Category: Drama (Page 1 of 46)

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‘Legion’ Review: Visually Stunning, Mentally Challenging

Legion is one of the trippiest TV shows I’ve ever seen, and I was a fan of L.O.S.T. and Twin Peaks. Like L.O.S.T. and Twin Peaks, you can’t just jump into the series here and there and expect to know the full story. On the other hand, you can just pop in to see a random episode to enjoy the visual feast and the fascinating characters. The beauty is that someone who has seen only one episode may understand just as much as someone who has watched the whole enchilada.

Legion focuses on David Haller, a man who may or may not have some kind of psychosis, but definitely has powers of some kind. In the beginning he is surrounded by people who may or may not actually be there, may or may not be ill, and may or may not also have powers. If you come to Legion without any knowledge of the show’s background, you can enjoy the plot twists more than someone who is familiar with the character. However, even someone who knows the character will not be able to predict anything on Legion. More on the character and the plot below the spoiler warning.

The most striking aspect of Legion is its visual style.

LEGION -- "Chapter 6" – Season 1, Episode 6 (Airs Wednesday, March 15, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Stevens as David Haller, Aubrey Plaza as Lenny "Cornflakes" Busker. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(l-r) Dan Stevens as David Haller, Aubrey Plaza as Lenny “Cornflakes” Busker. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

The look of Legion recalls the ’60s, very mod, with sleek lines, lots of orange and green, shiny white plastic and far out clothing. The set design lends itself to the topsy-turvy story, with incongruous pieces and stark spaces. Some settings are scarily shabby, while others are so pristine they almost hurt your eyes. Watching Legion is like solving a visual puzzle, a “look and find” kind of game, because a lot of the story’s secrets are represented in the sets.

The second most entertaining part of Legion is that the story meanders, rather than coming at you in a straight line. A scene might be a flashback, or it might be happening inside David’s mind, or it might really be happening in present time. Trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not is part of the fun of Legion. Without knowing which parts of the story are real, it’s nearly impossible to know what the heck is happening. Rather than being frustrating, though, Legion becomes addictive, because while you’re trying to suss out what’s really going on with David, you’re entertained by the strange dialog and the stunning visuals.

Legion does not talk down to the audience. Legion doesn’t apologize for its outlandish style or wild storytelling. If you’re looking for a brain dump at the end of the day, queue up Bob’s Burgers, which doesn’t require a lot of brain cells, but is clever enough to keep you laughing. Legion is meant for savvy TV viewers who are looking for something new.

SPOILERS AHEAD

LEGION -- "Chapter 7" – Season 1, Episode 7 (Airs Wednesday, March 22, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Jean Smart as Melanie Bird, Bill Irwin as Cary Loudermilk. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(l-r) Jean Smart as Melanie Bird, Bill Irwin as Cary Loudermilk. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

One of the things I love about Legion is that there’s really only one very recognizable cast member. Most viewers will recognize Jean Smart, of Desinging Women fame, when she shows up after several episodes. She plays Dr. Melanie Bird in a role that isn’t her usual type. She’s very serious, almost dour, yet quite compassionate. She runs a sanctuary for mutants, and she’s the one who orchestrates David’s rescue.

Did you catch that? Mutants. That’s what the show is about, would-be X-Men. Legion is the name of a complicated character from Marvel comics who has unbelievable mental powers. I won’t specify what he can do, because the show is about the cast, and the audience, discovering his abilities. David Haller is played by Dan Stevens, who you might recognize as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, if you pay close attention to two minutes at the end of the Disney movie. You might also recognize him from Downton Abbey. He’s known as Big Cousin, or so I’m told. He is fan-freaking-tastic as David Haller. Seriously, watching him ping between personalities and psychotic breakdowns requires more than a few reverses on the DVR. He is engaging and intriguing.

