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Reviewing a show like Stranger Things is a bit complicated considering it seems to be a program that almost defies reflection. It is the ultimate "binge watch" show. Whereas other series might be savored episode by episode or over the span of weeks, Stranger Things is best consumed by mashing the "watch next episode" button as soon as the credits roll on the current one. While this leads to a thrilling experience while watching (I haven't given any season lower than 8 stars), it also sort of sets up the phenomenon where the more one reflects on it, the more it kind of falls apart. You see, Stranger Things is the type of show where the plot is only used to serve the characters and nostalgia...nothing more, nothing less. The production value and just general care put into the series by the Duffer Brothers is of the level/quality that it is always entertaining, but it's rarely transcendent (I've yet to give any season 10/10 stars).
Season Three is no different from the pattern described above. I very much enjoyed watching these episodes and burned through them in the span of about 4-5 days. Some of my highlights from the season included...
-The general "growing into adolescence" theme that permeates the entire season, a theme that was almost required in a show featuring same-age actors.
-More of a roll for Billy (Dacre Montgomery), which was great to see as acting-wise he is one of the standouts of the entire show for me.
-The burgeoning friendship of El (Millie Bobby Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink), which provided the most fun moments of the season.
-Steve (Joe Keery) in his sailor suit working at Scoops Ahoy in the StarCourt Mall (almost a character unto its own!). His newfound relationship with co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke) is a solid character arc all the way through.
Of course, like I mentioned, the plotting of Stranger Things is never perfect because, frankly, it doesn't seem to care enough (or perhaps just cares more about other things) to make it that way. Some missteps this season include...
-A somewhat controversial take on Hopper (David Harbour), who definitely is portrayed differently from previous seasons. Due to this treatment, the emotional gut-punch at the end of S3 may or may not hit you as hard as perhaps it could/should have.
-A Russian subplot that really doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense (or lead anywhere) other than "this is a nostalgic 80s show so we have to include Russians!"
-For those (like myself) who really enjoy the mysterious nature of the Upside Down, S3 is easily the weakest of the bunch. It begins with promise (pseudo-Billy supposedly building an "army" for some nefarious purpose), but very quickly descends into a re-hash of the Mind Flayer concept from S2.
Overall, I put this third season on par with the first. It vacillates terribly in plot coherency, but provides such great character moments and atmosphere that viewers will still be thoroughly entertained. Though perhaps in the minority here, S2 is still my favorite due to a better overall mix of plot/characters. That being said, I'd have no qualms streaking through another fourth set of episodes if/when they drop.
The X Files: My Struggle II (2016)
The X-Files is one of my favorite television dramas of all-time. For its first six seasons, it presented some incredibly intriguing/interesting stories as well as pretty much pioneering the concept of over-arching plots from season to season. For its last three seasons, it managed to still be at least watchable despite actor issues, network waffling on an end-date, and a general lack of the solid writing that had been present in its hey-day. So, when it was announced that the show would return after a 14-year absence, I was ecstatic...with a touch of panic thrown in. Would David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson be able to slip into their old roles? Could Chris Carter write himself out of the corner that the show had "ended" on back in 2002? Would the team as a whole be able to re-capture that late-90s magic and translate it across time (something a show like 24 was unable to do)?
Unfortunately, what I quickly found (right away from the first episode) was that none of those above questions were answered in the positive. Not only that, but the entire revival was nothing more than an embarrassment to a show that once feature quality drama, interesting plots, and developed characters. None of those things were even in sight this time around.
Before I get into the more specific reasons why this revival failed (and failed miserably), I think the big concept behind the failure is that the show writers didn't seem to understand what made the show so successful in the first place. To be honest, that boggles me a bit in its own right, as it was Chris Carter himself and many of the original writers that had a hand in this slop. It's almost like they made a caricature of the success of the original show, but a caricature is obviously just a crude (if sometimes funny) over-exaggeration of a person or thing's real features. That's exactly what happened here, and here are a few more specific reasons why:
-The earliest faux pas is re-opening the X-Files office in the FBI in the first episode. That stretches the bounds of credibility right off the map. This entire series could have operated outside the realm of "official FBI business" (and it would have made more sense to do so), but instead the creators took the easy/lazy way out.
-In a similar vein as above, the entire mythology was ret-conned in that first episode as well. In a show where aliens have been seen and examined from many angles, you can't just say "well, now I think it was just the government all along". Heck, the show even tried that itself back in Season Five! That's an unforgivable ret-con that spits in the face of fans who marveled at the complex alien/government mysteries of the show at its peak.
-The two episodes are supposed to be the solid "stand-alones" are easily the worst episodes of this revival..."Founder's Mutation" and "Home Again". The Band-Aid Nose Man? Again, just embarrassing.
-Yes, comedy was part of The X-Files all along, but only as a subtle counter-point to the fact that most times the show was deadly serious. So, the comedic "Were-Monster" and "Babylon" episodes fail here because there isn't any actual strong material to back them up. I mean, Mulder dancing to "Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk"? It's almost as if Carter & Co. were intentionally trying to sabotage the show at that point.
-The show consistently teases the return of Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), the Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and the Lone Gunmen, but then gives them nothing interesting to do. A terrible waste of some potentially great possibilities.
Finally, and I wanted to save this point for its own paragraph, perhaps the biggest failure of this entire revival was the complete and utter lack of chemistry between Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson). For years and years, Chris Carter always maintained that Mulder and Scully would never get romantic because "the best relationships are the ones rooted in friendship". That worked for the show for a long, long time...until Carter ran out of really good material after Season Six. At that point, he started pushing the romantic angles even further because, frankly, he caved to the "shippers". The show was running on empty and instead of "writing his way out of the problem", he just went for the quick fix and played up the romance angle. In this revival, he tries to do the same thing, but it comes off just as stunted and stilted as it did back in the day. The over-reliance on William (the son the pair had together) despite that character never being seen is a good example of this. That was the only thing the writers could think of to bring Mulder and Scully together...a plot line ("baby William") that failed so miserably in Season Nine that it sunk the entire season.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that my take on this "Season 10" of this show can be boiled down to a single word: Embarrassing. These six episodes are a caricature of the show's former success, and a cheap knock off at that. The mythology is ret-conned, the characters are drone-ish, and the stand-alone episodes are either dull or almost obscenely stupid. The original run of The X-Files will always hold a special place in the TV-watching portion of my heart, but this effort I will try very, very hard to forget. If these are the "great new stories" that Chris Carter wanted to come back to tell, then I hope this show truly never comes back, as the creative team behind it has lost their bearings.
Teen Spirit (2018)
An Iconic Leading Performance But That's About It
I was initially drawn to Teen Spirit because of Elle Fanning, who is one of my favorite actresses and always seems to give an inspired performance in whatever I see her in. That holds true here in spades. Unfortunately, that's about the only thing I took from the film, as the rest seemed oddly rushed and emotionally stilted.
For a basic overview, Teen Spirit opens with teenaged Violet (Fanning) living in a small English town with her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska). They seem to be living in near-poverty, working multiple menial labor jobs to survive. Despite that rather drab existence, Violet loves to sing and has a talent for it. She enters the UK Teen Spirit competition (think American Idol here) and advances to the next round. The only problem? She needs a guardian signature and knows her mother will not provide it. As such, she lists the help of local drunkard (yet former opera singer) Vlad (Zlatko Buric) to become her ad hoc manager.
As I mentioned, Fanning is easily the star of the show here and nothing else even comes close. Her acting talent is a marvel, as she can play the sullen, blank-faced, hopeless type just as perfectly as the peppy, bubblegum pop star. In a film that moves far too fast or superficially to create any real emotion, her performance alone elevates the entire experience further than it even should be. Without her, this would truly be a wreck.
