Netflix is looking to catch on the dark fantasy TV ride, and with The Witcher they picked one of the best potential properties around. News has tricked out courtesy of creator and showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich, who has been open and excited about the process via her Twitter account. Although not all fans agree with the brief character insights she gives.
Now her account has delivered the biggest news yet after a Netflix event in Rome. We have an episode count, a filming location, and a potential release target.
The first season of Hissrich’s Witcher series will span 8 episodes, of which only the pilot has currently been scripted out. It will also film in eastern Europe and Hissrich hopes for a 2020 release, though she maintains that the process will maintain a focus on quality over speed. The remaining 7 episodes still need writing, and new writers continue to join the show.
The show will adapt author Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (read them, they’re a bit dated but still excellent). It’s unclear whether this includes his short story collections, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. Hopefully, it does, because The Last Wish would make for really great television.
A lot of the success for this Witcher adaptation will depend on Hissrich, who has producer credits on Netflix’s The Defenders and Daredevil while also writing for both. She produced for Power, Do No Harm, Parenthood, and Private Practice. Her tweets have given fans a lot of insight into the ongoing development of the show and the book’s characters. I think she has a solid handle on everyone, and there’s no denying her enthusiasm.
There’s also no denying the potential of The Witcher on television. Sapkowski’s books and short stories are highly political tales with strong characters and a fascinating setting. They have their share of problematic content that hasn’t aged well, but with a woman showrunner, Sapkowski’s involvement, and years to reflect, hopefully, some of that can be updated for modern sensibilities. If so, we could get a truly unique and excellent fantasy show.
Here’s hoping for the best.
Image courtesy of CD Projekt Red
The Fandomentals Best of TV 2018
Another year has passed, and with it yet another year of quality television. One thing we think we can all agree on is that there is way too much to possibly watch everything. That’s why you leave it to us to tell you what shows are worth it! Well, kind of. We won’t say for sure that we’ve listed all the best shows out there. We gave it our best, though. Here’s what the staff of the Fandomentals voted as the best shows we watched in 2018.
The Good Place
Claire: If you’re a regular visitor, the fact that The Good Place is one of our all-time favourite shows probably comes as no surprise. Michael Schur’s comedy about Eleanor Shellstrop, “an Arizona trash bag” who thinks she ended up in the Good Place, the atheist equivalent of heaven, and then tries to actually become a good person with the help of ethics professor Chidi Anagonye to stay has remained an utter delight over the course of its third season.
Over the course of the first and second season, Eleanor, Chidi and their friends Jason, probably the dumbest person you will ever meet, and Tahani, a mean giraffe who’s also a beautiful but selfish socialite, discovered that they are not, in fact, in the Good Place but rather in a neighborhood designed by the demon Michael to torture them eternally masquerading as a Good Place. As Eleanor keeps figuring out Michael’s plan and endangering his very existence, Michael decides to team up with the four humans to save his skin and get them into the real Good Place over the course of season two. With the help of Janet, an android/robot/all powerful being programmed to make everyone’s life easier, the four humans and one demon manage to reach the All-Powerful Judge Gen, who grants Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason a second chance on Earth to see if they can actually become better people even without knowing what will happen after death – a question that then takes up essentially most of the third season.
The third season could have easily become a repetition of seasons one and two, but instead, it allows the human characters to get closure on some of the issues that turned them into bad people in the first place while simultaneously allowing Eleanor and Chidi as well as Janet, Jason, and Tahani to explore their romantic relationships in what might be some of the least annoying love triangles I have ever seen. It also finally gives Chidi, the Mister Morality, a long-awaited ethics conundrum induced breakdown that almost every other character has had the chance to experience before ending with the reveal that something must be deeply wrong with the way people are sorted into either the Good or the Bad Place – a reveal that could have easily avoided by just declaring that people have become worse than ever over the last 500 years.
