Apple Plus released its third season of FOR ALL MANKIND this month. I have not viewed any of the 3rd season but I did watch all of 1 and 2 and loved them. What follows will be the short review and a longer review of season 1 and 2. If you’re convinced by the short review…start watching now. If you need a little more data, the longer review will give you a better idea of why this many hours of consumption might be worth your time.
The Short Review: 6 Reasons I Recommend FOR ALL MANKIND
- If you love alternative history narratives like The Man in the High Castle, you will appreciate this story
- If you love nostalgia settings and music, think Stranger Things, you will love being immersed in this story-world, which starts in the 1960s, but spans decades.
- Most of us appreciate great casting. FOR ALL MANKIND will not disappoint
- Top-notch production value, this includes the writing, the special effects and the acting
- Good pacing. A lot of action, drama and tension throughout
- A thoughtful story. A sprinkling of social commentary for our current time…some of that commentary I liked, some I felt was contrived, but the ideas are worthy of our attention
The Longer Review: (this review contains a couple of small spoilers)
The USSR and the US are in a space race in this alternative history, set during the cold war. The USSR has landed on the moon first, claimed it as territory, and has aims to build a military compound. This traumatizes the US as a nation. The first episode captures the feeling well as it feels like a gut-punch watching the Soviet flag raised on the moon and hearing the first words of the Russian Cosmonaut as he takes the first steps…The Walter Cronkite figure on the television news reports as follows:
The first man to set foot on the moon spoke just moments ago. “I take this step for my country, for my people, and for the Marxist-Leninist way of life. Knowing that today is but one small step on a journey that someday will take us all to the stars.”
FOR ALL MANKIND was created by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Outlander), Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi. They take the “what if Russia had landed on the moon before we did” scenario and create a similar history to our own, but with differences that intrigue. The writers, I surmise, are progressive in their leanings because progressive values make their way into the script and into a historically white male dominated NASA long before reality. Sometimes, it feels heavy-handed, like the writers are checking the boxes of gender and racial diversity. However, the results do make for a delightfully diverse cast.
In episode 1, the audience meets Margo Madison (pictured above, played by Wrenn Schmidt) at the beginning point of her NASA career where she is the only woman in the male dominated control center. By season 2, she emerges as NASA’s head.
By the finale of season 2, women, a couple of non-binary individuals (though they keep their gender preferences a secret), African Americans and even a Mexican female immigrant who came over the border illegally as a child, are recruited by the NASA of FOR ALL MANKIND. And who can say it might not have been this way had the US felt the pressure of its failure to land first on the moon? Also, the Soviets promote the first female astronaut, shaming the US for its lack of representation.
All the characters are well-drawn and most are courageous and longsuffering in various ways. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Hanna and Altered Carbon) plays Ed Baldwin, an astronaut with a big mouth who in a drunken state reveals to a reporter how NASA lost the space race because of an aversion to risk. He is punished for the reveal (taken off astronaut duty and given a desk job), but his words capture NASA’s very real dilemma. In order to stay equal to, or to get ahead of the USSR, risks will have to be taken. Many characters of significance will lose their lives to achieve the elusive prize of space dominance.
This is where the series gives commentary on current society as it poses the questions that plague our century…Who will dominate the future? US and free societies (in general) have dominated the global order since WWII, but that prize came at a great cost to many of our ancestors. We have inherited something hard fought, but that inheritance is being challenged and chipped away by those who see themselves as more deserving of dominance…and perhaps they are, but some moments in history, even national failures, have the capacity to motivate a new generation of warriors. That message shines through in FOR ALL MANKIND.
6 Reasons You Want to Watch Severance
- Two unique settings within a contained, small-story universe. (I will write more about this in the longer review)
- Amazing cast. Adam Scott as the stoic lead, Mark, with a supporting cast that includes Patricia Arquette, John Turturro and Christopher Walken
- Superb characterization and story-telling. The main character and all of the secondaries are complex, layered and quirky, adding to the slow-building tension
- The underlying moral and symbolic truths within the story are not yet fully baked but seem promising.
- This show has a slow ramp-up to gripping tension at the climax of this first season
- More to watch in the future because this past month, Apple approved a second season.
The Longer Review
SEVERANCE is an Apple+ production, the first season is complete, streamable now and free for subscribers. Created by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller, SEVERANCE is not a comedy. It falls into dystopian mystery with a scifi vibe. A futuristic technology at the center of the story, allows those who work at a company called Lumon Industries, to surgically divide their memories between their work and personal lives. Those individuals are called The Severed. Most of the other tech is familiar and not so modern, for example, people still drive cars around the town.
I give this series a PG rating…it’s possible it will warrant a different rating later on, but so far the mystery is more Hitchcock than Ridley Scott. My ratings usually reflect the graphic nature of the show and not the themes which in this case are harrowing for my adult brain. Would kids enjoy the show? Probably not. You won’t see explicit gore, but you will feel tortured for these characters at the center of the story, in part because of their vulnerability, which is childlike.
Regarding the setting. There are two primary “worlds” in SEVERANCE that exemplify the two worlds inhabited by the employees of Lumon.
One setting is work, the Lumon Industries office building. It feels familiar upon entering, but creepily weird the deeper in you go. The interior design is sterile, with strangely vacant work spaces and long labyrinth-like hallways. The four employees the audience follows most closely work in a large white room with no windows or access to the outside world. They are forbidden to interact with employees from other areas of the building and spend their days huddled around computers doing a job that the audience sees, but doesn’t really understand. In fact, even these employees don’t fully understand what they do, how they do it and why. It’s described as something they feel. Their work is just one of many aspects of this situation that give rise to a suspicion about Lumon. Most of the workers, including Mark (Adam Scott) submit to the rules of the company. There are a few exceptions and those exceptions give rise to Mark’s suspicion about Lumon.
The second world is Mark’s town. This is a cold, dreary place. It feels like it could be Alaska or Canada and is probably unfamiliar to most of the audience. The cold and the dark and size of the town adds to the feeling of claustrophobia, something that permeates this story. Darkness also dovetails with the theme of grief. In episode 1, the audience learns that Mark’s reason for severing came about because of the death of his wife. Mark lives in a housing complex owned by Lumon where it becomes clear, he is monitored unbeknownst to him.
My recommendation to watch SEVERANCE comes with the caveat that I’m still not sure where the story is going. I have viewed the first season and loved every episode. Not everyone enjoys a slow build to a gripping climax, but I do when it’s done well and SEVERANCE does it well. So, if you’re tempted to stop after episode 1 or 2, don’t. The tension ratchets up and up and mysteries become creepier as the conspiracy is partially unveiled.
In my next post, I hope to discuss summer reading which will include:
I had barely heard of SQUID GAME until about a week ago, but now the buzz is everywhere. If you’re like me, you’re wondering…Why all the hype about this Korean dystopian series?
So, last night, I watched the 1st of the 9 episodes and love what is being set up. This episode features a giant robotic girl that rules over a game of Red Light Green Light, also the episode’s title.
Here’s what I can say about the opening.
- An introduction to a variety of well-drawn characters
- Especially, the main character, Seong Gi-hun played by Lee Jung-Jae, is a sympathetic hero, a financially desperate divorcee with a gambling problem living with his mother
- The story draws together hundreds of below average types or “losers” to compete with one another for an extraordinary financial prize. (Losers is the word used by the creator and he makes great pains to show the audience his characters’ failings).
- A creepy robot child with roving eyes that shoot bullets. Tis the stuff of nightmares.
SQUID GAMES would probably receive a PG-13 or maybe even an R rating for violence. I am watching the dubbed version. The dubbing hasn’t bothered me.
There is a dystopian flavor to the story and the world, but its reality is not so hard to believe. What I mean by that is that the game world is not fantastical, nor is it futuristic. This game could be happening today on an island somewhere. The audience does get a shot of the island in episode 1, as well as the back of the billionaire maniacal overlord, who watches via screen as the contestants compete and try to stay alive.
Creator, Hwang, worked for ten years to get SQUID GAME made. The traditional studios wouldn’t touch it, but alternative streaming is proving again, that fresh stories are out there, often outside the Hollywood bubble. Cheers to Netflix in particular for curating and promoting dramas and comedies we would never otherwise see.
Click on the links below for more of my reviews of “outside the Hollywood bubble” stories that deliver. The first two are also Korean-made
Science fiction fans were delivered a treat over the weekend. Asimov’s Foundation Series is finally consumable via screen, television streaming to be precise. Writers/Creators, David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, 2005) and Josh Friedman (Terminator: Dark Fate, 2019) have teamed up to attempt what many had believed unthinkable.
Why unthinkable? The Foundation Series, which began as a few short stories, but over the course of Asimov’s life, evolved into something much more vast, portraying the slow downward spiral of an empire in a sprawling universe over many centuries.
