The Simpsons Season 24 (2012) – TV Review

With its 24th season, ‘The Simpsons’ is now well established in a new groove whereby people don’t expect the consistent highs that it once provided, but it is still able to provide nostalgic comfort and some occasional Greta episodes.

‘The Saga of Carl’ isn’t a particularly iconic episode, but it features some good laughs and due to its creative concept, and focus on a character we rarely see much of, it proves to be a standout.

‘Love is a Many-Splintered Thing’ is a disappointing episode for me, purely because the romance between Bart and Mary has never worked for me, and whenever they decide to do an episode that focuses on them reuniting, it just falls flat.

‘Dark Knight Court’ is an interesting exploration of Mr Burns as a character and allows for some funny set-ups, but the episode is too unfocused to be as effective as it should have been.

Rating = 3/5

Billions Season 5 Part 1 (2020) – TV Review

Following the eventful and status quo shifting season 4 finale, the characters of Billions adapt to their new scenario. Wendy (Maggie Siff) is living in one of Axe’s flats as she deals with her separation from Chuck (Paul Giamatti), who himself is reeling from the separation and has put to aside his truce with Axe and is gunning for him again. Axe (Damian Lewis) has managed to bring Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) back into the Axe Capitol family for an uneasy alliance, at the same time as new troubles both personal and business lay ahead for him.

Billions is often now compared to HBO’s Succession (2018) and they do share large similarities as glossy shows, with sharp writing and a large ensemble cast that focuses on the lives of the incredibly rich. However, a comparison with Jesse Armstrong’s juggernaut won’t do many shows any favours, but Billions has been around longer and is not interested in that comparison, because it has its own identity. What makes Billions shine is that despite the real drama and great production values, it is also very self-deprecating and full of razor-sharp writing that not only delivers great twists but also intentionally campy and pop culture specific dialogue for its excellent to say.

The decision to bring in Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) as a new adversary to Axe was much needed, and the best moments of the season happen when the two ‘alpha’ males are together and playing psychological warfare with each other. Lewis and Stoll really shine in these moments, and especially with Axe having a partial crisis about what he really wants from life right now, this new adversary really brings out the best (or worst in many ways) in him. I look forward to where the rest of the season takes this story, as Prince seems at the moment to have the upper hand at every stage right now, but never write out Axe.

Although they bring in new characters and storylines, everything Chuck does is simply less interesting when it doesn’t involve Axe and Wendy, and despite Giamatti’s best efforts, Chuck does feel very much secondary in this season and increasingly desperate in going after Axe all the time.

The best dynamic in the show is one that has slowly revealed itself and really came to a head in season 4, and that is the friendship/chemistry between Wendy and Axe. The two bounce off each other perfectly and their scenes simmer with sexual chemistry, and this is quickly becoming the real heart of the show. This will they/won’t they continues here, with the disappointing development of Wendy taking a new partner (something Axe does not handle well), and it felt like a slight let down after a season 4 finale that really teased something, and I hope the rest of the episodes pursue this more.

There are good performances all around as always, but in this season so far it is very much Lewis and Siff who shine, both in scenes together and apart. There are very few actors on TV who can make mysterious and often nasty men as likable and charismatic as Lewis does, and Bobby Axelrod is likely the best example of that. As for Siff, over the years she has become just as much a lead as Lewis or Giamatti, and she continues to show why here, as she is the connective tissue between the two main side of the story, and is forging her own way now, and Siff brings real strength but also vulnerability to Wendy in this season, which makes you really connect to her journey.

There is definitely a feeling of the show struggling, now into its fifth year, to really decide whether it wants to continue to tread the old ground that has proved successful, or to forge a new way forward for the show and its characters. In these seven episodes, it bounces between doing either and therefore has varying levels of success and failure. However, it is clearly not helped by the fact that Covid caused the season to be stopped essentially halfway through, so we cannot fully tell yet whether they were building towards something much more different and bolder, and a new direction for the show in the rest of season 5 (and into the already announced season 6).

Overall, this is still very much an enjoyable show with some snappy writing, strong production values and superb cast, but it is important that in the final episodes of this season, whenever they are released, that Billions forges a new dynamic and allows itself to have a real purpose again instead of re-treading old successes.

