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*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

Baby Driver, in all of the best ways, emulates the joy and euphoria I used to indulge myself in over long, restless nights of playing 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Cruising down long, winding roads, swerving through traffic at blazing speeds, and creatively finessing my way around squads of relentless police vehicles behind a personalized soundtrack tailored to the ebb and flow of the chaos before me were virtual thrills that constantly came to mind during the wide assortment of action sequences that pepper the film’s 113-minute running time. But Baby Driver doesn’t only work as a car enthusiast’s adrenaline-fueled wet dream come to life; it establishes itself as a one-of-a-kind experience with a remarkable personality all its own. What starts as a music-timed sequence of j-turns and powerslides evolves into an engaging story with a brisk pace, a colorful cast, and a dynamic lead that perfectly embodies the spirit and ambitions that director Edgar Wright sought after here.

 

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Ansel Elgort is Baby, a wheelman with a heart of gold (and a cassette tape collection that would make Peter Quill blush) who’s stuck in a lifestyle he can’t seem to escape. Suffering from Tinnitus – a direct result of a fatal incident he was involved in as a child – he sounds out the drumming in his ears with iPods aplenty, and music for days. It helps him find his own rhythm in the world, and somewhat augments his capabilities as a getaway driver. Like the condition he lives with for the rest of his life, however, his elite prowess behind the wheel lingers with him wherever he goes. After coming square with an arrangement he has with Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby considers his future; one that is highlighted by the effervescent presence of diner waitress, Debora (Lily James). Doc has other ideas, and before you know it one refreshingly clever reference to another movie (*cough cough, Scorcese, *cough cough) foreshadows what those other ideas may lead to. The film presents the tone of Baby’s relationships to both Doc and Debora through his music: a staying force that both channels the fantasy and bewilderment that encourages people to strut down the block with swagger and dance feverishly when they’re in love, and frames the blood-soaking grit and realism that provides the viewer with a pertinent emotional connection to Baby and his plight.

 

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Baby is a central component to everything that goes on in Baby Driver – from the successful bank heists, to the swirling black hole of chaos that shortly follows. Edgar Wright makes this apparent through two wonderfully constructed elements: the film’s soundtrack, and its direction. The action here is breathtaking in more ways than one, gracefully capturing the video game-esque fluidity of Baby’s driving skills and the various amount of ways he manages to slip through the fingers of the authorities. What heightens these moments of frenetic bliss is how the music coincides with their rhythm. Car doors slam in unison to thumping kick drums and bangs of drum hats. Bullets fly in sync with guitar riffs. Abrupt cutoffs in the music being played are timed with bodies falling onto the hoods of vehicles and sudden car crashes. Hell, even the little things like fingers slapping through stacks of cash, toe taps and hazard light sounds match the beat of whatever’s playing in the background.

La La Land‘s penchant for mixing music with the sounds of daily activity scream throughout the action in Baby Driver in the sense that the effects of it here transcend past superficial swagger; we get a genuine sense of who Baby is as a person. His soundtrack is his temple, quieting out the deficiency that’s scarred him eternally, but it’s also his link to the past and the youthful exuberance that’s carried over into adulthood. As an orphan and an aspiring DJ, his careful curation of 60s soul, 70s classic rock, 80s hip-hop and 90s indie pop all translate into his love for others and the innocence he tries valiantly to retain throughout the course of the movie. Thanks to a rock solid performance by the lead man, Elgort makes his shoes easy for us to fit into. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I smiled over watching Baby express himself to his deaf foster father (played brilliantly by actually deaf comedian CJ Jones) and flirt helplessly with Debora over coffee; it’s impossible to not be able to relate to him.

 

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Baby Driver does well for itself by seeking out quality in quantity with its cast. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza Gonzalez among others round out the film’s delicate grouping of characters with spirited performances. This movie quickly acknowledges the impact the actual robbers could have on the message Wright methodically exposes, and does right by the various slate of partners Baby’s assigned to by making each one unique and compelling. It also helps that their backstories are peeled away slowly, and the ambiguity behind their personalities isn’t compromised in the process. The second half of Baby Driver nosedives out of its more lighthearted trappings to elicit a sort of trigger-happy thriller, and while the transition lacks some of the magic that makes the first half so special, it manages to work because of the tonal shift provided by the intensifying heist squad dynamic – and the flexible soundtrack, too.

Along with directing the film, Wright was also directly involved in the screenplay, and it shows with the way he plays to the strengths of each and every actor and actress involved. Foxx is unapologetically belligerent, Hamm ranges from cool and collected to reckless and deranged, and Jon Bernthal practically revises his role as Shane from The Walking Dead. Sign language-laden dialogue between Baby and Joseph provide bountiful comedic relief while failing to stray from its strong emotional context. Then there’s Kevin Spacey, who’s cold, calculating delivery is basically authentic at this point. He commands his screentime in just about every scene, registering as a sort of surrogate father for Baby as he holds a firm hold over his team. The script overall is consistently grin-inducing, with plenty of  humorous remarks and metaphors that both stand out on their own and keep the upbeat spirit of the film pacing through it like blood to veins.

 

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Again, Baby Driver rests its laurels squarely on its main character, and its thematic scope never interferes with its narrative focus. Although the cast generally gets enough time to be fleshed out, Wright manages to find key connections to Baby as he struggles with keeping his hands clean and his conscience on a virtuous path. The film’s gradual descent into darker territory is handled carefully, and the push/pull that Baby constantly wrestles with gets rightfully brushed up to the forefront in the film’s climax. In a way, Baby Driver becomes a much different movie here, but the energy and immediacy of its action – along with its beautiful marriage of particle effects and musical cues – cease to waver. Very rarely can an action film provide such a broad spectrum of emotions and moods yet still maintain the essential components that arrested the viewer in the first place.