And that’s what makes The Good Place such a good show: it’s not just deeply funny and very clever, it is also fundamentally empathetic and optimistic, filled to the brim with love for both humanity as a whole and humans as individuals and an unwavering belief in their capacity to become better people. It’s asking basic questions about human nature, such as “can we fundamentally become better people and if yes, how?” and it is answering them quite clearly and, in my opinion, in the best possible way: “yes, we can become better people and we can do it through our connections with other people – which are also the reason we should try to become better people”. Chidi, I think, says it most perfectly at the end of season 2, after Eleanor has her second moral crisis:
“Why choose to be good every day if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on, now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”
And if that isn’t both a beautiful and a deeply relevant message for a TV show to have, I honestly don’t know what is.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Szofi: The new version of the 1985-86 show She-Ra: Princess of Power is just one in a long line of remakes. Except, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power stands out as a particularly clever reimagination and an excellent piece of children’s entertainment.
Just like its predecessor, She-Ra takes place in the magical Etheria and follows the young Adora as she joins the Resistance in their fight against the evil Horde. Transformations, mystery and lore, princesses with magical powers and friendship as the ultimate power. On the surface, She-Ra might seem like another dumbed down cartoon made for kids where everything’s made of rainbows and glitter. Though the animation itself is not all that impressive, the story, the character dynamics and the show as a whole is much, much more than all that.
The twist comes in that it is mostly about friendship and rainbows and glitter, unashamedly so. She-Ra is great because it is traditionally “girly” and cheesy at times but never loses its substance and stays genuine. It shows that there’s strength in all this, not in spite but often because of the cheesy aspects. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it doesn’t look down on its target demographic. It’s a “kids’ show” that portrays nuance and complexities while still being accessible and a truly enjoyable series.
The 2010s have been a good decade for kids’ animation: The Legend of Korra, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe and the recently ended Adventure Time are just some examples. It’s not surprising that we would get something as clever and as meaningful as these other series but She-Ra feels like a breath of fresh air nonetheless. It manages to update the 80s show in crucial ways and reimagines it for not only the 21st century but for this era in particular.
In its first 13 episodes, it established its themes of inclusivity and perseverance and has already touched on some complex issues. The episode “Promise” in particular shows just how seriously She-Ra takes character development and the potential that this series has. As a 21-year-old I’m not exactly the target demographic but I’m excited to see where this show goes, both because I personally enjoyed its first season and because I’m happy that children can grow up watching She-Ra and the likes.
Jordan: It was truly a rollercoaster year for everyone’s favourite New York Police precinct. From Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) coming out as a bisexual woman to her colleagues and parents, to the Peraltiago wedding, being unceremoniously canceled by Fox only to be revived a few days later by NBC, 2018 had it all.
The ensemble sitcom remains one of the most effortlessly diverse shows on television. Andre Braugher (Captain Raymond Holt), Terry Crews (Terry Jeffords), Andy Samberg (Jake Peralta), Melissa Fumero (Amy Santiago), Joe LoTruglio (Charles Boyle), and Chelsea Peretti (Gina Linetti) join Beatriz in rounding out one of the most talented casts working today.
There are a lot of things that make Brooklyn 99 a great TV show. There is the fact that it manages to straddle both high and low-brow comedy. There is the fact that it knows how to explore issues of race and gender in a comedic way without making women and people of colour the punchline. There is its ability to handle something complex like police brutality maturely in the course of a 22-minute episode. It really is a piece of media that offers something for pretty much everyone and yet somehow doesn’t suffer at all in quality for doing so.
Brooklyn 99 is something that made everyone scream “what the hell?!” when it was canceled and then thank their deity of choice when it was revived. Season six kicks off in January 2019 and we’re all waiting with bated breath to see how the end of season five cliffhanger will be resolved and what it will mean for the precinct. If you haven’t already, do yourself the biggest of favours and give this series a crack. It’ll make you happy.
The Haunting of Hill House
Dayana: The Haunting of Hill House is the kind of the horror story that works because of its attention to dread and creeping tension rather than a score building to a reaction-inducing jump scare. That’s not to say Hill House doesn’t use the regular conventions of horror. There are jump scares, uneasy music, and blurry figures lurking in the background. But what makes the horror here work so well is that it’s grounded in tragedy.