The other cast members aren’t very recognizable, which I love, because that allows you to really immerse yourself in the show. There are plenty of actors and actresses whom I follow, but when I watch them, I’m always watching them on two levels: 1) following the character and putting myself in their shoes 2) watching the actor or actress to see if they measure up. Having mostly unknowns in a TV show also helps the show create a stronger brand; it has fewer ties to the cast’s previous work. (As an example, someone recently told me that he had been excited to see The Flash when it premiered, but that Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash, was too “Glee” for him. Gustin had previously been on Glee.)

Legion Hospital

(l-r) Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, Dan Stevens as David Haller. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

I am loving Legion. It’s one of the only shows I watch, anymore, that fills me with excited anticipation for the next new episode. For even some of my favorite shows, like The Flash, I feel like I can let a couple of episodes pile up on my DVR queue without much worry. Whereas with Legion, I nearly tap dance in front of the TV waiting for the next episode.

Riverdale Cast

‘Riverdale’ Review

I’m loving the CW’s Riverdale, a darker take on the Archie comics gang that has been around since the ’40s. We’re only a few episodes in, but so far it’s some salacious fun with a good message about acceptance. For instance, several of the characters have been forced to really look into the mirror, assess and try to self-improve. Sure, Archie comics were never quite so brooding— and I mean just about everyone is brooding— but there’s still a lot of fun to be had in this likable soap opera murder mystery show.

Riverdale Cast

Comics Background

When I was a kid, I read comic books — Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Avengers, that kind of thing — but I also found out that you could buy Archie comics for about three dollars a bushel at my local comic book store and would frequently do so. Archie comics were a much different experience than, say, Batman, but I found myself seeking them out more and more. I can’t really explain why the stories, which seem deceptively simple, affected me so much, but there’s a lot in there about loyalty and acceptance by your family and friends. In many ways, Riverdale, the town the Archie gang lives in, is a utopia in the comics. But I wasn’t so interested in a close textual examination at the time. There was just always something very likable about Archie comics.

But there was always another side to those Archie stories. There have been many, many supernatural and “dark” Archie stories over the years, particularly right now, when there is an Archie zombie story that is very adult. But when I was a kid, I remember I read an Archie story about a haunted teddy bear that made people want to commit suicide and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I would remember it at weird times and it literally gave me nightmares when I was in my teens. Something about it was Edgar Allen Poe-esque and, you know, suicide in a comic for 10-year-olds.

Don’t go find that story! I’m sure it’s terrible. My point is that they know how to connect with their readers.

There’s always been this part of Archie that can step into any different genre. “You kids in the ’60s like goofy superheroes? Here’s Pureheart the Powerful!” “You like pre-adolescent series like Little Dot (from the ’50s)? Here’s Lil’ Archie.” “Kids today like zombies? Here’s Afterlife with Archie!” So the show Riverdale, conceiving Archie as a watered-down Twin Peaks? Fine! So even though Archie is a little more “tortured” than we’ve seen him before, he is still basically a decent guy who wants to do the right thing and be nice to people (Pureheart!).

Archie comics have never been a company that shies away from fads. Archie went through a stage as a “radical” skate board guy in the ’80s, who I think would have embarrassed Pauley Shore at the time, as much as that was possible. And the characters were invented in the early ’40s when “being a teenager” wasn’t really codified yet, so every decade or so, the characters get re-invented. I bet Reggie has a tattoo now.

(L-R): Luke Perry as Fred Andrews and KJ Apa as Archie Andrews

I didn’t mean to talk this much about the comics, but since I have, if you were ever even slightly interested in Archie and haven’t read the excellent Archie: The Married Life, scrounge up a copy and give it a read. It’s a lot of fun. I also have heard Mark Waid has been doing great things in the flagship Archie comics, but I haven’t read those yet.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, I have to take the new CW show, Riverdale, as an Archie adaptation, rather than just take it on its own. It’s impossible for me to step away from the Archie I already know. So on the one hand, I think that makes it a richer experience for me. I knew who just about every named character was, and something of their character. Jughead and Reggie didn’t do much in the pilot, but I certainly clocked their every move. I was actually delighted to see Smithers! Riverdale quickly made a cheap “closeted” joke about über-jock Moose, but then that began to be a story line with Moose open to the idea of a relationship with Kevin. Anyway, I’ll try to not be like, “This isn’t like the comics!” angry in my review, but know that I’m coming from a lifelong fondness for Archie comics.