 

 

The Verdict:

The sole purpose of a summer flick is to provide popcorn entertain for all to enjoy, but Baby Driver‘s ambitions drive it (pun intended) way past conventions in all the best ways. It’s got the musical dexterity of a personalized iPod spanning decades of greatest hits, matched with a creative focus that molds both ingredients into a final product we’ve never quite seen before. The uniqueness of the film’s approach wins over in so many ways that it’s immensely difficult to find an area where it’s at fault. From colorful characters and a clever sense of humor, to masterfully-orchestrated set-pieces and a brilliantly-used soundtrack you’ll be rushing to research soon after the credits roll, Baby Driver emerges out into the hot summer sun as one of the very best films you’ll see this season. It’s already a personal favorite of mine.

 

 

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RATING: 9.5

+ Ansel Elgort and Co. deliver on all fronts

+ Loving marriage of music and technical/sound effects create an atmosphere dipped in rhythm and swagger

+ Brisk pace and compelling story/character development

+ Fantastic set-pieces galore

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Action Movies, Baby Driver, Movies, Uncategorized

 

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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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A Tribe Called Quest Retrospect: “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” is more than just a thoughtful sendoff to a legendary artist

A Tribe Called Quest is hip-hop personified.

Their music catalog ranges from a decade of funk-infused beats, jazz samples and head-bobbing instrumentals that inspire the average listener to not only have a great time, but get lost in the grounded nature of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s wordplay. Those who witnessed their meteoric rise to stardom in the 90s are blessed beyond their understanding, and ’till this day the transcendent stylings of their previous work (more specifically their first three albums) stand up tall amongst the body of work from today’s hip-hop offerings.

A Celebration of Hip-Hop, A Re-acknowledging of Society 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDxKVYUHBdA

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service has done a great many things since it’s relatively sudden release this past November, but one of them is not resort to taking a victory lap. Off the heels of Phife Dawg’s mournful passing, Q-Tip, Jarobi White and DJ/Producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad decided to mold the project they were already constructing (Side note: they still had one more album under their Epic Records label), pulled over a large tabling of featured artists (Consequence, Andre Benjamin, Busta Rhymes, Elton John, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, etc.), and re-established the group’s style of hip-hop with a more modern touch.

Not only does it sound absolutely incredible (seriously, blast this thing behind some home speakers or something), but it pays homage to the genre Q-Tip and co. fell in love with growing up: celebrating everything hip-hop represents while aggressively tackling both the context and musical aesthetic it has always preached about.

The featured artists are not only here for flavor, as each and every one of their appearances alongside the Tribe add a weight, a purpose, and a sense of togetherness to every beat, hook, and lyric. When Andre 3000 jumps on “Kids…” with Q-Tip to gloss over the tainted state of influences and tendencies children absorb, the southern-inspired hook complements their fluid back-and-forth with all the grace – and social commentary – of an Outkast joint. The dynamic duo of Consequence and Busta Rhymes in “Mobius” create an entirely new style of self-aware Tribe music, with the former artist lobbing up a plethora of social issues (pre-conceived notions against rappers, the media, etc.) for the latter to slam down with a flurry of lyrical vengeance.

We should even take a moment to acknowledge “Melatonin”, one of my personal favorites in this album. Here, Q-Tip gives us a wildly vivid idea of the influence of drugs on artists and its correlation to people dealing with incessant fame, then closes it out with a hypnotizing outro following Abbey Smith’s excellent chorus.

Tribe is Life 

In the grand scheme of things, We Got it From Here is a love letter to both hip-hop and those who have helped keep it alive, but the essence of Tribe’s ambitions are not forgotten for a second. Whether you listen to the entrancing piano and synthesizer of the John Elton-featured “Solid Wall of Sound” or the Jack White-peppered guitar sweeping through the Jazz stylings of “Ego”, ATCQ reinstate their position as one of the greatest musical acts we’ve come to witness while remaining extraordinarily innovative – and refreshingly humble. Elsewhere, they sendoff Phife Dawg in the best possible way, leaving the memory of his legacy all over their work here without wallowing in his loss. It’s a beautiful album that reminds us of the preciousness of life and the swiftness in which it can be taken away, but not before being about the four guys demonstrating how they elevated a music genre to new heights twenty-six years ago.

 
 

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Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

I had acknowledged in my review of “The Six Thatchers” that Mary’s death could be good for Sherlock in the sense that Holmes and Watson’s relationship could once again become the focal point. It’s a shared character arc with a relevant history; one that we, as fans, have greatly appreciated since the moment they took on their first case together. Considering the separate instabilities of both gentlemen (Holmes and his drug problem, Watson and the loss of his beloved wife), it’s only appropriate that the show hone in on their woes, and “The Lying Detective” does that with impeccable craftsmanship.

There were many defining moments in “The Lying Detective” that convinced me of Sherlock‘s return to glory, but those mean nothing without the episode’s mesmerizing first thirty minutes. The way Sherlock mentally undresses the state of his latest client, “Faith”, and then quickly becomes keen of her suicidal disposition is wonderfully presented with the visual of his heroin usage hindering his thinking process. The casual stroll down the streets of London is book-ended with a pair of fantastic scenes where Sherlock continues to peel off more underlying factors in his client’s life while she acknowledges his growing empathy for her. Sherlock visually deciphering the dimensions of her apartment in-between all that is a marvel for the eyes to behold, especially when considering the heightened presence his drugs have started to take. The twist at the conclusion of this act, with Mrs. Hudson apprehending Mr. Holmes and interrupting Watson’s therapy session, brings every element the episode initially touches on together. From this point on, I was virtually at the edge of my seat in a way Sherlock hasn’t demanded in quite some time.

