Critical Role is back. Thank God.

Critical Role is hard to explain to folks that don’t already know about it. Yes, you do “sit around and watch a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons” in weekly sessions (very nicely produced these days) that last three hours or more. It should be the most boring thing in the world, especially for non-D&D types (like me) who barely understand the mechanics of RPGs (even though I worked for the D&D people for a while, back in the Jurassic, when they were still TSR).

But what this really is is an ongoing exercise in structure, improve story-telling. Each one of the seven principles have a well-developed character; the interact in an established fantasy world with established rules (just like any other fantasy series), with goals and challenges set by the insanely talented actor and writer Matt Mercer. They frequently break character; they make jokes and get carried away and cry on a regular basis, but it’s obvious these people love each other, love the game they’ve been playing for years, and are very pleased to have you ‘eavesdrop.’ read more…

I admit it: I think Don’t is the best game show of 2020

I was going to start by saying something like, “Game shows are inherently dumb,” but … so what? They are. Big deal. I stopped taking them seriously a couple hundred decades ago, and generally can’t be bothered with them in general, but nobody criticizes arcade games at the State Fair because they aren’t serious.

Still, snob that I am, I admit it was only the presence of Adam Scott, whose work I’ve loved for years, and word that Ryan Reynolds, of all people, was behind Don’t that made me tune in.

It is, in fact, hilarious. Everyone involved is clearly aware that this is just silly fun, and maybe the dumbest thing they’ve done professionally in … well, ever. The rules are ridiculous; the challenges are nonsensical; the families who participate are clearly hysterical and in on the whole daffy conspiracy. But the best part by far is the constant off-camera voice-over kibitzing from Ryan Reynolds himself (never, never mentioned by name.) We’re talking multiple chortles and the occasional LOL from VORyan alone.

The whole affair has a whole lot less to do with The Price is Right and a whole lot more to do with Deadpool, and that’s what makes it worth watching every Thursday for as long as it lasts. Check your brain at the door and enjoy. Reality will come crashing back in through the window soon enough.

And don’t get me started on Holey Moley with Rob RIggle. Second best game show of 2020.

The Order TV series ain’t bad, and much fun

Why didn’t anybody tell me that there’s a Hall of Fame of horror/thriller character actors in Netflix’ THE ORDER? You’ve got your Katherine Isabelle, who apparently cannot age, you’ve got your James Marsters of Buffy, your Sam Trammel of True Blood, your Jewel Staite of Firefly, your Steve Bacic of Andromeda (and yes, Garage Sale Mysteries but cut him a break it’s a job), along with others I’m sure I’m missing. And best of all: Matt frigign’ Frewer, Max Headroom/The Trashcan Man himself, who is, of course, a pop-cult living god and doing a hell of a job. Come ON.

This show also has a pleasant, self-aware, smart-ass attitude that helps it rise above the dangerously turgid premise of penetrating a secret society on a mysterious super-rich private university campus – you know, evil Harvard Well, eviler.

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Winchester is just … a waste

I just waded through Winchester on Netflix and … I am at a loss. At a loss to explain how so much money and talent could be wasted on such an utterly uninvolving, derivative, boring ‘haunted house’ movie.

This shambling, unfeeling, tedious thing has beautiful production design, a large budget, a whole host of solid actors in lead and supporting roles. It has Helen Mirren in it. Friggin’ Helen Mirren, doing a remarkably bad American accent. It has a remarkably good premise at the center of it: a haunted house story about one of the best-known, if not ‘real,’ haunted houses in modern America. And yet there is not a single legitimate scare, not even a good jump, in the whole damn thing. It’s literally hard to get through in a single sitting.

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The Stranger is pretty good, but Harlan Coben? Meh.

Harlan Coben makes a few jillion dollars a year on his suspense novels (though ‘suspense’ seems like a pretty strong word for his stories. Maybe … “tension novels”?) Generally speaking, I find they have great premises, great hooks, but tend to fizzle out a bit in the final act. That was certainly the case with his recent Netflix adaptation of Safe, despite the strong effort of Michael C. Hall and company. The Stranger, however, manages to beat the odds just a bit. The writing is tighter than usual, the acting from top to bottom is top-drawer, the mid-season twist wtih Stephen Rea (Stephen friggin’ Rea!) is an actual shocker, while the reveal, in that last episode, is heartbreaking.

I think I know why …

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Why doesI Am Not Okay With This feel so incestuous?

Seriously, who are they kidding? This moderately engaging Netflix mini-series smells so strongly of Carrie and IT that it makes your nose twitch. So why are the producers claiming complete astonishment at the parallels?

Don’t get me wrong — it’s well done. But still …

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