Iron Fist (NYCC Trailer)

Iron Fist is an upcoming Netflix Original Series. It is the fourth and final individual installment in the Defenders franchise before the big team up miniseries. Iron Fist will follow Daredevil (first and second season), Jessica Jonesand the recently released Luke Cage. The series is being helmed by Scott Buck, former writer of cult TV series like HBO’s Six Feet Under and Rome, CBS’ Everybody Loves RaymondABC’s Coach, and, most notably, Showtime’s DexterThe series will primarily be written by one Tamara Becher. Iron Fist stars Game of Thrones alum Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, David Wenham, Tom Pelphry, and Lewis Tan.

Jones stars as Danny Rand. Danny is the son of Wendell Rand,  who discovered the mystical teleporting city of  K’un-Lun as a young boy and saved its leader. After growing up, Wendell moved to New York City and became an entrepenuer, marrying a wealthy socialite named Heather Duncun. Danny is their only child. When Danny was nine, Wendell mounted an expedition with Danny, Heather, and Wendell’s unscrupulous business partner Harold Meechum. Daniel slips while on a path his tie-rope putting both him and his parents in danger. Meechum forces Wendell to his death, but offers to save Danny and Heather, whom he is in love with. She rejects him and they set out on their own. They encounter a makeshift bridge that appears out of nowhere and are attacked by wolves. She is killed even as archers from K’un-Lun attempt to save her. The grieving Danny is taken to meet Yu-Ti, the leader of K’un-Lun and the man Wendell saved all those years ago. Expressing a deep-seated desire for vengeance against Meechum, Danny is put under the tutilage of Lei Kung, the most talented martial artist in the Marvel Universe. Danny proves to be Lei Kung’s most gifted student. The almost overly-dedicated Danny used to condition his fists by plunging them into sand and gravel to toughen them. At 19, Danny is given the opportunity to become an Iron Fist. To do so he must defeat a dragon; Shou-Lao the Undying, who guards the molten heart that had been taken from him. During the battle, Danny throws himself up against the Scar of Shou-Lao, which burns a scar onto his chest. Danny is successful and gains the mystical powers of the Iron Fist. It is later revealed that he is part of a long line of Iron Fist warriors. Danny returns to Earth  when K’un-Lun teleports there after ten years. Danny swears to avenge his parents’ deaths as Iron Fist, all the while reclaiming ownership of the Rand Corporation, making Danny a billionaire.

Iron Fist has a lot to live up to. For me, though all of Marvel’s Netflix series have been great in their own right, none of them have been able to live up to Daredevil’s first season. This is primarily due to two factors. Matt Murdock, the protagonist of Daredevil, is a man who was blinded at birth, heightening his other senses to an astounding degree. He has been described as “a blind man who can see.” Murdock learns martial arts from an old man and uses his skill and extraordinary attributes to protect Hell’s Kitchen from danger. Matt Murdock is, at the end of the day, a man just like you and me. He can be, and has been, shot in the head at point blank range, stabbed, and brutally beaten. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage never have to deal with that. Even as superheroes, their struggles are internal rather than external. Matt has to deal with both. This makes him more interesting on several fronts; it’s ironic that he is sometimes known as The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, because the personal, professional, and vigilante lives of attorney Matt Murdock are quite literally a living Hell. Coming from this point, the fight sequences and action in Daredevil was and always will be top notch and completely badass, but Jessica Jones and Luke Cage seem lacking in this aspect, comparitively. Iron Fist, in the nature of itself, bring the pain. I sense Danny’s personal life will end up entirely out of control, too. One very minor criticism I have is Finn Jones kinda looks too much like a hipster Neil Patrick Harris for my tase.

I will be anticipating Iron Fist like I have anticipated all Defenders series. Iron Fist will land on Netflix on March 17th, 2017, followed by the Defenders miniseries some time later that same year. Season 1 of The Punisher spinoff will arrive either in late 2017 or early 2018, followed by Daredevil Season 3 in 2018.

Marvel’s Luke Cage: Season 1 (Spoilers)

Marvel’s Luke Cage premiered on Netflix on September 30th, 2016 with 13 episodes. It is the fourth overall installment in the Defenders franchise following the first season of Daredevil, the first season of Jessica Jones, and Daredevil’s second season. Luke Cage follows the titular hero in Harlem after being featured as a major player in Jessica Jones. Luke Cage is a wrongfully convicted man who was sent to Seagate Prision and subjected to horrible experiments that gave him super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage escaped and has been a fugitive from justice ever since. The series stars Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton from House of Cards), Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard.

Luke Cage has been working two jobs in New York City’s iconic Harlem neighborhood, insisting to be paid in cash. He works one job as a janitor in Pops’ Barber Shop. Pops is a reformed ex-con who’s shop has turned into a safe haven for street kids, doing whatever he can to help them stay off the street. He is a father figure to many, including Detective Misty Knight, Cage himself, and even Cottonmouth, to some extent. Cage’s second job is as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned and operated by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, a crime boss that runs drugs and guns in Harlem. He is covertly alligned in a conspiracy with his cousin, City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Dillard is currently working on a series of ambitious new housing projects with the goal of bringing Harlem back to its former glory, each named after famous black heroes, most notably Crispus Attucks, the first man to die in the famed Boston Massacre for what would become America. (I put that in there just to brag that my US History class is teaching me things.) Dillard embezzled city money to back Cottonmouth’s huge gun deal with Latino crime lord Domingo, as well as an extensive renovation of Harlem’s Paradise.

