Series Review: Stranger Things

I had to roll to Plan C today. I am a bit sad that I missed a one time showing of the film, Loving Vincent, about painter Vincent Van Gogh. I figured movie goers would not appreciate my coughing outbursts. I hope I can catch the movie later on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Plan B was a creative project, that I simply lacked the energy for today.

The truth is, I spent most of the day in bed, nursing myself through a nasty cold. That is what my body needed most today, rest. I’ve sipped on an antioxidant rich smoothie, thyme tea, ginger water, and hot water with a drop each of Young Living Thieves essential oil and lemon essential oil.

Plan C matched my day of self care. I tuned in to the extremely popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I’m a little late to the Stranger Things party. Season 2 released last month. The great thing about Netflix is, one can easily catch up on a show by watching the earlier seasons. I am now two thirds of the way through season 1.

Stranger Things stars Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, and Noah Schnapp. This fantasy drama is written and director by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. The episodes have a run time of 55 minutes each. This Netflix original series premiered in 2016.

Nothing much ever happens in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, until the night of November 16, 1983. That evening young Will Byers (Schnapp) disappears, after a day of playing Dungeons & Dragons with his best friends, Mike Wheeler (Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Matarazzo).

Sheriff Jim Hopper (Harbour) feels he must be under a curse, when a friend dies seemingly by a self inflicted gunshot shortly after the disappearance. There hasn’t been a missing person reported in Hawkins since 1921 and 1961 was the last suicide. As the sheriff begins the search for Will, the whole town starts to experience strange occurrences.

More people disappear. Will’s mother Joyce (Ryder) is sure her son is alive and in horrible danger. She is convinced Will is communicating with her via electrical lights and bizarre phone calls. At first everyone thinks Joyce is crazy. But gradually her elder son Jonathan (Heaton) begins to believe her. He recruits Mike’s older sister Nancy (Dyer) to track down a menacing faceless monster that seems to be behind the disappearances.

The trail Sheriff Hopper is following leads to a well guarded facility, Hawkins National Laboratory, run by Dr. Brenner (Modine). With a history of experimental and questionable practices, Hopper feels there is a connection between the lab and the chaos engulfing the town.

And only the three remaining friends know about the existence of the most mysterious person in Hawkins. She appeared the night Will disappeared. With closely cropped hair and clad in a hospital gown, the girl goes by the name Eleven. She has that number tattooed on her inner arm. Mike sneaks her into his family’s home, where she takes up residence in the basement. Eleven rarely speaks, but she has amazing psychokinetic abilities. The boys consider her gifts to be superpowers. She promises to help them find Will.

There is much going on in Hawkins, in the seen world and the unseen. Eleven seems to hold the key to the door between worlds. What will happen if that door is opened?

I have heard nothing but enthusiastic words about Stranger Things. I’ve deliberately not read detailed reviews about this series, so I could watch without a preconceived idea about the story.

I love this show!

Stranger Things is a campy cross between X Files and the 1986 movie Stand By Me. That’s deliberate. The creators wrote Stranger Things as a tribute to sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies and series of the 1980s. Several of the themes in this series were inspired by Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter. I enjoy the genres of fantasy and sci-fi, and a good horror flick if the focus is on the story and not blood and gore, so I found much to appreciate about Stranger Things.

The cast is phenomenal, especially the youth. Eleven’s portrayal by Millie is perfectly delivered. And my heart was pierced by Winona’s Joyce, the mom who refused to give up on her missing son. When evidence seemed to prove he was dead, Joyce stubbornly trusted her instincts that told her Will was alive. Her actions and beliefs appeared crazy to everyone else, and yet she was actually following the guidance she was being given.

I have three more episodes to watch in season 1, and then I am ready for season 2, which released in its entirety. This is easily a binge worthy show. I couldn’t stop after each episode, thinking Just one more…

I don’t know how this first season plays out. I haven’t looked ahead to season 2 at all. I’m watching the story of Stranger Things unfold one episode at a time. I am already hoping there will be a season 3.

Series Review: Kevin (probably) Saves the World

I have seen trailers for this series, which premiered on ABC on October 3. And I’ve seen several headlines giving the series great reviews, using words like “charming”, “fresh” and “unique”. Today, in between planned activities, I caught another preview and something about it upped my curiosity, transforming it into intrigue.

I was able to watch the first two episodes today, catching me up in preparation for episode 3, which airs Tuesday evening. I was immediately captivated. I laughed. I teared up. My heart expanded.

This is Kevin (probably) Saves the World.

This new series stars Jason Ritter, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, India de Beaufort, and Chloe East. The comedy/drama/fantasy was created by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas and has a run time of 1 hour each week.

Kevin Finn (Ritter) is a down on his luck man, miserable in his New York City life. He becomes so disheartened, in fact, that he attempts suicide. In recovery, he leaves the big city and relocates to Texas, moving in with his widowed twin sister, Amy (Swisher) and his teenaged niece, Reece (East).

