Legion (season 1)

We meet David Haller as a patient in Clockworks mental institution, where he’s been for the past several years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what if the voices he hears aren’t mental illness at all – what if he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on the planet?

Legion is part of the X-Men universe (and similar but not quite to Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, at least in theme), based on the Marvel Comics (which I’ve never read, so no views on the adaptation). However, this bears little resemblance to the movies, and is all the better for it, in my opinion. The look is oddly old-fashioned – fashion, old-school tech – maybe 60s or 70s, but it’s not a period piece. It’s not about saving the world, or acting like superheros, but the far more personal story of one man fighting for a life worth living.

Story-wise, this needs a little attentioned paid. David’s life goes from boring routine to terrifying flight; the amazement of learning about his new abilities and the horror of his past. Things jump back and forth between the different times and memories, really brilliantly mirroring some of the confusion of David’s illness.

As things progress, everything gets that bit weirder. There are other mutants, and a shadowy quasi-government department. There is a lot of mystery around David’s abilities and ‘illness’ – who or what is the yellow-eyed demon, for instance?

I absolutely loved this first series. It makes so much sense that mutant abilities could be mistaken for mental illness, and being told it’s actually super-power is still greeted with so much doubt. But then – oh! Yeah, no spoilers 😉 I particularly liked the performances of Dan Stevens as David, on his journey from meek to figuring himself out, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny who gets to run the gamut of unhinged, sexy, predatory and just out there.

If you can, it really works as a binge-watch, one episode flowing into the next, helping you as best as you can to keep hold of the twisty thread of things. Everything is very weird, from the deep sea diver in an ice cube to the various powers, and the style is very reflective of this: tilt-shift camera shots, a bollywood number, odd mental tricks and traps. But if you’re willing to go for the ride, I absolutely think it’s worth it!

First broadcast: 2017 – rewatched ahead of final season
Series: 1 of 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Stranger Things (season 3)

stranger things 3 poster

Since the first season arrived in 2016, Stranger Things has been one of the highlights of TV viewing. The mix of horror and mystery, weird and nostalgia, all hit a sweet spot.

Usual warning: even mentioning names could be a spoiler for who survives series 1-2, so read on at your own peril!

We already knew that the wrap-up of season 2 wasn’t necessarily tied with a pretty bow, so it isn’t really a surprise that the ‘Mind-flayer’ isn’t as dead or trapped as the residents of Hawkins might wish. And when we find out that there’s a Russian operation to open a doorway … yeah, you know this isn’t going to end well!

Despite rave reviews, I think season 3 is the weakest so far – although still very good and very worth a watch. But, perhaps lower your expectations just a little.

There is a lot to like here. In particular, the continuing reinvention of Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington sees him spend the whole season in a cutesy sailor outfit, which is hysterical. We also meet a new character, Robin (played by Uma Thurman’s daughter, which is who she reminded me of all series!), and the interaction between the two is some of my series highlight.

The younger cast members are growing up fast – a few flashbacks remind us just how young they looked 3 years ago – and we’re subjected to the sight of new young love, awkward and vaguely embarrassing, and played with humour that juxtaposes the darker elements of the show. Still, these are the scenes that didn’t do much for me through the whole – tbh, I just wasn’t fond of most of the child characters, let alone their personal struggles.

The mix of horror and laughs remain a strength. Hopper’s struggles with parenting. Joyce’s pained expressions. Dustin singing. The hope for comeuppance for a new slimey character, played by new cast member Cary Elwes. And on the other side, murderous slime, exploding rats, and so much worse.

Still… the story isn’t complete. Perhaps I was hoping for more answers, and that’s not what this is about. I’m very glad series 4 has been announced – things have changed in Hawkins, but it’s not over yet!

First broadcast: July 2019
Series: 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Umbrella Academy (season 1)

umbrella academy poster

If you’re thinking “I need another superhero show in my life like a hole in my umbrella” then I can tell you, I was too. And then curiosity got the better of me and I have never binged anything so hard! They might be superheroes – super strong, able to talk to the dead, bend minds, or teleport – but they are also a dysfunctional family that’d put the Osbournes to shame!

On the same day in 1989, 43 women across the world give birth at the same time – only, none of them had even been pregnant the day before. Sensing the likelihood that these kids will be special, eccentric billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) manages to adopt seven of them. Thirty years later, his death brings them back together for the first time in years, and through flashbacks we discover how their young lives turned out, and what ultimately drove them so far apart.

And, of course, there’s the small matter of literally saving the world from total destruction.

Okay, so upshot is: I loved it 🙂 It’s quirky as heck, even though everyone is playing it straight. It’s pretty dark – lots of blood and deaths and violence – but there are moments of such humour. Top billing goes to Vanya (Ellen Page), the only sibling without a super-power, but my favourite was easily Klaus (Robert Sheehan), whose ability to see the dead drives him to a life of drug addiction and pure hedonism – and he’s a hoot. His character definitely brightens all the angst from a group who shared a harsh upbringing, and who have seen their potential dwindle into most variations of failed lives.

There was something here that reminded me as much of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (which is weirder, a bit more niche, but worth a viewing) as the Avengers. The time travelling probably added to that, and the mysterious suited assassins. And what is the significance of the glass eye?

