I take a look at a movie that genuinely shouldn’t have been able to fail, but did.
A century before it was time to party like it’s 1999, a terrorist named the Fantom (Richard Roxburgh) commits crimes in both Britain and Germany implying each time to be working for the other country. This brings the world to the brink of all-out war (despite the fact that in 1899 Britain and Germany were still military allies). The British Empire tries to recruit adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), who refuses until assassins attempt to kill him and end up killing one of his longtime friends. In London, Quatermain meets M, the head of British intelligence, who reveals that the Fantom plans to bomb the peace talks that are set to occur in Venice. This will apparently start a World War, despite, again, the fact that both sides have agreed that the Fantom is behind it and that both sides have been openly attacked by him. This premise is dumb, is what I’m saying.
To combat the Fantom, M plans to resurrect a former special ops team, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This generation will consist of Quatermain, Indian engineer Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dracula’s sire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and invisible thief Skinner (Tony Curran). While attempting to recruit the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the team is attacked by the Fantom and saved by the intervention of US Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). The group then manages to capture Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) whose counterpart, Dr. Jekyll, joins the League in exchange for amnesty. The group travels to Venice to stop the Fantom, but don’t find the bombs until it’s too late and a chain reaction starts to sink Venice under the sea. Sawyer uses a car and a homing missile to stop the reaction and save the peace talks.
It’s then revealed that Dorian Gray and M have been behind this entire affair in order to steal the secrets of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They plan to duplicate all of the powers of the members and sell them off to the highest bidder. They then bomb the Nautilus, but Hyde saves the submarine. It’s revealed that Skinner is onboard the ship Gray used to escape and is sending the coordinates to the Nautilus. The team arrives in Northern Mongolia and attacks M’s compound. Mina, who dated Dorian, kills him, while the rest of the team destroys the factory. M is revealed to be James Moriarity, arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, who kills Quatermain. Moriarity is then killed by Sawyer and the League’s secrets fall into a frozen river. The rest of the team bury Quatermain in Africa while mentioning that a shaman had decreed that Africa would never let him die. The shaman appears and the Earth shakes as a lightning bolt strikes Quatermain’s grave.
This movie should have been one of the easiest properties to make interesting. It deals with some of the most interesting literary figures which are now part of the public domain. Yet, somehow, this movie manages to alternate between being pointlessly convoluted and mind-numbingly boring. Even more upsetting, there are clearly the bones of a legitimately good movie buried in here somewhere under the mediocre action sequences and washed-out colors. So what would need to change for this movie to be done right?
Well, part of it would be to at least try to think about actually adapting the comic series on which this movie was supposedly based. Granted, apparently the film was so close to another proposed script that Fox was sued over it, with the lawsuit claiming they bought the rights to the comic just so they could adapt the script without paying the authors. While that’s probably not true, the film does change a number of things for the worse.
First, it added Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer to the team, meaning that we now had seven main characters to try and follow, which just makes the film more convoluted and the characterization weaker. Second, the villain in this was stupid. He looks stupid, his plans are stupid, and the reveal that he’s supposed to be one of the smartest villains in literature, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, only makes everything else so much worse. Third, the series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like most of Alan Moore’s work, is deeply cynical. The main characters in the comics are mostly broken individuals: Mina, who is not a vampire, is a cold and calculating agent and the central character of the series; Quatermain is a drug addict; The Invisible Man is a rapist; Hyde is a psychopath; and Nemo mostly just hates the British. Even Moriarity is revealed to actually just be working on behalf of the empire. This film lacks any of that dark edge, instead replacing it with literally dark filming. Last, the characters are too unbalanced. Mina, as a vampire, can literally take out an army. Hyde, since he’s fairly controllable in this, is essentially the Hulk. Nemo has rockets and GPS navigation (fun aside: The rockets make sense as Nemo’s uncle in the Verne works was the inventor of the two-stage rocket). Quatermain and Sawyer, the focus of the film, are basically the Hawkeye of this team, but without the quips.
Then there are the other things that have bothered me so much more on rewatch. Dracula takes place in the 1880s and 1890s, meaning that Mina, who apparently was turned into a vampire in this universe rather than being saved, has only been a vampire for a few years. Apparently she has since dumped her fiance and dated Gray, but the two act like it’s been forever since then. Also, the car. Nemo shows them the vehicle and says he calls it an “automobile” like he came up with the word. It’s 1899, we’ve had cars for over a decade. They’re not popular, but they’re certainly a thing that most people in a major city would have seen at this point. That’s not even counting the steam powered models from the 1750s.
So, how do you make this movie better? First, you need to either tone down the powers on some of the characters or up the villain’s resources. Even after Moriarity supposedly has all of the powers of the team at his disposal, plus bulletproof troops with flamethrowers, and yet we only see a single invisible assassin (who is apparently an idiot), and a single super-Hyde, both of whom get killed in under two minutes. It always seems like the film has to go out of its way to try and slow down the plot points just so the situations aren’t instantly resolved by some of the characters. Either nerf the protagonists or give the villain something more interesting to work with. Second, either give the movie the cynical and grotesque at times edge of the comic or, alternatively, make it brighter and lighter and just more fun. This movie was forgettably generic because it tried to be superficially dark. Either be R-rated or be fun (or be Deadpool and do both), but don’t try to split the difference. Third, BE F**KING INTERESTING. So much of this movie is just dull conversations and long silences that don’t do anything to further the plot or deepen the characters. Seriously, how come no one is more interested in the vampire on board or the immortal or even how Tom Sawyer started working for the US Secret Service? I mean, the last Tom Sawyer story is Tom Sawyer, Detective, so it kind of makes sense, but I’m curious how he got to the point of international spy. But none of these are explored.
Overall, this movie sucks, and I really hope that it gets remade, possibly as a TV show, because it had a solid premise.
