The Big TV Recap: Umbrella Academy, Russian Doll, Shadowhunters, Killing Eve, and One Day At A Time

Lately, I’ve been ignoring pretty much every movie in my queue (not to mention my TOS recaps) in favor of binge watching non-Star Trek-related TV. That’s not particularly unusual for me, but it has meant I’ve been thinking all these random, pop culture thoughts without anywhere to express them in my characteristically lengthy and over-analytical fashion.

So, I figured I’d take some time to discuss the handful of TV shows I’ve been (sometimes obsessively) watching over the past few months. I did consider stacking them against one another, even adding a couple of flavors to my Triple Scoop Rating System–Mint Chocolate Chip would be the lowest of the low–but then it just seemed like work, so. Meh.

The Umbrella Academy

Netflix GIF by The Umbrella Academy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a comic book series
Have I Read It: Nope. Always meant too, but nope
Spoilers: YES

Man, this show is all over the place. Some of it I really like. The basic premise (Potential murder mysteries! Child superheroes becoming bitter adults! Stopping the apocalypse together like a family!) really works for me. Also, I am–and forever will be–obsessed with mediums and their dead partners-in-crime, so I pretty much had to like Klaus despite myself. (But seriously, more Ben, please!) I was honestly surprised by how much I cared about Diego’s relationship with Robot Mom, and some of the shows’s overall weirdness worked well. Cha-Cha and Hazel in their masks, for example. Or the dance scene to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which I’ve rewatched, like, four times at least.

Still, I definitely struggled with The Umbrella Academy. Vanya was the source of much of my frustration, despite the fact that I like Ellen Page just fine in the role. It just takes so long for her storyline to progress in any interesting way, and even when it does, like, it’s still pretty obvious how it’s going to go. Of course she’s going to develop powers, and of course those powers are going to cause the apocalypse. Her annoying love interest/bad guy only makes things worse for me. He isn’t charming or likable enough to buy into Vanya’s insta love for him; I do not care that he’s supposedly the only person who’s ever paid her attention. (Maybe because I just don’t quite buy that, either? That bit irks me for reasons I’m having trouble articulating.) I was so grateful when she finally killed him, but still, that took how many episodes? Meanwhile, Vanya’s snap to the dark side somehow manages to feel rushed, like Luther locking her up was obviously a bad call, but she had just slit her sister’s throat, so, it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable? More importantly, it felt like she was imprisoned for all of twenty minutes before she suddenly went all Possess-Y Blue Eyes, and I just never bought that transition. It’s not the only storyline where the pacing bothers me (even Cha-Cha and Hazel, who I generally enjoy, seem to fizzle in the back half of the season), but it’s easily the one that bores me the most.

Also, I can’t get past the feeling that The Umbrella Academy is just trying WAY too hard to be, like, So Different, So Weird, So Buzzworthy. Which, it really doesn’t need to do. When your story includes a talking chimpanzee butler, you don’t have to try that hard. And yet so many of the music choices and fight scenes just feel like they’re screaming for attention. Some of them I genuinely enjoyed, but others kept throwing me out of the story.

I don’t regret watching the show at all, but I’m also pretty relieved to have a break from it, too. I’ll probably check out the second season–assuming it gets renewed–but I suspect I won’t be counting the seconds till its return, either.

Russian Doll

Warning Natasha Lyonne GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Nope
Spoilers: Some. Nothing the trailer doesn’t tell you, but I’d still recommend skipping the first paragraph if you haven’t seen the show yet.

I’m a huge sucker for a time loop–particularly in television–so obviously, I had to watch this show where Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying over and over on her 36th birthday. For the most part, I really enjoyed Russian Doll. The first couple of episodes didn’t fully grab me, but I quickly got on board once Alan came into the picture. The dynamic between him and Nadia really interested me, and of course, adding a second person to a time loop is just goddamn cool.

The further you get into Russian Doll, the more it starts punching you in the face with emotions, rather than just a string of wacky death sequences. To be clear, I absolutely do not object to wacky death sequences at all. Still, I feel like the show doesn’t fully come together until you really get the Feels in the second half. It wasn’t a big problem for me, though: each episode is about half an hour, I think, and there are, what, eight episodes total? So, not a big time commitment. That’s a glorious goddamn feeling.

