IR TV Review: HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER – EPISODE 10 (“We’re Not Getting Away With It”) [ABC-S6]

The paranoia of mystery depends how bathed the characters are in guilt versus survival. With the episode “We’re Not Getting Away With It”, “How To Get Away With Murder” uses the aspect of who is smarter. Granted the aspect of people working behind the scenes has always been a part of the game that is being played. The interesting purveyor here is letting the doubt sow while very smartly highlighting Viola Davis as Annalise only briefly. The aspect of her physical change is undeniably (perhaps she was starring in a movie at the same time) but that idealism shift is supposed to reflect the turning of the screw. Everyone in this series has their intentions but most seem on the level save for someone who skirted the edge of hard core ethics and a student that doesn’t seem in his right mind. The best aspects within the redemption inherent in a series is the notion of sacrifice. However that progression needs to mean something. Everyone, as the dominoes fall and people start to try to see sides, comes down to the element of selfishness with glimmers of both hope and betrayal. The important detail in this episode is how many lines in key moments are not answers, not denials but not admittance either. In the course of rebuilding a crime that they are at the center of, the team interestingly enough is disjointed which is the whole point. It is just a matter of what Annalise ultimately actually wants to do.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: HARLEY QUINN – EPISODE 1 (“New Gotham”) [Warner Brothers Animation-S2]

Harley Quinn, by her own admission, is a hellion but she sparks by the beat of her own drum. As the 2nd season of the animated show enters with the first episode “New Gotham”, the beauty of this kind of cartoon becomes clear. It is an adult cartoon and embraces it, none more than Kaley Cuoco, who brings a degree of flagrancy in Quinn embracing that inner party girl that we always knew was within Penny. The introduction of the 2nd season shows a lawlessness in play. In many ways, the set up is inspired by “Escape From New York”. Considering in another life, Snake Plisken would have been Quinn’s surrogate father, the comparison definitely plays to the texture. Like “Birds Of Prey”, the aspect has Quinn out on her own but with a band of misfits. Poison Ivy, like any good roommate on a dark “Clueless” adventure, understands the impulse that Quinn deals with her decisions but not the logic.

As the episode progresses, the idea that permeates is that there has to be some order within anarchy (i.e. “Escape From New York”). The episode (and the series) does not back off from the language and the gore which is refreshing while the comedy (especially the sushi irony with a shark wanting a human roll per se) is decidedly dark on purpose. That said, the comedy is fairly freewheeling and more in the context of what psychotics might talk about. Ultimately, all kidding aside, the overall motivation is power. But Quinn, in her best traits, knows how to subvert power. Her interlude inside a bar to all the underlings of other crime lords is inspired in many ways. Harley wants to have her own little world because oddly enough that is where her peace lies. In “Birds Of Prey” it was her apartment until it was demolished. In this episode, it is an abandoned mall where she has her own sled pulled by her hyenas and she kidnaps sushi chefs. Happiness is a state of being and with this episode, chaos is Quinn’s favorite as long as it has the simply pleasures.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: DOLPHIN REEF [Disney+]

While many nature films sometimes struggle for a sense of personality or go for the essence of shock and awe with the degree of technical prowess, the essence of the humor of the situation is touch and go. With some celebrity narrators it works and, at other times, it seems either too wooden and lacking in connection. In “Dolphin Reef”, there is a different approach. Whether it is better or not remains to be seen. But Natalie Portman brings herself to the reading. Having met her many times, there is a sense of fun but balance with an essence of value and seriousness behind her presentation. She is not afraid of making a joke at her own expense, if it is the right one. That is why many of the vignettes work here because it waxes at times both funny and maybe a little awkward but always heartfelt. “Dolphin Reef” isn’t inherently about the dolphins but more about the community of animals that make up this area. It starts off following a young male Dolphin named Echo with his mother. Having in the past few years become a mother herself, that essence of the story seems very authentic and plays very well on Portman’s behalf. This is a piece of artistic work that she can show her children and definitely balances within the Disney structure that maybe has been too slick in its docos lately. Many of them have felt like certain mirrors to BBC’s productions (which are sometimes done in concert). This one feels more Disney which is helped by the fact of Portman’s continuing collaboration with the Disney company. The circle of life as shown through the different ideas of life both with fear of night, cleaning spots for turtles and an especially fun mantis shrimp which has to deal with falling debris from parrotfish, This gives the short feature a nice balance leading into a story of humpback whales which revolves around to mating and protection in the animal kingdom. Considering her real world advocacy and rightfully so, it is also nice to see Portman reflecting in the narration of the natural course in the wild since there is balance in nature.”Dolphin Reef” is inherently watchable as it is a story of family but it also doe not shy away from the comedy of life.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 6 (“Deal No Deal”) [Disney+]

Knowing what the mission is and knowing the right action to take has always been at the corner crux of what makes Ahsoka Tano tick. She knew what her Jedi Master was doing. She could see the cracks…but she likely thought that he was simply operating outside the box. However it was in the aspect that Anakin got too close to people and he couldn’t control it until it spun out of control. In the continuation of her final season story in Episode 6: “Deal Or No Deal,” Ahsoka tries to help newfound friends against her better instincts and watches as she has to adjust them and help much like she did at lesser points with Anakin. The difference is that his instinct was mostly correct and helped her and supported her in balance. The balance of her new friends and their ambitions is an aspect of operating in the dark.

