All Creatures Great and Small Episode Two

All Creatures Great and Small

Ah, that’s the stuff. After a lackluster hour watching Around the World in 80 Days, we get some excellent entertainment. If you hadn’t guessed already, I enjoyed the second episode of All Creatures Great and Small as much as I liked the first.

This episode of All Creatures Great and Small expands on the main conflicts introduced in the first episode while also introducing potential romantic interests for Siegfried and Mrs. Hall. The major story arc continues to be James potentially taking a new job and Siegfried’s unwillingness to listen to James’s ideas.

Inciting Incidents

Episode two unfolds leisurely, as is the general pace of All Creatures Great and Small. The big Daffodil Day festival is around the corner and the gang all purchases tickets except Mrs. Hall who prefers to stay at home reading a book. Siegfried and Tristan leave to tend to an important customer James apparently forget the day before. Meanwhile James and Mrs. Hall are left to hold down the fort but their orderly schedule is disrupted by an emergency. Helen drops by because Tristan told her James had something to ask.

These inciting incidents largely direct the rest of the episode, as it should be. The events of the opening sequence let the audience know what to expect. This is nothing more than standard writing technique but it seems absent in most other shows I watch. Every thread introduced in the opening sequence of this episode of All Creatures Great and Small plays an important role the rest of the way.

The Incidents Lead the Plot

At surgery, Mrs. Hall redirects all the morning clients to the afternoon in order for James to tend to the wounded dog. A trap caught the dog and mangled its leg. The owner is a veteran who also has a wounded leg. He and Mrs. Hall find a connection and it quickly becomes apparent this is a romantic interest.

James saves the dog, of course, although recommends it be kept overnight to make sure infection hasn’t set in. Events unfold naturally in a way that makes sense. There is drama without piercing music telling us the situation is frightening. I found myself far more afraid for the dog than for Fogg and Passepartout an hour earlier as they stumbled through sandstorms and desert heat. Why? It all seemed real, natural, believable, part of a flowing narrative. I am immersed.

Meanwhile, Siegfried defers to an important client who threatens to move his business to another veterinarian. Then we have some comic relief with Tristan and a large sow. On the return trip Tristan makes some pointed remarks in regards to Siegfried’s timidness in regards to the client and general demeanor of not wanting to take risks in his old age. This speech drives future narratives between Siegfried and James in regards to upgrading the surgery to modern standards. In other words, it is there for a reason.

The Pay Off

All Creatures Great and Small does not disappoint. Everything setup in the opening sequence comes to bear in the last half of the episode. James and Helen dance at the festival. Siegfried stands up to the important customer. Mrs. Hall sits alone petting the wounded dog as a symbolic substitute for a romantic relationship with its owner.

We, the audience, are rewarded for paying attention to events. Things don’t come and go for no logical reason therefore it’s important we watch each moment of All Creatures Great and Small with attention. When I know something is pertinent, important, I care. I care about the characters and what happens to them, I’m invested.

Wrapping Things Up

We end with questions unanswered and further intrigue ahead while still wrapping up this episode in a satisfactory fashion. The wounded dog is fine. Helen is ready to move on. Mrs. Harris declines a polite invitation for a dog walk but we know it’s not the last of the handsome man we’ll see.

Meanwhile, James’s mother took it into her own hands to accept the position offered at the modern veterinarian clinic leaving James torn. He wants to stay here but he feels an obligation to his parents who paid his way through school.

Siegfried makes of point of telling James that suggestions for improving the surgery are welcome although we’re not completely sure if we believe the stern owner.

Conclusion

Another excellent episode of All Creatures Great and Small. The writers, actors, set designers, and all the rest clearly pay attention to details. Simple things are not taken for granted. Near the end of the episode an old client comes in who reminds us of how James and Helen spent the night attending a pregnant doggo. It’s the same dog or at least one that looks the same.

It’s a real pleasure watching this show and I eagerly await next week’s episode.

