Netflix Review – Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia Part 1

Guillermo Del Toro takes an imaginative crack at a kids show.

SUMMARY

Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin/Emile Hirsch) is a high-school outcast, because he’s the protagonist and that’s pretty much the only thing a teen protagonist can be since Peter Parker. One day, while biking to school with his friend Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton), he finds an amulet in what appears to be the remains of a shattered statue. Naturally, it turns out that it’s really a magical talisman left by Merlin (David Bradley) and the statue was actually the remains of its last wielder, the Troll Kanjigar (Tom Hiddleston/James Purefoy). Jim is gifted with the title of “Trollhunter,” the protector of all the good trolls and the slayer of evil ones. Jim is the first human to hold the title. It’s revealed that Jim’s hometown, Arcadia, is actually built on top of a portal to “Trollmarket,” a magical kingdom where Trolls live peacefully, for the most part. However, there is an evil troll named Gunmar (Clancy Brown) who, along with his son, Bular (Ron Perlman), is trying to take over the world. The only thing keeping both the troll and human worlds safe is Jim, along with Toby, his tutor Blinkous (Kelsey Grammer), his protector AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore), and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Medrano), a gifted martial artist and magically-inclined human.

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The gnome on the right is named “Chompsky.” Because that’s fun.

END SUMMARY

This show’s strength is world-building. Almost everything about the set-up is a cliche that we’ve seen a thousand times before, but the show uses the audience’s familiarity with the set-up to quickly start expanding its mythology and its setting. The recurring characters each become well fleshed-out and distinct as the show goes on. The locations are all interesting designs that each convey a lot more than any of the characters say, something that always gets credit from me. The villainous monsters-of-the-week, too, are usually very clever concepts or at least visually stimulating, ranging from hive-minded goblins who have amusing idiosyncrasies to mummy assassins.

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Oh, and big guy with swords. Gotta have swords.

The main strength of the show is that it’s not really “happy” like most kids shows from my youth. The good guys are good and the bad guys are, for the most part, bad, but we do get a lot of gray areas and the entire series constantly has a bittersweet tone. Everyone has to compromise for victory and the mark of the heroic characters is knowing when and where to make those compromises so that they don’t end up destroying the things that they were trying to preserve. The characters make mistakes, sometimes grave ones, when they try to make those calls, and they keep getting more and more consequences for their actions as the series progresses. The emotional growth of the characters is also a big part of the series, with everyone changing a great deal in order to deal with all of the events they go through.

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Also, the power of friendship is a big thing. 

The animation style is going to be divisive, but I thought it was actually pretty spectacular for a television series. The character designs are simple enough for ease of computer animation, but are all distinct enough that you never get anyone confused. Action sequences are, for the most part, very good for this kind of series. It takes a while for them to get more creative than slash and stab, but once it gets there, we start to get fairly inventive sequences.

Overall, this isn’t the best animated series for adults out there (BoJack Horseman exists), and it starts slow, but kids will like it and it does get better over time as you become more invested in the world that you’re watching. It also serves as the first chapter of Tales of Arcadia, which looks to be a very interesting meta-series, combining Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and whatever Wizards turns out to be.

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Like Father (Film): It’ll Give You Emotions and Stuff (Spoiler-Free)

Last week, Netflix released their movie Like Father. Seeing as I love Kristen Bell and Seth Rogen, and Kelsey Grammer stars in three of my favorite TV Show of all time (Frasier, Cheers, and Boss), this was kind of a no-brainer for me.

SYNOPSIS (SPOILER-FREE)

Rachel Hamilton (Bell) is a workaholic who gets left at the altar, leading to her having a minor breakdown. Her estranged father, Harry Hamilton (Grammer), shows up to try and make amends, having witnessed her jilting. The pair get drunk together and wind up on the cruise that was supposed to be Rachel’s honeymoon. They go through hijinks and bonding and emotions and junk and she bangs a guy named Jeff (Rogen).