Both Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Barnett are fantastic in this, and the ending of the show is perfectly, beautifully bittersweet. I know there’s already been talk about making more seasons (as an anthology show, maybe) but personally, I kind of hope they just keep this as a one-and-done. Even without answering everything, it already feels very complete.

Shadowhunters

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of Freeform)
Seasons: 3. Well, 2 and 1/2. 3B airs in just a few days.
Adapted Material: Yes, Christ, yes. There are so many books and companion books it’s hard to keep track. Also, a 2013 film I never saw.
Have I Read It: Nope. Some interest in The Magnus Bane Chronicles, though.
Spoilers: Some, yes. Nothing that should ruin the show for you.

My latest obsession and guilty pleasure, even though I’m not wild about that term. Still, I can’t help but feel it applies here because there is SO MUCH I want to fix. I can easily forgive the shitty special effects because, hey, there’s a charm to low budget SFX (though, admittedly, the first season is particularly charming in that regard, even for Freeform), but Clary, the primary lead, mostly annoys me, and the initial love triangle between her, Simon, and Jace is so awful, oh my God. I would like this show 170% better if I hadn’t had to deal with two seasons of that crap.

That all being said, if you like urban fantasy, positive queer representation, and/or attractive people, there’s a fair bit to like here. I enjoy the general concept of the world: the angelic rune magic is pretty cool, if not terribly consistent (often a problem with TV, especially SF/F), I really enjoy the warlock marks (Madzie’s gills are the BEST), and I’m a sucker for a psychic soul bond (though I’d kill to see some lady parabatais on this show). Some good side characters, too: Maia (Alisha Wainwright), a werewolf bartender studying marine biology, is such a badass, and Luke (Isaiah Mustafa) is a hot, werewolf, ex-Shadowhunter, father-figure type and homicide detective, so, yeah, I’m okay with that.

And, of course, Magnus and Alec own my fucking soul. #Malec4Life

Like, I’m not gonna lie, kids: there’s some serious aesthetic appeal going on here. Matthew Daddario has pretty eyes, a great smile, and is stupidly tall, while you don’t get much more my type than Harry Shum Jr. in dark eye makeup and fabulous jackets. But I genuinely love these characters, too, and the chemistry between them: Magnus is a sassy, dangerous warlock with a heart of gold, so, OBVIOUSLY, I love him, and in my own way, I actually relate pretty hard to wary, repressed Alec, especially in the first season as he struggles to accept himself and understand who he is and what he actually wants. And like I said, the queer rep is pretty decent: for main players, Alec is gay, Magnus is bi, and Raphael is asexual (canonically and briefly discussed in scene, though unfortunately, no one uses the actual word). Meanwhile, there are multiple minor LGBTQ+ characters, too, namely, Ollie, Aline, and Underhill.

I know this show isn’t for everyone, but damn, I’m enjoying it right now. Which is why I’m extremely bummed that I only discovered it right before its final season.

Killing Eve

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of BBC America)
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a series of novels
Have I Read It: Nope. I’m really starting to feel like I’m letting my fellow readers down
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no

Here’s something kind of funny: the first thing I saw Sandra Oh in wasn’t a movie or a TV show but a play. I had the extremely unlikely opportunity to see The House of Bernada Alba in LA when I was a teenager, and Oh played Adela, the youngest daughter. (And holy shit, I had NO IDEA that Tsai Chin was in it until just now. Chita Rivera, I knew, but Tsai Chin? Damn it, why didn’t I REALIZE?) If I’m being honest, I don’t remember much about the play itself, other than the fact that I liked it, but Sandra Oh herself left a big impression on me, so much so that I remembered her name years later when I saw promos for Grey’s Anatomy and thought, Wait, is that . .  holy shit, it IS. Sandra Oh is the primary reason I decided to check out Grey’s Anatomy in the first place, and she’s definitely the main reason I decided to finally check out Killing Eve.

