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 ūüėČ 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 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