Feelin’ TV: May 22-28

Traditionally, Americans aren’t fond of waiting. As a group, we’re always looking for faster ways to do the things we need to do each day. In a country where everyone has an app for that, the one area where I don’t believe that this is always the case is in the world of the television drama. Prestige dramas of the 21st century have helped extend our patience as viewers. Shows like Mad Men, The Wire, and The Sopranos allowed fans the opportunity to experience its setting while diving deep into rich, fully realized characters as the plot slowly worked its way toward where it needed to go. The creators of these programs feel no pressure to have an episode stand out on its own but rather have season long stories with episodes that start in the middle and end without resolution. The advent of original programming from streaming services has allowed even further proliferation of this slow burn programming. Over three seasons and 33 episodes, no show has burned slower than Netflix’s Bloodline.

Bloodline’s third and final season dropped on Netflix last Friday. While the first two seasons of the show arguably took too much time to tell their story, no one could argue with the quality on the screen. Kyle Chandler anchors the cast in a role that initially seemed like it might be another chance to play Eric Taylor (his role on the criminally under-watched Friday Night Lights) but this time as a detective in the Florida Keys. That type was turned on its head early on as Chandler’s John Rayburn showed a dark side never seen in Coach Taylor. Sissy Spacek, Sam Shephard and Linda Cardellini were as good as you’d expect them to be in supporting roles and Ben Mendelsohn, who was the breakout star of season one, won an Emmy for his limited role in season two. Almost as impressive as the cast is the setting. You can almost feel the hot southern Florida air while you sit in your living room. Everything about the show feels lived in. This includes the layers of family conflict and drama that feels as real as your own Thanksgiving last fall.  The first two seasons are very good television. Where the story was weak or became more convoluted, as layers of lies were piled on top of each other, the cast propped it up enough to keep me from losing interest.

Season three was a different story. While it’s officially one of the first shows that the service has ever cancelled, it was given the ax prior to filming so the writers had the opportunity to adapt and end the show on their own terms at the end of the season. The show’s creators have claimed that their story was five or six seasons long, so you might assume that this would mean that they move the story along at a quicker pace than seasons one and two. Your assumption would be incorrect. In a move that completely boggles the mind, the show moves along at just as deliberate of a pace as before, and even uses its entire penultimate episode for a disjointed and confusing dream sequence that lands with a resounding thud. Vast amounts of time are spent with an ancillary character (John Leguizamo, doing fine work) whose death is ultimately as confounding as his existence in the narrative in the first place. It isn’t all bad. Sissy Spacek does her best work as the matriarch of the Rayburn Family and Norbert Leo Butz adds layers to the youngest Rayburn son, Kevin, that weren’t there in seasons one and two. However, when it comes to this type of drama, there has to be some sort of a payoff. The long and winding wick has to eventually hit the powder keg. The ending never ends up doing that. It barely ends at all. Unfortunately for Bloodline, its end feels like someone forgot to connect the wick to the payload.

This week in the Arrowverse:

*This week officially wrapped the first season of the full blown four show Arrowverse and you’d be hard pressed to call it anything but a rousing success. Earlier this year, Legends of Tomorrow rebounded from a subpar first season by embracing the cheese in its premise and leaning into the weirder characters and themes of the shared universe. Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk hanging around to feast on the scenery didn’t hurt either. When you throw in the four-part crossover and the Supergirl/Flash musical episode, I’d have to give the universe an A overall for the 2016-2017 season.  With all of the momentum trending up, I’m excited to see that’s in store next season, especially after the season finales of this past week.

*Supergirl ended a stellar sophomore season with a bang. From the beginning fight with a brainwashed Superman through the emotional punch at the end, the final episode was everything a fan could have hoped it would be. Something that Supergirl is able to do better than her other superhero counterparts is to bear the weight of her responsibility without losing Kara’s joy and overall positive outlook on the world around her. If I had one concern heading into next season it’s that the weight of the decision she has to make to defeat Rhea at the end of this week’s episode would cause the writers to push Kara into a darker place. The tone of Supergirl is one of its greatest strengths. Here’s hoping that they can keep that going into season three.

*The Flash reached the finish line of its third season on Tuesday on a high note. While the end to the “Iris is going to die” saga was predictable and involved quite a bit of cheating, it was pulled off in a way that hit all of the necessary emotional beats. The rest of the episode involved tight storytelling and some pretty good action to go with it. My only gripe with the episode was the cliffhanger at the end. I don’t mind a good cliffhanger when it adds to the story. Unfortunately, as has too often been the case with cliffhangers from The Flash, it feels like a cliffhanger for the sake of having a cliffhanger. It’s ok to just let your characters enjoy a victory from time to time. The Flash’s biggest issue in its second and third seasons has been its overall tone. While the first season reveled in the camp and fun behind the characterization of the Flash in the comics, it has become quite dour since then. This show could have definitely benefited from an upbeat ending to carry it into next season.