People who have not yet watched this show: start watching this show. It’s macabrely funny and touching and violent and weird, all in a way that a TV show starring two female leads rarely gets the opportunity to be. Honestly, cat and mouse has never actually been one of my favorite dynamics (maybe because it often feels so tired?), but to watch Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in that particular dynamic is just sort of breathtaking. It all just feels so new.

Clearly, I don’t need to sing the praises of Oh, between that opening paragraph and her winning every award under the sun, but Jodie Comer is equally magnetic as Villanelle, and I’d really like to see her garner some nominations next year, too. And the whole supporting cast is also great: Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who I fell in love with on The Good Place, is fantastic here and hopefully gets more to do in second season. Fiona Shaw is wonderfully, gloriously strange, and I really enjoy Sean Delaney as Kenny, too. Really, if we could just kill off Eve’s husband sooner rather than later, I’d pretty much be all set.

One Day at a Time

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 3
Adapted Material: No, but it’s a remake
Have I Seen the Original: No. It aired a full decade before I was born.
Spoilers: Some, yes, but only in the fourth paragraph

No one who knows me, I think, would be hugely shocked to discover that I like shows about dysfunctional families and time travel and apocalypses, or obsessed lady serial killers and MI-6 agents. Time loops and angelic magic probably wouldn’t surprise them, either. But One Day at a Time is definitely unusual for me: for one, it’s a sitcom with a live audience, for another, it absolutely delights in making you cry. Neither of these things are my personal TV sweet spot.

However, after several glowing recommendations online, I decided to check out the show last year, and I’m so glad I did because I fucking love One Day at a Time. I won’t lie: it did take me a bit to get used to the laughter (it’s not canned, anyway?), and the first few minutes, I don’t know. The jokes felt forced. But that got better pretty quickly, and by the end of the first season, ODAAT had completely won me over. The show pulls off the rare trick of being genuinely funny while also being topical and heartfelt. Real life issues are regularly brought up without coming across as simplistic or preachy. And seriously, the show consistently kicks your heart in the ass without being manipulative. It’s all pretty impressive.

Everyone in the cast is spectacular, but Justina Machado and Rita Moreno are particularly fantastic. People. They are SO GOOD. I cannot tell you how angry I am that neither have gotten an Emmy nod for this show yet. (And probably won’t, unfortunately. I had a bad feeling about this show’s chances of renewal even before Wednesday’s hashtag. Though, obviously, I would be delighted to be proven wrong.)

ODAAT’s third season aired a few weeks ago, and it’s just as good as the previous two, with some amazing guest stars (Gloria Estefan, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, Alan Ruck, etc.) and some outstanding storylines. Schneider falling off the wagon wasn’t hard to see coming, but I was impressed with how well that whole arc was handled; not to mention, it was really interesting to see Todd Grinnell in a more dramatic role. I desperately love, too, how Elena continues to have issues with her father after his total dick move at her quinceañera, that moving forward isn’t just a snap of the fingers. In particular, I really like the show’s acknowledgment that she shouldn’t have to do all the work in repairing their relationship. That’s big for me. And, of course, I’m happy about the positive queer rep here, too. (Though this isn’t specific to third season.) Elena is a lesbian and Syd (her SO, or Syd-nificant Other) is NB.

Like I said, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if ODAAT gets cancelled. And, I suppose, the third season at least ends on a solid, positive note–but still, there’s a lot more story to tell here, more laughter and more tears and more dramatic entrances from Lydia. If you haven’t watched this show yet, I’m pretty much begging you to check it out. #SaveODAAT #AllMyLovesGetAxed

My Own Dream Show – A Cast of Characters

Last week, I asked for everyone else’s dream casts. Today I provide my own.

Instead of a team-oriented space opera, as I’d originally intended, I came up with the idea for a Twin Peaks-esque show, only with less icky rape and molestation stuff and more werewolves and random musical numbers. There will be a murder investigation. There will be iconic costumes. Lots of food. ALL the offbeat, deadpan humor. I’m not gonna lie, people: I think I’ve got a winner here. This is absolutely a cult classic that gets cancelled in its first season in the making.

