Dexter – Season 7

Dexter

I’m pretty late to the Dexter party, but once I got into it, I was all in. That is, except for Season 6. Man, that was a terrible season, so much so that I was about to give up on the show altogether if not for the cliffhanger. Now I kind of wish I had. Sure, Season 7 started out really strong, which made me think Season 6 was just a fluke. Deb coming to terms with the real Dexter, Louis being an obnoxious rival in over his head, Dexter accidentally pissing off the Russian mafia… All great stuff. But this show has a habit of wrapping up storylines too soon, and each great subplot in Season 7 is quickly swept under the rug to make way for—brace yourselves—Hannah freakin’ McKay.

God, I hated this character. The Dexter/Hannah pairing was the most forced and unconvincing relationship this show has ever done, and believe me… Dexter is all about forced and unconvincing relationships. I just didn’t buy that Dexter was that smitten with her. Not only was she a boring person but she was a known killer. She fit the code. Why are they suddenly changing the rules? I get that anti-heroes need to eventually slip up, similar to how Walter White’s greed eventually got the best of him, but here, Dexter’s just making dumb decisions, because the writers ran out of ideas. It doesn’t feel natural or organic at all. It would have made more sense to bring Lumen back, someone we already care about, someone who already has a connection to Dexter.

Seriously, Hannah is the worst. Her toxicity (ha, ha, toxicity) affects everyone around her, turning Dexter into a mushy dumbass and undoing six previous seasons of the “cold, calculated killer” we’ve grown to love. I had to look up if Hannah was in Season 8 or not just to calm my nerves. Much to my dismay, she’s still a main character! And that just made it so much harder to enjoy what was happening here in Season 7. I honestly had to start fast-forwarding through her scenes. I know, I shouldn’t judge a season based on future events, but I’m glad I peeked, anyway. Now I understand why Season 8 got such a bad rap. I’d be extremely pissed to jump into Season 8 unaware and have Hannah ruin yet another year of Dexter for me. At least I can quit the show now, before things get really bad.

Boogie Belgique – Volta

Boogie Belgique has produced a lot of music already, but Volta is definitely their best work. While their other albums are cool in a “background music” sort of way, most of the songs are pretty forgettable. That’s not the case with Volta, however. The songs here have been stuck in my head for weeks now. It’s an album that I seriously look forward to playing every chance I get. I still don’t know how to classify it, though. It’s not “big band swing,” nor is it entirely “electro.” If anything, I’d call it “dark swing,” since most of the songs have a melancholy feel to them with haunting (and sparingly used) vocals.

On the topic of vocals, I initially hated the album’s song, “Every Time.” I’m not a fan of the original “Every Time We Say Goodbye” tune, anyway, but once this version gets into its instrumental sections, where the horns come into full effect, it’s… it’s friggin’ beautiful. Horn instruments are, like, my favorite part about electro swing and jazz now, and Volta is chock-full of great toots, from the sadly catchy “Happening Again” to the loud and exuberant “Jungle Law.” The only song I don’t care for is “Taboo.” It’s a little cheesy and doesn’t have the same strong beats as everything else. But when everything else is damn near perfect, I guess I can’t complain.

Stranger Things – Season 2

Stranger Things 2

After the surprise hit that was Season 1, I kind of figured Season 2 would be a bit disappointing. That’s not to say it’s bad, though. I still liked it and was hooked enough to burn through all nine episodes in two days. But I wasn’t expecting it to be such a direct follow-up to Season 1. What made that first season so memorable was the mystery surrounding everything. It really kept you guessing as to how everything fit together. In Season 2, however, we already know about the Upside Down, and we already know about demogorgons. Sure, Season 2 gives us the “shadow monster,” but this new threat ends up being just a conduit for more demogorgons. It’s like the writers thought, “You know, one big demogorgon was pretty scary, but you know what would be even more scary? Ten little demogorgons!”

Season 2, then, starts to play out like more of a traditional exorcist/monster movie instead of a sci-fi mystery. But it’s a fun monster movie, and the kid actors are still great. Will gets much more screen time in this one, and the actor who plays him actually does a pretty decent job. It’s weird how quickly Millie Bobby Brown (El) grew up, though. That may be why they kept her away from the other kids for so much of the season. Isolating her, however, was honestly a waste of her character. I was interested in exploring her relationship with Hopper, but then they sent her off on this ridiculous sidequest to find her “sister,” where she meets a band of clichés and then comes right back. That episode was just… dumb and didn’t fit in with an otherwise strong—if fairly unoriginal—sequel.