I took a look at the movie that welcomed me into the world. It was bad.
Walter Davis (Bruce Willis) is a salaryman who is constantly running behind and unlucky in love. When he finds out that he’ll need a date for a business dinner, he asks his brother, Ted (Phil Hartman), to set him up with someone, despite Ted’s terrible record with set-ups. Ted’s wife, Susie (Stephanie Faracy), sets Walter up with her cousin Nadia (Kim Basinger). The two seem to hit it off, but the night starts off awkwardly when they attend an H.R. Geiger art exhibit and are attacked by Nadia’s stalker ex-boyfriend David (John Larroquette). Walter takes Nadia to a private performance by guitarist Stanley Jordan and offers her alcohol. It turns out that Susie had warned Ted about Nadia’s drinking issues, but Ted hadn’t really conveyed it to Walter. When Nadia drinks, she instantly becomes a nonsensical, loud, and abrasive person.
The pair go to dinner at the same restaurant where Walter’s boss is having an important business dinner, and Nadia starts a fight with the wait staff that eventually involves Walter’s boss, the client, and the client’s wife. Walter gets fired as a result. When he tries to drive Nadia home to a party at a friends house, the pair are repeatedly attacked by David. Nadia has Walter drive to a bad neighborhood resulting in him being mugged and his car seats being stolen. When they finally end up at the party, Nadia has sobered up and Walter has had a mental breakdown, leading him to emulate Nadia’s earlier zany behavior. When David attacks them again, Walter pulls a gun on him and gets arrested.
David agrees to get Walter’s charges dropped in exchange for Nadia’s hand in marriage. She agrees and David meets with Walter’s judge, who happens to be David’s father (William Daniels), and gets the case dismissed. At the wedding, Walter sneaks a bunch of chocolates filled with alcohol into Nadia’s room. She gets drunk and dumps David at the altar, reuniting with Walter and getting married to him.
The prompt for day three was originally “a movie that came out the week you were born.” Unfortunately, this was the only major release the week I was born. Wanting to avoid this movie like the plague, I decided to expand it to the month I was born (which included Evil Dead II, Lethal Weapon, and Raising Arizona), but I would select it by random number generator. The generator picked this movie, which cost me $3 to rent. I think this proves that God hates me… although the cancer should probably have tipped me off.
This movie is astonishing because it seems like it’s going out of its way to ruin careers. This movie was directed by Blake Edwards, the guy who made Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and the good Pink Panther movies. It was written by Dale Launer, the screenwriter who would go on to write Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, My Cousin Vinny, and Love Potion No. 9. The music was done by Henry Mancini, the multi-Oscar winner who did most of Edwards’s movies. It starred Bruce Willis in the middle of his run on Moonlighting, Kim Basinger coming fresh off her big break in 9 ½ Weeks, and John Larroquette in the middle of his run on Night Court. In other words, there was a ton of talent in this film, which makes it astonishing how abysmally unfunny and unpleasant this movie is.
To give you an idea of how much I hate this movie, no less than seven of my viewing notes are “is this still going?” The first one was only thirty minutes into this ninety minute film, when we got through the dinner that was supposed to be the crux of the whole set-up, only to find out that this was really just the start of act two. I should probably have guessed what I was in for when one of the opening jokes to the movie was a fake ad for the “James Brown Car Alarm” that went on for two damned minutes. It’s just a car alarm that shouts like James Brown, but that’s how this movie decides to prime us for the feast of gags it clearly thinks it’s going to lay before us. This movie had more points where it should have ended than Return of the King, but didn’t have the benefit of giving me 8 hours of enjoyment beforehand. It’s like they just kept coming up with short scene ideas, but couldn’t come up with any funny dialogue for those scenes.
Everything in this movie seems to be based on the humor of running gags, but the gags are mistimed and terrible. David just keeps showing up out of nowhere and attacking them, but always in an awkward way that ends with him humiliated. Because of this, at one point, John Larroquette crashes into two separate store fronts in less than 2 minutes. It was around the third attack that I realized that “running gag” is sometimes code for “didn’t have another original idea.”
The icing on this crap cake, though, is that none of the characters are likable. Walter goes from desperate to crazy and vengeful to obsessive, but at no point do I want him to be happy. Nadia and Walter have a fun meet cute moment, but once she starts drinking she’s not the “wacky” person, she’s an angry antagonist. Later, when Walter starts acting like her at her party, she starts to get indignant and act superior, despite the fact that she literally just got him fired earlier. David isn’t a fun antagonist because he literally just shows up and psychotically attacks them. Even though he’s revealed to be a high-powered attorney with a judge father, he should be in jail. Well, okay, maybe him being free makes sense, but still, he’s not a clever character.
Overall, there are a few moments of levity in the film, but mostly, it’s just a drag. If Die Hard hadn’t come out the next year and given Bruce Willis a new career as an action star, this might have wrecked him.
We get a look at all of the fun and adventure that happens to the flunkies of the Federation.
Welcome aboard the starship U.S.S. Cerritos. Captained by the capable Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and staffed by First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), and Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman), they boldly go to all the places that other, better ships have just discovered. However, we don’t really care about them, because the party is down a few floors in the lower decks. It’s got Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), a drunken ensign so disrespectful that she’s been kicked off multiple ships; Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), an ambitious ensign that often takes Mariner’s abuse; D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), a medical ensign who is super enthused about being on a starship; and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), an engineering ensign who is adjusting to his recent cyborg status. Together, these four… exist.
I think at this point I’ve mentioned that I am a fan of Star Trek roughly fifty times on here, including putting multipleepisodes on my 100 Greatest Episodes List, so I’ll skip most of my fanboying and just say that I was probably going to like anything that adds to the franchise that’s better than Enterprise (minus the Mirror Universe stuff). This was definitely better than Enterprise (Sorry, Bakula).