The main problem with Teen Spirit is that it tries to cover wayyyyyy too much ground for a film that only runs about 90 minutes. Is this a film about a struggling country girl embracing her singing talent in the face of adversity? The Violet/Vlad relationship? Losing one's self or having to make the tough decisions that fame brings? Teen Spirit tries to tackle all of those scenarios and ends up coming off as rushed, with none of the characters ever really being given room to expand or grow. There's never any time to just savor what should be strong character moments because they come so fast and furious for the entire runtime.
Overall, this is a movie that is absolutely carried by Elle Fanning's continually ascending stardom. She single-handedly made me care at all for the proceedings, and that is a tough ask for anyone, albeit one as young as she. Anyone other than her die-hard fans can easily skip this one, however.
The X Files: My Struggle IV (2018)
There was no doubt that the six episode mini-revival (Season 10) of The X-Files was a disappointment pretty much across the board, with reactions ranging from "that was pure and utter trash" to "meh...that was okay" (the latter being the absolute ceiling of approval). In coming back for 10 more episodes here (Season 11), it was clear that the show was going to "take itself more seriously" (no more Mulder line dancing in a honky-tonk bar, for instance). Unfortunately, the only point that s11 ended up proving is that the process behind this show is no longer capable of churning out stories that are even remotely interesting to modern TV viewers. By the end of it all, keen viewers will realize how big big of a money-grab the "modern X-Files" truly is, as it is creatively exhausted.
Like I said, though perhaps trying to take itself more seriously than the previous season, S11 does nothing to get the show back on the right track. The conspiracy episodes are no more than retcons upon retcons, and the focus on William is asinine from the get-go. Taking one of the most hated aspects of the show's original run and trying to shoe-horn it into becoming an emotional, major plot point? Yeah, I'm sure that'll work (predictably, it did not).
The stand-alone or "monster of the week" episodes are no better, as it becomes so very clear that shows like, say, "Black Mirror", now run laps around Chris Carter & Co. in telling stories about technology (which this season oddly focuses on quite a bit). Whereas this show was once on the cutting edge of storytelling back in the late 1990s, it has now fallen so far behind as to really not even be in the race anymore.
Truth be told, the only good episode of this entire season ("The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat") was the one penned by Darin Morgan (the show's comedy writer). The reason why it stands out? Because Morgan is the only one who seems to realize how farcical this has all become now, and his episodes are able to point that out. He's the only one who really "gets" what is happening here, and his comedy episodes are able to exploit that.
Not even the acting here is above believable standards. This problem is much clearer to articulate, as it falls into the pattern of a few other TV/cinema that let the same thing happen: On shows that are very serious and need to be played straight, you can't have the actors clearly be "in on the joke". When Adam West's Batman starts making jokes at his own expense, that series went from phenomenon to cancelled in two years time. When Spielberg & Lucas brought back Indiana Jones in "Crystal Skull", but made him the comic relief instead of the straight man, it just didn't work. The exact same thing happens here. Yes, the X-Files could be a funny and witty show if it wanted to be, but it only really works if the leads play it pretty straight. We really need to see Mulder's aching passion to find his sister and expose conspiracies, or Scully's determination to inject some rationality into Mulder's theories. If all their interactions are goofy and tongue-in-cheek, however, much of that subtext is lost.
One thing I read in another review of this season was that it has become "too much of a chore to really care one way or another anymore" about this show, and I couldn't agree more on that front. Whereas S10 had me up in arms, this time around it was so mundane as to be a bit numbing. I watched every episode, but none of them affected me in anything approaching a meaningful way. At the end of the day, this is just sad, as it has taken what was an iconic show in the history of TV drama and turned it into a punchline. Nothing can ever take the shine off the first six seasons (and to a lesser extent 7-9), but by the same token all these hollow efforts from S10 & S11 must be reckoned with as well in summing up the show.
I never like to say "never" when deciding to abandon a show, but if this brand of X-Files were to return again I think I'd have a really difficult time buying in at any level. Perhaps with new leadership and a new vision something could rise from the rubble, but as it stands the franchise is as creatively bankrupt as one can be.
The X Files: The Truth (2002)
One of the big problems of popular TV shows is when they are going to end. Unless a show is like LOST, which had the clout to forecast and negotiate a set number of seasons, many shows either are pulled off the air too soon, or stick around for a bit too long. The X-Files definitely had a problem with the latter of those two options.
The Ninth Season of the X-Files tried to go back to the formula of the very early seasons by featuring more horror or concept-driven episodes. Despite show creator Chris Carter saying he had "10 more years of stories" he could tell, the show was put in a rather awkward situation for one reason: main cast members were moving on. With David Duchovny (Mulder) only making a single appearance (in the season finale) this season, and Gillian Anderson (Scully) saying that this would be her final season, the show was turned over to Robert Patrick (Doggett) and Annabeth Gish (Reyes) playing the lead characters.
While Dogged was always an interesting and well-acted character, he had little to no chemistry with Gish's Reyes. Carter even broke his "the best relationships are rooted in friendship" guideline for the show by trying to shoe-horn in an ill-advised romance. Partially this was because they didn't know when the show would end, and partially it was because of that philosophy shift in character development. The pairing just never really worked.
The myth-arc episodes also suffered tremendously. For years, the backbone of the X-Files had been Mulder's quest to find his sister, Mulder's unearthing of government conspiracies, and the Mulder-Scully relationship. With those first two qualifications being wrapped up in earlier seasons, the only remnant of the "original" X-Files was the Mulder-Scully relationship (with baby William as the conduit)...which was never meant to be at the forefront of the show in the first place. Sure, the super-soldier myth-arc was fascinating, but without Mulder's passion it really became an entirely different show. It doesn't help that even though the producers/writers KNEW Duchovny would only be making a token appearance, the Mulder name is dropped in seemingly every other episode. They couldn't (and chose not to) move on from the departure and were worse for it.
To conclude, due to casting changes beyond the control of the writers/producers, the entire premise of the show shifted from Mulder's quests to the ensemble cast of Scully, Doggett, and Reyes. While I would not say that the show went completely into the tank, by this point it has lost nearly all of the magic that once made the X-Files the best show on the air for many years. Enjoy the season finale ("The Truth"), which does its best to try and explain what happened during the nine years of the show's extended run, but other than that it will likely be a bit of a struggle to buy in to this season.
The X Files: Existence (2001)
In the previous (seventh) season of the X-Files, the Mulder-Scully romantic relationship was cultivated by the writers/producers more than ever before. Thus, as the eighth season dawned without Mulder (David Duchovny signed a limited contract with the show), the tension between Scully (Gillian Anderson) and new agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), a "by-the-book" skeptic, is wonderful. Let's quickly look at how that tension played into this season's episodes:
Mythology: Unlike previous seasons, this season had many more mythology episodes than ever before. As the season dawns, Scully is paired with Doggett, with their primary task being to determined the whereabouts of Mulder. Once Mulder is found (dead or alive, I will not reveal) the mythological focus shifts towards a new sort of government/alien conspiracy...enhanced human beings ("Super Soldiers") meant to pave the way for colonization. While the added number of mythology episodes was exciting, the dramatic material often seemed a bit contrived. The quandary the writers/producers found themselves in was that they did not know when the show would end. Essentially airing on a season-by-season basis at this point, the mythos of the show was conflicted between providing answers to previously-asked questions and creating new material.
Also present throughout the entire mythology of this season (and coming to a head in the two-part season finale) is Scully's mysterious pregnancy: Who is the father? Is the baby "normal"? This is quite a compelling thread, as it gives Anderson a chance to shine alone.
Stand-Alone: After some sub-par stand-alone efforts in Season Seven, the addition of Doggett really livened up the stand-alones this season. The tension between the now-believing Scully and the procedural Doggett is a great dramatic tool, as Scully must learn to not always "think like Mulder" while Doggett learns to take a few leaps of faith. Only 1-2 "clinker" stand-alone episodes exist during this season, with "Roadrunners" being an all-time classic.