Big Mouth – Season 1

Big Mouth

For all of its crassness, this feels like it has the makings to be an important piece of television. Hell, if it wasn’t so unabashedly vulgar, it would be a great substitute for whatever passes as “sex ed” nowadays. But maybe the target audience is supposed to be adults for no other reason than that we’ve already been through the pains of puberty and can watch these episodes with a sigh of relief. There’s a surprising amount of heart and sympathy put into this show when it comes to portraying the struggles that teenage boys and girls go through. I love that their hormonal desires are represented by an imaginary monster who knows no boundaries, even as the kids themselves try to remain as wholesome as possible.

Granted, the hormone monster is often overused in an attempt to squeeze more jokes into each episode. The humor is pretty hit and miss, actually. There are some funny, self-referential gags about Netflix and TV, and anything that directly relates to the overall theme of growing up is grossly charming (and I do mean grossly). But there’s also a lot of filler that bogs down everything else the show is trying to accomplish. The constant shoehorning of secondary characters, for example, can be grating. The show really wants to make Coach Steve a thing, much like Coach McGuirk in Home Movies, but Coach Steve is seriously the worst.

It doesn’t help that Coach Steve is voiced by Nick Kroll in his go-to “this is my funny voice” voice. Kroll plays several characters, and while I love his work as the hormone monster (so much so that I didn’t even know it was Kroll at first), I hate Coach Steve and Lola. Big Mouth has so much respect for its other female characters that I don’t know why Lola had to be voiced by a man. I’m also not a fan of Jason Mantzoukas’s Jay. Mantzoukas is just never funny as a cartoon character. The real standout, however, is John Mulaney as Andrew. He so perfectly captures teenage awkwardness and that relatable pit of wanting to be a good, straight-A student while having dirty thoughts about everything. We’ve all been there, right? … Right?

Bojack Horseman – Season 4

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman has become such a tonally disjointed show. The wackiness has only gotten wackier while the sadness has only gotten sadder. This juggling act of emotions is what made Seasons 2 and 3 so endearing, but the doubling down on these extremes has created a somewhat rocky Season 4. Don’t get me wrong, though. Season 4 is still great overall and has some very funny moments to counter the ones that hit you in the feels. But the serious moments are really depressing while the lighthearted material is so zany, it might as well be a different show. The fact that Bojack and his friends rarely cross paths this season reinforces that idea, that you are practically watching two separate shows at once.

The sadder stories are saved for Bojack and Princess Carolyn while the Saturday morning cartoon shtick orbits around Todd and Mr. Peanut Butter. It’s more jarring than usual to watch a full episode of PB hijinks and then cut to Bojack at the end, where shit’s getting real. Thankfully, the sadness that typically follows Bojack isn’t due to his own self-sabotaging behavior anymore. The guy’s actually trying to be a better person in this season. We get a rare glimpse inside Bojack’s mind, though, as well as a glimpse at what his mother’s childhood was like, that explain why Bojack and his mom are the assholes that they are. A whole show of just that would obviously be too heavy, of course, but there’s no reason why the B stories have to be so segregated and outrageous to compensate.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Enslaved

I was mostly interested in Enslaved because of its loose correlation to the Chinese fable, Journey to the West, but the similarities are very loose. Other than the idea of one character forcing another character to help her via a “headband of pain,” the game is its own, separate thing. Various renditions of the original Journey to the West story really play up the contentious relationship that Monkey has with his “master,” but the Monkey character in Enslaved is too quick to accept his fate and too quick to develop feelings for Trip. Their dynamic—and the story overall—just feels kind of rushed, particularly in the second half of the game. That’s also when we meet Pigsy. I love that Pigsy is a character here, but he brings a little too much comic relief to the table.

Since the story starts to fall apart near the end, that makes it harder to ignore how repetitive the gameplay is. Chapters are broken up into two types of gameplay: climbing stuff and fighting mechs. The climbing sections are neat, but you have very limited control over where Monkey can go. Mashing the A button is usually enough to get him to jump to the next highlighted point. Combat is a little more involved and can be somewhat rewarding. It’s just a shame that there are only, like, three different robots you ever fight for the entirety of the game. I get the sense that Enslaved was intended to be so much more, but then the studio ran out of money. What we’re left with is a great-looking game that starts with a bang and ends with a whimper.