom is did it make me laugh? In several places it did. Although not a kind of must-see sitcom like “The Big Bang Theory” or “Seinfeld“, it is an enjoyable show. I’m not sure I’ve got room for it in my already overcrowded viewing schedule. So I’m giving it a rating of “Recommended Watchable” which means I like it but I may not end up adding it to my regular schedule. But I can recommend you check it out and see if it tickled your funnybone.