To conclude, the Eighth Season of the X-Files succeeds in breathing new life into a show that began showing its age in Season Seven. Yet, as is true in most media efforts, nothing is as good as the original. The witty Mulder-Scully banter is no more, no humorous episodes appear this season, and the mythology plotlines often do not jive with previously established material. While not measuring up to previous seasons, this season still is a strong effort that contains many compelling hours of drama for X-Files fans.
The X Files: Requiem (2000)
The Seventh Season of the X-Files is when the steam finally ran out of the formula. The mythology had largely been wrapped up the season before, the "new mythology" wasn't given room to grow, and the standalones are more experimental than anything. The biggest problem, however, was the overall lackluster performance given by David Duchovny as Fox Mulder. Gillian Anderson still gives it her all as Scully, but DD had checked out by this point. He wanted out of the show so bad that he was even involved in legal wranglings. As such, he pretty much sleepwalks through most of the episodes, summoning up real emotion only when absolutely necessary.
Some of my thoughts about the season...
-The season premiere ("The Sixth Extinction") is easily the worst of all the seasons to this point. Luckily, it is somewhat redeemed by a strong third act in "Amor Fati". Clearly, the writers thought that this would surely be the final season of the show, so not as much effort was put into the over-arching stuff. A shame, considering I thought that the whole "aliens might be human progenitors" angle was fascinating. It just wasn't given a fair shake. -The episodes "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" bring resolution to the exact fate of Samantha Mulder. While highly criticized at the time of airing, repeated viewings have softened my view. By this point, the concept of Samantha was such a small part of the show that I felt her exact fate (I won't reveal it here) was dealt with perfectly and very emotionally. -"En Ami", where Scully takes a trip with old CGB Spender (William B. Davis) is one of the best single hours in the show's history. I sometimes wonder if "The X-Files" would have taken off nearly as hot as it did without them stumbling into Davis' incredible performances. -The episodes "Je Souhaite" (genie unrolled from a rug) and "Signs and Wonders" (religious snake-handling mania) are quality standalones that would fit in any season. "Theef" is legitimately creepy in spots, while "Orison" at least brings back a creepy nemesis. -A lot of mediocre episodes this season. "Amazing Maleeni", "Hollywood AD", "Hungry", and "Goldberg Variation" (to name a few). Also a number of God-awful hours, such as "Rush", "FPS", "Fight Club", and "X-Cops" (though I know some people like that crossover).
When all is said and done, though, this Seventh Season is mediocre because the spark has left pretty much all involved. It was coasting to the finish. Still a few fun and emotional moments, but overall the show wasn't as good in any capacity as it was in its heyday (seasons 2-5). It isn't atrocious, hence the three-star ranking, and has just enough quality moments to be watchable, but overall the acting performances and writing have fizzled.
The X Files: Biogenesis (1999)
Starting with the sweeping landscape shot of Los Angeles, the show's new home after filming five seasons in Vancouver, Canada, the Sixth Season of the X-Files epitomized the concept of change in nearly every aspect. Coming on the heels of "Fight The Future", the writers & producers were "flying by the seat of their pants" for the first time. Chris Carter always had a five-year plan for the show (he wanted to spin it off into a series of movies), but FOX likely made it too lucrative for him to walk away. As a result, this Sixth Season (especially at the very beginning) had a serious change of tone that almost rendered a different (if not altogether bad) show for quite some time.
In regards to the mythology episodes, the season starts with the aptly-titled "The Beginning", in which the "new mythology" plotline is begun, centering on the notion that perhaps mankind is itself extraterrestrial in origin. After a two-part episode ("Two Fathers" and "One Son") that wraps up the original Syndicate mythology by explaining the ultimate fate of the alien-human hybrid program, the finale ("Biogenesis") again returns to the "humans as aliens" plot, where Agent Scully makes the greatest scientific discovery in human history on the African coast. I like how they tied up the Syndicate angle this season, and I was fascinated by the "we are actually part alien" idea (I just wish Season Seven would have done something interesting with it).
Also during this season, the stand-alone episodes were of much more comedic nature, as well as focusing on the Mulder-Scully relationship more than ever. The stand-alones that really shine are "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" (a merry romp through a haunted house), "Triangle" (a fantastic nod to the Wizard of Oz), "The Unnatural" (Mulder's love of the National Pastime is explored), and "Field Trip" (one of the best episodes, concept-wise, of the entire show). Also, "Dreamland 1 & 2" is a unique two-parter that showcases the humor, fantastical plots, and relationships of the show all at once!
This season will always have special meaning to me, as it was the season I began watching live episodes. As a rookie coming into the show, the comedy and wacky plots featured in show were just "what the show was" to me, and thus I was able to appreciate them fully. After a few re-watches, though, I am always jarred by the sudden change of tone (from serious to comic) and the intense focus on the Mulder/Scully "shippers" (something Chris Carter once said he never wanted to do). The episodes aren't bad, per se, just so different than anything preceding them.
Overall, I was impressed by the mythology episodes this season and intrigued by the inventive concepts of the standalones. While no longer my favorite season of the show, my nostalgia helps me to appreciate the wackier antics a bit more than most.
The X Files: The End (1998)
During the previous four seasons of The X-Files, a similar theme was followed in all of the show's "mythology" (or over-arching) episodes: Agent Mulder (David Duchovny) is the unshakeable believer in aliens, while Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) is the staunch skeptic. In this Fifth Season, that formula is thrown out the window. Let's quickly examine the three types of X-Files episodes in order to see where the show deviates from that traditional pattern:
Mythology: Picking up from the shocking (yet rather anticlimatic, as you known Mulder really won't be killed off) Season Four finale, in "Redux" and "Redux II" Mulder is given a completely different interpretation about his paranormal findings at that point, perhaps debasing his entire life's work. Later this season (in "Patient X" and "The Red and the Black") Mulder remains skeptical while Scully is drawn (in a very personal way) towards a very Mulder-like paranormal explanation of certain events. Eventually, in "The End", Mulder is again convinced of the continued existence of extraterrestrial life, but that realization is ultimately too late in coming to prevent a terrible catastrophe from striking the X-Files.
Also, "Christmas Carol" and "Emily" are the first Scully-based mythology episodes on the show, in which Scully discovers more information regarding her earlier abduction. While some X-Files fans (including myself) believe that Scully has a difficult time carrying an episode that does not also heavily involve Mulder, other fans find these two episodes to pack a heavy emotional punch.
Stand-Alone: As usual, the quality of the stand-alone X-Files episodes this season is quite high. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is my favorite stand-alone episode of the entire show, "Kitsunegari" marks the return of an old nemesis, and "Chinga" (penned by master writer Stephen King) has you on the edge of your seat. Also, "All Souls" provides a much deeper and fascinating look into Scully's religious battles than has every been provided before.
Comedic: This season, only "Bad Blood" could be considered a true X-Files comedy episode. It does not disappoint, though, as it is easily the funniest episode in the show's history.
To conclude, the Fifth Season of the X-Files throws a wrench into the seemingly established beliefs of the show's past. While the Scully plotlines are hit-or-miss depending on who you ask, the torment of Agent Mulder in trying to piece together one truth out of multiple lies will have you rooting for his cause harder than ever. The final scene of the season will leave your jaw on the floor, wondering how the show can ever be the same.
Update (12/2015) -Upon a recent re-watch of this season, it is still a five-star effort. However, the "cracks" that begin to form are because of the upcoming movie. "Fight the Future" had already been filmed before the season started, so the writers had to pull a lot of punches in order to get things to line up for the movie airing after the season concluded. The introduction of new character Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) doesn't end up working nearly as well as he could, but the mythology is so good at this point that it almost doesn't even matter ("The Red And The Black" is near the top of my favorite mythology episodes of all-time). Standalones are a bit hit-or-miss, but still interesting at the very least.
