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TV Review: Kung Fu S1E1 Pilot

Kung Fu The CW

Kung Fu “Pilot”

Director: Hanelle M. Culpepper
Writers: Christina M. Kim
Starring: Olivia Liang, Tzi Ma, Valencia Budijanto, Yvonne Chapman, Vincent Chang, Kheng Hua Tan, Tony Chung, Shannon Dang, Vanessa Kai, Sunghee Lapell, Link Baker, Eddie Liu, Rebecca Olson, Debbie Podowski, Nitin Prasad, Jon Prasida, Gavin Stenhouse

Summary

A quarter-life crisis causes a young Chinese-American woman, Nicky Chen, to drop out of college. She goes on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. When she returns, she finds her hometown overrun with crime and corruption. Nicky uses her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice. All the while she searches for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and is now targeting her.

Positives

Kung Fu “Pilotintroduces us to a very likable protagonist, Nicky. The development that is present concerning the complexity of the character, proves Christina M. Kim’s storytelling abilities are superior to most. Within the first episode, she gets sent to China so that she can meet a husband. It gives us a new angle on the arranged marriage trope that only endears to her from the get-go. It adds layers to what some may view as an anachronistic cultural pillar.

The character of Pei-ling, played by the immensely talented Vanessa Kai, makes me wonder why she has not more juicy roles like this. The role showcases her talents. The show has two of my favorite actors. Tzi Ma, who coincidentally played Mulan’s father in the live-action remake, and Kheng Hua Tan, who played Constance Wu’s mother, in Crazy Rich Asians. Both of these actors are not only prolific but have long-deserved roles like these which have shown their range.

The family dynamics within the show have a unique voice. The main character’s relationship with her parents and her siblings is where the show really shines. The mythology that is introduced is probably the other thing I most liked about this show. It certainly makes the original show feel pedestrian. The sensitivity and research devoted to the world-building, makes this show already stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the shows at the CW. This show has so many people in the cast that are Asian. Much like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, it acknowledges the fact but doesn’t dwell on it. It envelops the audience into what eventually is a well-told story.

Negatives

Kung Fu is what the world needs now. The only things I can really gripe about is some of the story choices. The first being that her love interest is not really interesting, but only time will tell if he is fully rounded as a character. The second is the similarities to the story of Mulan, which I understand is a zeitgeist touchpoint for most viewers, but this story is gripping enough without evoking it.

Verdict

Kung Fu “Pilotis an excellent introductory episode that only shares a name with the original show.  This is a relevant show which infuses family dynamics and martial arts, something I have been missing since Into The Badlands.

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E10 Into the White

Snowpiecer Season 2 "Into the White"

Snowpiercer delivers a tense second season finale with “Into the White“. With a season that has been filled with back-and-forth battles, this is an episode that will keep viewers guessing what will happen next.

Wilford has taken control of both trains but there’s a new revolution brewing. Layton and Ruth have received the message from Javier and with the help of Alex decide now’s the time to try to take back their train and rescue Melanie.

The plan is an interesting one. It shows that Layton is thinking beyond just taking back the train. They might be able to do that, waging another war for control and whoever is left standing wins. Instead, Layton is taking a psychological route. By rescuing Melanie, Layton’s forces put a dent into Wilford’s claims and create some hope on the train diminishing the need for his absolute control.

The episode also emphasizes what Layton has done. He’s brought together so many different aspects and groups of Snowpiercer. This is in contrast to Wilford who still rules as a one-man dictator. There is no dissent in his world, all he understands is brutal power and violence.

There’s an intelligence to the way Layton and his coalition goes about things in the episode. Wilford is a blunt intrument to Layton’s dance. There’s also a nice focus on the excess of Wilford and he truly is the “haves” versus the rest of the train and their have nots.

But what’s interesting is where the season ends.

