Finishing Happy!

Done. Parts of this worked out well, as a violent fairy tale for Christmas.

The mob boss's sister's reality TV show, bruja grandmother(?), and the sort of return of her son was both annoying as hell (fake-ass social media & TV people, ugh), and sometimes the only good parts of an episode; but the actual supernatural shit going on around this later is jarring. Imaginary friends can be seen by someone else, great premise. They can touch things, uh, this is weird… But the demonic stuff I'm not so sanguine about (the sanguinary sauce scene is great, though!)

The bad guys' constant running the kids around to different places, no clear explanation of who's coming for them, the Big Bad's weird-ass bug suit cult, Bad Santa's, uh, friends… Not tied up neatly at all. Reminds me a bit of Shadowrun's Universal Brotherhood which are really insect spirits. Grant Morrison's had insectile villains, doing radical body and brain surgery with very similar results in The Invisibles, too.

The characters remain cartoonish and hard to take seriously. And there's a homophobic vibe to some of it, two villains are gay and weird about it, there's no positive portrayals (not that anyone's positive in this show, but still). I dunno if this is intentional; Chris Meloni's pro-gay rights, has done all but gay porn in Oz, so he's probably not meaning it to be taken this way. Grant's a cross-dresser, and is weird about it, but not like this. I still went "Oh, that's not OK" a couple times.

As is often the case, even on a short series, there's a lot that could've been cut. About 2-3 episodes worth are just "Nick goes to a new location, gets in a fight, gets a clue or has to flee to the next location". The fights are good, often funny slapstick; there's axes, and a chainsaw, and a kung fu gang in Chinatown. Blood but still not a lot of visceral damage.

There's a parody of a Tarantino film scene that made me laugh out loud for over a minute, and freaked out my dog. The show keeps dragging down to boring, and then up pops a good gag and it carries me forward to the next.

If we were making a checklist:

  • Bad Santa
  • Smoothie
  • Blue
  • Nick being an asshole all the time.
  • Big Bad

So, still ★★★★☆, but I'm creeped out by some portrayals, and probably other people will be, too.

What I'm Watching: Happy!

So, this is adapted from a Grant Morrison comic. Grant's a crazy person; one of my favorites, but I think adapting his work is a memetic hazard, immanentizing the eschaton.

Take Chris Meloni from Law & Order: SVU, and make him a washed-up drunk ex-cop Nick Sax. Add a CGI blue flying unicorn, imaginary friend of a little girl. … Sure. And a bad Santa who's kidnapped that little girl. Nick soon convinces himself he's not hallucinating, but he's such an asshole he may not care.

This is bizarre. It veers between parody of SVU, itself so earnestly grimdark it wrapped around to comedy, and Roger Rabbit comic antics.

You never feel bad seeing Meloni get beaten, tortured, or hit by a car; he's very punchable and seems like a bad dude even when playing good, and Nick's shit. There's a lot of blood and screaming, it's as violent as a Friday the 13th film; not quite Eli Roth but not cartoony. There's a flashback scene explaining how Nick got that way, and it would be traumatic to watch if not so far past plausible.

Almost all the characters are ridiculous caricatures; and then the mother of the girl isn't. She walked in from some totally different show and everything being insane around her doesn't faze her, she just wants her kid back.

Happy the unicorn is obnoxious in the way children's cartoons are, but watching him cope with Nick's horrible life is amusing.

I don't know if this is good in any rational sense. Like, if you sat down a normal, well-adjusted person with minimal traumas and made them watch this, they'd hate it and then vomit profusely. I find it kinda charming, a new holiday special up there with Lethal Weapon and Island of Misfit Toys.

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Get Shorty

I love Elmore Leonard's books, "Get Shorty" especially. The Barry Sonnenfeld/Travolta/DeVito film is silly, but a good take on it.

So this series made me wary. For good or ill, they've changed everything except the one-sentence summary: "Hoodlum makes a movie with stolen money". And it's full of "actors", visibly playing characters, rather than character actors; just like the prior movie.

They've replaced cool shylock & legbreaker Chili Palmer (Travolta's a stiff "actor" but was perfect for the role; he bleeds desperation and confusion) with inexplicably Irish scummy bagman & hitter Miles Daly (Chris O'Dowd), and piece-of-shit producer Harry Zinn with piece-of-shit producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano).

Miles is OK. Pathetic, chasing a separated wife and kid, but clearly more cunning than his job needs him to be and more optimistic than Chili. The mick accent renders his attempts at both menace and persuasion comical.

Ray Romano is loathsome, a humorless whiny Sienfeld-wannabe; but that's actually working here, Rick is not funny, he's sad and cowardly, the shittiest kind of Hollywood hack. And so Ray Romano suddenly fits. You can believe he's a man with no principles, with a rotten onion for a heart. His voice is still awful, and his Just For Men dyed beard and hair are preposterous.

They moved the mob's base from Miami and Vegas to a shithole casino outside Vegas. The mob boss Amara is interesting, but entirely too much time is spent on her pathetic crew, and Yago the "nemesis" our legbreaker isn't really needed. April Quinn (Megan Stevenson) is cute as the executive, and how they get her to do the job is good and dirty. Sidekick Louis (Sean Bridgers) is a Coen Bros type: Withdrawn & goofy one second, charming the next, instant murderous psychopath the next.

And: Peter Stormare as Hafdis the, uh, wise hobo when we first meet him. Stormare is more familiar to Elder Scrolls Online players as Jorunn the Skald King. I'm eager to do some draugr-slaying quests for ya, King.

As of S1E04, this is fun. I'd rather have another proper Elmore Leonard show, it's been too long since Justified ended. But as dark comedy loosely based on Elmore's themes, it's good.

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Bosch

I watched S1 when it came out in 2014, was somewhat annoyed by the Hieronymus Bosch name gag (but the actor is named Titus Welliver, so… ludicrous historical names all around), all the jazz (not even music), and some of the inappropriate workplace relationship bothered me, but it was a competent murder show. Little scattered in plot, personal drama, and side-plots that go nowhere.

Picked back up S2 and now working thru S3, and I'm more interested. The jazz is sometimes overbearing, especially when smug asshole Bosch preaches about how great vinyl is, or how every restaurant he goes to is "best X in L.A.", he's a super punchable prick. He's like House or Sherlock Holmes without the genius or charm. As a villain, he'd be fantastic. As a protagonist, he's much less charming than Dexter Morgan or Walter White.

But J. Edgar the partner (Jamie Hector, aka Marlo Stanfield on The Wire) and other competently-acted characters (several also Wire alumni), and better plots and writing, make up for a lot.

S1's a cold case murder. S2 is more of an LA Confidential thing with a murdered porno producer and hot blonde wife named Veronica (not Lake) as a film noir femme fatale. S3 has a couple parallel veteran murder stories going on; I assume in the books these are Vietnam, there's something about how they're written that doesn't fit the desert war that never ends.

★★★½☆ solid but rarely amazing.

What I'm Watching: Ultraviolet (2017)

No, not the vampire movie, nor the shitty DRM video system. The Polish crime drama. It is all but impossible to search for a title like this.

A Buffy-like chick: blonde, vapid, argumentative, shitty family life, etc., except she's supposedly 30 instead of 16, is working as an Uber driver in Lódz, Poland, sees a girl thrown off a bridge. The cops call it a suicide, she disagrees, and starts investigating. Finds a quasi-secret society of "Ultra-Violets" (the explanation of the name is so ludicrous you have to watch to hear it) who hang out in a Slack with a purple backslash icon and solve murders while supposedly doing their real jobs.

Social media-solves-crime is not a bad premise for a show, even if mostly social media-causes-crime in reality, and the chat and screens are usually captioned well enough to make sense despite being in Polish.

Lódz really isn't grim enough for my "Grim Scandinavian Drama" taste, just a little run-down, not cheerful enough for it to be ironic like Death in Paradise. It's like setting a crime drama in Boise or Salt Lake City; death's a bit of a relief, but not an omnipresent gloom.

The acting's a problem. Buffy, er, Ola wavers from nonentity to annoying. The useful cop is barely present. There is less chemistry between them than between noble gasses in sealed glass jars. Mom's a crying stereotype. Older dude Henryk is not bad, he might be an actual actor. The dirty cop is either stoic or stoned. The "Ultra-Violets" (snicker) are only on-screen for a line or two at a time, mostly from behind.

If they got some acting lessons, this could be watchable; as it is, it's on the "occasional watch if I'm bored" list.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Deadwind

It's that season again: Grim Scandinavian crime dramas with troubled detectives!

Deadwind has it all: A widowed detective returning to work too soon, a rookie partner, a dead woman half-buried in a beach, a real-estate company with shady dealings and a Lex Luthor-looking playboy/fixer. Finland is shot in moody lighting, always night, morning, evening (I think they said it's October? So no sunlight anyway). I love the sets, too, sterile white/black perfect surfaces, inside scruffy weatherbeaten houses. Nobody could live that neat, but it's perfect for mood.

Plot seems to move fast but this is a 12-ep season, with another being written, so expecting a lot more complexity.

★★★★★ so far

What I'm Watching: The Forest, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

  • The Forest: French gendarme captain arrives in a small town surrounded by wilderness just as a girl goes missing, presumably abducted in the Fay Woods. The cast includes a feral wolf-girl grown up into a sexy French teacher, woods people, nosy townspeople full of secrets, half-assed local flic, dead girl's moody and secretive friends. Very Twin Peaks-like, without being a direct ripoff as so many in the genre are. Beautifully shot, lovely music (tho not enough of it). ★★★★★
  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: I only saw a handful of his shows in his lifetime, but always liked his Kitchen Confidential writing. The Tangier, Morocco, ep is fantastic. I love William Burroughs' writing and spoken-word-poetry albums, and Tangier was Burroughs' muse. The other beats and Tangiers expatriates are interesting, but perhaps less so. Bourdain was always polite and treated well in Muslim countries, despite his atheism and Jewish ancestry, but as another infidel I'm leery of such places, so his travelogue is as close as I'm likely to get. Randomly wandering thru other eps as long as Netflix has them. ★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Low Winter Sun, Marcella, The Staircase, Goliath

  • Low Winter Sun: Terrible train-wreck ending to an otherwise great show. Was it intentional that the show fuck up and choke to death on its own vomit just like Detroit, or ironic coincidence?
  • Marcella: Season 2! I somehow didn't write about S1: Mentally unstable woman detective comes back to work chasing a serial killer or copycat of her old case. She has another breakdown, commits as many crimes as she solves, and then tries to cover up her shit. That was good, if at times heavy on the melodrama. ★★★½☆
    S2 follows her chasing a child murderer. Unfortunately this is Law & Order: SVU bullshit; reality is that child rape or murder by strangers is incredibly uncommon, so their approach of looking at randoms instead of family, teachers, or priests is unproductive.
    Marcella's also being pretty high and mighty for as shitty a person as she is. In S1 she lasted whole eps before melting down. This is all badly written by idiots, everyone spends half their time screaming incoherently at everyone.
    I bailed on this after S2E1. ☆☆☆☆☆

  • The Staircase: Documentary of Michael Peterson's alleged murder of his wife Kathleen. Between the writer suspect, and some of the very weird lawyers and experts, there's much more interesting speech and events than most of these true crime shows. Still pretty dry but not stupid.

