TV Show Review: The Grand Tour Season 2

It might be weird that I love The Grand Tour and Top Gear since I am not a car person at all. However, I cannot resist watching these shows because of the excellent hosts. When Jeremy got kicked off of Top Gear, the guys came together to create their new Amazon original, The Grand Tour. Season one was solid but had its flaws. The guys needed to find something to make this show unique and to make everything work. Some significant changes have happened this season. I love it, but there are its flaws that remain.

The format is generally the same. The guys will have something they filmed whether it is a crazy idea or just a general car review. After any car review which may come at the beginning or somewhere in the middle, their professional driver will race around their track to see how good of a time that car can achieve. Conversation Street is the same with a wacky intro that leads into a discussion about the latest cars. These conversations are some of the most consistently interesting portions of the show. If you have seen the first season or have seen Top Gear, then you know what to expect from Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. The show continues its spirit through them with hilarious moments and ridiculous moments that probably got them in trouble with other countries.

A lot of the show has changed. Their celebrity portion is entirely different. Instead of a spoof to make fun of the BBC not allowing their original idea for a celebrity portion of the show, they managed to make something work. Jeremy will interview two celebrities from different countries. Most of these people I did not personally know because they were mostly athletes. After the interview, a clip of both people will be played of them driving around the track. Similar to the celebrity segment from Top Gear except it is two celebrities racing against one another. I love this change. Everything feels more organic and interesting. The first season was hilarious to see how each famous figure would horrifically die, but there was not much substance to that.

The American driver from the first season was widely hated. Personally, I thought his stereotypical schtick that made fun of my country was hilarious. However, many people did not enjoy it. He is replaced by Abbie Eaton. If you are a gearhead, then you probably know her. She is an upcoming driver who has become quite popular. It is great to see a female in the show. Her driving is impressive, but there is not much commentary from her. This does not give much of a character to her. The Stig from Top Gear or The American had a schtick to distinguish themselves as a character in the show. Despite this issue, I do like her. I hope to see if there is an expansion to her in the next season or if the driver changes per season.

Crazy antics have always been an essential part of the new and previous shows that the trio of hosts worked on. Some of the events that happen this season range from crazy races, testing out SUVs in a hilarious way, making an aquatic car similar to the two episodes from Top Gear, and a lot more. Almost everything done is funny and interesting. Some of the most hilarious moments in the history of these three working together will happen this season.

Every show has drawbacks, especially one that is still figuring things out. Some of the celebrities did not make for compelling interviews. There were a few moments the guys would try to do something insane and entertaining that would fall flat. There was nothing too ghastly like some of the dull moments from the first season. Not everything this season is enjoyable. Each episode is packed with so much that some moments will fall flat and be downright dull. I do wish they gave Abbie some direction to give her more character on screen. Also, it is weird they never mention her by name. She is referred as “her” or “she.” That is not much of a problem, but just a weird part of the show to point out.

Overall, this is an excellent season. The first was good, and in some ways awesome. However, the first suffered from various issues to find its identity. The second season does show that Jeremy, James, and Richard have found this show’s identity to stand on its own away from their career at the BBC with Top Gear. When a third season is released, the show will only improve at this point.

Score: 9/10

To give a comparison to the first season, that score would have been a 7/10

Watch the latest season here:

Show Review: RWBY Volume 5

As a longtime Rooster Teeth fan, I was a bit skeptical of RWBY at first until I saw the first trailer. I was interested, and they proved themselves from the pilot episode. I was skeptical because I am not an anime fan. I had seen some when I was young but never watched much after elementary school. This lack of experience for anime will probably show, but I will do my best anime fans! Also, we are not getting into the conversation about this show being an anime since there is a whole conversation in that community about this show’s genre.

Before going in, I must say that this will have spoilers for previous seasons. Being this far into the show, it is impossible to not ruin something, but let me give you a rundown of the things I like and general information real quick if you have not seen it.