When The Orville came out, I figured that was the closest that I would ever get to a mostly-official comedy Star Trek series, unless they actually made a show out of Galaxy Quest. However, while both of those mostly parodied the original Star Trek, this show couldn’t really try to do that, since the events of Star Trek actually happened here. By setting itself in the universe it was going to mess with, this show ironically had to be a bit more of its own animal. It reminds me a bit more of Futurama than those parodies, but the animation style is more modern and frenetic. On a side note, I think it’s interesting that the first season is set in the year 2380, meaning that, aside from Star Trek: Picard, this show is set the furthest in the future of any Star Trek series. At the end of the first episode, we even hear Mariner start to name drop many of the main characters of the original show and The Next Generation. I don’t think they referenced Deep Space Nine or Voyager, but it’s possible that, since Voyager only got back two years before this show, maybe the full extent of their adventures haven’t become public.
The humor in this show is a little more graphic and a little more base than you might expect from Star Trek, but I still enjoyed it. It makes for a bigger contrast between the typically clinical and sterile settings that we usually expect aboard a starship and the messy, gooey, and sometimes a bit freaky things that Mariner and Boimler get into. Another aspect of the humor appears to derive from how much the crew has become immunized to the chaos that fills an average episode of a Star Trek show. They’re shown to carry on leisurely conversations while dealing with a viral outbreak akin to a zombie horde, which makes some sense, given how often crazy things like this happen. The show also takes shots at the other series’ common trope of attributing all of the successes to the command staff at the expense of the many other people that help keep the ship running and provide support.
Overall, while we’re only two episodes into the show, I think it’s got potential. If you’re a Trekkie, you’ve gotta watch it. If you’re a fan of Futurama, you should probably check it out. If you’re neither… well, try it anyway.
Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is a hyper-observant investigator who uses his skills to pretend to be a psychic detective along with his best friend Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill). The two worked in Santa Barbara, California, alongside the Santa Barbara Police Department under Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson). The two regularly pair with Det. Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Shawn’s now-wife Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), and seek help from Shawn’s retired detective father Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen). It’s been 6 years since most of the cast moved to San Francisco when the show ended and Lassie has been the Chief of Police in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, Lassie recently was shot and had a stroke during the operation to save his life, resulting in him being confined to a wheelchair with memory loss. It’s up to the Psych team to figure out who shot Lassie. Guests include Sarah Chalke as Lassie’s Nurse, Joel McHale as Lassie’s father, Richard Schiff as Lassie’s doctor, and Kurt Fuller, Jimmi Simpson, Sage Brocklebank, and Jazmyn Simon reprising their roles as Woody Strode, Mary Lightly, Buzz McNab, and Selene.
So, to truly appreciate this film, you not only need to have seen the show Psych, but also to know that Timothy Omundson had a major stroke in real life 3 years ago right before they filmed the first Psych movie. As a result, he was only in a small cameo via video in the film. His recovery has been hard, but honestly pretty inspiring. I don’t know the full extent of his mobility, particularly in his left arm, but I suppose it would have been necessary to address it somehow in the film. It surprised me, though, that this movie directly incorporated the stroke, albeit here from surgery, into Lassiter’s character. However, it worked amazingly. I’ve always loved Psych, so I admit that my opinion on this film might be a little biased, but having Lassie going through such a deeply personal journey enhanced almost everything about this film, even compared to the first movie.
The highlight of the show Psych, from the pilot on, was less the detective work of Shawn or the police, but more the interplay between Shawn and Gus. James Roday and Dulé Hill have such a wonderful natural chemistry that it makes almost any conversation between the two amusing. The friendship between Shawn and Gus is among the most believable on film, despite the fact that they are almost complete opposites in personality. This movie doesn’t mess with that formula, which is the right call, particularly since it’s been 3 years since we last saw them.
The main story is more compelling than usual, though, because it involves finding the person who hurt Lassie. Since the stakes seem higher, it has an added level of gravitas, even though the mystery is solved in the usual Psych style; which is to say a number of goofy scenes that slowly come together based around a number of coincidences and independent investigations somehow filling in the gaps. The film makes sure that the audience never forgets the center of the movie by having multiple scenes of Lassie questioning what his life means now that he might be physically and mentally reduced from what he was. Given that Omundson himself was likely dealing with those same thoughts, the performance is incredibly natural and powerful. I don’t want to spoil it, but the last scene with him in the film did legitimately reduce me to tears.
Overall, this was a solid movie if you’re a fan of the Psych franchise. The creators have said they want to make 5 films, and right now that almost seems like too few.
I take a look at the “most controversial movie you’ve never seen.”
A group of elite “liberals” abduct a number of “deplorables” and hunt them for sport. The liberals include, among others, Athena Stone (Hillary Swank) and Richard (Glenn Howerton), and the deplorables include Moses (Ike Barinholtz), Yoga Pants (Emma Roberts), Gary (Ethan Suplee), Crystal (Betty Gilpin), and Don (Wayne Duvall). It’s Red State vs. Blue State, with the last man or woman standing apparently claiming moral superiority.
If you recall this movie, it’s probably because it was supposed to get released last year, until they stopped marketing it in response to a pair of mass shootings. This controversy was compounded by the fact that the President of the United States decided that he needed to weigh in on the movie, saying that it was “racist.” This take apparently was influential, despite the fact that the Liberals would be the bad guys in this movie and that political viewpoints are not a race. The release was then postponed. It was then moved to March of this year, with a new marketing campaign based around it being “super controversial.” Due to the fact that I don’t have a great history with films that market themselves around being controversial as opposed to, you know, GOOD, I wasn’t that psyched to see this movie. However, a friend recently told me that he enjoyed it, because this movie was essentially “(politically) moderate porn.”
