Why Everyone Should Watch Steven Universe – Hulu/Cartoon Network Op-Ed

There’s a reason why the people of the world believe in Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl… and Steven.

SUMMARY

Welcome to Beach City, Delmarva (yes, that’s a state here). It’s a quiet seaside town, except for all of the monster attacks. Fortunately, it has long been guarded over by the Crystal Gems, a group of sentient magical alien gemstones in human form. The team consists of leader Garnet (Estelle), wild child Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and strategist Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall). At the beginning of the series, they are raising their future fourth teammate, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), the son of their former leader Rose Quartz (Susan Egan) and her human lover Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling). Steven starts to inherit his mother’s powers when he’s 13, leading him to want to take a more active role in the team. As his abilities grow, however, so too do the threats against humanity, ranging from the cracked gem Lapis Lazuli (Jennifer Paz) to the agents of the Crystal Gem Homeworld’s Great Diamond Authority, Peridot (Shelby Rabara) and Jasper (Kimberly Brooks), to the Diamonds themselves, Yellow Diamond (Patti LuPone), Blue Diamond (Lisa Hannigan), and White Diamond (Christine Ebersole). Fortunately, Steven’s natural empathy makes him really good at gaining allies. He also regularly interacts with his best friend Connie Maheswaran (Grace Rolek) and local donut sellers Lars and Sadie (Matthew Moy and Kate Micucci). Also, they’re later joined by former Crystal Gem Bismuth (Uzo Aduba). After the show ends, Steven deals with the threat of the mad gem Spinel (Sarah Stiles), and then an existential crisis.

The cast page is huge by the end.

END SUMMARY

When I talked about Adventure Time, I said that the show was the ultimate coming-of-age story because it represents a shift from a childish world to a more complex and, despite the setting, a more realistic adult one. Steven Universe has a similar progression, but the world it progresses towards is more of an ideal than a reality. Whereas Finn in Adventure Time sometimes averted conflict through empathy, he still often just chooses the “violent” solution, because it’s expeditious and works on people who will not listen to reason. Steven Universe, on the other hand, starts off with the gems often choosing the more direct solution of beating the crap out of monsters, but as the show progresses and Steven takes on a greater role, conflicts are increasingly resolved through a combination of endurance and empathy. No matter how resolved the enemy is, Steven can still find a way to connect with them and turn them to his side. Heck, the series finale is called “Change Your Mind.” 

And yes, it includes a song based on the title.

While the show was filled with bold choices (more on that in a minute), one of the most profound was giving Steven powers that are traditionally not associated with a male superhero. His abilities are almost exclusively related to defense (a shield and a bubble), healing, and empathy through astral projection or empathetic telepathy. While he does eventually learn how to fight, for most of the show he leaves that up to the other Crystal Gems, whose powers manifest as weapons. Moreover, when he does finally start flinging his shield or throwing punches, he still always does so with non-lethal intent. The show ends up proving him right in doing so because defeating an enemy gives Steven a chance to speak with them again as an equal, rather than an opportunity to humiliate them. When Steven talks to enemies, he’s really trying to find the source of their anger and to help them with it, something that is way outside of the typical hero role. This ultimately allows Steven to get most of his enemies onto his side, meaning that he’s turned a weakness into his strength. It’s a message that so many people should heed: Defeating an enemy will likely breed more enemies, making a friend from an enemy won’t.

Other lesson: Hugs are good.

As to the other bold choices the show made, there are a lot of them. 

First, every body type is represented in this show and, moreover, every body type is presented as attractive. The main characters are a perfect example: Pearl is extremely thin and angular, Amethyst is short and callipygian, Garnet is taller, more muscular, and has an hourglass figure. More than that, Steven and Connie frequently “fuse,” combining into a non-binary character called Stevonnie (AJ Michalka), who is considered to be beautiful by men and women alike. 

Also, Stevonnie kicks a lot of butt.

Second, this show probably pulled the greatest move in getting an LGBT relationship into the series without causing a major “moral panic” by revealing that Garnet is, in fact, a fusion of two other gems, Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell). Garnet’s existence is powered by the love of these two characters, meaning that Garnet literally IS a lesbian relationship (and eventually a marriage). Pearl, too, is shown being attracted not only to other female gems, but also to human women. Rose Quartz is revealed to have been bisexual and, eventually, the show had the first non-binary character played by a non-binary actor in Shep (Indya Moore) in a kids show. In short, this show has a ton of LGBTQ+ representation, breaking all sorts of barriers. 

This is way more adorable in context.