The X Files: Gethsemane (1997)
The Fourth Season of the X-Files continues to develop the "mythology" plot points of earlier season, while also churning out quality "stand-alone" episodes. Let's examine the three types of episode formats that the X-Files showcases:
1. Mythology: During this season, a Mars rock turns out to be something more than just terrestrial, the Russians begin experimenting with an alien virus, Max Fenig (Scott Bellis), last seen in Season 1, makes a return appearance, and Mulder (David Duchovny) again must choose what to believe surrounding the events of his sister's disappearance. Though the "Tempus Fugit"/"Max" two-part episode falls a bit flat, the other mythology episodes this season are as strong as ever. Perhaps the most important mythological development of this season, however, is Agent Scully's (Gillian Anderson) contraction of a deadly disease which may have been given to her by outside forces.
2. Stand-Alone: Despite a few clunker episodes, this season continued to produce compelling hour-long stories. "Unruhe" focuses on a genuinely terrifying pyschopath, "Home" is so scary that it almost wasn't shown at all, and "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" sheds some light on the shadowy figure's younger years.
3. Comedic: While "Never Again" is very hit-or-miss depending on who you ask, "Small Potatoes" is a hilarious romp that also serves to provide the first hints (however small) of a possible Mulder-Scully romantic relationship.
Overall, the Fourth Season of the X-Files continued to give fans what they wanted...more mythology to endlessly debate online, spooky paranormal creatures, and a few hearty laughs. Also, though I am no expert in this department, the show seemed to have been shot on better film starting this season, as the picture is more crisp and the special effects more incredible.
Update (12/2015) -Upon a recent re-watch, I now consider this to be my favorite single season of this show. Everything is "on point" here: all actors are fully engaged, the mythology is at its peak (especially towards the end of the season), and nearly all of the standalones are very enjoyable. In terms of storytelling and plot, this is the last really tight season of the show.
The X Files: Talitha Cumi (1996)
The third season of the X-Files is widely regarded as the best season of the show at seamlessly showcasing the three areas in which the X-Files came to be known for:
1. First, this season kept progressing the show's "mythology" in fascinating fashion. From the introduction of the shadowy Syndicate (of which the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis is a member) to the continued betrayal of Alex "Ratboy" Krychek (Nicholas Lea), the myth-arc episodes were some of the best in the show's history. A different interpretation of Scully's (Gillian Anderson) earlier abduction is also touched on, as well as a strange alien substance brought up from the depths of the ocean.
2. This season also continued the high-quality "stand-alone" X-File case episodes. "Revelations" probes the religous differences between Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully, "Pusher" introduces a psychologically-terrifying villain, and "Avatar" explores the personal life of A.D. Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi).
3. Finally, three comedic episodes are featured in this season, providing a much-appreciated breath of fresh air to a show that regularly delves into some very serious content. "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" pays tribute to the silent films of yesteryear, "War of the Coprophages" is full of witty Mulder-isms, and "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" is considered the ultimate comedic X-File to this day.
To conclude, the Third Season of the X-Files does a remarkable job of blending an over-arching mythology with single-hour paranormal excursions and short doses of comedy to keep things fresh.
Update (12/2015) -After a re-watch of this season, I actually felt the need to drop the star rating down from five to four. A big reason for this was because the comedy episodes aren't nearly as good in retrospect as they were closer to the live airing. "War of the Coprophages" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" just seem odd now instead of inventive. There are also some really strange standalones, as the writers really seemed to branch out into uncharted territory. Still a strong season overall, but I was a bit let down coming off the astounding Season Two.
The X Files: Anasazi (1995)
In the preceding (first) season of the X-Files, the show was meant to be a scary show. Based off of the old "Kolchak: Night Stalker" television show, the X-Files explored paranormal F.B.I. cases dealing with all sorts of spooky phenomena. The core of the show, however, was Agent Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) pursuit of UFO's (as he believed aliens abducted his sister when he was young) and his pairing with the skeptical Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Yet, during that first season, there was little to no continuity within the "mythology" episodes. Deep Throat (Mulder's secret informant) was the only recurring character, while the UFO/alien plots did carry over beyond a single episode. The Second Season changed all that, providing quality drama in three distinct fashions:
1. First, the coherent "mythology" (over-arching plotlines) of the show was inadvertently created when lead actress Gillian Anderson needed some time off to have a baby. So, show creator Chris Carter had Scully be abducted by aliens (or was it the government?!) and the mythology was off and running. Over the course of this season, Mulder learns more about the mysterious Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis), comes face-to-face with his long-lost sister, and discovers a government cover-up the likes of which has never been unearthed.
2. While developing that mythology, the X-Files also continued to crank out solid "procedural" episodes. "The Host" (a toilet-dwelling monster) and "Irresistible" (featuring a serial fetishist) are two of the creepiest hours of the show ever produced.
3. Finally, with the episode "Humbug" (the investigation of a bizarre circus side-show), this season began the tradition of what are now know as "comedic" episodes. In a show where the subject matter is often quite serious and often disturbing, these comedic episodes (filled with sly humor) were a breath of fresh air.
To conclude, the Second Season of the X-Files is better than the first, as it continues to provide intense drama, while also creating a mythology for the show and introducing humorous episodes.
Update (12/2015) -After a recent re-watch, this Second Season is truly a marvel. It may be my favorite season of the show. The standalones are still original/creepy, while the mythology begins to take root in some epic episodes.
The X Files: The Erlenmeyer Flask (1994)
Every once in a while, a show comes along that will grip you and not let go...The X-Files is that kind of a show.
During the First Season of The X-Files, we are introduced to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), a brilliant (yet strange) F.B.I investigator. Mulder believes that his sister was abducted by aliens when she was a child, and he will do everything in his power to prove that the U.S. government knows of this and is covering it up. Because of his obsession, Mulder is paired with Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a straight-laced, by-the-book agent sent to debunk his work. However, rather than spying on Mulder, Scully takes an interest in his work and they become strong partners. That is the basis for the rest of the show.
In most episodes, Mulder and Scully investigate paranormal happenings that defy the laws of nature or the universe. Scully proves to be ever the skeptic she set out to be, never being convinced of Mulder's work.
The real power of the show, though, comes with its ability to let the viewer feel exactly what Fox Mulder is feeling. So many times during the First Season Mulder comes agonizingly close to unearthing critical evidence against the government in his pursuit of aliens, but each and every time it is yanked away or swept under the rug. The viewers feel just as cheated as Mulder does, wanting to continue the quest for the truth.
Along the way in Season One, a few key characters are introduced. The Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) makes a few minor, yet crucial, appearances, while the mysterious Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) works as a trusted (?) informant to Mulder.
Season One of The X-Files is quite different from all the other seasons. It has more of a darker, scarier feel to it. The "mythology" established in later seasons has not been developed quite yet, so it consists primarily of stand-alone episodes. A good job is done with character development, and it definitely makes one want to keep watching the show.
In conclusion, Season One is a great scary, sci-fi show. Turn out the lights, turn up the TV, and enjoy!!
-After a recent re-watch of this season, I'm keeping this season at four stars. It is a great first season, but with a few too many really terrible clunkers to give it a full five stars. One thing I had forgotten about this season is how passionate Duchovny is as Mulder. With respect to Anderson's Scully, Mulder's character arc is really what jump-starts this show in the early-goings.
Westworld: The Bicameral Mind (2016)
When it was announced that "Westworld" was being produced by Bad Robot productions, I knew it would be something special. The collaboration of J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan? This has to be good! In most senses, I was not disappointed. "Westworld" is perhaps the pinnacle of high-concept, "thinking-person's TV" that I have ever seen. In fact, it is so richly sophisticated that it can almost feel a bit "stuffy" at times.
For a basic plot summary (no big spoilers), "Westworld" tells the story of the amusement park of the same name, created by Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The wild-west setting is populated by highly life-like androids, like prostitute Maeve (Thandie Newton), cowboy Teddy (James Marsden), and pioneer Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), which allow guests to interact with them in the name of pleasure (sex, violence, etc. are all fair game). The lines are blurred between what is and isn't real, as evidenced by the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris), who seems to have greater knowledge of everything in the park besides a "Maze" he is obsessed with. Early on in the 10-episode run, the "hosts" (robots) start to malfunction a bit, even as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tries to fix them. The hosts seem to be remembering things they shouldn't..."memories" from a past lives. We are also given a more human glimpse into the park's workings, following two "normal guests", William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) as they carve their own path through the wondrous sights.