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END SYNOPSIS

So, this is the kind of movie where there are a couple of good scenes, almost like vignettes featuring repeated characters, but the transitions between them aren’t always the best. Part of that is that the characters, aside from Rogen, are just a little bit more exaggerated than you’d really believe. For example, Rachel is left at the altar because her fiancé is sick of her work habits, which are so ludicrous that she is taking business calls while the wedding is going on. Hell, after her meltdown, she pretty much immediately goes back to just being a workaholic. What human is that insane? And, if she is THAT insane, why was he still with her up until this point and acting like he’s surprised? This isn’t new information to him. They try to tie this part of her character in with her abandonment issues by having her father say he was just like that, but… it just doesn’t really fit. We need more than one character trait, movie.

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Yes, Here Comes the Bride is in fact playing right now. And this call is a reminder message.

Harry, similarly, doesn’t ever quite make sense, even after they really try to flesh out his backstory with a bunch of very emotional scenes. He’s basically the epitome of “I loved you too much to ever be with you if it wasn’t completely on my terms,” which is still one of the most ridiculous clichés Hollywood doesn’t seem to want to stop doing. The movie even points out it’s stupid, and the response is basically “emotional hook, then move to another funny scene.”

And the comedy is… Okay, it’s almost clinically inoffensive and bland. It’s not ridiculous enough to ever really elicit big laughs, nor is it edgy enough to ever feel like it’s actually pushing some boundary. It’s like eating unseasoned rice. Yes, it’s food, yes, it gives me the experience of eating, but… couldn’t you give me some f*cking spices? I’ve seen all of you use spices before, dammit, and they were GREAT SPICES!

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They’re singing in matching outfits. It’s FUN, you guys! Really! Laugh… please!

Overall, it’s not a bad movie. It’s well-acted, it’s got a lot of beautiful shots in it, and the scenes where they want you to have “the feels” will damned well give you the feels. But it just never really nails any other aspect of the film, despite great performances. It doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t succeed either. This is a movie that everyone can like, almost no one will hate, but I don’t think many people will love. If you just want to grab a bottle of wine/vodka/whatever and cry a little bit, this is an okay movie to do it with, but otherwise, try something better on Netflix. Like Hot Fuzz, which is my next review.

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30) The Innkeepers (Frasier)

Frasier got a heavy dose on this list, and all three episodes work for very different reasons. Up front: It’s because I loved this show in the hospital, because it usually was just stimulating enough to make me think, but funny enough to make me laugh and get more oxygen to reduce pain. It was basically part of my rehab. But, for the three episodes, I’ll stand by them as being different enough to all make it: The first, “Rooms with a View,” is a thoroughly dramatic episode that accurately portrays some of the most difficult times a family can have. The second, “Three Valentines,” contains one of the most amazing solo performances on film. This one, though, is what happens when an ensemble comedy comes together perfectly. It does everything from puns to comic misunderstandings to over-the-top slapstick, and it does it well.

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Pierce. Has. Range.

Part of the premise of Frasier is that Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), are both very uptight and snooty while their father, Martin (John Mahoney), is an unpretentious everyman ex-cop. They often try to dream far beyond their own abilities, because they assume they are amazing at everything. It’s the hubris that makes for such entertaining falls. And this episode features one of the most common cases of hubris: Believing that you can start your own business with family. I’m not saying it always fails, but when it does, it’s a train wreck of epic proportions.

SUMMARY

The episode starts with one of Frasier’s and Niles’s favorite restaurants closing. As they go for a last meal, they manage to convince themselves that they not only can, but should, take over the restaurant and run it themselves, despite their father pointing out that they have no experience in the restaurant field, and, in fact, no desire to put in the work of running a restaurant, saying “You don’t think about the hard work or the long hours.  No, to you, owning a restaurant is just wearing fancy clothes, hobnobbing with your friends and turning your enemies away at the door.” They summarily ignore this, and decide that they will open the restaurant as “Le Freres Heureux” – The Happy Brothers.

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At first, everything goes well. The brothers find out that the head chef at another restaurant wants a change, so they secure him. They manage to get a fresh shipment of the chef’s specialty, anguille, a type of eel. And they even manage to find a place for the aging former head waiter of the restaurant as the new valet. People are packed in, and everything is going great on the opening night of the restaurant, and the brothers are bragging about how wrong their father was to doubt them. In sitcom terms, they just gave Zeus the finger.

