Series Review: What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 (FXP)

By: Shawn McKee

The FX series What We Do in the Shadows is top-notch, quality entertainment. No detail is spared, from the sets, costumes, special effects, and makeup, the show retains every theatrical element of the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy film of the same name.

The movie was directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame and Taika Waititi, writer/director of the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit (2019), among other films. Their unique, fresh, and often hilarious take on the vampire genre was seamlessly adapted into a television series that just wrapped up its third season. Clement and Waititi are heavily involved in the show’s production and even reprise their roles from the film as sitting members of the esteemed Vampiric Council.

The series continues the trend of portraying centuries-old vampires living together in modern times. Their escapades are captured by a documentary crew in the vein of The Office and other “mockumentary” comedies. This is Spinal Tap (1984) was an early example as was the Albert Brooks satire Real Life (1979). Brooks’s movie is about a documentary filmmaker living with an all-American family to capture their daily lives, but in Shadows, we don’t know who the documentary crew is. Most of the time, we forget they’re even there.

I contend that Shadows is the best comedy show since It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now approaching its fifteenth season). They both rank, in my twisted opinion, as the finest sitcoms of the past decade. Their sharp, outlandish humor and perfect casting lead to hysterical results. They’re also both property of the FX network, who played their cards right with two gems that continually restore my waning faith in American comedy.

What We Do in the Shadows premiered on television in 2019. At the time, I was a tad confused by the trailers showing a different group of vampires living together in New York. I didn’t know if it was a direct adaptation of the movie or something completely different. A few episodes in, I was sold by its fast-paced humor, deft comedic timing, and high production values.

The show follows four vampire roommates in their gothic Staten Island home, having traveled to the U.S. from Europe decades prior. There’s suave, sex obsessed Laslzo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), his vampire bride Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), bachelor Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), dedicated familiar (now bodyguard) Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), and energy vampire outcast Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).

Each character plays a vital part to the overall story. As roommates, the vampires are dysfunctional, aloof, and completely moronic. That, among other traits, is just part of the charm. The undeniable chemistry between the cast propels the show’s offbeat, unique brand of humor and clever writing. Though seemingly episodic in nature, there is an evolving plot that advances with each season. And if the largely brilliant third season showed us anything, it’s that Shadows shows no signs of slowing down.

The premiere of the ten-episode season begins with “The Prisoner,” featuring hopelessly loyal familiar/servant Guillermo locked in his vampire masters’ basement after slaughtering a hoard of vampires who had entrapped Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin into attending the prestigious Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires. The entire event was a trap to execute them for murdering other vampires, namely the ancient Baron Afanas from the earlier season. What no one knows is that Guillermo has been inadvertently behind all the vampire deaths thus far. As a descendent of famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, it’s in his blood.

Following the theater massacre, the vampire roommates are unsure what to do with Guillermo. He saved their lives, but he is also a vampire killer by nature. Though Guillermo is caged and presumably prisoner, the gang don’t notice as he slips out of his cage each night to do his chores at night and look after them. He even has time to go to Arby’s during the day. They eventually decide to let him live and “release” him with a promotion to bodyguard. This, of course, follows an ineffective ritual where they engage in a hypnosis ritual to prevent him from harming them.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Vampiric Council deliver a videotaped message, informing Nandor, Nadjga, Laszlo, and Colin that since all the powerful vampires of New York area were killed, they, in fact, will be appointed the head a new council. Nandor and Nadjga immediately square off for the throne as Guillermo schemes in the background.

Guillermo’s intriguing development throughout the series continues unabated. After ten years of service, he remains entirely dedicated to his master, Nandor with hopes of becoming a vampire one day. It’s revealed early on, however, that no familiar ever actually becomes a vampire. But Guillermo’s budding confidence and increasing friction with Nandor provide some of the show’s most genuine depth.

The third seasons contains four brilliant episodes, four good ones, and two that are slightly filler. In one particularly stellar episode, the troupe go on vacation to Atlantic City, where they barely survive due to the cleaning woman throwing out their bags of native dirt needed to sleep. In another, Nandor joins a cult-like wellness center of “formerly fanged” iconoclasts who have rejected vampire lifestyle and wish to become human.