Third, the series never shied away from a lot of musical experimentation. A clever storytelling supplement is that each of the main characters has an instrument associated with their music (Pearl: Piano, Garnet: Synth Bass, Amethyst: Drums, Steven: Chiptune Tones), as do almost all of the recurring characters, but each of their themes changes and combines when they fuse. For example, when Pearl and Amethyst fuse to become Opal (Aimee Mann), Amethyst’s drums become more ordered and Pearl’s piano more experimental. Moreover, the show itself has a heavy musical influence that increases as the show goes on, growing from relatively simple tunes on the ukulele and guitar to showtunes to some ridiculously complex works by Estelle or Chance the Rapper towards the end. Steven Universe: The Movie is a flat-out musical and I loved all of the numbers. 

Also, Ted Leo and Aimee Mann are fusions. Their band is called “The Both.” I love that.

Lastly, the final story arc of this show isn’t about fighting some intergalactic war or a typical escalation of villain a la Dragonball Z or Supernatural. Instead, this show ends on an introspective journey, analyzing the hero’s role after the show ends and how a person with traumatic experiences and a self-sacrificing nature adjusts to a more normal life. Showing that may be one of the most impressive and original things in a show filled with impressive and original things.

You. Will. Cry.

Now, similar to my statement about Adventure Time, I will caution anyone wanting to give this show a try that it is a pure kids show at the beginning. In fact, I genuinely advise against watching the beginning of the series unless you have small children. If you just want to get into the show, here’s my recommendation: Skip the first half of the first season to “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem.” Watch those two episodes, then skip to “Lion 3: Straight to Video” and go from there. I’ve just reduced the first season from 52 episodes to 21, and you will thank me for it. 

Just know that Steven has a pet pink lion that can teleport.

I loved this show, which is all the more impressive because when I watched the premiere, I assumed it was a waste of time. I can’t emphasize how much I didn’t enjoy the beginning of this series, to the point that I didn’t start watching it again until someone convinced me to give it another try a few years later. Please, give this show a try, particularly if you have kids. You may learn some things about yourself. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu/Cartoon Network/HBO Max Op-Ed: Why Everyone Should Watch Adventure Time

Come along with me to a show that managed to turn every cliche on its head.

SUMMARY

Welcome to the Land of Ooo, where magic thrives, princesses are plentiful, and heroes are born. Oh, it’s also Earth after a nuclear war wiped out almost all of humanity. Finn (Jeremy Shada) is the last human and a courageous hero with a love of adventure and fighting. His adopted brother is Jake (John DiMaggio), a magical shapeshifting dog who is laid-back and fairly lazy, mostly because his powers allow him to do almost anything. Finn and Jake act as protectors of the Candy Kingdom, which is ruled over by the supergenius nerd Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch). The pair often have to rescue her from the machinations of the Ice King (Tom Kenny), a magical king who is obsessed with kidnapping princesses. Finn is also friends with Marceline, the hard-rocking Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson). There’s also an adorable sentient computer named BMO (Niki Yang), the sarcastic Lumpy Space Princess (series creator Pendleton Ward), the fiery Flame Princess (Jessica DiCicco), Jake’s girlfriend Lady Rainicorn (Niki Yang), and an insane number of recurring characters.

Peppermint Butler, Cinnamon Bun, the Earl of Lemongrab, and Tree Trunks made the cut.

END SUMMARY

Adventure Time is the ultimate coming of age story, because it progresses in the same way that life tends to progress when going from childhood to the cusp of adulthood. This is embodied in Finn, who ages from 12 years old to 17 during the series and, apparently, 18 in the HBO Max revival that’s coming out this year. Likewise, the show itself starts off as a really simple and childish series about a magical land where dreams come true and heroes and villains are easily discernible. As the show goes on, though, everything starts to get more and more complicated, with the good guys revealed to be morally ambiguous and the bad guys revealed to be more sympathetic or having deeper motivations than we had previously been privy to. 

The show starts with a slumber party, ends with war and an eldritch demon.

That’s what really makes this show special, because it takes a simple outlook of “good people vs. bad people,” then slowly destroys it, the way that people will need to have it destroyed at some point in their lives. Now, the show doesn’t say that there aren’t truly bad people out there in the world, in fact it makes a point of having a few characters that are just truly bad and never really get redeemed, but it does show that a lot of them have been made the way they are, or that they’re really trying to do the right thing and they just haven’t been able to. Similarly, seemingly good or innocent characters are shown to have selfish or stupid motivations. “People are complicated” is one of the hardest lessons to learn, because even when you know that fact, we often still want to group people into “good” and “bad.” However, that’s rarely ever the case, when you see what made them that way. 