Even with its down moment, “Into the White” delivers some hope. The episode doesn’t end the way that I expected and instead leaves so many questions as to where things might go to battle Wilford. The next steps are a difficult one and the next season should be a hell of a battle. We’ve seen how well Wilford adapts to what’s thrown at him but we’ve also seen how much Layton and his side stick to their beliefs.

“Into the White” delivers a tense hour of television. It’s an excellent finale for the season that captures what it’s been about. It also delivers so many moments that you have no idea what will happen next. Snowpiercer ends its second season on a high note. The third can’t come soon enough.

Overall Rating: 10

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E9 The Show Must Go On

Snowpiecer Season 2 "The Show Must Go On"

Snowpiercer is coming up on the end of its second season with an episode that’s full of dread and an ominous overtone. “The Show Must Go On” is that moment when the dictator has taken control and has decided to purge the resistance.

Layton is in jail and Roche and his family are in the locker. Wilford is now in control of both trains and has masterfully crushed his competition. Now, with control, Wilford’s excess can flourish as we learn the true hedonism that drives him.

The episode is an interesting one as we see Wilford more for what he is, a dictator. While that was pretty clear before, it’s without a doubt now. He’s willing to distract the masses, commit crimes against humanity, hold executions without trial, and lie to the masses. And that’s just in one episode.

Then there’s the carnality splitting the people of the car into haves and have nots. A sex-fest meant for Wilford’s own enjoyment. It’s clear he doesn’t see the people on the car as an attempt to save humanity. Snowpiercer to Wilford is an attempt to save himself and everyone else is either a cog to make that happen or there for his enjoyment.

What’s interesting about “The Show Must Go On”, beyond Wilford” is how it sets up the lines as to who stands where. That’s the most surprising aspect of the episode. We see resistance from quite a few. Some of those are surprising. Despite Wilford’s “absolute” control, in reality his control isn’t absolute. While he distracts the masses, he himself is distracted which has allowed numerous individuals to work to undermine his rule.

“The Show Must Go On” is a fascinating episode as the season begins to wrap up. It takes the hope from the season and crushes it in one episode. We imagined how bad rule under Wilford would be and in one episode we see exactly what to expect. And in many ways, it’s fare worse than we could have guessed. But in the darkness hope still exists. How much it spreads with one episode to go is the question.

Overall Rating: 10

TV Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier S1E1 New World Order

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Spinning out of Avengers: Endgame, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier picks up on a world out of order. The blip has been reversed and the ramifications can continue to be felt. This is what the first episode, “New World Order” reminds us. The world is not normal.

We’re reminded by that through the experiences of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes who are reminded again and again that their lives and futures are anything but normal. They are hounded and haunted by their pasts and their legacy. As much as they want to go about their lives, their reality is now anything but conventional.

And that’s the strength of “New World Order” and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The series grounds itself in its debut. While it opens with an over-the-top action sequence, the episodes’ heart and vigor is its focus on these two as average people.

Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie) was a soldier thrown into the world of superheroics. The series fleshes out his world introducing us to his family as he returns home to deal with their failing fishing business and house that’s soon to be lost to the bank. We’re given a start reminder that Wilson does what he does out of duty, not for the paycheck or riches. He’s an average person who has stepped up to serve and defend. He represents what we can and probably should be.

Adepero Oduye plays Wilson’s sister Sarah Wilson. She shows a strength and grounded reality delivering a perfect counter to Wilson. Sarah is more grounded in reality tending to the family’s world after the loss of their parents. Sarah drags Sam out of the sky and back into reality as he visits his family to figure out what they should do. Under a mountain of debt, the Wilson’s are a reminder that even the best of us aren’t rewarded and those with good in their hearts have the deck stacked against them.

The other side of the coin is Sebastian Stan‘s Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier. He’s also a former soldier who stepped up when duty called. Unlike Sam, Bucky isn’t haunted by responsibility so much as his past actions. As the Winter Soldier, he was brainwashed and committed atrocious acts that haunt him. He’s a soldier suffering from PTSD, the trauma from his actions and crimes he’s attempting to move past. He’s also a man out of time like Captain America. At over 100 years old, he’s disconnected a bit from our world, confused by how things are and the current society. At the same time, he literally has one arm in the modern world, always having a reminder of who he was and is and how much of an anachronism he is.