Dante is a bartender at Harlem’s Paradise who is friends with Chico and Shameek, two of Pops’ young charges. They stage a raid of the weapons deal, ruining Domingo and Cottonmouth’s partnership. Shameek kills Dante when Dante panics. Chico does not have the stomach for this, and literally throws up after seeing Shameek brutally kill Dante. Shameek and Chico split the money. With his dying breath, Dante calls Cottonmouth’s crew and gives up the two teens. Shameek is captured and brutally murdered by Cottonmouth himself.

This murder, as well as the junkyard shootout, come to the attention of NYPD Detectives Misty Knight, a street-smart and brilliant detective who played basketball after hearing her father and Pops argue over the sport constantly when she was a child, and her partner, Detective Rafael Scarfe. The night of the initial raid, Knight was working undercover at the Harlem’s Paradise, where she began a rapport and an immediate sexual relationship with Cage.

After Shameek’s murder, the terrified Chico returns to Pops for protection. The big-hearted man is angry and saddened at Chico’s recklessness and stupidity, but still accepts the boy with open arms after a tearful reunion. Pops, through Cage, attempts to set up a meeting with Cottonmouth to negotiate the money for the boy’s life. The barber shop in Harlem has always had respect, no matter who’s side you’re on. “This place is Switzerland.” Cottonmouth, who has respect for Pops, agrees to the meeting. Chico was spotted in the barbershop, leading Cottonmouth’s lackey Tone to shoot up the barbershop, killing Pops and wounding Chico. Cage shields a young boy in the shop with his own body. This action, Cage’s lack of an explanation, and the fact that he has been at the center of everything, leads to suspicion from the two detectives. Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof, enraged at his “executive decision.” Despite the fact Tone went against Cottonmouth’s wishes, Cage holds the unstable crime boss responsible and swears to even the score.

Luke Cage is another extremely unique and interesting addition to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large as well as Netflix’s growing catalogue of excellent original series. Jessica Jones was able to have a progressive and thoughtful conversation about sexual assault, domestic violence, and the nature of mental illness (specifically PTSD) without any politicizing of the subject. Luke Cage does much of the same thing with black culture. Luke Cage is the most stylized of Netlix’s Original Series so far, with overt references and homages to various 70s blaxplotation films. Shaft, the works of Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained is overtly referenced, with the series taking obvious stylistic cues from both Pulp Fiction and the underrated Jackie Brown). 

While Jessica Jones chose to approach its subject matter on a metaphorical basis, Luke Cage is very direct in its message concerning black culture in America. Cottonmouth wants money and power, believing that to be the thing people notice about others, especially African-Americans. Mariah and Cage, however, believe that respect is the single most important thing a black American could have. Like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is able to send a powerful and thoughtful message without becoming preachy or political. Luke Cage is as much of a story about the city of Harlem and Black America as it is about Cage vs. Cottonmouth.

Luke Cage not only pulls from black culture in terms of visual style and dramatic themes, but also musically. Luke Cage has the best soundtrack in a Marvel feature since the catchy 80’s-infused tunes of Guardians of the Galaxy, but Luke Cage is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Featuring hardcore rap courtesy of artists like Method Man and Wu Tang Clan, as well as R&B from Raphael SaadiqFaith Evans, and Charles Bradley, not to mention countless other notable artists from prominent genres , Luke Cage features a catchy, specialized, yet diverse number of songs that compliment the themes of the series and will stay in your head for some time, and I even neglected to mention the great theme tune.

Overall, if I had one criticism of the series, it is concerning series lead Mike Coulter. His performance as Cage in Jessica Jones was rather impressive, but Coulter seems a little wooden in his own series. Though certainly not bad, I feel that there are some aspects of his performance that leave much to be desired. On the other hand, Mahershala Ali is an excellent villain and an excellent actor. Theo Rossi’s performance as the mysterious “Shades” was also very impressive, and Alfre Woodard is a force to be reckoned with.

Luke Cage is ultimately proof that you can make good TV out of anything. Luke Cage as a character is, at his core, simply a nigh-invincible black guy with super strength. That could wear thin very quickly, but showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker realized this, and decided to make Luke Cage about so much more than the man himself. Though not good enough to break my unwavering favorable bias towards its cousin series Daredevil, Luke Cage is highly entertaining, highly addictive, well-made, and another solid addition to the Marvel/Netflix team up; by the way, it crashed Netflix. This only makes me more excited for Iron Fist, and has me hoping for Heroes for Hire somewhere down the line.

Westworld (Pilot) [SPOILERS]

Westworld is a science-fiction psuedo-Western mystery drama television series created by Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO. It is based upon the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton. The series stars Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris. Westworld premiered on October 2nd. I have been anticipating the series for quite some time, and it is finally time to see if my high expectations can be met.

Taking place some time in the future, Westworld is a hyper-realistic theme park populated by lifelike androids called hosts. Regular programming updates occur, managed by head of the Programming Division, Bernard, the successor to the brilliant and enigmatic Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of both the Host androids and Westworld itself.There are also updates to the main narrative of Westworld, managed by the arrogant but creative Lee Sizemore. Theresa Cullen is the Operations Director of Westworld, working closely with Bernard to deal with any malfunctioning Hosts or other developments. Hosts that are either outdated or begin to malfunction are sent to cold storage. Bernard is usually able to fix the bugs and send them back into rotation. Westworld Hosts begin to experience a number of bugs and glitches. Bernard discovers that these glitches are due to Dr. Ford’s “reveries.” These reveries are subtle gestures Hosts use that make them seem more human and lifelike to the guests. Hosts have their memories purged regularly, but Dr. Ford discovered a way to access them, creating a subconscious of sorts. The updated Hosts are all killed in a robbery orchestrated by the team and rolled back.