Even Magic Man, a character who exists to be a jerk, gets some motivation.

One of the other great things about this show is how thoroughly it blends storytelling ideas from throughout history, although it’s almost entirely Western history. We see a lot of influences from fairy tales, because Ooo is a world where you can spontaneously stumble upon an old woman offering cursed apples or magic beans or maybe just a random princess trapped in a tower. The randomness of happenings in the world allow for shorter-form storytelling, because they eschew set-ups. We also see a number of episodes derived from mythologies ranging from Greek and Roman to Egyptian, where our characters are just pawns caught in the grasps of higher beings. Then, there are the more modern stories where the characters are playing video games or addressing fan fiction. By combining all of these influences, the show gains a more timeless quality and a greater level of relevance to almost any viewer.

I mean, ghost gladiators are timeless.

The animation and the voice action are highly stylized, but that also lets the show play with styles more and convey more visually than many shows could. It mostly does a good job in making body horror and grotesqueries look cartoonish enough that they’re not really scary. The show does frequently do horror storylines or episodes, ranging from possession to murder to existential horror, but despite the darkness, the show’s animation and the emotional resilience of the characters manage to keep it bearable for any viewer. It helps that the show’s storytelling is unbelievably streamlined, with each episode being 12 minutes and yet often feeling like you’ve watched a full normal episode of television. They do this by using a lot of quick cuts and clever visual storytelling tricks to convey massive amounts of information in a few seconds.

3 Seconds of knife rain and you know why the characters can’t go outside.

The main reason why I want more people to watch this, aside from helping any viewer with their emotional development, is that the show teaches a valuable lesson that most shows can’t teach because they don’t grow the way this show does: Even though life is complicated, you can always keep fighting to do the right thing. What is “right” will always change as you get more information, so it’s tempting to just not learn more, but it’s better to learn and grow and change yourself. The right thing isn’t usually the easy thing, particularly when you have to accept that you might have been wrong in the past, but the world works out better for everyone, including you, when you work to change it for the better. 

Also, maybe be honest about your feelings before it’s too late.

The downside to the show’s brilliant structure is that the beginning of the show is extremely childish and simple, with humor that often is in the same vein. In other words, some of the episodes just aren’t that fun to watch for adults until around Season 3. If you want to just spend 15 minutes to test if the show will be for you, I would recommend watching the Season 3 episode “What was Missing.” If you like it, give the show a try. If, after seeing that, you want to get into the show without having to go through all of the early episodes, I recommend the following episodes in Season 1:

“The Enchiridion,” “Ricardio the Heart Guy (it’s got George Takei),” “Evicted,” “What Have You Done?” and “His Hero.”

For Season 2:

“It Came From The Nightosphere,” “The Eyes,” “To Cut a Woman’s Hair,” “The Silent King,” “Guardians of Sunshine,” “Death in Bloom,” “Susan Strong,” “Heat Signature,” and “Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil.” 

So, if you just watch those episodes, you get most of the show’s set-up, but you only need like 3 hours to do it. Once you get to Season 3, the show quickly starts to get much stronger, especially when you get to “What was Missing,” and “Holly Jolly Secrets,” an episode that I put on my list of the best episodes of television

Overall, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and the fact that it’s still going brings me nothing but joy. Please give it a watch. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – Into The Dark: Good Boy : Woman’s Best Friend (Ending Explained)

A woman adopts an adorable puppy who helps with her anxieties… by removing them.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Maggie (Judy Greer) is a journalist who is approaching 40 and still trying to find Mr. Right. After discovering that her paper is going digital and that her job has been downgraded to independent contractor by her boss (Steve Guttenberg), she decides to get an emotional support dog. She finds a small dog named Reuben (Chico the Dog) and adopts him. Despite Reuben being temperamental, she still starts to bond with the dog, eventually becoming one of those dog moms that you know you’ve seen before. However, it turns out that Reuben is more than what he seems. Whenever something starts to cause Maggie stress, Reuben attacks it, including all of the people. Also, the movie has Ellen Wong, Elise Neal, and Maria Conchita Alonso.

Do you rub his nose in it?

