Agent Carter Series Review

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Review:

I absolutely loved the character of Peggy Carter in the Captain America films, and was delighted to hear that she was getting her own show. It took me awhile to finally sit down and watch it (the fact that ABC offered only episodes 4-8 on their streaming website didn’t help matters, thanks for nothing ABC), but I finally finished the series yesterday.

I thought the show’s greatest strength was its characters. Like I said, I love Peggy Carter and it was great to get to spend so much time with her. Dum Dum Dugan’s guest spot in episode 5 was a treat as well. (I’ve always wished Captain America: The First Avenger had more Howling Commandos and less Red Skull.) I also loved Jarvis, Angie, Sousa, and even Dottie, and while I can’t say I liked Thompson, I found his character pretty interesting and one of the most complex in the show.

The plot didn’t wow me as much. Peggy’s efforts to clear Howard Stark’s name, the stuff about Leviathan and the Battle of Finow, the info about the early days of the Black Widow program – all were interesting but suffered a bit from lack of emotional engagement. For example, we know Howard’s name will be cleared because he and Peggy are going to found SHIELD together, so there’s no real urgency there. I was also annoyed in several episodes by smart people making inexplicably stupid mistakes just to advance the plot. (I’m looking at you, Howard Stark. Although not only at you.)

Despite the lack of emotional engagement for much of the series, they did successfully turn it on full blast for the finale, which made me tear up not once but twice, watching both Howard and Peggy have to come to terms with losing Steve Rogers and move on without him.

Despite its weaknesses, Agent Carter was a fun and entertaining show to watch, and a bunch of the action sequences were good. There’s a post (several, actually, but that’s the most detailed) going around Tumblr that points out that Peggy’s fighting style is pretty similar to Steve’s, to the point that it’s likely she taught him how to fight, which is a nice new bit of headcanon.

I hope it gets renewed for a second season.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

PS – If you like fanfiction, I have some good Peggy fics listed on my Steve/Bucky recs page, including Steve/Peggy, Steve/Bucky/Peggy, and gen.

Hawaii Five-0, Season 1 Review

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Review:

This reboot of the classic 70’s show Hawaii Five-O had major issues with excessive product placement and glamorizing police brutality from the start, but it was fun enough to overlook the problems for awhile. Unfortunately, towards the end of season one, there were several plot developments that annoyed me to the point that I never returned to the show for season two and season one remains the only season of the show that I’ve watched.

But, issues aside, Hawaii Five-0 really was fun, and there were a couple episodes that rank pretty high on my list of most entertaining individual episodes of television that I’ve ever seen, so if you’re looking for some slick, shiny, action-packed entertainment, you could do a heck of a lot worse. The eye candy is also ridiculous. The Hawaiian scenery is so gorgeous that it might as well be an advertisement for the Hawaiian tourism bureau, and the cast….

Well, let’s just all thank God for Alex O’Loughlin’s willingness to take off his shirt and leave it at that. Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan, and Grace Park round out the main cast and they aren’t exactly painful to look at either.

As someone who loves a good Bickering Couple, the relationship between O’Loughlin’s Steve McGarrett and Scott Caan’s Danny “Danno” Williams was also a major highlight of the show. It only takes a couple episodes for them to go from wanting to punch each other in the face to full-on heterosexual life partnerhood, complete with Danno drawing hearts in the air at Steve as he’s being taken away after an injury. I am not even kidding. Watch this:

It’s worth watching the show for their carguments alone. In fact, their bromance was so blindingly obvious even CBS got in on the fun:

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Game of Thrones Review

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Game of Thrones Review:

Seeing as A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite fantasy series, I was super excited when I heard back in 2007 that HBO would be making a tv series out of it. I think they’re probably the only channel that could do the books justice. Unfortunately, with four full seasons already aired, I have to admit my feelings about the actual execution are more mixed than I had hoped they would be.

I love watching Westeros and Essos come to life on screen and the production quality of the show has been astounding. The amount of care and attention to every detail is reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies. For example, just check out these close ups of some of the costume embroidery created for the show.