Meanwhile, we follow Delores, a Host in Westworld. She wakes up every morning and goes down to the station (where guests arrive) and normally, barring any interruptions by the guests, encounters Teddy, another Host and the love of her life, who arrives on the train with the guests every morning. A peaceful day with Teddy is interrupted by The Man in Black, a sadistic and mysterious guest with a hidden agenda, who spends the episode searching for answers to his unknown query. The Man in Black ruthlessly murders Delores’ father, mother, and Teddy, and presumably rapes and kills Delores. It is possible and probable that guests kill the Hosts, but Hosts cannot, due to their programming, bring harm to any living thing, even a fly. Hosts kill other Hosts all the time. One of the Hosts glitches out, killing several other Hosts in a psychotic rampage. Throughout the episode, Delores must deal with the turmoil in her life caused by the glitched out Hosts and the mysterious Man in Black. Of course, she has no memory of these events after being killed.

The film on which the series is based is a rather straightforward narrative about AI gone bad with hidden depths. Westworld as a series is so much more than that. Instead of AI gone bad, we are presented with an Asmovian tale of the android Hosts and their benevolent and omnipresent masters behind the scenes. Delores is the series’ de facto protagonist, as it seems. You end up caring more for the Hosts than you do about the humans, who are presented in a more antagonistic vibe, though you can understand and empathize with everyone’s perspective. as well. The Hosts have thoughts, beliefs, emotions, much like humans, but they are treated as tools. Peter, Delores’ father, discovers a picture of a guest from the real world, which causes the android to have nothing less than a complete and utter breakdown.

In the film, the robots go bad in a big way, but I don’t think that is what the series will focus on. We are one hour in, and there are already many questions, both philosophical and narrative ones, that need to be answered, questions about the nature of reality, the nature of artificial intelligence, ethics when it comes to technology, and humanity’s reach exceeding its grasp. Westworld is truly a work of narrative brilliance.

The acting in Westworld is flawless. Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Louis Herthum are all great. Westworld has a budget of $100 million. With this massive budget, series creator, writer, and director of the pilot episode, Jonathon Nolan, is able to create a believable Westworld, and a believable future, as well. Subtle visual effects were used to make the actors seem more robotic.

Westworld is as intense as it is philosophical. The events that occur in Westworld itself are brutal, violent, and vicious. The series is as much a straight western as it is a sci-fi. To me, the most important question isn’t what’s going on with the Hosts at large, but what is up with the Man in Black? What does he want, and why is he torturing and slaughtering Hosts to get it?

Speaking of black, Westworld showed off its musical stylings and cinematic flair in one very interesting and engrossing scene. Using an orchestral cover of Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, the saloon robbery is possibly the most notable scene of the entire episode.

Featuring a score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, the music of Westworld is as haunting as it is addicting; it is another wonderfully constructed piece of the wonderfully constructed puzzle that is this series.

Westworld’s premiere episode had the network’s highest viewer count since True Detective in 2014, drawing in 3.3 million viewers. It is already well on its way to being HBO’s flagship series following the soon-approaching end to Game of Thrones. This excellent revival of an excellent film is certainly a must watch for me, and it should be for you, as well. The pilot episode is free to stream right now. As for any further reviews, I will most likely wait until the season is over to share the entirety of my thoughts on it, I just felt it necessary to get the word out, because this show is awesome and it can only get better.

The Wire: The Complete Series (Season 1)

The Wire is a HBO original television series that was broadcast from June 2nd, 2002 to March 9th, 2008. The Wire was created by David Simon. David Simon is an extremely dedicated and talented journalist who has authored several non-fiction crime novels in addition to producing, creating, and writing television series. Simon worked as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun from 1982 to 1995. He took a leave of absence in late 1987 after a change in ownership at The Sun caused his work “not to be fun anymore.” Simon had persuaded the Baltimore Police Department to grant him unlimited access to the Department’s Homicide Unit for the entire calendar year of 1988, during which time he shadowed detectives and observed their procedures and noted the unusual, sometimes absurd and unusual cases they investigated. Simon published Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets in 1991. It won acclaim and notoriety upon its release, and was the basis for the critically acclaimed procedural drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran on NBC from 1993 to 1999. Simon served as executive producer and writer on the series, with several characters being closely based on real law enforcement personnel. Homicide, unlike other police procedurals, was known for portraying realistic detective work and Baltimore street life. This came in very handy when Simon pitched The Wire to HBO following the end of Homicide. Over its five season run, The Wire received obscene amounts of critical acclaim from viewers and critics, with many noting the series’ realistic, uncompromising, cynical, yet sympathetic depiction of not only law enforcement but the criminal element as well, portraying urban street life with the same commitment to realism found in all other areas of the show. The series is also known for dealing with heavy themes such as the institutional failings of the corrupt and sometimes gleefully inept city government, the effects of the drug trade on the city at large as well as on an individual and personal level, and police surveillance, hence the title. The Wire, in addition to its unending commitment to realism, is also known for including very cutting, topical, cerebral, poetic, even sometimes humorous dialogue, and is a very well-written series in that aspect, as well. To this day, The Wire is considered by many to be the greatest TV show of all time. AMC’s Breaking Bad was once comically referred to as “the show that finally got TV snobs to shut up about The Wire.”

