Category Archives: Reviews

Everything’s Riverdale: S2E8 House of the Devil

Love! Sex! Death! Car dealerships! Amateur porn!

Everything’s Riverdale!

(But hold the worm)

YOUR PALS

 

Margaret Howard believes that her father was driven mad by the mystery of the Devil’s House, dragging himself back there there “day and night for hours,” scratching and searching for that one clue that might yet make sense of it all.

Sheriff Howard returned to the Devil’s House every year. Every year. Day and night. Hours and hours. That one elusive detail forever out of his grasp.

Veronica finds it in exactly one minute and fifty-nine seconds. In the dark. Without her Sleuthing Cloak. She used counting.   

I am being unfair, of course. Sheriff Howard did know there was a third Conway child. It’s just that, unlike Veronica, he never thought to ask that child what happened.  

Sheriff Keller can rest easy, knowing that history will not remember him as Riverdale’s most useless lawman.

Portugal. The Man perform ‘Feel it Still’ over a scene in this episode. But which scene? Let me just look it up on the Riverdale Wiki. Ah. Here it is. “SCENE: Jughead narrates as Archie and Veronica have sex.

Jughead narrates as Archie and Veronica have sex. What a way to behave! Even if he is pledged to write every day, the subject matter was left open. This is a striking choice for him (How was the data even gathered?) and it’s a striking choice for the show, as to have a series of saucy scenes narrated by a third character, to make a third character dramatically present in those moments, is no small thing. Archie and Veronica having a lot of sex becomes nowhere near as interesting as why and what Jughead is thinking about Archie and Veronica having a lot of sex. What mystery is he trying to solve today?

Betty is not having a lot of sex. “PG-13 grope sessions” with Jughead, very possibly, but not a lot of sex. This, the episode makes abundantly clear, is very much on her mind. Kevin may have been spot on when he told her that she has the privilege of being free to explore her “BDSM sexuality” but such explorations are evidently not happening at her pace.    

Byrdie informs Betty that becoming “serpent adjacent” will involve a public display of sexuality.

Toni supposes that this will put her off.   

Children Waiting For The Day They Feel Good are evoked as Betty begins her verse. Archie and Veronica’s disastrous attempt at a duet, a shared romantic moment, has collapsed and Betty has taken to the stage to complete the song, get her kit off, and touch herself up a bit. Once again, a third party has been introduced into Archie and Veronica’s intimacy.

People run in circles. Betty is trying to work out how she stands in relation to sexuality; She knows she’s waiting to enter a sexual world and needing to know how she wants that world to work. Jughead is trying to work out how he stands in relation to sexuality; Does he want to enter a sexual world? Both are trying to solve their mysteries by juxtaposing themselves with Archie and Veronica’s straight, vanilla rumpo and romance, by imagining themselves as third persons in that relationship. Bless their clueless hearts.

Veronica asks “So… you want us to be you guys?” Oh, Ronnie. It’s so much more complicated than that.

The Penultimate Lyric of Mad World is “Enlarge your world,” an imperative which suggests the gloom of the prior verses is escapable by putting yourself outside their limits. All our little lost lambs need do to beat the devil, to be able to look in the mirror, is make it to the end of the song.

The Devil has so far this season been identified with Hiram, Penny, Dilton and the Black Hood. They’ve all been the devil, or been said to resemble him, for at least one scene. Meanwhile, the Reaper has been imagined to worship him, and we’re heading towards an adaptation of a comic in which his occasional wife is a major character. ‘The Devil’ as a symbol has roamed freely around Riverdale, laying his hat in everyone’s hallways. Now he finally has an address of his own.

The Conways are a hard done by family. First they’re murdered, then the Devil takes their house. I wonder by what process the house came to be thought of as evil, given that it was a threat external to the house that killed them. Murder and evil did not, in any account we’ve heard so far, gestate and develop within the house; Murder just walked in out of the woods.  

The Conways could equally be a loose reference to J.B. Priestly or to the ill-fated Conway family from super-racist Top Notch Comics story ‘Dick Storm in India.’ Therein lies the duality of this show.

Dick Storm.

Sweet Pea performs this week’s most exemplary off-screen 180, having gone from being in favour of mortar attacks to being in favour of seeking rapprochement with the Mayor.

Hermione is far more relaxed nowadays. The Lodges started this season suspicious of each other being supervillains and stressed about being trapped into supervillainous lives. After their righteous vengeance on Nick St Clair, the family appear temporarily united around the idea that supervillainy has its virtues.

Cheryl’s story right now is about a lot of things, but a biggie is how she stands in relation to ideas of female solidarity. Everyone kicking the shit out of Nick St Clair was a joyous and cathartic moment and the week it aired was one in which a lot of us were in the mood to see a group of young, would-be celebrities beat a rapist mogul to a bloody pulp in a hotel room. The trouble for Cheryl is that that moment, a huge moment in her life, was made possible by the Pussycats’ “women help women” ethos and that’s not an ethos to which she feels she can connect.

Jason remains the only person with whom Cheryl feels any solidarity, and her “me and my dead brother against the world” worldview can’t permit any of this “women help women” business. So feeling beholden to that ethos for her rescue is an unimaginable crisis for Cheryl’s mental functioning, and she’s found herself in a position where she either has to rethink the whole way she sees the world or violently alter reality to allow “me and my dead brother against the world” to remain tenable.