END SUMMARY

Honestly, I liked this movie pretty well, despite the fact that it’s not much of a horror film. There’s almost no terror at any point in the movie, because a lot of the kills and attacks lack any atmospheric buildup. There are a few strange mind-bending scenes, but they don’t seem to have much of an impact on Maggie, so they don’t leave much of an impact on the viewer. There’s not a ton of traditional “horror” either, since the movie doesn’t really focus on the repulsive nature of the deaths. Without atmosphere or gore, you’re missing the two things that usually make a horror movie work. However, what you do have is an interesting blend of a romantic comedy, drama, and horror that mostly manages to stay upright because they cast Judy Greer, an incredibly talented comic actress, as the lead.

This woman is a treasure.

The film is mostly about how Maggie is trying to deal with being a woman whose life just didn’t work out the way she wanted. Despite being smart, good looking, and, apparently, a talented writer, Maggie can’t seem to find someone who wants a family and she doesn’t make enough money to do it on her own. While she does start to meet a nice guy (McKinley Freeman) during the film, she still finds herself having severe issues trusting his intentions. That’s why she becomes so attached to Reuben, because he’s a dog and therefore isn’t going to betray her. In the hands of any other performer, this kind of thing would clash with the horror elements, but somehow Judy Greer keeps it balanced. 

Occasionally the balance is literal.

I thought it was a bold move on the part of the series to use June’s holiday (every Into The Dark is based on a holiday) on Pet Appreciation Week as opposed to Father’s Day (although they did that last year, they have used Mother’s Day twice). The movie does actually do a pretty good job of showing why people can become so attached to their pets, particularly in the modern world where a lot of human connections suffer due to distance or societal pressures. I also like the fact that nobody in the movie really questions the merit of having an emotional support dog. 

Especially such a cute little pupper.

Overall, though, the movie just stays a bit too tame for horror and has too many horror tropes to work as a black comedy. I still enjoyed it, but a lot of that is that the cast was really solid for an Into the Dark film. 

ENDING EXPLAINED (SPOILERS)

Okay, so the movie is actually pretty sparse on details of exactly what Reuben is. We know that he’s clearly not just a normal dog or even a really smart dog, because we see that he is strong enough to tear a cage apart despite his size. Then, towards the end of the movie, we even see him grow in size to the point that he’s roughly the size of a bullmastiff. However, the film does give us a few flashes in the film that we can piece together a little bit of what he is. 

This is separation anxiety.

Here are the things the movie makes explicit: Reuben makes other dogs very anxious. His bloodwork is abnormal, to the point that the veterinarian says that it’s “all over the place.” This just seems to confirm what we already knew, that Reuben isn’t really a dog. We see a jump scare that shows one of Reuben’s victims, Maggie’s landlady, as an ethereal specter. We also see that the more Maggie loves Reuben, the stronger he seems to get and the more aggressive that he gets. We also get a hint that this film is just one of many times that Reuben does this exact same thing, as his previous owner was in jail for murder, just like Maggie is at the end of the film. So, what is Reuben? 

One of Reuben’s victims.

Reuben appears to be a variant on an incubus, an evil demon that typically feeds on sexual energy. Like most demons, it’s repulsive to animals and can change shape. However, rather than trying to devour Maggie’s sexual energy, Reuben apparently feeds on her affection, and in return kills all of the things that make her anxious. His victims end up being seen as shades, due to their unnatural deaths. At the end of the film, when given a choice between Reuben and Nate, Maggie actually realizes that she has more affection for Reuben, which is what ends up allowing the “dog” to kill Nate, but seals Maggie’s fate. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – Crossing Swords: The Dirtiest Show Invoking Fisher Price

The creators of Robot Chicken make a serial about the worst kingdom ever. 

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) is a peasant who wishes to become a knight in order to help people. His siblings, however, are all villains, including the grifter clown Blarney (Tony Hale), the thief Ruben (Adam Ray), and the pirate queen Coral (Tara Strong). Patrick manages to become a squire for King Merriman (Luke Evans) and Queen Tulip (Alanna Ubach), only to find out that they’re both horrible people and their daughter, Blossom (Maya Erskine) is not much better. There’s also the incompetent other squire Broth (Adam Pally) and the shady wizard Blinkerquartz (Seth Green). How does a guy become a good knight when the whole system is broken and corrupt?

This is the logo, but I still think it’s adorable.

END SUMMARY

So, before you watch this show, ask yourself: Did you ever want to see those Fisher Price Little People naked? Not just, like, without paint, but with drawn-on genitals. If so, then you have found your new happy place. Go and enjoy this new treat. If you answered no to that question, ask yourself how disturbed you were by someone even asking that? If you’re saying “very” then you probably aren’t going to like this show. However, if you’re not too disgusted by that, you may well like this show.