***

Season 1 follows series protagonist, Baltimore Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty, played by English actor Dominic West. McNulty is a naturally gifted, intelligent, and talented detective with a multitude of personal and professional issues. He is extremely insubordinate, immature, has a drinking problem, and a major superiority complex. McNulty witnesses an open and shut case against D’Angelo Barksdale fall apart at the seams thanks to the very subtle influence of Stringer Bell, played by the now-famous Idris Elba. McNulty complains to the presiding Judge Phelan, a former prosecutor and friend of McNulty’s. McNulty explains that Avon Barksdale, D’Angelo’s uncle, is a major player in the Baltimore drug trade, has been operating for more than a year, has complete control of the Westside Terrace buildings in the Projects, and has been linked to more than a dozen murders. Despite this power and notoriety on the street, neither the Baltimore Police Department or any federal agencies have anything of note on the Barksdale Organization. Phelan lights a fire under the PD, causing major embarrassment for the Deputy Ops and other high-ranking officials. McNulty’s strict, vindictive, and angry unit commander Major Rawls, played by John Doman, grows to despise McNulty for causing this embarrassment and insubordination, and wants nothing more than to ruin our protagonist’s career.

In a move meant only to appease the judge, a special detail is formed to investigate the Barksdale Organization. Led by Lieutenant Cedric Daniels from Narcotics, the detail is composed of dead wood: two lazy drunken detectives nearing retirement, an incompetent detective from traffic, a laconic man from the Pawnshop Unit, McNulty, and another detective from Rawls’ Unit. The only saving graces are McNulty and three detectives from Daniels’ unit: Kima Greggs, “Herc,” and Ellis Carver. Stationed in the basement of the precinct, these men attempt to build a case against drug kingpin Avon Barksdale… a case that no one really cares about and which ends up causing political and social turmoil for the City of Baltimore.

The case hits major roadblocks and controversy, not the least of which is caused by drunken “field interviews” conducted by Herc, Carver, and Prez at 2AM.

***

Season 1 deals with the themes of police corruption and brutality very heavily, as you can see. As I see it, these scenes involving their “field interviews” do not paint Herc, Carver, or Daniels in a bad light for their actions. I should say, it doesn’t paint them as evil or inherently bad, though Prez is an idiot, that’s a given. In keeping with the realistic nature of the series, The Wire doesn’t view police brutality through any sort of biased lens, and more as just a regrettable thing that happens when cops do stupid stuff. There’s no secret cabal or extensive cover-up, Daniels doesn’t have Prez murdered because he’s worried he’ll screw up with IID. The Wire feels almost journalistic, in a sense; like I mentioned before, it is unbiased yet uncompromising. Granted, the show was the creation of a very talented investigative writer, so that makes sense.

The Wire paints cops as fallible human beings, with personal problems but an important job to do. There’s a lot of empathy in the series for McNulty, Daniels, and Kima. The series treats the other side of the coin in very much the same way. D’Angelo Barksdale, believe it or not, might be one of the most likeable characters on The Wire. Most TV shows treat their antagonists as wholeheartedly evil. There’s nothing wrong with that, and for most shows, it works out well. The Wire is not that type of show, though. D’Angelo, known by “D,” is a smart, cunning, emotional man who doesn’t really have the stomach for violence. He really isn’t big on the whole drug thing, either, as he later figures out. D, in my eyes, is a man who was born into the street life and, at first, accepts it wholeheartedly. As things start to get more and more hairy, though, he realizes he might want out. Nobody who knows how to play chess should be working the street corner like a low-rent banger.

The Wire received immense praise for this scene, and is, in fact, the reason The Wire’s first season won several awards. On the surface, it’s just a scene explaining chess to a bunch of street kids, but it’s actually a lot more than that upon further analysis. Peter Honig, a high school film teacher and The Wire fanatic, explains:

The chess lesson from “The Buys” has become one of The Wire’s most iconic scenes. It is a brilliantly-scripted and -acted scene, one that actually serves as a double metaphor. D’Angelo uses the familiar world of the drug hierarchy to explain an alien and complex game to Bodie and Wallace. At the same time, Simon and Burns use this scene to explain the (presumably) alien drug game to their audience using the (presumably) familiar rules of chess. Call it a meta-metaphor.

If you have HBO, let’s face it, you ain’t street, “street” is an alien concept to you. The audience needs to become acclimated to this foreign environment, and Simon and Company do that very well.

