an * means this show has been cancelled or limited series
*Alias Grace—5 Stars (1 Season, 6 episodes)
Sarah Gadon plays Grace Marks, and Edward Holcroft plays Dr. Simon Jordon in this Canadian mini-series, which is in a similar vain of the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. After all, the story comes from a book written by Margaret Atwood who also wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Dr. Simon Jordon is commissioned to interview a woman named Grace Marks who is oddly celebrated as murderess. He must do a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether Grace should be pardoned due to insanity. Indeed, she claims to remember nothing. Of course, straight out of the gate, you may make up your mind about her guilt, but as Grace weaves her tale, you will be second guessing yourself all the way through just as Dr. Jordon does. Sarah Gadon does a superior job in her role as Grace Marks moving between victim and manipulator. Dr. Simon Jordon does an equally superior job who ends up tormented by his passion for her and the pressure from the community to declare her “insane” and pardon her. This is one of those series that is appetizing enough, original enough, that you can eat it up in one or two bites and be left wishing there was more.
Russian Doll—2 1/2 Stars (1 season, 8 episodes)
Produced with the help of Amy Poehler and it stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov. This is one for the lesbians, just saying. There are lesbians in the series. You only need to look at the pun of Nadia’s last name which has to be a pun on the word Vulva. I can see Amy Poheler making that one up now. With so few hits that would appeal to lesbians, it is a shame that this is a disappointment. At least, it was for me. I think if you ever have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray that you are in for a pretty lackluster ride. Nadia is of course thrown into her own version of Groundhog Day and it all starts at her birthday party spearheaded by her lesbian friend Maxine played by Greta Lee. I wanted to really like this show and for that to happen I would need a unique plot (this isn’t but some parts are) and I would also have to be very into the main character. The show itself requires you to make a big investment into the main character more than most shows because this is Nadia’s dream world, psychosis, life on re-dial moment. This is all about Nadia’s experience because all characters are constantly re-set but her (save for her physical body). From the very first episode, we know nothing about Nadia. We are taken for a ride in her life of unexplained, repetitive nonsense. Deja Vu on steroids. Instead of starting with character, the story starts off from the gate depending on the plot but the problem is, at least for me, the plot has been done before. I loved Groundhog Day and the plot could carry that film because it wasn’t done before.
All the characters in this series feel highly stylized and 2 dimensional. Nadia herself is like a female version of a grumpy, frumpy old man. Now if you like that kind of humor (think of Little Orphan Annie if she was 40 and never got her way) than you will be all for this show. I watched a few episodes and had to stop. As Nadia starts taking advantage of circumstances and investigating and investing in people to figure this all out, the show does and I’m sure get a little more meatier. The problem for me is Nadia rubs my soul like sandpaper. She is too annoying for me to care. Overall, the characters are annoyingly stale and whiney, and the plot is “okay”. It is an annoying, failed attempt, in my opinion, at trying to bridge a Bill Murray classic to today’s generation.
