by Julian Spivey
Wow. “ronny/lily” the most recent episode of HBO’s “Barry,” which aired on Sunday, April 28, is one of the funniest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Frankly, I’m shocked I didn’t wake my wife and dogs I was cackling so much in the living room while watching it.
A lot of people were probably riding on their “Game of Thrones” high on Sunday night when “Barry” began, and I hope to God they kept their televisions on and kept watching.
At the very end of the previous week’s episode, “What?!,” we were stunned – just as Bill Hader’s hitman who wants to go good and become an actor was – when Det. Loach (played by John Pirruccello) cornered him with the request to kill the man his wife was cheating on him with when we’d thought all season long he was merely trying to avenge his partner’s death.
“ronny/lily” begins with Barry’s attempt to appease Loach without having to kill Ronny. He shows up at Ronny’s house with a plan to get him out of town for a while and make Loach think he had killed him. The dialogue spoken by Hader’s deadpan Barry throughout this opening scene is laugh out loud funny, especially when he follows Ronny, who’s stoned and seemingly cooperating, into a room which features all of his taekwondo trophies and medals. Shortly after, the funniest fight I’ve ever seen – that is until later in the same episode - in my entire life takes place between Ronny and Barry and goes on and on and on but is so damn funny it doesn’t even matter.
Things get even more hilarious when Ronny’s taekwondo trainee daughter Lily, who’s likely part feral and part superhuman, shows up and kicks Barry’s ass around some more. The fight scenes in this episode, and they come at you one after another, are incredibly choreographed by Wade Allen and Daniel Bernhardt, who plays Ronny, and Jesse Giacomaszzi, who plays Lily, are incredibly talented stunt actors who truly make the episode what it is.
It’s hard to talk too much about just how terrific “ronny/lily” is as an episode without ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet and totally should.
It’s an important episode in the relationship between Barry and Fuches, played by the brilliant Stephen Root (who deserves an Emmy nomination for this episode), in that it shows us that Fuches is pretty much the devil on Barry’s shoulder who took him from a bad situation after getting into some trouble in the military and uses him for evil. This relationship is surely going to come to a head sooner rather than later.
“ronny/lily” is such an atypical episode for “Barry” that it’s truly a risk that Hader was willing to take and did so almost solely – not only does he act in it, but he also wrote the script and directed the episode. I full-heartedly think he’s deserving of an Emmy for all three aspects. It’s essentially a stand alone episode of the series, which doesn’t feature the acting class at all, but focuses on this almost surrealistic day in the life of a hitman gone completely wrong. It was a risk that Hader knew some fans may not like because it’s out of the ordinary for the series, but I truly believe it’s one of the show’s best episodes (top two in my book) to date.
by Julian Spivey
“Gotham” finished its five year run on Fox on Thursday, April 25 with the series finale “In the Beginning…” and ultimately tried to cram far too much into a one-hour finale.
Before I get into the meat of my review, I feel like I must state – as I have before with this series – that I’m not a superhero guy. I don’t/never have read comic books and I can count the number of superhero movies I’ve seen in my lifetime on one hand. “Avengers: Endgame” hit theaters the same night as the “Gotham” finale and honestly, I don’t care. Prior to “Gotham” I had almost no experience with the characters of the city or Batman in general.
The fact that I became a fan of “Gotham” is probably something of a miracle because all of this, but on the side of it being a superhero show based off a comic book character I thought it also worked as a good cop procedural thanks to the good character of Ben McKenzie’s Det. Jim Gordon with comic book style villains filling in as the bad guys.
It’s probably because of this that “Gotham” has always been a bit hit or miss with me – frequently I’d roll my eyes at stuff like the fact that the Gotham P.D. seemingly had one million officers killed during the show’s five seasons and yet somehow always seemed to be completely staffed and sometimes the comic book villains just were too corny or hokey for me – but that’s the way the genre goes.
The final season of “Gotham” had the subtitle “Legend of the Dark Knight,” so we knew all along that we were finally going to see Bruce Wayne’s (played by David Mazouz) transformation into Batman – though this was something we didn’t get until the season finale.
I’m sure most fans of the series wanted to see the transformation, but as a prequel to Batman it’s not something that I really needed. “Gotham” was always more the story of Jim Gordon to me, more so than Bruce Wayne’s. Maybe I’m in the minority in that?
Had the series ended on the high note of the defeat of Bane, played by Shane West, the saving of Gotham, etc. that we saw in the penultimate episode last week it would have been a better ending for me than the rushed series finale turned out to be.
The series finale takes place 10 years after the penultimate episode in which Bruce Wayne left Gotham and is now set to return a decade later. Gordon is ready to retire as police commissioner, Barbara, played by Eric Richards, is now a mogul, Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, played by Robin Lord Taylor, is about to be released after nearly a decade in prison and Ed “The Riddler” Nygma has been in Arkham Asylum all this time, with a seemingly brain dead Jeremiah Valeska, played by Cameron Monaghan.
Penguin and The Riddler have been the show’s main villains its entire run and are basically thrown by the wayside in the finale with their only service essentially being a comic relief bit paying tribute to the original “Batman” TV series of the ‘60s.
We knew based on promos after last week’s episode that we’d see Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman, but we also get Jeremiah’s transition (finally!!) into The Joker, but it’s done in such an incredibly rushed moment that it’s basically over right as it begins and because of this just isn’t that much fun. That being said, Monaghan performance as Jerome/Jeremiah/Joker over the years has been the best portrayal of a villain on the series.
Other than the general trying to do way too much in the finale another thing about “In the Beginning…” that was annoying was the recasting of Selina Kyle for the finale. The character has been performed aptly by Camren Bicondova for five seasons and because the character ages 10 years they felt the need to recast it for Lili Simmons in the finale episode? None of the other characters had that happen despite 10 years passing. If NBC’s “This Is Us” can make Mandy Moore look decades older flawlessly I think “Gotham” could’ve done that with Bicondova. Or maybe the series just wanted to shamelessly sex Selina up for the finale like it did a couple seasons back with the Poison Ivy character?
I understand why “Gotham” felt the need to go full Dark Knight by the end of the series, but it shouldn’t have been done in one hour-long episode. If they were going to try this, they should’ve spread it out more throughout the season. It kind of leaves a blackmark on the finish of the show.
by Bryce Ratliff
Superheroes are all the rage these days. In 2019 there are seven major superhero films scheduled for theatrical release. No matter where you look, you can’t seem to escape Oscar-nominated actors jumping around in spandex. These movies are huge hits with audiences, raking in billions of dollars at the box office each year. In terms of quality however, comic book films are all over the place. Films like “Black Panther” have come out and received Oscar nominations, while other comic book films just come across as generic. When I first heard about “The Umbrella Academy,” I was told it was based off of a comic book about random kids who received powers at birth. I sighed, not ready for another superhero franchise to add the list of things to watch. I didn’t watch a trailer for this show, hoping to go in fresh and let it have at least some surprise. And I was very surprised to find that while “The Umbrella Academy” is based off of a comic book and does center around people with power, it’s truly something special. Its brilliance is how much it actually has to say and how entertainingly it can say it. And in the over saturated market of comic book adaptations, that is a superpower of its very own.
“The Umbrella Academy” starts off with 43 women becoming suddenly pregnant in 1989. Having not conceived babies these women are mortified because in mere minutes they go from childless to giving birth. After they are born, seven of the children are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves. He takes these children in and then it’s revealed that all of the children (except for one) have extraordinary abilities. Reginald decides that his children are meant to save the world and he begins having his children train to fight crime. These crime fighting children become The Umbrella Academy.
Years later, all of the children have left home and gone on to lead very different lives. They are all in different careers, cities and possibly different timelines. After spending years away from home and each other, they are called together again in the wake of their father’s death. Tension fills the air the minute they enter the same room, as they all have unresolved issues with one another, but they all share one common enemy: their father. It’s revealed that Reginald was a cold, demanding parent and he’s left serious emotional scars on his children. This reunion is where the real story of the Hargreeves children begins to unfold.
Let’s get the question on everybody’s mind out of the way first: how is the comic book element of the show? The comic book elements of this show are absolutely fantastic. The powers of all of the Hargreeves children are wonderfully represented on screen. Each character that has abilities uses them to full effect, whether they want to or not. The visual effects involved look great and the powers have practical uses that also carry consequences to give the story higher stakes. The best power in the show in my opinion is Number Five’s (yes, one of the characters is named Number Five) ability to teleport. He uses it frequently and it’s always an absolute blast to see where he goes with it. From simply entering buildings to bouncing around a room for action scenes, Five’s teleportation adds a nice zippy element to the show.
