Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (season 1)

zoey's extraordinary playlist poster

When a strange experience in an MRI machine leaves Zoey able to hear people’s inner thoughts in the form of song and dance routines, her life becomes extraordinarily weird. Rather than a special power, it can be more of a hindrance in navigating her life as a developer in a hip software company. I mean, do you need to hear your boss’s heartache while you’re trying to go for a promotion, or discover that someone has feelings for you – when you may not feel the same?

I gave this show a go on a whim, and it ended up being one of the highlights of my week over the past few months. It’s quirky and funny and heartwarming – and heartbreaking. The last episode in particular absolutely broke me – take that as a warning, rather than a spoiler. The show deals with death, by suicide or degenerative disease, divorce, relationships, religion, gender identity – it could have been a heavy drama. But instead these are the anchor to Zoey’s fantastical new ability.

And the music is such a joy! I didn’t recognise half the songs, but I am a fan of the kind of musicals this harks back to. Her new ‘quirk’ is almost like Zoey getting her own Bollywood movie world, and it never failed to amuse me to see her try to cope when friends, colleagues, or complete strangers suddenly break into choreographed routines – usually at highly inappropriate moments. I think the cast were picked for their singing ability, as all are very good, including that-bloke-from-Pitch-Perfect who was the only familiar face, bar Zoey’s parents and a few cameos.

I acknowledge that this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s not light hearted enough to appeal to those who love the escapism of light musicals – think La La Land taking a darker turn, but far more natural. And conversely, the whimsy of the singing is going to be a turn off for those who prefer their drama more series, or their comedies less dancy. For me, however, it hit a sweet spot. I’m a little ‘argh’ at the way it ends, and so far no word of a second season, but otherwise, if you like a hefty dose of whimsy in your viewing, this is highly recommended.

First broadcast: January 2020
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Locke and Key (season 1)

locke and key poster

When their father is murdered, the three Locke siblings and their mother move back to his childhood home. For some mysterious reason, he’d never taken them to see their ancestral seat, but lost and grieving, the family grab at the chance to learn anything about him. And Keyhouse – the family obviously enjoying a pun or two – is a huge and intriguing place.

Oh yes, and it’s also hiding literal keys – magical keys that unlock various amazing powers. But the Lockes can’t just enjoy their new lives: someone – or something – wants those keys.

With everyone looking for more at-home entertainment in these lockdown days, if you’ve not tried this already I recommend giving it a go. I was curious; it sounded just my thing, but I worried about the ‘fantasy horror’ tag being heavy on the latter, and more about the main cast being teenagers and younger. Fears soon dispelled, though: it’s spooky rather than horrific, and the cast are all nice and un-annoying.

I’m very glad, as the story is well worth a look-see. Mysteries abound, about the house, about Mr Locke’s death, about the last time a group of Locke children experimented with the keys’ powers. Then there’s the sinister baddy, after the keys for their own nefarious purposes. It’s all drawn together to provide a massive ‘keep-watching’ reason.

Based on a comic book, there’s something quite computer game-y in the way the keys are hidden within other objects. Their various powers give rise to some pretty amazing visuals, too.

Recommended binge watching, and I’m delighted that there’s another series coming – even though we get a great ending, there’s so much more to explore.

First broadcast: January 2020 (Netflix UK)
Series: 1, with another announced
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Witcher (season 1)

witcher poster

Welcome to a dark fantasy world of monsters and magic. Witchers, genetically modified  hunters of said monsters, are a dying breed. Here we follow some of the adventures of the legendary Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), also known as the White Wolf and the Butcher of Blaviken – we’ll find out why in an early episode.

I knew very little about this going in, never having played the hugely successful games or read the books. I did buy the written series on offer last year, but struggled to get into it – I thought it might help to read before viewing, but actually the visuals helped me get into the first novel (The Last Wish) more easily.

The visuals really are great. Production quality is high, the action is very well done, and the actors are good. Cavill in particular (a big fan of the games, apparently) gives a gruff menace that is still oddly accessible – there’s something relatable in his general responses of either “Hmm” or “F-” and very little in between! His almost unwilling friendship with Jaskier (Joey Batey) – which is translated to ‘Dandelion’ in the books, but left as is in the TV show – is fun, if underplayed compared to the first book.

