Succession Season 2 (2019) – TV Review

Following on from the huge critical acclaim of the first season, Jesse Armstrong returns to write this second season, as the fallout from the first season’s finale is laid out. Kendall is placed in rehab but quickly forced to go before the cameras to clarify why he backed out of seizing the company from his father. Logan meanwhile is having to consider who his successor will be and is sounding out the family, including Shiv, for the role, and it will change the entire dynamics of the family when he decides. The entire lead cast returns to their roles, with guest stars like Holly Hunter and Cherry Jones also added into the equation.

The plot of this season has so many twists and turns for all involved that I won’t go into any of that in detail, only to say that everything that happens still remains deeply rooted in character above all else. The writing from Jesse Armstrong (and the team of writers who bring their own voice but stay within Armstrong’s clear vision) is so impressive, with the dialogue being incredibly sharp and memorable, both hilarious and shocking when needed. On top of this though, the most impressive thing is how he balances a twisty plot with always putting character development first. Each of these characters feels completely unique and all get their own arcs this season, developing them all in interesting ways and it is this that really pulls the audience in and makes you care, even if what the characters are doing is not traditionally likable or acceptable behaviour.

One of the most instantly iconic, and agonising to watch, pieces of TV occur in episode 8 of this season as Kendall, ever desperate to impress, decides to perform a rap in front of all Logan’s friends and family, to celebrate his birthday. “L to the OG” is full of hilariously cringey lines, but feels like something Kendall would truly do and say, and it encapsulates his mental state at that point perfectly, whilst also being thoroughly entertaining. The song and tune are incredibly catchy, and even got released as a single for people to buy. “Never going to stop baby, fuck father time. Bro, don’t get it twisted, I’ve been through hell. But since I stan dad, I’m alive and well”.

Yet again the whole cast is great, with everyone getting a chance to shine. Brian Cox gets to play a wide range of emotions this season as Logan goes through crisis after crisis, and his presence absolutely dominates the screen whenever he is on it, and he brings an electric feeling to the show. Sarah Snook is superb as Shiv in this season, as she gets sucked into the family machinery and her desire to head the family business is revealed, but she is constantly being played by her father. Kieran Culkin is equally impressive, but his performance this season is much less as a livewire making jokes all the time, and focuses much more on his complicated personal and sexual life. Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun again prove to be the perfect comedic duo, and their interactions and characters are arguably the standouts of the show because of this, with both men having perfect comedic timing, whilst also getting to show off their dramatic chops at times too. A truly perfect ensemble.

The absolute star of this season though is Jeremy Strong, as Kendall becomes very much the lead of the story and his emotional turmoil is the driving force of the season from start to end. Strong is a notorious method actor and completely immerses himself in Kendall, in all the suffering and confusion that he feels, and you can see that weight on his shoulders up on the screen. He is quite rightfully winning lots of awards for this season, it is one of the finest performances on TV right now, and hopefully he will get to show a new side to Kendall when the status quo is shifted in season 3.

Overall, this season somehow manages to easily surpass the second season, with both the comedy and drama dialled up to an even higher amount, allowing for the wonderful writers and actors to absolutely thrive. With a blockbuster ending that sets the scene for all-out family warfare, the third season cannot come soon enough, and despite being delayed due to Covid, is now deep in production and heading for a 2021 debut.

Rating = 4.5/5

The Mandalorian Season 2 (2020) – TV Review

Following on from the first season, which managed to launch an entire streaming service, brought numerous awards, and managed to reignite interest from a fanbase that has long been torn apart, it is fair to say both the anticipation and pressure on The Mandalorian in its second season was very high. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni return as showrunners, bringing together their unique mix of fanboy knowledge, industry experience, and cutting-edge visual effects work, to create this pop culture phenomenon.

The show is packed full of great surprises so I won’t break down episode by episode the events, but I will say that the second half of the season is much stronger than the first in general, as the main plot really comes into place. The standout episodes (apart from the finale, which I will discuss with spoilers and in much more detail at the end of this review) are; the opening episode titled ‘The Marshal’, which plays like a standalone western and brings us back to Tatooine, and gives Timothy Olyphant a chance to really shine. The episode ‘The Jedi’, which introduces us to Ahsoka Tano, is a real delight and truly felt like animation come to life. The Boba Fett central episode titled ‘The Tragedy’, directed by none other than Robert Rodriguez, is a short but frenzied episode packed full of reveal and non-stop action.