*If The Flash wanted an example of how to properly execute the end of season cliffhanger, it need look no further than the season finale of its parent show, Arrow. The jaw dropping fade to black at the end of this episode was a perfect end to Adrian Chase’s time on the show while also making sure that his presence will be felt from here on out in the lives of Oliver Queen and his merry men (and women). From talking with other fans of shows like The Flash and Supergirl, it seems pretty common for people to have quit watching Arrow somewhere during seasons 3 and 4, and it’s hard to blame them. Much like The Flash, the show lost its focus during that time and got bogged down under the weight of its titular hero’s guilty conscience. But season five was a really solid rebound for the show overall. Prometheus provided the most formidable foe for Oliver and the gang that we had seen since Deathstroke in season two. Adrian Chase was constantly one step ahead of Oliver, almost to a fault, in his quest to make Oliver pay for the misdeeds of his younger days. The additions to the team added some much-needed levity to the proceedings as well as giving Oliver a larger foundation of people in his life to call him on his guilt and self-pity. I believe we saw more growth in Oliver Queen in season five than we’ve seen in the first four seasons combined. Not only was this hands down Arrow’s best season finale, it was one of the best episodes the show has ever produced. I really can’t take my mind of that last scene. Is it time for the season six premiere yet?

*A couple of shows that, like Bloodline, have mastered the art of the slow burn are AMC’s Better Call Saul and FX’s The Americans. I plan to spend some more time talking about these two shows in the future now that the Arrowverse has begun its summer hiatus. Next week we’ll also talk about the end of HBO’s The Leftovers and season five of Netflix’s House of Cards. If there are other shows that you enjoy that you’d like to see us cover on Feelin’ TV, I’d love to hear your suggestions. There’s a good chance I watch it already and we just haven’t gotten to it yet. If it’s not something I watch, I’ll give you a chance to convince me to give it a shot. Leave some comments below or start a thread on our Facebook page.

MOVIE REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

In 2012, two types of people exited showings of Prometheus; those satisfied with the earnest attempt to weave some different ideas into the Alien franchise, and those pissed off at the lack of bloody, chest bursting goodness. Count me in the former. I quite liked Prometheus. I liked that director Ridley Scott chose to examine deeper themes and do some world building rather than take the easy way out in catering solely to the ADD crowd seeking nothing more than guts and gore.

Flash forward to now, and the release of Prometheus 2.0, also known as Alien: Covenant. I’ll come right out and say that I liked this film quite a bit, even if it feels like a course correction on Prometheus to appease some of those aforementioned pissed off fans.  And that’s the rub. Your thoughts on Prometheus may shape your thoughts on Covenant.  And while I liked both of these films, it is time for Scott to propel this franchise forward.  After essentially the same movie twice, it’s time to find out who the engineers are. It’s time understand some of the science and history of the titular xenomorphs.  And it’s definitely time to get a handle on whatever it is these darn synthetics are up to. If the next installment is nothing more than another ragtag crew du jour made up of scientists that make horrible life choices, we may have a problem.

We definitely get a heavier dose of aliens in Covenant. They’re faster and more vicious than ever. Chests are bursting at a more satisfying pace. It’s fair to say Scott is still able to craft tense scenes that draw audible gasps from his audience, even when the timing of those moments are pretty obvious. It’s all quite impressive to look at, with top notch production value and set design.

This time around, we are aboard the colony ship, Covenant, loaded with a crew and two thousand embryos on course for a new planet to inhabit in a galaxy far, far away. The film starts out Passengers style, with the crew snuggled in cryo-chambers for safe keeping as the years wile away during the lengthy journey. A malfunction leads to tragic events, and the crew must now deal with some new circumstances before they can consider jumping back into the cryo-pods to finish hibernating. As is typical with this franchise, very smart people make some very questionable choices. Years of study and training can somehow be derailed by the soulful stylings of Mr. John Denver.

As the crew detours to seek out strange signals, hoping they may have discovered a much closer, habitable planet than the one they’ve prepared for, because…wheat…. shenanigans soon ensue. This crew is led by Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Oram (Billy Crudup), both of who are up to the task as the film’s main protagonists. Add Daniels as another in a sequence of strong female characters in the franchise. Much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, Waterston portrays Daniels with a combination of intelligence and strength. Also notable is Danny McBride, as the ‘throw caution to the wind’ ship’s pilot, Tennessee. He’s a franchise trope, but a fun one to watch.

