Series Review: That ’90s Show Season 1 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

Since it first dropped earlier this month, fans of the original That ’70s Show have been divided by its latest sequel series, That ’90s Show. But having even been a fan of the brief (and since forgotten) That ’80s Show in 2002, I’ve got to say, it’s not as bad as I had anticipated.

The show centers around veterans of the series Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwod Smith), once again opening their home to the local teens of the neighborhood when their granddaughter Leia (Callie Haverda) decides to stay with them for the summer. As the daughter of Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon), newcommer Haverda takes on the role of the main awkward teen of the bunch perfectly, with most storylines following the trials of”fitting in” among her new peers.

Mace Coronel takes the place of the comedic relief as the newest Kelso, Jay, son of Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie Buckhart (Mila Kunis), who also make guest appearances. The remainder of the young cast come off with mixed results, with the character of Ozzie (played by Reyn Doi) possibly the most obnoxious new character to hit a screen since Jar Jar Binks.

But still, it’s the nostalgic aspect that keeps things afloat here. Sure, the theme song this time around is butchered, and the lack of relatable jokes or certain, other “original” cast members is disappointing. But seeing the likes of Wilmer Valderrama and Tommy Chong return as Fez and Leo, respectively, among the other returning cast members, is enough to tune in at least once around in my book.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series Review: Willow Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

Since its premier last November, Willow, the sequel series to the 1988 Ron Howard film of the same name, has received mixed reviews to say the least. But if swords and sorcery are your type of thing, there’s plenty of adventure to be had here, if you can get past the silly-ness at least.

Warwick Davis returns as the titular character Willow, the not-so-great sorcerer who leads a rescue mission to find the kidnapped Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk) along with his sister Kit (Ruby Cruz), her soon-to-be knight lover Jade (Erin Kellyman), and Arik’s love interest Elora Danan (Ellie Bamber), who just so happens to be the same baby Willow protected all those years before with Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the future Empress of Tir Asleen. Another prince (Tony Revolori), and a boorish treasure hunter named Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) are also along for the ride.

Joanne Whalley and some other familiar faces also reprise their roles from the original film, and one of the better episodes features Christian Slater as Allagash, a former companion of both Madmartigan and Boorman’s. And while Kilmer only appears via archival footage, his son Jack does some voiceover work here as well.

But if only the writers could have kept things straight forward instead of trying to stay “hip” or “witty,” this new series could have been a complete smash. Unfortunately they choose to veer into the absurd far too often, with everything from the dialogue, to questionable choices with the music, making it hard to take things too seriously. The final episode alludes to possible future chapters; hopefully by season two they’ve actually learned from their mistakes.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Series Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s a lot to choose from in the Star Wars universe (one might even say the market has become “saturated”); but if you look carefully enough, you might just find something worth investing your time in. Such is the case with Obi-Wan Kenobi, a dream come true for fans of the series who have always wondered about the title characters’ most secluded years on Tatoonie.

Ewan McGregor returns nearly two decades later since last portraying the role of Kenobi in Episodes I-III, and it’s as if he never left. Long story short, he is thrust into helping a young Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) after she is captured, then escapes, from the Galactic Empire. This forces him into uses his long-suppressed Jedi powers while fighting off new foes from the Empire like Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram), and ultimately coming face-to-face with his former apprentice Anakin Skywalker for the first time since their battle in Episode III that transformed him into Darth Vadar (Hayden Christensen also returns in the role, with the legendary James Earl Jones voicing the character once again as well).

There’s a few other appearances that fans should also enjoy, such as the return of Jimmy Smits to the franchise, and even a small role from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. But chances are if none of what I just mentioned made any sense to you, then this show is most likely not going to be your cup of tea. But if these characters have been embedded in your life since birth as they have been for myself, you’re likely to eat it up, too.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Santa Clauses Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

After all these years, Tim Allen finally returns as the big guy in red, although I wasn’t sure if it’d work after 2006’s embarrassing Santa Clause 3 (I still couldn’t tell you if I’ve ever sat through that one from start to finish). But surprisingly, it held my interest long enough to make it through all six episodes of the new sequel series.

The concept is nothing all too revolutionary; Santa (Allen) is poised to retire, but must first find his replacement. After ruling out his own offspring, he quickly pics a single father (Kal Penn), whose innovative intentions quickly prove to be more harmful to Christmas than anyone could have ever expected.

Along with Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell also returns as his wife, Carol Calvin, and Eric Lloyd briefly returns as his oldest son, Charlie. Allen’s real life daughter, Elizabeth Allen-Dick also appears as his teenage daughter. There’s plenty of seasonal in-jokes along the way and appearances from everyone from the O.G. Saint Nicholas of Myra (Mitch Poulos) and Krampus (Dirk Rogers).