While the show isn’t particularly an acting showcase, the performances remain very important, and in particular the performance of leading man Pedro Pascal. Even though the majority of his role is voice work, due to Mando barely ever removing his helmet, you feel Pascal’s presence constantly. His voice work is subtle and effective, always remaining within the quietly spoken realms that the character operates in, and never slips into melodrama. In the two moments he removes his helmet this season and we get to see Pascal himself, his acting is extraordinary, especially in the finale. He raw emotion and heartbreak we can see in Pascal’s eyes is beautiful, and even though it is right for this specific character that he has the helmet on the majority of the time, it is still great to be able to see Pascal at his very best.

The much-discussed finale delivered on many things the season had been building towards, with the large ensemble of characters that Mando has met on his travels uniting to rescue Grogu (Baby Yoda/The Child) from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). It is great to see all these characters interacting and the tension is very high, with a brilliant fight between Mando and Gideon proving one of the highlights, and the reuniting, and soon to be separation again, of Grogu and Mando being the emotional heart. However, in the final moments, as the Dark Troopers approach our heroes, a lone and hooded Jedi appears, and in a brilliant sequence fights them all off and then approaches the heroes. As he removes his hood, it is revealed to be Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), digitally de-aged to look like he would just after the events of Return of the Jedi (1983). While the de-aging is jarring and slightly takes you out of the show, it is amazing to see Hamill return to this role one more time, and get to show off as the all-powerful Jedi we know Luke became. Many have argued this was just fan service to those who wanted to see a different Luke than the one in The Last Jedi (2017), but for me it fits perfectly within the narrative of the show, and actually validates the direction Rian Johnson chose to go down all those years later.

Overall, even with an ending that divided people, this proved to be another highly entertaining and incredibly enjoyable piece of entertainment. Having a new, and well crafted, entry in the Star Wars universe drop weekly is a pleasure, and a novelty that hasn’t worn off yet. While it is public knowledge that Disney is going to rapidly move ahead with many new Star Wars shows (one teased in the end-credits here), it is still important that The Mandalorian is the flagship show, and it carries that tag proudly. Really great entertainment.

Rating = 4/5

Succession (2018) – TV Review

‘This dark comedy centres on the inner workings of the sprawling media corporation Waystar Royco, which is run by Roy family patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), and the manoeuvrings of his four children, who are struggling to win power and take over the company when their father retires. After Logan suffers a stroke at the end of episode 1, it sets in to motion a frenzied set of events as all the character scramble to establish their place in a world where Logan is potentially no longer top dog. Created by Peep Show (2003) alum Jesse Armstrong, and executive produced by director Adam McKay, this HBO series is a funny and fast paced look at a rich family that is tearing itself apart, whilst also attempting to maintain its dominance in the changing media landscape.

This is a major show for HBO and you can see all the money up on the screen, and even though it doesn’t rely on action or special effects, absolutely no expense is spared when it comes to the huge locations the Roy’s inhabit. You truly feel like you are getting a glimpse in to the world of the rich and famous, an authentic exploration of their lives and the places they go to.

Nicholas Britell’s score, which plays throughout, is a work of art and brings so much to the show. Particularly in the already infamous opening credits, where the genius decision to mix grainy, home video style footage and have it play over Britell’s score leads to a fascinating and upbeat start to every episode. It manages to feel both melancholy and jovial at the same time, which is the perfect mix for this specific show.

The set-up might sound like something we have seen before, and of course there are the very obvious comparisons to the Murdoch family, but the show quickly shakes off any feelings of familiarity and becomes its own thing, with a plot that constantly twists and turns in unexpected directions, whilst always staying rooted in character.

