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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e02 – The Dark Baptism

I started this episode very happy Lee Toland Krieger was directing and then immediately regretted it because Krieger uses these camera filters—the iMovie version of wiping Vaseline on the lens—to center viewer attention. So while “Sabrina” has that questionable streaming 2.1:1 aspect ratio… the action takes place in a traditional 1.33:1 TV frame. Not even 16:9.

It gets really, really, really annoying this episode, which just turns out to be a testament to the rest of the show’s quality. Save Miranda Otto, who’s not good enough, not opposite Lucy Davis, Kiernan Shipka, or even Chance Perdomo. Davis gets an amazing scene this episode. She’s a star reserve player.

Continuing from last episode are the days of the week title cards, including a very nice homage to Halloween, and by the finish, it’s clear Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote this episode and last as the pilot. I wonder how it plays without an artificial break, like a two-hour pilot or like a very open-ended two-hour feature. I’m thinking the former, just because of Aguirre-Sacasa’s attention to detail.

Sadly some of that detail is in a… I’m not even sure what the right phrase is—a gay panic blackmailing bit. Shipka’s done with the football players who are bullying friend Lachlan Watson and decides to teach them a lesson. So she enlists the mean girls from the witch school she’s going to be attending to help her. Her plan involves using witchcraft to get the guys to do gay stuff, then taking polaroids and blackmailing them. It doesn’t play well. Even if the scene ends up being effective because lead mean girl Tati Gabrielle is good and because Shipka’s able to act through even when the script’s off, which is both a good and bad thing.

The episode resolves what Shipka’s going to do about her sweet sixteen, which is also when she signs her soul over to Lucifer and goes off to witch boarding school, leaving her human friends behind.

The beginning of the episode has some more bonding with secretly possessed teacher Michelle Gomez—who’s awesome—the end is mostly about the soul signing ceremony and fall out. Dark Pope Richard Coyle is a little more effective when not a peculiar stunt cameo but he’s still not enough; Shipka, even when she’s playing coy, dominates their scenes. Coyle’s bombastically clawing at scraps while Shipka’s nonchalantly walking all over him. It works for the character too. The show, two episodes in (one episode in?), is a great showcase for Shipka.

Though type-casting fears are probably justified.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e01 – October Country

The opening titles of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” are, for the most part (if memory serves), Robert Hack art from the source comic book. Now, not only is the comic super-gory, it’s also a period(ish) piece; the show is set modern but none of the teenagers has a smartphone, so it’s a bit removed from reality. The episode opens in a movie theater, with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) hanging out with her group of very modern friends. While boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) is a non-jock White guy, Jaz Sinclair is the only Black girl in the town, and Lachlan Watson is non-binary. There’s a somewhat awkward thing about the bully-enabling principal—a fully dramatic Bronson Pinchot—isn’t an ally.

So some of the dialogue’s a little forced, but all the acting is good and, hey, at least there aren’t some mean girls causing problems too. Just some jocks, who bully and—oh, wait, physically assault—Watson, which Pinchot’s cool with because Watson doesn’t want to give up any names. Shipka tries to convince Bronson otherwise to no avail, which will eventually lead to her using witchcraft to even the playing field.

Shipka’s got the opening narration to set everything up: half-human, half-witch, raised by aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, T-minus five days until Shipka’s got to sign her soul over to Satan and go off to witch school in New England. Only Shipka’s not entirely sure she wants to leave her human friends, especially since her future witch classmates are mean to her for being half-human.

Further complicating matters is Michelle Gomez, one of Shipka’s teachers who just happens to have been possessed by a witch from Hell, whose job it is to make sure Shipka commits to her future as a minion of Lucifer only Gomez has to pretend to be the teacher. Of course, Gomez is playing a character from the comic and the show seems like a sequel to said comic, which show creator and episode writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa never finished because he started making TV shows. So I’ve got baggage and expectation with Gomez.

But it all works out, partially due to the great pacing.

Though Richard Coyle seems to be going way too hard on a Ewan McGregor impression; Coyle’s the cliffhanger arrival guest star… the Dark Pope, arrived to tempt Shipka to the cause. For the amount of build-up he gets, it’d be better if it were Ewan McGregor… It needs a final oomph.

Or would if Shipka’s acting weren’t on point enough to cover, which it is, which she does.

The show works because it’s well-written, Shipka’s a great lead, and the soundtrack is awesome.

Hunters (2020) s01e10 – Eilu v’ Eilu

So when I thought “Hunters” was going to use the tenth episode to set up next season… turns out I was mistaken. There’s some setup for next season, complete with some betrayals and cast changes and very big surprise surprises, but it’s mostly a resolution to this season. To things the show never established needing resolved.