Also, hope you like a lot of awkward death.

The humor on this show is mostly based around a massive and fairly graphic subversion of the medieval chivalric ideal. Rather than the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table, everyone in the kingdom here is selfish and, honestly, pretty gross from the very beginning. The King and Queen are constantly cheating on each other, the squires frequently cheat to get ahead, and almost every episode points out that the ruling class pretty much constantly avoid doing anything decent for the poor. I will admit that sometimes that led me to chuckle, particularly when one of the King’s advisors reminds him that, without social safety nets or elections, the people’s only option is to revolt and murder him. Meanwhile, Patrick constantly brings attention to the shitty state of the lower-class.

Galahad never did as many kegstands.

The humor in the show is sophomoric, much like Robot Chicken, but it always has a level of inherent situational humor that comes from the fact that all of the characters are just painted pegs. They don’t have hands, so all of the objects they hold just appear to be floating in front of them, which sometimes creates a fun effect. There is a surprising amount of nudity, but an unsurprisingly large amount of swearing. Unlike many other series, though, they often do use the adult content for more than just shock value, which makes sense given that they’re just drawn-on genitals. The show is a serial, with the events of each of the episodes feeding into the next, and actually leading to a finale that is a culmination of most of the events of the season in a satisfying way. Still, each episode’s plot is usually pretty funny on its own.

I mean, he has water wings but no arms. Adorable.

Overall, I honestly thought this show was amusing and has just the right blend of commentary and comedy. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – The Day Shall Come: A Solid Work of Satire

The director of Four Lions brings us a story of law enforcement framing a group of people for their own gain.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Moses Al Shabazz (Marchánt Davis) is the leader of a small commune in Miami called the Star of Six. He has a wife, Venus (Danielle “Taystee” Brooks), a daughter, Rosa (Calah Lane), and two followers X (Malcolm Mays) and Afrika (Andrel McPherson). Moses is depicted as being mentally ill and off of his anti-psychotic meds, leading his commune in worshipping Allah, Black Santa, and Toussaint Louverture. Despite his claims of wanting to overthrow the entrenched white powers, Moses strongly opposes any firearms. FBI Agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) sees Moses during a live-stream and decides to use him as a patsy. She intends to bait him into dealing with Reza (Kayvan Novak), a pedophile shopkeeper that the FBI uses to act as a fake terrorist go-between, so that she can claim Moses is engaged in revolutionary terrorist activities to advance her career. 

He’s on a horse.

END SUMMARY

If you’re not familiar with the writer/director of this film and Four Lions, Chris Morris, he’s a British satirist who appeared in the first season of The IT Crowd and directed some of the comedy Veep. He’s notable for his off-kilter humor and dark satire. This film is no exception to that legacy. I consider it to be in the same vein as Sorry to Bother You, although that movie is much more surreal. If you don’t like that kind of humor, you will not like this film at all.

This is probably his most famous role.

The key to this movie is how well Davis plays the lead. He is an active revolutionary who, ultimately, just wants to help everyone more than just glorify himself. When negotiating with what he thinks are terrorists, Moses only asks for farm equipment and a horse, because he thinks those will ultimately be more helpful to his cause than guns. Despite the fact that he is definitely insane, Moses is not a threat. In fact, he’s unquestionably more moral than all of the members of the FBI who deal with him. While his psychosis is the thing that makes him have difficulties getting support or keeping his farm active, it’s also what drives him to try to fight against oppression in the first place. If Davis hadn’t done such a great job walking the line in his portrayal, this could have come off with the exact opposite message that the film was going for. 

It’s tough to have us laugh at a tragic character while sympathizing with a comic one.

That’s not to say that the supporting cast aren’t equally important. Many of the best actual “joke” sequences arise from watching Afrika and X try to work under the strange and sometimes conflicting orders of their leader. I also have to give credit to the delivery of all of the FBI agents in the film, because it’s hard to put so much fake gravitas into the absurd things they’re saying. Danielle Brooks is also hilarious as the long-suffering wife of a man with such insane ambitions. 

I mean, at least they work for a guy with a horse.

The downside to the film is that it never quite goes as extreme as it probably should for a satire, although I think that’s because Chris Morris wanted to keep it realistic enough to draw comparisons from potential COINTELPRO actions and the like. It also definitely isn’t as quotable as most satires are. 

