No matter how you slice it, EA screwed up scheduling their games for the holidays. Titanfall 2, one of the best games of the year, got completely buried by their own much more anticipated title, Battlefield 1, which was released only a week before. It was a completely unforced error, and one that has had a crippling effect on Titanfall 2’s sales. Despite EA’s claims that the two first-person-shooters were targeted to completely different audiences, the fact remains that they shot themselves in the foot by pitting two great games against each other.
“This whole Nazi resurgence is because we stopped shooting them in video games after Call of Duty 4, isn’t it?”
I tweeted the above this week in response to the horrifying video of Richard B Spencer leading the alt right in a Nazi salute to President Elect Donald Trump. It was a joke. You have to be able to make light of the insanity America is currently facing, or you’ll crack completely.
Half a season is not often enough to determine whether a heavily-serialized show is worthwhile or not, but in the case of Westworld, it’s even less telling. At the very least, HBO’s latest foray into “genre” television is intriguing, placing its moral quandaries front and center and trusting audiences to put its narrative pieces together. There are loads of elements to break down and discuss, and the myriad of puzzles and mysterious references should be enough to make the show a watercooler favorite for the remainder of the season. What is a little less clear is how emotionally engaging the series can be, an important factor in the success of mega-hit Game of Thrones.
First things first: Westworld deftly presents its themes by placing them in recognizable contexts. Westworld itself is a Western-themed amusement park for the extremely wealthy, with a cast of highly-realistic robots, or “hosts” who act out storylines and engage with the guests, or “newcomers.” While nothing like this exists in the real world, the general make-up of the park is very similar to that of an open-world video game. “Hosts” are what are known in the gaming industry as “NPCs” (or Non-Player Characters), and “newcomers” are the players themselves.
(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.
(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.