Apparently I’m not moderate enough, because I did not enjoy the cinematic experience to an erotic degree. Maybe I own too many guns, or too few, I don’t know, but I just never found the movie that compelling throughout most of it. I think, ultimately, it comes down to how the different sides are portrayed during the film. While the “Liberals” are actually pretty comically liberal, such as having discussions over their own privilege constantly, the “deplorables,” and yes I’m using that word because I think they’re a different group than Conservatives, are not exaggerated enough. One of the most common tropes in a horror movie, and this is mostly a horror film, is that audiences want victims to deserve it. The way that The Hunt seems to handle this is by assuming that the viewer will think that just because these people are conspiracy theorists, we’ll agree that they deserve to die, and that’s… hard. Even when the total situation is revealed at the end, that doesn’t somehow undo the emotional confusion from the first part of the film.
Then there’s our main character, Crystal. Betty Gilpin does successfully portray her as a smart badass, but she’s still not that interesting for most of the film because the setting doesn’t allow her to be. She almost always seems to be in control, no matter what is happening, because she’s a former soldier, but until the literal last fight she appears to be too invincible to be a horror character. If you’ve seen the movie You’re Next, you’ll know that the key to having a kick-ass survivalist final girl is that they always need to be on the ropes, even though they’re superior to their assailants. This film doesn’t do that.
However, there are a few solid points to the film. First, a number of the kills are humorous and surprising, which is always good for a horror movie. Second, the final act is actually really well done, particularly in terms of satire and thriller elements. The conversation between Betty Gilpin and Hillary Swank feels like it was pulled out of a much better script. I was amused throughout the whole sequence, which makes it only more tragic that I was pretty checked out through the first hour.
Overall, though, I just only found this movie to be mediocre. If you can catch it for free, maybe do that, but don’t pay $5.99 like I did.
The Joker’s Ex-Girlfriend has moved on and grown, and so has her story.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)
Having beaten the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and with Batman (Diedrich Bader) and the Justice League out of the way, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is now poised to take over the city of Gotham. Unfortunately, Gotham is quickly declared No Man’s Land, and it turns out that the Injustice League wants it too. They get the drop on Harley and divvy up the territory. With the help of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), Clayface (Tudyk), and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), she’s out to get revenge on the Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Two-Face (Jim Rash, Wayne Knight, Alfred Molina, James Adomian, Andy Daly) and claim Gotham for herself. Also, Batgirl’s there (Briana Cuoco).
So, my main criticism of Harley Quinn Season 1 was that the show often tried to go a little too exploitative with the violence and swearing to the point that I thought it distracted from the show. I will admit that, on rewatching, it still was a little over-the-top, but I might have let my feelings towards DC Universe’s show Titans color my opinion on how they were handling “mature” superhero shows. It still bothered me when I watched it again, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought on the first go-around. Whatever problems there were, however, have been almost completely fixed in the second season.
It’s not that the show is any less exploitative in the second season, in fact the violence and swearing are probably even increased, but the show has started to use them as a form of self-commentary. Harley even says, while defending a show-within-a-show, that “violence ups the dramatic effect,” and honestly, this season that’s mostly what it did. In the way that the John Wick films manage to make killing hordes of people into slapstick routine, season two frequently makes violence cathartic or humorous.
Moreover, the subject matter of this season was almost uniformly made more mature and relatable. While I thought that the first season forced the plot of Harley getting over the Joker to last longer than it should have which killed the relatability of dealing with an abusive ex, this season covers a number of plots that interweave and keep the relationships and topics fresh. They range from having feelings for a friend, to dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy, to dealing with repressed emotions and trauma. Instead of being a simple set of plots with a lot of swearing and ‘splosions, it’s a lot of blood and cussing that heightens the emotions of the scenes. It’s everything I wanted out of this series, and it feels so damned good.
If you have a chance to check it out, do it. The first season is pretty good in retrospect, but this season should earn it a following.
Sometimes a show just can’t keep the quality up to the end. A lot of the times shows go downhill for a while after they start running low on ideas, and sometimes they just won’t give up and die with dignity. However, even if the writing is on the wall and you’re given a year to plan to go out, you can still screw it all up with a bad ending.
For this entry, I am going to make two caveats:
The episode has to be intended as a finale. That means either it’s clear the production team knew the show was over, or didn’t have reason to believe it was going to keep going. So cliffhangers don’t count unless they were made AFTER the show was cancelled. Additionally, if an episode was meant to be the finale, but the network aired it out of order, only the intended finale counts.
If the show was rebooted later, the original finale still counts.
Also, The Sopranos is not going to be on here, because I have a long-running theory that makes me like that finale, and I refuse to debate it right now. If I’m wrong, then… well, it sucks.
RUNNER UP: Of Course He’s Dead (Two and a Half Men)
The Show: Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) is a jingle writer who lives a hedonistic lifestyle. His brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), and nephew Jake (Angus T. Jones) move in after Alan’s wife leaves him. Eventually, after Charlie dies, his house is bought by billionaire Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher), who lets Alan and Jake stay. Eventually Jake leaves and Charlie’s unknown biological daughter Jenny (Amber Tamblyn) moves in.
The Finale: Alan receives a letter from a lawyer saying that Charlie has millions in unclaimed royalties, but can’t find Charlie’s death certificate. It turns out that Charlie is actually alive, having been kept prisoner by his crazy stalker Rose (Melanie Lynskey), after she caught him in bed with a goat. Alan, Jake, and Walden start to receive threats and the police tell them that they caught Charlie, but it’s actually Christian Slater. Charlie approaches the house, but a piano he ordered crushes him. The camera then shows creator Chuck Lorre, who says “winning!” then is crushed by a second piano.
