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Posts Tagged ‘The Mandalorian’

Just like most movie bloggers, at this time of year I start to think about my top ten movies of the year.  Having only seen 28 movies at the cinema (I have averaged about 110 a year for the past two decades) I am not as excited by the idea as in previous years.  However I have watched more TV than ever before, practically through the first lockdown.  The best shows I have watched are The West Wing, and The Wire that I had not previously seen, and Breaking Bad that that I started watching last year.  But what of the new, and ongoing shows?  It’s actually been a really good year:

The Queen’s Gambit – Three years ago Scott Frank gave us Godless, a fantastic seven part western TV miniseries, who would have thought his next project would be about chess? As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. Based a novel from 1983 from Walter Tevis, and telling the story of a (fictional) chess prodigy.   I have long thought Anya Taylor-Joy is the best young actor around at the moment, this has proved it, her performance is probably the best I have seen all year, in film and TV.  Hitting a lot of the beats of a sports movie, but where a sports movie has the challenge of making the sport look realistic, this has the problem of making chess exciting, it does it with ease.   As with Godless, Frank directed every episode, and wrote them with co-creator Allan Scott. 

The Mandalorian, seasons 1&2 – We had to wait until this year for the first season of The Mandalorian, it was worth the wait, to add to this, the second season was even better.  Set a few years after the end of the original Star Wars trilogy and telling the story of a Mandalorian bounty hunter.  Created by Jon Favreau and providing a perfect antidote to the patchy sequels.  Essentially a western in space, the stories are great but the real appeal is the characters .  With numerous rumoured spinoffs, it may be the starting point for the next generation of Star Wars, it certainly provides a strong template. 

Normal People – Marianne and Connell are two, well, normal people.  Coming from very different backgrounds in the same small town in Ireland, the story follows them from their final year at school, through their time at university.  Coming just two years after the publication of Sally Rooney’s novel on which it’s based.  Released on BBC Iplayer in one go, it was one of the summers most binge-worthy shows.  The performances from little known Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal are sensational. 

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel was adapted into a really good film in 2000 directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack.  The TV show is better than them Movie.  Moving the location to Brooklyn (the book was set in London, the movie in Chicago), but more significantly the casting of Zoë Kravitz changed the dynamic of the show, she is also brilliant.  Criminally, by the time it reached the UK, it had already been cancelled, so we don’t get a second season, this is a great shame. 

Gangs of London – Created by Gareth Evans, the man behind The Raid movies.  An undercover cop finds himself at the centre of a power struggle in London following the death of a gangland boss.  Full of recognisable British actors, but the standout performance comes from Sope Dirisu.  Episode five, is possibly the best single episode of TV this year. 

His Dark Materials – Season 2 is based on The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman’s second novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  The first season was good, the second is even better.  Dafne Keen has really grown into the role, as has Amir Wilson who has much more to do than in the first season.  The real star remains the brilliant Ruth Wilson.

What We Do in the Shadows, Season 2 – Based on the 2014 New Zealand mockumentary written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.  Continuing the mockumentary style of the movie but following a different house of vampires, this time in Staten Island.  The beauty of the comedy, is that however absurd it gets (it gets extremely absurd), it is totally deadpan.

Save Me Too – Marketed as Save Me Too, is the second Season of Save Me.  Co-written by star Lennie James.  The story revolves around a man searching for is estranged teenage daughter.  Spoiler: by the end of the first season he hadn’t found her.  The second season picks up eighteen months later, to its credit, it doesn’t always go where you expect. 

Sex Education, Season 2 – With the help of a classmate, the son of a sex therapist starts a sex advice business at school.  Set in an fictional British town that seems to exist out of time, with a school more reminiscent of American TV. What sounds like a terrible idea for a show is actually brilliant thanks to a the brilliant script, and performances.  The kids are all very good, but Gillian Anderson steals the show. 