Velvet Buzzsaw—3 Stars (FILM)
I will be honest. I only watched this movie because it looked mildly creepy and has my heartthrob Jake Gyllenhall in it. This movie is a satirical supernatural horror film about a group of high profile art dealers coming across a deceased man’s artwork. They used his unclaimed stash and it hits the art world by storm. However, as people who are involved in the selling and displaying of the pieces start to go missing or dead, suspicions arise and an investigation begins into the artist’s creepy past. You know when Ghostbusters 2 came out and we were supposed to be spooked by that giant painting of the man who becomes the nemesis? Well I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t creeped out as much as I was disappointed. Is this a joke? Am I supposed to be scared? These were some of my thoughts around Ghostbusters 2. They kind blew it, but here in this film, it is supposed to be in part satire. Satire on horror films, the art world or both, I’m not sure. Still, it all falls just a bit flat. It is hard to make artwork spooky and when a man in the film get’s pulled into a painting of monkeys, I feared this film was headed toward disaster because that was neither funny or scary—just dumb. However, some of the characters are so ridiculous, you can’t help but want to see them get “theirs” and of course the deaths are largely ridiculous—this is satire after all. None of it made me laugh though or think how clever it was. It is somewhat neat in that this is totally different. Also, the film manages to save itself with some cool scenes, some nakey Jakey scenes, a few other studs backside views, and the interesting creepy background story of the artist. But, that’s about it. There are just as many eye rolling scenes as there are creepy
The Ozarks—5 Stars—(2 Seasons of appx. 10 episodes each)
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star as the Byrds’, parents of two children. The show is not only intense but you will see Jason like you have never seen him before. The Byrd’s appear to be just like any other family on the surface, but honey, they are far from it! We join the family when Mr. Byrd has relocated them to the Ozarks after a money laundering deal gone bad. Through some sporadic flashbacks throughout the season, we learn more and more about the past and who they all are. Everyone save Mr. Byrd is innocent in the beginning until everything in the Ozark’s goes south fast for Mr. Byrd and he is forced to let his family in on his dealings. Everyone Mr. Byrd deals with soon finds themselves corrupted. Think bird flu—his virus spreads easily. The Bryd family soon are all forced to face and live under this cloud of evil because of the choices they are forced to make. The show is similar to another Netflix show called in Bloodline— money and a twisted sense of family is everything. The Ozarks is very well acted, sometimes pretty violent and intense with plenty of suspense. It is a great commentary about entering a life of crime too lightly.
*Bloodline—5 stars (3 Seasons, 10 episodes)
Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacida Barrett, Jamie McShane, Sam Shephard, Sissy Spacek, Chloe Sevigny. Set in the Florida Keys, the story focuses on the Rayburn family who own a resort there. It solely revolves around this family and how they are turned upside by the return of one their wayward sons. This is an exciting soap opera kind of story without actually feeling like soap opera. The surprise twists and turns in every episode make up for the often 2-3 second flashbacks which were clear lead-ons that were annoying in their lack of substance and repetition. The film is largely centered around how the wayward Rayburn, Danny, throws the family into a life of drugs and crime. In their attempt to justify their own guilt, the family tries to cope by saving itself at all costs in the face of Danny but they ultimately do not come out unscathed. Danny is drowning and he will take them all down with them. It is about family money and loyalty but not love. Bloodline was ultimately cancelled not because it wasn’t good but because it became too expensive to keep filming in the Keys. This series is really the birth parent to The Ozarks and both series have very jaw dropping visuals and realistic filming as well as killer (excuse the pun) acting.
The Komisky Method—5 Stars—(1 Season, 8 episodes)
Michael Douglas and Allan Arkin headline this web comedy produced by the famed Chuck Lorre. It is a one up on the TV Classic The Odd Couple with a lot more laughs and some real poignant moments. Many guest stars appear like Gladys Knight and Danny Divito, to name a few. You will eat this show up as the artsy, wild Michael Douglas attempts to grow his own Grinch like heart to support his analytical, life long friend Allan Arkin who is struggling in the process of aging.
The 100—4 Stars—(5 Seasons, 13-16 episodes each)
Eliza Tayor, Paige Turco, Isiah Washington, Henry Ian Cusick headline this post apocalyptic series. After a nuclear aftermath, a couple thousand people live on a space station orbiting the Earth called The Ark. However, after 3 generations of survivors, the ship has now become overpopulated. The leaders decide to send 100 juvenile detainees to the surface to find if there is any chance of surviving on Earth once again. They’re exploration turns up a lot of surprises. All 5 seasons are pretty well done but it took me awhile to buy into a 100 juveniles being sent down to Earth for signs of life. At times, things can get slow and clunky but overall this is like a video game turned into a TV show but with a richer plot line and some great acting. Post Apocolyptic fans will love this show!
