The Walking Dead Season 7 in review, comedians doing their thing, and time travellers from Finland - just a handful of what's been setting the tone of my April 2017...
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The Walking Dead: Season 7B finale - so 'All Out War' is about to begin come Season 8, but what of Season 7B as a whole? Undoubtedly it's been the rockiest season since the third. There have been considerable high notes - e.g. 7x12 with Rick and Michonne at the decaying carnival, or the Kingdom-centric episodes (7x02 and 7x13) - with even some all-time best episodes like 7x01, which was TWD's gut-wrenching drama dialled all the way up to 20, never mind 11. However, we've also experienced some duds - the Scavenger-centric 7x10 was so tonally askew to the rest of the show with their all-black clothing, silly speech ("Up Up Up"), and a walker battle parachuted in from the Thunderdome. 7x06 (Oceanside's intro) was the apogee of Season 7's troubled pacing and structure. We were being thrust into a third new group of people (after the Kingdom and the Sanctuary) inside six episodes, and Tara wasn't really able to keep the thing afloat by herself. There was an irritating 'eager to kill' moppet with a smug pout, Heath - as seems to be the norm with his character on the show - was barely included (his fate is still totally unknown to this day), and overall it was rather underwhelming.
Further issues with Season 7 have included some rather ropey character decisions that defy logic, while other instances show a clear thought process at work, but too often we've witnessed smart characters making stupid decisions. Sometimes it was as if the writers weren't communicating with each other behind the scenes. Even the evidently reckless (and selfish) actions of Sasha and Rosita were mostly ignored by the rest of the group - even as they began assembling their plan against The Saviours. Moreover, the Sasha/Abraham relationship had been given nowhere near enough screen time in Season 6 to fully justify Sasha's sense of loss. I understand why we got some of those scenes in the finale, but it was too little too late to better explain her actions throughout Season 7.
There are smaller issues scattered about, too. They've successfully brought Shiva to the screen, but that deer in 7x12 was some of the worst compositing I've ever seen. Negan's control over The Sanctuary needed clarification earlier on - the internal logic needed to be established straight out of the gate - like how we were clued-in to Ezekiel's true character by the end of 7x02. Indeed, logic was inconsistent throughout; they could learn a thing or two from Vince Gilligan & Co on that front! However, the main thing was the pacing, with major events mostly left to two premieres and two finales (most keenly felt in Season 7A) you ended up with too many episodes showing little forward thrust to the overall story. It's far from the write-off that some critics have been eager to scream about on the web in clickbaity articles, but Season 7 was certainly troubled. Scott Gimple & Co need to up their game, realign their sights, and put the mistakes of Season 7 behind them for what will be - hopefully - an awesome Season 8.
Crashing: Season 1 - comedian Pete Holmes' semi-autobiographical HBO half hour comedy gives a look inside the world of stand up comedians as the dissolution of his marriage pushes him into the hectic world of the New York comedy scene. Well worth watching and I'm looking forward to Season 2!
The Trip To Spain - the third series of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's travelogue dramedy in which they tour fancy restaurants, deal with middle-aged malaise, and perform copious impressions to boost their egos across the comedy battlefield that is their dining table. The climax is a touch ... curious ... but it's another belting dose of six episodes, which I binged in one go on the day of release. Please, Sir, can I have more?
Prison Break: Season 5 - Fox seem to be digging this 'event series' idea (by the way, good news - The X-Files is returning for a 10-episode Season 11). We're only a third of the way through the nine-episode run, but it's good to have it back for a breezy rejuvenation. The original seasons, three of them at least, clung to the big networks' ideal of filler-heavy 24-episode runs, so it's great to see a much brisker - filler-free - outing this time around.
Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (DVD) - see the full review here.
Top Gear - the second series of the post-Clarkson era. I couldn't stand Chris Evans in the initial revamp (which faltered for various reasons), but figured it was worth a second chance with the adjusted line-up with Matt LeBlanc as the main host. It's far from the heights of the Clarkson/Hammond/May years (but even they took a few series to nail it), however, I've kept watching (albeit catching up a week or two after broadcast). There's still work to be done, but it's heading in a better direction.
Peter Kay's Car Share: Series 2 - just the four episodes this time, but as funny as ever. Hopefully there'll be a third series, though!
The Black Angels "Passover", "Directions To See A Ghost", "Phosphene Dream", "Indigo Meadow"
Carpenter Brut "Turbo Killer"
Perturbator - "I Am The Night", "Terror 404", "Dangerous Days", "The Uncanny Valley", "Nocturne City", "Night Driving Avenger", and "Sexualizer".
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Murder at the Grindhouse - current word count? North of 113,000 and I'm rapidly closing in on the end of the story. Soon I'll have a complete draft, at which point I'll put it aside for a few weeks to 'age it in the drawer' and gain a fresher perspective on it before making a round of changes. After that I'll get some new eyes to read it over and provide feedback before doing another round of changes - then, whatever comes next.
FWOAN - what's that, then? It's a project I'm working on at the moment with some rather groovy people - exciting things happening, can't say much else just yet, but when I can I'll clue you in.
Quantum Break (Xbox One) - I'm a year late in getting around to Remedy's new game (to be fair I only just got my Xbox One at Christmas), but it's rather good. Remedy continue their obsession with manipulating time and take it to the logical conclusion - time travel, time 'stutters', and the end of time as a whole! The gameplay is fun and smooth - and it's nice to see they've fixed the rather dodgy jump mechanic from Alan Wake. Plus, the Max Payne creators continue to explore new storytelling opportunities: the four-episode TV show that interweaves with the game, adjusting according to decisions you make in-game, seemed a strange prospect when announced, but it works surprisingly well. However, being that it often deals with supporting characters who feature only lightly in the main game, it can feel a bit disjointed - but the production quality and characterisation are strong.
Nice to see, too, that they've sorted the iffy facial animation that we witnessed in the otherwise excellent Alan Wake (fingers crossed for Alan Wake 2 at some point!). There are a downside or two, the reliance on text-based storytelling (emails exchanges on in-game computers) to fill in the details gets out of hand. Some are entertaining (the engineer who writes a 'screenplay'), and others are entirely justified by the context (Beth's journals), but too often they're needlessly long-winded and sap the pacing - especially so in 'quiet' segments of the game. It's not quite up there with Alan Wake, for me at least, but Quantum Break is still a definite must-play for Remedy fans. Good storytelling, involving characters, enjoyable gameplay, and intelligent world-building - all the things you'd expect from Sam Lake & Co. Give it a play!
Richard Porter "And On That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear" - if you were a fan of the Clarkson/Hammond/May years of Top Gear then this is a must-read. Written by the Script Editor of the show - one of the key men responsible for TG's sense of humour during those 13 years - it makes for an entertaining and very informative read. There's plenty of behind the scenes stories about the good times and the bad times, and some very interesting rebuttals to certain conspiracy theories which plagued the show at times. Highly recommended reading!