Tom Liberman

Around the World in 80 Days Episode 1 Review

Around the World in 80 Days

I’m a nerd. When I learned PBS planned to air a new version of Around the World in 80 Days it caught my attention. I read Jules Verne as a young boy and loved his novels. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and, of course, Around the World in 80 Day. They fired my youthful imagination and the idea of a new series, with David Tennant of Doctor Who fame as the lead, brought a big smile to my face.

I watched the first episode on Sunday and came away sadly disappointed. Hopefully things will improve but my problems are many. Let me explain.

Series versus Movie

One of the great things about a television series based on a book is simply the amount time afforded to explore ideas. Books are rich, complex, long. It is often incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to bring a book to the big screen with any success. It requires the screenwriter to pick and choose what to show in the limited time available.

A television series largely does not have that limitation. If you’d like to see a great series adaptation of a book, I must direct you to His Dark Material. The books are complex and eight episodes per novel give the story time to develop.

That is why I eagerly anticipated Sunday night.

Rush, Rush, Rush, and More Rush

In my opinion the entire episode of Around the World in 80 days rushed things at every step. We are introduced in short order to Phileas Fogg, Passepartout, and added character Abigail Fortescue, quickly and given fast snippets into their nature. Little time is spent showing the audience the quiet, boring, routine life of Fogg which is crucial to understanding what is to come.

Why not spend some languorous time developing Fogg in particular but also the other main characters? An entire episode getting to know all three, particularly the revolutionary Frenchman Passepartout and his past. Taking a little time here sets things up for later. It gives us an emotional investment in the characters.

Madness in Paris

Instead, we are immediately rushed into the main plot where our adventurers find themselves without a train in Paris thanks to a citizen uprising. If we knew about Passepartout’s brother, about his past, then everything that happens in this episode touches the viewer emotionally.

Frankly, the entire episode in France is added and not in the book at all. I don’t mind that, well and good, but this is all happening in one episode. The Paris excursion needed an entire episode on its own. We need to understand Passepartout, his brother, their cause, their grievances, the establishment’s position but it’s shoved down our throats like a spotted dick pudding at the Reform Club.

The destruction in Paris, the assassination attempt, the death of Passepartout’s brother which I’m guessing was meant to be heart-wrenching, the ridiculous chase scene played more for laughs than anything else, it all took me out of immersion. What is going on? Why is this happening?

The Balloon

The balloon scene in Around the World in 80 Days is iconic and we got it here but it made no sense. The great inventor whose wife died is awaiting with the fully inflated and ready to go balloon? Come on. Does anyone believe that?

What’s sad is the story of the inventor is touching. It’s a great little addition but it comes and goes so quickly it is meaningless to me. I don’t care about him or his wife.

Then the balloon flying the direction they want, over the Alps apparently, it’s all happening so fast, what’s happening? I can’t keep track? Who is flying the balloon? Why does Fogg know how to do it?

Conclusion

It’s my opinion the first episode of Around the World in 80 Days could easily be three episodes. The first in London getting to know all the characters including foreshadowing of trouble in France. It might end with the group getting off the train in Paris amidst the mayhem.

The second then spending the entire time in Paris with Passepartout, his brother, Abigail, getting into and out of trouble but at a reasonable pace. And finally, the third focusing on the balloon, the inventor, the death of his wife and the eventual escape from Paris.

Everything happened far too fast with little explanation and I felt lost, confused, and mainly disappointed.

A Quick Note about Abigail

I have no trouble with the addition of a plucky, female reporter added to the team. It’s a nice modern addition to the structure of the story. That being said, she seems to do little except show how darn plucky she is. The character deserves more.

Tom Liberman

White Lotus Ultimately Disappointing

White Lotus

What is White Lotus?

White Lotus is a recently released mini-series which received acclaim from both critics and audience. It tells the tale of a group of travelers at a luxury resort and expands on their personal problems while hinting at a murder mystery.

