Saturday, January 21, 2017

Idiot Boxing: Supernatural, season 12 Winter (2016); Insecure (2016)

This season doesn't waste any time getting intense, with Sam
getting abducted and tortured by a rather sadistic member of
the British Men of Letters.
Supernatural, season 12 Winter

This review covers the first 8 episodes of the season, which comprise the Winter portion.

So far, pretty damn good. After a few seasons that were decent but slightly paler shadows of the best seasons between 2006 and 2010, season 11 was a very solid return to form. Thus far, season 12 is mostly continuing that trend.

The previous season ended with Sam and Dean saving the world from being obliterated by The Darkness, an entity that was revealed as God's unknown but equally powerful sister. An added bonus is that God returned Sam and Dean's mother back to the land of living for them. The downside is that Lucifer was remained free and at large. This is bad enough, but on top of this large-scale issue is that Sam is taken captive by agents of the British chapter of the Men of Letters, which is a segment of the society with some rather extreme views on the way that "sloppy" American hunters go about their business.

This first part of the season has been pretty solid. The threat level is fairly high, with Lucifer hopping from body to body, seeking out one which will offer him enough power to cause the greatest amount of chaos and destruction. While I think the premise is strong and has been used to decent effect, it doesn't cover up the fact that Lucifer has already been the arch enemy in this series, many years ago. And back then, we had the benefit of the slow build up to his menace. Now, it does feel a little bit like a retread villain but without any particularly new or clever ideas. I like the notion that, without God as the focus of his rage, Lucifer is left as an unhinged mess of a being, but I'd like to see if the writers can do a little more to expand or explore the show's mythology from a different angle.

The episodes which don't focus on Lucifer have actually been the stronger ones, in my opinion. They have featured a several intriguing hunters, as well as some of the darkest monster-of-the-week episodes that I've seen in a while. The dialogue has remained pretty sharp, and they haven't been overusing Castiel or Crowley. For me, these strengths have made up for any lack of creativity in terms of the Lucifer storyline. I'm also hopeful that the British chapter of the Men of Letters will make a return appearance and become some part of the season's arc, as that looked like an element that has a certain amount of potential. We've been introduced to the sociopathic, stone-cold assassin Mr. Ketch and his high-tech monster-slaying tools, which was pretty awesome. More of that would certainly be welcome.

So it's off to a solid start, and I'll certainly be tuning in when the show kicks off again later in January.

Issa stands in front of a classroom of underprivileged kids.
Her discomfort is almost always present, and it provides much
of the humor of the show.
Insecure, season 1 (2016)

A debut season that started off brilliantly, but by season's end had started to shift its tone and focus in ways that I wasn't crazy about.

My wife had first heard about this show right around the time it came out. I also heard an interview with creator and star Issa Rae, and was also intrigued. The first season of the show was comprised of 10 thirty-minute episodes focused on Issa, an African-American woman in her late twenties, as she tries to navigate her somewhat rocky relationship with her boyfriend, her job as a social worker where she doesn't completely fit in with her coworkers, and relationships with other friends and associates in the Los Angeles area.

After the first episode, my wife and I loved it. The show was hilarious, well-written, and featured more than a few excellent comedic performances, not the least of which is the star Issa. The next couple of episodes were very similar, although a tad more personal drama started to creep into the narrative. Around the fourth and fifth episodes, the drama started to come far stronger, and it stayed until the very end of the season. It was this greater attention given to the personal drama that tempered my wife's and my enthusiasm a bit. Not that the drama isn't done well enough, but much of it hinges on relatively younger people (I'm 41 years old) making some rather immature, poor choices and dealing with the predictably harmful consequences of them. My wife explained to me that it bore a few shades of another hit HBO show - Girls - on which she gave up after only about one and half seasons due to an inability to watch people behave so horribly and irresponsibly. I completely understand why people of that age might gravitate towards such drama, but it's not for me. Fortunately, Insecure still had a solid amount of quality humor, even in the more emotionally raw episodes.

I'll certainly tune in for the second season, but I'll be on my guard for an emphasis on relationships and dating woes, infidelity, and dramatic blowups between the characters. A dash of it can set up some good humor, but if it becomes a drama with some comedy sprinkled in, I may just give up on the show.