TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2021/2022 – PART ONE

Now that we’ve hit March,  it’s time to discuss the last three months of television! Here are all the shows I’ve been watching.

Midnight Mass
Guardian
Hawkeye (Episodes 4-6)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Episodes 5-13)
Running Man (Episodes 36-49 and Episodes 582-593)
The Expanse (Season 6)
The Witcher (Season 2)
The Silent Sea
Ted Lasso
Yellowjackets
Happiness
All of Us Are Dead
Beyond Evil
Star Trek (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 1-2)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether said show is currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however. Which is to say, I won’t spoil The Witcher, Season 2, without a heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 are totally fair game. (Though that’s just an example, like. NGL: The Witcher didn’t exactly get a lot of love here.)

Also, I apparently had a LOT to talk about because by the time I was finished writing this post up, it was already over 8,000 words, which some might consider, you know, excessive. Thus I decided to split my TV Superlatives in half, which is . . . well, still an excessive word count, honestly, but that’s just how it goes at MGB. Part I is generally spoiler-free. The Big Spoiler Stuff will all be in Part II.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Candyman, Urban Legend, and A Bay of Blood

Friends! Enemies! Other Random People! It is October, and that means it is finally time for our 3rd Annual Horror Bingo!

The Game Set-Up: Mek and I each came up with our own list of 15 horror movies. We wrote those movie names down and put them together in a little Halloween bucket; then we randomly drew titles until we’d finished creating our own bingo cards. (The Free Space, if you were wondering, is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. We’ll watch it sometime later this month.) Then all the movies went back in the bucket, and now we’re taking turns drawing and watching scary movies until one of us finally hits Bingo.

Here’s to hopefully winning for the third year in a row!

Candyman

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Year: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Strawberry

For me, Candyman doesn’t quite come together. I definitely don’t regret watching it; in fact, there’s an awful lot to like here. The cast, for instance, is fantastic. I particularly like Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Troy is so extra, and I love him), but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Domingo also do solid work here. A lot of the individual creepy moments are great. Peeling skin. Shadow puppets. The wrong reflection in the mirror. Some awesome funny moments, too: Brianna’s reaction to the dark staircase. Most of Troy’s dialogue. Anytime anyone nopes out of saying Candyman. (White people are, almost exclusively, making poor life choices here.)

Candyman has a lot of interesting things to say about gentrification, about police brutality, about the exploitation of Black pain and the holy shit cringe of white people trying to dictate what stories Black people are allowed to tell. It talks about legends and collective trauma and makes some fascinating choices in terms of updating the Candyman mythology. This movie has so much to say; unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough time to say it.

Candyman is only about 1 hour and 30 minutes long, and while that initially excited me (I am not, generally speaking, a huge fan of the 2 hour, 45 minute horror film), I think this particular story needed to be at least two hours, easy. Everything just feels extremely rushed or underdeveloped to me: Anthony’s spiral, Brianna’s backstory, and definitely a couple of Reveals that I can’t discuss without spoilers. It felt like we were flying past important steps, which kept me from ever really feeling that buildup of tension that can be so pivotal in horror. I love the idea of the ending (the scene in the police car is particularly fantastic) but the ten-minute lead-up to that scene felt so hurried and convoluted that it just doesn’t land for me nearly as well as it could. There’s also a tie-in to the the original film that I’m not totally sure is necessary; I don’t hate it, exactly, but it’s one more thing in a story that already has a lot going on.

Finally, dear God. Google what a normal bee sting looks like, and if you’re noticing some rather noticeable differences between your search results and your fucking death hand, go to the ER immediately. I am begging you.

Urban Legend

Year: 1998
Director: Jamie Blanks
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

It’s been years–maybe 20 of them, JFC–since I’ve seen Urban Legend, so I thought it’d be fun to finally rewatch it. This movie is one of the quintessential 90’s slashers, with hilarious 90’s problems (the internet is tying up the phone line!), some very 90’s music (OMG, “Zoot Suit Riot”), and an extremely 90’s cast. Holy shit, this cast. Final Girl Alicia Witt. Jared Leto, who’s more off-putting than I remember. (And not just because he’s kinda insufferable now.) Rebecca Gayheart, who–holy shit, she accidentally killed a child. I knew there had been a vehicular manslaughter charge (which is particularly . . . something, considering Brenda’s villainous motivations), but I didn’t know it was a nine-year-old boy. I just found all these ‘Rebecca Gayheart finally breaks her silence on tragic accident that left a kid dead’ articles, and like, I don’t know this actress, I’m not gonna offer an opinion on her sincerity or guilt, but wow, these headlines are passive, deliberately distancing Gayheart from her actions. And the tone of each article, like. They all really center her grief, her trauma, in a way that feels . . . yeah, kinda icky to me.