***

In addition to being a rather flawlessly written show, The Wire also has remarkable acting talent. When casting, big, household names were purposefully avoided to preserve the show’s realistic feel; big, well-known talent increases the audience’s need for suspension of disbelief. The casting is great here, with Lance Reddick’s Lieutenant Daniels being my favorite law enforcement member of the show. He has gone on to make somewhat of a name for himself playing mysterious, authoritative characters on other television series, though his talent as a leading man since the end of The Wire has been wasted, in my opinion. Idris Elba, now a household name after achieving notoriety with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the very good BBC crime drama Luther, and the controversy surrounding his completely hypothetical and imaginary casting as James Bond, is an amazing actor here in his role as the criminal genius Stringer Bell, and I am surprised his breakout into the mainstream didn’t occur until years after The Wire. Dominic West is great, and I was delighted to see him and Elba team up again for one of the most underrated roles in Finding Dory, playing a pair of laid-back, territorial sea otters. As I said before, D’Angelo Barksdale is the most empathetic drug dealer I have ever seen portrayed, played with amazing skill by Larry Gillard Jr. Notably, The Wire features future Creed star Michael B. Jordan as Wallace, an intelligent 13-year-old street kid and low-level member of the Barksdale Organization. Truthfully, all the acting in The Wire is excellent, and continuing on this subject would just be needlessly tedious, with me listing off every main cast member and telling you how good they are. So let’s just skip that, say they’re all great (they are) and move on. The Wire also features some good cinematography, as well. The Wire was remastered in HD relatively recently. The decision to remaster this classic in glorious 16:9 and Full HD is what spurred my interest in my binge-watch of this series.

***

Throughout this long and extensive review, I have done nothing but praise the first season of The Wire. I stand by all that praise, but this show is not for everyone. This is a hard concept to explain, but in keeping with the realism, there aren’t a lot of bombshells, twists, or assorted craziness. It is the diametric opposite of 24, which premiered around the same time, a high adrenaline show full of mind-blowing twists and great action (for the first five seasons, anyway). As someone who has a poster of Jack Bauer hung up behind him as he is writing a review of The Wire, I will say I love both, but the reasons I do could not be any more different. 24 is like my sweets addiction. You say you just need one, and a second after you say that to yourself, only the hollow bag of Hershey’s Bliss remains. The Wire is lobster. You have to savor it, to understand that it’s a Hell of a lot more expensive than Bliss. 24 is a show that invests itself in you, it hooks you in. The Wire is a show you have to invest yourself in. The Wire is a deliberately paced, realistic, painstakingly researched, accurate portrayal of not only law enforcement and the internal politics thereof, but of street life, as well. It is character-based and very dialogue-heavy, with little of what one would call “action.” If you can get into it, it is an excellent show. I first watched the first season of The Wire while on vacation at my aunt and uncle’s up in Wisconsin my Freshman Year of high school. It was a fishing vacation, and I rather despise fishing. Someone loaned my Aunt Martha Season 1 and 2 of The Wire on DVD. Anything’s better than fishing, and I was aware of The Wire‘s high status, so I figured I’d give it a shot. 14-year-old me rather enjoyed it. Martha and I were both surprised at that. “You like The Wire, Aaron?” “Yeah,  I know.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact The Wire was my only good option and it meant I could watch something from HBO (we all know what that means), I probably wouldn’t have invested myself into it as much as I did. It is rather slow, but purposefully slow; it is not a detriment to the show. The Wire is a great show for a lot of reasons, but it is understandable if you can’t get into it. My Mom turned it off after twenty minutes after I loosely recommended she try it after she asked for recommendations. It isn’t for everyone. I would, however, recommend everyone give it a fair shot and watch the show with intent to watch and invest up until the end of Episode 3. The Wire shows an extremely complex, well-written, dour, well-fleshed out, and entirely realistic side to law enforcement investigations and their criminal adversaries. If you do find yourself liking The Wire, be prepared to be treated to one of the most interesting, well-made series ever put to television.

Narcos: Season 2 (Spoilers)

Season 2 of Narcos premiered on September 2nd, 2016. Season 2 once again stars Boyd Holbrook, Wagner Moura, and Pedro Pascal, with the addition of new cast members Leynar Gomez, Martina Garcia, Eric Lange, Brett Cullen, and FlorencÍa Marzano. Season 2 follows immediately after Season 1, dealing with the fallout of Pablo’s escape from La Cathedral.

The changes that take place in the main characters’ lives are immense. Murphy’s wife heads back to Miami, feeling that Columbia is not safe and that Murphy’s obsession with hunting Pablo has changed him. She would be right. In this season, our protagonists are much more world-weary and cynical than before. They’ve spent the better part of four years hunting Pablo Escobar, a complete monster, and they were still no closer to catching him. This takes a toll on everybody. Peña and Escobar’s lives are both thrown into a tailspin by the emergence of Los Pepes, a vigilante group consisting of members of the Cali Cartel, with major assistance from anti-Communist guerilla forces and alleged assistance from Search Bloc, the CNP, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Los Pepes were ruthless in their hunt for Pablo, operating with no restrictions of any kind. Though they could never officially admit it, Los Pepes’ methods were attractive to many members of law enforcement at the time, including Javier Peña, who is probably my favorite character in this series. Peña’s association with this brutal group lands him in some very hot water, both from a moral and political perspective.

The most interesting thing about this season, however, is still Pablo Escobar. Continuing to be played by the brilliant Wagner Moura, Pablo is an extremely complex antagonist. He is something of an empathetic monster. He is remorseless in his pursuit of what he would call justice, and most of the violence that Escobar causes this season is an extreme way to force the Columbian government to protect his family. Escobar deserves to die, there is no doubt about that, but even so, one can’t help but feel for him at least a little bit. Pablo’s family takes up a much larger role this season, so the viewer is able to see what the dynamic of the Escobar Family was. Tata Escobar is the most understandable character in this series, when it comes to her actions. She, like Pablo, will do anything in her power to protect her family. The struggles that the Escobar Family face are really where the emotional meat of the show can be found.