Ahsoka’s instincts are still good but she doesn’t know what she wants. She had the right temperament for a Jedi, better than many, but that is why her post-Jedi path needs to make sense. We see, in a sense, down the line in “Rebels” and perhaps beyond, where she ends up but it all needs to fit together correctly. Mostly it is trying to realize and help others to the best of your ability but if they are headed down a certain path, one can only try to cushion the blow, and not stop the trajectory. There is one moment when a connection happens across space. It is a great moment though nothing is said. The intersection plays out but it is able to breathe which it seems within this new iteration/continuation works better than its predecessor. These little character beats say so much more and at times exceeds the plot that the season might ultimately be aiming for.

B

By Tim Wassberg

Insid

IR TV Review: PICARD – EPISODE 9 (“Et In Arcadia Ego – Part II”) [CBS All Access]

The aspect of evolution in terms of idealism or perhaps in moderation of experiences had has been part of the duality of “Picard” as a series. It began with an incomplete matriculation of Data’s last iteration in “Nemesis” (what is interesting for the reviewer is that I am fairly certain I interviewed Brent Spiner, Stewart and director Stuart Baird for that film for TV back in 2002 – the interviewed likely buried on some digital tape somewhere). Wrapping those strands of psychology from that film is what gnaws on both sides of the season finale (“Et In Arcadia Ego – Part II”) here. While the thrust of the narrative when it finally arrives at its end point seems sounds, it also seems too neatly put together. This is not a criticism overtly since it makes totally sense and works within the existential nature of the project overall.

As it moves in the final hour of the season, it brings into focus the nature of Picard but creates it on a very large scale. While it is not integrated as a space battle per se (without giving anything anyway) there is a sense of breath to it, especially when the viewer sees who is at the helm. The brother Soong is an interesting quandary since one is not quite sure the mythology behind it. It actually ends in a way that is more hopeful than where it began which I gather is part of the point of this specific journey. The coda per se that leads towards the epilogue is what really fans came to see all season and rivals some of the specific moments when Picard reunites with Riker and Troi on their planet.

It makes complete sense though that it feels like an adjusted addendum but it very much plays within the Shakespearean elements that Stewart so loves. There is sort of a paradoxical take on “The Tempest” within its walls. As it continues into the meaning of its conclusion, it dovetails into those ideas that sometimes change in path, much like Spock’s in earlier transgressions (even before the reboot), which again reverts back to the Romulan conflict and also their sense of identity. All works well. The final shot however tries to infer too much when it was not necessary and could have been done with more subtlety. While it did offer a slight hiccup, it doesn’t heavily diminish what the episode achieves.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STUMPTOWN – EPISODE 18 (“All Hands On Dex”) [ABC]

The last time the “Stumptown” vision undertook this reviewer was the pilot after which I did an interview with the two leads played by Colbie Smulders & Jake Johnson. Through the trajectory of the season, the pace seems like it has been fairly consistent but the season finale “All Hands On Dex” seems to filter in the idea of a little bit more melodrama than would have been expected. The music, which made the first episode of the series so textured, is still there with correct context. The humor itself though seems a little more sparse as if it is just moving the  needle to keep up. Dex, played by Smulders, is trying to uncover a murderer which has been dogging her from earlier in the season. But the character truly seems to have its wings when she is not overly pushing with episodic plot elements.

Granted this is the season finale so it needs to wrap certain elements up. However “Stumptown”, even the one I read in the graphic novel, had more of a “Rockford Files” element to it. The structure of the series always reflects back to family which in certain more bare moments, Dex seems to forget. This is part of the beauty of the character but it has to be balanced in check. Certain scenes bring it back into focus including one set in a church with the perfect music accompaniment. But the more textured one is in the opening scene which reflects more in the subconscious of Dex than anything else. The tenure of the series is based more in reveals but looking at the beginning and the end, it is simply good if the character simply is. Her own life and not her extended drama is enough to make the show effective.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 5 ("Gone With A Trace") [Disney+]

After the inset of The Bad Batch which., in itself, is a story about the search for identity, the next story arc in “Gone With A Trace” would seem to be one that diametrically needs to be addressed. Ahsoka Tano, as the long standing padewan to Anakin Skywalker, has the biggest perception (almost more so than Padme) to the psychological degregation that brought Anakin to the dark side. More than Luke and almost Obi Wan, she knows him best which is why her expulsion or leaving depending on how one sees it from the Jedi Order is a bit of a wormhole in the story since we have never seen her in live action. She re-emerged in essence in “Rebels” and we saw her have an interaction that is one of the more dynamic encounters in animation in Vader in that series. But in this episode, it is about reconnecting with those less fortunate which is what being a Jedi is. But as with most perceptions of government, people on the lower levels have lost faith.

This first episode shows Ahsoka finding her way. She has the street smarts and the Jedi know how where she could fumble through and scam her way into situations but those are not the values she was taught. While the story focuses back to simple, it is those baseline connections whether one is talking about the end of “The Last Jedi” or “Joker” where certain basic human interactions introduce a path, either to be led astray or to push forward. This first tome in Ahsoka’s journey shows her connection to loyalty but also a judgmental attitude in others. The one thing that seems to come through to her though is the inherent good nature of people. The charity and compassion is what comes forth as the values of this episode. Even when the survival instinct cuts in, the reasoning is sound. But Ahsoka’s path is complicated for she knows a bigger world but at least she sees the reality of those that the power plays of the Universe shows. She should meet up with Ventress to discuss the existential nature of their predicament.

B

By Tim Wassberg