Okay, I got sidetracked. Also in this cast: Joshua Jackson (in his brief blond phase), Michael Rosenbaum (always funny to see him with hair), Danielle Harris (of Halloween and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead fame), Brad Dourif (also in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, plus the Chucky movies, plus eight billion other weirdo roles), Robert Englund (I mean, do I even need to say), Loretta Devine (who rather surprisingly doesn’t die!), John Neville (who I vaguely remember from The X-Files), and Julian Richings (That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada).

While slashers aren’t, by and large, known for their likable characters, seriously, almost everyone in Urban Legend is kind of a dick. Like, am I supposed to be rooting for Natalie and Paul? Cause, yeah, nope. Frankly, I was cheering Brenda on until, y’know. She microwaved a puppy. (Apparently, this is an actual urban legend?) Tara Reid is playing one of the more likable characters here, which, I mean, I’m not saying it never happens–all hail Josie and the Pussycats–but still. These people are dire.

Urban Legends is silly but enjoyable, and I laughed a lot. Sometimes when I was supposed to (the “I Don’t Want to Wait” gag, Damon’s sleaze act, Natalie punching Damon for being a sleaze, etc.), sometimes when I probably wasn’t (pretty much the entire opening act or how Rebecca Gayheart’s hair suddenly grows three sizes when she’s revealed as the villain). It does feel a bit slow at times, probably because I truly don’t give a shit about anybody here, like, just zero investment in these characters. But I do really enjoy that Brenda’s the bad guy. It’s the only slasher I can think of offhand where the BFF is the killer. And hey, she even unambiguously survives! Not something BFFs are known for in this genre. (Villains, naturally, can go either way.)

A Bay of Blood

Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: All of them
Grade: Vanilla

Ah, A Bay of Blood, AKA: Ecologia del delitto, AKA: Reazione a Catena, AKA: Carnage, AKA: Blood Bath, and–my personal favorite–AKA: Twitch of the Death Nerve. It’s sorta hilarious to me how controversial this movie was when it first came out. I mean, I get it. This was a huge inspiration for the slasher genre and just crazy gory for 1971; in fact, some of the shots are still striking today, particularly the octopus slithering all over the dead body, like, Jesus. (Other moments that stick out: the countess’s hanging, the kid who gets a billhook machete to the face, the tarot reader’s decapitation–mostly because it made me laugh–and Laura’s corpse, partly because of the transition from flashback to dead body, partly cause she reminds me of Casey Becker in that shot.)

There’s a lot I like here. As a murder mystery nerd, I’m kind of obsessed with stories with more than one murderer–and not just partners-in-crime, but multiple separate killers. A Bay of Blood has 13 deaths and FOUR different killers. Six, if you count the accidental Murder Children, and boy, will we get back to those two. Anyway, I just think that’s neat. I’m really into the whole chain reaction of death, too, all, whelp, guess I gotta go murder again, or hmm, looks like an ideal time to bump someone off. I’m also very fond of the OST, which–in true 70’s Italian style–is totally weird and somehow still works, from the grandiose piano music to the more jaunty stuff to the ludicrously cheerful song that plays right after the Murder Children unwittingly kill their killer parents.

Structurally, though, I have problems. It should work: open with an inciting death or two, set up your cast of characters, kill off a few here or there, and then 3rd Act Blood Bath! But the pacing really feels off in the 1st half of the film. We spend fucking forever on these teenagers. (One has possibly the worst haircut I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know what to call it. Fluffy Mullet With Wings, maybe?) And while some shots and editing choices are great, others feel extremely random and choppy. The dialogue isn’t the best, either, although that’s hard  to judge, considering the dubbing and poor sound quality. Possibly, I missed stuff, like . . . why did these people just decide to leave their kids behind in a camper on the side of the road in the middle of the night again?