*Sense 8—5 Stars (2 Seasons, 10 Episodes)
Aml Ameen, Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Anupam Kher, Tuppence Middleton, Naveen Andrews and Daryl Hannah. A diverse cast of characters representing 8 people from around the globe who have more than just psychic connections. They can practically enter each other’s bodies. They come together via dreams and calling and the first season is all about them adjusting to their abilities and each other. They are also being hunted by a organization that want to exterminate them. This is a great show who like a touch of super hero abilities with a diverse cast and intricate character exploration. What is great about this series is it has a lot of action and does something new with the crew of these 8 people being able to possess someone elses abilities and emotions. There are a few LGBT characters which is another added plus and the show was noted for. Pretty sexually arousing is how they all enter 8 person orgy of sorts as they explore each other without ever being in the same room. The show was cancelled much to my and other fans chagrin but due to the outcry Netflix allowed for a 2 hour movie to wrap things up. The creators and writers of the show (the Wachowskis) also wrote such movies such as The Matrix.
Dear White People—4 stars (2 Seasons, 10 episodes each)
Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton, and Antoinette Robertson star in this comedy/commentary about not only race, but also college life, politics, LGBT issues, sex and more. The style is done in a form of journal/character sketching so each episode usually focuses on one particular character in the show that intersect with the main character played by Logan Browning, as Samantha White. She plays a college radio host of her own program titled “Dear White People” and she is also a political campus activist for black people in a largely upper class, white dominated college. There is a lot of humor and character exploration, not just issue exploration. The format makes this show unique but also becomes tiring after awhile in that sometimes I found myself wanting to continue with a certain story line rather than the rotation of character focus but for the most part the character focus and plot lines intersect on fleek (that’s on point, for you older folks! LOL)
*Luke Cage—4 Stars (2 Seasons, 13 episodes each)
Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth Stokes, Simone Missick as Missy Knight,Theo Rossi as Alvarez, and Alfre Woodard star in this Marvel series that was cancelled before it could run a 3rd season. Even so, their 1st season is worth watching alone. It is stellar, refreshing and exciting. The battle between Luke Cage, Cottonmouth and Alfre Woodard’s characters are a match made in Marvel heaven. Luke Cage is a man who was subjected to an experiment gone wrong that now makes him relatively invincible (especially to bullets which the show is raining in), and he seeks not only his identity but revenge on the streets of Harlem. This is not your average super hero story. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for Luke’s invincibility, you wouldn’t really know you were watching a Marvel comic story in the first place. The sad thing is season 2 goes downhill about mid-way through and get’s more and more unbelievable. The show was cancelled so a third season wasn’t made.
The Crown—5 Stars (2 Seasons, 10 episodes)
Clair Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, Matt Smith as Prince Phillip, Vanessa Kirby and Jeremy Northman headline this stellar cast which attempts to reveal what goes on behind the curtain of lives of English Royalty. It is said that even the real Queen Elizabeth II enjoys the show! Though the pacing can be slow and the music way over dramatic, this is a bit of historic cinema and it is done very well even if at times there is not much to it. We get to see the struggles of both the Queen’s personal and public life as well as the rest of the family. The Crown is Downtown Abby light but what makes it richer is that it is true. Jeremy Northman does a great job as a villain you love to hate and for a period of time John Lithgow is part of the series as Churchill. Each character on the show weaves in and out with a particular focus that helps you fall in love with them as well as the star portraying them. It may seem like a waste of time at points but trust me, if you stick with this one by the time a season is over, you will want another.
Stranger Things—4 stars (3 Seasons, 8 episodes)
Wiona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfard, Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Caleb McLaughlin, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, Sean Astin and Paul Reiser head the well known creepy, darker version of something similar to Stephen Kings The Stand, Speilburgs The Goonies and Super Eight. In a way, I have often entertained this series a cleverly, seductive version of Dungeons and Dragons brought into the modern world. It is set in my favorite era of the 1980’s and has all the feels of that time period. You almost instantly fall in love with the little nerdy gang who are the first victims of the US Dept. of Energy’s experiments into the paranormal that ultimately open up a portal into a strange, dark world that begins seeping into their own world—they call it “The Upside Down”. There is something really, tangibly eerie about this series that I can’t put my finger on. It is addictive too in it’s suspense but often leads you on in a Night Shyamalan kind of way where the scare is in the seeking and the reveal is disappointing. And though I get disturbed with the vibe in this series, creeped out, it is still something I go back to.