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She knows how to grab eels.

Right on cue, everything starts to go wrong. Frasier and Niles each give the head chef contradictory orders, and proceed to get angrier and snippier about him failing to, somehow, obey both of them, until the chef quits. Then, upon finding out the immigration bureau is dining in the building, the entire kitchen staff runs out the door. At which time they decide that Niles can be the head chef, right until Niles finds out that not only is everyone ordering the chef’s specialty, but that the chef preferred to kill his eels personally, so all the eels in the restaurant are currently alive. From there, it just keeps escalating. Fires, floods, explosions, electrocutions, sexual harassment, until, finally, they decide to literally drive a car through the wall and demolish most of the restaurant. And all with a ridiculous amount of clever, fast-paced, joke-filled dialogue.

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The episode ends with the brothers asking their father if he’s ready to say “I told you so.” He remarks that he’s taking the high road, because he knows that they’re just going to punish themselves more than enough… and then proceeds to say “I told you so,” because he’s a father of adult children and that’s what they do.

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END SUMMARY

The beauty of this episode is that it dedicates itself to just showing you the same disaster that you’ve watched on TV a thousand times before, but instead of merely inviting the audience to view the destruction, the focus is usually on the amount of effort that Frasier and Niles have to put forth to try to avoid it, making it all the more tragic and humorous when it ends up failing entirely. It’s a classic comedy formula done to the utmost.

Update: John Mahoney has sadly passed away before this article was posted. He was a huge part of all of these episodes, and he will be missed.

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https://dailymotion.com/video/x5e8pyk

PREVIOUS – 30a: Gravity Falls

NEXT – 29: Saturday Night Live

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

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Reader Bonus: Door Jam (Frasier)

This was a reader request, which brings the total number of Frasier spots up to 4. Granted, this isn’t actually one of the 100 episodes, but it’s still solid.

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SUMMARY

So, this episode focuses on Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and their inability to be content with anything. It starts when Frasier gets a piece of mail that was sent to his upstairs neighbor, the equally snooty Cam Winston (Brian Stokes Mitchell). The letter is an announcement of the opening of “La Porte d’Argent.” For those of you who don’t speak French, this means “The Silver Door.”

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They have an 8 hour negotiation session over bath balm recipes.

The letter contains no information about what “La Porte d’Argent” is, so the pair are anxiously trying to figure out schemes to uncover the secret, until their father, Martin (John Mahoney), points out that they could just go down to the location on the letter and ask. They discover that it’s a very exclusive health spa, which they con their way into, by having Niles pretend to be Cam Winston (who, for the record, has an extremely deep Baritone voice, leading Niles to have to speak like what I imagine Barry White sounded like as a child). The pair are completely satisfied by the unbelievable level of treatment that they receive at the spa… until they see a Senator going into a Gold Door in the spa. They try to follow him, but are stopped by the staff. The Gold Door is for the Gold Level, and they are but Silver.

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They do get stalks of wheat for some reason.

The pair then begin to obsess over getting into the Gold Level at the spa, to the annoyance of everyone else. Finally, Roz (Peri Gilpin), confronts them about why they even care, when the Silver Level is already an unbelievable spa experience. Niles responds “Gold is better.” Roz points out that the Gold might not be the end of it. There could be even more levels beyond that, and the only reason they want them is that they can’t have them. However, she also reveals that she could get them into the Gold Level, because she had an affair with the Senator… and also saved his life from a mid-coital heart attack.

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Can’t imagine what gave him that…

So, Frasier and Niles get into the Gold Level. Frasier is given a color therapy, which partially color-blinds him, and Niles is coated in an orange honey-butter mask and wrapped in seaweed, which renders him both blind and mostly immobile. They are put into a luxurious grotto to relax… at which point Frasier sees a Platinum door. He tries to open it, but is stopped by the staff, making them both anxious to see inside. Together, they stumble/hop through the door into the bright sunlight… of a dumpster-filled alley. The door was for the trash, and they are chased off by a beehive.