We see the return of the Baron Afanas (what’s left of him anyway), incredibly played by Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones. Nadja rises in the council ranks as Nandor grows sullen and depressed by his loneliness and immortality. Laszlo strangely links up with Colin Robinson for many episodes, and we soon find out why. Energy vampires only live for a hundred years, and Colin is nearing his 100th birthday.

The third season begins and ends on a high note. Both episodes are perfect bookends to an engrossing storyline that provides real growth for its characters, despite their farcical environment. Shadows shows that, human or vampire, we all desire purpose. By the finale, Nadja has been invited to join the Supreme Council in London and frets leaving Laszlo, her love, due to his hatred of the old country.

Nandor, meanwhile, embarks on his journey of self-discovery, leaving Guillemro feeling distraught and abandoned. Their shocking all-out brawl is a series highlight, where Nandor, acquiescing to Guillemero, turns to the camera and says, “That little fucker can really move when he wants to.” A lot more happens, including Colin’s death and bizarre rebirth, and we’re left with a litany of questions by the end. The fourth season can’t come soon enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Creepshow Season 3 (Warner Bros./Shudder)

By: Shawn McKee

In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the seminal comic horror anthology film, Creepshow. This masterpiece of macabre was Pittsburgh native Romero’s first and most successful foray into studio filmmaking. Warner Bros released his horror classic to respectable financial and critical success. It remains, in my opinion, a resounding display of Romero’s sheer talent as a director and visual artist. And for the record, everything here is just my opinion, especially when discussing the new TV series.

I was both excited and skeptical when horror streaming service Shudder premiered their Creepshow series in September 2019. It appeared to have the right elements, having two names heavily associated with the genre. This included John Harrison, composer of the original film and director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is the incredibly prolific special effects protégé of Tom Savini, and best known for his work on The Walking Dead. Chances are, if you’ve seen a movie made in the past thirty years, Nicotero worked on it.

His career in groundbreaking effects began with Day of the Dead (1985), my personal favorite Romero zombie apocalypse entry. He then worked on Creepshow 2 (1987), Evil Dead II (1987), and Misery (1990), where you can thank him for the “hobbling” sledgehammer scene. He’s done effects for Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, and scores of other major directors. He co-founded the special effects studio KNB EFX Group, which raised the bar with their work on The Walking Dead, creating unbridled gore unlike anything ever seen on television. Nicotero and Harrison both wrote and directed a handful of Creepshow episodes throughout its current three season run. As executive producer, the show seems to be mainly in Nicotero’s hands, in addition to his Walking Dead duties. This isn’t a man who slows down.

The third season has its share of hits and misses like any anthology show. It even recalls the uneven but sometimes rewarding Masters of Horror series from Showtime, which gave us hour-long segments from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and John Landis, among others. My first rule in providing analysis of these recent horror outings is to first appreciate that they’re there. The fact that there’s a Creepshow series that earnestly tries to emulate the look and feel of the movie and old horror comics that inspired it is a win for me. I’m happy enough that a major network like AMC chose to invest the talent and resources into this show via Shudder. Such acknowledgments aside, how does the third season measure up? It’s quite like the previous seasons; some good, some bad, and an overall worthy endeavor for any fan of the genre.

For starters, the show has an excellent opening and theme song. I also applaud their decision to maintain “The Creep’s” non-verbal cues. The now enhanced, hooded floating skeleton chuckles between segments, much like the original film. The music throughout the series remains rooted in John Harrison’s original style, which is also a plus. The comic to film transitions can be subtle, heavy-handed, and weak at times, but they try. The poorer episodes generally fail because of lackluster acting and writing. Nothing about the series looks cheap, however, and it’s clear that there’s a budget behind this. Unfortunately, certain episodes sometimes resort to appalling CGI effects that nearly sink the production. The third season’s six episode run felt like a mixed bag, but I watched each time, hoping for it to get better.

The season premiered with the “Mums,” a story that tries to emulate the simple revenge/comeuppance troupe of Creepshow lore. A kid’s mother is murdered by her backwoods beer-guzzling militia caricature of a husband for being too “free-spirited.” Buried in the ground, the mother returns as a killer plant and exacts her revenge. There was nothing else to this hokey melodrama, and it started out the season on all the wrong notes. In “Queen Bee,” a trio of teens venture to a spooky, dimly lit, off-limits hospital to spy on a pop singing superstar who’s about to give birth. There’s some great atmosphere and nice effects in an otherwise unremarkable outing.

