The Simpsons Season 28 (2016) – TV Review

In the show’s 28th season, they experiment with the first full on two parter episode with ‘The Great Phatsby’, a spoof on all the different variations of The Great Gatsby in all its mediums. The episode itself isn’t anything special but it’s references are entertaining and it is the sort of thing the show should be trying so far into its run.

‘Fatzcarraldo’ has a smart premise and allows for a good dive into Homer’s backstory and some of the things that made him who he is. Not many laughs but a good character episode.

‘Pork and Burns’ isn’t a particularly stand out episode but bringing back Plopper/Spider-Pig back is a smart call back for fans of the movie and Homer’s relationship to him is always entertaining to see.

Overall, it was another solid season, not high on stand out episodes or real laughs, but entertaining nonetheless.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 27 (2015) – TV Review

Maintains the steady run the show is one where it produces a few real great episodes, a few really bad ones, and a majority of solid entries. Not what it used to be but still it’s still great to spend time with this group of characters.

‘Halloween of Horror’ is an interesting change of place, a horror based episode that takes place in the main timeline and is actually a week before ‘Treehouse of Horror’. It is a great story about kids fears and parents responsibility, and is a real stand-out episode for both emotion and laughs.

‘The Marge-Ian Chronicles’ is a very high concept episode, that doesn’t deliver on the bold set up but chooses to tell a deeply human story and is one of the best examples of a dynamic that the show doesn’t explore much, the relationship between Marge and Lisa.

Rating = 3.5/5

Lovecraft Country (2020) – TV Review

Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he meets up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). Misha Green is the showrunner and brings together the widest range of HP Lovecraft ideas and mixes them with her own to create a fascinating cocktail.

The opening episode is essentially some of the best content in any form that you will see this year. The episode, titled ‘Sundown’, mixes multiple different genres and introduces us to these characters that you can immediately tell are going to be iconic, especially the ones played by Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors. However, the main focus of this episode is the true to life horror (not the spectacular sci-fi horror we also get) that shows the deadly racism in the 1950s American south.

There is a sequence, with the context that when the sun sets it is legal to kill people of colour, where the police and others chase our lead characters in their cars as the sun is setting in the background, and it is like a sequence from Jaws with all the tension that entails, but this time a setting sun is used as the ‘ticking clock’. It is a truly incredible pilot episode and is one of the finest pieces of TV of the year, and while the rest of the season is unable to live up to these highs, it sets the ground work for a fascinating series.

There are so many twists and turns that I won’t go into too many specific details so that people are able to enjoy this for themselves. However, what the show does do is essentially takes on a brand-new genre every couple of episodes, whether it is sci-fi, time-travel, body horror, or straight up supernatural horror, and this does come with some issues as the show struggles for consistency, but it also a launch pad to allow the show to be bold and try new things.

Some of the stand out episodes are the social commentary body horror episode ‘Strange Case’ where Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), a Black woman, is able to take on the form on a white person and live out life through their eyes. It not only features some truly disturbing body horror elements, but it has some fascinating commentary on white privilege as well.

‘Meet Me in Daegu’ is a fascinating episode that essentially total diverges from the main story to give us the backstory of Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), and her relationship with Atticus. The episode is packed full of style, gross out horror, and is one of the most-creepy yet erotic pieces of TV in years. Jamie Chung comes from out of nowhere to carry the whole episode and is brilliant in the role.

‘Rewind 1921’ is the penultimate episode of the show and features some huge twists and revelations so I will not go into too much detail, but the Tulsa Race Massacre is covered with such honesty and authenticity, allowing everyone a moment in between the time-travel madness to truly grieve and appreciate just what an atrocity it really was. This is an episode where Michael Kenneth Williams is able to really shine.

There is clearly a lot of money up on the screen, as you would expect from an HBO production, and the production design, costume design and visual effects especially are all very impressive, and clearly crafted with a lot of care and quality. In particular the varying outfits of Leti, whether it is her eye-catching pink jeans or her stunning red dress, often she steals the frame and Jurnee Smollett embraces this, and it is very much part of Leti’s character that this is a power move she would want to make. The cinematography is also very string in the series, with the pilot, and the penultimate episodes, being the best examples of this and providing a real visual treat.

The cast is made up of a large ensemble and most people do great work here, with the like of; Aunjanue Ellis, Courtney B. Vance, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Chung, and Michael K. Williams all providing really strong supporting performances and be ready to shine in the episodes where they take centre stage. However, the heart of the show and much of the screen time belongs to Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors. They, along with some really impressive character development from showrunner Misha Green, create very distinct personalities for the characters that make them particularly compelling. When they are together in scenes, the chemistry is simmering and one of their sex scenes blows most other sex scenes of recent years out of the water in terms of passion and sex on screen. Majors brings an internal pain and yet a quirky edge to Tic, whilst Smollett makes Leti loud and badass, and yet vulnerable deep down, therefore making them both feel like truly real people.

Overall, this is very much an up and down season that takes some wild swings, with only some of them working and others not, but when they did, the highs were some of the standout moments of TV in 2020. Misha Green clearly loved the genre bending she was able to do, and still managed to root the true horror in the lack of progress in racial justice over the years. The entire ensemble is superb, but Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors both give two true movie star level performances that deserve both awards recognition and to lead to even more opportunities for both of them.

Rating = 4/5

The Simpsons Season 26 (2014) – TV Review

At this point in its run, The Simpsons has settled into a comfortable lull whereby even though it repeats well-established character patterns and doesn’t meet the highs of previous seasons, it remains entertaining viewing with characters we know and love.

‘Super Franchise Me’ is not a laugh riot and repeats the classic ‘Marge at work’ trope, but it does it so effectively, finding a smart way to include the entire family and also make some commentary about franchise culture, so it is a memorable one.

‘Treehouse of Horror XXV’ is a real stand out here, with the smart decision made to bring the original Simpsons design from The Tracey Ullman Show to haunt the modern day family, and it is fascinating to see the difference now that nearly three decades have passed between these specific iterations.

‘Waiting for Duffman’ is an entertaining episode with a smart concept, that really allows for Homer to let loose and shine like we know he can.

Rating = 3.5/5

The Simpsons Season 25 (2013) – TV Review

After a couple of season where the amount of standout episodes dropped, this is a nice return to form with some funny and memorable episodes. The consistency is still uneven but it is an enjoyable season.

‘Steal this Episode’ has some entertaining commentary on the state of the cinema industry and pirating, as well as a really funny Judd Apatow gag that slides in to multiple pop culture references in this episode.

‘Specs and the City’ is an episode that gets a bad reputation but for me it has some of the biggest individual laughs I’ve seen in a The Simpsons episode in a long time, particularly Homer’s antics in the episode.

Rating = 3.5/5

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

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