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The Young/New Pope (series) – Paolo Sorrentino (2016 2019)

Sorrentino created two short series about the Vatican, produced by Jude Law who also plays the leading part. I guess he really wanted to play the Pope.

The Vatican cannot decide on who will be the new Pope, so as a solution they pick a young (50 years old) cardinal who can be easily directed. Not so. Pope Pius XIII does everything the Vatican does not want. He is not overly progressive, but rather extremely conservative taking the Church back ages in history scaring away the believers in order to create a mystery that will in the end bring them back.

When Pius XIII is just about to become appreciated he is no longer able to lead the Church and he is replaced by two new Popes in the second series, played by John Malkovich.

The series make an amusing critical view on how the Vatican works. The powerful men behind the scenes, manipulation, politics, the way Italian politics try to interfere, how the outside world (women’s rights, homosexuality, Muslim terrorism, etc.) effects the Church.

All this is done with witty dialogues, uncommon choices of music, a thick layer of ‘artsy fartsy’ filming and themes, a touch of melancholy, humour, sensual women, you get it, this is really a Sorrentino production.

Lucifer (series) – Tom Kapinos (2016-2021)

The devil is on vacation in the city of angels (LA) and he intends to stay. As the playboy Lucifer Morningstar he owns a club called Lux and he has no lack of money. Filling his time with partying and women, Lucifer runs into the detective Chloe Decker who is somehow immune to his “mojo”. Fascinated as he is, Lucifer joins forces with “the detective” in the LAPD.

A long stretched storyline which is bound to lead to a Lucifer/Decker romance unfolds with plenty of sub-plots, laughter and drama. The series start off as a bit of ‘screwball’ with a fairly childish devil who thinks the world revolves around him and who -even though he never lies- nobody believes to be the devil anyway. That will change though.

Lucifers family also starts to visit earth. To mock him, to try to get him back, sometimes to stay. Lighter and darker storylines develop and the inspiration for all that does not seem all Christian, rather Jewish perhaps.

Anyway, some sub-plots are interesting, some less so. The red thread is sometimes interesting, sometimes less so. There are amusing characters, characters that undergo a big transformation during six seasons. Some come and go, some come to stay. The biggest transformation is for Lucifer himself.

There is the obligatory enlarged drama, that for some reason sometimes ‘works’. There are some interesting musical choices in the soundtrack too. Also there are a lot of scenes that made me say ‘fast forward please’. All in all the series are good enough to keep watching.

So drama, romance, thriller, action, it is all there. Highs and lows; making the final score the average:

Gypsy (series) – Lisa Rubin (2017)

The ever beautiful Naomi Watts (1968-) plays Jean Holloway, a therapist who has ‘it all’ in life. She is married to a loving lawyer husband. The couple has a big house, a kid, etc. Yet, Jean seems to long for a little adventure in her life.

She starts to look at the other sides of her patients’ stories. One woman keeps talking about her daughter, so Jean sets out to meet her. The same with the ex girlfriend of another patient. Jean also manipulates her reports for work and as her indiscretions start to conflict with her ‘perfect life’, she starts lying to colleagues, husband and friends.

Rubin turned the story into a quite intimate look into the life of Jean. Bathroom shots, her getting ready to go out, masturbating to a fantasy, Watts pulls it all off wonderfully.

Then there is the story to which I think many people can relate. Life can be ‘perfect’, but perfect is also boring. Jean starts to lead two lives. In one she is a reckless woman pushing her boundaries. In the other she tries to be the good wife, mother, friend and colleague. Of course these two worlds cannot remain entirely separate.

The whole series the question lingers: why would she risk her life for fairly flat adventure? The answer is simple: she does not know. Do we always know why we like the things we like, do the things we do? Do we have to rationalise everything? Perhaps Jean should have started doing that at some point.

In any case, “Gypsy” (I have no idea what the title alludes to) is a descent drama series of 10 episodes about fairly day-to-day events and with a wee bit of thriller elements.

Archive 81 (series) – Rebecca Sonnenshine (2022)

My girlfriend read something about these new Netflix series. When I heard about involvement of the “Saw” crew, my interest dropped even further than after the initial comment that it is a horror series. But we did watch it.