As you can tell, the scope of "Westworld" is incredible. I can't give away any more details without spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say that the above description only scratches the surface of what unfolds. I'm a fan of cerebral television, but "Westworld" takes things to a whole new level, blending outright mysteries with more oblique questions about the very nature of humanity. Each episode is crafted with the utmost care (production was even halted at one point because Nolan wanted to make sure to get the scripts right) and one can tell just how much thought was put into every detail, visually and intellectually.
The acting on "Westworld" is also some of the finest I've ever witnessed. Hopkins continues to be a master at his craft, Wright ascends to that same level, Harris nearly steals the show in the early goings, and all the rest are spot-on as well. This is a show that requires equal parts nuance and grandiose to pull off, and the actors get it just right.
So, after all that praise, why the four-star rating instead of the full five? The best analogy I can give is this: Remember that college class you took that really challenged you and make you question everything? While you were taking that class, you may not have 100% enjoyed the experience (precisely because it was so difficult), but you (likely) came out on the other side better for it. That's the best I can do to describe my "Westworld" experience. Though at times the show dragged for me a bit (especially some of the action inside the park) and other times felt like it was "stringing me along" a bit in terms of only scarcely parceling out actual information/answers, I still maintained a great appreciation for its high-concept material. The show has been renewed for a second season, so perhaps a slightly better balance can be struck in that campaign.
Overall, though, "Westworld" is a remarkable show for its ability to stimulate the mind and create an epic sense of drama and mystery. The Abrams "mystery box" is in full effect here, and who better to shape that concept than Jonathan Nolan?! It's the perfect pairing of intellectual, motivated film-makers that nearly creates a perfect show. Much like the hosts of Westworld itself, there may be a few kinks yet to work out, but there is more than enough great material here to sink one's brain into.
Westworld: The Passenger (2018)
The first season of Westworld was entertaining, if not bordering on spectacular. What held it back a little bit for me? What I perceived as on over-reliance on narrative time-shifting (intentional obfuscation). While Season Two falls into that "trap" a little bit, for the most part it plays it a bit straighter. As such, I enjoyed the bulk of this season more than I did its predecessor.
While I don't want to go into the specifics of everything that happened this season (puzzling through this show is half the fun, after all), suffice it to say that S2 brings the viewer further afield (and by quite a bit) than anything that happened in S1, which pretty much took place within the confines of the western-themed park. This go-around, however, we get, for a few examples... -Glimpses into at least two other Westworld theme parks. -Much more information about DELOS and what their real plans for the park may be -An entire arc for the Man in Black, including a flashback to his life outside the park. -An entire episode devoted to the Ghost Nation tribe that was hinted at in S1.
To me, what S2 of Westworld needed to prove (at least for me to continue to hold it in such high regard) is that it could tell stories without relying on some sort of time-shifting narrative. It passed this test with flying colors, as nearly every single episode tells a story of its own while also fitting in to the over-arching narratives. A highlight in this regard may have been the episode "The Riddle of the Sphinx", which was the directorial debut of Lisa Joy (show co-runner with Jonathan Nolan). That may be the best single episode of Westworld to date.
I was also a little bit concerned that S2 would just go to "Samurai World" and never look back, so to speak, but again (thankfully) this was not even close to the case. Instead, the show pretty much just doubles down on the themes of S1, exploring them in more detail than what "The Maze" (S1) allowed.
The only reason I won't give S2 the full 5-star rating (4.5 will have to suffice)? Towards the end, it once again kind of fell into the trap of obfuscation over storytelling. It's almost as if the writers of this show can't help themselves. They know how to tell a great story, but for whatever reason they also feel the need to muddy the waters for no other purpose than creating "big reveals". At this point, I"ll argue that the show does not need this kind of approach, as it is strong enough simply in characters and storytelling alone to be a fantastic, groundbreaking show. That would be my "challenge", so to speak, for the announced S3: Spend less time concocting season-ending time convergences and focus even more on continuing to be one of the most thought-provoking shows ever created.
I am picking at nits with the 4.5 rating, but for a show that clearly holds itself to such a high standard, I am going to do the same. For the most part, this is "thinking person's entertainment" at some of its very finest. My interest in the show has been completely revitalized (after it waned in the late episodes of S1) and I am fully on board for whatever (and whenever) S3 decides to give us.
When dealing with the realm of mystery, it is much more difficult to end a show than it is to begin one. Just the way that the TV viewing experience is laid out, it ends up being more exciting to discover a new mystery than to solve that same one later on. The Sixth Season of LOST, solid as it may be, falls a bit prey to that concept, and isn't helped by what I consider to be a few blunders (or odd choices) in how they move the pieces around to set up the ending. As such, S6 ends up being the first season I had to drop below a 4.5 star rating. It's still very entertaining, challenging, and emotional, but I believe it suffers from two key flaws (which will be discussed later).
Let me get two things off my chest right off the bat, however:
First, I am not angry at this season for "not providing enough answers". The writers on the show actually do a remarkable job of tying off nearly all of the loose ends or plot points that had been brought up in the previous five seasons. Like I mentioned above, however, I just think it is human nature to be more intrigued by the discovery of a mystery than the solving of it. For example, hearing the whispers in the jungle back in S1 is more exciting than literally being told (by Hurley in S6) what they are. So, though by no fault of its own, this season was going to struggle a bit to clear the impossibly high bar it set for itself.
Also, I am the furthest thing from a "finale hater". In fact, I consider "The End" to be perhaps the greatest final episode I've ever seen from a TV series. In a show known for its mysteries and strong, developed characters, the writers take on the ultimate mystery at the end: the afterlife, using those characters as conduits to it. What an incredible concept! I give enormous credit to showrunners Damon Lindelof & Carleton Cuse for "going big" in that sense.
There were also some individual episodes that really stand out here in S6: -"Dr. Linus" is an incredible treatise on Ben's character. -"Ab Aeterno" & "Across The Sea" really dig into the island mythology by examining the previous lives of Jacob and the Man in Black. To be honest, I think the show could have even focused more on this arc, as to me it represented (until the finale) the best portions of this season. -"What THey Died For" also contains a number of iconic moments, including a meeting around a campfire that viewers had been looking forward to since, well, almost the beginning of the show, really.
Going back to what I teased earlier, though, there are two things that I felt dragged this season down a bit (and pretty obviously cement it as my least favorite of the six):
1. The on-island goings-on often feel like chess moves in order to set up the final 2-3 episodes. The material at the Temple never resonated with me (even after a second viewing), and then various groups are introduced and quickly killed off or broken up seemingly every episode. It just really felt to me like the entire season was plotted to get to "What They Died For". This is unlike previous seasons of the show, which unspooled at a bit of a more leisurely pace (at least in terms of physical locations and travel). Again, perhaps this is INHERENT in ending a story, but still it felt like a bit of a letdown. Later, showrunner Lindelof would face a similar situation in ending "The Leftovers", and in that case the final season was more of its own contained thing until the very end (not feeling like as much of a setup). Perhaps a lesson learned?
2. The flash-sideways are almost a bit too ambitious, and even perhaps a little misleading. The S5 finale posits that Juliet's bomb-explosion may have reset time to where Oceanic 815 never crashes. That seems to be exactly what we get at the beginning of S6...until of course it isn't. I'm usually up for inventive and tricky storytelling, but that felt more like intentional misleading the audience than anything. I mean, no one was ever going to guess that the flash-sideways were the "prelude to the afterlife" to begin with, so why the need to be tricky about it? On both my viewings of this season, I felt more confused than anything at trying to figure out exactly what I was seeing. This is a classic case, I guess, of the old conundrum: If you aren't told what you having been seeing all along until the very end, does that make the writing brilliant or manipulative? I ride the fence on this one a bit, as I love the concept of the finale but do also think that some of the flash-sideways material was kind of a "cheat" to get us there.