It opens with a flashback to the year before, when Jeannie Berlin originally does to Al Pacino to tell them they have to hunt Nazis in their golden years and whatnot. Berlin and Pacino sit for a very awkward, could be good if Michael Uppendahl’s direction of the actors weren’t so terrible and David Weil’s writing weren’t so blah. It’s a wasted opportunity, but will just be the first of many in the episode.

The next one comes in the present, when Logan Lerman—back to being a good boy after last episode—goes to visit Pacino and Pacino’s disappointed in him because Lerman’s not bloodthirsty enough. So Lerman bitches to his last friend left—Henry Hunter Hall—because the girl is gone this episode. What a red herring she turned out to be on like four different levels. Anyway, Lerman bitches about how Pacino doesn’t like him anymore because Lerman’s not a killer. Hunter Hall—completely straight-faced—is like, “well, you know Jean Grey and Spider-Man both went on to kill the big bad” or something to that effect.

One really has to wonder what superhero movie Weil desperately wants to write because it’s desperately obvious he’s elevator pitching.

What else—meaning what else won’t be a spoiler to the multiple big twists—oh, Greg Austin. Greg Austin, even though he’s just playing a psychopathic neo-Nazi at this point, is back to doing well. Show really didn’t end up treating him well, which is fine; “Hunters” doesn’t treat anyone well in the end.

Except, of course, Dylan Baker. He’s a lot of fun.

And William Sadler’s got a good glorified cameo.

Lerman continues to disappoint. He gets to do his whole “seeing the signs” thing with information again this episode, but he gets all that information from Nazi-hunting notes his grandma has been hiding around the house for a calendar year and Lerman never noticed. Weil’s writing has so many “duh” moments.

As for where the show leaves it for the season… it’s pretty cheap, it’s kind of lazy, but I imagine I’ll be back for the next one. At least to see what’s up with some of the cast, though it’s lost a few major draws.

Hunters (2020) s01e09 – The Great Ole Nazi Cookout of ’77

“Hunters” must’ve had the same thought I did about hammering in the point “Operation Paperclip” was a real thing as this one starts with another of the show’s overly stylized, retro PSA videos. But it doesn’t need the history lesson for this episode, because this episode is where everything comes together. “Hunters” does the penultimate episode as a wrap-up, presumably so next episode can establish what the next season’s going to be like. A ground situation refresh. Love it.

And there’s a lot in the episode. A lot of it is even good. Jerrika Hinton having a showdown with Dylan Baker, then ending up dragging Baker along as a prisoner. It’s fantastic. All of a sudden Hinton comes to life again. She’s not moping about her love life, dying mom, uncaring dad, indifferent—at beast—colleagues (though Sam Daly appears again as her only office bud), or doing a purely expository investigation thing. She’s in a suspense thriller and she’s got to deal with Dylan Baker, who’s such a wonderful bastard.

There’s a good scene for Louis Ozawa, which is just an okay one for Tiffany Boone, but Ozawa gets some nice material this episode. Josh Radnor, it turns out, is able to make Kate Mulvany a lot more than she is on her own. It’s Radnor and Mulvany who find out the Nazis are going to execute their evil plan that night. No blackout from this one, however. Just a wanting John Woo movie.

It doesn’t start like a John Woo movie, it starts with Nelson McCormick almost able to direct an infiltration sequence. The team has come together. It’s time to stop the Nazis once and for all. Al Pacino’s going after Lena Olin and Logan Lerman wants to take out young Nazi Greg Austin, which leads to a painfully bad scene between Lerman and Austin. Lerman, doing his tough guy act this episode, is really not working out with this character development. He’s not able to do any of the stuff he needs to do. Meanwhile Austin’s able to weather the weirdest stuff in this episode and still get in some great deliveries.

But when it comes to action, McCormick certainly seems to be trying to do big action and he does it rather poorly. He’s seemingly confused, with the actors armed like it’s a John Woo movie, but the costumes still the seventies stuff, and the production values wanting. If they couldn’t do it, they shouldn’t have tried. “Hunters” has its definite moments, just rarely when it really needs them.

Like when the cliffhanger has Pacino once again acting like a complete idiot who’d never be able to track down and kill a single Nazi, much less a dozen of them or whatever. He’s always not thinking of something really obvious and important. It’s frustrating.

Hunters (2020) s01e08 – The Jewish Question

Well… while this issue has some great stuff for Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek, pretty much everyone else is at the other end of the stick, which seems like a mixed metaphor but basically there’s some not great acting this episode.

The Nazis blowing up a subway was the final straw to convince Logan Lerman he needs to start torturing Nazis to get information—Victor Slezak, who’s a long way from The Bridges of Madison County—and the episode charts Lerman’s growing radicalization. The scene where Louis Ozawa is mortified at Lerman’s inhumanity while Al Pacino looks on proudly would be something… if Lerman weren’t so insufferable when he acts tough.

At the beginning of “Hunters,” I wondered why Lerman—save looking fourteen years old at twice the age—hadn’t made it. Range. Tough Lerman this episode is a slog.

Also a slog is Jerrika Hinton finally joining the team and facing off against Kate Mulvany. Hinton doesn’t come off well, which is a problem. Hinton joins the team after the blackout starts and she threatens Pacino a bit about how he better be telling her the truth about the Nazis she already knows about.

It seems like they’re going to go out and save the day but really they just meet up with the team, have some cries when the extent of the tragedies unfold, then have a funeral. The funeral’s the next day, which is fine, Jewish funeral and all, but it seems like there’d be some trouble getting the body that fast. Like… finding all the parts.

Anyway.

This episode does have some promise of happiness for Hinton, whose dying mom (Myra Lucretia Taylor, who’s got a seriously thankless role) not only knows she’s gay but loves her for it. Good because not only does dad Andre Ware hate her for it, he also thinks her job (saving the world) isn’t important.

It ought to make Hinton more sympathetic but… not really sure she’s going to to be able to have a successful character arc.

Greg Austin’s writing also disappoints. He’s just an idiot Neo-Nazi psychopath. His sidekick this episode, Jonno Davies, is good. Austin’s fine, it’s just disappointing his role’s so shallow.

Dylan Baker’s only got a couple scenes. Doesn’t help.

Great Judd Hirsch cameo. He faces off with Pacino, comes out ahead, which is cool but not great for the show.

What else… we get Pacino’s secret origin from the Holocaust finally. It’s horrific but not as horrific as it could be; it’s measured. Pacino’s got a monologue about being the dark night. “Hunters” seemingly couldn’t exist without superheroes being in pop culture due to the movies of the last fifteen years, which seems very odd for a show set in the seventies.

But Kane and Rubinek have some amazing work here. Not playing old spies and whatnot, but just a married couple. Lovely work.

Oh, and the secret Nazi plan reveal at the end… could be great if the show has the right idea but I’ve got no confidence it does. Not anymore. “Hunters” has started coasting.

Hunters (2020) s01e07 – Shalom Motherf***er

“Hunters” and the secret history of July 13, 1977! It doesn’t just tie into an actual historical event, it causes an actual historical event. It also then directly ties into Summer of Sam then… I wonder if you could cut the entire movie into “Hunters” and just have it be a subplot.

The Nazis cause the New York City blackout of 1977. Maybe if the episode weren’t so wonky it’d be a better twist.

The whole episode’s not wonky, which is almost what makes it most frustrating. Yes, everything involving Pacino—who starts the episode deciding he’s going to keep more secrets from his team—and Jerrika Hinton (who knowingly lets the Nazis play her so she can close one or two open murder cases and not avert a terrorist attack) is wonky. The showdown between Pacino and Hinton is particularly bad because it’s unbelievable Pacino was able to mastermind anything. He gets painfully played in interrogation… and somehow never asks for a lawyer.

But Louis Ozawa finally gets a great moment or two, one with Josh Radnor (who’s so good) and another with Tiffany Boone (who still doesn’t get enough to do) and sort of assumes the unappreciated utility man position on the show. Radnor and Ozawa are trying to infiltrate a veteran’s hospital and Radnor mugs his way through a group therapy session talking to real vets like it’s a shitty war movie. It’s amazing stuff. Then Ozawa just tops it with his real sharing.

There’s a big suspense set piece with the team trying to avert the Nazi attack at Grand Central Station, which feels very New York movie, but then they’re laughably bad at tailing Greg Austin and it’s like… okay, the “Hunters” aren’t so much “Hunters” as bumblers at this point.

The episode ends on a very sad note–with another ghost coming in to forecast the tragedy—and it’s affecting as all hell, it’s just not particularly good. Pacino’s out of his depth, Hinton’s out of her depth… she’s continuing the U.S. Government protecting Nazis and he’s just so inept at masterminding what else would you expect from his team but disaster.

The show still works—it’s still got loads of accumulated goodwill (Dylan Baker’s amazing as always)—but it’d be nice if they could successfully execute this very important episode.

Hunters (2020) s01e06 – (Ruth 1:16)

This episode opens with what seems like a dream sequence for Tiffany Boone, who outside getting to have a giant afro and an occasionally acknowledged daughter, doesn’t have a character. Not really. She gets home from her shootout with the rest of the “Hunters,” covered in blood (not hers), and gets into bed with aforementioned daughter. It’s not a dream sequence though, it’s just showing the mundanity of being a late seventies Black single parent Nazi hunter.

Boone’s got such a thankless part on the show I’m not even sure if she’s good or not. She’s fine… she just literally gets nothing real.

The main story involves Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane’s daughter’s wedding. Everyone’s going to the wedding, including Kate Mulvany, who’s ostensibly got a double agent plot line to work through this episode, but no, not really. I don’t even feel bad about “spoiling” it since it’s obvious red herring; the reddest herring. She gets some flashbacks—she was a Jewish kid sent to the Catholic Church in England before the war and the nuns made her reject her Judaism, which she did after she got too hungry and seems to forever resent herself for it. Fine.

Rubinek and Kane get some flashbacks too, which are going to be important with Mulvany, but it’s a bummer they don’t really get an episode to themselves. Rubinek and Kane are both really good.

There’s some more great stuff from Dylan Baker and some “I’m more Jewish than Tevye” moments for Al Pacino. Both Baker and Pacino chew the scenery into sawdust, but for Baker it’s a great acting success, for Pacino it’s an appropriate use of his schtick. It’s kind of weird with Pacino, especially during the wedding sequence, which should trigger Godfather memories but doesn’t at all.

The wedding is a lot, especially since it ends up being a target for the Nazis, even though Pacino’s blathering about how they’d never hit it. He’s really unprepared, especially when it comes to keeping stately Wayne Manor protected.

Jerrika Hinton’s continuing her “Mindhunter”-esque story arc with the girlfriend and possibly trusting boss James Le Gros (who’s good) way too much. There’s no reason to trust him. Of course she’s not really grokking the danger of Nazis yet so… it’s on par. She’s also pretty chill about the “Operation Paperclip” stuff (google it), like way too trusting of her government who smuggled Nazis into the country.

Speaking of trust, turns out Pacino’s got another secret from Logan Lerman but not the rest of the team. Lerman has another visit from ghost grandma Jeannie Berlin… weird how it’s ghost Berlin for good stuff and the younger version of her for bad stuff.

The episode pushes a little too hard, especially with Louis Ozawa visiting an old war buddy for information, only the old war buddy has been used in U.S. government experiments (with an ex-Nazi doing the experimenting).

The episode’s fine it’s just… nothing more than fine.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e08 – Broken Pieces

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon is writing solo again this episode and, I mean, there are some bad scenes but the cringe factor is gone. Of course “Picard” is going to have poorly written and acted scenes, what else would it have; there’s no surprise in them anymore.

This episode has Picard (Patrick Stewart) running back to Starfleet for help with the gigantic intergalactic conspiracy, knowing Tamlyn Tomita is running things from the inside. So basically he’s a trusting dope. Great protagonist. But he’s not because the show’s so drug out most of the episode is the supporting cast, which isn’t great.

Alison Pill and Isa Briones bond this episode, even as Pill’s processing being a double agent and everyone knows about her. Meanwhile Briones has full access to her genes’ memories, including knowing Data loved Picard, which should be a touching moment but barely elicits even an eye-roll. Chabon’s not capable of writing honest moments, so why bother getting worked up when the show can’t deliver them.

Also terrible this episode is Michelle Hurd trying to figure out what’s wrong with captain Santiago Cabrera. He freaks out when he sees Briones beam aboard and instead of it just being him explaining why he’s freaking out, he goes and hides for the entire episode, leaving Hurd to talk to all of his holograms. So if you’re a fan of Cabrera doing caricatures… this episode’s for you.

Hurd’s not good either.

Tomita’s bad, Briones’s bad, Evan Evagora’s not as bad, oh, yeah, the pointless inclusion of Jeri Ryan to drag out the Romulans chasing Picard… Ryan’s not as bad as she could be.

Some terrible, terrible scenes throughout with an ending straight out of Empire Strikes Back for the second time (the same Boba Fett action beat too). It’s like Stewart and Cabrera are just inept at captaining. It’d be concerning if it weren’t all so bad.

There’s a lot of exposition on the Romulan fear of androids and basically… Chabon watched a bunch of new “Battlestar” and puked it into the mix for this show. Or there are only so many stories you can do about secret societies and androids.

“Picard”’s fairly awful. It’s just about who’s getting through it and who’s not. So far, none of the regular cast are getting through. Pill’s gone from being welcome to terrible, Briones has had a similar arc. Stewart’s badness has gone from being a surprise to being the standard.

You’d really think he’d ask not to be written like such an absolute moron though. Chabon, quite obviously, can’t write him as anything else.

Hunters (2020) s01e05 – At Night, All Birds are Black

I feel like “Hunters” needs a real disclaimer to explain while the show itself is fictional, the U.S. government really did import a bunch of Nazis to the United States and turned them into citizens and paid to keep them quiet and happy and fat just so we could beat the Russians to the moon or whatever. There’s this “they brought in thousands of Nazis” moment and it’s like… yeah. They did. Think about that.

The episode’s got a great monologue about it, then a funny PSA about how Huntsville, Alabama is full of Nazis who work in the space program.

There are two targets this episode. Raphael Sbarge plays one, Barbara Sukowa the other. Sukowa’s a Leni Riefenstahl stand-in, Sbarge’s just a Nazi who knows other Nazis. Kind of weird casting—Sukowa’s a renowned West German actor from the eighties, Sbarge’s… Raphael Sbarge. The episode’s also got a cameo from Josh Mostel, though his voice is more recognizable than Mostel himself.

Logan Lerman, Louis Ozawa, and Kate Mulvany go after Sbarge. Josh Radnor, Tiffany Boone, and Al Pacino go after Sukowa. The Sukowa side leads up to a confrontation with Nazi hitman Greg Austin—the Nazis have figured out Pacino’s up to something and he… isn’t prepared for the Nazis to find out about him. It’s concerning.

Ozawa gets an inconvenient PTSD flashback, which is the first time he’s gotten much backstory. Mulvany’s got a big twist too. But while there’s more action on their target, more busyness, Pacino’s one has the bigger “heroes in danger” moment. Not to mention Pacino’s got some kind of secret we’re not supposed to know about yet, just know there’s something he wants to hide from the team.

Meanwhile Dylan Baker gets to meet with Lena Olin and get back into the big Nazi plot. It’s not a great showdown… Olin’s… fine. But she’s not some great villain. She’s an adequate Nazi mastermind.

Jerrika Hinton’s still investigating, this episode meeting up with reporter Miles G. Jackson, who tried to get the word out about the Nazis in the United States and the New York Times fired him for his trouble.

“Hunters” is settling in… it’s good, well-executed, well-plotted. Not what I was expecting (didn’t think Pacino or Lerman would headline with this little spotlight), but it’s good.

Hunters (2020) s01e04 – The Pious Thieves

The best part of this episode is Dylan Baker getting pissed off Lena Olin is cutting him out of the Nazi plans and scheming to get back into them. Baker’s stunt-casting, more so than even Pacino (who, playing a Jewish Holocaust survivor in old age is the heaviest lifting Pacino’s had to do in a mainstream part in, what, decades), and it’s great to see Baker do his thing. I mean, it’s a little iffy because you’re rejoicing in his evil Nazi bastard being angry he doesn’t get to be a more evil Nazi bastard but… Baker’s amazing at being evil. What can you do.

Baker’s plot line has him manipulating politician Becky Ann Baker, who’s fine and maybe even good, but not really enough to stand-off against Baker. I’m not sure anyone on “Hunters” is enough to stand-off against Baker. I’ll have to see Pacino do it to believe it.

Then the main plot. The main plot is Pacino and the gang breaking into Nazi banker John Noble’s bank, where the bad guys have a safety deposit box. It’s going to be an intricate plan and require a lot from the team. It feels a little like Inside Man during the heist preparation scenes but not during the actual execution because it turns out the team isn’t all that great at the heist thing. There aren’t cracks so much as the team is a bunch of amateurs. Outside Kate Mulvany, who’s a little better this episode when she’s got to narrate some Holocaust flashbacks for Logan Lerman so Lerman has another chance to realize the Nazis were actual bad guys and not just misled padawans or whatever.

Lerman also talks to Jerrika Hinton, who continues to lose presence in the show.

There’s a good showdown scene between Pacino and Noble to round off the episode.

The episode’s also got a recurring flashback with A.J. Shively and Anna Ewelina as star-crossed lovers during the Holocaust but it’s just to later emphasize Lerman’s lack of understanding, complete with some Schindler’s List black and white stylizing. “Hunters” nicely doesn’t shy away from being a lot but occasionally it’s way too comfortable about it.

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