Cheryl is violently altering reality. Veronica, Josie, Melody and Valerie did not come to her aid. Josie did. Josie saved her. Cheryl has reduced an instance of collective female action to an idea she finds more manageable and containable; Josie saved her. The whole event has been condensed down into the person of Josie. Now all Cheryl need do is violently alter Josie’s reality, so she too can be managed and contained.   

Hiram is such a plausible father for Veronica. His flustered “That’s my preference” line is a wonderfully Veronica-ish line with wonderfully Veronica-ish delivery. Benefiting from being a Season Two introduction, he’s what a TV dad looks like when you have an established character to create a dad for.  

André is trained in the martial arts.

The Red Death shows up in ONE Edgar Allan Poe story, Jugs! Why’re you talking like it’s Poe’s Team Rocket? I think he’s got confused because that story was published as both ‘The Mask of the Red Death’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’ Assuming these to be separate stories, the Mighty Serpent Prince has imagined an entire series of “Oh no! It’s the Red Death!” misadventures round Prince Prospero’s gaff.   

Freddy Krueger is the horror icon that Jughead finds Tony Todd most reminiscent of.

Svenson may have been a red herring in last episode’s mystery, but with a quick tweak of the Conway story then he can be repurposed into relevance here.

The Reaper was both a preacher and a con man. For anyone unconvinced by the ‘PUNISH SIN!’ motivation espoused by the Black Hood, then it’s interesting to see the figure he mirrors established as those two particular things.

“A Group of Men” killed the Reaper. Veronica takes Svenson’s approval of their actions as a sign that he’s the Black Hood. The idea that a member of this retributive posse might be the Black Hood does not seem to have yet been considered. They’re obviously the Secret Origin of something though, aren’t they? Maybe, in their role as community protectors, we’re looking at the first Serpents.   

The Serpents are very strict about their induction programme. There’s all sorts of things you have to do – shouty ceremonies, getting tattoos, being punched, pole dancing, dog sitting, etc – the formality and ritualisation of which suggests that when you join the Serpents you’re making a lifelong commitment. Seems not though. If at any point you want out you can just say you’re retiring and get a preppy looking teenager to hire a karaoke machine. It seems that’s an option that’s available.     

Josie is either being paid to escort Reggie or Reggie’s dad. It is unclear.

The Serpents very keen on ‘Mad World,’ very disappointed when not sung through.

Penny has taken over Clifford Blossom’s operation. Which we know wasn’t the distribution of Jingle Jangle, a substance we haven’t heard of since the Sugarman died. Real drugs are in resurgence and fantasy drugs are on the wane. This better not stop us getting Jingles the Elf in the Christmas episode.

Archie stepped outside of Riverdale’s storyspace last episode and glimpsed the Archie multiverse. He’s having a hard time reacclimatising. All he wants to talk about is love, in an episode that wants to talk about not talking about love, and he acts throughout like he’s the one with the least personal interest in the Black Hood. His life won’t quite let him back in.  

FP’s smirk regarding how sexually frustrated he may, or may not, have been in prison would be the finest moment this episode. Were it not for the same character’s choice to use a daintily extended pinky to illustrate recovery from alcohol. The whole “respectable people don’t have problems” lie that Alice pretends to live by gets destroyed with a single digit parody of gentility.   

Alice should get a slow motion entrance every episode.

The Serpents are remarkably gracious in responding to Alice with “Hey look! It’s Alice! From back in the day!” rather than “Hey look! It’s Alice! Who constantly publishes articles about how we’re the greatest menace since Spider-Man!”

Familiar Faces, Worn-out Places, Worn-out Faces appear.

The Penultimate Lyric of ‘Mad World’ does not appear.

TV Review: Broad City S4E10 Friendiversary

“Friendiversary” is really freaking weird episode of Broad City and it’s also incredibly simple. Unlike the Season 3 finale, which was a two part episode and involved serialization and a plane flight to Israel, director Nicholas Jasenovec and writers Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson just have Abbi and Ilana running around New York City. It starts as Ilana doing a scavenger hunt for Abbi complete with creepy masks, pretending to be a puppy and horse, and nauseatingly good chicken fingers and turns into a murder mystery. Having the girls bounce off each other in hilarious and heartfelt ways continues to be just as good as it was when they were scrounging up money to see Lil Wayne by cleaning adult baby Fred Armisen’s apartment back in the first ever episode of Broad City.

The murder mystery with a super freaky plot twist isn’t the only tension causing part of Broad City. Glazer and Jacobson decide to inject a little drama into Abbi and Ilana’s friendship as Abbi forgot it was their friend anniversary and didn’t have a gift or activity planned so she improvises with a facial mask and a trip to the top of Empire State Building. This pales in comparison to Ilana giving Abbi her family heirloom (Its backstory is Fiddler on the Roof meets Christopher Walken’s character in Pulp Fiction.) and dropping four figures on blowing cardboard versions of each other’s faces. Early, in the episode, Glazer gives little pauses, and there is a little less pep in her line readings as she realizes that Abbi flat out forgot their friendiversary. It shows a quieter, sad side of the character, but things are back to full energy when Ilana realizes that the observation deck on the Empire State Building is perfect for watching people have sex and also get “murdered”.

For many of the stories in Broad City Season 4, the writers have given Abbi and Ilana separate plots that dovetail towards the beginning or end of the episode. “Friendiversary” is full fledged team-up and a love letter to one of the most fun and endearing friendships on television. A lesser show would have them fighting over Abbi’s forgetfulness, but Glazer and Jacobson create a film noir story with a Broad City twist and show that she really cares about Ilana. I mean she would break into a possible murderer’s apartment and hide in his closet for her.