This doesn’t make the list because this show had pretty much lost all of its quality when Charlie Sheen left. The writers never figured out what to do with Walden or Jenny, constantly shifting their characters, and it just kind of limped on for four years. Ensemble casts exist on relationships and when you can’t keep characters consistent, then the relationships can’t be consistent. However, dedicating your finale to throwing a tantrum at Charlie Sheen over him being a d*ck doesn’t really age well, particularly since it’s been revealed that Sheen’s behavior was related to him being diagnosed HIV positive. While the viewers would have understood what was happening at the time, I think anyone that watches this in a decade (if anyone does) probably won’t get what the hell happened and it’ll just seem like a waste of time.
10) These are the Voyages… (Star Trek: Enterprise)
The Show: This show takes place before any previous Star Trek series, in the 22nd century, aboard the spaceship Enterprise, the first vessel capable of real, effective interstellar exploration by humanity. The crew includes Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), Science Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), Chief Engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer), Tactical Officer Reed (Dominic Keating), Communications Officer Sato (Linda Park), Helmsman Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), and Medical Officer Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley).
The Finale: Taking place in the 24th Century, Star Trek: The Next Generation characters William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are looking for guidance on an issue (the TNG Episode “The Pegasus”) and decide to review the decommissioning of the first Enterprise. They interact at points with the Enterprise crew, who are holograms here. Captain Archer is set to give a speech, but gets sidetracked trying to rescue the kidnapped daughter of an ambassador. The kidnappers board the ship and Trip Tucker dies saving Captain Archer. Archer makes his speech and Riker figures out what he’s going to do. The last shot is a montage of Star Trek footage and Captains Kirk, Picard, and Archer giving the “where no man has gone before” speech.
This would probably be higher up if I had ever really liked Enterprise, but it remains the worst Star Trek series in my opinion. The only episodes I really liked were the ones set in the Mirror Universe where humans were the bad guys, because those seemed original and compelling, but most of the series just felt like recycled old ideas with skimpier outfits. What a waste of a Bakula. However, this has to go down as one of the worst finales because it’s a finale that doesn’t even really feature the characters of the show. Instead, the episode takes place during a different series and everyone from Enterprise appears only by hologram. Moreover, the events in the hologram take place six years after the rest of the series without a compelling reason for doing so and one of the main characters is killed as an afterthought. This episode was so bad that I don’t think I’ve seen a list of the worst Star Trek properties that didn’t include it, often at number one. It was so bad that it ended 18 consecutive years of Star Trek being on the air. When you can tank an entire franchise for a while, you earn this spot.
9) Remember the Monsters? (Dexter)
The Show: Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a serial killer who targets other serial killers. He uses skills taught to him by his adopted father (James Remar) to avoid detection and eliminate the monsters who evade the law. He spends most of the series hiding it from his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), only for her to find out what he does in season 7. Also, she’s in love with him despite them being raised as siblings, so… that’s a thing. Look, there’s a reason I tell people to stop watching after season 5.
The Finale: Dexter is planning on fleeing the country. Debra gets shot by serial killer Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson) while a hurricane prevents Dexter’s flight. Dexter leaves his son Harrison with his girlfriend Hannah and heads to the hospital where he is told Debra will recover. Saxon is captured and Debra tells Dexter to live a happy life, but then suffers a clot and goes into a coma. Dexter then kills Saxon in police custody and pulls Debra off life support. He takes her body and drops it into the ocean as he drives into the hurricane. Later, he’s seen working as a lumberjack in Oregon.
I have to admit I’ve softened towards this over the years, because for a long time I considered it the worst finale ever. It’s dropped down the list for two reasons: 1) Jennifer Carpenter’s performance as Debra is actually so good it almost single-handedly makes this episode okay. 2) Other shows since (mostly Breaking Bad) have convinced me that giving a bad person a happy ending isn’t inherently bad. However, I still think it’s a terrible ending to this show. A big part of why is that it missed the tone of the rest of the series, having a somber and sincere quality that the rest of the show never had. That might have worked for a finale, except that all of the sincerity felt crammed in and manufactured, rather than developing naturally. The characters are told that Debra is going to be okay, but their last conversation is still them saying goodbye in a last-rites kind of way. Then she dies anyway, making the previous recovery nothing but a device to keep the audience off-guard, particularly since the clot happens off-screen apropos of nothing. Oh, and as she’s dying, she tells him she loves him, which means… she might have been okay if he had left her on the machines? So, Dexter killed her, but it’s not really given as much weight as it should. Oh, and then the ending is that he’s abandoned his son and girlfriend (who he could find and join) to go be a lumberjack and somehow survived a hurricane, which was just such a cop-out. Also, can someone from Miami Metro get fired for being just the worst investigators on Earth? For what was briefly one of my favorite shows, the mighty fell hard.
8) Into That Good Night (Roseanne)
The Show: Roseanne (the show) focused on the lives of the Conner family: Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), her husband Dan (John Goodman), Roseanne’s sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), and Dan and Roseanne’s kids Becky (Lecy Goranson/Sarah Chalke), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), D.J. (Michael Fishman), and Baby Jerry (Cole and Morgan Roberts). They’re a working-class family in the 80s and 90s living in Illinois, and possibly one of the most realistic ones ever put on television.
The Finale: In the 9th season of the show, the Conners win the lottery, suddenly becoming very wealthy, but Dan and Roseanne’s marriage has been on the rocks throughout the whole season, culminating in a revelation that he cheated on her. During the finale, after the family welcomes a new grandson from Darlene’s marriage, everyone is set to move on with their lives. Then, in the last 10 minutes of the show, Roseanne reveals to the audience that the entire show had just been a book she was writing. Dan was dead from a heart attack, Jackie was gay, and Darlene and Becky were, in fact, married to each-other’s husbands. No explanation is given for any of this except that Roseanne thought it was more interesting this way.