I can remember going to see the original Santa Clause when it came out in theaters back in 1994; it wasn’t a flawless Christmas movie by any means, but decent enough for what it was. I suppose the same can be said about The Santa Clauses; although it’s not perfect, it brings back some of that magic that was missing from its two lackluster sequels.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series Review: The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers Season 2 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

This latest season of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is even more predictably wholesome than the last, yet somehow it still works. All the familiar underdog story tropes are thrown in as usual, but even the “bullies” are painfully likable this time around.

Our heroes now find themselves fish (or ducks?) out of water when they arrive unintentionally invited to an elite summer hockey camp ran by a former NHL player (Josh Duhamel). As the team and their coach (played by the returning Lauren Graham) struggle to fit in and make their own individual marks at the camp, they encounter new allies and adversaries, and plenty of conflicts to contend with.

Gone is Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay, replaced this time by Duhmal, who does his best take on the stereotypical alpha male role. And the returning team itself is again made up of some talented youngsters, lead by Brady Noon, Taegen Burns, Swayam Bhatia, Maxewell Simkins, and Luke Islam, this time joined by the likes of newcomer Naveen Paddock.

There’s obvious similarities to other youthful contemporary shows like Cobra Kai, though everything is kept family friendly. And as corny as it may be, both seasons of Game Changers so far have been the most fun I’ve had watching a fictional hockey-themed show since going to see D2 in the theater all the way back in 1994. With that being said, the kid in me actually enjoyed skating into this one with the fam, and you just might too if you slide into the neutral zone with an open mind.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Walking Dead Season 11 (AMC)

By: Jesse Striewski

When The Walking Dead premiered on Halloween night 2010, I was a single father at the time, in need of some definite escapism to fill the void after completing a full night of trick-or-treating with my son and dropping him off to his mother’s place for the rest of the night. The show was the perfect remedy I needed, not only that very night, but for many more to come.

Since then I’ve never seen a show climb so steadily (and painfully) down hill before in my life. What once was a concise series filled with relatable characters and plots worth emotionally vesting in, became muddled with far too many ridiculously tedious and (often non-sensical) subplots, as well as the addition of far too many unlikable characters that it became impossible to keep track of them all, many just being added for no better reason other than to show how “woke” the show could be. Even the special effects have suffered an immense loss of quality.

The show had been on a noticeable decline for several seasons now, ever since the writing staff started going through changes and main characters like original boss man Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincolin) left (no doubt seeing the writing on the wall). But this latest season has just been so predictable, and just plan weird at times. You’ve got all these different communities (or “Commonwealth”) intertwined together, with these storm-trooper looking morons walking around now that it all just feels like, frankly, a joke. There’s even an episode that featured a full-on wrestling match in the zombie apocalypse, if you can believe that.

The core trio of early cast members that consists of Darryl (Norman Reedus), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Carol (Melissa McBride) hold it together as best as the can among the noise and chaos, but are given little to nothing to work with here. It’s not until the very last finale episode that anything of any real interest actually occurs, with some standout emotional performances from the likes of Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) that offers some sort of closure at least.

But it doesn’t really end there now, does it? With multiple spin-offs still very much in motion, we’ll still be seeing more from this “dead” horse for years to come. Let The Walking Dead be a lesson to AMC of exactly what not to do to a once-flawless show. Hopefully at least one of said spin-offs (I’m putting my money on the one about Rick and Michonne) will manage to bring some integrity back to the brand, instead of just continuing to tarnish it.

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Goldbergs Season 9 (ABC/Sony Pictures Television)

By: Jesse Striewski

When The Goldbergs first premiered on TV in 2013, it was a quaint throwback that perfectly captured the essence of when the ’80s sitcom reigned supreme, and was still an event for the whole family. That initial magic has since dissipated somewhat, yet the show keeps trudging along regardless.

The show started its decline in quality by season six or seven, and season nine (which originally aired in September of 2021) asked us to accept a lot to say the least. The first noticeable change came with the unfortunate loss of “Pops,” played by the late George Segal, who passed away in March of 2021. His death was addressed in the first episode, then mentioned a few more times throughout the season.

Then of course there was the sudden controversy that supposedly came along with actor Jeff Garlin, who has played the father Murrary on the show since day one. Some vague behind the scenes “misconduct” allegations caused the producers to replace Garlin midway through the season, deciding to use a stand-in and weird CGI to replace him instead. It was about this time that I realized the show had hit a new low.

Aside from all these issues, the plots were really nothing all that spectacular, either, many just revolving around Adam (Sean Giambrone) navigating his future with both college and his girlfriend Brea (Sadie Stanely) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia) and Geoff’s (Sam Lerner) eventual wedding. And of course there’s the usual meddling from Bev (Wendi McLendon-Covey) throughout all of these situations.

Only a couple of episodes from this season really standout; the Halloween episode that sees Adam finding solace in still celebrating the holiday via his “other” grandfather (Judd Hirsch) despite the loss of Pops. The episode also sticks out for featuring the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira.