In eight episodes we follow the story of Dan who restores video material. He is assigned to a job to restore material that survived the fire in an appartement building. For that job he is transferred to a remote building. So, video, a comparison to “Ringu” a remote building and a reference to “The Shining” and did somebody say “Blair Witch Project“? We all know where this is going to. Or do we?

During his restoration work, Dan becomes acquainted with Melody, a film student who goes to an appartement building to make a documentary about its inhabitants. These inhabitants are said to be a close knit group. This is pretty clear from the beginning.

Melody is actually looking for her mother and while poking around in the building and the people who live there, something uncanny starts to rise to the surface. We follow the story by Melody’s film material and Dan watching it all with a friend as backup to find background information.

As we continue, everything seems to be connected in some odd way. Dan did not get the job by accident. The material did not pop up many years after the fire by accident. The fire in the building was not an accident.

The series have an alright atmosphere. It is by far not as scary as some want us to believe. The story is worked out fairly well. The last episode is somewhat weak.

In my opinion not the instant classic that some people make of it, just an alright thriller series with some horror elements.

Knightfall (series) – Handfield & Rayner (2017-2019)

The story of the Knights Templar in a somewhat historical manner.

We mostly follow Landry who quite against his own will, becomes the master Templar of the Paris temple when his predecessor dies. The first season is mostly about Landry looking for the Holy Grail that the Templars lost during a lost battle at Akko in 1291. During that battle the grail was lost, but it appears to have resurfaced in France.

Landry is a friend to the King of France (Philip IV 1268-1314), but also the lover the the king’s wife (Joan I of Navarre (1273-1305) which is basically the start of a lot of problems.

In spite of the lost battle of Akko, the Templar Knights thrive under the protection of the Pope and the King of France, but raptures start to appear in the relationship. First, the King of France is after the Grail as well, thinking it would increase his power. To obtain that power, he first sets up the Pope (Boniface III 1230-1303) against the Templar Knights and then even replaces the Pope with Clement V (1264-1314). Both Popes, especially the former, have their own agendas of course.

The series make a drama with love, drama, brotherhood, honour, fighting and battle scenes and a lot of intrigue. Here and there there are historical elements, but do not see the series as a history lesson.

Of course the Templar Knights eventually loose their organisation and their lives, but not without a fight.

Not boring, but not great either.

Travelers (series) – Brad Wright (3 seasons 2016-2018)

And yet another Netflix series that is just not boring enough to end watching prematurely. By the time I thought to cut if off, I noticed there were only six episodes left, so I sat it out.

“Travelers” is not really bad or boring, but it is not really good either. Story wise it is at least different from all the serial killer thriller series that have been put out for decades. Mankind caused its own demise and in the future a way of sending consciousness back in time has been discovered. “Travelers” are sent back to try to give history a push in a better direction.

In the future, every detail of our current time is known, so also when somebody historically dies. It is at that moment that a “traveler” consciousness takes over the body of the “host”. Travelers working in teams get missions from “the director”, usually to prevent some sort of disaster.

These travelers -of course- fall in the life of a person who used to live, so they have to try to live with a partner, work, etc. of somebody else and at the same time perform the missions as are given.

So we have the drama of partners not recognising their spouses, the events of the life of the ‘host’, partners from the future whose lives are more or less separated in “the twenty first” and then of course action because of the missions. Also future technology employed in the present. The characters develop somewhat, both the ‘host’ character as the ‘future’ character. There is an underlying story that is worked out a bit. There are also less logical elements. How does the prevention of the collaps of a bridge that would have killed some people help the demise of humanity in the future? You get it, there are ‘filler episodes’.

“Travelers” has a couple of beautiful women, amusing characters, an alright story. All in all just not boring enough to end watching.

Gotham (series) – Bruno Heller (2014-2019)

This has been long ‘in the watching’. Some years ago I was looking for a ‘filler up series’. Something to watch when I had 45 minutes to spare. I figured a “Batman” theme series would be nicely gloomy.

“Gotham” is a ‘prequel’ to the Batman franchise. The main character in the five seasons is not really Bruce Wayne, but rather “GCPD” officer James/Jim Gordon. Gordon wants to do everything correct, but this makes him both a hero as an enemy to many. All this shifting between him being the good guy and the bad guy is not really worked out that well in my opinion.

Of course there is Bruce Wayne. Just as in the movies, he is usually accompanied by his “butler” Alfred Pennyworth. In the first seasons, Wayne is a winy little brat, a bit of a drama queen. Actually this remains mostly so as the series continue. In general, his character is not worked out well enough to carry the series.

The series have characters that you will know from the films. The “catwoman” actually has a name in the series: Selina Kyle who develops a bit of a love/hate relationship with Wayne.

The series contain some themes that are (somewhat) familiar. The authors have tried to ‘foreshadow’ elements from the films. To fill up the episodes there are also a whole range of fairly boring bad guys who want James Gordon dead. These storylines are as unlikely or thin as the next and sometimes they appear and disappear when enough episodes have been filled.

A few characters undergo massive character changes, especially Gordons first girlfriend Barbara Kean, which is not always wildly interesting, but which sure brings a red thread to the series. Worked out better is “Penguin” (Oswald Cobblepot). Quite overdone, but sometimes nicely so, “The Riddler” (Edward Nygma).

In any case, way towards the end, the bridge to Batman is made. “Gotham” as a series is about the city where Batman rose before he did. The series are not great, but not bad enough to stop watching either.

Stranger Things – Matt & Ross Duffer (series, season 1-3 2016-2018)

These Netflix series are so popular that I was in doubt whether or not to watch them. So in the end I did and I really enjoyed the first season. The series have a total 1980’ies vibe with a 1980’ies soundtrack, old cars, outdated haircuts and terrible cloths.

Big roles are for children (nerdy kids and adolescents), but in spite of that, season one is nice, gloomy, fairly dark and weird. The story is about the small town of Hawkins which houses an institute in which strange experiments are held. And so a story unfolds of a girl with strange powers, men trying to get her and something evil that lurks in the woods.
There are nice 1980’ies details, the story unfolds nicely, the atmosphere is good and even the child humour and child drama works to a certain degree.

The second season puts more focus on ‘the evil’ with again a well-written story and more of a horror approach to the series. Characters develop, unexpected alliances are forged. Also the second season is pretty good.

The ‘other worldliness’ is mostly gone in the third season which became more of a Stephen King type horror/thriller. The kids really are the main characters this time and the story is a lot less interesting.

Season 4 is announced. I suppose I will watch it when it is there, but I hope the creators will not continue the way down.

The Umbrella Academy (series, season 1+2) – Blackman & Slater (2019/20)

I expected this Netflix series to be a quirky comedy. In a way it is, but it also has many elements of the popular overly violent action and superpower heroes.

On the same day, all over the world, children are born which were not conceived. These children all prove to have some sort of power and a millionaire adopts seven of these children and trains them to be a group of heroes solving the world’s problems.

By the time we meet the characters the father has passed and the adoptive brothers and sisters return after having been scattered over the globe.

In the first season one brother comes back from the future and tries to convince his siblings that they have to prevent a forthcoming apocalypse that he had already experienced. Other people from the future try to prevent “five” from achieving his goal and is slowly becomes clear how things came about.

In the second season the family has travelled back to 1963 allowing the creators to portray the characters that we know by now with different looks. A not uncommon trick nowadays. The apocalypse has travelled back in time with the “umbrella academy”, so they have to once more try to prevent is.

The series indeed are somewhat quirky. It has a talking monkey, a stern dad, a sexy “handler” with an odd sense of humour, black and violent humour, a fish with a human body, etc. Every episode has a few things to laugh and the story is somewhat interesting.

“The Umbrella Academy” is an alright series. Season 3 is already announced. It is not high up my list, but perhaps I will watch it again some time.

The Valhalla Murders – Thordur Palsson (series 2019)

A Netflix Scandinavian crime from Iceland. “The Valhalla Murders” is quite a typical Scandinavian crime too.

In a not unseen story, recent killings can be traced back to maltreatment of children in an institute in the past. The small Reykjavik police force, later joined by even smaller force from in other Icelandic towns, set out to catch a killer on the loose. The story unfolds, has a few obligatory plot twists and new suspects and a wee bit of violence.

The series are shot in the snowy season, so Iceland really looks like an icy land. The acting, as the story, is alright.

Not a high-flyer, but a descent and moody Scandinavian crime series.