Roseanne had taken a massive dive in the last season due to destroying the thing that most people liked about the show, it’s blue-collar realism. The Conners were constantly screwed by normal problems that most sitcoms would just gloss over, like a malfunctioning fridge they can’t afford to replace or a light bill late fee that builds up. They lived the way that a lot of America lived. Once they were rich, that stuff all fell away and they stopped being relatable. That was bad enough, but to literally spend the last 10 minutes of the show revealing that everything in the show was fake, even within the reality of the show, was just icing on the crapcake. Roseanne is revealed to be a writer, a profession that stood completely against her character’s usual employment in various menial jobs. Dan’s dead, meaning that any of their drama in the last season was just Roseanne taking shots at her deceased husband. None of the relationships were real. What’s most astonishing is that all of this was just completely unnecessary. When they rebooted the show, they made the decision to just ignore all of this, which was smarter than anything in the finale.
7) Daybreak (Battlestar Galactica – 2004)
The Show: Humans lived on a set of planets known as the Twelve Colonies. The humans created the Cylons, a race of robots, that then rebelled. There was a peace accord, until the Cylons surprise attack and destroy most of humanity and the planets they populated. Only one military ship survives, the Battlestar Galactica, which sets off with the other ships to head to the thirteenth colony, Earth, while being pursued by Cylons. The survivors include Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos), President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), pilot “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), pilot “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Barber), and scientist Gaius Baltar (James Callis). There are also Cylon infiltrators known as numbers 6 and 8 (Tricia Helfer and Grace Park)
The Finale: Turns out the Cylons got to Earth first, but blew it up. As the group tries to figure out what to do now, the Cylons capture Hera, a human-Cylon hybrid, and are studying how they can reproduce. Admiral Adama orders a rescue. Gaius and Six join the mission, and it’s revealed that the two can see each other’s “inner visions.” It’s complicated to explain, but each one has a hallucination of the other that they talk to, and here it’s revealed that those are not just hallucinations. The rescue ends with an all-out battle that is ended by Gaius promising to give the Cylons back their lost resurrection ability in order to buy peace. He’s told that he sees Angels telling him that both sides are governed by God. However, this ends up failing. The fighting resumes and damage forces Adama to order the ship to jump to anywhere it can. Starbuck uses “All Along the Watchtower” to arrive at our Earth in the distant past. The survivors, and the surviving Cylons, spread out and interbreed with the hominids that populate the planet. Starbuck turns out to be an Angel and disappears. Bob Dylan is implied to be God.
Okay, did you read the last four sentences of that summary? Yeah, that’s why this whole thing fell apart. The show, which had been a cold and depressing character study and a cautionary tale against the advances of human technology, ends on a happy note because of a literal deus ex machina. To be clear, this show was almost entirely sci-fi for most of its run, and the concept of having everything in the series designed as part of the ineffable plan by God seems to have been pulled out of nowhere. I once lauded the show Quantum Leap for dealing with cancellation by having an ending that said “God did it,” but that’s because that show’s continuity and logic had never made sense. This show had never even approached that level of metaphysics until the last four episodes hinted at it loosely. A lot of people liked the happy ending, but I will stare into the face of Bob Dylan and walk backwards into Hell proclaiming this to be a complete failure of screenwriting.
6) Project: ALF (ALF)
The Show: Gordon Shumway (Paul Fusco) is an Alien Life Form (ALF) from the destroyed planet Melmac. He follows a radio signal to the home of the Tanners: Willie (Max Wright), Kate (Anne Schedeen), Lynn (Andrea Elson), and Brian (Benji Gregory). The Tanners hide ALF from the Alien Task Force that seeks to hunt him down.
The Finale: In the last episode of the original show’s run, ALF is captured by the Alien Task Force. This picks up with ALF in custody under Colonel Milfoil (Martin Sheen) who is going to kill ALF. Two scientists help him escape, but after they are chased by Milfoil, they end up deciding to reveal ALF’s existence to the world. This ends up failing, but Milfoil is fired and ALF is declared an ambassador to Earth.
The original finale of ALF can’t be on here because the show was cancelled unexpectedly and thus ended on a cliffhanger. That’s not the fault of any of the writers, particularly since the show was still in the top 40 at the time and had just had a spin-off last two seasons. Even the network later apologized to the crew, saying that they’d screwed up by cancelling it too early. However, since they were given over a year to come up with a way to end the series with this three-part episode (or TV movie), and had 5 years to think about it before that, this was truly disappointing. Except for ALF, none of the Tanners were present in this, and all we hear is that they went to Iceland. As such, a ton of plotlines, including the cliffhanger about ALF leaving the Tanners, were left unresolved. Moreover, this episode made it clear exactly how much of an a**hole ALF actually was, retroactively making the show less cute. It’s like if you ended the Muppet Show by having Kermit be revealed as a Soviet Spy. Honestly, the cliffhanger would have been a more dignified way to go out.
5) Chapter 73 (House of Cards)
The Show: Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a politician who constantly lies, cheats, steals and murders his way to becoming the President and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), becomes Vice President. He’s assisted by Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), his Chief of Staff who routinely does Frank’s dirty work. Frank typically narrates to the audience his true, cruel thoughts.
The Finale: In Season 6, Claire becomes President following Frank’s impeachment and subsequent getting killed off for being a rapist. Claire also takes over Frank’s role as narrator. Doug, who stood by Frank loyally, has now flipped to testify to all of Claire’s bad acts, but Claire pardons him to gain his silence. In the finale, Claire promises a new level of honesty to America, then creates a new fictional threat so that she can keep her position. Doug is sent in to kill her by some of her rivals, but after he admits he killed Frank, she ends up stabbing him to death and then suffocating him. She turns to the audience and says “No More Pain,” mirroring Frank killing a dog in the pilot.
