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 Orville (season 1)

orville poster

Seth MacFarlane is well-known as the creator (and voice artist) of Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and other showcases for his zany, un-politically correct humour. He now turns his attention to space and gives us his version of Star Trek.

Initial critics reviews were incredibly harsh, but thankfully a friend talked me into giving this a go – because it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s not poking fun at its source so much as paying homage while at the same time playing up some of the ridiculousnesses of the situations. While it never takes itself too seriously, it was surprisingly genuine and with ‘proper’ story lines, never falling into any hint of spoof.

The first episode is easily the weakest, focusing a lot on the break-up of Captain Ed Mercer’s (MacFarlane) marriage and the arrival of his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki) as the new First Officer. Once this dynamic tails off, the series is a lot stronger for it.

And, as with all good sci-fi, there is actually a deeper moral to many of the storylines. Should a newborn baby be given corrective surgery to fit in with the rest of its culture? What about an alien race whose government is run by popular opinion? What are the real pitfalls of breaking the First Directive – something Star Trek seems to do regularly, with no real consequences.

Visually, there are a few indications that the budget here wasn’t super-high, but at the same time the CGI and makeup has been done well within its limitations and doesn’t distract at any point. And while, for instance, the gelatinous crew member isn’t absolutely hyper-realistically rendered, that’s more than forgivable for the sheer fact that the show has bothered with a non-humanoid crew member – because, why not?!

I not only really enjoyed this show as a light-hearted bit of sci-fi fun, but was actually quite impressed with how the ‘adult humour’ also allowed for some ‘adult level of thinking’ which was so often avoided to keep Star Trek appropriate for kids. Oddly, I actually believe in this society – and it looks both nice and a lot of fun!

First broadcast: December 2017
Series: 1 (2nd announced)
Episodes: 12 @ ~44 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Riddick (2013)

When the third installment of the Chronicles of Riddick (following the movie of the same name, which itself followed Pitch Black, both of which I rather enjoyed, in different ways) was announced, I remember being excited: here was a sequel I’d really wanted to see, but almost didn’t get made, as I might have been one of the only ones who enjoyed CoR. In fact, I rather enjoyed Riddick at the cinema – so I wasn’t really expecting to loathe large swathes of it on a TV repeat viewing.

The first disappointment is how Riddick follows on from its predecessor – we’d last left Richard B. suddenly in charge of his enemies, the weird but intriguing Necromancers; a situation with no end of possibility. But no: let’s just sweep all that aside in a somewhat clunky opening. Bah.

What follows is a movie of two halves. First, Riddick must claw for survival, abandoned as he is on a hostile planet inhabited by nasty critters. Again, there’s some scope here, but in the re-viewing, all I could see was the ridiculousness of the hugely over the top ‘manly’ posing (including silhouetted in the buff, on top of a rock, for no good reason!) and completely unfeasible overcoming of terrible injuries. Oh yeah – and the cartoon dog. It’s not meant to be, but… o_O

Eventually we get some other cast members, and it is vaguely amusing to see the role call of big burly blokes, and laugh that they were in this before more recent roles: e.g. Dave Bautista, pre-Guardians of the Galaxy, or Matt Nable, more recognisable now as Ra’s Al Ghul from Arrow (if you’re me, and watch these shows, of course!). Less impressive, however, is our sole female character.

What amazes me is how little of the really, REALLY dire, misogynistic treatment of the character of Dahl (pronounced ‘doll’, of course!), both by the other characters and just generally how the role is used, went largely unnoticed by me when I saw this at the cinema. On repeat viewing, it was not only obviously but so distractingly cringe-worthy that I could no longer enjoy the mindless action or scenery, which will usually get me to forgive a lot in a popcorn movie.

Played by the usually wonderful Katee Sackhoff, Dahl isn’t just abused for being a woman in a man’s world – urgh, but she does kick ass in return! – but it’s the way she morphs into a bit of a girly purely through apparent awe of Riddick’s character. She’s in the script, it seems, to be threatened, ogled, and set as the ‘prize’ for the biggest, baddest man. What the hell?!!

As I say, I’m amazed and appalled that I didn’t  see this on first viewing (others did; I think I thought them oversensitive at the time). But even aside from that, even the action and scenery was really spoiled by the constant posing and (even within genre) unrealistic physical showing off, matching the arrogance and increasingly unpleasant smugness of the lead character.

Overall: hard to see now as anything other than a Vin Diesel vanity piece, and I’m actually disappointed.

Released: 4th September 2013
Viewed: 23rd March 2016 (rewatch)
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 3/10