But let’s not think for a second this film doesn’t stand on the broad shoulders of Michael Fassbender, here playing two versions of synthetic android- David from Prometheus, and Walter, a new and improved version of synthetic traveling with the Covenant crew. We knew David was up to something in Prometheus, but Scott doubles down on that idea here in Covenant. Fassbender’s movements, chilling demeanor, and ‘cat that ate the canary’ expressions are worth the price of admission. He ably transitions from one personality to another, giving each synthetic an unique voice.

Alien: Covenant fits neatly into the Alien mythology. It ties well with Prometheus, answering enough of the lingering questions from that film to move forward. Yet, whatever comes next needs to do just that. Move forward. We cannot be satisfied with another side quest film that treads water, regardless of how entertaining it is. Regardless of how brilliant Fassbender is. Regardless how much John Denver is used. Covenant does enough to put the series in a position to build upon the mythology, but we’re at the proverbial crossroads. Which way Scott goes next may determine the viability of future installments.

What We Learned This Week: May 14-20

LESSON #1: YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE WHERE THE ALIEN FRANCHISE IS GOING— Five years ago, after Prometheus, audiences were scratching their heads about the beating-around-the-bush purpose of the film and where any Alien  prequels were going.  For a bit there, I didn’t even think Ridley Scott knew.  Alien: Covenant builds on the mythology and world-building of Prometheus in a strong and effective way to add in the horror and suspense elements that Prometheus was missing.  These Scott prequels, with a few more possible installments, are planned to plug into 1979’s Alien.  After Alien: Covenant, I like their trajectory and I think Alien fans like yourself will too.

LESSON #2: CONTINUE KEEPING YOUR COOL AND PATIENCE WITH WONDER WOMAN— Two weeks ago in this column, I argued for people to cool their jets on movie marketing, particularly the example of the lack of it when it comes to Wonder Woman.  The first reactions are in and start inhaling for those sighs of relief.  I’ll repeat my rant: The number one marketing tool that costs zero dollars for any studio is WORD OF MOUTH.  Good movies sell themselves.  Make a good movie and people will come, period.  You’re going to thank me and yourself on June 3rd.

LESSON #3: A24 IS A BIG-TIME PLAYER WITH SMALL-SCALE FILMS— In four short years, A24 Films has gone from an indie shingle pushing Spring Breakers and The Spectacular Now to an industry leader and Oscar winner.  GQ wrote an excellent piece on their history.  2016 was a banner year led by Moonlight‘s Best Picture victory and a portfolio of Swiss Army ManThe Witch20th Century Women, and Green Room.  This year looks equally promising with A Ghost StoryThe Disaster ArtistsGood TimeKilling of a Sacred Deer, and more.  Remember the name and the logo.  You’ll be seeing them often.

LESSON #4: KEEP AN EYE ON THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL THIS WEEK— Speaking of independent studios and film acquisitions that can turn into Oscar contenders, turn your eyes to the French Riviera for the world premieres, reviews, movie buzz, and deals being made at the annual Cannes Film Festival.  Execs and big-timers work hard and play hard while enjoying the finer things and patting their own backs.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

Feelin’ It: Alien: Covenant

RUN. PRAY. HIDE. Our spoiler-free review of Alien: Covenant is here and hopefully will help you decide if it’s worth seeing. Don Shanahan joins Aaron to discuss this newest entry into the Alien-verse. Does Scott still have some magic left? Listen now to find out.

Don Shanahan

Twitter: @CasablacaDon
Blog: Every Movie Has a Lesson

Alien: Covenant Review on Every Movie Has a Lesson

Download the Audio Review Here

Minisode 20: Alien Franchise

In celebration of Alien Day, we have assembled a ragtag crew of horror fanatics and podcasters for a roundtable discussion about Alien and the franchise it has spawned. Returning guest hosts Reed Lackey and Blake Collier bring their vast genre knowledge to a robust conversation that starts at the beginning and ends at… the actual beginning? We touch on every film in the franchise, with a focus on Alien. So sit back, listen, and enjoy this awesome episode as we get ourselves ready for Alien: Covenant.

Blake Collier

Twitter: @blakeicollier / @thebodytheblood
Website: blakeicollier.com
Podcast: The Body|The Blood

Reed Lackey

Twitter: @reedlackey / @TheFearofGod
Website: morethanonelesson.com
Podcast: The Fear of God

Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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