The casting has also been almost universally perfect. There are a few roles that have gone to people that I don’t think are great actors, but the vast majority are not only good actors but embody their roles better than I ever dreamed. I want to give special kudos in this regard to Maisie Williams (Arya) and Sophie Turner (Sansa), who were both total unknowns before being cast in Game of Thrones and have knocked their respective roles completely out of the park, and to Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), who by all accounts is as nice a guy as they come yet who portrays a monster so convincingly he’ll probably be fending off people who want to punch him in the face for the rest of his life.

However, some of the plot changes have inordinately annoyed me. I’m not a purist – there have been plenty I liked. For example, I spend most of Ygritte’s scenes in the book wanting to punch her in the face (that is how annoying “You know nothing, Jon Snow” gets after awhile), but in the show they toned her down a bit and made her actually likable. I also loved the expansion of Bronn and Gendry’s roles, the greater insight we’re given into Margaery’s character and motivations, and the clever choice to have Arya be Tywin’s cup-bearer, which didn’t happen in the books at all. Some of the others, like swapping out the non-entity Jeyne Westerling for Talisa, I’ve been indifferent to, and still others I’m waiting to decide about – the changes to Tyrion and Jaime’s final scene together in A Storm of Swords/season 4, for example.

Unfortunately, there have also been too many that I’ve actively loathed. The worst include:

  • the changes to Danaerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding night
  • making Littlefinger, who is so close-mouthed in the books that you know almost nothing about him or his plans until the end of book three, into a talker, and not only that, but the kind of talker who would spill his deepest secrets to a pair of prostitutes(!)
  • the amount of totally gratuitous naked boobs in general
  • the changes to Jaime and Cersei’s scene in the sept

What’s bothered me even more than the changes themselves are how tone-deaf the writers (and in the case of the Jaime/Cersei scene, the director) have been in how the changes affected the ongoing plot and character development. For example, switching Dany and Drogo’s wedding night from consensual sex in the book to rape in the show means she falls in love with her rapist instead of a man who went out of his way to obtain her consent. (Given what a charming and reasonable fellow her brother is, the scene in the book may in fact have been the first time in her life that anybody gave Dany the power to declare what she wanted.) The changes made to the Jaime/Cersei scene were even worse – neither writers nor director seemed to realize that they’d just derailed Jaime’s redemption arc in the eyes of many viewers.

Overall, I enjoy the show, but I don’t love it as much as I expected and hoped to.

Season 1Season 2


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Season 3Season 4


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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Battlestar Galactica, Season 4 Review

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Review:

Sooooo, season three of Battlestar Galactica was a bit of a mess, but had some redeeming points. Season 4? I don’t even know. I disliked it so much that I’ve never gone back and rewatched any episodes. I suppose if I did, I might find myself liking it better?

But then again, maybe not. As I said back in my review of season one, I got invested in these characters. I cared about them. And I feel like almost all of them were completely shat on by the final season.

In retrospect, some of this started as early as season two, but it accelerated in season three and was practically intolerable by season four. Characters that were once lovable turned gross. Characters that were once fascinating got boring. Yet others broke so badly and so completely that the pieces were impossible to put back together and it was not a tragedy but a relief when they died.

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And that’s not even getting into the ludicrous mess that was the series finale.

So the question becomes, can I in good faith recommend that people watch Battlestar Galactica when I and a significant percentage of its fanbase were not just dissatisfied but actively infuriated by the final season? Maybe I’m masochistic, but I think the answer is yes. Battlestar Galactica may be a cautionary tale about how badly a great show can go astray, but when it was great, it was really great. As painful as it was watching them fall apart, my imagination would be a poorer place if Starbuck and Roslin and Adama and Six and Cain and Shaw and the rest had never flown in and taken up residence.

My rating:2 Stars (2 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review

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Review:

So, after two seasons of exceptional television by really any measure, season three of Battlestar Galactica is where it started to go off the rails. After a fairly strong start on New Caprica with what is probably the single most spectacular battle scene in the show’s run, the rest of the season frequently floundered. It became increasingly clear that not only did the Cylons not have a plan, the writers really didn’t either.