Really Good for While

The thing about White Lotus is that it’s really quite good in almost every respect. It’s not a situation like The Nevers or Miss Scarlet. Those shows, while many people certainly enjoy them greatly, I found to be almost without redeeming qualities.

In White Lotus the writing is well-paced and interesting. The characters slowly reveal themselves to us through dialog and events rather than obtrusive exposition. In particular the Quinn character story arc spoke to me in a number of ways.

Steve Zahn as Quinn’s father annoyed me to no end but slowly grew into an interesting and fully three-dimensional character. The acting is largely excellent. I thought Jake Lacy as the annoying husband to the confused and unhappy Alexandra Daddario particularly effective. Connie Britton peeled away the crazy layers of her character with wild-eyed abandon.

The sets were lovely, the cinematography well done. Quinn going outside to sleep on the beach as the sun set and whales breeched is an image I won’t soon forget.

Why it Doesn’t Succeed Fully

You might be wondering at this point as to why I found White Lotus disappointing if all I can manage to do is heap praise upon it.

It’s the ending. Perhaps I should say some of the endings. I don’t mind a story that doesn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow, in fact I general prefer a little ambiguity. I also don’t mind an ending that isn’t happy. That’s real life and it happens.

The fate of Rachel in a golden prison with Shane is not my problem. Nor is the conclusion of the Nicole story with her joyously sprinkling the ashes of her dead mother. Those two I liked, it’s everyone else’s ending that disappointed.

I really don’t know what to make of the Paula and Olivia ending. What happened? Are they still friends? Did they learn anything. What about poor Kai? Manipulated by Paula to salvage her own conscious at being of color but living in luxury.

I worry that Quinn won’t even be able to make it back from the airport to the resort with no phone and no money. How will he survive? His parents certainly won’t let the plane leave without Quinn on board.

What about Belinda? What will she do with the wad of cash? Will Nicole run the business opportunity by her team and change her mind?

Armand’s story seemed to simply justify the premise of the opening scene where we know someone died. It didn’t seem organic to me.

In the End

Too many of the endings just weren’t endings at all. I found myself unsatisfied. I’m certainly not saying White Lotus is bad, it’s quite good really and I very much enjoyed watching it. I’m looking forward to a second season reportedly in the works with new guests.

I guess my point here is that endings are really important. If you can’t find a good ending then every wonderful thing leading to that point is forgotten. White Lotus was close to wonderful and I’d recommend it even though the ending left me disappointed.

Tom Liberman

The Nevers Baggage Free Review

The Nevers

An Objective Review of The Nevers

The Nevers is a new show on HBO and I’m right at the center of the demographic audience for whom it is intended. That’s a fancy way of saying I’m a nerd with money to spend.

Not long ago I wrote a review of All Creatures Great and Small and Miss Scarlett and in it I discussed the ideas of reviewing a show for its objective good or bad traits rather than any baggage associated with the show or those who are involved in it.

If ever a show needed an objective review, it’s The Nevers although I’m not going to go into reasons why it is necessary, trust me on the subject. Most review are going to be at least partially if not mostly influenced by said baggage. None of that here.

What is The Nevers?

The Nevers is a much-hyped show on HBO which follows the exploits of a group of late nineteenth century Londoners dealing with the results of an unexplained phenomenon that left a number of people touched, that is to say, with special abilities and traits.

It’s a nerdalicious show with all the elements that have intrigued me since the early days of such shows which arguably began with the underrated Misfits of Science. To say that I’m a fan is to damn with faint praise indeed. I eat this stuff by the gallon and beg for more.

The Review

Acting

The ensemble case, and I do mean ensemble, for the premier episode did an excellent job for the most part. It doesn’t hurt that lead actor Laura Donnelly is an athletic, dark-haired vixen with more than a touch of crazy in her eyes. I have a weakness for that type. Still, trying to ignore my rapidly beating heart, I thought she was believable in the lead role as Amalia True.

