Community Post: Five Great Overlooked and Underrated TV Shows from 2015

Here’s a post from a fellow blogger, Matt Thompson of TheTripleOption, about some t.v. shows that are worth watching.  He kindly asked for a contribution from me and there are three other blurbs, from a fellow blogger a follower of his site, and his own pick, of shows that sound like they’d be worth checking out.  Matt posts about t.v. shows, video games, movies, and the occasional book.  Give the post a read and check out his blog!

In the first community post here on the site, four other writers and I talk about some great overlooked and underrated televisions series we watched this past year.

Source: Community Post: Five Great Overlooked and Underrated TV Shows from 2015

 

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You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin

wpid-20151021_074540.jpgDalton Rev rolls into town to work on the case he was hired for – to find out who killed Salt River the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015High student Wesley Payne. Salt River’s not the typical high school. The staff and faculty are all on the take and the various high school cliques are all out to get each other and would think nothing of trying to off someone. Even the town cops are crooked. All this makes for a tangled web of “who done it” that Dalton has to untie. Everyone’s a suspect. Dalton also gets tangled up in a story of his own while working on the Payne case, which complicates things a bit. But Dalton relies on his trusty private detective handbook to find his way out of the mess as well as help to find Payne’s killer.

You Killed Wesley Payne, by Sean Beaudoin, is a very unique crime-noir novel that was an interesting read.

What’s good: Dalton Rev is a cool kid. I really liked him and would love to read more books with this character. He’s witty, charming, smart, and not afraid to stand up to someone. Aspects that are required for any good detective.

The characters in the book were fun to get to know and held just enough mystery to keep you wanting to find out more. Periodic flashbacks offer insights into Dalton’s background and the reason why he’s a seventeen year old detective who hops from school to school to work on cases.

The hardcover slipcase offers extensive detail on Salt River’s cliques and a provides insight into which ones get along and the typical people found in each one. And the over all story is a fun crime, who-done-it.

What’s not so good: The cliques were hyper clichés of what is found in high school and that really got in the way of the story. At times I found it hard to read past what clique drama was happening and get to the real story. They might have been a deliberate distraction to hide the story of who the killer was, but I found it hard to read through things.

The reason for Wesley Payne’s death was brought up with minor background and caught me off guard a bit. I guess that is a good thing in a crime novel, but it seemed to take such a backseat that I found it hard to really connect the dots in the end.

Overall, You Killed Wesley Payne was a good read that had some great aspects. Some might find the hyper cliché of the cliques hard to get past and may not be able to get to the real story. The main character, Dalton Rev, is an instantly likable character that is a delight to read about and a good soul. The clique chart had me laughing out loud and is definitely worth the hardcover copy. The overall story is interesting, but will take a bit of effort to get to. If you are willing to take a chance on a different type of crime noir, this book is for you.

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.

The X-Files – Trailers

Last night Fox aired two new trailers for the upcoming mini X-Files season, links here and here.

While I didn’t watch them when they aired, I did view
them afterwards and loved it. What do these brief trailers tell us?  Well, not much really. Other than Scully is surprised to get a call from Mulder, Skinner’s got a beard, and we get a glimpse of the nefarious cigarette smoking man (actually, just his cigarette). Who could ask for more!?

Fox is doing a great job at hyping the return of The X-Files – from their 201 Days of X-Files campaign to reaching to fans on Twitter – and I for one am buying into it.  Sad you say? I don’t care.  The return of The X-Files is a wonderful thing for this t.v. junkie and even if the mini-season doesn’t live up to the hype, I’m Okay with it.

The X-Files premieres Sunday, January 24th, after the NFC Championship game on FOX.