For pretty much the entirety of this week’s episode, everything seemed to just…click. Even if you took out the discovery that “Faith” the client was actually Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus, I’d still love the way she quietly encouraged Sherlock’s explicit curiosities and suppositions. Seeing Sherlock both remain on the Mount Olympus of deductive reasoning and establish his genuine care for her well-being, even in his relatively unstable state, was remarkably effective. Ditto for Holmes’s elaborate scheme revolved around Watson, which would have been pretty darn enthralling even without the exposition of Mary’s “Miss Me?” DVD. His uncanny ability to both surmise Culverton Smith as a serial killer and manufacture a proud display of media-crazed contempt against him perfectly aligns with the fractured condition of his friendship to John.

The brilliance in this specific series of events was hiding in plain sight, but Sherlock makes it work in cohesive bliss by playing off of tired tropes. Toby Jones’s gradual descent into revolting maliciousness makes it far too easy to bet on Smith’s wicked turn against Sherlock at the end – yet that’s the point all along. Holmes drags John up, down and around Culverton’s hospital to milk every ounce of festering vile the foul-toothed gentlemen possesses, knowing that his immense wealth and social stature will retract all of the detective’s hostile accusations. Watson is little more than a witness to the increasingly intense animosity between Holmes and Smith, yet that’s exactly what Sherlock wants.

 

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The drug-infused disposition coupled with the publicized baffling Sherlock generally experiences during this sequence is the perfect fuel for John’s eventual lashing out, and the show gets there at the height of his anger. The residual effects of watching Culverton do stuff like proudly advocate a discussion about serial killers in front of innocent, young children still lingers with Watson. However, the moment where he punches his longtime partner in the face is produced from an exclusive outlet of emotions; this couldn’t be more personal. Here, Watson truly realizes what it’s like to be in a position to make a difference, and decides to act on that impulse. Mary is dead in part because he didn’t do enough to protect her, but Sherlock – regardless of his efforts – shares some of that responsibility, yet here he stands wasting his genius and making a mockery of himself. For Sherlock, that feeling, that perception, is the expectation of weeks’ worth of planning; for John, that’s the reality. (Side note: Having re-watched this episode, it’s really impressive how layered [and how much more enjoyable the second time around] Sherlock’s plan is.)

Mary’s overall involvement in all of this is very polarizing, but I can’t help but be amongst the minority who are neither pleased nor bothered by her hallucinogenic appearance. I kinda see what Sherlock was after by giving Watson a voice in his head that he could see, but this is such an overused technique that it became frustrating to have at all. Personally, I don’t think Mary was around long enough to be a convincing figure in this light, and I felt that both the therapy sessions and the reluctant team-up with Holmes carried enough emotional ties to Watson’s plight; there’s not much else we could’ve possibly gotten from seeing him mentally wrestle with a ghost. This is a complaint that’s pretty much cancelled out, however, by Watson’s reveal that he merely cheated on Mary by simply texting the girl on the bus, and that he is prepared to be the man Mary “thought he was”; a gripping little instance that hits home thanks to Martin Freeman’s touching delivery.

That and Benedict Cumberbatch’s predictably brilliant performance headline an extraordinary tabling of acting in “The Lying Detective” that elevates the rest of the episode’s shifting plates. Sian Brooke faces no easy task as the secret Holmes sister, but she champions the role with a gravitating, deceptively commanding approach to the script. Whether she’s parading around glaring vulnerabilities to Sherlock as Faith, or slowly taking over an innocent-turned-tense therapy session right before Watson’s eyes, Brooke quickly leads us to determine that Eurus is quite the compelling individual.  The aforementioned Toby Jones comes off a bit stale at first, but once the script grants him more flexibility later on he absolutely takes off with the character’s malevolence. We even got Una Stubbs stepping out of the Baker Street residence and into an Aston Martin(!), showing us a more refined side to Mrs. Hudson (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!”) and flaunting that endearing chemistry she’s always shared with the main cast.

 

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Few episodes in this entire series could top the highs displayed here, and part of that has to do with the excellent way it closes out. Sherlock and Watson’s hug not only resurfaces their relationship back on solid ground, but gives it an added depth: by seeing the worst in each other, they’ve emerged more enlightened than they once were, and are more emotionally entangled. To snatch that away so suddenly with Eurus murdering Watson would be a stretch – even for a show of this caliber – but I love the volatility behind the cliffhanger. We have to question the note and the tiny living space in which it presided, as well as the former lover Eurus once had – all of which could factor in the season finale in a huge way. There’s an open-endedness to those final seconds that should have many heads spinning, because if nothing else Eurus could be synonymous with far more variables than we could imagine.