Sam and Bucky together embody aspects of Captain America. A man who saw only a duty to serve during World War II and later became stuck out of time. In the end he saught piece having served. Captain America’s legacy in ways haunt both Sam and Bucky. And that’s what the series is about, who will pick up the mantle in multiple ways.

But, it’s also where the debut episode fails. It’s not a complete story. “New World Order” is a setup of the series where you have to watch further, it’s a piece of the puzzle. That’s how some episodic entertainment is, while others can deliver both the meta/ongoing story while also serving individual slices to enjoy.

The episode is a solid debut and enjoyable but it doesn’t feel totally complete. It also foreshadows things a bit too much.

The series shows a lot of potential and interest in diving into what it means to be a hero as well as the price it pays to be one. That has a lot of promise and would seem to continue some of the themes of the other recent Marvel Studios’ show WandaVision.

For fans who love these characters or have bought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the debut feels like slipping into something comfortable to hug you. It builds off of the films to continue the adventures. For those unfamiliar and new to the world, you might want to wait to binge the series to get a more complete experience. As is, the debut feels a bit more of a teaser than a complete story.

Overall Rating: 7.75

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E8 The Eternal Engineer

Snowpiecer Season 2 "The Eternal Engineer"

Snowpiercer delivers a jaw-dropping episode that brings everything a head. Snowpiercer is seeing problems as water pressure has built up causing flooding throughout the train. Wilford is the cause behind the issues forcing Snowpiercer’s leadership to make tough decisions and call Wilford for help. “The Eternal Engineer” is a hell of an episode that had me gasping out loud multiple times.

With few episodes to go, the tension has been building through the season asking where loyalties lie between the two competing leadership factions.

The Breachmen have been murdered and the tensions have risen with Snowpiercer on the edge of another revolution. Wilford is behind it all manipulating the people of the train to distrust each other and long for order that only he can deliver. That includes outright sabotaging Snowpiercer.

This is another amazing episode full of hope and outright despair as everything plays out and we see who’s the better manipulator. Loyalties are laid out with some suprising declarations.

The episode gives two spotlights that are long overdue.

The train itself is center stage as it sees a massive mechanical failure. We learn more about the train as both factions must come together to resolve the issues. It’s a brilliant episode in that it uses the problems to push so many other plot threads ahead and delivering spotlight moments for so many characters. It’s really one that shows off the ensemble nature of the show. While it has two men clashing between leadership, there’s so many other interesting characters and we get to see them here. With one episode to go in the season, “The Eternal Engineer” really brings so many things together for the various characters on the train.

An example of this is Sam Roche, played by Mike O’Malley. He’s a character that has grown over the two seasons and this is his shining episode in multiple ways. Not only does he give a rousing speech about his thoughts concerning Layton but his story is one of ups and downs with an ending that had me almost in tears. Roche is the star of this episode really laying out what Layton and his faction are fighting for. It’s an inspiring speech that nails it all. It also makes events more tragic.

“The Eternal Engineer” is an amazing episode that will be hard to top in the upcoming finale. It’d be the perfect season finale honestly and I can’t believe there’s more in the season to come. This is an episode of highs and lows, full of tension and the highlight of the season so far.

Overall Rating: 10

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E7 Our Answer for Everything

Snowpiecer Season 2 "Our Answer for Everything"

Snowpiercer‘s fallen into chaos with the recent murders being pinned on tailies. Wilford also might have his first defection delivering a blow to Snowpiercer. “Our Answer for Everything” is a tense episode full of action as things spiral. As Layton and Till investigate the murders, Wilford leads Miss Audrey down a dark path.