A parallel thread tells us about Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a hunchback sold into service with a group of sorceresses. I think her story could have done with a bit more time and background, but then probably so could the rest of the series.

If there’s any complain from me it’s that the story telling is a bit muddled. I don’t just mean the two or more timelines – not made particularly clear, especially as several characters don’t age – but which actually get enough little hints as to be quite ‘cool’. Having now read the first book I can see that they’re trying to half-mimic the short story, incidents in a life retold kind of approach, but it doesn’t quite work as well as I think they’d’ve liked. Motivations seem muddy at times, and several changes from the books (why Geralt was fishing, for an obscure non-spoilery example) don’t really seem to add much. I’m not sure things come together enough in the end to make the format wholly work, instead leaving me with a sense of “Well, what story were you actually trying to tell?”

Still. It was very watchable and enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the second season – although given production has had to be halted due to the Covid-19 woes, it might be a while before we can next ‘Toss a coin to (our) Witcher…’ 🙂

First broadcast: December 2019
Series: 1 (with a second in production)
Episodes: 8 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Good Omens

good omens poster

Throughout the history of the Earth (not as long as some scientists might have you believe), an angel – Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) – and a demon – Crowley (David Tennant) – come to a bit of an arrangement. Realising that their efforts largely cancel each other out, wouldn’t life just be easier if they didn’t… well, try so hard? I mean, as long as their respective Head Offices are getting all the right paperwork, will anyone really even notice?

The ‘bromance’ between these two characters is what lifts this story from fun to something a bit more special. Their friendship has formed over hundreds of years, each happily doing what they like on earth. Aziraphale loves human food. Crowley looks and acts like a rock star.

Everything’s great… until the birth of the Antichrist heralds the start of Armageddon…

I absolutely loved the book, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and I think the reason this adaptation works is that Gaiman was brought on board to write the screenplay – something he has experience with, and also means that no one is straying too far from the beloved original version. The differences felt largely positive: the addition of a bullying Angel Gabriel (Jon Hamm), for instance.

Otherwise sticking quite closely to the book, I have to admit that the main plots – the switch-up at the maternity ward, an otherwise normal 11-year-old with the powers of the devil, and the ‘Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter (Witch)’ – were merely nice and totally overshadowed by how much I loved watching Tennant and Sheen having such fun with their respective characters.

As Crowley says, “I didn’t so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards.” Love it 🙂

First broadcast: January 2020
Series: 1 (and no, not likely to be more, it’s covered the whole book perfectly!)
Episodes: 8 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Dracula (mini series)

dracula poster

There are sooo many adaptations of the Dracula story, different takes on vampires in general. Can the duo behind BBC’s excellent Sherlock reimagining do similar with this old myth? Auntie Beeb was more than willing to let them try, giving them a 3-part mini series over New Year’s.

So, can they do something different? Yes, and then again, not so much.

To be honest, the opening episode – and by that I mean 90 mins of viewing – didn’t wholly grab me. The aging makeup was almost as bad as the accent. It felt very like a poor rip-off of Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Sarcastic nun, Agatha, was a welcome addition, but still…

I persevered, and glad I did: episode 2 was excellent. In the claustrophobic setting of the Demeter, sailing for England, a newly youthful Dracula plays games worthy of a Poirot novel, and I thought it worked brilliantly. Claes Bang as Dracula – now free of the wrinkles and awful accent – was a joy. He’s smouldering without being pretty-sexy, and devious and obviously enjoying it. Put me a little in mind of the swagger of Lucifer. And then – omg, the ‘twist’ right at the end of ep 2! We are three hours, and two thirds, into this, and NOW you do that to us?!

Alas, I can’t really discuss the third ep for spoilery reasons. Suffice to say, there are a few familiar names and the story disappointingly goes back to some well-worn plotlines. It’s a real shame, as there are glimmers of doing something ‘different’ and interesting, especially in this ep, but overall it felt a bit wasted. The ending is rather abrupt, too, which is always a shame when then story has been more carefully paced previously.