Altered Carbon—5 Stars (2 Seasons, 10 Episodes)
Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Marth Higareda and Chris Conner as Edgar Allen Poe A.I. If you liked the Blade Runner films, you will like this series. This is probably one of the best special effects and futuristic show out there for sci-fi fans. However, it is not just about the scenery, the characters are rich and the story packs a moral punch exploring things like betrayal, the soul, the afterlife, sex traffiking, drugs, family and more. In the year 2384, a person’s memories and consciousness can live on forever in another persons body via a disk called a “cortical stack” planted in the vertebrae. The human body is literally just seen as a “sleeve” that can be exchanged easily for the rich but not so much for the poor. The main character played by Joel Kinnaman is one of a last remaining survivors from a rebel group that rose against what is now a new world order. His stack is pulled out and put into action by a rich Mr. Bancroft who employs his mercenary skills to solve his own murder in order to get a new shot in life.
*Queer As Folk—4 1/2 Stars (5 Seasons, 20-23 Espisodes)
Stars Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Robert Grant, Scott Lowell, Peter Paige, Chris Potter, Hal Sparks, Sharon Gless. Pretty much a timeless, LGBT classic with everything you could want from an often unrealistic show about a group of guys with an over dominating but very caring mother played by Sharon Gles and two annoying lesbians. For us LGBT folks the show is funny as it is wise in plot if not utterly entertaining. However, it often is stereotypical in its portrayal of some aspects of LGBT life, even if the sex scenes are hot as heck. Still, the show attempts at least to address serious topics and just like any series, its first couple of seasons are awesome, while the later seasons are left with something to be desired. This show is what popular TV show “Friends” was for straight people.
*The Shannara Chronicles— 3 1/2 Stars (2 Seasons, 10 Episodes)
Stars Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, Manu Bennett, James Remar, and John Rys-Davies. Fantasy Action Adventure based off the books written by one of my writers, Terry Brooks. This is Lord of Rings Light. A failed attempt a great series of books that run the length of Tolkiens, if not more, and the series attempts to make a stab it. They do a pretty good job, especially with the likes of John Rhys-Davies as an Elven leader. The story is compelling and the first season definitely keeps your interest with demons, betrayals, elves and trolls. It is worth watching when you have nothing much to do and need a fantasy fix. If you don’t go in expecting a lot, you will be pleasantly surprised.
13 Reasons Why—5 Stars (2 Seasons, 13 Espisodes, of course!)
Staring Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn and more. The story is narrated by Katherine Langford in the first season. I have not watched the second season because the first season was so good, so on point, I just haven’t even tried the second yet. Katherine Langford takes this series by storm as does Dylan Minnette. It is an unsolved mystery and we are taken for a quite a ride. There are 13 clues left by a character in the film who commits suicide and each of the 13 episodes reveal the key influence taking us one step to that person’s death. This is a more sad version and more realistic version of Riverdale if I had a comparison to make. Though the story revolves around one character’s suicide, the series takes on other issues of teenage angst, love, friendship and family. It is a regular nasty game of Clue and a ride that most eat up. However, there was controversy surrounding this series in how it portrayed the issues and that the show took on such a big issue of teen suicide. Personally, I thought it was done remarkably well FOR adults. I get why some families may not want their teen to watch it in that the show appeals to some entertainment value in its portrayal and that is possibly not something that should be surrounding this topic. There is a lot in this series where “not everything is as it appears” so I recommend watching for yourself first before having your teen watch it.
*The Tutors—5 Stars (4 seasons)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill, Callum Blue, Henry Cavill, Henry Czerny, Natalie Dormer, Naria Doyle Kennedy, Nick Dunning, Hans Matheson, Peter O’Toole. Your Game of Thrones substitute. This is based on the life and times of King Henry the Eighth. Meyers does a great job as a highly stylized version of the wanton King and the series as it is best when Sam Neill, Peter O’Toole and Natalie Dormer (as the Boyolen Queen) are in the mix in the early seasons. Great show really all the way through with plenty of eye candy.