The Haunting of Hill House is the story of a family, The Crain’s. It’s not a story of a family first and then horror but rather the Crain’s story is horror. We’re told of this family’s tragedies and then spend the rest of the season watching how they came to be. Along the way, we learn more about each member, both who they were and how that past has shaped them. It only makes the inevitable tragedy all the worse. Especially when the deeper truths of the family’s worse days are revealed.
Most of the time, even when the series relies on those classic staples of horror its woven into the family’s story. There is one jump scare, in particular, that isn’t just there to make the viewer jump. It serves as a story beat that comes at the right moment to help push the characters in the direction they need.
The series is stunning from a technical point as well. Episode six especially uses cinematography that is breathtaking to behold.
Hill House works so well because it truly gets you invested in its characters. It makes you root for them, even when you know their story doesn’t end well. It builds its horror slowly, unveiling a layer at a time. Each layer deeper reveals a bit more of how personal the hauntings of the Crain’s are. It’s in the intimacy where the true dread comes true.
It’s one of the best horrors of the years because of how personal it is. It’s one of the best series because of how the crafts the narrative around its characters. The tragedy of the Crain’s is what makes the series so compelling. Everything that went into crafting the series is what made it amazing.
Dan: After every season of Bojack Horseman, the general consensus among the fanbase has been: “There’s no way they can top that!” But somehow, unlike seemingly every other adult animated series (including sometimes rival Rick & Morty), Bojack has not even begun to peak as it completes its fifth season. Thanks to the show’s well-anchored, yet fluid, cast of characters, perfectly formulated balance of comedy and pathos, and experimental approach to storytelling, Bojack remains arguably the best original animated series, if not best series overall, on Netflix today.
Season Five of Bojack Horseman follows up four seasons of heavy focus on the titular character and begins with Bojack (Will Arnett, as dry and ever) in seemingly the best place we’ve seen him. With our sad horseman seemingly well for the first time ever, the focus of the show instead moves to the still-broken people who make up the rest of the main cast. Diane (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins, who does his best dramatic work this season) have ended their divorce and trying to move on through either work (Diane’s work with clickbait site Croosh) or a new girlfriend (PB’s new beau, the chatty Instagram influencer Pickled Aplenty). Todd (Aaron Paul) is now openly ace but still struggles to define his identity.
And Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris, once the one put-together person out of the bunch) is struggling to navigate the chaos of the adoption system while producing her first show. And Bojack himself, weaving in and out of the other storylines as needed, spends the whole season backsliding until his problems become front and center yet again as the show goes to the outright darkest place it ever has before.
Mental illness, like Bojack and Diane’s depression or PB’s insecurity, remains the core drama of the show, but getting out of Bojack’s head a bit lets the show dig deep into the rest of the cast’s experience. Princess Carolyn, in particular, gets a fantastic episode that touches on class, family, and identity as she returns home to rural North Carolina to look into adoption. Thanks to a heartfelt but chillingly accurate performance from David Sedaris as PC’s mother Cutie Cutie Cupcake, we get a glimpse at all of the fears that have driven PC for five seasons and continue to influence her as she looks for a child. But that realism and drama are balanced with the show’s whip-smart dialogue, visual humor, and mastery of bathos to not depress you quite so much that you turn the show-off.
The past seasons of Bojack all featured one or two episodes that experimented with the show’s animated sitcom format, like Season Three’s “Fish Out of Water” or Season Four’s “Stupid Piece of Sh*t.” But Season Five ramps things up with three high-concept episodes really stretch the medium to its limit. The most talked about episode has easily been “Free Churro,” a one-horse monologue at Beatrice Horseman’s funeral. Not only does Will Arnett show off his drama chops, but he also has to carry the comedy of the part all on his lonesome. It’s 26 minutes of nothing but Bojack and is absolutely fascinating.
