Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


2014 TV Reviews Pt 7

Posted on August 6, 2014 at 4:35 AM


This is probably going to be the last review for a while on TV. Well...I say that then I'm nearly done with Justified as well as Community...ok we'll cross that bridge when we get there, but I think seven of these entries and covering everything from The Goldbergs to 24 to Fargo to True Detective to Arrow to Bob's Burgers...yeah we good.

This final entry, though, we're looking back at the cult-favorite Orphan Black and the entire series of Star Wars the Clone Wars because why not?

To say that the first season of Orphan Black was a shock is an understatement. It wasn’t a shock as in “didn’t expect it to be good” kind of way - I liked the idea and players involved already - but more a shock that it came to us so fully-formed and ready for prime time that it felt less like a first season of an unproven show and more a show that’s been around and ready to let loose. In other words, it didn’t spend a half-season or first full season trying to “find” itself. It was ready and raring to go, and I gave it a glowing review thanks to sharp directing, an incredible world to play around with and onephenemonal actress by the name of Tatiana Maslany who I can’t gush enough over.

You can read that Season One review somewhere around here...somewhere...

I can try, though, because Ms. Maslany carries this rather convoluted and often overwritten Season Two on her shoulders. It’s as though she didn’t miss a beat, falling right into her old characters once more and absolutely captivating as ever. Like before, she looks the same across the half-dozen people she plays, but is so damn good that you know each as individuals: how they act, their personalties, what they like or don’t like, their goals…you never really get confused on that and Season 2, despite a few hiccups and one dry-heave I’ll soon address, is her simply being awesome once more.

Orphan Black’s second season looks to raise a lot of stakes and throw in a lot of twists. While most are welcome, some end up a bit detrimental. An introduction of one character we’ve never heard of ends up putting a great, and I would say far better character, on the back burner - a former flame of Sarah Manning’s, Cal, more or less supplanting the relevance of her far more interesting brother, played once more with conviction by Jordan Gavaris.

He may not have much to do, but he's still Felix.

The problem is tone, and I suppose Cal just needed to be that particular voice for this particular story, as Felix wouldn’t quite fit with what Cal has to do and what purpose he serves. There’s simply not enough time to really get Felix into the mix, nor enough time to really get Kevin Hanchard as Art Bell enough to do other than play observer. I like Kevin Hanchard a lot as an actor, he’s been up and around TV bit parts for years, and this was a meaty role in the first season.

The second season doesn’t quite add enough new and interesting players to justify putting some of these staples of the world it’s built on the back burner. Thankfully Maslany more than is up to the challenge to really, really go all out on some of her clone personas, even making us sympathize with a sociopath. In fact, there’s this rather beautiful scene near the end of the season where all the clones (most rather) are together in Felix’s flat and…well it’s like a family reunion. And it’s all one awesome actor just nailing it.

I can’t imagine being an actor and acting against yourself - doing one scene as one, then as another, and maybe even a third and so on. I bet its exhausting.

The plot is where Season Two kind of has a misstep. While there are certainly some great twists and turns, especially around my favorite clone Alison (I just love seeing regular people get their world turned upside down and not able to deal with it), it also throws way too many cogs into a machine that really doesn’t need them all. It loses focus, isn't nearly as tight and doesn’t ever get a good pace going. It starts and stops plot lines as though it has the time to really do that.

The biggest problem, and I remember the AV Club really on the show about this one, is the one-off character of Tony. Tony is another clone played by Maslany, and it’s not only her worst role and performance, but one of the dumbest and worst things the show has attempted to do. I’m not sure of the point or the message trying to be conveyed, he becomes irrelevant after one episode and has no involvement with anything really happening. His appearance completely halts the show and we’re spending time with something that doesn’t matter.

Put Tony up against all the other Maslany characters and tell me what his purpose is. Exactly, he has none…

I think much of it comes down to the fact that Orphan Black’s first season was already on the right track. It set the standard and had a path, but Season Two seemed intent on trying to add more and more rails to the track and it really didn’t need it. When it was focused on its main plot with its primary characters, it was strong, but when you have a Tony or a religious freak and the like, it just isn’t as interesting or inspired. Thankfully Maslany is absolute game, and the characters we do know and love have some incredibly well done moments throughout, from comedy to melodrama to bloody action. Despite the flaws, it's far too engaging to turn off.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Maslany Clone Dance Parties


Well, as much as I wish that this was just one season to write about, it turns out I have never seen this series and, well…I pretty much binge-watched it all over the course of a month. So, here we go...

The Clone Wars movie

The reboot of the Clone Warns animated stuff with a CG movie pilot came with pretty lackluster reviews. It’s not a bad movie necessarily, to be honest, but it’s not particularly interesting. When first watching it, you’ll probably think what I think “Eh, ok. Not bad.” However, when you start getting to the meat of the series, you’ll look back and realize how utterly unremarkable it was.

It sets to do only one thing: introduce the characters. That’s it, though it barely just does that. The story is pretty generic, pretty much staying thin so to focus on the characters, but that’s about all it has going on. Even the animation itself will be outclassed by the later seasons of the show, and the voice work still has those early goings of “not quite in the role” that you’ll come to appreciate later on as the voice actors seem to feel more comfortable in delivering lines (and have better scripts to work off of).

If I were to ever go back and rewatch the entire series, I would probably skip this movie entirely. Sure, you are introduced to our main character, as she’s our “audience perspective” in Ahsoka Tano, a new character written specifically of that purpose of introducing us to all things Clone Wars, Star Wars and Jedi, even if the show kind of fudges a few things here and there to make sense of it all (kind of like the prequels, only not as Jar Jar problematic…oh and we’ll get to Jar Jar soon enough).

The strength of the show is the expansion of the Prequels with new and interesting characters and new and interesting designs, like these here bounty hunters. This movie is less an expansion and more an epilogue. Plus it's just mediocre writing in general.

I’ll have more to say about Ahsoka as the series progresses, but here in this movie you pretty much can't stand her. Well I couldn’t. I could stand, however, the new villain introduced as Count Dooku’s (the main bad guy), Ventress, but here’s an interesting element: Ahsoka starts poor and ends strong, Ventress starts strong and ends…well she kind of just becomes background fodder, which is unfortunate.

Also note here, the two new characters introduced in this series are female. Strong female characters at that. Everyone else is our old friends like Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, the droids, Yoda, Mace Windu…if you’ve seen the prequels you know who’s here and there's really nothing to acknowledge about them when it comes this hour and a half of "meh...."

“It’s fine” is about all I can say about this movie that I barely remember. It’s all set up, no payoff. They can’t conclude anything, so it’s not entirely their fault, but you’d think a little more interesting of a plot other than a standoff and retrieving a Hutt baby (called a “huttlet” which just sounds like an attempt at a toy line). Forgettable and uninteresting.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Seasons One - Five

But thankfully, the lackluster movie ended and the real stories begin.  I can say this without hesitation: The Clone Wars is the best thing Star Wars has done in years. It’s more interesting than the prequels as we explore this galaxy, its mythology and its characters. It’s more fun and varied with action. It takes time to develop characters you actually care about, in particular our new character of Ahsoka. It even makes old characters you didn’t care for all that much at least tolerable.

Hell, Jar Jar Binks isn’t in this show a ton, and I can say he doesn’t have anything to do other than comedic relief, but Episode 8 of the first season seems to understand that and kind of just goes with it as Jar Jar is mistaken for a Jedi. Thankfully, despite it handling him “good enough” he’s not in the show a ton.

He does get some licks in, though.

Seasons One through Five are not only consistent, but they get more bold, daring and simply better as they go along, beginning and ending where they should: with Ahsoka’s story. Now Ahsoka isn’t in every episode, we move here and there and everywhere with all sorts, from heroes to villains to clones as we explore various sides of people, government and war, but Ahsoka is certainly the heart, and voice actor Ashley Eckstein seems to grow and learn just as the character does as she portrays her: starting out as a bit of a brat and evolving into a pretty badass Jedi who is incredibly empathetic to those around her.

The other characters become wonderfully fleshed out as well, especially Anakin Skywalker, her Master, as he pretty much has to play a father-figure to a rambunctious padawan still learning the force. Anakin is a little rough around the edges, but through the first five seasons, we not only see him grow as a fighter and as a General in battle, but we also begin to slowly see little fits of rage and anger that feel a lot more natural than whatever the hell Hayden Christensen was trying to do in the movies.

An animated Anakin is better presented and acted than his live-action counterpart.

Anakin and Ahsoka drive the show, and with various views on how to approach war and others around them become subtly commented on as Anakin slowly loses control, and Ahsoka slowly gains it. It’s an interesting dynamic and the two characters have wonderful chemistry together, though I think when they’re apart is when we really see them at their strongest as they have to fend for themselves.

Characters that don’t really do much, though, are Count Dooku and Obi Wan, another parallel of two masters in their prime. While both are great to see and are presence throughout, neither are really all that interesting (though the voice acting on both is fantastic). They’re there more for exposition, though I do love the little wry jabs and bits of one-liner humor that Obi Wan throws out there once in a while. It adds a bit to his character, but it never really goes beyond that.

Then you have the second tier of characters - usually those that might be in a one-shot episode or just appear for a few lines, like your Mace Windu who never really has a moment like he did in the old cartoon, Yoda who is only there to spout “Yoada-isms” or Padme who is almost entirely there to just give us a look into the workings of the government. None are really bad, but none are entirely memorable. In fact, I think the show struggles just to find something interesting for Padme to do (much like the movies did, as she was pretty much just a prop in all of them).

Even the Clones are given awesome things to do in thsi series. Hand to hand droid dismantling was pretty awesome.

But really, let’s talk about the stories here, and that’s where Star Wars The Clone Wars shines. Thanks to the long format of many seasons and many episodes, the show just does a wonderful job presenting so many new dynamic elements to the world. Hell, I almost with the Prequel movies made more of an effort to do what this series does. Of course, they can’t, we just get little glimpses, but with all the new dynamics, it’s great and I'd argue there are multi-episode arcs in this show that put the sequels to absolute shame.

I mean, here’s a great example. We only see the Clones in the movies briefly. We never really meet them, or know anything about them, but a constant thread through the entire series is about their individuality. There are entire arcs about trying to understand their place and ask awesome (and legit) sci-fi questions: is everything they are and who they are pre-ordained, or are they individuals? Are they simply disposable or is their value to their existence beyond shooting a blaster? There’s one episode later on that is about a “rogue clone” but all that clone really wanted was a family.

It’s deep, involving stuff and let me also make clear that despite this being animated (which still has the "it's for kids" stigma in the US to this day), it’s very much not for young kids. I mean, you’ll have fun action and space battles, sure, but the themes and the stuff they tackle, the on-screen deaths of a lot of characters and the tone, especially in the later seasons, is often dark and I would say cynical towards war and humanity.

This ain’t your daddy’s prequels. Even decapitating four people in one swoop is kind of the norm.

Of course, to detail them all would be spoilers, there’s a lot of major things that happen that not only bring new light into the Prequels and expand the actual “war” of the Clone Wars we barely see in the movies, but rest assured it’s a consistently good show that exceeded my expectations. It’s unfortunate that the stigma of the Prequels might have turned people away form it, but I would say they redeem everything about the Prequel universe. Maybe not the movies, necessarily, but in terms of what Lucas was, perhaps, wanting to present to us is really seen in a far better light.

Sure, there are some duds in this series, at least three or four episodes a season that you’re wondering why they bothered with, and a couple of arcs that are boring as all hell - such as Ventress, our new villain, finding her “roots” or the re-emergence of one Darth we really didn’t care a lot about in the first place - but those are minor as the strong points hit far harder than its weak ones.

Yet again this kind of proves that Lucas is better as an idea man than a storytelling, though I also wonder how much input he really had here on the idea level to begin with. If anything, I'll say this: we know how all this will end, we've seen Episode III, but this show is done so well that it's a great testatment to "it's the journey, not the destination."

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Season Six

If the show ended at Season Five, and it’s kind of obvious that they indeed that considering the last scene and shot, I think, overall, it would be an animated masterpiece. Sure, it has its faults, but it’s also too consistent to ignore its strengths. But Netflix wanted to pick it up for a limited run, and it’s pretty pointless.

The fact is, the final Season on Netflix only serves the purpose to bridge everything leading up to the Revenge of the Sith movie. That's its sole purpose. There’s really no story lines that are great, some I would say are pretty much throwaway entirely, and it really only needed its last few episodes to bridge anything as Yoda looks to uncover the mystery of the Sith.

At least we get to see Yoda fight some things that may or may not exist.

That’s it. Sure, I liked that there was a Mace Windu two parter, but that also had Jar Jar so how much can I actually like it? I will say the animation is as fantastic as ever, even from the first episode as we are dropped right into a battle, but honestly, this wasn’t needed. The Yoda plot should have come towards the end of Season Five and we end with Ahsoka as the Force Intended

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Final Thought:

If you haven’t checked out the series, do so. It’s on Netflix and you can’t binge watch at your leisure just as I did. It’s a rough start, with the lackluster movie and the first few rough episodes, but overall, it’s a damn good series and one of the best things I’ve seen of Star Wars since, at least, the Knights of the Old Republic video game 15 years ago.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Jar Jar Ghosts



Past Entries:

Part 1: Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Arrow

Part 2: Hannibal, Bob's Burgers, Mad Men

Part 3: The Goldbergs

Part 4: Brooklyn 99, Veep, Louie

Part 5: Fargo and Game of Thrones.

Part 6: 24 Live Another Day and Silicon Valley

Categories: None

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