Feeling disconnected and without purpose, Kevin is struggling to cope, when a meteor that falls to the earth turns his world upside down. The meteor brings with it a woman named Yvette (Gregory), who announces that she is a Warrior of God. She tells Kevin that he was one of 36 righteous people on the earth. He appears to be the last of the righteous. Yvette’s mission is to journey with Kevin as he carries out his mission…locating 35 righteous people via his willingness to help others.

Kevin’s disbelief, and his conversations with a being only he can see, creates confusion and humorous interactions with his sister and niece…and also with former classmates and friends and his ex-girlfriend Kristin (de Beaufort). However, as he moves from disbelief to trying to complete the mission in his own way, to a sense of wondrous purpose, Kevin begins to understand that he is being called to something amazing and beautiful, to a bigger life than he has ever lived.

No matter that to everyone else, he appears to be a weird man. Obeying a wild call to transform, Kevin’s heart is changing and opening to a guidance he didn’t know existed. The more he opens and follows that guidance, the more wonders he is shown.

I am still processing this interesting show, after viewing the first two episodes. But I can tell you this, I will definitely be tuning in for episode 3 on Tuesday.

Jason Ritter, son of late actor John Ritter, delivers the perfect portrayal of a man who has been brought low by difficulties and now catches the first glimmers of hope, that perhaps there is more to life. His delivery, facial expressions, and mannerisms, all reminiscent of Jim Carey, bring both comedy and sympathy to his character.

I like the premise of this show, which is be kind to each other, and help each other. And, I certainly identify with the kind of journey Kevin has embarked on. It is full of signs, synchronicities and wonders. It emphasizes having a personal relationship with God that goes way beyond attending church. As Kevin begins to see with different eyes, more and more is shown to him.

This series is quirky, funny, and heart touching. ABC has placed it in a difficult day/time slot to survive in. And I don’t know if people will get the deeper messages present within the humor. I don’t know if it will last beyond its initial eight episodes.

But I like it. I appreciate what it offers and the way it portrays life’s journey. Kevin (probably) Saves the World is worth watching and worth pondering. I’ll be doing both.

Series Review: Star Trek Discovery

I embraced the Star Trek universe when I was 14 years old. In culture jargon, I became a Trekkie at that impressionable and informative age, and I have remained one since that time. In ways that are difficult to put into words, Star Trek has shaped my life by modeling for me how to boldy go, and how to expand my known universe.

Tonight, with great excitement and anticipation, I watched the premiere of the newest installment in this long running franchise…Star Trek Discovery.

Star Trek Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Maulik Pancholy, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Jason Isaacs, Kenneth Mitchell, and James Frain…among other upcoming season regulars. The sci-fi series premiere was directed by David Semel and is based on the Star Trek universe, as created by Gene Roddenberry. The series has a weekly run time of 1 hour and carries a MA (mature audience) rating.

Tonight’s episode, titled The Vulcan Hello, opens by reintroducing us to the warrior race known as the Klingons. Discovery takes place 10 years before the Enterprise sets out on its five year mission. At this point in the Star Trek storyline, the Klingons have not been seen for generations, except on rare occasions. But they are rallying the 24 noble houses, with an intent that seems less than peaceful. Commander Kol (Mitchell) is the formidable leader.

On a desert planet, we meet Captain Georgiou (Yeoh) and her first officer, Lt. Commander Michael Burnham (Martin-Green). The women have served together for seven years, long enough to develop an understanding of each other and build trust between them.

However, when Lt Commander Burnham makes a startling discovery involving the seldom encountered Klingons, long buried emotions from her past threaten to spill over.

While serving with the Vulcans, Burnham’s parents were killed during a Klingon attack. Orphaned, Burnham was raised by the Vulcan ambassador, Sarek (Frain). Although she has adopted logic, and learned to repress her emotions, finding the Klingons in Federation space brings Burnham’s distrust and desire for retaliation into sharp contrast with her cool intellect.

The Federation appears to be on the brink of a fresh war with the Klingons.

Other members of the crew of the USS Shenzhou that were introduced tonight include Dr Nambue (Pancholy), Lt Tyler (Latif), Lt Stamets (Rapp), and Lt Saru (Jones), an alien with the ability to sense approaching death. Jason Isaacs’ character, Captain Gabriel Lorca, will be a regular, although he was not present in the pilot.

There was much for me to love about Star Trek’s return to television after a 12 year absence. The movie quality visuals, special effects and musical score were amazing. There were moments of familiarity, such as seeing a young Sarek, that warmed my heart. And enough new material, species and technology to make me want to know more.

Discovery’s opening sequence was so good that it brought tears to my eyes. I had to watch it again after the episode ended. For Trekkies there are iconic depictions of the hand phaser, the flip open communicator and the beloved Vulcan salute. And within the new musical number, stirring notes from the classic Trek score can be heard. Watch the opening sequence HERE.