This is mostly on here for how completely unnecessary this finale was. After Kevin Spacey was removed from the show for being a rapist, the show was completely justified in writing him out. Despite that, his character still basically dictated everything over the last season. Claire was constantly saying how she denounced his legacy, but she always kept it alive rather than tossing it to the ashcan of history where it belonged. This finale made it much, much worse, focusing on Frank’s last will, which cut Claire out, then revealing Doug to have killed Frank because Frank was hurting his own legacy, then having Claire stab Doug to death in the Oval Office and use one of Frank’s own lines, cementing her as now being essentially just Frank all over again. It essentially made Claire a secondary character in a season where she was supposed to be the lead. If you’re going to write a character out, write them out, don’t let their ghost loom over the entire series.
4) The End (LOST)
The Show: A bunch of people survive a plane crash and end on an island. The island turned out to be filled with mysteries, ranging from a smoke monster that turns out to be the embodiment of evil, to a hatch that requires a code to keep being entered into it, to some polar bears. The show had too many cast members to really list here, with 14 star roles in the first season alone, but among the key ones in this episode are: Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Locke/The Man In Black (Terry O’Quinn). It frequently has flashbacks, flashforwards, and flash-sideways. The last season has two parallel timelines, including a new one in which the crash never happened.
The Finale: Some of the survivors head to the heart of the island, including Jack who has taken on the role of protector of the island. The Man in Black, who is trying to destroy the island, manages to unstop the source of the island’s power, but is killed by Kate. Jack then dies replacing the island’s light. In the alternate timeline, everyone suddenly remembers the island, meet up in a church, and then they are revealed to be dead.
So, from the beginning of the show, a huge number of fans (myself included) were worried that the series would end with the revelation that everyone was actually dead all along. The creators and the writers all strongly denied that it was anything like that. Instead, it’s revealed that, in fact, the events of the island were real, but that the parallel timeline was actually a form of afterlife which is powered by the island, so… I felt like this was cheating. A ton of people were confused by it, a ton more were angered, and I don’t think anyone ever thought it was a perfect way to wrap up the series. The island is revealed to be the source of the light that exists inside of every living thing, but also what grants those things a second chance, represented here as an alternate world where everyone is a little bit closer to what they wanted to be. It’s not a paradise, it’s a purgatory, and then at the end apparently everyone moves on towards the actual afterlife, maybe. If that explanation sounds kind of boring or weird or confusing, then you know why this made this list.
3) Last Forever (How I Met Your Mother)
The Show: In 2030, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor/Bob Saget) is narrating to his kids the story of how he met their mother (Cristin Milioti). It turns out to be a story involving Ted’s best friends from his 20s and 30s: Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) and his wife Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), and Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris).
The Finale: After spending a season at the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding, we find out that Ted’s wife is the bass player in their wedding band. While she has met everyone from the group, she has not yet met Ted, until they share an umbrella that they both previously owned. It’s then revealed that the mother, Tracy McConnell, passed away in 2024. The kids reveal that the story was clearly about how Ted is still in love with Robin, and encourage him to get back together with her. The show ends with Ted and Robin smiling at each other.
This one is really a tragedy on two different levels. The show had always prided itself on the fact that they had already filmed the ending when they started the second season, because that meant that the kids, who had since stopped being kids, would still be in the finale at the same age. Unfortunately, they were so dedicated to this that they stuck to it even after their own writing and character development had rendered it a bad idea. Ted and Robin ending up together was a really good idea for a long time, until we spent two seasons building up Barney’s and Robin’s relationship and then an entire season on their wedding itself, only to have the finale tell us they broke up like 15 minutes later for vague reasons. It also doesn’t help that Cristin Milioti was so much more amazing than expected, particularly in the episode dedicated to her history. Everything about her was so perfect for Ted that you wanted to see them happy together. This meant that when the writers stuck with the original ending, it broke up two relationships we were invested in. At the same time, they undid all of Barney’s character growth and instead ended with him learning to love by being a father. To Neil Patrick Harris’s credit, his performance was so good I almost bought it, but it’s still bad writing. The reason why this is so high is because multiple people apparently brought up that this was a bad idea and that they should ditch the original ending, but the show wanted its gimmick more than a solid conclusion.
2) The Finale (Seinfeld)
The Show: It’s a show about nothing starring four friends: Jerry Seinfeld (himself), George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). In general, the series is just about the kind of weird things that happen to the four of them and consists of them talking about it. All four are generally crappy people, but make up for it by being funny. It was created by Larry David and Seinfeld.
The Finale: Jerry and George have pitched a series to NBC that resembles Seinfeld called Jerry. The four decide to go to Paris to celebrate before moving to California to work on the show, but a problem on the flight forces them to land in Massachusetts. While they wait for the plane to be fixed, they see a man get carjacked and record it while mocking him. They’re then arrested by the police for violating the Good Samaritan statute by not helping. The four are then put on trial and a number of witnesses from throughout the series testify to their bad character. They are ultimately convicted and put in jail.
This one is so high up because Seinfeld was one of the best shows on television and I remember being absolutely pissed off watching the finale. The build-up had been huge. Other shows, including Dharma and Greg, literally had episodes that were based on the assumption that this finale would be amazing. However, I think it completely failed. First off, the set-up was ridiculous. Having the characters get arrested due to an insane law and go to trial immediately was a weird decision. That’s not how laws, courts, or even civil rights work. The fact that the prosecutors are then allowed to parade a list of people as bad character witnesses is even weirder, because, again, not how that works. Also, if they had a duty to provide aid to the victim (they didn’t), they actually did, because they recorded the face of the carjacker on film. That’s more helpful than trying to fight him. Everything about this framing device was stupid. Second, they really just used it to do a glorified clip-show as the finale. That’s one of the weakest ways to handle any episode of television, typically reserved for when shows run out of money for an episode, as opposed to the finale of a top-rated show. Third, finally calling out how bad the characters were in such a stupid fashion basically mocked the audience for liking them. If you’re flipping the bird on the way out, you’ve messed up. While Larry David has defended it, Jerry Seinfeld has pretty much stated that they dropped the ball on this one. I concur.