Before I talk about the show itself, I think that it should be noted that this comic book adaptation is different than most, because this is a soap opera, and kind of a crazy one at that. The Batman movies, for instance, are trying to show us a self-contained story, maybe five or six issues of a comic. But Riverdale, right off the bat, is doing extensive world building. More than that, by having a bunch of characters who are trying to improve themselves, the show keeps the comic’s likable quality for the characters. Even the awful Cheryl Blossom, queen bitch of Riverdale (about to be overthrown by Veronica Lodge, I’m sure), recently had a family tragedy that would help me forgive a lot of her.

TV Show

Riverdale’s plot is “small town with a secret,”with many secrets, chief among them, how did Cheryl Blossom’s twin brother, Jason, die? Supposedly, he drowned, but by the end of the pilot, we find out that he didn’t drown, but was shot. The autopsy will reveal all kinds of weird things — Jason was frozen; he was killed much later than thought; the Riverdale coroner is not only super creepy, but corrupt; and Archie can’t tell that he heard a gunshot because he was in the woods with Miss Grundy, the music teacher! But telling is the right thing to do! And is Miss Grundy manipulating Archie to keep him from revealing their illicit and illegal affair to the police? Hermione Lodge is back in town after her husband was arrested for some kind of bunko scheme. Her spoiled daughter, Veronica, is using the experience to try to become a good person and find out what really matters in life. But what about that satchel of cash she receives from a courier? “Oh, Hiram, what have you done now?” Indeed!

The acting was pretty good! That kind of “teenager show” good, but good nonetheless. Standouts were Betty and Veronica, as they should be. Luke Perry as Fred, Archie’s dad, brought a fun “meta” thing to the show where you could imagine that Fred was a teenager a lot like Archie, although maybe he grew up in a different zip code. Perry has a moment where you think he’s going to get mad at Archie for lying, but instead shows understanding and gives Archie the support he needs. He’s a great dad! And the adults are top notch across the board, even if they are hamming it up for the more soapy elements of the show. Look for Principal Weatherby’s strange, but caring, eyes watching the students like a hawk.

I was surprised to see Greg Berlanti’s name in the credits, although I shouldn’t have been. He is responsible for Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, anything with the words “comic book” and “CW” involved. But Riverdale doesn’t feel like any of those shows, it’s sort of a cross between Twin Peaks, which everyone keeps mentioning, and Dynasty with teenagers. In other words, this feels more like a better Vampire Diaries than The Flash to me, so I’m okay with that. But with Berlanti in the credits, I’m not going to be super surprised if, say, Sabrina, the teenage witch, shows up and can actually do magic. Hell, we had Josie and the Pussycats performing at the fall formal! (Archie went with Betty and Veronica… and it made sense!)

Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones

Just a Jughead note: They did a great job of actually giving him his crazy hat. Of course, my Jughead is sort of a proto slacker/beatnik/hippie. If you know who Maynard G. Krebs is, there’s a lot of Jughead in there. Shaggy from Scooby-Doo? A lot of Jughead. This Jughead seems to be introspective and is actually telling the story of Riverdale to us as he writes a novel about it. I think he’s going to be a good character, but we really only know that he and Archie had some kind of falling out, although they are still incredibly nice to each other, even when they’re being jerks. Oddly, Jughead has a very functional moral compass and seems to know what everyone should do before they do. But he does still talk about hamburgers a lot!