So, for me, this final season of LOST will always be all about the finale and how emotionally touching and philosophically intriguing it is. It was going to be impossible to please everyone in ending an iconic show that literally changed the way TV is viewed forever. As discussed, I have my own issues with the season, but it wasn't "bad" by a long shot. It just wasn't as awe-inspiring (until "The End") as most of what had come before in seasons 1-5.
Lost: The Incident: Part 2 (2009)
The Fifth Season of LOST was the first one I watched live from beginning to end. It is also the most intricately plotted season of the show, and really branches it off into entirely new dimensions (almost quite literally!). Those two things did not mesh well upon my first go-round with the season (spring of 2009). When having to wait week-to-week for each episode, and then being promised seemingly "all the answers" by the ABC promos each week, I always considered S5 to be perhaps the weakest season of the bunch. During my recent re-watch of the show, however, this actually became the season I was most wrong about. Season Five might just be the best of them all.
What needs to be understood about LOST is this: Seasons 1-3 are basically a separate show from what succeeds it. That portion of the series is mostly about a group of plane-crash survivors trying to get off an island and back to civilization. Sure, the island itself is full of mystery, but the driving force behind everything is a desire to be rescued. Season Four starts to change that narrative (and I would argue does so a bit erratically), and Season Five cements it in place. By this point, the show is no longer primarily a survival drama (even though it still is top-notch at handling its large ensemble cast). Now, it is a full-blown science fiction romp, complete with time paradoxes, body-swapping, and multiple timelines. I know a number of people who sort of melted away from watching the show during this season, and I strongly believe this change to be the reason why. For me, the change was incredibly exciting (and I'll argue also necessary to avoid stagnation) and stretched the show in ways it hadn't even attempted before.
I won't go into any major spoilers here, but Season Five deals in many different time periods. In the first few episodes, those left behind on the island find themselves skipping through time (thanks to Ben's turning of the wheel), while those in Los Angeles struggle to decide if heading back to the island is the correct decision to make. Once everything shakes out in those two scenarios, it is an absolutely brilliant idea to show the inner workings of the DHARMA Initiative by actually placing some of the castaways within it! All the scraps about DHARMA that viewers had been given in seasons 1-3 are able to be seen first-hand, and it is wonderful. The finale episode? Perhaps the best in show history, resolving both the DHARMA goings-on and completely blowing the doors wide open by introducing the mysterious, oft-mentioned Jacob and the equally enigmatic "Man in Black".
Not since S1 has this show been able to meld character elements with perfectly-paced plot lines as it did here in S5. As exciting and mind-bending as the time aspects are, it is equally as dramatic to see our favorite characters struggle to come to terms with being scattered to the winds of time, as it were. The mid-season episode "LaFleur", for example, is every bit as emotional as S4's "The Constant" in terms of emotional character development.
One final interesting note: When show creators Damon Lindelof & Carleton Cuse were negotiating with ABC for an end date to the show, they originally said five seasons. ABC countered with something like 8, and they eventually settled on six. That original "five seasons" proposal makes a lot of sense to me now, as to be totally honest I think that seasons 4 and 5 of this show could honestly have been combined to make one "super-season". In a number of cases, I felt like similar material was being covered, and I truly believe that S5 did it in a better fashion. Not saying that S4 is poor by any means, but I think some of its inconsistencies are smoothed out by the storytelling here.
Overall, then, S5 may be my favorite season of this entire show (with Season 1 being its main challenger). Both seasons are similar in the sense that all their aspects are woven so perfectly together. Whereas seasons 2-4 charge here and there full-bore into many different angles, seasons 1 & 5 are a bit more masterfully created (episode-by-episode) to hold up on even that micro-level. As long as you can accept that by this point LOST is no longer "Jack leading a group of survivors" and are willing to open yourself up to new storytelling possibilities, this slate of episodes will almost leave you speechless.
Before my current re-watch of LOST, if you would have asked me what my favorite single season of the show was, I would have said "Season Four" without much hesitation. I remember watching that season live while the episodes were airing and just being blown away at the new twists and turns and revelations being thrown at the viewers week after week. What I found going back and soaking it all in again, however, is that this may be the first season of LOST that is actually better enjoyed in that format (rather than binging all the way through).
Though starting in the S3 finale ("We have to go back, Kate!"), LOST is a definitively different show starting this season. There is a reason why the premiere is titled "The Beginning of the End". Gone are the days of it being a show primarily about a group of plane crash survivors trying to get off a deserted island. The show has gotten so much bigger by this point that it has now morphed into "what does it all mean" instead of "will they survive". This was completely uncharted territory for network TV at the time (similar fare today plays out pretty routinely on cable and streaming outlet shows), and I have tremendous respect for the show runners in how they handled it all. One might think this show would end with the fate of whether the Oceanic 815 survivors get off the island, but here we are roughly half way through the show's run and that question has essentially been answered (now we just get the pieces of how it all happens).
For three seasons, viewers had been watching what was essentially a survivor/mystery show. In S4, it moves more confidently into the realm of "sci-fi", introducing more paranormal elements (such as time-travel) into the mix, while still always making sure to circle back and keep the show about the characters. This season produced some of the most iconic images and scenes of the entire show. Bearded future-Jack, the Oceanic Six, Ben waking up in the desert, Desmond & Penny's phone cal...these were all great, iconic show moments that transpired during the course of this groundbreaking season. Yes, the show had a bit of a different feel to it, but make no mistake: this is still dramatized television at its finest.
Like I said, I think the main reason I have to drop this season to 4.5 stars is because it doesn't necessarily hold up quite as well as its predecessors in terms of episode-by-episode fast viewing. Another one of the changes the show makes (besides the philosophical one described above) is that it really focuses more on each individual episode telling its own unique story. Whereas the flashbacks of Seasons 1-3 always did that, the on-island stuff was usually pretty linear (or at least always charging forward as put of one continues narrative). Here in Season 4, that doesn't always happen. There is a decent amount of "sitting around waiting" from both the Jack/Locke camps on the island, the even the flash-forwards hit a bit of a dry patch in the middle episodes (one problem being that only new character Daniel Farraday is truly great...Miles, Charlotte, & Lapidus are not as interesting yet as perhaps set up to be). So, while the revolutionary change in storytelling tactic felt huge when watching these episodes live, it is dulled slightly with the passage of time due to the fact that the episodes aren't quite as "bursting at the seams" like previous seasons. Also, in terms of full disclosure here, this was the season kind of jerked around by the Writers Guild strike, so one can't help but wonder how that may have affected week-to-week cohesiveness both in front of and behind the camera.
Ultimately, though, S4 represents the complete transition of LOST from "survival show" to "epic saga". We do start to get some answers and brought up to speed about a lot of events that had transpired in the previous three seasons. Sure, more questions are raised too, but the show runners were also aware that two more seasons were on the books. I always give the writers of this show the benefit of the doubt, because I can appreciate how difficult of a task they had and how brilliant their solutions often were. This is a show that always subverts expectations, which was something almost impossible to do on network TV at that time. It can be a bit jarring to see such a shift in story and tone, but ultimately it is for the better, as it opens up so many new story avenues and possibilities.
Lost: Through the Looking Glass (2007)
The Third Season of LOST is one that always seems to get a bit of a "bad rap". While I will agree that, episode-by-episode, it doesn't quite match up to what came before (and some of what comes after), that probably only speaks to how high the bar had been set for this show, as most of the fare here is still excellent.
The only real issue with S3 (hence the 4.5 stars) is that during the middle of the season, it becomes more abundantly clear than at any other time in show history that the writers/producers are stalling, or dragging the story out a bit. This is why we are given episodes like "Stranger In A Strange Land" (where Jack gets the tattoos), "Expose" (the Nikki/Paulo "saga"), or the one where the primary focus is Hurley fixing up an old VW van he finds in the jungle. Taken in isolation, none of these individual episodes are truly bad. But, looking at things as a whole, the middle portion of the season does tread water fairly noticeably until the monumental decision (at least it was at the time) to set an end date for the show (after three more seasons). As soon as that decision was reached, the show gets right back to it's former glory, often even surpassing what came before.