This is definitely a binge-worthy show. There are no recaps, just ten episodes of single story. And what a story!! It does have an ending, of sorts, but at the same time – please please please let there be a season 2! 🙂

First broadcast: February 2019
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~45-57 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Star Trek Discovery (season 1)

Ten years before Kirk, Spock, et al, a young officer by the name of Michael Burnham serves on the USS Discovery. She is human but was raised by Vulcans after a Klingon attack killed her parents. As such, she’s given to much logical thought and a slightly cold demeanour. Not the most obvious of main characters, but her story is going to get a lot more interesting when the Discovery comes into contact with more Klingons…

I’ve long been a mild fan of Star Trek, starting with The Next Generation (I’m not old enough for the original series, thank you very much, and find it a bit too cheesy), but more impressed with the more recent movie reboots. In Discovery, I found a TV series that had more of the films’ sensibility – although that move away from ‘classic’ Star Trek did, I know, annoy some fans.

I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s quite dark and the constant drama levels can be a little exhausting, so not one I was binge-watching. Setting it before previous series also raised a lot of issues (better tech, ideas that clearly don’t survive to the original series’ timeline) – and opportunities, it has to be said, for the real geeky fans who pay far more attention than I do! Personally I’m still baffled about the very different look the Klingons have here compared to any I’ve seen before, although I’m sure there’s an explanation somewhere.

Story-wise, Michael’s fall from grace and fight to continue do make for a fitting main character. The other roles are often highly intriguing, from the dark and mysterious Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to the wonderful Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.

Overall, I enjoyed this, but while I thought it was good – very well made, looked amazing, intriguing story – wouldn’t have called it ‘fun’. I guess I can understand why ‘true’ fans won’t necessarily be geeking out over it, too, as it’s not quite in the same vein as classic ‘Trek.

First broadcast: September 2017
Series: 2 (so far)
Episodes: 15 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Westworld (season 2)

Westworld s2 poster

The amazing and brilliant first season of Westworld left more than a few questions still to be answered. As ever, if you haven’t seen the first season, even a mention of something that happens in season 2 might be considered a spoiler, so read on at your own risk!

With the Hosts now taking control of themselves, the fight is on for the park. Caught up in the brewing war are many of the characters we met in season 1, and each has their own story. From Maeve, intent on finding her child, to William aka The Man in Black, still playing ‘the game’, the strength of season 2 is quite possibly the way it lets the bigger events play out as a background to some much more personal stories.

Another brilliant thing about series 2 is the widening picture of Delos’s crowning glory (in more ways than one…!). There are at least six parks, based on a character’s comment, and we get to see another two of them here. I won’t spoil the surprises, but I enjoyed these glimpses into the ‘other’ bits.

If I thought the cast were superb in series one, then I’ve run out of superlatives for the performances turned in here. Emotions have been turned up past eleven, and are displayed with such powerful subtlety from every single actor here. I mean, wows all around, quite frankly!

Of course, the plot is no less twisty than season one, and even expecting this I had to keep questioning: what’s happening, what timeline is this – “is there something wrong with this world”, in other words! Nothing can be taken for granted. Of course, knowing fine and well that this is what the show was likely to do, they even play with that: episode one might show you a familiar face, dead, only for you to spend the rest of the series waiting for the death to happen!

I do love this show. It’s intelligent, and assumes its audience is too. It plays with tropes, but doesn’t disappoint when it needs to deliver. The need to expand the story and follow several main characters on diverging paths possibly dilutes things just a little, so I didn’t adore it in quite the same way as season 1, but it was still some of the best TV out there, and I cannot wait for series 3!

First broadcast:  2018
Series: 2
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

The City and the City

the city and the city poster

When an Ul Qoman resident is found dead in the neighbouring city of Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú is granted rare permission to enter the sister location. Sounds like a routine murder investigation, right? But Beszel and Ul Qoma aren’t ‘neighbours’, per se: they exist in the same space. Residents must ‘unsee’ streets from the wrong city, ignore events that happen in the other place.

This deeply ingrained habit of deliberate ignorance is one thing to put on to paper – the book is suitably mind-bending – but how on earth can you put in on screen? The thing that impressed me most about this adaptation was just that: the two cities look like they exist in different decades as well as different colour-palettes.

In fact, while I enjoyed but didn’t love the book (for whatever reason), the cool ideas stayed with me in a rather ambiguous way. Are the cities genuinely ‘in the same space’ (phased, perhaps?) or are they physically in the same space, so literally sharing streets – making the mental gymnastics all the more impressive? Watching the show made that a little clearer.

However, the parts that made this more interesting as a bit of fiction were not suited to the screen, I think. Unlike the fantasy genre’s vague hand waving of ‘magic’, author China Mieville presents us with a very rationally thought-out world. His fiction is rife with border control issues, and bureaucracy – not the most thrilling thing for the screen. The story itself is perhaps a little bit convoluted, as ‘unionists’ terrorists are brought into the mix, and Borlu faces more hindrance from political corners desperate to keep the status quo.

All in all it makes for a very well-considered and well-made show, but one that I think works far better for fans of the book who already ‘get’ the concepts. It looks impressive, but the story takes a lot of attention for perhaps not quite enough ‘pow’ in the final denouement.

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 1
Episodes: 4 @ ~55 mins each

My rating: 7/10