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Irony is sometimes easy to get

The B plot concerns Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Martin watching old TV shows so that the English Daphne can catch up on American culture. While watching, Daphne keeps comparing Martin to the elderly characters on the shows, such as Rockford’s Dad on The Rockford Files and Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. Eventually, she just pretends she was confused on the character names and identifies Martin as younger actors just so he’ll stop complaining.

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Hey, it’s a compliment to be Col. Potter.

END SUMMARY

The theme for the episode is pretty straightforward. So straightforward that they have more than 3 characters in the episode comment on it directly. Niles and Frasier want what they can’t have, so they’re never happy with what they do. Each time they reach what they perceive is the pinnacle of society, they seem happy with what they’re getting. After the first spa treatment, before they find the Gold Door, they’re both commenting that they’ve never felt better. After the second in the Gold Room, they think the same thing, until they find the “Platinum Door.” It’s a pretty normal theme, and one that’s fairly universal, but it applies more to people like Niles and Frasier, who are fabulously wealthy off of dream jobs, than to normal people like Roz or Daphne. Frasier and Niles live at one of the highest rungs of society. They should be content, but instead they’re even more focused on advancement than other people. Rich people will argue that their refusal to be content is why they achieved so much, and sometimes that’s true, but Niles and Frasier didn’t really. Niles married rich, and Frasier lucked into a cushy job that he hardly works at. Ultimately, it’s just a “grass is always greener” story. Still, few things are funnier than Niles hopping in a seaweed wrap. David Hyde Pierce knows physical comedy.

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49) Thanksgiving Orphans (Cheers)

Cheers takes place in a dive bar, because, ultimately, all of the characters are people who need to be in a dive bar. They’re a collection of failures. Sam (Ted Danson), the owner/bartender, drank himself out of a major league career. Carla (Rhea Perlman), the waitress, hates her family and most people in general, both in the bar and out of it. Diane (Shelley Long), the other waitress and Sam’s ex, is a constant failure as an intellectual, and really only stays at the bar because it’s the only environment in which she is the smartest person… unless you count Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who’s only there because he’s alone (and, at this point, divorced once and left at the altar once). Norm (George Wendt), probably TV’s biggest alcoholic that isn’t animated, is there to escape his wife, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is there because he’s an oft-wrong know-it-all who lives with his mother. Woody (Woody Harrelson) is the closest thing to a success, because he’s so stupid that he is coming close to living to his potential. Plus, his girlfriend is super rich… and also dumb.

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Some of these people weren’t in this episode. But ignore them.

SUMMARY

In this episode, the cast’s failures are highlighted, when it’s pointed out that everyone is alone at Thanksgiving: Sam’s fiance is gone for the week, Norm’s wife is at her mother’s and left him alone, Cliff’s mother is volunteering, and Carla’s kids are at her ex-husband’s house. Carla invites everyone over to her house, making it one of the first episodes to be set someplace other than the bar. Once they’re all there together, however, they largely behave exactly as they normally do. They watch sports, rag on each other, reminisce about the times their lives had promise, and Diane crashes the party dressed up like a Pilgrim. Okay, one of those is unique, but still within Diane’s normal behavior. As expected of a group of people who have mostly messed up their lives to this point, everything about the day goes wrong. Everyone is sad about their personal states, the food fails to get cooked, Diane makes everyone wait too long for dinner, and the whole evening starts to fall apart, right up until the food fight starts.

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The Losers Club

The food fight is the definition of the word catharsis on Cheers, both for the characters and for the actors. They get to do exactly what a group of losers who serve as a surrogate family have always wanted to do to one-another: Pelt each other with yams. Everyone is angry at everyone else, but also angry at themselves and their lives, and they all just really need to do something to destroy their status quo. This isn’t really a negative, because they’re doing it surrounded by the only people who will understand. To cap off the fight, a pie thrown at Sam by Diane misses and hit’s Norm’s wife Vera, who has shown up at that moment. Vera, whose face is never shown in the run of the show thanks to that pie, immediately ends the festivities by telling Norm to take her home.

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This episode is a fun reminder that, while it is cliché, it’s true, family is not just blood, but heart.

PREVIOUS – 50: Dexter

NEXT – 48: The Wire

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

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