 

 

Here are a few extra notes I’d like to cover before I conclude:

 

  • “And you know why they dropped you, dear? Because they know you.”
  • The scene where Smallwood leaves her private number with Mycroft is obviously an invitation for something more than a few drinks, but I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper intention at play. I have terrible memory with secondary characters, and I haven’t seen “His Last Vow” since the night it originally aired, so I have very little to tack on my suspicions – but surely this potential fling Smallwood is pursuing is for non-intimate reasons, right??
  • I’m still bothered by the severe lack of supervision over Sherlock on Myrcroft’s part. At one point, he says that Sherlock going rogue is a legitimate security concern, yet his little brother is roaming the streets high off of heroin with a roommate who supplies him behind closed doors. I get that Sherlock purposefully used as a part of his grand scheme, but I would think big brother would be on top of keeping him clean above all else.
  • Mrs. Hudson reaches unforeseen levels of badassery this week, and it really doesn’t stop with the car. The way she effortlessly figured out where Sherlock laid out his latest “unsolved problem” was just awesome, and she even had a chance to embarrass Mycroft (“He has no idea what an idiot you are!”)
  • Watson now knows that Irene Adler is still alive, and the first thing he tells Sherlock to do is text her back. This was a proud moment for me, seeing as how John uses the tragedy of his own marriage to give his close friend solid insight. He wants what’s best for Sherlock, and realizes that he may be missing out on the kind of special relationship he had just lost with Mary. If Sherlock could also have that, John would rather he did; stubbornly brushing it aside with occasional texts seems insulting to Watson.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

Sherlock came back in full form this week, placing its attention back on its central dynamic in a dark, riveting ninety minutes of expertly-written entertainment. The use of this week’s latest bad guy lent to the growing conflict between Holmes and Watson in the best possible way, while the eventual resolve was met with a brilliant character reveal and a (potentially) devastating cliffhanger. “The Lying Detective” still consists of a few ill-advised decisions, but I can’t remember the last time I watched Sherlock and was as immersed in what was currently unfolding and excited for what’s to come afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9

+ Toby Jones as Culverton Smith

+ Sherlock’s grand scheme to get Watson to his boiling point

+ Faith, and then that Eurus reveal!

+ Basically every scene with Mrs. Hudson

– While not a terrible idea, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost Mary

– Would like to see Mycroft watch over Sherlock more intently, drugs or no drugs

 

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Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

 

I’ll get right to it here: I did not really like “The Six Thatchers” or the big death at the conclusion of the episode. It’s not that it wasn’t thrilling or mysterious enough, or that it was covering non-compelling material; I was just simply frustrated, confused, and rather bored with everything that was going on.

Sherlock‘s been around for about six years now, spending most of its time on the air establishing its main character and the personal relationships he shares – often to remarkably impressive degree. But here, in an attempt to shift the narrative stylings in the form of a “Skyfall meets Cowboy Bebop” conundrum of spy hijinks and secondary emotional ties, the show follows its newfound ambitions all over the world (and quite literally here, I might add) but leaves its heart somewhere at the conclusion of season three’s “His Last Vow”.

The biggest slip up amongst all of this was the decision to put John on the sidelines, and put Mary at the center of the main plot. By fast-cutting through Mary’s pregnancy, we practically lose out on the underpinnings of her relationship to Watson (why she refers this safer lifestyle, how far her love for him stretches out, etc.) and give way to a montage of self-indulging comedy that, while funny, undercuts the potential emotional weight that the new baby could’ve had. Baby Watson exists in “The Six Thatchers” for no other reason than to be cute and assume the responsibility of irritating Sherlock  for once. Moreover, this new shift in dynamic convinces Mary to brush back her new family when one of her old “A.G.R.A.” squadmates resurfaces and seeks revenge. Although the flashbacks do a serviceable job of acquainting us with Mary’s past, it’s one lacking of interest and any defining bit of substance. Once  the episode ended, I couldn’t help but think of how inconsequential Ajay’s drive would have been had Sherlock decided to leave the missing Thatcher statue alone and just focused on solving the bland murdering that led him into Mary’s mess in the first place.

And yes, I say this having acknowledged the role that Mycroft’s deceitful secretary wound up playing: another plot point in “The Six Thatchers” that falls terribly flat. Her grand reveal comes without suspense, doesn’t expose enough interesting information about either A.G.R.A. or the “Ammo” acronym that’s whispered across the episode’s running time, and leads to the fatal shooting and killing of Mary conveniently right before Watson shows up to the scene.

Speaking of Watson, he spends a good portion of the episode simply reacting to what’s going on without playing an integral enough role. He begins to pursue a puzzling affair with a lady he meets on a train, but that boils down to little more than another mystery for the show to tackle later on. (Side Note: why John neglected to dish this out to Mary after discovering her ties to A.G.R.A. is beyond me.) Elsewhere, he’s either noticeably distanced from Sherlock’s detective work, or the last person of importance to stumble upon the big reveals. It’s too convenient to have him project his anger at Sherlock, having arrived to the Aquarium moments after Mary leaps in front of his partner and takes a bullet for him; Sherlock’s vow to protect John’s wife may be broken, but it’s not his fault that Mary sacrificed herself. Had the episode spent more time with John acclimating himself with childbirth and the effects his marriage may have been having with his investigative partnership, I’d actually care quite a bit more about Mary’s passing and how it may drag him down going forward. Unfortunately, his woeful hatred over Sherlock is splashed on us in the blink of an eye, and a central dynamic developed over years of solid writing becomes shifted in utter contrivance.

The only thing that truly worked in “The Six Thatchers” was Sherlock himself, but even his own personal arc is mishandled. I appreciated the valiant effort he took to look after John’s wife in the advancements of keeping his vow, and Sherlock’s newfound empathy resonated all throughout the show’s cast of characters. Compared to the arrogant brainchild that commanded the screen in Sherlock’s pilot episode, this version of the famed detective speaks volumes of the level of maturity he’s collected since he first teamed up with Watson.

