Shows Worth Watching: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Image from BBC America

Magic has returned to England in the 1800’s. Mr. Norrell, a reclusive magician, has been discovered by a group of magic scholars, who search him out and request that he bring his talents to London. At first Mr. Norrell is reluctant to share his magic, along with his precious books, with anyone. Eventually Mr. Norrell agrees to make the trip to London. While there, he uses magic to bring the beautiful Lady Pole back from the dead.  Doing this has ramifications he never imagined, or wanted.

At the same time another magician is coming forth, the naturally talented and charming Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is torn between his love of magic and his love for the fetching Arabella. While trying to secure his union with Arabella, Jonathan comes across a street magician who proclaims Jonathan is destined to become a great magician. Jonathan eventually meets the reclusive and stubborn Mr. Norrell. The older magician reluctantly agrees to take Jonathan on as his apprentice. The two start out as student and teacher and have a fairly level relationship. Johnathan wants to learn more and practice more of the old, dark ways of magicians. This desire eventually pits the two magicians against each other. The battle between the two has ramifications for all of England, and the future of magic.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, aired on BBC America in the states and was a thoroughly entertaining, compelling, and enjoying, limited series to watch. I wish it would have been longer!

The Gentleman and Arabella

Whats good: So much! Lets start with spot on casting. Jonathan Strange is played by the charismatic and charming Bertie Carvel and Mr. Norrell is played by the brilliantly subdued and subtle Eddie Marsan. I can’t imagine two more perfectly cast actors.  Each actor bringing the character’s nuances to the forefront and the interaction between the two is wonderful to watch. Marsan and Carvel were very convincing in their roles and they also played well off of other cast members. Marc Warren plays The Gentleman with creepy perfection. The Gentleman is summoned with dark magic and is from the kingdom of Lost Hope. He is possessed with a great amount of magic and his desire for beautiful companions sets up heartbreak for many. Charlotte Riley as Arabella, Enzo Cilenti as Childermass, and Alice Englert as Lady Pole are just a few of the other stellar cast members. Each role is played with authenticity, making for a well-rounded cast.

Jonathan Strange and The Gentleman

Special Effects: Special effects can make or break a show or movie. This show kills it by finding the right balance. From the big effects of Jonathan gripping the sand to make the phenomenal sand horses to upright a sinking ship, to the subtle effect of candles and the smoke emitted from them. For a show heavily based on magic, the effects are another star. They don’t distract, which is how all special effects should be.

Tone and color: The setting is England in the 1800’s, with a lot of time taking place during mostly winter. The subdued greens, grays, blues, blacks, etc., help to set the feel and look of the show. Most scenes are the darker side and low lit, giving an air of seriousness to the show. This also allows the actors to shine through since the viewer isn’t distracted by the setting. Rather the setting allows the viewer to be absorbed into the action.

The Story: The overall story is very interesting and I found myself rooting for both magicians, even though I wanted to punch Mr. Norrell at times. The plot involving Childermass was compelling and would have loved it if more about him and his background was offered.

What’s not so good: The show is based on the massive book by Susana Clark (which I have not read but have purchased and I plan to read). Given the massive size of the book, cramming the story into seven episodes made it seemed a bit rushed at times. Maybe one more episode would have made the mini-series that much better. The quick run also didn’t leave room to flesh out some characters that viewers might have liked to learn more about.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, while not a serialized over a few seasons show, is a wonderful and terrific program to watch. Stellar acting, solid special effects, characters viewers can be invested in, and a compelling story, combine to make a very watchable t.v. show. Even if you aren’t a fan of magic, the focus on relationships and what others will do to keep those relationships in tact, make for terrific viewing. I highly suggest you take the time to view this show.  You won’t be disappointed. Check out BBC America or BBC One to find out how to view this show.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

It’s twpid-20151021_074435.jpghe year 2465 and Andrew Dahl has just joined the crew of the ship Intrepid as part of the xenobiology lab.  Dahl will have a the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015chance to serve on away missions with the ship’s captain and a few other high level officers. Only, things seem a bit odd.  Dahl’s lab mates seem evasive and conveniently disappear whenever the captain makes an appearance.  Dahl has also noticed that away missions tend to always involve a deadly alien encounter, the captain, along with a handsome lieutenant and three other high-ranking crew members, always survives, and a low-level crew member always dies on an away mission. Always.

What’s goodRed Shirts by John Scalzi is a humorous riff on old sci-fi shows and I really enjoyed the idea behind it.  Scalzi writes instantly likable characters who try to figure out what is going on with their ship while trying to avoid getting killed themselves. It’s a tad campy at times but I took it that it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a quick read and I did chuckle/laugh out loud a few times. After the end the are three codas told in first, second, and third person points of view. These three codas (the original name of the book is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas) focused on three later characters and were all exceptionally written and very heartfelt.  I almost teared up during one of them and I dare say I liked the codas even better than the main book.

What’s not so good: Well, not much really.  The only thing that I didn’t enjoy was an over reliance on the use of “….he/she said.” I found it a tad distracting that almost every time there was a line of dialogue from someone, the line would be identified with “…Dahl said; …the captain said…”, etc. I actually started to omit reading those qualifiers as the book went along. Other than that, I found the book to be very enjoyable.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book since the reason for the crew members always dying and the high-ranking officers always surviving is a goofy, fun reveal that sets the plot for the rest of the story.  Redshirts was a fun, fast read that had likable characters and a good ending. The three codas were standouts for me, though I certainly enjoyed the whole book.  If you are looking for a fun, sci-fi read, or just an enjoyable read, I highly recommend Redshirts. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Andy Cohen Diaries – by Andy Cohen

wpid-20151003_100834.jpgAndy Cohen’s latest book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, is, on its face, a shallow look at a year of the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Andy’s life.  However, dig a bit deeper while reading this book and you can see that there is a bit more to Andy Cohen than party hopping, name dropping, and drinking.  Cohen cares deeply about the city he lives in, has a wonderful relationship with his parents, and seemingly became a better person after adopting his dog Wacha.

Admittedly, no one should read this book expecting a stellar literary experience (though it is well written). What you can except to read about is Cohen’s party life, his drama dealing with various Housewives (from Bravo’s various Real Housewives of… series), and his struggle to get in shape. All of this is a fun read. Cohen has a close circle of (famous) friends who play a big part in his life. He also has a great relationship with his parents, who are a big part of his life as well.  His search for companionship brings Wacha, his rescued Beagle mix, into his world, which allows the reader to see Cohen is capable of finding love. Throughout the book Cohen laments the gentrification of his beloved NYC – local businesses being pushed out by sky-high rents, chain stores or franchises replacing mom and pop type stores, etc. – all of which serve to take away what makes NYC unique.

The last two items, Wacha and his sadness of the changing storefronts of local NYC, were the most interesting part for me to read. Sure it’s fun to read about Cohen partying with Kelly Ripa and her husband, his European vacation with AC (Anderson Cooper), and his Met Ball experience with Sarah Jessica Parker, but a diary should connect on a personal level as well. Cohen does that when he talks about Wacha – when it sunk in that Wacha was in a kill shelter and how, after initially having Wacha live with him for a few days, he knew Wacha was his dog –  his own romance with NYC, and his love for his hometown baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals. These items are why I found Diaries to be a fun read.

Diaries is a fun read, and while shallow (as the title says), lets the reader see what Cohen cares about.  Family, friends, Wacha, and love are the things that really appear to touch Cohen’s life. That’s what makes this book interesting and a bit less shallow.