The action in this show exceeded my expectations in every possible way. There is impeccable hand-to-hand combat and stunt work on display here. I have to give major props to Mary J. Blige who did most of her own stunts. Her character is often in the most aggressive fighting scenes in the show, so her work here is extremely impressive. All of the action scenes are incredibly fun and enthusiastically imaginative (especially any scenes involving Five teleporting his away around a fight). The action is an electric shot of adrenaline to the already great story.
What really blew me away about the show is the richness of its story, messages and characters. These siblings have all been a little bit ruined by their father, each other, and themselves. There are thematic questions here asking how much damage can be done to a person or relationship before there’s no going back? The characters deal with the question of if they’re too broken to function properly. And even more painful: are they too broken because of what they as a family have done to each other? This dynamic is explored beautifully, particularly in the relationship of Allison and Vanya. The two have a relationship that is awkward, damaged, but still has a glimmer of hope. The writing and acting in that storyline comes together in organic, heartbreaking ways that feel incredibly real.
I love a show with tragic characters and I must say, “The Umbrella Academy” is filled with devastatingly tragic characters. They all have to deal with things that will break your heart into pieces. Intense feelings of isolation, learning to take responsibility for the state of your life, and coping with trauma caused by your own family are all running themes in these characters. Klaus has the ability to communicate with dead people; his ability is actually centered around tragedy. Seeing all of their perspectives and how they cope with all of these emotional issues adds melancholy beauty to the show. For all of this sadness, there is plenty of humor in the show. It switches from high drama to laugh out loud humor at a rapid fire rate. It’s a dour, cathartic but somehow insanely fun show with characters you’ll love.
One thing this show does that makes it stand out from the television crowd is how bold it is. There are creative choices made that I could tell might frustrate or turn off some people but the show went there anyway. Mid-season there’s an episode that I found particularly daring in a creative sense and I loved it. The show is not afraid to shake up the tone or add in biting humor in between very serious scenes. It’s ambitious, and that ambition pays off every time it’s present.
The cast of this show is stacked with incredible talent. Ellen Page is as powerful as ever, beginning the series with restraint before unloading a truly haunting performance in the later episodes. She works best with Emmy Raver-Lampman, who is new to me but comes across as instantly likable and expressive as Allison. She has plenty of scenes where she’ll break your heart but have you rooting for her throughout the season. Robert Sheehan gives an energetic performance that he also pairs with a delicacy that caught me off guard but I loved quite a bit. Tom Hopper is great as super strong Luther, showing off skilled dramatic and comedy chops in the role. David Castaneda balances confidence and vulnerability in a very poignant but action-packed role. Blige and Cameron Button play wonderfully off of each other as a fun dynamic duo. And Kate Walsh truly surprised me in this. She’s wickedly funny but also layers the performance with icy, menacing qualities that show tremendous range.
I intentionally left one cast member out because I had to save the absolute best for last. One performer left such an impression on me during this show that I feel obligated to give him his own paragraph (and even that doesn’t feel like enough). Aidan Gallagher playing Number Five, a teenager with the mind of a 58-year old man, is one of the biggest breakout stars I’ve ever seen. This actor is 15 and he plays this character so masterfully, I feel like he really must have a mind beyond his years. He comes across as effortlessly charismatic, witty, and mature in a tour de force performance for the ages. If I take away anything from “The Umbrella Academy,” it’s that Gallagher had better be cast in everything after this role.
I was blown away by “The Umbrella Academy.” Amidst all of the comic book entertainment that’s coming out right now, it stands in a realm of its own. It combines humor, action, and drama in ways that most films and television shows can’t. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. to watch this show and didn’t stop until I finished it. It’s a creative success on nearly every level; it deserves attention and praise.
by Julian Spivey
“You’re the Worst,” television’s finest anti-rom-com rom-com, ended its run on Wednesday, April 3 after five seasons and 62 episodes with the series finale entitled “Pancakes.”
The final season of the show was altogether frankly disappointing to me. I don’t know if at 31-years old I just don’t identify with these characters and their cynicism and hatred for things like I did when I started the series, but it just didn’t seem as fun anymore.