Season 2 also focuses on the back-alley nature of law enforcement in Columbia. As it was in Season 1, some shady stuff went down in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. The CIA’s involvement with Los Pepes and the Cali Cartel only amplifies this matter, making for some very interesting storylines of subtle conspiracy and political intrigue.

Narcos has some excellent writing, but the show is also very well-done on a technical level, with Pedro Bromfman returning for the score and some interesting camera work on display cortousy of Mauricio Vidal. The sequence in episode six where the Escobar Family is ambushed by Los Pepes in the middle of the night is very well-done, though I feel compelled to mention that it is nothing compared to True Detective.

The acting by Boyd Holbrook as Murphy is very good, as always, and I can see this guy going places. He is the empathetic American that viewers can relate to, and he still serves as the narrator for the series.

Season 2 of Narcos is as addicting as the first, being a pitch perfect continuation of the previous season, complete with interesting writing, both in terms of events and characters, an excellent score, excellent acting, and some pretty good cinematography. Narcos has been renewed for both a third and fourth season by Netflix, with Season 3 set to air in 2017.

Narcos: Season 1

Narcos is a Netflix Original Series that first premiered on August 28th, 2015. It is a collaborative venture between Netflix and the Spanish television network Telemundo. Narcos is a semi-biographical crime serial concerning both the rise and fall of famed Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar as well as attempts by both the American DEA and Columbian officials and law enforcement officers to capture Escobar. Narcos was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, and Doug Miro, with the series primarily being written by Brancato. Famed Brazilian director José Padhila directed several episodes of the series, as well as serving as executive producer. The series stars award-winning Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar, and Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal as Steve Murphy and Javier Peña, respectively, two DEA agents embedded in Columbia with a mission to take down Escobar.

Wagner Moura is best known for starring in José Padhila’s Elite Squad films. The 2008 film was a critical and commercial success, becoming somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in Brazil. Its 2011 sequel holds industry records as the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time. In an extremely ironic twist, the two films star Moura as an incorruptible and experienced captain in Brazil’s paramilitary police squad, BOPE, Brazil’s answer to Columbia’s Search Bloc.

Narcos has a disclaimer that the show is based upon real events, but some names have been changed and altered. It is true that Steve Murphy, Javier Peña, and several other characters are simply composites based on real people, but I was still surprised at how much of the events featured in the show were, in fact, accurate. Narcos opens with a title card:

Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. There’s a reason magical realism was born in Columbia.

Not to spoil it for you, but Pablo Escobar was a ruthless, borderline crazy guy. The things he did to get his way, to bend people to his will, they are quite literally too outlandish to believe, but they happened. Narcos is compelling based upon its source material alone, but it goes even further than that.

Narcos has a lot of talent behind it. The standout cast member has to be its most important one, Wagner Moura. As someone who speaks a laughable amount of Spanish, some of his acting skill feels a little lost in translation, as do the majority of the non-English speaking actors in this series, but there is no denying Moura is extremely effective in this role. Pablo Escobar, as he is portrayed in this series, is at times extremely empathetic, and at times a downright terrifying, reprehensible monster. Moura steals the show here. I should mention that this series is very much a bilingual production, with the majority of the actors speaking Spanish when appropriate while still being able to speak fluent and clear English when the need arises. I sincerely and non-sarcastically appreciate the fact that the series makes me feel like I accomplished something with my three years of high school Spanish and extensive knowledge of extremely basic pronouns, nouns, and adverbs.

That is not to say the rest of the cast does not do a great job, as well. Boyd Holbrook, who had small roles in film up until this point, is very convincing. Serving as both narrator and protagonist of this series, Steve Murphy’s quest to catch Escobar turns into a dangerous obsession, so much so that there are points in the series you feel he is losing a part of himself the deeper he goes to catch Escobar. The weird thing is, while binge-viewing this season, I personally didn’t ever see him as going too far until I took a step back and thought about it. Even though you cannot compare the two shows at all, like Elliot in Mr. Robot, you as an audience member are inclined to see events of the series from the narrator’s (in this case, Murphy’s) perspective, even though their perspective may not always be the best one.

A question that comes up in Narcos throughout the series is “How far are you willing to go?” Columbia in the late-80’s and early 90’s was a virtually lawless country that made the American Old West look like Candyland. It is described by some as being Hell on Earth, and in many ways, it was. Because of people like Pablo Escobar, the War On Drugs is no longer simply a forceful saying. Things in Columbia got so bad, the Search Bloc was formed. The Search Bloc was a real, public, officially sanctioned paramilitary organization that comprised Columbian military personnel with the express directive of taking out the Medellin  Cartel. The Search Bloc carried out operations with near impunity. I should also mention that capturing targets wasn’t really a thing with the Search Bloc, it was mainly a death squad. The series’ first episode opens in medias res with a raid carried out by the Search Bloc based upon intelligence provided by Murphy. The raid gets rather bloody and civilians are killed. The camera pans over the carnage as Murphy asserts that he has no regrets and calmly explains that he is not a bad man before the action turns back in time to show how this all began.

What I just described to you might seem jarring, and it is, but by the time the action gets back to the nightclub shootout, you understand that Columbia at the time needed extreme measures like the Search Bloc. Like I said, in Columbia, it’s clear that the War On Drugs wasn’t just a strong saying. Stuff hits the fan very, very, very quickly in Narcos; men, women, and children end up direct casualties of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, and at that point, you don’t have time nor the luxury to consider the political or moral ramifications of extreme actions against the men responsible. This all takes a rather dramatic toll on Murphy’s morality, his beliefs, and his relationship with his loving wife, Connie, who has gone to Columbia with her husband. This is where I feel Narcos shines. You are eased into the fight against Pablo slowly but progressively until you, like Murphy, find yourself “all in.”