Alice in Borderland – A late entry ontot he list as it only dropped on Netflix in early December.  A Japanese TV show based on a manga of the same name by Haro Aso.  Three friends find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo.  Trapped in the city they soon find they have to compete in a series of deadly games in order to survive.  Inspired by and taking elements of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, it is wonderfully bonkers.  A second season has already been announced. 

The honourable mentions: Devs, The Boys – Season 2, I Hate Suzie, Bosch – Season 6, Snowpiercer, The Eddy, Hunters, Lovecraft Country, Warrior – Season 2, The Umbrella Academy – seaason 2, The Expanse, Season 5 (may have made the top ten, but only half the season has dropped at the time of going to press). And finally: Small Axe – Marketed as a miniseries or an anthology, I didn’t include it as a TV show, but is worth a mention as it is excellent.  A series of five movies about the experiences of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s.  All films are directed by Steve McQueen, who also co-wrote them.  The first two Mangrove, and Lovers Rock were the standouts for me. 

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Following my list of Space Adventure movies in the century so far, I thought I would take a similar look at TV from the same time period. 

Farscape (1999 – 2003), Where better to start a list of programs from this century, than in the previous one! The Australian-American series ran for four seasons, before being concluded with a three hour mini-series.  The Jim Henson Company, were responsible for both the alien make-up/prosthetics and animatronic puppets. The show had a great cast, the highlight being Claudia Black.  The world-building was excellent, but the standout was the story.  In a time before longform TV as we know it now, most of the episodes were standalone or short narratives over a small number of episodes, however, there is always an overarching story arc.  Farscape

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) Produced by the Sci Fi Channel, and regarded by many as the definitive version of Frank Herbert’s novel.  I found it a little tedious, and prefer David Lynch’s 1984 film version.  A second series: Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (sometimes called Dune Apocalypse) followed in 2003.  Based on the books Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune.  A better series overall, mainly thanks to James McAvoy as Leto II.Frank Herbert's Dune

Andromeda (2000 – 2005) Marketed as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, it was based on an and unused material by the late Roddenberry.  The show ran for 110 episodes over five seasons.  Set in a future dystopian, post-apocalyptic universe, the premise of the show is fighting against the odds to make things better, a very Roddenberry idea.  I seem to remember the show was no very late at night in the UK, I watched the first episode and then saw odd episodes over the years.  I remember enjoying what I saw, but never enough to seek out a whole series. Andromeda

Cowboy Bebop (2001 -2002) – Japanese animated series made up of 26 episodes and a movie.  Set in a future where Earth almost uninhabitable, and humanity has colonized most of the Solar System.  The story concentrates on a an Inter Solar System Police. Described as a cyberpunk blend of Western and pulp fiction, it meets all the space opera credentials for this list.  An American live action version is reported to be in production for Netflix, although recent reports suggest it will be much delayed due to a knee injury suffered by star John Cho. Cowboy Bebop

Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005) Running for 98 episodes across four seasons, Enterprise was set around a century before the original series and captain Kirk’s five-year mission telling the early years of Starfleet, and the first starship Enterprise. I lost interest during the first season, but understand it got better. Star Trek Enterprise

Firefly (2002 – 2003) The show that gives this article its title.  Cruelly cancelled mid season, there are only 14 episodes, but they are all fantastic. Although episodic, flashback episodes tell the origins of the characters.  Set on the fringes of civilised society echoing pioneer culture and western movies, key members of the crew fought on the losing side of a civil war.  Handled differently this could have been very problematic.  A combination of fantastic world-building and characters set the short lived show head and shoulders above others, this made it easy for them to transition into Serenity, the movie that finished the story. Firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance.Battlestar Galactica

Stargate Atlantis (2004 – 2009) Although I watched and enjoyed the original Stardgate movie, I have never seen any of the TV show.  I did however start watching Stargate Atlantis, which I understand to be a continuation of the original show.  A military survival series, set in a new galaxy and unable to contact earth, I enjoyed the first season, them it moved from free to air TV and I haven’t seen any further episodes. Stargate Atlantis - Season 5