Overall, I recommend it for people that have a dark sense of humor. The ending is one of the best parts, so make sure to stick with it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – The Lodge: A Cult Film in the Making

A woman left alone with her new step-children finds her world turned upside-down.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

After their mother (Alicia Silverstone) dies, Aidan and Mia Hall (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) are sent to live with their father, Richard (Richard Armitage), and his fiancé, Grace (Riley Keough). Richard met Grace while researching a book on cults, because she was the only survivor of her father’s death cult’s mass suicide. Richard announces that the children will spend the holidays with Grace and him at the family’s isolated cabin. The kids refuse to bond with Grace, something that becomes even more stressful when Richard gets called back in to work. One morning, Grace awakens to find that someone, or something, has taken all of the belongings out of the house and destroyed the generators. Even more strange occurrences start to occur, leading Grace to question her reality, or what’s left of it, as she tries to survive with the children.

Lodge - 1Grace
She’s not good at winter, so that’s a bad start. 

END SUMMARY

This movie is a great example of how you can make horror without needing to have a lot of jump-scares or a ton of disturbing images. While we get some flashbacks to some cult activity, the majority of the tension in the film is just Grace’s slow descent into paranoia. Honestly, Riley Keough makes this movie work. The two kids, played by Martell and McHugh, are both great, but the focus of the story is on Grace, who is dealing with both her past and her future. Since her father led a psychotic religious cult, she naturally has a fear of the Catholic iconography that decorates the cabin, and Keough manages to add a level of subtle intensity to her reactions that really sells her growing madness. If you enjoyed the Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala film Goodnight Mommy, you’ll like this.

Lodge - 3Grace
The directors really like to mess up faces.

Throughout much of the movie, the terror comes from the uncertainty of what is happening to Grace and the kids and how much of it is just within Grace’s mind. The fact that the audience doesn’t really know either, and that some of our own experiences may have felt just as ambiguous in the past, really starts to make the events hit home hard. The atmosphere of the cabin is as unsettling as it gets, constantly casting an otherworldly pallor over everything that the characters are experiencing. So many of the shots really drive home the isolation and the dread that Grace is dealing with that you can empathize with her desperation. 

Lodge - 4Kids
The kids also have a bad time. 

I will say that the biggest problem with the film is the actual plot. Since so much of the movie is ambiguous, it really does take a hit when it tries to explain what’s happening, mostly because the explanation doesn’t really make sense. The ending is powerful, though, and will leave you feeling a lot of emotions, but I’d hate to tell you which ones.

Lodge - 2Article
Who knew a suicide cult could have lasting repercussions?

Overall, honestly, I really liked the film. If you like movies that are driven primarily by a single great performance, or atmospheric horror, check it out on Hulu.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – Solar Opposites: Justin Roiland Has Good Weed

I take a look at the new series by the co-creator of Rick and Morty.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Planet Shlorp was a perfect utopia until the asteroid hit. 100 adults and their “replicants,” which is to say children, escaped into space along with a pupa (Liam Cunningham), which will one day destroy the planet they land on and create a new planet Shlorp. Korvo (Justin Roiland) and Terry (Thomas Middleditch) and their children Yumyulack (Sean Giambrone) and Jesse (Mary Mack) land on Earth and, after living there for a year, are still having trouble adjusting to Earth life. Also, Yumyulack keeps shrinking people and forcing them to live in a small prison run by the Duke (Alfred Molina). 

SolarOpposites - 1Cast
The pupa’s in the Baby Bjorn. 

END SUMMARY

I can’t help but look at this show as an example of what Rick and Morty would be without Dan Harmon. The answer appears to be “still hilarious, but without structure.” This show is a lot more freeform, similar to the episodes of Rick and Morty that Roiland performed on weed, but that doesn’t change the fact that the show’s off-the-wall nature allows it to produce a lot of unique situations. Since the show feels a little less predictable and formulaic, the jokes tend to be harder to guess and that tends to make more of them land. The animation style is also similar to Rick or Morty, but with less random genital duplication. 

SolarOpposites - 2Aquarium
The pupa in the background is frequently hilarious.

The show tends to have an a-plot involving Korvo and Terry as an “odd couple,” a b-plot with Yumyulack and Jesse learning about being children on Earth, and a c-plot involving the shrunken prison. However, it doesn’t have the amazing a-plot and b-plot interplay that Rick and Morty so often excelled in. Instead, we usually see the plots just shifting from one to another and then back, pretty much picking back up where they left off the last time it was featured. Still, the subplots are usually funny and the loose continuity makes the c-plot in the shrunken prison cumulative, which allows for some more serious character development.

SolarOpposites - 3Shrunk
It’s less Mad Max and more Mad Min. I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING!!!