Another interesting character in Narcos is Colonel Horacio Carillo, the fictionalized leader of the Search Bloc based upon real-life General Hugo Martinez, played by Maurice Compte. Carillo is first introduced as an associate of Javier Peña upon Murphy’s initial arrival in Columbia. Carillo is as incorruptible as he is ruthless in his pursuit of Escobar. Seemingly the only honest cop in Columbia, Carillo wastes no time in introducing the “fresh meat” to the harsh reality of Columbia. Relentless in his pursuit of justice, Carillo, who has seen too many people slain by the cartels, never seems to bother with morality in his pursuit of justice; under no circumstances will he stop until Escobar and his people are imprisoned or, preferably, dead.

Javier Peña, an experienced agent who has been stationed in Columbia for some time, and who long came to terms with the reality of the War On Drugs, serves as Murphy’s guide throughout the series. Played brilliantly by Pedro Pascal, the charming Peña provides some organic levity throughout the darkness of Narcos while also being nearly as dedicated to the job as Carillo is.

In addition to a rock solid narrative, Narcos also benefits from impressive cinematography by Mauricio Vidal and an excellent musical score by Pedro Bromfman. The score combines Spanish folk with what seems to me to be somewhat of a hard-boiled mystery feel. It is very good, and the theme song, Tuyo, will get stuck in your head. It is a forgone conclusion. I have no idea what the lyrics are saying but it hasn’t left my head since.

Narcos is an extremely addictive and very well-made biographical crime serial and another solid addition to Netflix’s ever-growing catalog of original content. Season 2 recently premiered on September 2nd, 2016 and was renewed for a third and fourth season soon after. With a total of 20 episodes now available, Narcos is definitely worth a weekend of your time. I have yet to start Season 2, but be assured you will have my thoughts on it ASAP.

Mr. Robot, Season 1

Mr. Robot is an American drama thriller television series starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater. The series, created by Sam Esmail, premiered on June 24, 2015. The series also includes Carly Chalkin, Portia Doubleday, and Martin Wallstrom in supporting roles. Mr. Robot follows a computer technician and occasional vigilante hacker named Elliot Alderson. Elliot works for an IT security company called Allsafe. Allsafe contracts out to E Corp, or as Elliot calls them, “Evil Corp.” Evil Corp is a huge multinational technology conglomerate like Apple. Elliot is sought out by the mysterious hacktivist revolutionary known only as “Mr. Robot,” to join his group fsociety. Fsociety is an anarchist hacker group aiming to take down the “top 1% of the top 1%” and erase all debt.

The events of Mr. Robot are always shown from Elliot’s perspective, with voiceovers meant to explain his inner thoughts and feelings, as well as to explain more complex moments in the plotline of the show. From this, it is clear that Elliot is not the most stable individual. Elliot suffers from social anxiety, paranoia, and will occasionally hallucinate.He may suffer from schizophrenia. This sets up Elliot as a potentially unreliable narrator. However, as the show is universally shown from his perspective, we have no other option but to trust this possibly very unstable young man. Indeed, throughout the series, Elliot calls his own sanity into question, and his mental difficulties often complicate the plots of Mr. Robot and fsociety. You spend the entire time questioning what is real and what isn’t, and if Elliot doesn’t know, you don’t, either.

Mr. Robot uses this first-person perspective to its advantage. While most television series nowadays have the viewer as just that, a viewer, looking from the outside, from the outset of this particular series, you are firmly placed inside Elliot’s mindset as his “imaginary friend.” No matter what you may think of Elliot from an outsiders’ perspective, by being inside his mind, you aren’t in the front row seat, but a player on the stage.

The writing of this series is brilliant. By making you a part of Elliot, you are made responsible for some of his actions.Elliot adresses you throughout the show. There is a moment early on in the season where Elliot feels he’s gotten in too deep with fsociety and frantically tries to figure his way out. He’s told by a fsociety member “You don’t just get to walk away from this!”

This was a mistake. I gotta turn them in. Should I turn them in? Will I get into trouble? Shit, she’s right! I’m culpable now. No, we’re culpable. You’re in this with me, so start thinking of solutions, now!!!

Mr. Robot benefits from wonderful acting from the entire cast. Rami Malek, whom very few had ever heard of before this series, plays Elliot very well. Playing an emotionally detached nerd might sound easy, but the hard part is making him relatable as the series protagonist, while still making him creepy, which Malek does. You feel sorry for Elliot, and even though on the outside he’s creepy (let’s face it, the poor kid is creepy), you fully and utterly empathize with him. He also aces the frantic and delusional, borderline schizophrenic nature of the character. Elliot is forced by court order to see a psychiatrist after a particularly disturbing incident. This scene early in the first episode frames exactly what kind of character Elliot is.

Side note: Rami Malek’s eyes are that huge and bulbous, which is a good thing, considering the character is on the creepier side.