Unfortunately, the rest of what makes Mr. Holmes so fascinating – his incessant obsession with Moriarty, the drug influences that were hinted at last season and in the Victorian-era special – either takes a curious backseat, or is used in an ill-advised attempt to further Mary’s plight in the episode. I wish there was a deeper element in play that surfaced from Mary’s death – even if it didn’t directly consist of an impending return for Moriarty – but there isn’t, and even when the show briefly focuses on Sherlock’s psychological standing, it glosses over it and covers his tracks. Why exactly does Mycroft find it fair to ignore the fact that his brother killed a man in cold blood and nip the whole Magnussen affair in the bud? What kind of approach will he or someone else take in ensuring that Sherlock’s not actually losing his mind? I don’t know myself, and the show makes no attempt at acknowledging it here. Absolutely ridiculous.

 

 

The Verdict:

“The Six Thatchers” is a mess of an episode that fails to succeed in a shifted narrative. By ditching the more investigative aspects of the series, we are denied of the key elements that make the show so great, while being treated to an avalanche of flashbacks and exposition that hardly resonate on any level. Yet even on its worst day, Sherlock manages to be passively entertaining. Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of this amazing cast do splendid work as always, and there are a few visual sights to behold in “The Six Thatchers” (specifically Sherlock’s one-on-one fisticuffs with Ajay) that keep the whole thing from becoming a total loss. Mary’s death also suggests that both the Holmes-Watson dynamic may once again become the center of attention, and that Holmes’s obsession with (posthumous?) Moriarty may finally lead to something worth waiting three whole years for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 6

+ Sherlock’s determined efforts to protect Mary shown true character growth

+ Some fun moments, including that crazy fight scene between Sherlock and Ajay

– Watson’s severely underused, and his emotional ties to Sherlock and Mary are barely explored

– Focus on Mary’s past generally uninteresting

– (Very) weak reveal at the end

– Events from “His Last Vow” are glossed over like nothing

 

 

 

 

 

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Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

The real world is always a fascinating canvas for a television series, and with the right mix of precision and imagination any show in that particular light could be depicted as more than the sum of its parts while retaining a striking authenticity. But in order for that kind of show to work, it needs to embrace its nuances – which doesn’t necessarily mean following a typical TV show format. For the typical viewer, the greatest challenge in experiencing Atlanta is acknowledging that it doesn’t follow a typical TV show format: anything can happen, and you have to just accept that as Gospel. However, those who quickly come around to this approach and simply go along for the ride will realize that FX’s latest life-chronicling comedy relies on its inherent unpredictability to broaden its thematic flexibility, which lends to its relatively grounded trappings. There is a living, breathing world in this new series that feels just as real as yours or mine, but it’s not confined to a specific tone or a method of storytelling. Atlanta portrays the subtleties of everyday life by playing by its own rules, allowing the viewer to interpret the proceedings however he or she interprets them; that alone is enough to warrant its freshman season a resounding success.

Following the earnest exploits of – ahem – Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover), his cousin and sort-of client Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), and shockingly enlightening realist Darius (Keith Stanfield), Atlanta presents the daily happenings of everyday life under the perspectives of three ambitious African-American males (and one African-American female who I will delve into later) struggling to thrive amidst their surroundings. About three or four episodes in, after their dynamic together is cemented, we get a surreal sense of the world they live in and the hurdles it leaves in their wake. For Earn, his hurdles include making ends meet: he’s a child-caring father with little money to his name, carrying a disposition that appears even smaller than his pockets. Alfred does a particularly better job gathering cash, but his “Paper Boi” hip-hop persona generates an entirely different wave of trouble he combats throughout most of the season. Darius, however, is more or less just there – but in the best possible way imaginable. From his insights to his incredible relatability, he quickly justifies his presence by being far and away more likeable and down-to-earth than anyone else I’ve seen on television in quite some time (a good portion of that is the result of Stanfield’s performance, but the character himself is fantastic all the same).

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand these characters, particularly because a large portion of the season revolves around their perceptions of the real world. For example: “Streets on Lock”, the worthy extension to a rather fantastic pilot offering, is largely a showcase of Earn’s many different deadpan reactions to the endless array of personalities he either bumps into, or, in this particular episode’s case, is confined to a police precinct room with. Despite virtually saying a few lines and resorting to facial expressions, Glover’s performance opens us up to the realization that his character simply does not fit in with the environment from which he’s been brought forth – but the real magic in “Streets” is how it perpetuates this notion through setting. The police precinct plays as much of a character as Earn or Alfred, and through the drag queen, the mentally unstable jailbird, the abrupt police brutality and the number of masterfully-written conversations in-between, we are given an incredibly vivid sense of Atlanta the city through Earn’s eyes.

 

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Through AlfredAtlanta not only gives way to the rest of Atlanta’s underpinnings, but exercises a media outlet that offers some considerably strong social commentary. One of today’s biggest stereotypes in the music industry is the belief that the typical rapper is little more than a tunnel-visioned gang-banger with minuscule disregard for the influence his or her work may have on society; Atlanta both counters and slightly bends towards this through the gradual upswing of “Paper Boi”. In order for Alfred’s hip-hop lifestyle to seem plausibly adjacent to the personality of his everyday ego, the show needs to properly establish that dynamic and “The Big Bang” and “Go for Broke” both expertly parlay the musical talent (Alfred’s mixtape rightfully making waves on the radio in the former episode) and the hustle (Alfred’s drug-dealing shenanigans in the latter) necessary to do so. As a result, his ability to stay afloat financially while his music career continues to ascend doesn’t counteract with the credibility found elsewhere in Atlanta. However, these factors alert Alfred of his surroundings to the same extent that up-selling, exasperating waitresses and evasive club owners remind Earn of the significance surrounding his own monetary progression. The way he reluctantly obliges to take photos with the police officer in “Streets on Lock”, as well as his subsequent attempts to clarify his stance on violence to influential children, are prime examples of the plight he must undergo as a byproduct of his career path. When he’s tussling with a Black Justin Bieber in a celebrity basketball game, or facing a Twitter war with a multi-cultural personality who’s true roots of nationality are undefined,  Alfred also has to fight for and/or defend his reputation in an uphill battle with the media.