Although the cold open is all wacky comedy reveals and playful costumes worn by Glazer, Nicholas Jasenovec gets to go a little psychological thriller in his direction of “Friendiversary”. There’s a nice hip hop montage when Abbi and Ilana share chicken fingers and margaritas, but that is replaced with cold, steady direction as a man paces in his apartment with a knife or goes into the back room of a karaoke bar with a suitcase and leaves with no suitcase. Abbi and Ilana are the most unlikely gumshoe detectives, but their friendship conquers skill deficiency and genre tropes. Somehow, they end up in the man’s apartment, and the conclusion of the episode gets on-screen and offscreen laughs, but after Jasenovec does these tight, true crime angles that create an air of menace. It’s cool that “Friendiversary” gets to be a relationship study and a bit of a genre exercise.

In a Broad City season filled with mostly successful experiments and a few duds, “Friendiversary” is relaxing in its lack of ambition. Glazer and Jacobson, Abbi and Ilana put it all on the line, show how much they love each other, and get a little freaky along the way, which is all I could want out of a Broad City finale. Character growth would be interesting, but sometimes it’s nice to have a show that revels in its hilarious, chemistry filled status quo. Who doesn’t love a murder mystery that can be solved by the power of friendship?

Overall Verdict: 8.0

TV Review: The Flash S4E9 Don’t Run

Amunet threatens to kill Caitlin if she doesn’t help perform a tricky medical task; The Thinker traps The Flash in a speedster-proof prison; Iris is forced to choose whether to save Caitlin or Barry.

The Flash gets back running with an episode following up on the four part crossover. Barry and Iris are married and they’re going over their presents. But bliss isn’t going to last, where’s the entertainment in that?

The episode has two stories as two team members are kidnapped and Iris must decide where to focus. It puts her in an interesting place and it’s pretty clear what the decision is, so a little baffling as to why there’s much of a debate at all other than “emotions.”

Caitlin is taken hostage and we meet a new meta human. It’s a pretty standard story where the doctor is forced to help the patient under duress and threat. Then there’s Barry being kidnapped by the Thinker. The motives for this and the how are a bit odd and it might be best to not think about any of it but the point is for a major pivot of the character (which makes you wonder how it’s not causing a time rift unto itself).

There’s a big twist at the end with the Thinker and Barry and the concept of the story feels better than the execution itself, especially this episode. Beyond the final 10 or 15 minutes, the episode is rather forgettable. There’s nothing that really makes it stand out at all with some humorous moments but no amazing thing, not even actionwise.

Altogether, it’s a standard episode who has a goal and achieves it. There’s some key moments but the episode itself can be skipped for just the last 15 minutes.

 

 

Overall Rating: 7.0

Everything’s Riverdale: S2E7 Tales From The Darkside

In ‘Death Proof,’ Riverdale pushed its eccentric format to a point of fulfillment where it was most utterly and distinctively itself. So what’s next? Change the format!

As Pocahontas and Heraclitus both sang, you can’t step in the same Riverdale twice. Or, as Robert Browning and Sarah Polley both sang… everything’s strange and new…

Everything’s Riverdale!

WEIRD MYSTERIES

Betty and Veronica

After some opening narration that threatens a found footage episode, we learn that we’re in for a horror anthology instead. One in which the Black Hood sets our pals a fun challenge and, over the course of three interconnected stories, they will proceed to completely ignore it and not trouble themselves to reference it in any way.

Across the three stories, Cheryl is the only character who alludes to its framing device. Once. Dismissively. 

Good for them. It was a silly challenge.

The Hood’s rules are that they are to avoid sinning for forty-eight hours or otherwise he’ll “take up the sword” once more. No element of that is well defined. The Black Hood is shit at game design.

First of all, we’ve still no idea what you understand by ‘sin’, mate. Seems very random and lacking any theological rigour or substance if you ask me. All over the place you are with your ‘sin.’ And what’s this ‘Forty-Eight Hours’ business? Forty-Eight hours from when? From when the news broke or from when you nailed your theses to the door of Pop Tate’s? Sounds like you meant the second, but that’s hardly fair, is it? People would have been sleep-sinning for hours before they learned they were even playing.

Then there’s “take up the sword again.” You can’t threaten us with resuming killing when there’s been no indication that you’ve stopped! You killed someone just last week! What sort of terrifying threat is “things will continue as they have been”? You have to at least threaten to escalate or something.

(Unless by “take up the sword” the Black Hood literally means he’s going to switch weapons. Unwise if so as he’s only just got the hang of successfully shooting people)

Directed to abstain from unspecified activities for an unclear period of time or face unclear consequences, everyone apparently decides to not bother playing and to just get on with their lives.

Betty’s life involves accusing random people of being the Hood, but it would have anyway.

The episode ends with Archie shocked they didn’t win.        

 

THE TOWN WITH PANCAKE MIX

Archie and Jughead

We zoom in on a road sign, the central image of this segment. In one direction it points to Riverdale and in the other to Greendale. No mileage to either is given. That’s not the information it’s there to provide. It’s simply there to tell us this; we are in a place between. Archie and Jughead are in a story about what it means to be on that road and a story that happens because it is happening there.