But for the first time, the writers experiment with the other characters as well. Diane’s spotlight episode feels almost like an adapted piece of short fiction, weaving in imagery and drama as Diane narrates her in-progress listicle for Croosh detailing her visit to Vietnam. Finally, Todd and Carolyn, and the rest of the cast, get the focus in the downright bizarre “INT. SUB.” Told as a conversation between Diane’s therapist and her wife, the company dispute negotiator. Not only does the episode get extremely meta as the two acknowledge the holes and structure of their story, but the bizarre names they give the characters to hide their identities (Bobo the Angsty Zebra, Mr. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, a Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning in the Shape of a Woman, etc.) are reflected in the animation. As the cast expands, so too does the chaos on screen. The chaos and humor all leads up to an incredibly dark callback to one of Bojack’s biggest mistakes, one that will end up sending the entire season off the rails.
Trust me when I say the hype behind Bojack Horseman is fully justified, and that now is as good a time as any to binge it from start to finish as we wait for Season Six. Some have even found it’s approach to mental illness and personal trauma therapeutic. It’s funny, affecting, and real in ways most live-action dramas can’t even come close to. So stick that in your Plumbus and smoke it.
Kori: Summer of 2017 had the internets atwitter with rumors running rampant on who the new Doctor would be to step in after Peter Capaldi’s Twelve. To add to the excitement, Steven Moffat was officially stepping down as showrunner, and Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall was taking over.
With bated breath we watch a teaser reveal make history. The Doctor was finally a woman! But wait, could Jodie Whittaker capture the essence of a madman(woman) with a box? We’ve only seen her in serious roles like Broadchurch, or Trust Me! (Well, maybe for y’all, she had an excellent turn in Attack the Block back in 2011.)
We needn’t have worried. As more news came out we saw a hard shift from the epic, universe-ending storylines, and the “most specialist companions to ever companion.” And we also saw some much-needed diversity that was 55 years overdue. Three companions, now “fam”, including the show’s first ever South Asian companion (Mandip Gill), joining Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh. That’s not where the diversity stopped. Also for the first time, we saw PoC writers joining the writing room, and we saw Segun Akinola step in as the show’s musical composer/scorer, taking over Murray Gold’s longtime position.
So what did this give us? In my opinion, a long overdue return to form for the show. In recent years there was just too much “epic universal blockbuster” story arcs. Every threat was a world-ending threat and eventually, nothing felt like it was worth caring for anymore. And the companions had become two-dimensional super special characters that lacked everyday relatability.
Season 11 brought us Whittaker’s delightfully manic, empathetic, and hyper-talkative Thirteen. It brought us stories that challenged us to examine the ugliness within ourselves instead of scapegoating the scary creatures outside. It made the small people matter again. And it gave us the TARDIS family full of characters that you or I could easily see ourselves in, from Yaz’s yearning to get more out of life, Ryan’s frustration with himself and where he wants to be, and Graham’s insistence on bringing snacks with him wherever the fam goes.
Sure there were some hiccups in the road, but overall it feels like we really do have a fresh start for the Doctor. A new path that emphasizes healing from past wounds (and it’s about time, the Time War ramifications have dragged on for over a decade), looking forward to the future, and embracing all the universe has to offer with bright-eyed wonder again.
In a time when the world feels like it’s burning, Doctor Who offered us hope and a hero who was, above everything, kind.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Alejandra: After a smashing first year, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Mrs. Maisel came back for her sophomore season as marvelous as ever. Midge Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan) advances her career in comedy alongside her manager Susie Myerson (Alex Bornstein) while still navigating her complicated personal life, dabbling in the dating pool for the first time since her separation.
Despite the road blocks presented to them after Midge’s faux pas with fellow comedian Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), Midge is steadily doing gigs while still hiding the truth from her family. This constitutes much of the comedy for the first half of the season, and while I did find myself tired of the delayed reveal, I understand where Midge is coming from in not telling her overbearing parents. Adorable as they can be when they try, Abe and Rose Weissman can be a handful, and a bit frustrating. Apart from getting up on stage, which Midge seems to have a good handle on, nothing gets easier for our protagonist.
And it will only get harder. Midge must realize eventually that she cannot have both lives: prim and proper housewife and world-renowned comedian. It’s not possible. And the clash with that reality will be as painful as anything for her.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel makes no pretense about the hardships a woman doing comedy in the 1950s would face, both familial (her parents are more of an obstacle than a real help) and professional (Midge gets slammed for talking about pregnancy at one point). But the show manages to present these situations truthfully while still doing it with humor and gobs of charm.