Overall, the show’s pretty solid. It doesn’t have, so far, any of the sort of existential commentary and insight of Rick and Morty, but it’s funny and that’s really all you need sometimes.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – Devs: A Techno-Odyssey

Nick Offerman and Sonoya Mizuno star in a show about the bleeding edge of technology.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) is a computer engineer with her code-monkey boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) at Amaya, a leading tech company founded by Forest (Nick Offerman). Sergei is offered a job opportunity at Devs, the top-secret quantum computer research and development division of Amaya. Devs is run by Katie (Alison Pill), a quantum physics prodigy, and staffed by Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) and Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson), two technical geniuses.. However, after his first day, Sergei goes missing. Lily, suspecting foul play, starts to investigate Amaya and Forest, bringing in her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha), and getting the two caught going down a rabbit hole that is bigger than anyone could have conceived.

Devs - 1Cast
Also, a lot of yellow.

END SUMMARY

First off, the acting in this is phenomenal. Nick Offerman’s character stands as a stark contrast to his longest-lasting role as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation in all of the best ways. Forest is serious, he is depressed, he is brilliant, and he is focused on a relatable goal throughout the series, even though he may have done a lot of things that he shouldn’t have. He’s not funny, nor is serious in a fun way, like Swanson, even though you might expect the characters to seem similar. It’s genuinely impressive to watch how well he handles the emotions of a mentally broken tech billionaire. Similarly, Mizuno does a great job at playing a character whose emotions are always a little more in flux, due to her circumstances. She’s asking her ex-boyfriend to help her investigate a company over her current boyfriend, after all, and that’s never going to have a clearly defined emotional state.

Devs - 2Offerman
He clearly has so much wisdom and also can field dress a deer with his keys.

Second, the design of Amaya and Devs is a perfect representation of the supposed blend of style and functionality that Silicon Valley always seems so proud of, while the team and project is a representation of the constant seeking of progress without thinking about the consequences that also tends to permeate Silicon Valley businesses. It’s a nice dig at the new Tech Industry culture while still valuing the constant advancements that they produce. 

Devs - 3Lab
First rule of Devs Club is: Don’t ask about the giant child.

As it’s a miniseries, the pacing is excellent, and the story it tells is entirely wrapped up at the end. I’m sure some people will say it’s a little slow, but I think it’s done in a way that’s designed to give you time to think about some of the interesting concepts that the show explores about the nature of humanity and the possibilities of technology in the future. It gives an interesting solution to some of the biggest philosophical questions that we have faced over the last century, and indirectly some that we’ve had for much longer.

Devs - 4Symbolism
I can’t tell if there’s any symbolism in the show, though. May be too subtle. 

I recommend it to sci-fi fans and fans of dramatic shows alike. Or just people who like Nick Offerman in a lumberjack beard.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Reader Request/Hulu Review – Shark Lords: Messed Up, But Funny

I was asked to check out this show about guys trying to bang sharks.

SUMMARY

Two extreme sports enthusiast brothers, Braden and Kenneth Rickenbacker (Alex Anfanger and Ditch Davey), decided that sharks have intimidated man for too long. In order to reclaim man’s dominance over the oceans, the pair set out to teach the sharks a lesson. They assemble a team composed of marine biologist Dr. Evelyn Allen (Deb Filler), Kitty the Intern (Hayley Magnus), and Tim Dibbit the Deckhand (Rhys Mitchell), as well as the unseen camera crew to document the expedition, and set out with one goal in mind: To have sex with sharks.

SharkLords - 1Brothers
Don’t let the glasses fool you, he’s an idiot.

END SUMMARY

First off, this isn’t actually a show on its own. It’s presented on its own on Hulu, but it’s actually just a series of shorts from the show Cake on FXX. It’s the central set of shorts for the second season of the show, but still only about 10 minutes per “episode.” The person who requested this actually surprised me by asking for just the Shark Lords segments, rather than the show Cake. I imagine that’s because it forced me to think about shark sex and my readers sometimes love to torture me. 

SharkLords - 2Crew
These are the supporting characters. They agreed to be on the boat with those two.

This is one of the most bizarre premises I’ve seen for a show and I’m surprised that it has managed to support the 9 segments that have aired so far. It mostly works because of the insane nature of its leads, Braden and Kenneth. They’re both so unbelievably stupid and also dedicated to the idea that having sex with sharks is “dominating” them that it somehow makes you believe their claims that it’s not about any kind of sexual desire. Their charisma also explains how they managed to convince the other three people to go along with it, although Tim is usually shown to not be particularly enthused about the project.