Shows worth watching: Being Human UK version

Tell me if you’ve hard this before: a werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire all live together and try to pass themselves off as humans.  In the saturated world of werewolves/vampires, etc., this could be a boring concept.  However, Being Human is so much more than a show about supernatural beings. Annie the ghost, played by Lenora Crichlow, is sad and lonely and wants desperately for other to see her.  Her flatmates can see her but that’s not enough for this ghost in limbo. George the werewolf, played by Russell Tovey, is so far removed from his werewolf side and deeply struggles with his full moon transformations.  Mitchell the vampire, played by Aidan Turner, has the confidence and sex appeal to be the vampire but he’s sworn off human blood and struggles to not give into his blood thirst. None of them want this life.  They all are lonely, sad, and yearn for a normal life. Their shared loneliness and sadness bring them together and they form a deep bond that helps them through the most difficult and dark times.

The focus of Being Human is on the emotion of the three main characters.  It’s about their relationship and their shared experiences about being outsiders who want nothing more than to be seen as normal humans.  It’s about how finding the right people at the right time can help a person overcome feelings of vast loneliness and despair and make someone feel normal the way they are. Yes the supernatural aspect plays a big part of the show but it’s not the only aspect of the show.

What I like about Being Human is how well these three, original actors and characters fit together.  The chemistry of all three actors is evident from the start and helps to make the character’s situation believable. Russell Tovey is perfectly cast as the werewolf.  He plays Georges’s mild-mannered disposition with incredible nuance, making his werewolf self such a vast contrast in personality that it’s shocking George could even be a werewolf. Lenora Crichlow plays Annie as a somewhat naive young woman who eventually finds her strength via her relationship with George and Mitchell.  And Aidan Turner plays the smoldering Mitchell with utter conviction you can feel his pain at being a vampire who struggles against what he is. These three fit very well together, making the show strong on their relationships alone.

The series did a decent job of intertwining the three roommates lives and story lines.  Mitchell was a bit of leader in the vampire community despite his attempts at swearing off blood.  Mitchell had a continuing battle with William Herrick, a vampire who has been in his life for long time, and Herrick ends up playing a big part in all three of the main characters lives.  George’s struggle to hide his werewolf side becomes harder when he starts to date Nina.  Nina is a good balance to George and seeing their relationship progress throughout the series is both fun and sad.  Annie, being a ghost, has the hardest time acclimating to her life, but even she gets involved with both Herrick and Nina, as well as achieve closure for her own past experiences.  This makes the series more solid for me since the three do live separate lives but yet are closely meshed to each other.

The series goes through some big changes in seasons four and five, with Turner leaving at the end of season three, and Tovey and Crichlow both departing in season four.  Each of the episodes where these characters left were highly emotional and fitting send offs.  Hal (the vampire), Tom (the werewolf), and Alex (the ghost) were the replacements and were played by good actors, but the series didn’t quite capture the same chemistry or appeal of the original cast members or stories. Of note of these three replacements to me was Michael Socha, who played Tom the werewolf.  He was a worthy replacement of George’s emotional werewolf.  Tom fit well with everyone and had an endearing quality that made him very easy to like.

I will briefly mention the SyFy version of Being Human.  I watched one, maybe two episodes of this rendition, but thought it paled in comparison to the original one (even seasons 4 & 5 were better than the SyFy version).  The SyFy version lacked the chemistry and interest of the original series and I didn’t think the actors were correctly cast.  Note that this opinion is from a very biased love of the original series so it’s not really a fair reflection of the SyFy show.

Being Human ended after the fifth season and I thought the writers did the correct thing by ending the series at that time.  The story of Hal, Tom, and Alex, while not as compelling as the original trio, had run its course, and the series came to a fitting and emotional end.  Of the myriad supernatural series out there, Being Human is one of the better ones, in my opinion.  It wasn’t only about being a werewolf, a vampire, or a ghost.  It was about what makes that person human, even though they have an inhuman quality. It’s also about relationships and how they can help someone through a difficult or trying time.  And that no one should be all alone – everyone needs someone to be there for them, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to share similar experiences with.  If you are looking for a grown up version of the supernatural, this show is one to check out. Being Human is available on DVD, via Amazon, or via iTunes (according to the BBC America website).