Do I recommend? Hmm. Overall and in general not hugely. However, if like me you’re rather fond of the vampire myths, and seeing what novelties people keep trying to come up with (nothing has ever matched the whole Judas thing in the awful Dracula 2000, right enough!), then there is a lot to enjoy here. Just, lower expectations for the last ep. And warning for gore, too – I’m not sure I really should have watched small child corpses trying to play peekaboo just before bed o.O

First broadcast: January 2020
Series: 1
Episodes: 3 @ ~90 mins each

My rating: 6/10 – for each ep I’d say 7/8/6, but marks lost overall for the ending

Legion (season 2)

legion s2 poster

In its first season, Legion established itself as ‘a bit weird’ (!). However, right from the word go, season two is just… bizarre. We finally see the interior of Division 3, and alongside strange design and twisty architecture, we find it’s run by a man with a basket on his head, who communicates via a trio of identical, mustachioed young women. Yes, women. And buckle up, gang, ‘cos that’s just the opening five minutes…

I absolutely adored series 1 and its fresh take on the superhero/comic genre. David Haller goes from troubled inmate of a mental institution to possibly the most powerful mutant on the planet, and it’s a heady ride. Series 2 kicks off with a bit of a blip – suddenly everyone seems to know that the Shadow King is Amahl Farouk, and who that is – and a relatively straightforward quest for David, Syd, and the rest of the Summerland gang, plus their new allies, to track down Farouk’s body before he does.

However, the whole series is anything but straightforward. Perhaps the plot is too simple, perhaps the writers/directors just wanted to flex their imaginations. Thus we get some absolutely bizarre episodes even by the standards of a show as ‘out there’ as this. Some are spectacular – e.g. one episode explores all the different ways David’s life could have played out, another takes us groundhog day-like through Syd’s past – and even when they fall short of that there’s still a lot to be enjoyed. On the other hand, your patience might be a little strained by the weirdness and random meandering away from the point, whatever it is.

I think this is why it took me a second attempt to get through this series, as much as I love the show as a whole. It was worth it, though: everything leads up to a denouement that the story is far from over, and anything could happen in (the final) series 3…!

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 2 (of 3)
Episodes: 11 @ ~49 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

Clone Wars (season 1)

clone wars s1 poster

George Lucas’s prequel trilogy to Star Wars received mixed reviews. Dealing more with politics than space battles, there’s a lot of ‘history’ and story to pack into three movies. With so much left off-screen, there’s ample room for a series or seven to fill in – enter Clone Wars, the animated series set between episodes 2 and 3.

Episode II aka Attack of the Clones shows the events leading up to the Clone Wars. The Galactic Republic, newly endowed with a somewhat mysterious clone army, is battling the droid army of the Separatists. At this point there’s no confusion between good and bad, with the Jedi and the Senate up against Sith Lords such as Count Dooku, and any number of unpleasant dark allies.

There’s a lot to like about this series, especially for those who found the prequel trilogy a bit dull. It’s high on Saturday morning cartoon adventures, complete with a cheesy announcer at the start of each episode, given us a recap of where the overarching story is up to. Not that it matters too much, with each episode being a fairly self-contained mini-mission.

It all very definitely adds to the film series, giving us more time with characters that are perhaps not given quite enough development otherwise. In particular, we get to see Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi hero, glimpses of what we know is ahead but still very much a good guy, albeit impetuous. His relationship with Padme is allowed more space, too, taking away a bit of the creepy factor from the swift presentation of meeting-as-a-child, unwelcome declaration of love, through to sudden marriage.

We also get to see a lot more of Obi-Wan Kenobi, again as a Jedi general in his prime, as well as many other familiar faces, including Mace Windu, Yoda, and Jar Jar Binks. And it’s hugely interesting to see the Clones as individuals, not just the faceless Stormtroopers we’ll become more familiar with.

Each episode is just the right length to tell a sliver of story, and the animation is pretty good, highly stylised but fitting the material. In tone it’s far more like the original trilogy (so, eps 4-6) than the more po-faced 1-3 or dark angst of 7-9 (I assume, haven’t seen the last one yet!), full of joy of just telling pew pew stories across a galaxy full of different species and mechs and all sorts of things more interesting than trade blockades or emo bad guys. Ymmv, but I’m all for the fun 🙂

First broadcast: 2008
Series: 7
Episodes: 22 @ ~23 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10