What the plot lacked in logic and continuity, it did make up for in shock value, especially in the killer season finale: “Crossroads, Part 2.” Unfortunately, a few big shocking moments don’t make up for the muddled mess that was most of the rest of the season. The season was partially salvaged by some great character work from the actors, but overall, it was a disappointment.

Season three does, however, seem like a good time to point out something I was remiss in not mentioning earlier: the music! Battlestar Galactica has an absolutely beautiful score composed by Bear McCreary, whose blog posts also offer some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the show’s opening credits music as a sample:

Why is season three an especially good time to mention the music? Another of the most memorable music choices in the series takes place in the aforementioned season finale as the Final Five are revealed to the immortal strains of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Review

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Review:

Season two of Battlestar Galactica was just as outstanding as season one. It’s my favorite season of the show, largely because of the intense Battlestar Pegasus arc in the middle of the season, when the Galactica unexpectedly finds another ship that survived the Cylon attacks but has taken a very different moral path in the intervening months. The discovery of the Pegasus was the catalyst for some of the best performances of the whole series, including Tricia Helfer’s as the Number Six copy called Gina Inviere and guest star Michelle Forbes’s remarkable work as Pegasus’s Admiral Helena Cain.

I also enjoyed some of the stand-alone episodes this season, especially the uplifting “Flight of the Phoenix” and the considerably angstier “Scar.” As a huge fan of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), I thought this was Sackhoff’s best season, thanks to her performances in those two episodes, the Pegasus arc, and the Caprica arc.

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While season two itself is great, I was kind of annoyed that they chose to break it up into not one, but two DVD box sets when they released it. I mean, they managed to fit season one into a single box set and it had the extra three hour miniseries on top of the regular episodes. It kind of seems like a way  to charge fans almost twice as much for the same amount of content. Nevertheless, I clearly fell for it, and evidently so did plenty of others, because they did the same thing with season four.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Review

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Review:

I heard rave reviews of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot for a couple years before I actually sat down to watch it. This was partially because I was confused about where to start, so just in case somebody else has the same question: you start with the miniseries. The miniseries is included with the season one box set, so you don’t need to buy/rent it separately (although that is an option).

Once I finally sat down to get started, I was quickly captivated. In fact, I think the miniseries and first couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica are some of the best science fiction ever committed to screen. The storyline focuses on the captain (Edward James Olmos) of an outdated starship that is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum. Shortly before the ceremony is scheduled to take place, the ship’s crew receives word that human civilization is under attack by their former robot slaves, the Cylons, who have attained sentience and turned on their former masters. The massive attack is carried out so swiftly and comprehensively that within hours, the human race is reduced to just 50,000 survivors.

Battlestar Galactica never struggled to find its footing, as some shows do early on. The writing in the miniseries and first season is solid throughout, the special effects are excellent, and the large ensemble cast, led by Olmos and Mary McDonnell, is outstanding. Like many great sci-fi series, the show grappled thoughtfully with serious real world religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries, even as its characters wandered alien star systems in search of a legendary planet called Earth where they hope to find safety. At the same time, it held the interest of less philosophically inclined viewers with gripping storylines and plenty of space battles.

For me, one of the main strengths of Battlestar Galactica is its characterization. I thought the writers did a great job juggling the many different arcs and storylines and making each one both individually and collectively interesting and appealing. I quickly grew to care about nearly all the characters and even though I became increasingly unhappy with the direction some of the character’s arcs took in later seasons, I never lost my fundamental investment in the characters and their fates. This turned out to be both good and bad in the end, as I’ll discuss in my reviews of the later seasons, but it was unequivocally a good thing in the miniseries and season one.