Even though this season plays off as more of a collection of individual episodes than a serial story arc, it gives characters like Alfred ample room to develop, with life experiences like these quietly molding into a game-changing moment later on. This is where installments like “The Club” come in. A breathtaking portrayal of the Atlanta club life scene, this particular episode finds Alfred losing his shit, as the frustration of playing second-fiddle to a more popular public figure leads to an act of pure “gangsta” instinct that redeems Earn and rejuvenates the ideal that “Paper Boi” deserves his due. The actual scene that perpetuates all of this is as fascinating as it is hilarious, but that could be said of a couple dozen other brilliant moments throughout season one that help define everyone else. In “Juneteenth” Earn dishes out his own comeuppance to a married couple who’s devoid of any emotional attachment to the culture they label themselves under, and that comes after his inability to handle the situation that sparks Alfred’s “oh shit” moment from “The Club”. For Earn, this scene appears to be his own coming out party, with the unflinching awareness of his personality finally catching up to the heaping load of bullshit he’s taken from society. By confidently speaking his mind to Monique and Craig over quietly filtering his thoughts, he’s proving to the viewers at home that he’s tired of playing a pre-determined role (I.E. showing up to the Allen’s Juneteenth in a pseudo-happy guise with Van just to maintain a certain appearance) and, as with the fast-food clerk in “Go For Broke” and the aforementioned, evasive club owner, being short-changed by others.

Atlanta was certainly in no shortage of wonderful characters this season, but none of which were as brilliantly-conceived as Van. Subverting nearly every trope in the “cranky spouse/budding love interest” comedy book, this woman faced the toughest of obstacles among the four leads (living with Earn, taking care of her daughter with Earn, bailing Earn out of prison, losing her teacher’s job over an admittedly failed drug test), and never before have I seen someone so honestly tackle the lows and continue marching on. Given the unusual living situation between her, Earn and their child, she’s constantly living a life filled with regret and crushed ambitions – but none of that deters from her own personal pride and determination. Van also keeps it real, and the dinner scenes in “Go for Broke” and “Value” are surefire indications that she doesn’t believe in compromise. Zazie Beetz does excellent work here, exhibiting Van’s wide range of emotions with a startling pragmatism – but, again, Van keeps it real, and when the script’s calls for Beetz to react to the absurdity of others we see her at her absolute best. Furthermore, the dynamic portrayed by both Zazie Beetz and Donald Glover is given exceptional nuance through Van’s soft spot for Earn; a negligible character arc centered around the structural fortitude of parenthood that gets a pair of perfect payoffs at the tail end of the season’s final two episodes.

 

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As I mentioned earlier, Atlanta is a very non-linear television show, and with that approach the show doubles down on enveloping viewers with its unique take on the real world. Whether it’s a casual afternoon stroll through Atlanta’s shady underground markets, or an actual guest appearance from Migos, there’s an innate sense of realism in each scene that’s extremely arresting; every opportunity Glover and company get to characterize this city through scenery or one-off encounters with other civilians is proudly taken. Like most other shows with the TV-MA label, Atlanta‘s also prone to violence, but even those brief instances of death and belligerence are handled carefully enough to feel tangible and immersive. These things come together outside of the main action to not only perpetuate Glover’s view of Atlanta, but to also let us know that this city is as essential as the characters who live in it.

From a interpretive standpoint, this season carries a whole lot more meat than you’d think, and part of that is because of the directional approach allowing for a number of moments that ignite the variable responses viewers probably have while watching Atlanta. Sometimes, we get strange little occurrences like the man in “The Streisand Effect” who’s pleading on the phone before a herd of baby goats, and the white-faced student in “Value” who exudes one of the creepiest smiles a child could ever exude. The rest is either filled with rewarding levity (who can ever forget the “lightsaber”-wielding valet from “Go for Broke”?) or woeful reality (the police shooting in “The Jacket”). Even with repeated viewings, these instances appear to only exist as singular events or images: the show doesn’t even bother giving them much context, and when they do have context the intention comes off as open-ended. (The mysterious outcome of the shooting in the pilot episode is a prime example of this, and I’m absolutely certain that it will be a talking point for years to come.) Ultimately, they simulate the immediate, unorthodox and inexplicable nature of real life, giving Atlanta an added depth that gives it a distinct edge over other offerings in the genre.

 

If there’s any true concern that certain viewers may or should have with Atlanta, it’s most likely its loose narrative structure. Because it relies on a boundless form of storytelling, we never get a crystal clear idea of what the show is building up towards, and I could see that rubbing off on some folks the wrong way. Sometimes, it’s good to just know exactly where things are going, but Atlanta is far more content with expressing its characters and its talking points. The BET spoof “B.A.N.” is loaded with keen pop culture references and sight gags that not only poke fun at the network the show is directly insulting, but provide a strong argument base for some of America’s most undervalued political issues. Alfred may have not gotten paid for his time on “Montague”, but at least he participated in a heated exchange that has him saying things stored in the back of many people’s minds (like, for example, how little some individuals actually care about Caitlyn Jenner, and how laughably insulting they find cross-racial identity crisis). This is also an uproariously hilarious half-hour of television, maximizing the potential of telling many different stories about race, gender, equality and pure common sense through a variety of meta-heavy commercials. Where “B.A.N.” polarizes the Atlanta fanbase is in its lack of narrative progression; you’re either on board with this one-off approach and enjoy it for what it is (like I did), or become innately frustrated with its level of stagnation.