And since Archie had an affair with Miss Grundy, please look up a picture of Miss Grundy in the comics and then start imagining the set of circumstances that would lead to that tryst! I think it would have been braver to go with that rather than two ultra beautiful people hooking up from pure hormones.

A few stupid comic book complaints? Archie actor KJ Apa’s hair looks really, really weird. Veronica dresses like the boss at an advertising agency. I want Pop Tate to be surprised at how much Jughead can eat! I want Jughead to eat a hamburger!

Anyway, you don’t have to know one thing about Archie comics to enjoy Riverdale. Sure, it’s fun if you do know something about them. And since Archie comics created many teenage archetypes, you’ll probably find some things about the show familiar. On the other hand, these characters have been work-shopped since the ’40s and what works about them has been kept. I’m not saying this is Homeland, but it’s good soapy fun.


Evan Rachel Wood on Westworld

Sexism and Androids in Entertainment

Recently, I wrote about androids in entertainment for Comic Book Resources. With the popularity of Westworld, and a new Blade Runner being released soon, I wrote it because I thought it was time to revisit all the great almost-human androids we’ve seen on TV and in movies.

While I was researching that list, however, a definite trend emerged that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Most of the female androids were, essentially, a man’s fantasy made manifest. They’re beautiful and scantily clad. They fawn over the men who created them. They were almost all Stepford Wives, which I found disturbing and nauseating at the same time. Nauseating, because of the idea that 1) a man can’t or won’t earn the affection of a real woman so he makes a fake one instead and 2) just, ew. I found this trend disturbing because it feeds into the idea that women are only put on this Earth to serve men, that we are accessories to a man’s life. I didn’t like that at all.

About half of the androids on the list were male, but only one of those was built to be a sex slave — Gigolo Joe from A.I. The rest were scientists, mercenaries, police officers, guardians… you get the point. Only two of the females on the list — May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fembots from The Bionic Woman — weren’t specifically created to be sexual receptacles.

What really got me thinking about android sexism was when I was reading about Fembots. The evil Dr. Franklin created them to take the places of real women so he could get closer to some kind of device that controlled the weather (definitely a ’70s kind of villain). Here’s the kicker: The Fembots replaced six secretaries of the most important men who worked at the Office of Scientific Intelligence. I’ve got nothing against secretaries; I was a secretary for a long time, and I actually enjoy that kind of work. But I was really taken aback that, in the ’70s, it didn’t occur to any of The Bionic Woman writers to make even one of the scientists a woman.

Maybe it makes sense. The sexual revolution didn’t occur until the ’60s. In order for one of the O.S.I. scientists, who were top of their field, to be a woman, she would have had to have earned her Ph.D. by 1977, when the episode aired. She would have also had to have had a lot of research, publications, grants and journal articles on her resumé. Maybe that was asking too much of the writers.

What’s next?

Regardless of the whether the timing would have worked or not, being reminded that even in 1977 women wouldn’t have been portrayed as scientists served two purposes. First, I was reminded how far we’ve come in a short period of time. TV shows are filled with women in all kinds of important roles. While TV isn’t real life, at least it represents an ideal we can strive for. (For instance, half of Canada’s Prime Minister’s cabinet is women. Love you, Trudeau!) Second, it’s a reminder of how far we have to go. On average, women only earn $0.75 for every $1 a man earns. Our current president’s staff and cabinet are woefully lacking in women. Very few women lead our country’s biggest corporations.

However, we continue to fight for leadership roles, and there is hope. In 2015, the number of female CEOs replacing men was 70%. And, in 2015, women held 18 world leadership positions. (Those women still only accounted for about one-in-ten of the leaders of United Nations member states, but still!)

Hopefully, the May android of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will become the standard for fembots in entertainment, rather than poor Dolores on Westworld, who has been used by every man she’s ever encountered. Even better would be to see real life imitate art, with more women in leadership roles everywhere.

#askhermore

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