The Good Place Review: Episodes 1-4


(Full disclosure: I work for E! News, a subsidiary of NBC Universal, which produces and airs The Good Place. This review is entirely my own opinion, and is not in any way reflective of NBC Universal. I do not believe that my opinion was swayed by my employment, and I have written plenty of pieces that are critical of NBC Universal content, but if you want to take my review with a grain of salt, feel free!)

It doesn’t take much to sell me on a Michael Schur series. After spending a few years writing for The Office, Schur moved on to create Parks and Recreation, a modern classic, and Brooklyn 9-9, one of the most consistently funny sitcoms currently running. So even without the presence of the terrific Kristen Bell and sitcom legend Ted Danson, or the directorial hand of the great Drew Goddard, or guidance from television auteur Damon Lindelof, The Good Place was worth my time and attention. Considering that it ALSO involves all of the above, The Good Place was at the top of my “new shows to watch” list.

Even outside of its pedigree, The Good Place deserves recognition for trying something different. Schur has shown that even when he falls back on the formats and character-types with which he’s familiar, as he did with Brooklyn 9-9, his output is levels above most of his contemporaries. But The Good Place takes on bold ideas and touchy subjects, tackling them in the form of a serialized half-hour comedy on network television. That’s not just rare, it flat-out doesn’t exist in modern television.

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Vice Principals Season 1 Review


(This article contains spoilers from the first season of Vice Principals. If you want to avoid them just know that this series comes highly recommended)

One of my favorite things about Jody Hill’s Eastbound and Down is the way that each season is structured like a movie. Moreso than most serialized series, these season arcs are designed with a real beginning, middle, and end, and the characters go through significant arcs from start to finish. Vice Principals follows a similar model, making it a difficult show to judge after just a few episodes.

I was not a fan of the Vice Principals pilot. The characters it presented seemed one-dimensional and plot points flew in and out too quickly to pique my interest. Danny McBride and Walton Goggins seemed to be portraying similar characters to what they had done on the past, and the show felt like it was coasting. But I stuck with it on the strengths of Eastbound and Down, which grew by leaps and bounds over its initial season. I’m pleased to report that this was the right decision.

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Blair Witch Review


When taken completely on its own merits, 2016’s Blair Witch isn’t bad. It’s an above-average movie in the “found footage” horror sub-genre, written and directed by the team that created You’re Next (which is very good) and The Guest (which I have not seen). There are plenty of jump scares, some surprises, and a real escalation of horror that caps off with an especially intense ending. It’s hard to deny the film’s competence, which is ironically the movie’s biggest flaw.

Blair Witch feels like it was created for all of the people who saw 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and said “That sucked! It’s so boring!” 2016’s film is the original turned up to 11. Instead of whispers and laughter in the shadows, we have deafening noises and uprooted trees. The creepy stick figures that served as a creepy harbinger of doom in the original have their own twisted purpose here, there’s more gore, more definitive fates for the different characters, and a far lesser desire to hide the supernatural elements from the camera.

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Sausage Party Review


The most interesting aspects of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’ Sausage Party are what they’re NOT promoting. Sure, the movie revels in its own bad taste, with just as many sex jokes and f-bombs as you’d expect from the Pixar-but-perverted slant of its ad campaign. But the film has far more to say about the failings of organized religion: its usage to paper over very real human fears, its role in global conflicts and warfare, its hindrance of actual scientific development, and its tendency to shame people for their inherent desires. Sausage Party empathizes with believers, but never obfuscates where it stands in regard to faith.

It’s a bold, refreshing, and inherently risky stance for a studio film to make, which is probably why it’s not the part of Sausage Party that is being sold to the masses. Sausage Party’s moral can be boiled down to “promote Atheism over religion, but don’t be a dick about it,” which is a hard sell to a country in which over 75% of the population identifies themselves as having faith in a higher power. Sausage Party is not likely to change anybody’s minds on such a grand subject, but it’s fascinating to me that a project could be greenlit at all,  let alone be one of the biggest success stories of the summer.

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The Night Of Review


The real strengths of HBO’s The Night Of are placed right front and center in the first episode. The hour chronicles the titular night, and we sit with future-murder-suspect Nazir Khan as his journey out to a party goes from ethereal to tragic. This episode is impeccably directed, with gradual shifts in tone emphasized by the color pallette and a softened depth of field. Director Steven Zaillian does a terrific job of drawing our attention to the little details that seem small in the moment, but will be significant down the road.

The decision to begin a criminal procedural mini-series with an episode that features practically no procedural elements is a real stroke of brilliance, and it colors our perspective of the whole show moving forward. We trust that Nazir is innocent not only because we know that his account of the night is truthful, but because he is our initial eyes and ears into the world. We have no reason to doubt him, since his perspective is our reality. Meanwhile, introducing some of the key points of contention in the first episode makes the procedural elements even more engaging. We have a real point of reference from watching the events unfold on our own.

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