Armstrong’s writing, and that of his writing staff here, is a key reason why the show stands out above the crowd in regards to competition. Not only is it packed full of smart and twisting plots, as well as instantly memorable dialogue and one liner’s (“I Look at Your Face And, No Offense, But I See Dead Babies” instantly jumps out), but it also creates incredibly complex and varied characters. In doing so, despite all the horrible things they do and the way in which they are unrelatable to most people due to their extreme wealth, the audience stays completely invested in them and what they do, and therefore feel gripped to the action. The Roy’s very much talk and speak like a family would, but the characters themselves are all wildly different, and have instantly recognisable personalities, appearances, and ways of speaking, which is a remarkable achievement given the size of the ensemble Armstrong has created.

While the focus in many ways falls on just the Roy’s, the lead ensemble is also filled with a few characters who are tangentially a part of the family, like Shiv’s fiancée Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). The entire cast is superb and all bring different attributes to the show; Kieran Culkin is perfectly cast as Roman Roy is a real livewire, someone always ready to stir up the drama and make a weird remark, Sarah Snook is superb as Shiv Roy, the most competent and effective member of the Roy children, but someone who’s on personal and sexual priorities take a fascinating turn throughout the season, Matthew Macfadyen is a revelation (and his line readings are perfection) as Tom, Shiv’s desperate to impress and secretly power hungry fiancée who allows the family to walk all over him in pursuit of his goals. The one man who Tom turns the tables on however, and becomes a mentor/bully towards, is Nicholas Braun’s Cousin Greg. Braun uses his lanky frame and perfect comedic timing to create a brilliant character in Greg, a fish out of water within the Roy family, and an innocent soul, slowly being corrupted by those around him, and he always acts as the perfect comic relief for the show.  

However, the core dramatic drive and the main narrative thrust lies in the unique dynamic between father Logan and son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), with Kendall being both incredibly scared of and reliant on his father, and Logan being consistently let down by the son who he can see is the best candidate to replace him, but has too many personal issues to ever achieve it. Brian Cox as Logan is a force of nature, full of bravado and aggression, a man who has built an empire in a different era and doesn’t plan to let it go, even though times are changing around him. Cox uses his decades of acting experience to really dominate the screen whenever he is on it, delivering seething takedowns of those around him and creating an instantly iconic TV character in the process. As for method actor Strong, you can see that he completely becomes Kendall, an incredibly insular and in many ways paradoxical man, who’s emotions are always simmering just below the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Kendall’s journey this season to overcome his personal demons and challenge his father’s leadership of the company is one filled with many ups and downs, and Strong perfectly plays all of them. Kendall is blessed with some accidentally hilarious lines, the majority of the emotional scenes, and a character arc that develops massively throughout the season. If Strong doesn’t get the role right, the whole show would struggle to stay afloat, but because of his brilliance, he just takes it to new heights.

Overall, Succession quickly establishes itself as one of the finest new dramas on TV, with some great use of New York City, a brilliant writing team led by the always interesting Jesse Armstrong, and an ensemble full of both newcomers and seasoned pros that blends together perfectly. Jesse Armstrong has created a world and set of characters that are so engaging and yet despicable, that you never want to look away from the screen.

Rating = 4/5

The Simpsons Season 31 (2019) – TV Review

‘Thanksgiving of Horror’ is a festive spin on the Treehouse of Horror format, and is a nice surprise, proving to be a better episode than the Halloween version this year. The Black Mirror parody segment in particular is interesting and entertaining to watch.

‘Bart the Bad Guy’ is a Marvel centric episode, with the voices of the likes of Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, and Kevin Feige. As a MCU focused piece of entertainment, it falls short, but as a funny and engaging takedown of spoiler culture in today’s society, it is successful.

The finale, titled ‘The Way of the Dog’ is one of the best episodes the show has done in years, feeling close to the emotional character studies of the golden years. It was a perfect episode to close out my rewatch, as it is almost a direct sequel to the first ever episode of the show, focusing on Santa’ Little Helper. I’m glad the show is continuing but this in many ways felt like ‘The Simpsons’ coming full circle.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 30 (2018) – TV Review

‘Bart’s Not Dead’ is one of the strongest season premieres that the show has had in a while, with the focus being mostly character driven and Homer, Bart and Flanders being allowed to shine.

‘Daddicus Finch’ is a successful episode on multiple levels, firstly as a genuinely well executed and funny spin on a literary classic, and secondly, it is an addition to the long archive of strong explorations of the Homer and Lisa relationship.