“Our Answer for Everything” feels like an episode that examines paths and choices that are made. Layton and Till are attempting to keep things together on Snowpiercer while Wilford slowly corrupts Miss Audrey, using her to enact his will. It’s an interesting parallel episode as you watch the two leaders act.

“Our Answer for Everything” gives a clear line between the two as one leader is willing to literally sacrifice himself to stop a riot while the other wants to be further worshipped playing games with those around him. We see the sadism that Wilford brings. While not everything is right on Snowpiercer, things would be far worse under Wilford.

There’s also some impressive moments given to Ruth who has her standout performance here. Actress Alison Wright has been amazing in this series but this is the episode where she must choose. While others clearly have drawn a line, Ruth still isn’t sure what to do. In “Our Answer for Everything” her loyalty is really put to the test as she makes a stand. She also realizes the horrors she’s committed on others. Hers will be the character to watch as the season progresses as this is the episode that we’ll see her growth launch from.

“Our Answer for Everything” is an episode where to many gains are lost. The tailies are being attacked, blamed for murders and it’s clear forces want that to happen. We see the angry mob at work, stoked by Wilford and his supporters. Snowpiercer’s “peace” is tenuous at best. We see betrayal in multiple ways and at multiple levels as the sharpest lines are drawn.

The second season of Snowpiercer has been an intriguing one exploring what leadership means to the future of the train. We see the sharp contrast between two philosophies and glimpses as to what might happen depenind on who wins. One person wants to rule only for himself while the others are hoping to deliver so sort of democracy and allow the people to determine their future in multiple ways. “Our Answer for Everything” is a pivotal episode that brings tensions to a boiling point and spills over.

Overall Rating: 9.0

Review: WandaVision S1E9 The Series Finale

WandaVision S1E9 The Series Finale

*Warning: Minor spoilers for WandaVision S1E9 The Series Finale*

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has often had trouble sticking the landing. The first two acts might be great but the third and final falls into a punching extravaganza that focuses on special fx delivering spectacle. For much of its run, WandaVision has focused on the characters delivering an intriguing look at trauma and an attempt to deal with it. “The Series Finale” wraps things up delivering some emotion but is bloated by the expected spectacle.

The episode brings things together with Wanda and Agatha facing off in a battle of magic while the military does its best to take Wanda down with their own Vision.

About two-thirds of the show is that literal battle. Two witches squaring off and two Visions squaring off. There are some great visuals but overall it feels like something we’ve seen before. There’s nothing particularly memorable visually (like Ant-Man‘s shrunken fight) or different (like Doctor Strange‘s repeat and irritate). Instead, we get hand waving and magical energy flung around with lasers and punching thrown in. For a show that has done something so different for eight episodes, the landing is for the most part not spectacular for the majority of it.

What WandaVision has done great is focus on its story. That’s clear in the finale as it wraps things up. So many theories, expectations, clickbait rumors plagued the show’s run but in the end, the show kept its focus. It didn’t go for a real big bad. Its conflict was within one individual. Anything else would be an insult to those who experience trauma. It also knew there were expectations and played with them and that becomes evident in this episode when the truth of Pietro is revealed. There’s a meta wink and nod to it all, a tease by creators that I’m sure will continue for some time. It’s a reminder that the writers and creators behind the scenes are in charge, not fandom and speculation and the creators have no problems playing with that.

Though much of “The Series Finale” delivers yet another battle, the last quarter of the episode delivers heart. It’s an emotional ending that’s hard to not appreciate. That last fifteen minutes or so nails it perfectly as the episode forgoes the spectacle and gets back to its traumatic, emotional, roots. In many ways, it delivers the anti-Avengers: Endgame. It rolls back what was snapped into existence. The fabrication crumbles. And Wanda is left with facing her reality. And it’s clear she’ll be facing a negative reaction. Though she sacrificed a lot, the town is rightfully and understandably angry with her. They were impacted by the manifestation of her emotional trauma. It places Wanda’s future, and those of the other MCU heroes, in an interesting and complicated spot. The show continues the recent years’ exploration that being a hero is complicated and not all of it good.