A few disclaimers first:

The clips I’ve chosen do not always match the show I pulled the actor from. I didn’t pick a Chris Pratt clip from Parks & Rec, for instance, because I haven’t watched Parks & Rec. Other times I just liked a different clip better for that actor. I’m fickle.

Also, some clips may include SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

Now! Introducing your Cast of Characters:

The FBI Agent. Also, The Unlucky Magnet For All Things Weird.

Allison Janney (The West Wing)

(The problem with embedding clips is that you never quite find the one you’re looking for. I was hoping for a specific scene with turkeys, but hey, I like this one too.)

The FBI agent fled this strange little town long ago, hoping for a life of normalcy and law enforcement and chain restaurant options; however, the strange and supernatural follow wherever she goes. If handed a simple home-invasion-gone-wrong homicide, you can bet that psychic clowns are somehow involved. Has long since accepted this, and basically everything else that happens. Weary and cynical. Will always make time for breakfast.

Quote: Yup. That’s a werewolf, all right. Look, I believe I was promised donuts?

The Small Town Cop. Charming, But Slightly Tortured. Also, Psychic.

Theo Rossi (Luke Cage)

(Ugh, forget about the turkeys. It is stupidly hard to find Luke Cage scenes with Shades in them on Youtube. This is probably not the representative example I would have given, but I didn’t have much to work with. You can find the “lawyer” scene here at the 7:05 mark, though, and that one always makes me laugh.)

The FBI agent’s liaison/local partner during this investigation. Does the majority of his casework by reading the cards, looking for omens, having creepy dreams, and speaking to ghosts, who unfortunately aren’t always as helpful as you’d expect them to be. Has far more hobbies than any one person could realistically have. Begins a romance with the ghost of the current murder victim.

Quote: The mime in my dream told us we’d find a clue at the old sawmill. Then the Dark Mime God came and punished the mime by erasing his mouth from existence . . . but that part wasn’t real, probably.

The Hot Mechanic Werewolf Ghost, AKA, The Murder Victim

Chris Pratt (Parks & Rec)

Doesn’t know who murdered him. Doesn’t know why anyone would, and is, all in all, pretty outraged by the whole thing. Otherwise affable. Appears in two forms: his Hot Mechanic form (jeans, dirty white tank, the perfect amount of sweat) and his Awesome Werewolf form (an actual wolf). Falls hard for the small town cop. Misses food.

Quote: I’m supposed to be eating tacos today. Everyone should be clear on that.

The Hotel Owner. Also, The Badass Pack Leader Seeking Vengeance.

Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Expanse)

Owns the only hotel in town. Courteous, elegant, and seeks rampant, bloody vengeance for the murder of one of her wolves. Frequently annoys her guest, The FBI Agent, by keeping tabs on the investigation. Never impressed by its progress. Dresses fabulously.

Quote: So, you see, I cannot stand about forever for your clumsy investigation to conclude. There is a throat out there, waiting to be torn out. My teeth will only wait so long.

The Eccentric Heiress. Possibly A Vampire.

Gina Torres (Firefly)

The richest woman in town. Easily owns half the land, and is fond of popping up at night to remind people of that. Her clothing is always expensive, no matter what she’s doing, and highly unpredictable: she might show up in a black dress and matching feather boa one day, a plush white bathrobe the next. Longstanding enmity between her and The Hotel Owner. Never leaves her mansion during daytime hours.

Quote: You absolutely must come to my party. I’ll just have your head if you don’t.

The Postman/The Guy Who Can Get It For You

Michael Emerson (Lost)

Only seen in his USPS uniform. Delivers letters and packages from the normal mail, plus whatever anyone else needs on the down low. Friendly, almost always willing to engage in small talk, but takes his job very seriously. Will become quietly, abruptly, horrifyingly violent if someone maliciously tries to interfere with his legal or illegal deliveries. Eventually revealed to be the right hand man of The Eccentric Heiress.

Quote: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop me, sir. It was foolish of you to try.

The Local Witch Who Owns The Diner

Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is The New Black)

Plainspoken. Profane. Calls everyone hon or honey or sweetie. Has cast a spell on her restaurant that causes the patrons to talk about all their secrets and/or confidential business in public. Most customers aren’t aware of this, and the few who are put up with it because it’s the only diner in town. Wears an old fashioned waitress uniform with sensible shoes, and frequently decides for people what they want to eat.