Dan: Why, oh why, did Netflix choose to cancel this show? After Season Two lost its way in Frank Miller’s mystic bullshit, Daredevil was considered the worst of the Netflix MCU not named Iron Fist. But you can’t keep the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen down, and Season Three of Daredevil gives him a swan-song that is perhaps the best visual adaptation of any comic. Ever.
After the nonsense with ninjas that formed the bulk of the last season, new showrunner Erik Oleson took Matt and Co. back to their roots. Not only does Vincent D’Onofrio’s masterful Kingpin return to his rightful place as Big Bad, but the stakes become much more personal after the world-ending dangers of The Hand. The punches feel harder and the wounds seem more real than ever as Matt contends with a seemingly unstoppable Wilson Fisk as he tries yet again to control New York.
The only major addition to the cast is the long-awaited appearance of Bullseye a.k.a Benjamin Poindexter. Acting as Wilson’s heavy, he’s the first enemy to truly be better than Matt in almost every way. He’s not just a threat to Matt in a fight, however, as the emotionless Dex is able to cast a shadow on the Daredevil persona itself thanks to his actions. But, like his boss, Dex is as complex and sympathetic as he is dangerous. While we see why he is how he his, and we see that he’s a victim of Fisk-like everyone else, the show thankfully stops just short of woobifying him as he wreaks havok on the city.
The season is perhaps slower to get to full blast than its predecessors, but the tension and drama builds and builds as time goes by, so that when everything explodes it REALLY explodes. The fights are good as ever, and you almost forget how sad it is that Matt spends almost no time in the red suit. The final fight with Kingpin is not just perfectly choreographed, it is emotional, personal, and the culmination to three seasons of development all releasing in one bloody moment.
The MCU will be a little emptier without Daredevil, but hopefully, the bigwigs at Marvel paid attention to what worked in this show to make the super-human become human. It may have been the Man Without Fear’s swan song, but it’s a hell of a way to go out. Almost makes you wonder if they canceled it because any follow up would fall flat by comparison.
Bo: After 6 incredible seasons of spy drama and marital struggles, The Americans finally came to an end in 2018. With its end finally came some of the long-deserved attention and praise it deserved years before. It won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing. Matthew Rhys won for Best Actor. While I may still hold a grudge about Keri Russell never winning anything, to see The Americans finally receive the attention it deserves was gratifying.
And if you have any doubt, it deserved these awards not just for its totality, but for a really great final season. The conflict and bond between Philip and Elizabeth reached peak levels, long-awaited revelations and confrontations occurred, and the finale ended things with the kind of powerful, quiet emotion The Americans excelled at above all else. There was quite a lot to settle in this final season. I can’t say they perfectly solved everything, but they nailed everything that mattered.
Here we are months later, and I still find myself randomly thinking about a damn train station.
Unfortunately, The Americans will never have the fame it should. I hope that anyone reading this decides to give it a shot. You’ll get 6 amazing seasons about marriage, family, and the truth and lies intermingling within. You’ll see some of the best acting and writing any show ever produced. Paige Jennings will bless your life even as your heart breaks for her. Oh, and you’ll get some tense spy action along the way. What’s not to love?
Kylie: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been a bit of a Fandomentals darling since it was first suggested by commenters as being good, powerful female Jewish representation in a world where that’s quite rare. It offered that and some, to say the least. This niche musical dramedy is now in its 4th and final season on The CW, closing out a carefully crafted narrative journey that sought to tackle tropes and storytelling conventions surrounding women in media, its namesake included. The show has been unabashed in its optimism, its dorkiness (our protagonist spends the better part of the second episode debating the positioning of a comma in the name of a club), and its examination in the extreme fallibility/vulnerability of humanity.
Season 3 actually concluded with what seemed like a stumble: the prioritization of themes for the apparent sake of it over any kind of logical sense. Have no fear that in the opener of Season 4, it was made abundantly clear that once again, Rebecca Bunch made an impulsive and unhealthy decision that was to be thoroughly deconstructed, and very explicitly criticized by all the supporting cast. Time and time again showrunners Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom demonstrate that they know exactly what they are doing.