While “The Series Finale” is a bit mixed, it closes this chapter and sets up a lot to come. It presents the reality that for those that enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll need to experience the television shows as well as the films to get the whole picture. The series will have a lasting impact on the MCU, just not in a way the clickbait lead you to believe it would.

Overall Rating: 7.0

TV Review: Superman and Lois S1E2 Heritage

Superman and Lois "Heritage"

Superman and Lois‘ second episode does a solid job of building off of the extended debut taking the series in a few focused directions. What’s impressive, much like the first episode, is the series’ ability to juggle and balance time for each of the characters. Each feels like they’re getting enough focus. Each plotline feels organic and makes sense. There’s nothing forced in at all. Most importantly, everything in the episode feels like it fits the episode’s title “Heritage“, a concept explored in multiple ways.

With the discovery of Jordan’s powers in the previous episode the lives of the Kent boys diverge a bit. Clark spends time attempting to teach Jordan a bit more about his heritage while also figuring out what he can do.

But, in Jordan’s absence, Jonathan is the one suffering for actions from the first episode. It’s clear that the crap is rolling over with Jordan’s issues impacting Jonathan. Jonathan suffers for his brother setting up the conflict to come between the two. It’s real world friction and something so many can relate to.

Clark has his own issues concerning the mysterious Captain Luthor doing… something. We get teases and hints as to what’s going on there. It appears this Luthor is from a different world and that Superman destroyed his. He’s now attempting to prevent that from happening to this planet as well. I’s an interesting plotline and leaves viewers wondering what about this world’s Luthor? We get our first idea of that.

But, the most grounded direction is that of Lois. Her examination of Morgan Edge, his promise of jobs, and whatever else he’s doing to Smallville, is the type of story that so many have experienced. There’s a real-world aspect to it that’s nice and brings the otherworldly aspects of the show into our world. The over-promise of large corporations and their lack of delivery is something we see in the real world. Exactly where this goes should be intriguing.

Superman and Lois does a great job of giving each of the characters screen time. “Heritage” allows the exploration of the Kryptonian aspects of the characters as well as their history in Smallville and that of their family. It easily moves around all of those effortlesly and does so in a way that everything works to enhance each other. While there’s flashy action sequences, Superman and Lois‘ best moments are the grounded ones.

Overall Rating: 8.0

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E6 Many Miles from Snowpiercer

Snowpiecer Season 2 "Many Miles from Snowpiercer"

Snowpiercer‘s sixth episode dives into the question as to what has happened to Melanie? The previous episode left things up in the air as to her success at reaching her destination. “Many Miles from Snowpiercer” is her tale as she’s alone in her mission. Alone with her imagination and memories.

The episode could easily have just focused on Melanie, Jennifer Connelly is talented enough to hold an episode on her own. No matter how boring that might be, a person and their thoughts. But instead, the episode dives into the “relationship” and history she has with Wilford, played by Sean Bean.

Bean’s Wilford acts as a taunt to Melanie as she not only is on a mission to gain data as to the planet’s future but also her dire situation for supplies.

What’s interesting is the episode dives into the history between the two. We get to see the spar as Wilford’s train is built. We get to see the philosophical difference between the two as Wilford focuses more on luxury after the apocalypse and Melanie focuses on the future of humanity. There’s a narcissistic god-like aspect to Wilford as he chooses the priorities and acts like Snowpiercer functions on his will alone.

“Many Miles from Snowpiercer” is Melanie coming to grips with her history both before the train’s launch and what was done on the train itself. With a limited amount of food, she’s forced to be creative and decide how far she’d go to feed herself, even cannabilism. It’s an interesting issue and reflects what Melanie put the talies through in their journey before the uprising.

The episode does an excellent job of bouncing between the past and present, while also looking towards the future.