Quote: Hon, I’ve worked here 30 years. I’ve seen some weird shit. I know when my customers need blueberry pancakes, and you don’t deserve them yet.

The Baker/ The Guy Who Automatically Makes Every Scene A Musical

Jesse L. Martin (The Flash)

Intelligent, funny, generally delightful. Frequently shows up to distribute baked goods in places that a baker really has no business being in: crime scenes, for instance. Also, funerals. Whenever he arrives, everyone spontaneously bursts into song. No one will ever acknowledge this during the course of the show.

Quote: There are vanilla cupcakes here/and mocha cupcakes there/it’s hard to deliver when there’s blood everywhere. 

(Look, don’t judge. If this was an actual thing, I’d hire someone to write better lyrics for me. It’s not exactly my forte, okay?)

The Investigative Reporter Seemingly Stuck In the 1940’s

Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire)

Favors trenchcoats, fedoras, suspenders, white tank tops, and cigars. Pants, too. Frequently speaks in hardboiled noir slang. Writes for the local paper and takes every article equally seriously, whether it’s the murder of a mechanic werewolf or how the next-door-neighbor’s cat came to be stuck in that tree. Enjoys appearing out of nowhere whenever possible. Also writes the newspaper’s horoscopes.

Quote: Scorpio, you weasel. You’re behind the eight-ball this week, all right. Better lay dormy somewhere until it blows over; otherwise, you’re liable to face some serious chin music. Avoid cinnamon.

The Town Librarian. Also, The Town Secret Assassin

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)

Glasses. Dresses almost entirely in black. Ace/Aro. Leads a reading group of young girls from ages 4-17, exposing them to different types of literature, as well as the many different ways to kill someone. When in assassin mode, may vary wildly from Victorian elegant poisoner to exuberant punk overkill, depending on what the client wants and her general mood at the time.

Quote: Excellent progress, girls. Now, who can tell which poison Merricat Blackwood used in We Have Always Lived In The Castle, and the pros/cons of that particular poison?

The Bartender/Coroner. Eventually Undead.

Sarah Shahi (Person of Interest)

Owns and runs a bar called Autopsy Room Four. Does autopsies in one of the back rooms when the town requires one. Friendly, personable. Enjoys geeking out over things, especially baseball, virology, and Stephen King. Murdered during the first season, but mysteriously comes back to life in her grave and crawls her way out. May or may not experience cravings for human flesh.

Quote: Last round, everyone! Hey, I’m disappointed, too, but this bag of meat isn’t going to autopsy itself.

The Wandering Armchair Psychologist

Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy)

Chatty. Enthusiastic. Entirely too blunt. Has appointed herself the town’s therapist, and relies heavily on pop culture, particularly TV Tropes, for her evaluations. Whenever it becomes clear that an episode is going to primarily feature a main character’s emotional arc and/or backstory, the Wandering Armchair Psychologist will appear for a series of sit-downs with that character, whether he/she/they want it or not. Usually, not.

Quote: So, your father was horrifically dismembered and eaten by a flock of wereturkeys. Let’s talk about that.

The Stranger. Also, The Voice of the Audience

Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead)

No one knows who he is or anything about him. Pops up sporadically to either tell people that they’re doing something stupid and/or dangerous, or to help them come to a ridiculously obvious realization. Usually very dry, but every now and then becomes so aggravated with everyone’s stupidity that he has a full meltdown about it . . . before once again disappearing into the night.

Quote: Going there without calling backup, huh? Yeah, that won’t get you killed immediately.

I’m telling you, people: I want this show. I want it now. I already have possible theme songs in mind: “Jugband Blues” by Pink Floyd or maybe “Strange Days” by The Doors. Oh, the many unrealized dreams of the human heart.

And if you haven’t already done so, I’d still like to hear your dream casts. (Especially YOU, Mekaela! I let it slide last week because it was your birthday, but NO LONGER.) Feel free to comment here, or at the original post where I laid out the rules.