Not going to lie: eye candy is an additional bonus of the show. I started watching the miniseries one evening without my husband. He passed by the tv at one point and practically got whiplash from Number Six, who is played by Tricia Helfer, a rare model-turned-actress who can actually act. (Grace Park, who played Number Eight, also got her start as a model.) For the ladies, you have Jamie Bamber (though the infamous towel slip is in season two), Tahmoh Penikett, and others.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Rome: The Complete Series Review

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Review:

HBO’s Rome has been on my to-watch list for years, and I finally watched it, so I can now officially add my voice the the chorus declaring it a crying shame that the show was cancelled after just two seasons, rather than the intended five. At least they had enough warning to wrap up the storyline in a coherent and relatively satisfying way, but the second season felt rushed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in before the end. Fortunately, despite its premature cancellation, the quality of the acting and the production values remained outstanding throughout.

In particular, I thought both writers and actors did a great job making ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, and their inhabitants both clearly alien to the modern Western audience, yet also sympathetic and relatable. One of the things that especially stood out to me was how brave the Roman characters were in the face of death. Rome has a considerable number of both actual suicides and people preparing for the possibility that they might have to commit suicide (for “honor” or to save themselves from a worse fate), and pretty much every single one is conducted with calm and stoic determination. As were most of the assassinations.

The historical accuracy was mixed at best, and I thought that some of the writers’ choices about when to stick to historical fact and when to switch things up were more successful than others. On the side of the good choices, I especially enjoyed Atia, Octavia, and Servilia, who were all substantially more entertaining than their reportedly pious and matronly real-life counterparts. Most of the changes made to their stories were so fun I didn’t care about the inaccuracies. In fact, Atia of the Julii is one of my new favorite female characters ever. Horrible human being, but so entertaining! Kudos to the writers and Polly Walker for bringing her to such vivid life!

One of my favorite Atia moments

One of my favorite Atia moments

On the other hand, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo had a much more mixed bag. I loved most of their interactions with the historical characters, and of course their interactions with each other (I’m always a sucker for a good bromance), but with the exception of Vorenus and Niobe’s complicated relationship in season one, most of their other non-historical relationships and storylines were kind of a mess. I didn’t like Pullo’s storylines with Eirene or Gaia at all, and the whole thing with Lucius Vorenus running the Aventine as a sort of ancient Roman mob boss also failed to hold a candle to anything he did with Caesar, Antony, or Octavian.

Another non-historical storyline I didn’t like was the incest. Though it was a minor plotline, it disproportionately annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with incest storylines per se, but they have to be justified very carefully for me to suspend disbelief. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, after all. Rome‘s incest seemed to come out of the blue for both characters. It certainly wasn’t as organic to the characters as the incest in The Borgias, which was set up from the very first scene they had together. As a result, it felt more like it was tossed in for shock value than anything else, which, in the context of a show with so much other shocking stuff going on all the time, just seemed cheap.

Overall, I thought that the first season was better than the second, partly because the second season was so rushed, and partly because too much of what little time was left in the second season was taken up by less interesting subplots like Vorenus in the Aventine and Timon the Jew’s fanatic brother. However, when season 2 was good, it was very, very good. The finale was especially spectacular, and a worthy ending to a great series.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6 Review

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Review:

In season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies struggled with the realities of adulthood and (mostly) failed. After being dragged out of heaven by her unwitting friends, Buffy tried to deaden her feelings by entering into an unhealthy and mutually destructive sexual relationship with Spike. Dawn’s kleptomania got out of hand. Xander freaked out and left Anya at the altar. Willow got addicted to magic, and increasingly used it to arrange not just things but people to her liking. Including Tara. Giles left. Twice.

In short, fun times were had by all (not) and a lot of fans found the unrelenting darkness too depressing. It’s probably the most “love it or hate it” season of Buffy. Personally, I lean more towards love, but some parts were hard to watch.

My favorite episodes include:

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 Review

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Review:

Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had two big flaws: Glory (the Big Bad) and Dawn (Buffy’s surprise younger sister). Glory was too boring (I’ll be upfront here: none of the later Big Bads ever equaled season 2‘s Angelus or season 3‘s Mayor in my eyes), and Dawn was too annoying, and unfortunately, we got a lot of both of them this season.

Nevertheless, season 5 was pretty good. Not only did it have some great individual episodes, it was also much more consistent than season 4, or even season 2 (though I prefer season 2 overall.)

My favorite episodes include:

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