And then of course there’s that wedding episode. We not only get an appearance from yet another ’80s pop star (Richard Marx), but one of the most awkward moments in the show’s tenure featuring the “stand-in” Murrary that the flimmakers actually tried to pull off as authentic. The result is one of the most cringe-worthy scenes ever to be displayed in small screen history.

The final episode (which aired in May of this year) Adam not only graduates, but we also find out that Erica is pregnant, leaving us with a somewhat predictable cliffhanger to end the season on. With season ten about to drop this evening, there’s no telling what to expect from this once-great, dwindling show. The only thing we know for sure is they’ve obviously learned from their mistakes by keeping the Murrary character going in the fashion they had, and finally decided to kill him off all together; perhaps at this point it’d be best to just put the show down as well before it gets any worse than this.

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Series Review: Cobra Kai Season 5 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

After a dismal season four, which centered around basic high school bullying stories and juvenile humor geared towards the lowest common denominator possible, I wasn’t expecting much from season five of Cobra Kai at all, though I went in with as much of an open mind as possible…

…And I’m definitely glad I did. Surprisingly, season five reels it back in and once again makes us actually care about the characters, starting with Johnny (William Zabka) traveling to Mexico to find the down-and-out Miguel (Xolo Mariduena), who set out to said country to find his birth father he never actually knew. This instantly brings the much-needed human element back into the picture, something sorely lacking for too long now.

Meanwhile, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and the Miyagi Dojo are still at odds with Cobra Kai and its vengeful owner Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), and goes as far as enlisting not one, but two former nemesis’ to help infiltrate the dojo and take him down; once again, Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) from The Karate Kid Part II, and this time, Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) from Part III.

Is it a stretch to try to make us believe that these characters would actually care so much about childish rivalries that they’d be willing to take a round trip around the world to fight these battles? Perhaps. But if you’ve been a fan of the series since the first season, but felt discouraged by the direction of the show after that horrendous last season like me, this might just win you back. It may not be the “best around” overall, but it certainly crane-kicks that last season to the ground (can you tell how much I didn’t care for that one?).

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series Review: Stranger Things Season 4 – Vol. 2 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

By now I’m assuming most fans of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things are likely already caught up the entire fourth season of the show, so hopefully no spoilers can be found here for anyone. This season truly was a gift to fans of the series, and even though volume two consists of just a couple of episodes, there’s so much compacted in it it’s almost overwhelming.

The numerous storylines all feel like small movies that could stand alone themselves. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) isfinally forced to come into her own once the secret government facility she’s been regaining her “powers” at is ransacked and officially put out of business for good, leading to a tearful goodbye with her “Papa” (Matthew Modine).

Meanwhile, Eleven’s extended support system is broken off into three separate groups, each trying to fight the evil that’s threatening mankind, while making it back to each other. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp) make their way across state lines to get to her, while Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) and the rest plot to take on Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) himself head-on. Lastly Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) escape their way out of Russia after fighting their own demons.

Each specific plot leads to its own satisfying conclusion, with enough twists and turns to make your head spin, often with emotional results. But what makes these characters so endearing is the ability to relate to them on a human level, which is ultimately a reflection of well-crafted writing. Thankfully, the door is left ajar again for another follow up, which all of us already engulfed in this little world created by the Duffer Brothers are already waiting for with much anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Stranger Things Season 4 – Vol. 1 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

It speaks volumes for a show to still be as captivating as Stranger Things is four seasons in, and yet somehow this series only gets better with time. Within seconds of it starting, you’re instantly sucked into its world, and forgot about everything and anything else going on around you, the ingredients of not only great, meticulous writing, but flimmakers who actually care about their art.

This latest season contains so many subplots, I’m not sure if I can even sum it all up accurately without giving too much away. Long story short, a new evil in the form of a demon named Vecna is threatening Hawkins, and after the popular school cheerleader (Grace Van Dien) is killed in the house of local metal head and leader of the local D&D club, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the kids get wrapped up in solving the mystery while trying to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has since lost her powers and struggling to adjust to living a “normal” life, is brought back to a facility by Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) to help regain her strength back. And while all this is going on, Hopper (David Harbour), who survived the events of season three but has since been imprisoned in a Russian hell, is plotting his escape while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murrary (Brett Gelman) get tangled up in a kidnapping while attempting to free him.

While the show has always paid homage to ’80s films like E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial (among many others), this particular season has a strong influence from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, with dream-like sequences similar to those from said franchise (there’s even a brief appearance from Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund). And the tributes to such metal bands as Dio and W.A.S.P. via the Eddie character are a nice touch as well.

Since the show first started in 2016, it’s caused an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon, and rightfully so, considering the care and attention to detail put into Stranger Things is immaculate. There’s an artistic integrity often not found elsewhere these days, and I find myself wanting to go back to revisit the earlier seasons each time a new one emerges. There’s a simple reason why we respond so strongly to ‘throwbacks’ like Stranger Things; maybe it just reminds us of a time when the world – and life itself – was just a simpler place.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars