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Fargo (series) (season 4 2020)

I missed that there was a fourth “installment”. To quote my opening line of season three: “Once again the creators of the series have found an unlikely story in a remote part of the USA.” Well, perhaps not that remote this time, but unlikely the story sure is.

Kansas City has a long line of criminal organisations that share the area. They have a way of trying to keep peace among each other, the exchange of sons. In the 1950’ies the parties are an African American group and an Italian one. The series show how the parties try to keep some sort of balance.

But “Fargo” would not be “Fargo” if there were not a few initially separate, but towards the end connecting, story lines. We have a family with a white father, a black mother and a black way too intelligent daughter (also the story teller). The parents run a funeral home from their house.
Then there is a strange nurse, a nervous corrupt cop, his eerie colleague and two highly dangerous lady criminals.

In a wonderfully meandering story we follow all characters going through strange situations eventually working towards colliding stories. Violence, humour, great camera work, interesting characters.

Indeed, the fourth season is again a good one.

Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power – McKay & Payne (series, season 1 2022)

The new supposed-to-be-hype of Amazon is quite unimpressive. The 6.9 on IMdB.com is perhaps not a low rating, but it is hardly a new Games of Thrones.

Speaking of GoT, these new series are supposed to be a prequel to the famous Tolkien stories, but it seems that an attempt was made to create a political war epic in the style of GoT. In my opinion, these series do not really come out very strong either as a Tolkien story or a GoT spectacle.

There are a few interlinked stories. We have the facial expressiveless elf Galadriel who has spent her long life hunting Sauron and his kin. She lands in the land of man and teams up to continue her struggle.

Another Elf, Elrond, tries to use his friendship with a dwarf to prevent his race from going extinct.

Then we have another kind of little people who are visited by a mysterious giant. And of course there are orks, otherwise there would be no battle scenes.

The characters are fairly flat, the stories not very exiting, there are continuous attempts to stretch scenes to enlarge drama. Like I said, it seems that the creators could not choose between Tolkien and GoT and falls somewhat flat somewhere in the middle.

It is not like the eight episodes are completely boring, but I have big doubts that I am going to watch season 2 should it come.

The Queen’s Gambit – Scott Frank (series 2022)

The highly intelligent Beth Harmon has a troubled mother that first causes her to lose her father and later her mother as well. She ends up in an orphanage at the age of nine. In the basement she encounters the janitor playing chess. Reluctantly he teaches her the game. Beth proves to be a prodigy and her chess-star soon rises.

By the time Beth becomes a young woman, she is played by the beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy.

We follow Beth both as a growing chess player, but also as a young woman coming of age. Sensitive to the temptations of drugs and alcohol, perfectionist, single minded and a bad loser. In the series we see Beth in good and bad times, Taylor-Joy wonderfully portraying Beth’s ups and downs.

Of course the game of chess is central to the series, but I do not know if you will learn much of the game. The plays are extraordinary fast and theories are explained, but my own knowledge of the game are too limited to tell if all that is very educational. The series are set in the wonderful 1960s with colourful wallpaper and furniture, design dresses, odd haircuts, nice cars and new music.

According to the series, the ‘chess scene’ in the USA is of alright level. Beth can make a living playing chess, but the biggest US tournaments are played in universities using “cheap plastic pieces on cheap plastic boards”. Europe is better, bigger tournaments are in Paris. Russia is the top-notch chess country, so the series end in Moskou.

Taylor-Joy is indeed great (she won several prices for her role), other characters (such as Jolene) as well. The creators managed to make chess games actually look tense with a lot of ‘facial acting’. The story unfolds nicely. Indeed a good series that for some reason are listed as “Creating the Queen’s Gambit” on IMdB.com.

American Gods – Bryan Fuller & Michael Green (series, season 3) 2021

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It took me a while before I watched season 3. 2 Was not too great, it took a while before 3 got out and then I couldn’t find a version with subtitles. I ended up joining Amazon Prime to watch this.

This time there are 10 episodes rather than eight, but again the series end with a massive cliffhanger. Mr. Wednesday is still amusing and still gathering old Gods to wage war against the new. At the same time he gets in trouble with some of the other old Gods (very close too) and gets on better terms with some other.

Nothing much happens. Shadow Moon (this time with hair) ends up in a small village in the cold North. His dead wife is no longer dead. We meet some old and new Gods and other spiritual beings which are sometimes new to me in general. There are some strange scenes in season 3, but not as psychedelic as towards the end of 2.

I like the subtle references to mythology, while other elements are a bit overdone.

Amusing, not great.

Russian Doll – Headland, Lyonne, Poehler (2 series) (2019, 2020)

Meet Nadia Vulvokov an American of Russian and Hungarian descent on the party for her 36th birthday. Nadia is a free-minded, big red hair and smoking cool lady. On her party she dies and returns to the party and then again, and again. She finds out how to prevent dying, but she keeps doing so in different situations. Sometimes a ’round’ takes an hour, sometimes a few days. Then she finds out she is not alone in her situation. Season one is amusing.

In season two, Nadia is transported back in time into her mother’s body when she takes a certain train. The creators used some interesting music choices for 1982. Did you ever hear Danzig in a series? The track “Mother” is from 1988 though, but I will not complain.
In any case, season two is somewhat amusing as well. Towards the end it gets vague and a lot better.

Not wildly original or great, but a descent twist to a fairly known story with an odd and lovable chain smoker.

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.