With just a handful of episodes left, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has set up what’s sure to be the satisfying resolution, and has done so by meticulously setting back up the opening tension of the show: Rebecca’s relationship to love through the men we’ve already seen her blunder around with for three years. The show even somehow made a recast work, and if that’s not the marketing of quality writing, I’m not sure what is.
Don’t sit this one out. When I think back on any single character, the way they’ve grown has been utterly delightful. But it’s in a way that never ignores the messiness of life, too. Funny, sharp, and chock full of parodic musical numbers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend firmly deserves its seat on our best of list.
Images Courtesy of NBC, Netflix, Amazon, BBC, and the CW
RWBY Recap 2 Part 2: Character Development Galore
After my last review, I may have left the impression that I wanted to burn the middle section of RWBY Volume 5 (episodes 5-10) to the ground in a nerdy rage, which isn’t entirely accurate. While the pacing issues of these episodes did severely hamper my enjoyment of them, this part of the volume did deliver some solid moments of character development for team RWBY. So without further ado, let’s dive into what I actually liked about RWBY Volume 5 episodes 5-10.
One thing that really sticks out about Volume 5 is the concerted effort by the writers to give each of the four heroines (Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang) their moment in the spotlight. This has been something the series has consistently struggled with in prior volumes, often only focusing on two of the four, usually Weiss and Blake. Fortunately, V5 did not follow this pattern, and the audience got to see all four explored in one way or another.
To be clear, I am fully aware that only pulling this off halfway through Volume 5 is pretty weak in terms of writing. While RWBY has always been more plot-driven than character-driven, this is the sort of thing that a show should be accomplishing in its first or second season, not its fifth.
However, I don’t want to discount that this is a massive step forward for the series, especially since writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross do sincerely care about improving their skills. While the two still have a lot of work to do, they’re taking all the right steps; admitting they’re not perfect, identifying where they need to improve, and getting feedback from other creators. As frustrating as some of their writing choices regarding the characters are, I can’t ignore the progress they’re making. And if there’s one example of this progress, it’s Ruby herself.
I have a lot of issues with RWBY, but perhaps the most pressing is Ruby Rose herself. Since Volume 1, Ruby has consistently failed to fulfill the basic functions of a protagonist – the plot is rarely (if ever) driven by her actions, we don’t really have a sense of her goals for the future, and her character development has been pretty minimal, all things considered.
I could go into a lot more detail, but given that this is a review of Volume 5, I’ll leave my issues with Ruby in the first four volumes for another article. Needless to say, Ruby has been a frustrating protagonist for the series – which made her storyline in V5 a breath of fresh air.
Particularly in chapters five and ten, there was a much stronger focus on how the events of the previous volumes have shaped Ruby, and how she feels towards the series’ antagonists.
Chapter 5 (Necessary Sacrifice) is noteworthy for being perhaps the first time in the series we really get to see how Ruby feels about what’s happened to her. Again, the fact that we’re only getting this halfway through Volume 5 is…troubling, to say the least. However, I’m not going to discount the writers for making an effort to fix the series’ issues, especially given that they’ve openly acknowledged that this is an area they need to improve on.
The scene in question is the conversation between Ruby and Oscar. Now I LOVED this scene. It’s an incredibly emotional and tender moment between these two characters and gives us a real insight into how the events of the last four volumes have shaped them as people. It’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, Ruby and our other heroes are soldiers. She might be the dictionary definition of upbeat, but that doesn’t change the fact that she fights monsters for a living. That’s going to take a toll on anyone, especially a teenager with only a few years of combat experience.
This is all the more obvious in Oscar, who has zero training and is quite scared of the situation he’s been thrust into. And who can blame him? While I’m sure many of us have wished we suddenly had superpowers and could fight monsters, being suddenly thrust into a war with no experience or emotional preparation is going to have consequences. As eccentric as our heroes may be, it would be reasonable to assume their combat training would have included processing battlefield experiences – training which Oscar has none of, so it’s not hard to see why he freaks out a little.