Tony Todd’s character has more to say  on this. He’s quick to fill us in on some of the things we’re specifically between. Archie could have been Jason Blossom, he tells us. That’s something that’s possible on the road to Greendale. It’s also something we were told fairly often in season one, but it meant something different then. When we’ve previously considered the idea that Archie could have been, or could yet be, Jason then that’s been a statement about roads he could have taken or roads he could yet take. Here it’s a statement about the road on which he stands. Archie could be Jason on the road between Riverdale and Greendale because that road is a space between life and death and also a space between the self and the other. It doesn’t matter who Archie is and it doesn’t matter who is alive or dead. Those concepts are blurry here.

We’re outside of the show! Driving to a town that belongs to a different television programme, an exciting new show that was confirmed as having been commissioned on the week this episode aired. ‘Riverdale’ often means Riverdale, and never more so than it does here, where it’s being contrasted with the setting of a show other than Riverdale. Under those conditions then to drive out of Riverdale is to drive out of Riverdale and launch off out into extra-textual space.        

Riverdale’s gestures towards mimesis never include the idea that its reality is consistent, but they do aim for a certain integrity. Its world strives to flow but hold together. Yet the word ‘Candyman’ is present in this episode. Not spoken, but present. When horror icon Tony Todd from Candyman shows up in a horror themed episode, we know it’s because he’s horror icon Tony Todd from Candyman. The arrival of that knowledge inside the head of the viewer is an event that occurs when this episode is watched. “Candyman” is said, silently, at least three times, and that’s a dangerous word to have in the air when you’re still telling a story about the death of a mythologised childhood terror called the Sugarman. If you’ve ambitions to pretend that you’re presenting a world of flesh and blood rather than a world of writing and lighting, then it’d be risky to remind your audience to think about actors, names and Candymen while also expecting them to pretend the Sugarman is something that actually happened. But there’s no such risk and no such ambition. There’s no need to treat Riverdale as anything other than a production once you’re out in the wilds between it and other texts.

Which is exactly where we are. Deer wander on from Life is Strange and crates plonk down from At the Mountains of Madness. But most interestingly for Archie and Jughead, being on the road between texts puts them between themselves and other versions of Archie and Jughead.              

“I had this stupid idea…” says Archie, and then shares a fantasy of him and Jughead moving into a place together in New York. What’s being referenced here is pretty clear. Archie’s Stupid Idea is Archie’s Weird Fantasy, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s 2003 play about Archie moving to the big city and coming to terms with being gay. Being outside of Riverdale is important in that story as it equates Riverdale with the closet, but being outside of Riverdale is important here because it makes all this sayable. Outside of his show then Riverdale’s Archie can talk of what he wants when he’s other people.

And Jughead can listen. His one question, “Where are Betty and Veronica in this scenario?” shows that he’s understood perfectly. The question makes no sense if this is a childhood dream of the Riverdale character who met Veronica less than a year ago, but all the sense in the world if we’re eavesdropping on iconic Archie Comics characters trying to puzzle out what they really mean.

Betty and Veronica would, of course, get a place of their own together. Archie presents this world in opposition to the lives they’re living right now, to the world where Jughead is trapped as a serpent and they’re all trapped in the ongoing plotlines of Riverdale. What stands between this Archie and him living his weird fantasy is that he’s Riverdale’s Archie.  

If this wasn’t our lives, he’s saying, if this wasn’t our version of our lives, if we weren’t living moment to moment in a shambolic CW show, then the most true and natural fate for all us Archie characters is that we’d end up happy, gay and metropolitan. 

‘Candyman’ is never said out loud. ‘Bert and Ernie’ is said twice.

 

WEIRD MYSTERIES

Josie

Did anyone ask for a Chuck Clayton redemption story?

Not that that’s really what this is. There’s no real interest here in him as anything other than a piece of misdirection. This story doesn’t care about him any more than it cares about that janitor. Chuck’s role is to mislead us that we’re watching a story about a young black man trying to be a better person before ending up blamed for the invisible creepcrimes of an old white man. His role to tell that decoy story and also to be someone who can be ironically berated by Cheryl for thinking “women are playthings to possess or torture” shortly before she’s unmasked to the viewer as a possessive torturer of women.       

One of Mayor McCoy’s main roles in this show is to judge people unfairly. So as soon as she’s judged Chuck irredeemable and dragged Josie out of Pop’s then we all feel reasonably sure we’re being directed to see Chuck as hard done by. We, as an audience, may well not feel like following that direction. We may not feel like buying the story they’re selling but we feel pretty sure we know what’s on sale. And it isn’t really that. Chuck gets off scott free at the end and nobody cares much either way because SHOCK! Look what the story was really about!

But to pull that off, the show had to gesture at what it thinks a Chuck Clayton redemption story would like like.

What would a Chuck Clayton redemption story look like?

The sketch of one here is kind of weird. It involves Chuck doing nothing to address the specific failing of being an abusive misogynist but instead be shown to be vaguely striving to be a ‘better person’ through three different endeavours.

Going to Church. Trying to become a kids’ book artist. Trying to become a comics artist.

‘Going to church’ as evidence of being a top bloke is interesting as, the last time we heard from organised religion in this episode, some preacher on the radio was going off like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor track, while Tony Todd’s character was putting it about that the local godly folk were right behind the Black Hood.

‘Trying to become a kids book artist’ is a straightforward signifier of innocent pursuits.