Christian Slater has been in somewhat of a career slump these past few years, maybe even decades. I’m not sure exactly when the slump started. I like the guy, though. He has hilarious occasional guest starring role on the hilarious and underwatched Archer as CIA agent Slater, and I feel as though My Own Worst Enemy was cancelled before it got a chance to be any good. If you will forgive that brief aside, here, Christian Slater reminds us why we all know his name, even though he hasn’t been in anything of note as long as I’ve been alive, it seems. The character of Mr. Robot has a sense of confidence, charisma, and tenacity, everything Elliot lacks. For such a dire and rather creepy show, there are moments of humor that normally originate from the sarcastic and witty Mr. Robot.

Mr. Robot also benefits from brilliant cinematography from Tod Campbell and Tim Ives. Like the series’ main protagonist, they use odd, yet effective framing choices while utilizing the also on point lighting to create a disturbing sense of claustrophobia and paranoia that compliments the overarching narrative. Mr. Robot has beautiful camera work, and I’m not the only one who thinks this.

The musical score for this series is also excellent and reminds me of this year’s hit Netflix series Stranger Thingsalthough this did come first. Like its cinematography, the series’ pulse-pounding electronic score serves to increase the feeling of delusional paranoia and hyperactivity that Elliot often feels. Composer Mac Quayle cites Risky Business as his inspiration; I see elements of Vanilla Sky, as well.

(Incoming tech nerd rant that doesn’t have anything to do with the review, but I am talking about it anyway.)

Mr. Robot excels at many things, nearly everything. The most impressive thing it excels at, for me, is the one thing that may end up turning some off from the show. Mr. Robot is a techno-thriller. It borrows elements from several different genres, but it mainly is a techno-thriller. Several shows don’t give a crap about technology and just throw together words they must have found on Google. The most glaring of these for me comes from an episode of CSI: NY that is legendary in tech circles.

None of this makes any sense. A GUI is a graphical user interface. Back in the 70’s, computer terminals used to be nothing but a blank black screen with a keyboard waiting for commands. You used to have to type “mail” to get to your (extremely basic and prehistoric) e-mail system. It was all based on very complex and specific command. If you didn’t know a command, there was a “help” command, which gave you a list of commands. Beyond that, you were screwed. In the 80’s (I’m pretty sure) came the advent of graphical user interfaces. You know how you clicked Chrome to get to the internet, and everything is accessible and simple for people who don’t know anything, to a certain point? Yeah, that’s a GUI. Visual Basic is a programming language that you actually can use to create a GUI, so they got that right. An IP address is a series of numbers, not unlike coordinates, that can show where a computer connected to the internet physically is, or track down the person who owns/uses it. Tracking an IP address is possible, what isn’t possible is basically everything else they said. You cannot create a GUI by yourself in a matter of minutes. It takes years of development from a ridiculous amount of programmers, and a GUI does nothing but let you click on icons. Even if a GUI did help you, which it doesn’t, you already have a computer, multiple in fact, with GUI’s in front of you!!! I’m not going to pretend like the writers did any research. All they had to do was ask the guy who designed the show’s title sequence (tech nerd) if anything in the script made any sense. Apparently, most TV shows don’t do that.

Mr. Robot does, though. In the first five minutes alone, the terms Tor browser, server, fiber connection with Gigabit speed, intercepting network traffic, portals, and routing protocols, and it’s all accurate and correct use of terminology!!! Believe it or not, this was the first thing I noticed before the cinematography, score, or anything. “Oh, my God! The words coming out make sense! This is amazing! These people know what they are doing! Thank You, Lord!” When I say “makes sense,” I realize for a number of you it might not, but do not worry. The accurate terminology is not a major part of the show. You don’t have to get anything to understand what is going on. You do have to understand the end goal of what people are doing, but that is explained to you through Elliot’s narration, mainly. The technical jargon is more or less there as a bonus for nerds like me, of which there are a lot. It is a show about hacking, after all.

(End rant)

Mr. Robot is a show about conspiracy, paranoia, anarchy, and insanity wrapped in a burrito of weird. Esmail has gone on the record stating that the series was influenced by such films as Taxi Driver, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, The Matrix, and Fight Club, as well as character development elements from Blade Runner and AMC’s Breaking Bad on how to correctly handle story arcs. I personally also see elements of the 1974 film The Conversation and 2004’s The Machinist. Drawing from all of this inspiration, Sam Esmail and Company have created a show that proves that a network channel like USA can still produce quality television given the right circumstances and level of freedom.

(What I mean by that is Mr. Robot is on a late night slot, so the characters can do hardcore drugs and swear and do things that you would find on a show like this without controversy; what’s weird is they don’t censor “shit” but they will censor an f-bomb, and they do that thing where they just mute the line of dialogue, so it’s super out-of-place, and yes, I believe all this “inappropriateness” is necessary, because drug use is central to the storyline, and people do swear in real life, it just depends on the social circle you find yourself in. No boobs, though, if that was a concern at all. USA Network let them go as far as they had to in order to make the series as effective as possible and preserve artistic integrity without going too far, is my point.)

All of this brilliance did not go unrecognized, and Mr. Robot deservedly went on to win a multitude of awards and praise from the computer security industryMr. Robot is currently nearing the end of its second season. I have yet to see any of it. You see, I got past the first five episodes of the first season, but fell behind, so I decided to wait, knowing about the deal with Amazon Prime, so I will most likely just wait for Season 2 to appear there in all of its fully uncensored glory. Mr. Robot is one of the best series on TV or otherwise (yes, top five, ranks up there with Netflix Originals) and I implore you to check it out. If you need any sort of further convincing, the opening scene alone had me hooked straightaway.

Go watch it, please.