Actually, taking a more "macro" view of the season as a whole leads to even more of a positive appraisal, as creatively in S3 LOST continues to push the boundaries of TV drama at that time to their very maximum. In terms of where the main players start the season and then subsequently end the season (both in physical location and character arc), this is the most ambitious slate of episodes yet. Viewers are treated to more backstory on the Ben & Juliet characters, the relationship between the DHARMA Initiative & The Others is finally addressed, and there exists real momentum towards a possible rescue operation (this is a show about people stranded on an island who ostensibly want to get home, after all).
The flashbacks also do something pretty sneaky in that, from beginning to end of S3, they really wrap up the character arc backstories that all the flashes have treated viewers to until that point. There's no way for viewers to know that this is happening or why (see my next paragraph about that!), but it happens all the same. This is the last season where flashbacks are used as the primary off-island storytelling device, and as such all those arcs are wrapped up so succinctly and emotionally for each and every character.
Then, of course, there is the shocking season finale, in which the entire structure of the show is changed. "Through the Looking Glass" is truly one of the most emotional, challenging, and groundbreaking episodes in the history of dramatic television. After watching, it is clear that the entire season has been building to this, and the big decision to flash forward (instead of backward) opens up entirely new avenues of storytelling possibilities. Of course, in typical LOST fashion, the writers craft the episode in such a way so that viewers likely will not realizing this is happening until the final few epic moments of the episode. I've probably watched this single episode 3-4 times now in its entirety, and each and every time I am amazed by how expertly crafted it is. In all honesty, this was the episode which confirmed to me that LOST was probably my all-time favorite show.
So, if anyone tries to tell you that S3 was "the beginning of the end" for LOST, don't believe them! The only reason it dips at all is because such a serialized show as this deserves an end date, and until they got it the production went through its "awkward stage" for 4-5 episodes. To my knowledge, LOST was the first show to ever negotiate its own ending (most shows before it would just bleed viewers until cancelled by the network), so even that was groundbreaking in the world of television. The mystery deepens in S3, many (dare I say almost all) of the character arcs from Seasons 1 & 2 are tied up, and the finale provides the direction which will comprise the "back end" of the show, if you will. For the most part, this is still televised drama at its finest.
Lost: Live Together, Die Alone (2006)
It must have been a pretty daunting task: How do you follow-up on what was perhaps the greatest first season of a television show ever conceived to that point? Remarkably, the show runners of LOST are able to craft a sophomore effort that is nearly as compelling as that original by tweaking the format just a bit and deepening the mysteries and characters that only had their surfaces scratched in Season One.
Picking right up where the Season One finale left off, it is clear from the get-go that the theme of this season will be "expanding the mysteries of the island". Whereas I would classify the first season as "75% characters, 25% mystery", this second one is closer to a 50/50 split. Without getting into too spoiler-ish territory here, suffice it to say that the Hatch is explored in great detail, as well as more information being given about the mysterious "Others" that seem to roam the island. Many new locations that weren't ever seen in S1 also make appearances in this slate of episodes. More than ever before, there is a real feeling of forward momentum to all the on-island happenings (well, except one...we'll cover that in a minute). Instead of the S1 formula of tailoring the island events to fit the character flashbacks, this time it seems as it the flashbacks more supplement the "island stuff".
That isn't to say, of course, that the character arcs aren't as dramatic and emotional as ever. Some of the most compelling episodes that come to mind involve in the flashbacks include:
-Hurley's battle with potential mental illness -Jack's deteriorating relationship with wife Sarah -It finally being revealed "What Kate Did" -John Locke's heartbreaking personal struggles in dealing with his father -Sawyer as the continued "con man" (albeit one with a bit of a conscience)
There's even an episode devoted to flashbacks of Rose and Bernard! It says a lot about just how solid this show was that they could take two auxiliary characters and still manage to create an emotional story surrounding them. New characters like Desmond, Penny, Henry Gale (or is he?), Anna-Lucia, & Mr. Eko also abound and, more often than not, become tremendous additions.
There is no doubt that S2 of LOST is just as deserving of five stars here as was S1. That being said, in the nit-picking business, there are two reasons why after my latest viewing I personally rank it a small notch below S1:
1. The main reason is because, for the first time in show history, it is clear that some stall tactics are being used. This is primarily seen in the plot involving the "Tailies", or those that crashed on the island in the back section of the plane. While this is a great idea on the surface (and one that probably needed to happen in some respect), it felt like a disproportionate amount of time was spent away from the main cast that viewers had grown to know and love. Like I said, I know that this was going to be a bit of in inevitability at this point with no end-date set, but this angle seemed to consume much of the early portion of the season.
2. This season really dives into the serialized nature of the show, racing forward with plots in nearly every episode. While on one hand this makes for an incredible "binge-watch" experience, on the other it somewhat lessons the value or "mystique", if you will, of individual episodes. In that first season, the show writers were able to almost miraculous match each flashback to an organic plot development happening on the island, and often slowing down the storytelling to do so (which I was okay with). In S2, both the flashbacks and island material are stellar...but they just don't mesh with each other quite as well in that perfect synergy.
Overall, though, this second season of LOST is still storytelling and character-creation at its very finest. It may not "flow" quite as perfectly as S1, but the individual flashbacks and "wow!" moments on the island are easily as compelling. Also, even with the addition of much new material and mysteries, I never once felt confused or cheated by a "lack of answers". As long as the viewer is paying attention (and the availability of all episodes at one time is helpful to this point), there is nothing in this show yet that is too confusing to follow.
Lost: Exodus: Part 2 (Part II) (2005)
2 years ago Since the beginning of televised drama, there was always a pattern: Shows dealt with a topic each week, and then moved on to the next one. This was done in order to not confuse viewers (in an era before time-shifting and binge-watching) with over-arching plotlines and to play well in syndication when the main run was over. The X-files was one of the first shows to break that formula, but even then the majority of its episodes were "monster of the week" variety. In 2004, however, LOST premiered and smashed all preconceived notions of what televised drama could do.
In a nutshell, LOST tells the story of a group of people who survived a plane crash and now find themselves on a deserted island, with little chance for rescue. But this isn't just your run-of-the-mill island, as is made clear on the first night when a dinosaur-sounding monster is heard in the jungle. not long after, a polar bear is spotted, along with a French woman broadcasting an SOS,, a metal hatch buried deep in the ground, and a mysterious band of "Others" that seem to lurk on the periphery of everything. Obviously, the island is not as "innocent" as it would seem.
Besides what is happening on the island, though, the stories of selected survivors (the main cast) are told in flashback formula, adding to the emotional drama. it is revealed how certain characters wound up on the plane to begin with, and the undercurrent beneath every flash-back implies that each "Lostie" is somehow connected to each other, perhaps having been "brought" to their mysterious island for a particular reason. During this first season, these flashbacks are easily given as much time and emotional weight as the island events themselves, and this situation plays for the better.
Perhaps more than any season of television i've ever seen, this one literally has "something for everyone" in terms of characters and storytelling. Whereas future seasons might weed out viewers who are looking for more relatable or "general" drama, this first season is a perfect blend of action, adventure, mystery, and emotion. with the exception of homeland's first season, this is maybe the best introductory slate of episodes ever put on the small screen.
To conclude, LOST is the perfect blend of emotional drama, intense action, and mind-bending mystery. This first season primarily serves to introduce the important characters (through the ingenious flash-back method) and scratch the surface of the mysteries the island has to offer. by producing basically a mini-movie every week, Bad robot productions (led by JJ Abrams) and the showrunning duo of Damon Lindelof & Carleton Cuse changed what network tv could offer.