 

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ATLANTA — “The Streisand Effect” — Episode 104 (Airs Tuesday, September 20, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Keith Standfield as Darius. CR: Guy D’Alema/FX

 

Everything this season eventually circles back around to Earn, whose personal plight throughout the season culminates in the reassurance of his “outsider” persona. The reveal that his personal home is a storage room tells us he’s slowly figuring out how to survive on his own, while the slight bit of cash to his name represents a promising start for better things. All season long, he’s had to overcome the adversities society has laid in his path, and the heartwarming catharsis he gets from both Alfred and Van in “The Jacket” bring the character arcs of those three individuals together beautifully. Suffix to say, season two will most likely handle the task of showing us whether or not the new status quo – Earn’s “house”, Paper Boi on tour, Van’s job search – will lead to better things for these folks. Even if it somehow doesn’t, and the entire concept of a narrative is thrown out the window, we’d get to continue exploring their socially conscious misadventures in Atlanta – and still be all the better for it.

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:

Atlanta, if nothing else, is a confirmation of Donald Glover’s expertise and versatility as an entertainer. His vision here proudly exudes social commentary with a raw accuracy, tackling the nuances of race, gender and social stature in remarkably refreshing ways. In addition, the trials and tribulations of life in Atlanta is captured with an authenticity that breathes life and character into both the show’s setting and its character beats. It also helps that the cast is outstanding, with Glover and Beetz in particular giving us honest portrayals of human beings who are constantly navigating their way towards a promising future together. The lack of a true defined narrative may be a bit off-putting for certain viewers, but given the amount of creative freedom as a result it’s hard to argue with the unusual approach this show decides to take.

Personally, I loved just about every minute of Atlanta this season. The show is such a breezy watch, but it doesn’t overindulge in its distinguishing qualities. Every episode offers something substantial the writers have to say, but never did I get the sense that I was being forced to agree with the perspective. Above all else, it’s so darn striking in its execution – regardless of whether the mood is comedic, tragic, or enlightening – that it truly feels like an enthralling escape from an actual real world to one seen through someone else’s eyes. 2016 has been a great year for television in general, but it’s television series like these that transcend our expectations – and prove that shows don’t always need to follow a set structure in order to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.7

+ Casting, script, and performances

+ Realistic portrayal of Atlanta

+ Loose, non-linear episodic structure makes each episode feel fresh and unique

+ Unexpectedly weird, violent, cathartic moments

+ “B.A.N.” 

 

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The Flash: “The New Rogues” & “Monster” Dual Review

The Flash: “The New Rogues” & “Monster” Dual Review

I will be very busy these next couple of months, so my TV reviews will wind up being more sporadic than I had anticipated. I’ll be making an effort to compensate for the lack of time I currently have to dedicated myself to these posts by trying new things, like an end-of-the-week TV episode review catalogue, express (I.E. shortened) reviews, and dual reviews of episodes aired within a two-week span. I cannot guarantee that I’ll cover every show I tasked myself with each week, but I will at least aim to discuss them to some degree.

 

“The New Rogues”

 

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The Flash — “The New Rouges” — Image FLA304a_0078b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Grey Damon as Sam Scudder and Ashley Rickards as Rosalind Rosa Dillion — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

“The New Rogues” is an episode I couldn’t bear to live without reviewing. It’s so hilarious, so ambitious, and so much fun that not formally honoring it with the praise and accolades it deserves would be an immensely inconsiderate disservice to the work The Flash managed to construct here.  This truly was a brilliant hour of television, and for the first time in a long time The Flash truly felt like that magical show that graced our silver screens two years ago.

I could honestly start at any specific story arc or plot point and be talking about something golden, but for now I’d like to give my two cents on the most exciting aspect of the episode: Mirror Master. First off: what an amazing flashback sequence to introduce him to the live-action DC Universe. Captain Cold’s bone-chilling (pun intended) appearance mixed with the Bonnie and Clyde dynamic between Sam Scudder/Mirror Master and Rosalind Dillon/Top (both respectively played by Grey Damon and Ashley Richards) made for a thriller of an opening, with the origin story behind this episode’s main baddies blissfully explained through traded blows to the face and an untimely particle accelerator explosion. The revenge plot that follows for the villainous couple relies entirely on a silver-age tone that not only perfectly characterizes their relationship, but sets the mood for the rest of the episode. Their encounters with Barry and Jesse feed off the exhilaration of viewers seeing a pair of new rogues, with impressive CGI that validates the threat they could bring to the city, while the residual effects of the havoc they wrought are presented in amusing, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Mirror Master and Top are relentlessly hunted down for the entirety of “The New Rogues”, but The Flash fully realizes the potential in having some fun with their arrival: Cisco and Wells (almost literally) fight over nicknaming them, and Barry, trapped in a mirror himself, is temporarily relegated to staring at Iris’s behind before Cisco saves the day via a Twin Peaks reference. Hell, even the climax is great, with the show masterfully showcasing Team Flash’s uniform intelligence in apprehending non-speedsters: Barry going all Droste effect on Scudder, in particular, was amazing.