The second episode features “Skeletons in the Closet,” directed by Greg Nicotero. This one involves a film buff couple who run their own movie museum, displaying old horror movie props and collectors’ items. I can see why Nicotero would be attracted to this story, and it speaks to the fandom in us all. But like many episodes, it meanders and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. “Familiar” involves an aspiring lawyer who realizes that a demon is following him after a drunken visit to a fortune teller one night. This borrows from and pays homage to “The Crate” segment from Creepshow to mixed results. The acting is hard to get past in this one.

“The Last Tsuburaya” features an obnoxious trust fund millionaire who collects expensive art for his own amusement. With a character so rotten, I was surprised to find much better acting than usual. Brandon Quinn delivers quite well in an episode with astounding practical effects, involving an immortal demon who exists in one of the priceless paintings acquired by Quinn. The following segment, “Okay, I’ll Bite,” was directed by John Harrison, paying homage to Creepshow’s cockroach segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” but with spiders. It involves a sympathetic convict’s struggles in prison, amid his pet spiders. There’s a lot of meandering again to an unsatisfying conclusion in one of the most forgettable episodes of the season.

Our fourth episode begins with “Stranger Sings,” about a gynecologist lured into the home of a deadly siren who wants him to remove her vocal cords and transplant them into her friend. Great practical effects mired by an incredibly unappealing story and weak acting. The ambitious “Meter Reader” follows, displaying an apocalyptic hellscape in the not-to-distant-future. There’s a lot to like about this segment, involving a deadly plague and eerie social commentary. The only misfire was the obnoxious lead character “strong woman” prototype.

“Time Out” is a Twilight Zone-type tale about a magic armoire that pauses time. Passed down through generations, the armoire winds up with an eager law school grad who soon uses it to his advantage. This episode ranks as one of the series’ most imaginative ideas, and the execution isn’t bad. A gory animated segment follows with “The Things in Oakwood’s Past,” co-written and directed by Nicotero. The voice acting is top notch, featuring Mark Hamil and scream-queen Danille Harris. Overall, an inventive and enthralling outing with strange animation that makes you want to see it in live action.

The finale episode is the strongest of the entire season. “Drug Traffic” is an absolute horror show, featuring a monstrous girl apprehended at the U.S./Canadian border, followed by “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” This final back-and-white segment exists in the Night of the Living Dead universe from the original movie, and it’s pure magic. Nicotero directed the first episode, and Harrison directed the second. Both show the full potential of greatness of the Creepshow series when it’s firing on all cylinders. With all its hits and misses, I regularly enjoy watching the show each week. I hope they keep it going for years to come.

Series Review: Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

The latest Kevin Smith-created Masters of the Universe incarnation, Revelation, picks up right after the Filmation cartoon series ended in the mid-’80s. Yet many fans have already been critical of its strong use of secondary characters – mainly female – largely taking the place of He-Man/Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood) and Skeletor (Mark Hamill), who are seemingly killed off here in the very first episode, much like Optimus Prime had been in Transformers: The Movie back in 1986.

As someone who hasn’t personally kept up much on the franchise since I was indeed a kid in the ’80s (and not concerned by all things “canon”), I actually found Smith’s vision exciting and fresh. With so many endless attempts by Hollywood in recent memory to bring back beloved shows and movies based purely on nostalgia, the results are usually varying, and far too often disappointing. Yet I was fully invested in the first episode of Revelation, struggling not to keep watching the entire five-episode series in just one sitting when I had other things to get to.

Although the story lines are a bit easy to get lost in at times, the animation is nearly flawless, and the stellar voice cast – which also includes Liam Cunningham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Henry Rollins, Stephen Root, Alicia Silverstone, Tony Todd, Justin Long, Lena Headey, Diedrich Bader, and long-time Smith collaborator Jason Mewes (among many more) – is top notch. Seeing characters like Beast Man, Trap Jaw, Stinkor, Tri-Klops, and Mer-Man battling on the small screen again brought back a rush of memories and emotions for me.