That being said, the series finale on Wednesday night was a perfect way to wrap up the series and relationship between Gretchen, played by Aya Cash, and Jimmy, played by Chris Geere. Gretchen and Jimmy have never had a normal relationship, especially as rom-coms typically go, which made “You’re the Worst” so enticing and exciting from the get-go. How were these two people who the show claims to be “the worst” ever going to make it? At no point during the show’s five seasons did we think there was a lock that these two would live happily ever after, which made the finale in which the leads are supposed to be married all the more interesting and exciting.
In the penultimate episode of the season after showing Jimmy a fantastic series of bachelor party events Edgar, played by Desmin Borges, who has been Jimmy’s best friend throughout the series but even more often his favorite punching bag, let Jimmy have it straight by telling him that he shouldn’t marry Gretchen because even though they clearly love each, they’re just not good for each other.
This leads to Edgar being replaced as Jimmy’s best man, but it’s something that obviously stays in Jimmy’s head throughout the finale. There have been snippets of flash-forwards sprinkled within the last few episodes of the season that hinted at the fact that Gretchen and Jimmy might not actually go through with tying the knot. Ultimately, when Jimmy realizes that Gretchen, who has done absolutely nothing to prepare for the big day, has farmed out her vows he blows up and realizes how right Edgar was. But it wasn’t so much that Gretchen and Jimmy didn’t belong together – they simply didn’t belong in a marriage.
Gretchen and Jimmy both blow off their wedding and go to a local restaurant for pancakes and beer where they come up with the perfect way to send “You’re the Worst” into the land of ex-television shows. They’re going to make the decision every day when they wake up whether or not they want to stay together without going through with some traditional way of life – it’s the perfect way for the show that never gave us a “normal” relationship.
Toward the end of the final episode is a montage that helps bring all of these previous flash forwards together and we find out that Lindsay, played by Kether Donohue, (always my least favorite character on the show, as she was often simply too much) is remarrying her ex-husband Paul, played by Allan McLeod, and the person who Jimmy has been dreading to see in the future is actually Edgar and not Gretchen, as many suspected. Edgar has moved on to New York where he’s prepping a television series about a popular crime podcast. Basically, in the future everybody is as happy as the universe in which this show exists is allowed to be – it’s fitting that Gretchen reminds Jimmy at the very end that she might one day leave everything behind and jump in front of a bus due to her clinical depression.
One final thing to touch on about “You’re the Worst” is that with the end of the series also comes the end of one of television’s best current theme songs, “7:30 AM” by Slothrust with its infectious “I’m gonna leave you anyway/I’m gonna leave you anyway/I’m gonna leave you anyway,” which was the absolute perfect pairing of theme song with the product the series gave us for five years.
by Julian Spivey
CBS and it’s longest-running original series “NCIS” have undergone quite the scandal this week when a sharp-eyed fan recognized the show was recycling scripts almost plot-for-plot and in some cases even word-for-word from the earlier seasons of the show, which debuted in 2003.
Twitter user MarkHarmony4All tweeted on Tuesday, March 26 that that night’s newest episode (No. 371 in the show’s run) titled “Silent Service” was almost a dead ringer for the season two episode “Call of Silence,” which aired on Nov. 23, 2004.
The astute “NCIS” viewer tweeted: “I feel like I’ve seen this exact episode before.”
Upon further investigation, which involved dusting off old box sets from the early seasons of the show that my mother bought for me for my birthday in 2006, all the dialogue spoken by former “NCIS” cast members Michael Weatherly and Sasha Alexander in the late 2004 episode was just transferred to the characters of Ellie Bishop, played by Emily Wickersham, and Nick Torres, played by Wilmer Valderrama, in the most recent episode. To make matters even worse all of the dialogue spoken by original cast member Mark Harmon’s Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the 2004 episode was repeated verbatim. In fact, in some scenes it looked like Harmon had lost nearly 15 years in age.
“I think they totally just repackaged some old episode scenes into this week’s show,” tweeted Entertainment Weekly television critic Frank Gellington, who’s been reviewing and recapping “NCIS” episodes for the entertainment magazine’s website since the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency.
When we reached out to “NCIS” executive producer Mark Horowitz, Chas. Floyd Johnson and Harmon himself we received no response.
Kelly Kahl the current President of Entertainment at CBS released a statement that said: “We are currently investigating the allegations of ‘NCIS’ repackaging old scripts as new episodes, but 12 million of you people are still watching this show every week, so I don’t really give a damn if they are. And, it doesn’t seem that you do either.”