It’s Ruby’s reassurances to Oscar that really let the scene shine, though. After unintentionally repeating Penny’s catchphrase of ‘combat ready’, the audience gets to see just how much our happy-go-lucky protagonist is grieving. The terrific voice acting by Lindsay Jones coupled with the excellent animation of Ruby’s face really sell this, but what ties it all together is the instrumental version of ‘Let’s Just Live.’ The somber piano notes pull on the heartstrings, especially when they play the instrumental version of this part of the song;
And the story
Takes an unexpected turn
A friend is suddenly gone
We can cry our lives away
But if they were here they’d say
Go forward you must keep moving on
‘Let’s Just Live’ is a song about recovering from loss. For the characters, it’s about their traumas from the Fall of Beacon, which makes it perfect for a scene where Ruby shares her grief over the friends she lost that night. On top of that, the song clearly incorporates the grief CRWBY feel over the loss of series creator Monty Oum, which his catchphrase and his very name being incorporated into the lyrics . The fact that Ruby says Oum’s catchphrase, ‘Keep moving forward’ while this song is playing makes the scene even more impactful.
In addition to exploring Ruby’s grief, the scene touches on Ruby’s fears. Her point on why she’s afraid of Salem is a great moment of character exploration as well as subverting the usual reasons the hero is afraid of the Big Bad. Ruby isn’t scared of Salem because she’s trying to destroy the world – she’s scared because Salem doesn’t care about who gets hurt in the process. It’s not often we get to see villains whose scariest aspect is their apathy. Anger, power, sadism – those are explored in antagonists all the time, but apathy rarely gets that level of attention. As terrifying as malicious intent can be, sometimes the complete and utter lack of caring for other people can be just as, if not even more terrifying, which makes the story all the more interesting.
Overall, the writing behind Ruby Rose was much, much better in this part of the volume. While Luna and Shawcross still have a way to go, it’s clear that their efforts to fix the series’ issues with Ruby are starting to pay off.
Now Weiss was an absolute delight in this part of the volume. After spending the first four episodes either locked up or battling Grimm, episodes five through ten took the time to explore her character and how she’s grown over the course of the series, which can be summarised within three words:
WEISS. HUGS. EVERYONE.
In all seriousness, Weiss’ newfound warmth towards her friends was one of the highlights of V5. If that hug at the end of chapter four wasn’t wholesome enough, Weiss spent a good chunk of chapters five through ten being incredibly kind and supportive towards her comrades, especially Yang. This is quite noteworthy as Weiss Schnee is literally the poster girl for the Ice Queen trope, at least in volume one. Arrogant, cold, irritable – all these qualities aptly described V1 Weiss. As the series has progressed though, she has ‘thawed out’ quite significantly, and V5 showcased this. She initiates hugs with her friends, makes them the coffee they like, and offers them support when they need it.
While these wholesome Weiss moments were scattered through the middle part of volume five, episode eight, ‘Alone Together’, was the clear standout. Watching Weiss comfort Yang and empathise with her conflicted feelings over Blake was a quadruple whammy of good writing – it was tender and emotional, it showcased Weiss’ growth, gave us more details about her past, and developed the relationship between two characters who haven’t had much screen time together. To top it all of, it’s scored to the instrumental of ‘The Path to Isolation’ – fitting for a scene about two characters discussing their experiences with loneliness. But given how relevant that is to Yang’s arc, I’ll save the trouble of repeating myself and get back to that later. For now…
Blake’s arc stood out from the other members of team RWBY in that it felt more like the sequel to her arc from volume four, rather than self-contained within one volume. I get that that’s how character development works – it’s an overarching journey throughout the course of a series – but because how lacklustre her storyline was in volume four, her arc this volume felt almost like the missing piece to making her V4 plotline work. It almost made her arc feel like a season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with things left hanging after the mid-season finale and the characters’ journeys not being truly resolved until the end of the season.
This choice of story structure, coupled with the abysmal pacing of episodes five through ten, made Blake’s development feel a lot less earned than the other characters. Which is a real shame, because out of the main four, I feel like Blake has done the most emotional work on screen, particularly through her friendship with Sun. Their chat in episode five reflected she was taking on board Sun’s advice not to push her friends away and use that to help Ilia…which, in turn, makes her quest to save Ilia feel like a natural step forward in her character arc.