‘Trying to become a comics artist’ seems less so. “You know what the opposite of predatory misogyny? The Comics Industry!” sadly isn’t a move available in Two Thousand and Seventeen. But it makes sense when you remember that this Riverdale always stands contrasted with the supposedly idealised Riverdale of the comics. Comics are a symbol of innocence for Chuck because the Good Chuck is still in the comics. Write it in your diary.

Josie at first seems sceptical that going to church, trying to draw kids books and trying to draw comics constitutes any real sort of moral reform. Then Pop Tate confirms that Chuck is indeed going to church and she withdraws her objections. It turns out that she has granted that doing those random things somehow evidence that he’s a changed man. She just didn’t believe he was doing those random things.

A Chuck Clayton redemption story would look ill-judged.   

 

YOUR PALS

Poirot is so weirdly pronounced that I wish the script had called for Jughead to have a go at his first name too.

Brian Lyster, Production Sound Mixer is a man not afraid of undercutting the tension of a spooky tale of the Riverdale Reaper with a big ol’ farting noise from a ketchup bottle.

The Riverdale Reaper shot all his victims. Left no survivors. I have no idea why people think he might be the Black hood.

Kevin is getting high readings on the Agency-o-Metre this week! Interested in his own life and happiness? Displaying interests that aren’t listed on the generic Gay Best Friend character sheet? This is all encouraging.

Veronica, Betty, and Sheriff Keller all agree its best to keep everything secret from Kevin so he doesn’t have to have any feelings or make any choices. They have neglected to check the readings.

Josie has an extraordinary way of placating a mother who’s concerned for her safely and and about her drug use. Comparing herself to Whitney Houston.

Cheryl chose that version of ‘Milkshake’ to send to the producers. Should have been our first clue.

Mayor McCoy’s intonation suggests she takes particular exception to the twist.

The Candyman does not appear.

The Sugarman appears in flashback.

 

THE TOWN WITH A KILL KIT

Betty and Veronica

Betty’s and Veronica’s investigation uncovers two facts about Sheriff Keller. That he is having an affair with the Mayor and that he is diligently and thoroughly investigating a number of local crimes.

They only treat the first of these as a genuine revelation, although both seem such to me.

Perhaps the shock of learning that the Sheriff is actually having a fair crack at doing his job hasn’t quite sunk in for them yet. Indeed, Betty’s entire reasoning for thinking that a big wall of clues and evidence regarding the Black Hood suggested that Keller was the Black Hood relies on her not even being prepared to consider that he might have been doing any sleuthing.

What’s now becoming a classic Riverdale inversion visits itself upon Betty in this story. An episode will position a character ready for a development… and then the subsequent episode will do the opposite. ‘Death Proof’ ended with Betty presented as having come into her own as a detective and having seized the reigns of the narrative. Look out world! Here comes Betty! What’s she going to do now she’s all super-charged?

“Act like a nob,” answers ‘Tales from the Darkside.’

There’s not even any consolation in Betty having been right about something. There’s no “Oh well, she was wrong about Keller having been the Hood, but she knew something was up, alright, and that hunch led her to the actual truth.” That’s not a face-saving story available here as the actual truth is just what Veronica intuited at the start.

Betty’s isn’t the most striking inversion though. ‘Death Proof’ had Cheryl as sympathetic and heroic. I wonder how she gets on this week.    

 

THE TOWN WITH A SPOOKY LITTLE GIRL

Josie

As soon as we see that the first story is called ‘Archie and Jughead’ then we feel certain that one of the remaining stories will be called ‘Betty and Veronica.’ Then the second story appears. It’s called ‘Josie.’ We might think it strange that it’s not called ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ but then the story goes on and explains why it isn’t. Then we might come to find it strange that it isn’t called ‘Josie and Cheryl.’ The reasons for that are also eventually provided. Josie is alone.

Since early in the first season we’ve been told that Cheryl and Josie are friends but we’ve never really got a chance to see how that friendship works. Now at last we do, only to learn that there’s no friendship here. There’s something alright, but there’s no friendship.

Since the first episode of this season we’ve seen Cheryl portrayed as a torturer and possessor of women. In that instance it was her mother and in that instance it was awesome. It wasn’t morally justified in any way, of course, it was just the abused becoming an abuser. But within the fiction of this theatre of monstrosity then Cheryl remained a sympathetic character. She does not here.

The timeline isn’t clear so we don’t know exactly how long her relationship with Josie has been characterised by this sort of manipulation and control, but it does seem that its recent escalation relates to the attempted rape. Cheryl tells Josie that the reason for her outward attempts to control her career is that she’s trying to express her gratitude for the rescue. It would seem to follow that her hidden fixation on Josie and more horrific actions towards her are also part of her trying to process exactly that.     

If we were to apply real world morality then we would see little to have changed with Cheryl. She was a well-motivated monster and she remains so. But dramatic morality is very different; In the real world then everyone’s real and everyone matters, while on telly then nobody’s real and how much people matter varies wildly. We are not with Penelope as she experiences any effects of Cheryl terrorising her in the hospital. We are with Josie every step of the way as Cheryl’s cruel manipulations destroy her relationships and leave her with lasting trauma. In terms of television morality then Cheryl is an entirely different kind of monster now.

And then there’s race. That’s what we’re talking about about when Mayor McCoy says, “There are people in this town with hate in their hearts. You’ve read the letters I used to get. The words they used.” The viewer has not read the letters. But the viewer knows which words she means. “I’ve worked so hard to get us here,” she says. “To shield us from this kind of hatred.”