Doctor Who (2005 – ) Doctor Who ran for over 700 episodes from 1963 to 1989.  When it returned in 2005, nobody knew what to expect, I don’t think anybody expected it to be so good and to re-cement itself as a British institution.  It has lost its way since the departure of Steven Moffat, but still remains fun and watchable. Doctor Who

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008 – 2020) The clone wars were mentioned by Princess Leia, and then again by Luke and Ben in Star Wars, without any explanation as to what they were. Following the prequels (clones were introduced in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)) came The Clone Wars filling in the can between episodes II and III.  I have never seen any of them, but understand they are popular. Star Wars The Clone Wars

Stargate Universe (2009 -2011) An exploration team find themselves onboard an Ancient spaceship several billion light years from our Galaxy. Running for 40 episodes over two seasons, the show was cancelled after the final season was in the can resulting in an ending described as a semi-cliffhanger.  A shame, as I enjoyed the show. Stargate Universe

Caprica (2010) – Set a generation before Battlestar Galactica and telling the story of the creation of Cylon’s and sowing the seeds for the destruction of the twelve colonies.  The show was filled with interesting characters played by some really good actors.  Sadly the story unfolded too slowly and it failed to find an audience and was cancelled before the first season had finished airing.  This is a great shame, the tease real for the unmade second season look really good.Caprica

Agents of SHIELD (2013-2020) The MCU’s longest running TV show is largely earth based, but the whole firth season is set in space, and is pretty good.Agents of SHIELD

Dark Matter (2015) Six people wake up on a deserted spaceship with no memory of who they are or what they’re doing there. Running for three seasons, I am yet to see it. Dark Matter

Killjoys (2015-2019) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role.Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.The Expanse

Lost in Space (2018 – ) When I was kid in the 80’s I loved the re-run of the 1960’s show.  I only watched the first two or three episodes of the new version before loosing interest.  It appears to be popular with a third season being commissioned. Lost in Space

Star Trek Discovery (2018 – ) Moving away from the single episodes of most of the Trek franchise to telling one long form story per season has changed the show dramatically.  Interesting stories and fantastic casting have made it a positive move.  Set before the events of the original show, the writers have done an amazing job of fitting the story into existing narratives. Star Trek Discovery

Altered Carbon (2018 – ) With two seasons aired so far, Altered Carbon has become legendary for its cost of production.  The high budget really shows with the lavish production design.  Based on the 2002 novel of the same title by Richard K. Morgan, a key to the story is how, memories and consciousness can be transferred from one body to another allowing recasting to  become part of the narrative. Altered Carbon

Krypton (2018 – 2019) Set on Superman’s doomed home planet around 200 years before his birth. Running for twenty episodes across two seasons to mixed reviews.  I haven’t seen any so can’t comment further.Krypton - Season 2

Nightflyers (2018) Billed as a psychological thriller (aka a pretentious horror) about a spaceship exploring the universe for alien life.  Based on a novella by George R.R. Martin.  It ran for 10 episodes, I lost interest by the second. Nightflyers - Season 1

Another Life (2019-2020) A crew travel into space to try and unlock the mystery of an alien artifact that may be threatening life on earth.  Combining adventure with mystery thriller the concept of this show looks really good.  Unfortunately It didn’t work for me, I gave up after two episodes. Another Life

The Mandalorian (2019- ) Episode One of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show snuck in before the nations cinemas closed, and screened in UK cinema’s as part of the Disney streaming launch.  All the hype seems to have surrounded the character who has erroneously become known as baby Yoda.  The show, is actually very good! The Mandelorian

Star Trek Picard (2020- ) Patrick Stewart returns to the Star Trek universe as a now retired Jean-Luc Picard.  The story makes reference to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and brings back a few characters from the past, and introduces some really good new ones.  On the whole it is excellent, but isn’t as consistently good as the first season of Star Trek Discovery. Star Trek Picard

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