Category: review

TV Series Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

I read The Mysterious Benedict Society a while back. Just the first book (I believe it’s a series now?), but I enjoyed it, even if it quickly faded in my memory to “book about a secret school, with students who go there under cover to save the world.” It’s a cool premise, but I couldn’t remember much more than that. But when I saw Disney had done an adaptation of the first book on Disney+, I remembered enough about the book that I thought the TV version would be worth checking out.

And . . . it was! If you’ve seen the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you should know about what to expect. (Minus the doom and gloom.) It’s well produced, with a cool design that consistently pops. It stars Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development) and four child actors who do a decent job. I watched it with the whole family, and everyone enjoyed the whole season. (Anytime a show can pull that off, entertaining the ages of 8, 13, 17, and 40+, that’s noteworthy right there.)

I especially liked the humor of the show, which took me a bit to figure out. It’s pretty dry, but once I got it what the show was going for, it worked really well.

The general premise is as I remembered it: a group of four students are recruited to go undercover at a school for the gifted that seems to be the front for a sinister operation. They need to find out what’s going on and how to stop it, and they need to do it largely on their own. Adventure ensues.

Is it going to change my life? No, but it consistently delivered a good time. Tony Hale turns in a solid performance, and even when the show’s pace ebbed now and then, it was still fun to just watch the screen and appreciate the design work.

If you’re looking for a show to watch with the whole family, and you have Disney+, then check this one out. Not too scary, but not too simple either. 7.5/10, but not many kids shows can score that highly for me.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: Broadchurch Season One

Ah, the wonders of streaming. Where I can “discover” a “new show” 8 years after it first aired. Well, if you’re like me, and you haven’t watched Broadchurch (available to stream on Netflix), then let me bring it to your attention.

David Tennant (the tenth Doctor Who) stars as DI Hardy, the lead detective on a case of the murder of an 11 year old boy in Broadchurch, England. He’s assisted by Olivia Colman (Queen Elizabeth in the latest Crown seasons). Jodie Whitaker (the twelfth Doctor Who) plays the murdered boy’s mother. The show features great acting and the first season has a fantastic plot. 8 episodes, all of them well done.

I enjoyed the way the show delved into the impact an event like that can have on a relatively small town, as well as the impact the investigation of that event can have. You get to know the characters of the town because the investigation goes on for so long. True, there were a couple of plot developments that felt like a bit of a stretch to me (and they used practically the same plot device twice, which was a tad weak), but by and large the investigation doesn’t feel padded.

I also really enjoyed the interaction between Tennant and Colman. Tennant is brash and inconsiderate, a newcomer to Broadchurch. Colman is a lifelong resident. She knows all the people and thinks the best of everyone, but in a murder case, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Seeing the two of them argue about approaches and techniques set up a great dichotomy that plays out wonderfully.

The tensions rise with each episode, and the finale of the season was fantastic. Always a big plus for a television show. (Sadly, two episodes into the second season, it’s felt much more contrived. Hoping that changes soon.) The show is TV-MA for some harsh language, but there’s not much in the way of blood/violence and no sex I can recall. Overall, I gave it an 8.5/10. Very good television.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

TV Review: The Goes Wrong Show

When I find a British show that I love, my biggest complaint is always (inevitably) that it’s just too short. Seasons across the Atlantic are like five episodes long. Six, if you’re lucky. Thankfully with The Goes Wrong Show, it’s a “long” season of 6 whopping episodes, available on Amazon Prime even as we speak. And if I were you (which I realize I’m not), I would stop whatever you’re doing this instant and go watch this show instead.

Oh wait. That would mean you’d stop reading my blog, wouldn’t it? Well, whatever you planning to do after you finished reading my blog, I would watch this show instead. Someone had recommended it to me (I’ve sadly forgotten who), and I decided to watch it when I got around to it. Don’t be like me. This is some of the funniest stuff I watched in a good long while.

The premise is straightforward: a fairly amateur acting troupe in England prepares a weekly live play that they film in front of audience and then broadcast to the nation. Except their entire production is just plain awful. They’ve got set design folks who make an absolute mess of things, their actors are all highly unprofessional, the writing is a mess, and pretty much everything you can imagine ends up going wrong. (It couldn’t have taken them long to come up with the title for the show.)

A lot of the time I have trouble really laughing at people in painful situations. I can’t typically last too much of The Office for that reason. It’s so uncomfortable for me to watch people making such poor life choices, and then laugh at them. However, with this show, I don’t have to worry about that. I’m not laughing at real people’s lives (even if they’re fictional), I’m laughing at people who are just flat out bad at what they do professionally. For some reason, that makes all the difference.

It also helps that a lot of the humor from the show comes from things other than just “these people can’t act” over and over. The set design crew makes tons of errors, like building a court room where they thought the measurements were in inches, not feet. Or building a dining room vertically, so the table’s on the wall. Not every single episode is a grand slam, but they’re all a lot of fun, and I was often laughing so hard I had to pause it.

Fair warning: the humor does get a bit ribald now and then. We watched it with the whole family, and there was a time or two when I felt like it crossed the line for MC (though it likely just sailed right past her), but I don’t like wholeheartedly recommending something and then risking it being too much for some people. I’d still say it’s squarely in PG range, and it is indeed rated TV-PG, so maybe I’m being too fussy.

In any cast, I gave it a 10/10, and I can’t wait until I can watch season 2.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: For All Mankind (Season One)

The premise behind For All Mankind intrigued me right away. What if the Russians had been the first to walk on the moon instead of the Americans? What sort of an impact might that have had on history? Ronald Moore (creator of Battlestar Galactica) poses that question in the first episode, and then proceeds to play out the what if from then on. The result is an intriguing season, bogged down occasionally with too much melodrama.