The sustained and consistent hate campaign against the McCoys has been a racist one. That’s very clear even before the script goes for a glancing and indirect Trump analogy with the idea that their harassers have been emboldened by the successes of the Black Hood. Cheryl’s motives for escalating and repurposing it are not racist, but that hardly matters. Her creepy doings are as effective as they are because they harness the power of the terror that Josie and her mum have already been subjected to for being black women. Again, she looks like a different kind of monster now.

 

WEIRD MYSTERIES

Archie and Jughead

“Riverdale had a Reaper?” asks an astonished Jughead. Jughead whose recent interests include researching all the murder and whose most abiding interest is in the social identity of his community. That this is new information to him is almost as curious as Alice having been able to just erase her past from the public record and have almost everyone act as if it had similarly vanished from their memories. Things drift in and out of Riverdale’s past. It is editable.

Because we know what should be there. Seventy-Six years worth of Archie and the gang’s antics naturally fill the entirety of the town’s history. It was born with them in 1941 and their distended adolescences bloat to fill its days and years. Before them was nothing.

Archie’s Weird Fantasy dealt with this by supposing an eternal present, by supposing that the characters existed in a NOW! where anything that had ever happened was happening as we speak, provided it was of sufficient cultural relevance. Riverdale instead supposes a vacuum. If the town’s past exists as a empty space, stripped of the eternal summer of Archie’s youth, then the present balances on that emptiness and must adapt as Reapers and Serpents are sucked in to fill it.      

Why is Riverdale a river? Why is Greendale green?

Whatever the historic reasons for the two Archie Comics towns having these names, you can’t pair two terms like those as explicitly as they’re paired here without letting Meaning in.

Talking about Riverdale in isolation then the important thing is that its on a river. It’s on a boundary, and very specific one. Pick just about any folk music tradition in the English language and you’re going to find the word ‘sweet’ frequently and powerfully associated with death. Sweetwater River is drawn as the boundary between life and death from the first episode’s opening scenes. To live on its shores is to live at the frontier of the mortal world.

So that’s pretty straightforward. But what does it mean when you have other [Something]dales that are also positioned on that river?

‘Riverdale’ normally signifies in terms of what it stands next to, but when another town is next to the same river and not named for it then that positions Riverdale as of the river. To be Riverdale then Riverdale must share qualities with the river that Greendale does not. I’ve argued so often in these columns that the defining characteristic of this show is a churning inconstancy of character and narrative that you already know what I’m going to say here. Riverdale is the river because it is the place where everything’s fluid and in motion. 

So why is Greendale green? We’ll find out when we get there, I suppose. The safe bet at this stage would be, like much that’s lush and green, it grows on top of death and decay. Archie stands next to death. Sabrina stands upon the dead.

TV Review: Marvel’s Runaways S1E5 Kingdom

After their not-so-fearless leader is taken, the kids spring into action. Alex discovers long-buried secrets about his dad, as the kids uncover new truths about themselves.

Marvel’s Runaways continues the mystery and the action as various plotlines come together. Alex was kidnapped in the last episode by Darius and we find out what the deal is between Darius and Geoffrey. Who’s going to save Alex? Will it be his father or will it be his friends?

It’s a solid episode in that it moves plotlines forward and at the same time reveals a lot about the various characters. And it allows the characters to discover more about each other too. In that sense, we see them finally come together as a team and the reaction is what you might expect from teenagers as they discover one can do magic and another can lift cars. Up to this point the series felt like acquaintances coming back together but this is the moment we see them as a team.

With all of that comes a lot of character growth and changes. Alex has realized how bad his father is and is forced to perform an action he didn’t expect stealing his innocence away in a quick moment. But, that loss of innocence is realized and accepted by everyone.

Molly – “Why would our parents do horrible things?”
Gert – “I guess, because they’re horrible people.”

While the above might seem a bit silly to say, it’s a moment of realization that puts it out there as to where all of the kids are. Their parents have a lot they’re hiding and aren’t the good people they thought they were. It’s that moment of the movie where someone states they need to “rescue their friend” or “stop the evil plan.” We know that’s what’s coming and what they’re thinking but it needs to still be stated in some ways.

The acting and production value still is great and the fact this is airing on Hulu bows my mind. It’s all the equal of Marvel’s Netflix releases and is at times better than the movies. Each episode looks fantastic and what should come off as goofy at times has worked in every instance and exceeded expectations. The cast too has gelled in a way that others haven’t. They really do feel like long time friends who drifted apart and have come together. Their parents balance both approachable and scheming. It just all comes together in a fantastic package.

This episode is the one that really gets things going especially with an ending reveal that’s fascinating, mysterious, puzzling, and exciting. The series continues to impress and is the one live action comic adaptation I’m excited for each and every week.

Overall Rating: 8.95

TV Review & Recap : Supergirl S3E9 Reign

Reign opens with a festive holiday party where Wynn geeks out over Star Wars with J’onn J’onzz and his dad and Kara tells Lena and the woman who will become Reign that she’s so happy to finally have real  friends. When all this saccharine cheerfulness is going on in the first five minutes, you know that this episode is going to end badly. While Mon-El and his wife enjoy all that primitive earth has to offer, Lena and Jimmy confront Morgan Edge and Kara & J’onn J’onzz try and figure out who’s carving Kryptonian symbols all over the place.