The stories in this series are told, for the first time, not from the captain’s perspective, but from the second in command’s viewpoint. There is a very diverse crew, portrayed by an equally diverse cast. The choice to make the commanding officers female is a tribute to Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt Uhura in the original series.

And there are unanswered questions at the end of episode one, the primary one being is Discovery the name of a replacement ship for the Shenzhou…or more of a theme? The series tagline is At the edge of the universe, discovery begins. I like that. My own discoveries, about who I am and what I am capable of, began at the edge of my known universe too. Going beyond has become my own personal trek.

The question that I had at the beginning of tonight’s episode has been answered. Another first for this franchise was moving the series to CBS All Access after the premiere. The first episode was on network television. The rest can only be seen with a paid subscription. I didn’t know if I would be joining the streaming network.

But…it’s Star Trek. This show and its concepts have been a part of my life for 45 years. I am a most loyal fan and devotee. I don’t try to make Star Trek fit within my parameters and perceptions. I accept it, in all of its storylines, series and movie adaptations, and remain open to the lessons that I can learn by doing so.

This is how Star Trek expands me. This is how Star Trek takes me beyond where I currently am. This is how I boldly go, where I have not gone before.

I am happily joining CBS All Access. It is a nominal fee. Episode two of Star Trek Discovery is waiting for me there.

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three

I got hooked on this British television show after my grandson Dayan and I watched the first two seasons back to back on Netflix. Set in the fictional town of Broadchurch, in Dorset, England, the first season gripped me immediately with a shocking and heart wrenching storyline that was emotionally difficult to watch and impossible to look away from. Season two was a continuation of that story, and was just as riveting. The British have certainly mastered the crime/mystery genre. Both seasons can be viewed on Amazon Prime. 

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three

I have been patiently waiting for the third and final season to air in the US, so that I could return to the community where secrets abound and truths are hidden and no one is quite as they seem. Tonight Broadchurch premiered on BBC America. 

Broadchurch stars David Tennant, Olivia Coleman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Arthur Darvill, Adam Wilson and Charlotte Beaumont as series regulars returning for this season. Newcomers include Julie Hesmondhalgh, Sarah Parish and Mark Bazeley. 

This crime drama was directed by Paul Andrew Williams and was created by Chris Chibnall, who is concluding this series and becoming the show runner for Doctor Who. Chris is a brilliant writer  and storyteller and I am excited to see what he brings to the Whovian universe. 

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three

Detectives Alec Hardy (Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Coleman) team up to solve another violent crime in their community. Trish Winterman (Hesmondhelgh) reports a sexual assault…two days after it happened. In shock, feeling shame and confusion, Trish reveals that the attack happened at her friend Cath’s (Parish) 50th birthday party. The celebration was held at a manor outside of town with 70 – 80 guests attending. Such a large guest list and the 48 hour delay in reporting the crime makes Hardy and Miller feel like they are already hopelessly behind in the investigation. 

As the pair begins asking questions and establishing a crime scene, familiar Broadchurch residents are reintroduced, three years after the events in season two. Mark Latimer (Buchan) has found an outlet for his anger and grief by cowriting a book. He and the town’s church official, Rev Coates (Darvill), are still friends. Beth Latimer (Whittaker) has funneled her energy into helping women in crises. Their teenage daughter Chloe (Beaumont) is attending the university, while Ellie’s son Tom (Wilson) is a 15 year old in high school. 

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three

While life appears normal for the residents of Broadchurch, beneath the surface are tensions and suspicions and hearts that are closed. Such an assault in their midst will uncover what lies hidden and tear their relationships apart…or bind them together in unity. 

Episode one was an excellent beginning to a new story in Broadchurch. While this season could stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend skipping the first two installments. The complexities of the characters can’t easily be sorted out in eight episodes. 

And they are complex…gritty…real. I am a fan of David Tennant, whom I came to appreciate as the Tenth Doctor in that other favorite BBC show of mine, Doctor Who. His character here is darker, edgy, driven. In counterbalance is his detective partner, portrayed splendidly by Olivia Coleman. She provides the warmth and humanity in the series, as a woman who works long hours with the police department while trying to raise her sons. She has such empathy for the crime victims, tearing up when they cry, offering tenderness and genuine concern in the face of horrors. 

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three

The rest of the characters are excellently played as well. We get peeks into the joys and challenges of their lives as they recover in varying degrees from the traumas of their own pasts. The central character this season, Trish, captured my sympathy immediately. The subject of sexual assault was handled well, without downplaying the severity of such a crime. My eyes filled with tears several times, watching as Trish moved through the painful process of being questioned by the detectives and examined by medical personnel. I felt compassion toward all who have experienced such a personal tragedy. 

“Do you believe me?” Trish hesitantly asks the detectives. And that, I suspect, will become the question during this final season of Broadchurch. What is true? What isn’t? Who is hiding what? 

I am looking forward to discovering the answers as the story unfolds. 

Series Review: Broadchurch Season Three