RWBY is a team of girls, Ruby Rose (Lindsay Jones), Yang Xiao Long (Barbara Dunkelman), Blake Belladonna (Arryn Zech), and Weiss Schnee (Kara Eberle), who all train at a school called Beacon. Their training helps them prepare to fight against crime and monsters called Grimm. Their adventures lead to many different characters, both friends, and foes. The world is full of life with rich lore that fleshes out the history of characters and the world around them. If you like fantasy, tones mixing humor and drama, and content that is for the most part reasonably kid-friendly, you should like it.

Now let’s discuss the story from Volume 4 and leading into 5. This is where the full review comes in. There are spoilers for previous volumes ahead.

The girls are still separate on their own adventures.  Qrow (Vic Mignogna) and Team RNJR – Ruby Rose, Nora Valkyrie (Samantha Ireland), Lie Ren (Neath Oum), and Jaune Arc (Miles Luna) – finally meet Professor Lionheart at Haven after their brutal journey and difficult fight with Tyrian (Josh Grelle). On this storyline, a lot of information gets explored about Qrow and what he knows about everything going on in the current conflict between our heroes and villains.

Blake’s journey with Sun Wukong (Michael Jones) to Menagerie, an island where most of the Faunus live in peace away from the humans. A lot of is explored about Blake’s past and character development overall. Out of team RWBY, she has always been my favorite so giving her the proper amount of screen time is used wonderfully here. Sun, who always felt an underused side character, provides a lot of support to Blake’s journey and provides great comedic relief. Their quest leads to the development of Blake’s family life and the threat of the White Fang, who Blake used to be a part of.

Yang is still at home with her father, Taiyang Xiao Long (Burnie Burns) who is helping Yang heal after losing her arm. Shortly after she goes off to reunite with her sister, Ruby. Not much will be said to avoid spoilers, but like the other characters, Yang develops a lot on her journey.

Weiss is at home and miserable. Right away she sets off to go reunite with her friends because she knows that there is work to be done and evil to defeat. As a character who I hated at first, Weiss’ growth pays off a lot from volume 4 and 5. Seeing more of how terrible her family is, makes her a lot more likable. Especially seeing the growth of her relationship with her team has helped the character grow on me. Out of side stories that happen early in the volume, I would say it is not one of the best, same with Yang’s side story.

Following our heroes is excellent, but learning about the lore and villains this volume takes the cake. The moments that look at Salem (Jen Taylor) to give this ultimate villain more depth has given answers and questions in a great balance. The mystery to her is important, but it is about time to learn about her. Plus getting more of Cinder (Jessica Nigri) is always a joy in her hateable, but yet loveable character continues to give hell to our heroes.

The meat of the story to this volume is the amount we learn about these characters, the world, and lore. There is plenty of action, but world building and character development are essential and excellently executed, especially in this latest volume. I felt that the last volume was great, but gave me more build up and less payoff. Volume 5 hits the balance of everything perfectly. The fighting and more intense scenes are better than ever. The animation team at Rooster Teeth continues to grow stronger with each season of any show they put out. As the show builds to the final few episodes, the action kicks in with a balance of dialog to move the story forward. When the tone shifts from action, to drama, or to comedy, it all generally flows really well. My main complaint stems from what I see a lot of anime and even some live action movies or shows do. Fighting happens then characters pause to talk or do something. Sometimes this flow feels off to me and puts a stop to dramatic moments. This might be nitpicking, but was my only major complaint.

Visually the show looks better than ever. Arriving at new areas filled with populations feel more alive than ever. The blend of colors and shades from nighttime or different regions creates for some pretty moments throughout the show. The style of combat scenes is always a joy. Character dynamics still are unique between characters while having the show’s style of action mixed in. Movement in the anime I have seen is always a big part, especially during action scenes. RWBY takes a lot of what I have seen in other shows, but have their own style that separates themselves from the rest. There is a lot more detail done that is impressive from the size of their team and budget. Utilizing resources and people to create the best project possible is always well done by Rooster Teeth, especially the animation department.