I can’t quite decide how I feel about that ending, either. The awful parents are the last murderers left standing, only they immediately get killed by their own children, who shoot them without realizing the guns are very real. These kids fucking skip off into the sunset, thinking their parents are only playing dead, and I mean–yeah, I definitely laughed to the tune of what the actual fuck. But the last minute Comeuppance Twist doesn’t always play for me, and ultimately, I’m not sure if I love it here.

I do really feel like A Bay of Blood might be one that grows on me, but I’ll have to think it over. TBH, I kinda want to see a remake. The cinematic blasphemy, I know.

World’s Worst Trekkie: A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, and A Private Little War

All right. I have a sinus infection. I’m running on caffeine, antibiotics, Ibuprofen, and not nearly enough sleep, and we’ve got roughly three hours of Star Trek to discuss. Let’s just dive into it, shall we?

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“A Piece of the Action”

Oh, God. Folks. Fellow humans. I can’t with this episode. I was so bored.

“A Piece of the Action” is about Kirk, Spock, and Bones beaming down to 1920’s Mobster World, and I know it’s supposed to be funny, but good lord, it’s like a ten-minute gag that’s stretched, kicking and screaming, into a full episode. I’d watch it again, maybe, but only as a drinking game. The first and second rules are obvious: 1) drink whenever Kirk, Bones, or Spock get the drop on any of the gangsters, and 2) drink whenever any gangster gets the drop on Kirk, Bones, or Spock. I cannot emphasize enough how often this happens, and if that sounds somehow exciting or action-packed, let me assure you that it is not. This episode is like watching someone playing Hot Potato with a Tommy gun, only somehow boring. There is simply a limit to how many times one can get and lose the upper hand before any sense of tension or stakes are annihilated; this episode surpasses that limit by a wide and wild margin.

Another rule: drink whenever Kirk shows off all the noir slang he’s picked up. You will be drinking non-stop for the last 10 minutes straight.

Here are a few things I did enjoy: the origin of fizzbin. How absurdly large The Book (AKA, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties) actually is. It’s basically a giant Bible, like, it’s gotta be the size of Kirk’s whole torso at least. I also enjoy Kirk and Spock in their respective suits, and the irrefutable fact that, in the Prime timeline, Kirk absolutely cannot drive. (Obviously, he learned how to do this at a very young age in the Kelvin verse. These are the important canon divergences to analyze, people.)

Unfortunately, that’s about all I really enjoyed here. The whole concept of this episode–an alien society so imitative that they rewrote their entire culture just to mimic one (ridiculously gigantic) book–is ludicrous, of course, but ludicrous can be entertaining. This, however, mostly struck me as tiresome and grating, particularly the slang, (which I found too cartoonish to be convincing) and the constant Tommy gun Hot Potato.

Chief Asshat: All the mob bosses, mostly for the crime of being annoying.

MVP: The kid who briefly teams up with Kirk and Spock, I guess.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“But the odds of getting a Royal Fizzbin are astro–Spock, what are the odds in getting a Royal Fizzbin?”
“I’ve never computed them, Captain.”
“Well, they’re astronomical, believe me.”
*Spock silently mouths astronomical and looks away, resigned*

“The Immunity Syndrome”

“The Immunity Syndrome” is unlikely to make it to my personal Top Ten, but it’s not a bad episode. The stars disappear at some point, which is always creepy. There is a giant amoeba (and not a “giant glowy space fish with one eye,” which was my immediate impression). Kirk has to decide whether to send Spock (Friend/Lover #1) or Bones (Friend/Lover #2) on what’s almost certainly a suicide mission. (He picks Spock, and I desperately hope that there’s fanfic about all of this.) And Spock essentially senses a great disturbance in the Force when 400 Vulcans die, because his touch telepathy will forever and always be dependent upon what the plot requires. (I now find myself wanting to see Spock in Star Trek 2009 psychically reeling from the collective death of basically everyone on Vulcan, which would admittedly be a lot on top of killing his mom. But since Winona Ryder played the only version of Amanda Grayson I’ve ever liked . . . yeah, let’s save her and do this scene instead.)