Kara is forced to deal with the return of Mon-El under less than stellar, or available, circumstances and the writers spend the parts of the episode where she is confronted with those facts with realism and throughtfulness. There was no backbiting or lashing out at the “other woman”, not once does she cut Imra down or make her feel unwanted. We also got a heaping helping of sadness as we watch Reign say her goodbyes to her humanity in tender sad, longing moments with her daughter. I love that the writers juxtaposed who she was becoming with who she still was without being emotionally manipulative.Visually this episode is stunning, it’s dark and ominous lighting, mixed with pops of light from Christmas trimmings showcase the intricate stories being told. Kara goes and meets her biggest Stan Coville in prison after a warning call from the big house and they talk about the beast and god before Rao , essentially Kryptonian apocalypse playing itself out on our earth. This episode focuses on the human intricacies of becoming  from both sides of the good vs evil , god vs devil, dark vs light, we see the woman who will become Reign start to devolve and Kara becoming full Supergirl. When they reach their final battle it is nothing less than spectacular, even more so than the much anticipated spark filled kiss between Lena and Jimmy, we see Kara taking out her rage against all of her emotions on Reign and Reign taking out the eminent loss of her daughter and life on Supergirl. When Kara sees the scared little girl , she remembers with blood streaming down her face what she’s really fighting for and she uses her feelings as a weapon. Reign is an episode full of emotions and not all of them are happy holiday good time vibes, there’s tension, longing, fear, loniless and duty. There is so much to unpack internally when watching and, the amazing acting and superb direction sucks you in , giving you This is Us level feels. There’s not a dull or wasted moment and even with the fast cuts and bullet point scenes, nothing feels rushed or unnecessary.  This was yet another stellar showing from a writing team that has always maintained a wonderful showing of female strength , rage and passion in a way that is realistic and lacks the formulaic ways that most shows portray female heroes and antiheroes or villains.  The issue doesn’t end the way you’d expect and I love the fact that the writers did not cop out or take the easy route, throwing another jab at the viewers and then hitting us with an emotional two scene combo punch that ensures that we will all be back after this mid season finale because we need to know how this all turns out.

Overall Rating: 9.8

TV Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S5E1 Orientation Part One & Part Two

Coulson and the team find themselves stranded on a mysterious ship in outer space.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicks off its fifth season with a game changing opening in a two episode debut. As the fourth season wrapped up we saw that the Agents were no longer on Earth and were aboard a ship of some sort. Where are they? How did this happen? Some of those answers are found in the two episodes in what might be the strongest debut of any season.

Lets start with the story.

The team is disconnected, separated, and have no idea where they are. They need to figure out what’s happened and the episode is mostly them doing exactly that. It all flows nicely and through it all we’re introduced to the situation, the goal, and who the villains are. But the bigger question is, are they really the villains? This season feels like a tough one when it comes to that with a slightly more ambiguous situation.

But, what’s truly impressive is the twist that’s revealed as to exactly what the situation is. It’s not what I expected at all and there’s so much mystery left to figure out, not to mention how it all ties together with the rest of the live action Marvel universe.

The characters too are great. There’s some amazing lines by Mac and it’s clear that the writers are having fun with the genre and situation they’re all in. There’s some jokes about the situation, about some tropes, it’s just fun.

The story is solid and the production value has increased as well. The special fx look like the budget is higher and there’s a focus on the visuals. The aliens too look solid fitting well into the existing Marvel movie universe. It’s interesting and the only downside is that there’s a lot of darkness so it’s hard at times to tell exactly what’s going on. It’s good and forces you to pay more attention but it’s a downside too.

The two episodes together make for the strongest debut of any season so far. The characterizations are great, action is is solid, and special fx are improved. Hopefully this isn’t a fluke and what we can expect for the season going forward.

Overall Score: 9.45

TV Review: Gotham S4E10 A Dark Knight: Things That Go Boom

Gordon tries to broker a deal with Penguin involving Sofia; Alfred tries to pull Bruce out of his downward spiral; Lee Thompkins gains more control over the Narrows.

With Douche Wayne and Professor Pyg on the sidelines for most of the episode, Gotham focuses on the battle between Sofia and Penguin and Lee’s expansion of power in the Narrows as the show continues to barrel ahead without what feels like a plan or care of the material.

Your enjoyment of the series is probably based on what you think of that source material’s use. The Thompkins/Narrows storyline is beyond ill thought at as a villain turn for the character is so left field from the comics and also presents no positive women on the show. Lee at one point was the “pure” character but it seems every female character is now a mobster, killer, or worse.

Then there’s the Falcone/Penguin story which has some good points but generally I find myself screaming at the scream by the fact that Penguin or Sofia don’t just put a bullet in each other’s heads. They dance around setting up situations you know they’ll walk away from and neither have the guts enough to just pull the trigger themselves when they have the opportunity. Neither deserves to win and at this point I’m hoping Gordon just guns everyone down and get the stupid over with.

The show usually shows strength when it focuses on the “mob centric” aspects of the show but for some reason this time it’s no longer working. Probably because Sofia’s plan is convoluted. Probably become Penguin figures it out and still doesn’t do much about it. Probably because despite access to rocket launchers no one seems to be able to hit each other with a gun of any sorts. It’s stupid for stupid sake.

The Professor Pyg story is pushed to the side with him caught and Gordon figures out his story. This is probably the best plotline the series has every had with good acting and some real scares. So, the minimization of it all hurts the episode.

The less said about Bruce Wayne the better. Bad acting. Bad story. Just unwatchable at times.