Overall, Revelation is a more mature version to the original series, more dramatic and violent, and with much less Scooby-Doo-like qualities, but still with the occasional silly moment thrown in for good measure. In short, Revelation is almost everything I’ve waited for for far too long now; a guilty pleasure from my childhood brought back, but with very little actual guilt attached.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Walking Dead Season 10 (AMC)

Never before have I seen a series take such a steep decline in terms of writing and content as I have The Walking Dead. What once started off as such a juggernaut, has been dying a slow, painful death for a good four or five seasons now, with Season 10 being the most embarrassing one yet.

Originally airing from October of 2019 to April of 2020, the season dragged on thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t pick back up until February of this year (with one single forgettable episode airing in the meantime in October of 2020). But no matter when they aired, the majority of the episodes remained as uninteresting as the last one.

When the season first picked back up, the heroes were still in the midst of conflict with “The Whispers,” the most bland and boring group of villains to fill the small screen since the original Scooby-Doo series back in the ’60s (and equally as laughable). Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst lead said group of “bad guys” as Alpha and Beta, respectively, and were (thankfully) both killed off early on with little to no shock effect at all.

The show has become so overly muddled with various new characters (Princess and the “masked soldiers” come to mind) and settings, it’s become nearly impossible to keep track of (or even care to) what’s even going on. The only saving grace in recent memory were two individual episodes; one involving Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) encountering an unstable drifter (played brilliantly by Robert Patrick) while on a supply run, and Negan’s (Jeffery Dean Morgan) backstory episode last night (though unfortunately, even the latter took away some of the mystic of the character by making him into a former gym teacher. Yes, a GYM TEACHER!).

I remember watching the show the night it originally premiered (October 31, 2010) after taking my son out for a night of trick-or-treating. I instantly related with characters like Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and fell in love with the dramatic tension of the pace and writing. Since then, the show has become unrecognizable, and downright atrocious, with cast members coming and going (Danai Gurira, a.k.a. “Michonne,” is the latest to leave after this season). But thankfully, the show will finally be put out of it’s own misery after season eleven (with of course even more spin-offs than the ones already going, which both have more or less surpassed their source material at this point). If you’ve never watched an episode of The Walking Dead in your life, do yourself a favor, and do not start with a later season like this. Hell, even if you do start from the beginning, don’t waste your time, and just skip the last few pitiful seasons altogether (I certainly wish I had).

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Series Review: Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, my first impression of a serial killer wasn’t the likes of John Wayne Gacy or even Ted Bundy, who were both before my time. Yet I can vividly recall seeing the 1989 TV movie Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker, and always remembered the ending where an angry mob takes down and catches the so-called Night Stalker (I can even remember thinking in my young mind, “so that is what happens to serial killers.”). Ever since then, my idea of a serial killer, of pure evil personified, has always been – and always will be – Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. the Night Stalker.

Netflix has compiled a stunning, four-part documentary series, detailing the crimes and footsteps taken by Ramirez during his 1985 California killing spree. But don’t get it wrong, the purpose here isn’t to glamorize Ramirez’ crimes, but rather give voice to the actual victims, family members, witnesses, reporters, and several other key figures linked to the rampage at the time. But it’s the firsthand accounts from the likes of Gil Carrilo and Frank Salerno, the homicide detectives assigned and closest to the case at the time, that truly offer the most gruesome insight. Hearing many of these horror stories at times are as heartbreaking as they are disturbing.

It’s safe to say that shows/mini-series like these are not for everyone’s tastes. But those who have the desire to get inside of and learn more about the mind of a truly disturbed individual such as Ramirez, will no doubt be able to do that here. It’s a fascinating, albeit harrowing road to go down, that’s not for the faint of the heart.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Series Review: Cobra Kai Season 3 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

When The Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai first emerged in 2018, the world wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness that was so unexpectedly unleashed upon it. It instantly united pop culture nerds across multiple medians, bringing back ’80s nostalgia in full force for the young and old alike.

In season one, we were re-introduced to the characters Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who are thrusted back into each other’s lives more than three decades later. Daniel has since gone on to become the owner of a successful car dealership, while Lawrence stayed the same beer-chugging, metal-loving loose cannon he always was. Things shake up when Johnny decides to take a leap of faith and re-open Cobra Kai, which in turn re-opens some old wounds in the process.