There are things that don’t totally work for me here. Spock’s idea that the dead Vulcans could not have conceived of their doom because Vulcans, as a species, have never been conquered feels like incredibly sketch logic. (Also, it’s a retcon, at least if Bones in “Conscience of the King” is to be believed–which, to be fair, I never really did.) I don’t know if I entirely buy Bones actively campaigning to go on the suicide mission for the sake of Science, either. I can absolutely see him sacrificing his life to save others, but that’s not quite how this is framed. Like, I bought Bones helpfully interrupting to say “I recommend survival” (without any suggestions as to how, natch), much more than Bones asking Spock, “Do you think that I intend to pass up the greatest living laboratory . . .” when the cost of going is near-certain death.  I also wish someone at least brought up the possibility of trying to save the giant amoeba, too.

I remain amused, also, about A) how quickly Bones resorts to just drugging everyone with stimulants–space cocaine definitely feels like a solid medical treatment–and B) how both Bones and a nurse personally come to the Bridge to administer, like, six adrenaline shots, when 2/3 of the ship have also been affected and are waiting on treatment, goddamnit. All this aside, “The Immunity Syndrome” is a totally decent episode, and much better than what came before . . . or what’s coming next.

Chief Asshat: Actually, no one’s really terrible here, but I’m giving this to Kirk anyway, for not slamming those breaks early.

MVP: Spock, maybe, for verbally bitchslapping human history.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:
“Shut up, Spock, we’re rescuing you!”
“Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.”

“A Private Little War”

If you look very, very carefully, you might be able to find a good episode hiding somewhere in the depths of this one, but boy, it would be a long and arduous excavation. I do have some suggestions, of course. Buying better wigs is probably not the most important one, but holy Jesus, these wigs are awful–not to mention that the subtle symbolism of Good Blond Aliens vs. Evil Brunette Aliens leaves something to be desired.

A bigger problem is Nona. The Good Blond Aliens are led by Pacifist Tyree, who is Kirk’s friend; Nona is his duplicitous brunette witch wife who drugs men with aphrodisiacs and heals them with plants, blood, and sexy writhing. I hate literally everything I just wrote. Nona potentially could be interesting, if you altered her ridiculous healing process and straight-up cut the gross non-con behavior. See, this planet used to be a very peaceful one, but a Klingon spy is giving the Evil Brunette Aliens superior weapons, and Nona wants Kirk to give the Good Blond Aliens the same weapons (or even better ones) to defend themselves with/wipe out their enemies.

This is a perfect setup for a morally ambiguous character who advocates for terrible things but for pretty understandable reasons, which is so much more interesting than Sexy Evil Chick who tries to sell out her husband’s people and inevitably gets killed for it. A better episode, IMO, would still have Nona knock out Kirk and steal his phaser, but this time she’d die after successfully assassinating the Evil Brunette Leader. It would be a much more satisfying/badass death for her personally, but would still be tragic overall–because while Nona would die thinking she sacrificed her life to save Good Blond Aliens, the audience would see how her death actually served as a catalyst for Pacifist Tyree’s transformation into Vengeful Tyree, thereby only extending the war.

You see how bad this episode is? I’m basically just pleading for this show to fridge women better. And I haven’t even gotten into how this episode is also somehow a mangled Vietnam War allegory, or the whole side plot where Spock gets shot and must literally be slapped in the face, like, twenty times to properly heal. (Okay, this is hysterical, actually, but I can’t help but feel that Plot A and Plot B have been horribly mismatched here.) Or how the Klingon spy is is basically just dropped from the story–and why was this guy getting involved, anyway? These people are unlikely to be a big asset to the Klingon empire. And yeah, that whole serpent of Eden metaphor, too. Ugh, guys, enough is enough. Please leave Eden alone, I am so tired of it.

Oh well. At least we got the introductions of M’Benga and this dude, I guess.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, who continues to be an asshole about Klingons, snaps at Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov, and justifies giving the Good Blond Aliens rifles with some pretty shaky logic. But M’Benga is also a candidate, as he’s a bit of a condescending dick to Nurse Chapel when she asks for some pretty reasonable clarification.

MVP: Definitely the mugato.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “This man believes the same thing we believe in, that killing is stupid and useless.” (A great quote from Bones, but I’d hardly call it a consistent TOS philosophy.)