SharkLords - 3Braden
He’s charmingly dimwitted. 

The show is usually pretty funny, although I admit that it’s at its best when it is avoiding any of the actual discussion of having sex with sharks. It’s better to just think about this show as a display of four idiots and Tim, the suffering straight man, as they attempt to do something that is both ridiculous and nearly impossible for reasons that are even more ridiculous. The show’s also at its best when the brothers are trying to explain the premise to “normal” people, who naturally react as if they’re completely insane. 

SharkLords - 4Shark
Nothing to see here.

Overall, this is a very weird show, but since it’s short, you could take a look at it. The last episode airs this coming week. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Hulu Review – Into the Dark: POOKA LIVES!!!! – The Evil Doll Goes Viral (Ending Explained)

In the first Into The Dark sequel, the mischievous doll returns.

SUMMARY 

Pooka is a popular toy created by a woman named Ellie (Rachel Bloom) who quits the day that the company decides to change it without her approval. Her husband David (Wil Wheaton) yells at her, resulting in her killing him with scissors and then burning herself alive. Later, the Pooka company hires disgraced author Derrick (Malcolm Barrett) as a copywriter. Derrick is being harassed constantly by fans of an internet celebrity that he insulted, Jax (Motoki Maxted). He stays with his two friends, Matt and Molly (Jonah Ray and Felicia Day), and works with his ex-girlfriend Susan (Lyndie Greenwood). After getting annoyed by the internet’s harassment of Derrick, the four, along with their friend Bennie (Gavin Stenhouse), create a story about a ritual involving Pooka being summoned in vengeance. They post it online, only for the “Pooka Challenge” to go viral… and the monstrous doll to start showing up in real life.

PookaLives - 1Dolls
Somehow Rachel Bloom seems perfect casting to make a murder doll. 

END SUMMARY

It’s odd that Pooka! is the first Into The Dark movie to get a sequel, because it was also the one which was revealed to take place within the mind of the main character. However, after reviewing that film, the doll itself was in the “real” world so this movie doesn’t have to also be part of a hallucination. In some ways, that’s more disturbing, because the doll was a creepy idea already. Pooka will repeat things it hears in either a “nice” or “naughty” way, with no discernable way to know when or how. It’s basically a schizophrenic Furby.

PookaLives - 2Pooka
This is the friendly kind.

I will say that this has the best cast of any of the entries in the Into The Dark series. Even though Wil Wheaton and Rachel Bloom are only in it for a little while, Malcolm Barrett from Better Off Ted, Timeless, and Preacher manages to do a great job as the main character who has a major chip on his shoulder. Jonah Ray and Felicia Day make a great pair, having previously been on the reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Lyndie Greenwood is great at playing off of strange circumstances, as she did throughout the run of Sleepy Hollow. The fact that all of them work well as comedic relief allows for the film to have a lot of fairly explicit gore without ever feeling quite as heavy as it could be. It also drives home that this is, mostly, a tongue-in-cheek horror movie. 

PookaLives - 3Monster
Also, they mention they’re ripping off Slenderman and Momo.

When the movie is being more traditional as a horror movie, it’s pretty effective. When it’s being a goofy retread of a horror movie, it also works, mostly because the image of a giant stuffed animal attacking people is kind of inherently funny. However, the movie decided that it needed to have a “moral” about internet bullying and how it can get out of control, which kind of drags down the film’s momentum. It’s not that the message wouldn’t work in this kind of movie, but it really doesn’t mesh with the rest of the film. The fact that it becomes the focus of the third act doesn’t help either.

PookaLives - 4Bat
Rather than focusing on Felicia Day with a baseball bat.

Overall, not a bad entry, but it could definitely have been a bit stronger. 

ENDING EXPLAINED

While it’s kind of strange and indirect, at the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the Pooka army are actually composed of Tulpas (ideas brought to life by powerful beliefs) which were likely empowered into being by the angry spirit of Ellie, Pooka’s creator, because of the change to Pooka’s design. Because every person online added their own spin to it, each of the Pookas is different, reflecting the particular variant that went viral. Despite the fact that the main characters believe that they’ve figured out a way to make the monstrous Pookas vulnerable by adding a weakness to the creepypasta chain, they find that even though they killed the monster Pooka, the internet still decided that the Apookalypse had to happen, because that was more popular than the video of the group smiting the Tulpooka. Basically, since the internet is more focused on rooting for destruction than happy endings, the toys are going to go on a massacre. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.