The series seemed like it was getting good but this episode is one of the worst of the season and one of the worst of the series. It’s mind numbing at times having me scream at the television. This isn’t entertainment, it’s frustration.

Overall Rating: 6.0

TV Review: Broad City S4E9 “Bedbugs”

BroadCityBedBugs

Broad City gets back to its winning ways in ” Bedbugs” as writer/director Ilana Glazer and co-writer Abbi Jacobson lean into both New York and Abbi and Ilana’s friendship. This might seem formulaic, but it works, and there’s the added wrinkle of money problems. Abbi still hasn’t bounced back from losing her fancy design job after killing her boss’ cat while high and is scraping by selling recycled cans and bottles and trying to return snacks to the bodega. In contrast, Ilana is living large and buying gifts her for all her friends and family, including $1,300 purses. But this lucky streak ends when she and Jaime (Arturo Castro) get bed bugs in their apartment, which originated from an illegal prostitution ring in the Sushi Mambo.

The cold open of “Bedbugs” is why I will never drive in New York (And Washington, DC and probably Chicago.) as Abbi and Ilana roll in the cool convertible that they inherited in “Florida” and subsequently can’t find a parking place. There aren’t hip hop beats or slow-mo rigs just terrible attempts at parallel parking (The one where your friend gets out of the car and tries to get you in position.) and cold wind blowing as they refuse to put the top down. The scene demonstrates that Glazer can pull off awkward, visual observational comedy as a director as well as fun montages and stoner movie riffs. The cold open is also a metaphor for their life situation in the episode. Abbi is watching her bank account and dignity (She gets financial planning help from a mugger played by an aggressive and not neurotic Steve Buscemi.) blow away in the wind while Ilana thinks she’s cool with the money stashed in her mattress and her gift giving ability, but that too is eaten by disgusting bugs.

Glazer and Jacobson continue the separate Abbi/Ilana storyline plot structure that has been Broad City‘s M.O. in Season 4 even though they converge in important and meaningful ways like Ilana giving Abbi a purse that adds +10 to charisma, or when, of course, Abbi lets Ilana hang out at her place when she gets bedbugs. Another crossover  is their relationship to Massouma (Zephyr Ingle), the teenage bodega worker, who Abbi mistakenly thinks is named Bodine. (That’s a great name for a racist grandma to be honest.) On the other hand, Ilana knows Massouma’s name and has her cellphone number. Abbi was so self-absorbed with her lack of a job and money situation that she didn’t stop to take time to get to know someone who helped provide her cheap food and good service.

Ingle, who previously had starred in a Star Wars fan film and a creepy horror short film, is one of the comedic finds of 2017, matches wits with Abbi at every turn, and even makes the 2nd Amendment funny with her delivery of a one-liner about how she helped her parents study for their citizenship tests so she’s a Constitutional expert. The gun she wields is a great prop, and Ingle and Glazer use some split second timing to execute a great gag where Massouma immediately pops off the gun when Ilana says she has bedbugs. Hollywood casting directors, you should definitely add Zephyr Ingle to your ensemble comedy film or sitcom.

“So relatable” should be the title for Abbi’s story arc in Broad City Season 4. Jacobson nails the patheticness of the “starving”, yet privileged artist trope when she and an older “starving artist” sort through their cans at the recycling plant. There are no voices of a generation to be found here. But Glazer and Jacobson also do right by her and give her some real swag when she pops into Anthropologie for an impromptu job interview after an almost one take montage of her feeling confidence while walking down the streets of New York. She nails the interview, but ends up underemployed as a part of the “asset protection” team. This totally happened to me right after college, and Jacobson plays the excited to get a job and nervously joking about her “uniform” with disappointment in her real position with a lot of empathy. Poor Abbi just can’t catch or sustain a break this season either in her personal or professional life.

Bolstered by strong guest and supporting performances from Zephyr Ingle, Steve Buscemi and the always reliable Hannibal Burress and Arturo Castro as Lincoln and Jaime, “Bedbugs” is a back to basics episode of Broad City showing the painful comedy of underemployment and catastrophic life situations. Also, I’m surprised that it took almost 40 episodes for the show to deal with one of the most New York problems ever…

Overall Verdict: 8.7

TV Review: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow S3E8 Crisis on Earth-X, Part 4

Barry and Iris’ wedding brings the gang together, but things go awry when villains from Earth-X attack the ceremony. This is the finale to “Crisis on Earth-X”!

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow wraps up this year’s big crossover between Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends. The Nazis are now on Arrow and the Flash’s world and have a bomb that can do serious damage but they’re still after Supergirl’s heart, which is so weird to be the goal of this entire event.

This episode brings everyone together in one final battle that sees Nazis running around and killing individuals indiscriminately. There’s a brutal aspect to it all but something that’s also heroic at the same time. There’s good, there’s bad, but the action is plentiful.

What’s more surprising is the death of the event and a return in some ways. While I expected the return once that character arrived the death threw me. Not only because it’s a death but who it is and who he represents considering it’s Nazis. That aspect is front and center during the funeral. While I don’t expect it to last, the event’s willingness to present pink triangles and yellow Stars of David make me respect the event for not washing over the reality of it all.

“Crisis on Earth-X” wraps up with what looks like repercussions that will continue on at least for the short term and isn’t an empty event that has no impact. The ending too was damn near perfect with… not going to surprise that. While there’s absolute flaws to the event, it’s one that has balanced everything well in 4 episodes that packed a hell of a lot in and give us lots of payoff.

Overall Rating: 8.0

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