Season two focused more on the two old enemies each operating their own respective dojos, with new conflicts arising from their new students (and old mentors). Unlike the first season, more emphasis was put on the rivalries between newcomers Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) and Robby (Tanner Buchanan), as well as Sam (Mary Mouser) and Tory (Peyton List). It also brought back John Kreese (Martin Kove) in a more extended and sinister role, and included a bittersweet, albeit brief tear-jerking reunion with some of the other original members of Cobra Kai (which would unfortunately prove to be Rob Garrison’s final portrayal of Tommy before his passing in 2019).

Naturally, season three takes over directly where the second one left off, with everyone dealing with the repercussions of the final battle that saw Miguel seriously injured and put into a coma. There’s still plenty of unresolved wars between multiple factions, as each character grapples with what happened and tries to return to some sense of normalcy.

And of course, there’s plenty of surprises along the way as well; Elizabeth Shue finally returns as Ali (now actually Dr. Ali Mills Schwarber) after Johnny’s attempt to reconnect with her via social media in the previous season. And even familiar Okinawan faces from The Karate Kid Part II, including Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomito), and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) return, leading to some tense moments between Daniel and the latter before ultimately bringing some closure. Even former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider manages to squeeze in a brief cameo, too.

But what makes us invest so much time into shows like Cobra Kai has got to be the reflections of ourselves we’re able to see from these characters and their struggles. They’re far from invincible, and whether you were more of a Daniel or Johnny type growing up, there’s something truly there for everyone.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Mandalorian Season 2 (Disney+)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last year, series creator Jon Favreau surprised the world over with hands down one of the most imaginative additions to the Star Wars universe in recent memory, The Mandalorian. Favreau has opened up all new worlds, ripe with possibilities for the franchise, and it’s no surprise the show has taken off the way it has.

In the first season we met Din Djarin, or “Mando” (played by Pedro Pascal), a bounty hunter who is assigned a bounty known only as “The Child” (now of course known to fans as “Baby Yoda”), but rather than turning him over, ends up going rogue and protecting him in a very father-like role. Carl Weathers and Gina Carano helped round out that season.

Without giving too much away, season 2 expands on that same premise, and brings back a number of the same cast as the first season, and each episode still plays out like it’s own, separate mini movie. But what really moves The Mandalorian along is it’s use of drama, and the addition of such beloved characters from the franchise as Boba Fett, and even the one and only Luke Skywalker, that has propelled season 2 to new heights.

The response and momentum caused from this season undeniably infectious; at least three more spin offs like it have already been announced (The Book of Boba Fett, Rangers of the New Republic, and Ahsoka). From the looks of things, The Mandalorian was only the beginning. This is the way indeed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Stranger Things Season 3 (Netflix)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Every once in awhile, a cultural phenomenon will come along that changes the landscape of things as we know it. Since 2016, the Netflix series Stranger Things has been doing just that. With the show’s third season having been out now for just under a month, it’s due time to analyze the series’ latest outing (and with as few spoilers as possible, of course).

The skeptics out there may find it a stretch for yet more freaky events to find their way to the same basic group of kids in the same small Indiana town (circa 1985), yet it still works. The writing is still witty, the main cast still (mostly) stellar, and the atmosphere is still as spot on as ever.

David Harbor and Winona Ryder again lead the way as Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers, while Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo continue to stick out above the younger cast as Eleven and Dustin, respectively. Newcomer Maya Hawke (daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) is a welcomed edition to the cast as well.

Without revealing too much about the story, this time around there’s multiple sub-plots that involve everything from the usual hideous creatures, to Russian conspiracy. Eventually the puzzles are all put into place before everything is interconnected at the Starcourt Mall, and all hell truly breaks loose.

There’s definitely no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to shows to watch these days. But it’s rare for one to be as well thought-out, put together, and engaging as this show has consistently been.  Every nail-biting episode leaves you hanging on for the next, and each new episode delivers. Instead of relying on dumbed-down sex and gore like so many other movies and shows, Stranger Things has managed to focus on the human side of things perfectly.

Watching this series with my family for the past three years has reminded me of being a kid in the ’80s, watching eventful shows like V in complete wonder. I’ll take that feeling again any day.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars