Tag Archives: Parks and Recreation

FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Michael Schur

Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard

Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram

Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson

US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre

So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.

Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.

Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.

The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.

Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017)

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017) – SEASON 1

DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon

WRITER(S):  Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale  – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz

CAST:  Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin

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**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.

Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.

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It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.

The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.

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The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.

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This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)