Apple, having bought the rights to the Foundation Series in 2019, invested a large sum to make this happen. The story is definitely being tweaked by Goyer and Friedman, but I am appreciating the adjustments because the Foundation Series novels did not appeal to me. Too many supposedly smart dudes sitting in rooms and talking at one another. Too many ideas delivered in a way that felt preachy to me, therefore dull. Characters that felt interchangeable and almost zero females.
But how about the series? So far I am loving what is evolving on screen. If you’re a scifi fan, here’s why I think it’s worth watching.
- The core of Asimov’s ideas are all there, the story well told so far
- The production design, the sets and costumes are fabulous
- The acting has been surprisingly good
- The screenwriters have changed some of the male characters to female, including Gaal Dornick, the lead character in these first 2 episodes. Dornick, pictured below, is played by Spanish actor, Lou Llobell.
If you’re one of those people who subscribed to Apple Plus because of Ted Lasso, FOUNDATION might just convince you to stay a little longer. I rate this production PG-13 for some violence and sexual content.
The third episode drops this Friday, October 1st.
The second season of HANNA was released July 3 of this year, the dreaded year of Covid, and since all of us are streaming our content each night/day/allday/allnight (until recently, there have been no sports to watch and no air-conditioned movie theaters in which to view the latest fun film)…However, most of us are still suckers for a well-crafted drama. The release of Hanna’s second season by Amazon Prime found me in just the right place for a conspiracy-laden story, inhabited by teens.
I rate this series R, mostly for its violence. HANNA, created and written by David Farr, also portrays a disturbing picture of childhood, so if you have young children/teens who want to watch, you may want to preview this before allowing them to enter into the violent world of Hanna. Other than that, I highly recommend this series. It skirts the line that is science fiction and dystopian.
Short Review of HANNA. 6 Reasons You Want to Watch…
- Well written story and well-crafted characters
- Outstanding performances by Joel Kinnaman, Mireille Enos (they’re reunited here…having starred together in the award-winning detective series, The Killing.) Hanna is played by Esme Creed-Miles. She’s a British actor, but pulled off the German accent. I don’t think she actually speaks German, but she did speak French fluently. Kinnaman is Swedish. He also carried the German accent and spoke a lot of German to make this role believable.
- Timely. A US intelligence service, broken into factions, clawing at more power? Perhaps too real…
- Truth and morality emerge in the most unlikely places and the story reminds us of that.
- I love the way the characters rarely shout. Erik (Kinneman) and Hanna (Creed-Mills) both have this quality. They speak with intensity, but always quiet and measured, understated. I found myself loving this vibe more than I thought I would, maybe my Scandinavian roots…
- A story set in Europe, especially Berlin, London and Paris. Hurray, given we cannot travel there right now.
One of the things I liked about this production was its willingness to go slow. That might sound weird because the story moves at a pretty fast clip, but there is also time in each episode to absorb what is taking place in the character’s lives, in their hearts. I attribute part of that pacing to the editing. THANK YOU DIRECTORS AND EDITORS! It surprised me sometimes what was not put on the screen/what was skipped, but it also revealed what was most essential for the story. I found my brain willing to allow the holes in the plot because the true drama was not withheld from my view.
In season 1, the audience is introduced to Hanna as a baby, also to her mother and to her mother’s savior, Erik (Kinneman) who ends up rescuing Hanna from destruction. Erik, though German, is an insider with the US intelligence agency that is accepting babies in order to turn them into super assassins. Erik becomes Hanna’s guardian and the audience believes he might actually be her father. He isn’t. When Hanna finds out he has lied to her about his biological relationship to her, she is enraged.
Telling the truth is VERY important to Hanna. This seems consistent throughout and is refreshing as a character trait. It grounds the viewer, even when Hanna’s allegiance to the “good” or the “evil” entities in the world seems confusing. Hanna punishes those who lie to her, even when those individuals are her allies.
That dynamic of telling truth versus lying, or shrouding the truth reminds me of how teens (I’ve raised a couple and counseled many) have a nose for truth or fiction. They sense when adults are lying to them. Just tell me the damn truth and don’t protect me from it because you think I can’t handle it said every teen ever.
And I love that about them. I loved that about Hanna. She is so pure in that sense, the audience is ready to root for her in just about any circumstance, even when it feels like she is about to give in to evil.
Hanna has been renewed for a third season. I look forward to seeing how the writers develop this story.
My 8th post on this particular Amazon Prime series. I reviewed chapter by chapter (episodes are called chapters). For a review of the pilot, click Chapter 1.
Today I viewed the finale.
Question that arose…Will DARK/WEB will have a second season? Will there be enough interest? I have no way of knowing. What I can say is this…
There is a kind of resolution that takes place in this final chapter.