But because she got said advice in volume four chapter eleven and doesn’t use it in her interactions with Ilia up until chapters eight and ten of volume five, her growth just doesn’t have the same impact. I get that the show has to juggle multiple storylines, and that character development happens over a period of time rather than in rapid succession, but in this case, it was stretched too far. Blake’s speech to the people of Menagerie was a nice moment of growth, but the poorly structured plot leading to it meant it had a lot less emotional impact than it could have.
Yang once again stole the show in the middle section of V5, giving us some of the best moments for her character in the whole series. Much like Weiss, she was great throughout all her scenes, but two in, in particular, stood out. The first, of course, is the conversation between her and her mother.
To say that these two have a complicated relationship might be sugar-coating it. Throughout the entire scene, Yang’s bitterness towards her mother is very clear. It’s a stark contrast to the normally playful Yang from earlier volumes. Not that Yang is gone, but there’s definitely a more questioning, a more suspicious side to her now, and it really begins to show during this scene. It’s fascinating to watch as Raven tries to bring Yang to her side, casting doubt on the people she loves and respects.
Not only is this a fresh direction for Yang, but it’s also a very relatable one. One of the hardest parts about growing up is finding out that the world can be a dark and ugly place, and that the people you look up aren’t always what they seem. And while we may not have beloved uncles who infiltrated combat schools to learn how to kill Huntsmen and Huntresses, I’m sure we’ve all had that awful moment when you discover someone you admire has a nastier aspect to them. This new side of Yang finds it way into the other major scene for her in this part of the volume; her conversation with Weiss about Blake.
Yang’s feelings towards Blake have drastically changed since the Fall of Beacon. While they don’t reunite until the finale, there’s clearly a lot of frustration on Yang’s part – again, a very relatable emotion given what she’s been through. It’s hard not to want to reach through the screen and give her a hug, especially when she delves into her abandonment issues, and how Blake’s departure has reopened old wounds. It’s a reminder that even the most popular individuals can be plagued by insecurity and loneliness, despite appearances.
Yang herself falls into this trap, being completely oblivious to Weiss’ different yet similar insecurities, which Weiss uses to help Yang see Blake’s perspective. Because in the end, she’s right – Weiss, Blake and Yang all know loneliness in their own way, but that doesn’t mean they can’t understand one another. And while ultimately this conversation doesn’t resolve all of Yang’s feelings towards Blake, it’s a step forward. It’s a sad scene, but it’s also a hopeful one that opens a lot of doors for what’s coming next…
Images courtesy of Rooster Teeth Productions and YouTube
Mrs. Maisel Remains Marvelous
Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.
Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.
Landing the Joke
What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.
Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.
Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.
Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.
Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.
While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.
In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.
And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.
Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.
However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.
Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.
She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.
In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.
Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.
An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.
Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.
He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.
However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.
Was that Political? It Sounded Political!
Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.
There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.
I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.
The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.
Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.
More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.
Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.
Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.
There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.
I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.
There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?
I have a feeling they will.
Images courtesy of Amazon
Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth Will Let You Craft Your Own Adventures
Game of Thrones 4×02 Rewatch: The One where Martin Doesn’t Care
Star Wars Resistance: Episode 11, “Bibo”
Top 7 Takeaways From Fire and Blood
Game of Thrones Season 8 Teaser Really Wants to be Meaningful
Game of Thrones 4×01 Rewatch: Too Bored
The Fandomentals Most Anticipated Board Games of 2019
Top 7 Takeaways From Fire and Blood
Naomi Ackie joins The Long Night, and Dany blinks twice
Game of Thrones Season 8 Teaser Really Wants to be Meaningful
Books1 day ago
Top 7 Takeaways From Fire and Blood
Television2 days ago
Game of Thrones Season 8 Teaser Really Wants to be Meaningful
Analysis11 hours ago
Game of Thrones 4×02 Rewatch: The One where Martin Doesn’t Care
Gaming5 days ago
Free League Does Dark Fantasy Tabletop Right With Its Forbidden Lands RPG