“Many Miles from Snowpiercer” is an interesting episode that fleshes out some of the history of Snowpiercer. We see the tough and chaotic moments before the train’s launch and the outright abuses that were taken part in due to Wilford’s will. We see the death and lack of care for others. There’s a distinct line drawn between Melanie and Wilford and their empathy for others. It’s interesting compared to what we know of Melanie and her time on Snowpiercer.

The episode also looks towards the future as well. Melanie’s goal is to help map out the conditions of the world and see if the planet is healing. But, there’s something else discovered. In a world that we thought was destroyed there’s signs of life. Where there’s a will there’s a way it turns out. We get to see hope in the simplest of ways. It’s implications are major and show there’s a possibility of survival and some sort of normal life while the planet heals, they just need to look hard for it.

“Many Miles from Snowpiercer” is a hell of an episode that shows even in the bleakest of times, hope can be found. It also shows that the schism between Snowpiercer’s outlook and Wilford’s began well before the two trains met. The current situation is a long time coming and has been brewing for some time. It’s an episode that’s gripping to watch on it’s own and adds so much to the larger landscape of the world.

Overall Rating: 9.0

TV Review: Snowpiercer S2E5 Keep Hope Alive

Snowpiecer Season 2 "Keep Hope Alive"

Snowpiercer‘s fifth episode asks you to “Keep Hope Alive“. It kicks off with Josie in Big Alice’s train taking advantage of their advanced medical knowledge. But, her mission is clear in that she’s gathering intelligence as to what’s going on and passing it along. What’s big is the episode opens up with us knowing there’s cracks in Wilford’s train and among his people. It’s the first real solid sign his control isn’t absolute.

From there, things get interesting as Wilford is pining for Miss Audrey. He’s stuck on her and his behavior is reflecting that and the choices he’s making. There’s the music he’s playing throughout the train. We get to see there’s some quirky aspects of Wilford like a book club. Such a club would normally feel like a way for individuals to come together for enjoyment. With Wilford, there’s an ominous aspect to it.

An ominous is a great word to describe a lot of the episode. Its major aspect is Wilford and Miss Audrey getting together. Each has an agenda to gain an advantage over each other. But, it’s the visuals that really stand out. Miss Audrey’s walk to Big Alice through the people of Snowpiercer and Wilford getting rid. It’s a reminder there is still a ruling class to the train. They live in a different world than those who suffer. Audrey walking through the tail of Snowpiercer flanked by its inhabitants who suffer is a fascinating visual and one that’s a stark reminder of the underlying themes and issues of the show.

It’s also an episode where you begin to question the leadership of Snowpiercer. There’s issues when it comes to Melanie and there’s a tough discussion and decision as to what to do about it. Their decision and what they do is one that makes the viewers wonder if these are the best people and if their power is getting to them. They may talk about democracy and a train ruled by the people but their actions makes you wonder about their commitment to that.

The episode is an interesting one as the season moves along to the end of it. There are so many plotlines dealt with, each in a subtle way that moves things forward and builds on the political intrigue. It’s an episode of moves on a chessboard until its final few minutes that feel like something out of a gangster film. There’s so much here that it’s difficult to go into them in a review without ruining things. Every aspect of the show’s season are touched upon and moved forward… a lot. This is an episode where so many loyalties are shown and Wilford’s reach is seen. It’s an episode that doesn’t quite stand on its own but is so key as the season begins to wrap up. It’s key to set things up for what’s to come.

“Keep Hope Alive” is a fascinating episode in that it has so many moments that’ll get you to say “holy shit”. It’s one that’s full of so many interesting and key moments, it begs to be watched again to see it all come together and play out. And every actor delivers in their roles. They play things so well, whether it’s hiding their plans, or showing what they’re really thinking on their faces.

“Keep Hope Alive” is a hell of an episode. It’s one that brings a lot together and you’ll want to watch it again. Bravo Snowpiercer, your second season has taken what made the first solid and improved upon it in every way.

Overall Rating: 9.0

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