  • Goliath (Amazon Prime): A man blows up on a boat. Two years later, the sister recruits a wannabe strip-mall lawyer who recruits a washed-up drunk lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton!!!) to sue. Slightly overwrought legal drama against the evil supervillain lawyer (William Hurt!), and then the crazy conspiracy levels start ramping up, babykillers keep their lawyers in the dark. Good conspiracy show with scruffy protagonists. They ought to play the Imperial March every time the Evil Lawyer Firm is onscreen. The one down side is Amazon Prime's unspeakably shitty video player, which makes me hate watching any serious show where I may need to rewind. Fuck Amazon. But ★★★★½ for the show.

What I'm Watching: The Lava Field, El Ministerio Del Tiempo, Low Winter Sun, Intelligence, The Break with Michelle Wolf, Steve Martin & Martin Short

  • The Lava Field: Dour, sometimes angry Icelandic cops chase down a faked suicide, with drug-dealing bikers named "Skipper" (no Li'l Buddy), and gloomy mourning at a child's grave. Basically perfect, even if it's only 4 eps. ★★★★★
  • El Ministerio Del Tiempo: A modern paramedic with a death wish, a smart 19th C girl, and a Renaissance swordsman become time cops in Spain. Very smart and funny, possibly the regionalism and low-budget classic Dr Who-isms will grate after a while but it's good as of a couple eps in. ★★★★½
  • Low Winter Sun: Detroit cops murder one of their own and then try to cover it up. Detroit is bleak, bleaker than you probably even think. Some police procedural, some small cop shop dramedy, some lives of the would-be gangsters in this shithole. Slower than I'd like and doesn't wrap up anything per ep, but I'm still along for it as of s1e4. I have to have the subtitles on for some accents, even tho they supposedly speak English in Detroit. ★★★★½
  • Intelligence (2005): Never heard of this when it was on, Canadian major crimes & espionage (much closer to post-9/11) try operating snitches and surveilling criminals. They kinda suck at it, but Canadian criminals aren't that terrifying, either. Matt Frewer (Max Fucking Headroom!) is a good treacherous bastard. LOOOONG-ass pilot movie. ★★★★☆
  • The Break with Michelle Wolf: Fresh from defeating the humorless orange gibbon at the White House roast, sure, I'll give her a short stand-up shot. Rude question: Did she have a stroke? Thus explaining the weird smirk and her voice? Yow, very hard to look at or listen to. Hit with a few jokes. The Alexa and Strong Female Lead video clips were amusing but not hilarious. She may improve, she did infinitely better than my final guests… ★★★☆☆
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short: I used to like Steve Martin on SNL and a while after, and then he fossilized. Marty Short is like a ventriloquist's puppet loose and off his meds. I dunno what I hoped for, but this was the opposite of it in every way. This is where humor goes to die. ☆☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Hap and Leonard

I watched S1 when it first came on, I love Joe Lansdale and an adaptation of his dirt-poor '80s Texas dark comedy/mysteries should be fantastic.

Sadly, S1 was pretty dull, there's some treachery but a lot of forgettable driving around Texas, and most of the supporting cast were the worst kind of walking meatsticks rather than actors. But it was great having Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little) playing cowboy Leonard, and James Purefoy (foppish Mark Anthony in Rome) as ex-hippy Hap has aged into a passable Fred Ward-like tired old hooligan. ★★☆☆☆

S2 is massively better. A kid's body under Leonard's dead uncle Chester's house leads to these two knuckleheads trying to investigate, as Chester had previously, with a mob of women with missing kids led by… no small personage… And there's a carnival which is always fun/terrifying, and my own biases confirmed when they get down to the killer.

This time most of the cast are competent; the killer is, sadly, one of the walking meatsticks and not convincing. MeMaw's great. The flexible redhead in the carny is amazing and I may be rewatching her a few times. Even the shitheel Texan pigs are complex for shitheel pigs and played out well enough.

Only real complaint is even at 6 eps, it's too long, this could be done in 4 or less.

S3 is going to be the KKK story, which should be fun, in a Blazing Saddles, Fletch Lives, Django Unchained kinda way.

"I tell ya. I ain't never been more proud to be an atheist than I am today." "Amen to that!"
Hap & Leonard in a church parking lot

★★★★½