‘Bart vs Itchy & Scratchy’ is a surprisingly well done take on the increasing push for representation on the media, and how some are resisting it. It manages to make a point whilst mostly being a funny and entertaining story.

In what is now a remarkable 30th season, The Simpsons has found a happy groove of being mostly entertaining light entertainment. It is no longer the boundary pushing or game changing hit that it once was, but it is still worth sticking with.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 29 (2017) – TV Review

‘Grampy Can You Hear Me’ is a classic set up and comes close to being a real stand out Simpsons episode. However, despite just falling short of that, it is still a real charming episode and has some strong laughs.

‘The Old Blue Mayor She Ain’t What She Used to Be’ is not just a fun examination of Homer and Marge’s marriage, but it is also a political commentary of current times as Marge’s rise to power as Mayor relies on the selfish, knee-jerk reactions of an easily swayed town.

‘Gone Boy’ is a really strong narrative and perfectly utilises Bart’s relationship with Milhouse and Sideshow Bob. Has some strong laughs and character moments.

In general, this was a strong season for modern The Simpsons, and while the show is far from its original consistency, it is still a good watch.

In this season, the show reached the remarkable achievement of being the longest-running scripted series in primetime television by number of episodes.

Rating = 3.5/5

Des (2020) – TV Review

Des is a three-part drama which follows the arrest and trial of infamous serial killer Dennis Nilsen (David Tennant). Written by Luke Neal, the drama is based on material from the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters. It is directed by Lewis Arnold and it co-stars Daniel Mays and Jason Watkins, alongside Tennant.

One of the key aspects of ITV’s TV line-up any given year is the true crime drama series that they produce; whether it is The Pembrokeshire Murders (2021), Little Boy Blue (2017), or Mrs Biggs (2012), they thrive off this type of content and do it better than most. This is the case again with Des (2020), where they are tackling one of the most infamous and gruesome killers in recent British history, and it brought them great acclaim and ratings. Whether due to the quality of the show, a country under quarantine restrictions and looking for something to watch, or due to the great popularity of David Tennant, the show was able to attract over 10 million viewers each episode and be one of ITVs biggest hits for years.

As for the show itself, it is a smart, respectful, but deeply compelling look at the man behind the murders, and the battle to find all the identities of the victims and bring them some sense of justice by arresting Nilsen and make sure he faces the longest conviction he can. The story is told from the perspectives of DCI Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) and biographer Brian Masters, as both of them in their individual ways get to know Nilsen after his arrest and work out who he really is. In doing this, it doesn’t make Nilsen sympathetic in anyway by making him the protagonist or the audience’s eyes to the story, he is just the focus via these men.

The three episodes play out in a slow build but gripping and at times shocking fashion, as new revelations come to light and Nilsen reveals himself even more, you feel gripped to the screen. The choice to tell the story of just three nights worlds perfectly, as there is no baggage and the story is told tightly in the time that it needed. It also perfectly portrays the graphic horror of these crimes, without ever having to show them to us, and I think this is a great way to have handled something where it is necessary to emphasise the seriousness of the crimes, but also respect the victims and their families.

The show touches on some more topical elements about how society at the time allowed Nilsen to get away with his crimes, and the homeless crisis and mistreatment of gay men in Thatcher’s Britain left these men incredibly vulnerable to a predator like Nilsen. It would have been fascinating if the show had addressed this in more detail, but it is clear that the show only wants to touch on this and stay more focused on being a character study of a killer.

Both Mays and Watkins do a really good job as the audience’s way into the story, providing some heart and two differing perspectives on Nilsen and his real motives. However, the real star of the show is the remarkable David Tennant, who for years has been told (rightly) he bares a striking resemblance to Nilsen, and here utterly transforms into the chain-smoking serial killer. His performance is incredibly restrained, never breaking into melodrama or attempting to steal scenes, but Tennant’s natural charisma and the dead eyed stare he brings to Nilsen does that anyone. He draws you in just enough, and then repulses you again, with a terrifying ease. There are very few people on British TV who are as good as David Tennant.

Overall, this show is a perfect example of why no country does true crime drama’s as good as this one, and proof even more that David Tennant is one of the most talented actors of his generation, full of range that very few can match.

Rating = 4/5

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