The show shines when it can have fun with the premise, showing both how some things might have changed and how some things would have stayed the same. In a fairly non-spoilery example, the Chappaquiddick scandal in Ted Kennedy’s life was avoided, since the Russians landed on the moon the same evening Mary Jo Kopechne died in our normal timeline. Kennedy left that party before the death occurred, and voila, he was then scandal-free, letting him win the presidency in 1972. (Of course, since Kopechne was still alive in this new timeline, he was then bogged down in a sex scandal later on, when the affair came to light.)

On the other hand, sometimes I felt like the series got hung up on the lives of its characters, to the detriment to the plot. I know that sounds like a pretty lame reason to critique a show (the characters are too important!), but when the main engine of the show is running on “what if,” taking the time to explore universal issues like the stress of the space program on the families involved feel like the show spinning its wheels. I can get that in any number of shows about the space race. Give me more of that sweet alternate history action, thank you kindly.

But thankfully, that bogged-down feeling is generally kept to a minimum, and the show moves forward quite quickly. (Yay for binge watching.) It’s rated TVMA for a bit of language here and there, but nothing that should cause too much of a hangup for most audiences. (A number of episodes are actually TV14. The show seems to want to appear more “mature” than it really is, as if audiences don’t want to watch a TV14 show. I do wish they’d just trim the content to be more squarely in the TV14 range, since that’s what the show feels like it wants to be.) Honestly, the biggest strike against it is probably that it’s on Apple TV+, which just isn’t that widely used as of yet.

Overall, I gave it a 7.5/10. There’s plenty to like, and I’m intrigued enough to move on to season two, but it isn’t complete bliss. Season two might well make or break the show. We’ll see. If the premise seems interesting, or you’re a sucker for space exploration or light science fiction or alternate histories, this is one I’d definitely keep an eye on.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Netflix Review: Murder Among the Mormons

With a title like Murder Among the Mormons, how could I not watch? If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a documentary that just came out last week, focused on the Mark Hofmann case. Directed by Jared Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite fame), you might expect this to be some sort of light-hearted, zany look at an historical event. If you’re at all familiar with what Mark Hofmann did, however, you’d know that’s anything but what you’re going to get.

How to review a documentary where I assume many of the readers don’t know anything at all about the subject, and it’s presented in a sort of mystery format? I think I’m going to lead off with a spoiler-free discussion of the three-part documentary, and then I’ll get into some spoilery details after those who want to go into the show “clean” have a chance to leave.

It’s a compelling documentary, and since it’s just three parts, it’s very accessible for anyone to watch. You could easily finish the whole thing in a long evening. Denisa and I watched it over the course of two nights. They actually did something in the same vein as I did with THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE, which is to treat the historical case like a mystery. Yes, a fair number of people might already know the specifics of the case, but a fair number won’t. More importantly, the people who were living back then didn’t have a clue what was really happening either. I think it’s more interesting to look at how things seemed at the time, rather than to view it all with perfect hindsight. One of the reasons noteworthy cases become so noteworthy is that they seemed unsolvable and unique at the time.

What do you need to know about the history going in? Back in the 80s, there was a man (Mark Hofmann) who specialized in digging up obscure documents out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ past. Documents that became more and more problematic for the church. And then pipe bombs started entering the mix. Police had no clue who was doing the bombing or why. Take it from there.

It’s well executed, and I found it very compelling. It doesn’t treat the church with kid gloves, though it doesn’t treat it really unfairly, either. I thought they found a good balance between the two extremes, something I was very curious to see how it was handled heading into it. All told, I gave it an 8/10, and I appreciated having something that was longer than a movie but shorter than a long series to watch. It would make an excellent show to watch in between shows.

With the spoiler-free part of the review out of the way, I want to dig in a bit more to the actual history of the case. So here’s your warning if you’d rather avoid those comments.

SPOILERS BELOW

So. Mark Hofmann. I’m always amazed at how easy it is for people to become really evil. I know he presented himself as just a normal guy, but I was astounded at how far he sank and how quickly. Justifying murder with the thought that “they might die in a car crash anyway” and “it’s really self-preservation, which is justified.” I don’t think Hofmann viewed himself as a terrible person, and I don’t think people who commit atrocities generally do either. You just get to a point where you’re able to justify it to yourself, and once you can do that, you reduce a lot of things down to a thought experiment.

People made a big deal in the show (and in some articles I’ve read around the case) about how the case proves Latter-day Saint prophets are phony. If they commune with God, then how come God didn’t tell them Hofmann was a murderer and the documents were fake? I tend to think people oversell the “commune with God” angle when they’re viewing religion. I don’t really believe God is just there with a red phone hotline that He uses to direct things. By and large, He lets us muck through things on our own, because that’s why we’re here on Earth in the first place. To figure out how to do things on our own. To grow and develop. If God intervened to keep the church from buying some phony documents, where does the line get drawn? Just my thoughts on the matter. (Richard Turley, the church historian interviewed in the mini-series, did a podcast entry about it here, which was interesting as well.)

I was really impressed with the investigation that went into the case. Proving Hofmann was a forger took a ton of hard work and persistence. That’s not easy to do when the common consensus is that all of that hard work is a waste of time. Hofmann’s discoveries were real, after all. They’d been verified by the FBI! But because of a few people’s persistence, it all began to unravel. (Also interesting to note just how quickly it all fell apart, once the story began to fray.)

Anyway. It’s a show that’s getting a fair bit of attention, or at least enough that I’m hearing a lot about it in the online circles I walk through. It was a fascinating look at the history of an event I knew something about, but which I’d never really taken the time to fully dig into.

What did you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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