Much of the voice cast is a mix of people who have a lot of experience in voice acting or just acting in general such as Samantha Ireland from many RT shows and other short films, Jen Taylor from Halo, and Vic Mignogna from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The other side of the cast who are strictly employees at Rooster Teeth like Barbara Dunkelman, Lindsay Jones, and Miles Luna all do such a great job from limited acting experience. What always helps is excellent directing from Kerry Shawcross, Miles Luna, and Gray Haddock. With great leaders running the show is how anything gets to the quality that it is.

Overall, this is one of the best volumes (I hope I am doing that right, the whole volume or season thing throws me off) I have seen from RWBY. The amount of payoff and information learned about the world makes for one of the most exciting shows Rooster Teeth has. On top of great characters and world-building, there is the excellent action that feels like it works within the rules of the world itself. Be prepared for a dramatic volume, I got emotional throughout my entire time watching. The tone of the drama, action, and comedy are perfectly executed to bring the right amount of everything to the show that distinguishes itself from any other Rooster Teeth production. Besides the one complaint about the flow of some scenes, this is one of, if not, the best volume of the series.

Score: 9/10

You can watch RWBY on Rooster Teeth’s website or on YouTube. The Rooster Teeth website has DVDs and merch for fans. RWBY will return this fall.

Image via Deviantart

 

TV Show Review: The Punisher

When Netflix started their side of the MCU, everyone was on board. Readers, if you have read my review of Thor Ragnarok then you know my mixed feelings about Marvel movies in general. For these Netflix shows, I am like everyone else and I love the first few shows they put out. Daredevil is compelling, dramatic, and way more brutal than anyone would have thought, with an overly chaotic second season, I still loved the show. Jessica Jones took an even less known character to make a compelling drama and an intense superhero show that was different enough from Daredevil to make itself unique. Luke Cage who was introduced in Jessica, was a great addition to having his stand-alone show. The audience already knew him from a previous show and was easy to introduce him in his own show to anyone who had seen JessicaLuke Cage had style, brutality (of course), and the perfect mix of drama. These shows did an excellent job of making a drama with a superhero mix for an adult to love. Sadly, Iron Fist fell flat in many areas and The Defenders was better but fell flat too. I like those last two, but they did not manage like the first three shows. Now we are delivered The Punisher. This character was introduced a while back in season 2 of Daredevil, who was the best new addition to that show. When Netflix announced his own show, I was excited, to say the least.

The story has many lairs. For Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal), he has killed everyone involved with his family’s death, so he thinks. It is revealed to him as an unknown man named “Micro” (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). After their encounter Frank realizes that the death of his family is bigger than some organized crime thugs in New York. It goes back to when he was in the Marines. On the other side of the story is a Homeland Security Agent named Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) investigating the death of an informant when she was set in the Middle East for a special mission. Her information leads back to Frank Castle and the secret operations that he was a part of during his time in the Marines.

The story is well layered and is interesting. The show does suffer from some pacing issues. The first episode has a high body count with a lot of action. This gives the viewer a certain tone for the whole season, but that is not true at all. The story itself moves at a decent pace but gets stopped in ways that should not be present. A soldier struggling with PTSD named Lewis (Daniel Webber) who plays an entertaining storyline on the side, but is used as a plot device to tie together certain major characters to move along the main story. It was fun for a lot of it, but I feel they could have been more productive in order to get the same result.