Survivor: It's My Night (2013)
Blood vs Water
After not watching a rotation of Survivor since the All-Stars edition of 2004, I had some free time on my hands this fall and decided to jump back in. After the initial excitement of watching the show again faded, I was quickly reminded of why I dropped out in the first place...until the final few episodes, when the drama kicks up to classic levels.
The "gimmick" of this season revolves around loved ones. One returning player this time brings along a loved one to play with/against depending on the tribal alignments. Redemption Island is also brought back for this season, as is the hidden immunity idol. The trouble overall with this season is that its first half is quite bad. It is all tears and whining. The loved ones angle is (IMHO) a step back for this series, as it just leads to more contrived drama (something this show now produces enough of on its own). I felt as if the "what will my loved one think" angle was beat over our heads time and time again.
I also didn't like Redemption Island (this was the first season I've watched that featured its "second chance"). The concept is novel, to be sure, but I liked the sheer drama of "the tribe has spoken" at each tribal council, with the voted-out party not being able to return.
I really began enjoying this 27th season in the final four or so episodes, when all the chaff was cut away and it turned into the Survivor I remembered from years ago. Thus, it turned into at least an "okay" season. 2.5 stars would have been my exact rating, but I'll bump it up to a three due to the final few hours of drama. Basically, I felt that there was just too doggone much going on in "Blood vs Water" and all the craziness overshadowed a show that even to this day can produce some real drama. I hope that cycle #28 goes back to all (or mostly) new competitors and favors a more traditional show structure. Go away from Redemption Island in favor of more inventive reward challenges, and just lighten things up again. Survivor is always best when focusing on the human drama. Why rely on gimmicks to overshadow it?
Survivor: The Final Four (2000)
This first season of Survivor was not the very first foray into reality television (MTV had already experiment with filming people on "Real World"). However, this indeed was the first time that the concept was applied to a mass audience and packaged in a way that made it seem exciting and dramatic.
Basically, Survivor sees a group of 16 people stranded on an island in Borneo. With only a few basic survival items and their wits, the contestants are separated into two tribes and must compete with each other until a sole winner is crowned with the prize of one million dollars. Each week, a different contestant would be voted off the island by their fellow mates.
Besides the challenges for rewards and immunity, the show really became intriguing because of its mix of characters and situations. For example...
-The oft-nude homosexual Richard forging an unlikely bond with the grumpy, 70-something former Navy Seal Rudy. -The "serious tribe" (Tagi) versus the "fun" tribe (Pagong). -The alliances that would constantly shift or become re-defined with seemingly every episode. -The humor infused into the show that comes from that many people living together and tolerating each other.
Basically, though conceptually a "gameshow" in name as a prize is competed for, it quickly became clear that the entire experience was really more of a social experiment than anything. Viewers could easily identify with (or vilify) a certain character, thus making it feel as if living vicariously through them on the island.
Overall, "Survivor" was a completely new idea that (for a time) revolutionized the way TV dramas could be made. Though now reality shows so dominate the market that the ideas are running on empty, this set is an ode to a time when the concept was fresh, real, and exciting all at once. Watch it for the first time to see what all the buzz is about, or watch it again to relive your memories of the phenomena. Either way, you'll enjoy the ride.
Dark: Alpha and Omega (2017)
Since 1985, "Back to The Future" has been the standard of all time-travel film/television. By kind of inventing the formula of "interacting with family members to potentially change the past", that film franchise almost kind of put that topic "off limits" for some time. As such, "Dark" really had a lot of guts to go a similar route, and fortunately it turns out to be one of the most intriguing, well-thought-out series I've ever watched.
It's tough to describe "Dark" (especially without spoilers), so I'm really not going to delve into any of the details here. The closest I can get to describing this show is that it truly is "Back To The Future" mashed up with Steven Spielberg's generational epic miniseries "Taken". This is time-travel and character-driven science fiction at its absolute best.
I will give you the very basic premise of "Dark": In 2019, in the German town of Winden, children start disappearing (and coming back much worse for the wear, if at all). The disappearances seem to follow a similar pattern as happened 33 years ago in 1986. One of the returned missing boys in 2019 is found in 80s garb with a Walkman strapped to his belt. As the tagline of the show intimates, then, the question is not "how" or "why", but "When".
That is just scraping the surface of what this show is really about, as it relies so much on family dynamics to provide the drama (much like BTTF did as well). Because of this, one thing I will "warn" viewers about is to not get too confused by the massive influx of characters in the first few episodes. You WILL be a bit confused until episode 5 or 6, as it is a lot to wrap the brain around even for the most attentive of viewers. I found myself even referring to a chart I found online to keep everything straight in the early goings. The characters will crystalize eventually (as it is imperative to the show's success that they do) if you are paying attention, but just be warned that it will take some time.
Being a German show in origin, there is also a quasi-debate about the best way to watch "Dark" for English viewers. I listened to the English dubbing and had no problems with it (I didn't want my eyes/attention constantly drawn to the subtitles). I've heard others prefer the original German language w/subtitles. Find what is best for your personal tastes, and again know it will take a little time to adapt to it.
For the very, very best film/TV I consume, I often find it difficult to review those media because they are so full of depth and character. "Dark" is, without a doubt, one of those situations for me! Instead of dissecting its every twist and turn here, however, I think in this case I would rather just give it my utmost endorsement and let viewers experience it for themselves. If you are at all a fan of science fiction, fantasy, time-travel, or family-driven drama, you MUST give this one a try. Sometimes, based on the very nature of Netflix itself, programs like this slip through the cracks a bit due to the sheer volume of material on that streaming service. As such, I want to spread the word about "Dark" as much as possible, as it truly is a gem of a show that deserves every eyeball it can get. The show has been renewed for a Second Season already, so that is great news for fans of this very smart, yet still very dramatic, type of TV storytelling.
Though perhaps not the very best of the show's run, the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation by no means goes out with a whimper. Though clearly the writing was tapped out on a number of occasions (producing some truly stinker episodes), when the episodes were good they were just as good as ever. When I first watched this season a number of years ago, I had remembered it as feeling a bit "long in the tooth" or trudging towards the end. I'd have to revise that judgement now, however, as I never felt like anyone was just "going through the motions" in this final Seventh Season. If anything, the acting is stronger than ever. You can only tell so many stories, however, and seven season's worth was a good number for TNG.
Some of my personal highlights from this season include...
-Gambit I/II: When Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is presumed dead in an alien bar skirmish, the Enterprise crew must put the pieces together to determine what actually happened. -Phantasms: Data (Brent Spiner) begins to dream. Some great imagery here, especially featuring Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) -Parallels: Worf (Michael Dorn) returns to the Enterprise after a weekend of pleasure...only to discover that things don't seem quite right. A classic "playing with time" riff that this show pulls off so well. -The Pegasus: When Admiral Pressman (Terry O'Quinn), Riker's (Jonathan Frakes) old captain, turns up on the Enterprise for a special mission, Will is caught between the orders of captains past and present. -Lower Decks: An interesting look at how "the other half" (those not in command positions) live on the Enterprise. -Journey's End: Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was never the most well-like character on TNG, but at least his arc gets a semblance of closure here, featuring the return of an "old friend" from Season One. -Firstborn: Wore wants his son to become a Klingon warrior, but Alexander (Brian Bonsall) isn't so sure of that destiny. Great episode in terms of how family is still a part of the Trek future.
Finally, and well-deserving of its own paragraph here, is the fantastic finale "All Good Things...". This episode is easily in the top five or so TV show finales I've ever watched. After witnessing Picard jumping through time at the behest of Q (John de Lancie), the final scene (fittingly set around the iconic poker table) will bring tears to your eyes. A poignant, thoughtful way to end an incredible series.
Overall, then, I would have to say that Season Seven of TNG is a strong effort to close things out with. It isn't the best of the bunch, but that is probably to be expected after six previous 26-episode seasons. It doesn't feel forced, nor are any of the actors "phoning it in". In true Trek fashion, it just continues to tell great stories until the very end.