Rating = 3/5

The Simpsons Season 23 (2011) – TV Review

‘The Falcon and the D’oh Man’ opens the season with the results of the cliffhanger ending that asked fans to vote on whether Ned and Edna would end up together permanently, but is a mostly forgettable episode other than that.

‘At Long Last Leave’ brings The Simpsons to the remarkable achievement of a 500th episode, and the opening couch gag is a nostalgic treat. However, the rest of the episodes is all a bit of a rehash of themes explored just a couple of years ago in The Simpsons Movie (2007).

An increase in quality and memorable episodes from the last season, and while the show is still much more inconsistent that it once was, it still has some real highs.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 22 (2010) – TV Review

‘MoneyBart’ is an entertaining episode that has a concept it sticks to but managed to root itself in the relationship between Lisa and Bart, and how this effects there dynamic.

‘The Ned-Liest Catch’ is an interesting season finale, focusing on the unusual couple of Ned and Edna, and the impact on each other and the rest of the town this relationship has.

Overall, it is quite a forgettable season, that despite having a few strong episodes gets mostly weighed down by being generic and never reaches the heights of laughter or emotion we are used to from this show.

Rating = 3/5

The Crown Season 4 (2020) – TV Review

The Crown (2016) tracks the lives of the royal family of England through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth II and every two seasons, changes to an entirely new cast to accurately represent the stage of the lives of its characters. After three critically acclaimed seasons, full of awards and praise, it would have been easy for a show to rest on its laurels. However, the general consensus was that season 3 had been the weakest so far, but the time period that was approaching for season 4 promised a seismic change, full of drama and intrigue, and that is what got.

The 1980s were an incredibly seismic time for Britain, and the entire world, with this having a direct impact on and occasionally being a result of, the Royal Family. There was the Falklands War, Thatcher’s dismantling of the working class and resulting mass unemployment, the wedding and resultant marriage of Charles and Diana, the Aids epidemic, the IRA attacks and much more, so Peter Morgan all of a sudden has a lot of ground to cover. Some of those topics he gives a lot less time to than others, but the way in which he weaves together the narrative is very impressive, and it is even more impressive that in many ways he uses the previous seasons of the show as an almost unofficial villain origin story for the Royal family, who now firmly take their place as a mob like organisation.

From a purely technical point of view, The Crown has always been the very pinnacle of Television ever since it launched, with remarkable production and costume designs to really make you feel the grand nature of the life the royal family lead. The cinematography is continuously impressive, with the image being the most crisp and high definition of any of TV right now, and in particular a scene this season with Charles and Elizabeth in the Palace, as fireworks explode outside, is visually stunning.

The performances across the board are superb, with the entire ensemble really shining in their roles and providing just the support that the main cast needed, with the likes of Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, and Emerald Fennell particularly standing out, and really stepping up when they had the time to shine. However, the show focuses very much of four perspectives and it is those four actors that really shine.

Gillian Anderson takes on the incredibly difficult role of milk snatching Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and as well as taking on a strong physical transformation, with both her posture and voice completely becoming Thatcher. Sometimes performances like this can stray too much into straight up imitation and not allow for a real performance, and I do feel at times this happens here with Anderson. However, when she is alone with Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth, she absolutely comes into her own and watching these two powerhouses go at each other is a joy to behold, and real won me around on this portrayal. There is a definite concern with Thatcher that she will be overly ‘humanised’ despite the pain she caused, but the show brilliantly starts like that and then quickly shows you her real side as her tenure continues.

Olivia Colman, one of the finest actors of her generation, is again superb in the central role of The Queen, and the best thing she does is embrace how hardened and cruel Elizabeth has become by this point of her reign. Claire Foy portrayed a character much more-full of heart and youthful ignorance, but Colman’s Elizabeth is far from that and even though she is given moments of vulnerability, a lot of her scenes act as almost the antagonist of the season, putting her role as Sovereign ahead of the happiness of her family and loved ones. Colman was completely perfect in this role.

Josh O’Connor, the talented young star of God’s Own Country (2017), returns again in the role of Prince Charles after spending season 3 as the emotional heart of the show and a very sympathetic figure. The same cannot be said here though, as he increasingly becomes self-centred and treats Diana with growing contempt, becoming an antagonistic figure, with O’Connor not afraid to lean into that. What he does brilliantly is he makes Charles into a fully rounded person, with his insecurities clear to see and his attempted cries for help continuously rejected by his parents, leaving him in a marriage he did not want, and a life he is unhappy leading. One of the finest young British actors working today.

The real stand-out star here is newcomer Emma Corrin in the role of Princess Diana. At the time of her death, it was reported that Diana was the most photographed woman in the world, and arguably the most famous, so anyone taking on that role has a huge task ahead of them because everyone has so many pre-established ideas and conceptions of who she was. Corrin takes her on a journey from teenager who falls for a Prince to the peoples Princess stuck inside an unhappy and adulterous marriage. Corrin brings a real kindness and vulnerability to Diana that makes you immediately root for her through everything she goes through, and in her brutal and accurate portrayal of Diana’s eating disorder, she shines. However, as the season goes on, she also starts to show off the famous Diana the world got to know as she grew more confident, and Corrin manages to pull focus in scenes with stars like Colman and O’Connor, which is incredibly difficult to do. Elizabeth Debicki will take on the role for the next season, and she has a real challenge to match the heights Corrin reached.

Overall, this is the best season of The Crown and was one of the finest pieces of TV of 2020. It perfectly used the storytelling and character developments it had established in three seasons of TV, and switches it on its head to reveal a complete other side to the characters we knew and in doing so, reveals a dark heart of the Royal family.

Rating = 4/5

His Dark Materials Season 2 (2020) – TV Review

Following the first season of the show which adapted ‘The Golden Compass’ from Philip Pullman’s book trilogy, this second season adapts ‘The Subtle Knife’, and brings Amir Wilson’s Will Parry in as now a co-lead alongside Dafne Keen’s Lyra.

The first season of the show was a real surprise, with huge amounts of world building and large cast characters to introduce, the show still managed to also act as a strong character centred piece about a young girl caught up in a conspiracy that the fate of worlds hang on, and yet she also needs to discover about her parents, and herself.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is one episode shorter than last season as they were unable to film the stand alone episode that would’ve followed James McAvoy’s Asriel as he ventures into new worlds and begins to build his army. However, with this episode missing, McAvoy is essentially absent from the entire season and his presence and gravitas is deeply missed.

The story of Will and Lyra in the new world, trying to work together to understand both of their places in this universe, and the oncoming battle that is coming. They have a good relationship, but an issue for me this season is that Will simply isn’t as interesting as Lyra.

Dafne Keen is brilliant in this role of Lyra but has to take much more of a backseat this season and almost act as a support to Will as he finds his place in the world. This is disappointing as she remains a much more interesting character than Will, and I hope she takes centre stage again in season 3.

Ruth Wilson is a remarkable actress and was brilliant in season 1 as the primary antagonist. However, she is slightly cast aside this season and struggling to find her purpose, but with her final act of the season (and the promise of Asriel’s return), Mrs Coulter looks set to take centre stage again.

The other two big names in the cast are the returning Lin-Manuel Miranda and new addition Andrew Scott. Pairing their characters together was an interesting decision and they bounced off each other really well, but especially now neither will be returning for season 3, it really feels like they weren’t given quite enough to do. Scott especially is a remarkable actor and is great in this role, but we only seem to scratch the surface of what he could do.

The finale of the season is easily the stand out of the episodes as all the characters do all converge from their individual strands and all come together; with major deaths, plot twists and a brilliant final scene/end credits building the anticipation for the third season, where writer Jack Thorne will again return to adapt Pullman’s work, this time to close out the trilogy.

Overall, it wasn’t quite as strong as season 1 but was still brilliantly comforting Sunday night viewing with a great budget and scale, and sets up a very compelling final season.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 21 (2009) – TV Review

‘The Squirt & the Whale’ feels like a throwback to early years of the show, where more episodes focused on character and a moving story that helps them develop. Here we have Lisa battling to save a Whale, while Homer battles to help Lisa, and we get some great character moments.

‘The Bob Next Door’ is one of the finest Bob v Bart episodes, and after the two have had a few flat run-ins in recent years, this is a triumphant return to form, with a hilarious final scene involving Flanders to close.

‘Boy Meets Curl’ is far from one from one of the funniest episodes, but the concept is so memorable that it is an episode that always sticks in my mind.

Overall, there are again a number of very forgettable episodes, but also some stand out ones and on the 20 year anniversary of the show, the fact that it can still pull off such great episodes is remarkable.

Rating = 3.5/5

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