Characters are inconsistent. There are plenty of great protagonists, antagonists, and just supporting characters that play significant roles, but some fall flat. To start off, Frank Castle is shown to have a lot more depth. He is still broken by the death of his family and the horrors of war. A lot more depth is put into his military background and done excellently. Jon Bernthal does an incredible job on so many levels regarding emotion, silence, and being as brutal as he can possibly be. Madani is annoying and gets a little better later on, but I could not like her character. I understand what she stands for and how she is, but was not likable. Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson) was unbearable the entire time he was on screen. A sarcastic character who left me feeling more annoyed than laughing. I felt confused on what tone and progress he would bring to the show in its entirety but left with not a whole lot. You get to know more about “Micro” and people in his life. Avoiding spoilers is why I am vague, but that side felt good for the most part. Some times felt like a waste of time or fell flat in execution to that character’s arc. The show still had some great characters. Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) is an old friend of Frank back when they served together in the Marines. He is charismatic and is able to be lethal in some entertaining action scenes. His storyline is intriguing throughout. Curtis (Jason R. Moore) is another friend of Castle back when they served together. He plays a supporting character who is not seen much but has some impactful moments. His kindness, loyalty, and genuine personality make it hard to not enjoy him in every scene. The main villain is quite excellent, Rawlins (Paul Schulze) who is menacing and plays a wide variety of emotions that brings his character to life. I wish there were more of him overall. Netflix’s Marvel shows have had some good villains, but I still feel they have peaked too early with the villain from Jessica Jones Kilgrave (David Tennant) and from Daredevil Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) who were both unbelievably great. Out of returning characters, the only was is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who I always have liked, so sorry to anyone who hated her from Daredevil, but she is in a right amount of the show. Despite the lacking in some great characters, the ones who are enjoyable keep the show alive and well.

Visually the show has some great cinematography with some really interesting shots that were made. I wish they could have placed more of an emphasis on their camera work to really make everything shine, or just looked darker and more brutal. A couple of times the special effects looked off, with a scene early on that involved fire that just looked terrible. Besides this, the rest of the show is pretty much dark throughout but manages to handle its lighting really well. Make up for dead bodies that Frank leaves behind are done in great detail, but I wish to see some more brutality in the show.

Something that must be discussed is the tone and messages. Some critics complain about the lack of humor, to me that is fine. You do not need to laugh at every show you see. Having a gritty, dark show is for a particular audience, which is what Netflix is aiming with their Marvel shows. Thankful Disney allows them to do so much that in normal situations, Disney would shut down. Still, the show has characters that give a weird vibe and it is hard to tell what they were going for in certain supporting character. There is a message throughout the show about gun violence and PTSD. The gun violence and control part is hard to tell if the show was being serious and wanted a message. It felt disjointed and was confusing as to what side they were taking on the issue. Giving sound reasons for gun control, then insulting those ideas. It did not feel the middle of the road to give both arguments, but something else that felt off in this show. However, tackling PTSD was well done in my opinion. Showing the terror people are going through when they close their eyes all because of war or losing their loved ones. Showing the human side of people like Frank Castle is important for the story, the character and for the audience. Talking to people who care can really help people and the show gives that message. They did not handle everything right in tone or in what the show felt it needed to say, but the things that were said well made up for some of the poor choices in tone.

I still love this show, despite its flaws. A lot of the Netflix Marvel shows tend to get lost in dealing with too much in story or characters. Tighten things up and they can all be like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. As the quality went down in the last two shows, The Punisher was able to lift everything back up. A story in which you are rooting harder and harder for Frank to get his revenge. Some annoying characters, but they are overshadowed by some excellent villains and supporting characters. Pacing has its issues. Each episode ends in a way that gives you satisfaction to the progress but still takes some missteps on the journey. Special effects could have been better, especially a show with this type of budget. Thankfully those mistakes in special effects are few and far between. The tone and what the show wants to say can be so off. Weird mix messages and tone that can throw the audience off. This is a show that is so close to being excellent, but some silly mistakes and some major ones too let it down. Still a recommended show for anyone who has liked the Netflix Marvel shows and anyone who wants to see Jon Bernthal kill a lot of people in really brutal ways.

Score: 8/10

Image via Netflix and Marvel Studios

TV Show Review: Stranger Things season 2

Netflix has created some fantastic original content over the last few years, but nothing beats Stranger Things. Mixing so many sci-fi and horror elements from the 80s with a mix of originality to create one of the best shows out there. I can already say that I love it and it is a must watch. This show is so easy to binge to catch up with the first season being 8 episodes and the second season being 9 episodes. Let’s dive into all this goodness. No worries, I will keep any details limited on this season with a few minor things on my feelings towards specific directions, but there will be some spoilers from the first season.

Taking place one year after the events of the first season, we find our main group of friends all reunited and enjoying their time together. Weirdly enough, everything goes terribly again after one year of the events from the first season. Just seemed weird and did not fit right with me. Bad things only happen in Hawkins around Halloween I suppose. Anyway, Will is out of the upside down and with his friends and family. With some lingering visions that grow stronger, Will is still not fully himself. Everyone else has managed for the most part to move forward. As it turns out that the upside down still has some powerful forces that nobody knows about until things start to happen. As the last scene from the finale of the first season shows, Will coughs up a slug-like-creature that in this season plays a significant role. The CIA is still continuing their work which crosses over yet again with our protagonists. Everyone must come together once more to defeat more evil that has crawled out from the upside down.

The story and characters expand in so many directions. There is a lot more character growth for almost everyone. Since Will was gone most of the first season, we get to see more out of his actor Noah Schnapp who goes above and beyond with his talent. Questions and answers are given about characters and the universe as a whole. The balance between more questions and answers is not overwhelming. It is great to receive exciting information but to still have the mystery. They had to keep some answers hidden until the next season. One of the biggest issues to this season was early on. A few times some of the characters were too naive despite their previous experiences from the first season. Some of their actions are quite questionable for who they are as a character. This goes away as soon as each character gets situated with what is going on. As characters develop, you get a better appreciation for the actors and actresses on the show. Everyone is so talented, especially these kids. A few new characters are introduced. Maxine is a new girl who the main kids become interested in early on in the season. She is excellent, and as an audience, you will learn a lot about her. Another new character is her step-brother who falls flat in some ways. One of my other favorite additions to the cast is Bob, Joyce’s new boyfriend. He brings some great levity to the show but can be engaging in the more dramatic scenes. Overall, the new additions to the cast are excellent. It is hard for any show to have a cast of characters that are all excellent.

The pacing of the show is similar to the first season with only an extra episode. The show builds up mystery and suspension just as well as the first season. My only issue was one of the episodes towards the end fell flat. Some interesting things could have been done for a character, but it did not go anywhere. It is obvious that somethings were done just to build up to the next season. I understand where they may be coming from, but somethings should have been kept out of this season only to have it more fully developed in a later season to give it the proper attention instead of just throwing it in.

Visually the show is better than ever. More effects added during Will’s visions and scenes in the upside down. You can see this just even in the stylized posters that have been released. A blend of blue and reds with the mix of black to create impressive effects for the audience to digest. The use of the cinematography is excellent. Some fantastic shots of Hawkins to give you a better feel for the town. There are some shots recreated from the first season which was shown heavily in the trailers to provide the audience with some ideas on how things may turn out. One of the best shots to me was a foggy night in the junkyard that looked haunting and set the mood perfectly for the scene. The creators of the show know exactly how to properly set the right tone for any scene.

As you can tell, I am in love with this show. The universe, the characters, acting, cinematography, and just about every other quality. It pains me to wait another year for the next season. This season was just as good as the first, despite a few issues I had. A lot of build up for the next season regarding some directions with characters and the story that did not feel right to be putting in this early without proper development. Early on characters would do certain things that did not make much sense. People were naive about certain things happening when they should not have been. Also, it is too weird to have everything go to hell after one year from the original events. That is a bit hard to believe, but it is not too big of a deal. Even with all these problems, the positives outweigh it all. This show is phenomenal in every way. If you loved the first season, then you will love the second. Netflix has one fantastic show for sci-fi and horror fans.

Score: 9/10

Image via Netflix