Besides perception-bending fiends and scarlet speedsters, love was also in the air in this episode, with Wally and Jesse surrendering to their feelings for each other while Barry and Iris hilariously struggled to take the next step in their relationship. These are two things I certainly admire The Flash for addressing; particularly the former arc, with the writing being on the wall for quite some time. Thankfully, they’re both written into the proceedings rather seamlessly. With Jesse returning to her original Earth with Wells, Wally needed to make his move, and I love how upfront and aware both of them are about their affections. On the other hand, Iris encouraging Barry to tell Joe that they’ll be openly expressing their feelings for each other allowed for some genuinely amusing moments, while eventually moving them past a relationship hurdle I honestly believed The Flash would settle in for a bit longer.

The team’s search for a new Wells to supplant Harry while he’s gone led to perhaps the most entertaining couple of minutes in this series yet. It’s no secret that Tom Cavanagh carries a distinct proficiency in his performance that caters wonderfully to the various personalities found in other Earths, but watching him play cowboy Wells, “nerd” Wells and Mime Wells (my personal favorite) reinforces the importance in retaining a man of his talent level. This particular scene is laugh-out-loud funny, no doubt, but Cavanagh is so darn passionate here it’s impossible not to also find it ridiculously endearing; an acting element this show needs to have in its holster when it flashes around its lighter tendencies.

 

 

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The Flash — “The New Rouges” — Image FLA304a_0004b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Grey Damon as Sam Scudder and Ashley Rickards as Rosalind Rosa Dillion — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

RATING: 9.5 

 

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“Monster”

 

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Another reason why I felt it appropriate to review “The New Rogues” and “Monster” together is that the latter episode feels like such a surefire extension of the former one. Whether you consider the extended looks at Earth-19’s Wells or Caitlin’s new powers, “Monster” wastes no time digging into the latest of last week’s surprises, and that’s the episode’s biggest strength.

Through “H.R.” we get an enormously welcoming continuation of Tom Cavanagh’s fantastic, diverse acting chops, as he shows off a quirky, eccentric approach to a man initially portrayed as mysterious and brooding. H.R. is curiously happy-go-lucky, and his use of incessant charm to win over the favor of his new teammates is a clever way of building an air of uncertainty between him and Team Flash. Hardly anyone is buying his act (if you can even call it that), and once Barry and Cisco’s suspicions reach their boiling points the two gentlemen decide to go through his stuff to verify those suspicions. Although his message recording got me thinking otherwise as well, I was honestly shocked to find out H.R. was entirely innocent, and even somewhat amused that he was basically masking his glaring ignorance behind everyone else. It’d be fair to have the gang express their frustrations and overall disappointment considering how important it is for them to be guided along by a Wells-type of intelligence, but I really liked the emotional plight centered around H.R.’s trickery; besides, how can you possibly hate a bubbly personality who just wants to write a novel?

Elsewhere: Caitlin’s trip to her negligent mother’s lab made for some decent, albeit eye-rolling material. More often than not, you’re likely to scratch your head over a number of remarks said and decisions made in the Caitlin arc this week. By slinking away from S.T.A.R. Labs to tend to her powers going all out of whack, Caitlin basically chooses secrecy with the group instead of simply revealing her situation, which, although understandable given the context of Earth-2’s Killer Frost from last season, feels extremely bone-headed. Barry has consoled villains overwhelmed by their powers before; the rest of Team Flash finds Caitlin an essential member and a close friend (although, in fairness, you wouldn’t know the former half based on how inconsequential she’s been as a character lately). Why not just tell everyone what’s up and figure out a solution? We don’t get anything valuable from the verbal animosity expressed between her and Carla besides the realization that Caitlin being the opposite of her mother has indirectly led to tragedy all her life. There’s not even any sort of mentioning over when exactly Caitlin gained her powers (Was it the result of Flashpoint? Was she hit with the particle accelerator, too?) In addition, that assistant who laughably attempts to capture and contain Caitlin plays off as a cheap excuse to create stakes in a B-story that should be laser-focused on the dynamic of the characters involved. It wasn’t all a total loss, what with Carla and Caitlin “on the road to recovery” and Caitlin’s powers seeming to get a hold of her instead of the other way around. Given what Wells told Cisco before he left with Jesse, it’ll be interesting to see if he or someone else catches on to what their stiletto-clad scientist is hiding.

 

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“Monster” also spent some time finally fleshing out Julian in one of the most forgettable villains-of-the-week in recent memory. His backstory could’ve been laid out more extensively than a simple, wordy exposition of how rich he was back home – but it works for a number of reasons. For one, his decision to come to the ‘States and make a name for himself in the field of science is threatened by the entire state of the CCPD. With The Flash hanging around, the cops literally do nothing, and guys like Barry get away with breaking certain office rules without severe punishment (a fantastic bit of self-awareness on the show’s end, by the way). Julian expected to discover a humbling environment where hard work was prioritized and his skills mattered, and he sees that’s simply not the case with this job. For him to try and take matters into his own hands by nearly shooting that teenage kid was rightfully tense, and the conversation Barry has with him after reveals a pathos to the character we were not previously shown.  I’m beyond relieved that the asshole who couldn’t stand the sight of Barry breathing is dead and gone; this new, more – I don’t know, “approachable”? – Julian could actually be fun to watch in the coming weeks.

Quite frankly, the teenage-kid-driven hologram that gives the episode its name just sucked. All it did was prove the insane level of stupidity the CCPD incorporates into their work, while destroying transformers in its wake – and I’m not talking Optimus Prime and Megatron. For someone, even that kid’s age, to resort to terrorism over bullying is awful, and had The Flash went all afterschool special on us the writers’ intentions would’ve felt even more cruel; could you imagine Grant Gustin staring at your television screen about bullying in America after this? And he didn’t deserve the talk that Joe gave; I’m mostly saying that because the episode gave us no reason to care for him and his problems.

 

 

RATING: 7.8

 

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