- Molly is found
- The mystery of what she was up to and why she was drawing her friends toward her hiding place is solved
- There are a couple of big reveals…one of which doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should
- A perhaps too tidy wrap-up
- More horror story tropes…like a corpse, a cabin in the woods, a stormy night without power
The ending to this series felt overly ambitious and contrived…a lot of explaining right at the end to tie up all of the loose ends. Sometimes the characters acted in a way that didn’t make sense to me, didn’t see human, but served the overall plot. I always get frustrated when this is the case. There is a campy nature to the series, maybe this is part of the fun…perhaps another horror trope? However, it also takes itself VERY seriously at times, so I was trying to take it seriously too and sometimes the camp did not match the tone of true evil that was being portrayed.
However, I will give the series lots of chops for these elements:
- An ambitious vision in its attempt to unveil evil in our society
- A diverse cast of characters, (diverse in ethnicity and sexual orientation)
- A female POC director. I loved the direction overall…I wasn’t wild about the all the writing, but hey…I am a writer and am always more picky about the writing than the directing.
Overall, I recommend DARK/WEB if you have the stomach to watch horror/scifi.
7th and Penultimate Chapter. My 7th review in 7 days.
This review will contain spoilers for earlier episodes and minor spoilers for this episode (episodes are called Chapters), so be warned. Go back to menu or click PILOT if you want to read an introduction to the series.
I’ll say a little about the structure of the series at this point.
- Short stories, written by Molly are clues that will help her friends find her. All of the stories are dramatized on screen. This image, for example, is from one of the Molly’s stories called Viral. Nearly every chapter features one of Molly’s stories. About 15 minutes of screentime in Chapter 7 puts the audience in the world of Viral.
- All of Molly’s stories are dark, some are pure horror and very gruesome. I almost stopped watching this series after Chapter 2 because of it. Kim Rider, who has read all or most of Molly’s stories as they were online dating, says that Molly uses stories to work out the darkness in her own life.
- There are a variety of interesting filming techniques in DARK/WEB. I’ll highlight one. Notice the image posted above with words across the character’s face. These are words of a screenplay being typed by this particular film student, as she sits at her computer. She is the main character in Viral. This view through the computer into the scene has been used throughout the series and gives that creepy feeling that someone is watching from inside or beyond our screens. The audience sees what is taking place, but the characters don’t and we don’t know who is watching…that is unnerving and puts the audience on edge, exactly what the story creators want.
- Viral is a story about cyberbullying. The audience understands that unfortunately, cyberbullying takes place in real life. This story may be fictional, but it hits close enough to home to bring about reflections of human cruelty and evil, evil that exists in seemingly normal, everyday people. Looking at cyberbullying headon is horrific and not everyone’s cup of tea. As I indicated above, I almost stopped watching after chapter 2. Viral was also hard to watch.
The story creators of DARK/WEB have given their series this title for a reason. It is documented that the secret and more anonymous world of the dark web exists and exhibits the worst side of humanity. If you are squeamish or needing something more uplifting as entertainment, please be warned. We all know that there are many good people in our world (and that even the “evil” people have potential for redemption…at least I believe that) and most of us hope that the good will ultimately triumph over evil by the tale’s end. We will see…
8 posts of 8 episodes in 8 days.
DARK/WEB is an Amazon Prime series. Here is my overview of the pilot. To read, click Chapter 1.
I have watched half way through DARK/WEB. Chapter 4 furthers the overall narrative arc. Zach Sullivan is visited by Molly Solis’ friends. They also go to visit her house in TX. She had been living there until she disappeared.
This chapter also adds another hint, another one of Molly’s stories sent to her friends. The story is more mysterious, mystical and spiritual, involving an illegal, dark/web for profit organ transplant operation.
I won’t say too much about this chapter to avoid spoilers. It’s not nearly as disturbing as Chapter 2, but my sense is the creators of this series are wanting the audience to ponder what evil exists on the dark web…the actual dark web.
I confess…as much as I resist watching this series, I know that many aspects of it are true and because of that, the overall narrative is disturbing to me.
Hat tip to Roxy Shih, a female Asian American director who is brilliantly putting this important story before our eyes. This visual of the man sitting in the warehouse with the light coming through the high windows is particularly gorgeous. Notice the crucifixes in the shadows. Excellent symbolism.
The beginning sequence of this chapter is outstanding, will terrify you, make you nervous and curious and might even make you laugh.
The larger arc is filled out in this episode, with another friend of Molly Solis being added to the mix. To read my previous reviews, click The Pilot
James Woodsley, this friend of Molly’s lives in Madison, WI (my current hometown…so shoutout to my people). James is also sent a short story by Molly. This is viewed in the first moments of the episode.
I can’t say too much more because it will spoil the surprise, but I do want to comment of 4 aspects of DARK/WEB I am appreciating so far:
- Outstanding casting. Multi-ethnic. No stereotypes. I noticed this particularly in the pilot…how various characters were cast to upset stereotypes.
- DARK/WEB is a HORROR/SCI-FI series, so be warned. Like the film Alien follows the haunted house script a uses many of its tropes (down to the solo female facing the monster in the end), this series too uses horror tropes. It is both futuristic and horrific. These episodes have caused me moments of terror and disturbed my sleep. Not everyone likes this…so this is a warning. From lonely dark streets where the character walks and keeps looking behind his or her back, to darkness, to phones that never quite connect with 911, it’s all there in DARK/WEB. I will reiterate, Chapter 2 was especially horrific.
- Roxy Shih, a woman and person of color is doing a brilliant job in the directing, nominated for an Emmy (see below). I’m appreciating her deft touch and so far the writing is very tight. I remind you, these episodes are short…at least they are by film and tv standards, so the creators are accomplishing a lot when they make the audience laugh, cringe and freak out, all in the same 1/2 hour. That doesn’t happen accidentally.
Lastly, here are the Emmy’s DARK/WEB has been nominated for this year:
- Outstanding Digital Drama Series
- Michael Nardelli, Tim Nardelli, Mario Miscione, Allison Vanore
- Outstanding Directing Team for a Digital Drama Series:
- Mario Miscione, Michael Nardelli, Roxy Shih
- Outstanding Main Title and Graphic Design for a Live-Action Program
- Justin Martinez, Tim Nardelli, Mario Miscione, Michael Nardelli
- Outstanding Light Direction for a Drama or Digital Drama Series
- Vasiliki Constantinou, Lars Lindstrom
- Outstanding Music Direction and Composition for a Drama or Digital Drama Series
- Jonathan Hartman
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Digital Drama Series
- Rene Heger
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Digital Drama Series
- Graham Sibley
In the next eight days, I will watch one episode per day (episodes are called chapters in this series and there are 8 total). I will review each one briefly.
Today I watched the first chapter. This story had a few layers. I read a little about the series on IMDb and Wikipedia to orient myself….here’s the IMDb link if you want to do that too.
Is this really Amazon Prime’s answer to Netflix’s The Black Mirror? Some say this is the model for DARK/WEB, but there is an overall story arc that connects all of the chapters, so not exactly like The Black Mirror. I’ll know more in a few days and can report then.
This series is one season only. As of now, there is no indication that a season 2 will be made.
Written by Mario Miscione, Boman Modine and Michael Nardelli, the story begins with a mysterious set of images and screens where a young woman is obviously being harassed via the internet to do something (we don’t know what) she does not want to do. It then cuts to the apartment of a recently laid off reporter by the name of Ethan Neary. He is obviously in a bad spot, sleeping on his sofa, drinking too much, his apartment a mess. He has missed a number of calls from a high school friend (Sam Daniels) who has been trying to contact him. Sam is anxious about repeated emails that have been sent to her from another old high school friend, Molly Solis. Ethan has received messages as well. Is this really Molly? They are both worried about computer viruses, therefore reticent to open the file, but Ethan decides to open the attachment, which reveals a short story that he ends up reading aloud over the phone to Sam…the read aloud cuts to new action, but with different characters.
At this point, the story being read becomes what the audience sees on the screen.
Chapter 1 of DARK/WEB is about a rideshare driver who experiences a glitch in the app supposed to help him perform his job. Now, instead of simply giving him directions, it talks to him about who all the people are he is driving. He’s driving late at night to make ends meet for his young family and it turns out many of the people he is driving are awful folks. The rideshare app knows details about their evil and begins directing him to do certain things to stop these people from exerting their power in ways that will hurt others. You can imagine where this might go.
Three things I like about this chapter:
- Quick set-up that indicates a mystery
- Amazingly fast empathy for the main character (the rideshare driver)
- Tension around the craziness he is exposing himself to while driving…so much so…I needed to pause the recording for bit and think whether or not I wanted to see what I imagined to be a gory or troubling end.
I won’t give anything away, but the viewer does become invested in the driver’s wellbeing and that is an indication of good character writing. It happens fast that the viewer is rooting for him. Chapter 1 was worth the 27 minutes. I recommend if you like tension and dystopian/cyberpunk/mystery.