1) The Iron Throne (Game of Thrones)
The Show: I cannot really summarize this. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are thrown into a massive war after the death of the king Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). This ends up massively affecting the Stark family, including Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Arya (Maisie Williams). At the same time, an army of zombie warriors start to descend from the North to destroy the world. Also, the daughter of the previous king, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), hatched three dragons and uses them plus two separate armies to try to come back and retake the throne. Her nephew and lover is Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who is also the adopted brother of the Starks. A lot of people die and there’s a lot of nudity. Also, there’s Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who is amazing, and Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who suck.
The Finale: Daenerys has taken over King’s Landing and claimed the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Unfortunately, even after the people surrendered, Daenerys kept attacking, destroying a ton of the property and killing hundreds or thousands of people for no reason. When confronted, she insists that she has “liberated” the town and that she now plans to “liberate” the rest of the world. After finally realizing that Daenerys will never stop until she has conquered the world in the name of forcing her version of utopia, and will kill anyone that doesn’t submit immediately. Jon kills her and is imprisoned by her troops. Ultimately, he is banished and Bran becomes king.
I realize that this probably will not seem as bad years down the line and that the freshness of the wound is why this feels like the worst finale, but I will say that following: It’s impressive to get every character to the end of their arc and still feel terrible. Seriously, every character finishes in the position that they clearly were always going to have, ranging from Bran being the king to Daenerys being dead to Jon being banished, but at the end all of the ways they get there appear to be completely contrived or insane. Rather than having Daenerys’s madness be a result of her destiny as a Targaryen and a breaker of chains, it came off as being because Jon didn’t want to sleep with her after finding out they’re related. Rather than Bran being made king because of his abilities, he’s instead made king because “he has the best story,” despite Jon literally having resurrected from the dead and Arya having slain an undead king. Everyone gets to close their story in the right place, but it feels so forced that it undermines the rest of the series and its great plotting and character progression. Mostly, though, this whole thing felt completely unnecessary. HBO had the hottest show on the planet and had already stated they would basically give the showrunners carte blanche if they needed more episodes to come to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, the show rushed from the death of the Night King to the finale in only 3 episodes. This isn’t just dropping the ball, this is firing the ball straight down out of a cannon so hard that it currently resides in the molten core of the planet.
If you disagree with any of these, let me know. If you have other episodes you think should have made it, put them in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter.
Jon Stewart and Steve Carell bring us a political satire that doesn’t quite go far enough.
Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is a Democratic campaign manager who was devastated by the results of the 2016 election. He finds a video of Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) taken by his daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), defending the rights of immigrants in his town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, and decides to use Hastings to try to reconnect the Democratic Party with “America’s Heartland.” The Republican National Committee sends Gary’s nemesis, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to oppose him. The pair keep escalating the election until it’s national news, rocking the small town.
The opening to this movie consists of a moment of Steve Carell and Rose Byrne both being honest about their jobs, telling the people around them that they literally lie for a living. It is a refreshing scene of political operatives from both parties just dropping all of the bullsh*t and being sincere, with each basically saying the same thing. It’s particularly funny hearing them both say: “Whatever you think you saw tonight, you didn’t. You saw what I saw, as long as I say it repeatedly, doggedly, and with unearned confidence. I lie, and you know I lie…. You all know that and yet, here we are…. F*ck you to America. I look forward to lying to you in the future. Let’s hit the bar.” This is the exact kind of language I want starting a movie like this off. I want some damned honesty about exactly how culpable a large number of groups are for the state of our politics, ranging from the media to, well, us. The problem is, the rest of the movie just doesn’t quite hold up this well. It doesn’t have the guts to keep this kind of satire up.
Instead of being an aggressive piece of political satire, the rest of the movie becomes a kind of morality tale whose message ends up being “politics is really just a bunch of rich people playing games with poor people they don’t care about.” Raise your hand if you haven’t felt that point becoming ABUNDANTLY clear over the last few elections. If your hand is up, then you should absolutely watch this movie, because that is crucial information. Otherwise, you, like me, might spend ninety minutes waiting for the film to reach a bigger point and be disappointed. The problem with the movie is it’s telling us something that would have been very important to recognize in 2013 or so, but now feels like the word of the day.
As to the other half of “political comedy,” Irresistible doesn’t quite have enough comedy for my taste. The humor from the movie largely depends on the “country mouse meets city mouse” formula that arises from Gary and Faith interacting with the townspeople who, naturally, aren’t the redneck stereotypes they expected. I will admit that, as someone who grew up in a rural area near a college town, this sometimes was amusing. There’s even a really funny bit involving nuns. Every few minutes, I think there’s a decent laugh in the movie, but a big problem is that almost all of the jokes have been done and done better by other films. Hell, I think a few of the jokes were just updated versions of bits from The Daily Show, which… I guess isn’t plagiarism? I understand that much of it is supposed to be a deeper kind of humor, but I just never felt like the satisfaction was worth the dive. Comedy is subjective, though, and I can see by the audience Rotten Tomatoes score that a lot of people disagree.
Ultimately, though, the thing that I think will be most divisive is the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that it ends up letting a ton of people off of a ton of hooks. It doesn’t help that the ending doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. Instead, it tries to just pull the rug out from some of the characters and hopes that the audience falls down, too. If you think it’s funny, then you’ll probably like it. If you don’t, then you won’t. Mostly, I just was really let down that the movie didn’t try to drop a bigger bomb at the end, which might have redeemed more of the other flaws.
Overall, this movie was okay, but if you want a movie that does what this movie was trying to do, but better, check out Bulworth on Amazon Prime. It stars Warren Beatty as a politician who just decides to quit lying and it contains some of the funniest dark satire out there.
There’s a reason why the people of the world believe in Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl… and Steven.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Come along with me to a show that managed to turn every cliche on its head.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.