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.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

I’ve put so much time into past Harvest Moon games and even Harvest Moon clones that you’d think I wouldn’t need to raise a digital cow ever again. But here we are, 30 hours into yet another farming simulator. The thing is, Stardew Valley is pretty much the Harvest Moon that PC gamers have been wanting for years. It nails the same sense of accomplishment, the same sense of progression, the same sense of wonder and exploration perfectly. If anything, Stardew Valley does it all better. Maybe the only thing that is lacking are the festivals. In Harvest Moon, festivals were always a chance to curry favor with the locals, but most of the festivals in Stardew Valley can be skipped without much consequence.

I really like how alive the world feels otherwise, though. The characters actually have personalities, and if you catch them at the right time, various sub-stories will unfold. It makes the act of befriending them all the more important. It’s also a nice touch that “quests” will occasionally pop up, asking you to run errands for the townspeople in exchange for a little extra money and friend points. Alas, some of these quests involve catching a particular fish, and it can be a pain to not only know where that fish is but to perform the fishing mini-game correctly. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to complete all of the fishing tasks, but I’m definitely motivated to find, grow, buy, and sell everything else this beautifully charming and relaxing game has to offer.

The Tick – Season 1

The Tick

Amazon’s new rendition of The Tick couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve grown a bit jaded by the slow, brooding pace of the Marvel/Netflix shows. The Tick is nearly the polar opposite with a protagonist (Tick) who is overly optimistic all the time, even as real-world violence takes place around him. That can be a little jarring at times, since the show’s heroes and villains are so goofy yet revel in the occasional F-word and blood-spurting murder. But I also really appreciate that the show’s universe allows these super characters to be goofy and over-the-top while the civilians are still regular, old, normal people. The Tick’s “Saturday morning cartoon” behavior can be pretty funny when the people around him look at him like he’s crazy.

On the topic of crazy, though, the show first suggests that Tick is nothing more than a figment of Arthur’s imagination, and I was really worried that that would end up being the case. The Tick needs more people than just Arthur to play off of his childishness. Fortunately, they drop the “imaginary friend” angle by the end of the second episode. However, it does still take a long time for Arthur to not only realize that Tick is real but that he’s not going away. I know it’s important to establish Arthur’s character and motives, but with only six episodes, I didn’t want us wasting the whole season on the reluctant hero storyline. It’s in the final episodes where Arthur accepts his destiny that the show becomes really fun and funny.

What also makes the show work so well in the second half is that we have a much bigger cast of characters by then. Anti-hero Overkill is a great addition, because his brutal methods are so at odds with Tick’s. It smells of Daredevil vs. Punisher, sure, but it’s played for laughs. I think my favorite thing about the show, however, is the main villain: the Terror. He doesn’t even have much screen time, but he’s honestly the best comic book villain I’ve seen since… I don’t know, the Joker from The Dark Knight? What made the Joker effective was that he would do random, crazy shit purely for the fun of it. He loved being bad. The Terror is the same way. And isn’t that the perfect foil to a sugary do-gooder like the Tick?

The Defenders – Season 1

The Defenders

The Netflix Marvel shows have had their moments of greatness but were pretty rocky overall. Still, I was really looking forward to The Defenders, because (particularly in Danny Rand’s case) these heroes needed to be able to play off of each other to truly shine. The Defenders doesn’t have the characters meet up until the third episode, though, in an already shortened season. But when Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Danny finally come together, it’s definitely fun. Luke and Jessica really help balance out the mythical nonsense that bogged down Season 2 of Daredevil and Season 1 of Iron Fist. Danny Rand isn’t nearly as insufferable when Jessica Jones is there to roll her eyes.

Unfortunately, that mythical baggage is the heart of the threat here, which means sitting through more Hand drama. Seriously, can we please move onto better bad guys? These resurrected ninjas are getting boring. I thought putting Sigourney Weaver at the head of the Hand would mean we’d get some actual substance, but she didn’t even do anything. All of the leaders of the Hand felt useless, since the “Black Sky” carried most of the conflict. Considering who the Black Sky is, though, the conflict felt fairly muted throughout. I knew things would end in a tepid showdown where nobody dies, despite how much the show wants you to think someone dies. And I bet that means we haven’t seen the last of the Hand. If that’s the case, I think I’m finally done with these shows.