Ann Skelly as Penance Adair was also excellent as a sidekick. She brought a sweetness to the role that seemed to shine through. The secondary characters all performed well. Amy Manson seemed over-the-top as the murderous Maladie and I thought hers was the weakest performance although she had little to do so I’ll withhold judgment.

I have only one quibble with the acting and it’s probably more with the sound team and the writing than the actors. I struggled throughout to understand the dialog. Their accents along with a lot of mumbling made it really difficult to follow.

Characters

The characters were all quite interesting and the opening vignette where we met them was relatively nicely managed. It’s not easy to get in so many backstories so quickly and I felt somewhat shortchanged, particularly in regards to Amalia who attempts to commit suicide but why?

In addition, Amalia’s Touched power is precognition but she somehow has ninja skills and is a martial arts master. I’ll talk more about this in the writing section.

Likewise, the Beggar King was introduced almost as an afterthought and attempting to make him menacing with so little to do didn’t work well for me. Lord Massen was handled particularly well as the big baddy. They did a nice job of explaining, at least partially, his hatred of the Touched in that his daughter collapses after the inciting incident.

Mary Brighton’s introduction seemed very forced as well and I just didn’t care about her at all even in the climactic opera scene. I think the big problem was too many characters too quickly. There’s just not enough time to get to know or care about them.

All in all, I think the characters are interesting and promising.

Writing

In a nutshell, this is where things went wrong. The writing falls into the typical trap of action shows where entire scenes appear out of nowhere, make no logical sense to the plot, and take me out of the moment. By this I mean I leave my immersion and shake my head in astonishment at the stupidity.

Particularly egregious from my perspective is Amalia with martial skills. Why does she have them? It makes no sense. They really needed a third lead along with Penance who has such Touched abilities but I guess the cast was already far too large.

In addition, Amalia’s precognition is a real problem in that she sees the future, changes her behavior, and alters the timeline removing what she just witnessed. I kind of have this problem with precognition in whole. I’d like to see her Touched ability give her insight into what to do after the event happens, not prevent it entirely.

From a scene related perspective, when Amalia and Penance went to investigate a touched girl, Myrtle things made little sense. Suddenly, while downstairs with her parents, kidnappers arrive upstairs and an enormous chase scene ensues. The investigation was just an excuse to have the chase.

Now, I will give the writers credit, they tried to explain the coincidence of the kidnapping at that exact moment as a result of the Beggar King giving the same information to the group led by Maladie. Still, I’m not buying it.

The pivotal opera scene made no sense whatsoever, from beginning to end. Why were they there? Maladie was there apparently to capture a Touched girl but goes on a nonsensical rant on stage as a way to introduce her compatriots, I guess. I couldn’t follow her dialog at all. Why did Mary start to sing?

It was an enormous hodgepodge of a chocolate mess. Why didn’t security rush the stage immediately? How did Hugo Swann only notice the murderous rampage on set when Maladie rushed by with Mary? I mean, he was standing right there for the entire thing.

The weepy dialog between Amalia and Penance after the failed pursuit didn’t make any sense at all. The entire scene, arguably the most pivotal in the first episode was baffling.

The writing really killed my enjoyment of what otherwise seems like a promising show. Too bad.

Sets and Costumes

The sets are stunning and believable and the costume design work is absolutely first rate. No quibbles here.

Music

Music is generally a problem in shows of this nature as it grows overbearing and preachy. When should I be afraid? When should I sense romance? Just listen to the volume cranking up. I’m thrilled to say the music was used with a relatively deft touch. The action scenes weren’t drowned by the music.

I am happy with the relatively deft touch displayed by the sound team here although they must do something about making the dialog understandable.

Conclusion

I didn’t enjoy the show almost exclusively because of poor writing. Many scenes seemed to be setups for action sequences rather than a plot moving device. Everything else was worth watching and I’ll keep tuning in for the moment, but we’ll see.

Tom Liberman