Black Mirror is such a diverse anthology show that it’s probably not even fair to classify it as TV. It’s more like a series of independent movies. With the extended runtime that Netflix offers it, so many of these episodes do, in fact, feel like feature-length films. I wish they would adhere to stricter times, though. I’m always hesitant to start watching a 70-minute “episode.” Fortunately, the longest episode in Season 4 is also one of the series’ best. “USS Callister” is mostly lighthearted and fun but still has that sinister overtone to keep things interesting and thought-provoking. Black Mirror isn’t a show I would consider rewatchable, but I’d sit through “USS Callister” again.
Like Season 3, Season 4 has two episodes that veer on the colorful and hopeful side, but if you’re worried the show is becoming too soft, rest assured that the other four episodes are your usual Black Mirror bleakness. “Metalhead,” for instance, is the most Twilightiest Zoniest episode they’ve ever done and is a great, concise, 40-minute horror story. The remaining three episodes, however, are fairly weak, making this one of the most up and down seasons. There’s “Arkangel,” which follows a very predictable trajectory that’s not at all interesting to watch play out. And the season finale, “Black Museum,” is a little too self-aware, rushing through several good ideas to support a bigger (but not necessarily better) story.
One of the draws to the show is seeing what crazy technology they’re going to cook up next. Sadly, a lot of the ideas in Season 4 are things we’ve already seen, like digital clones and memory-recording devices. I’m sure it’s really hard to think up new stuff, though, and the episodes at least tackle these familiar ideas in new and different ways. Of course, you always have to be willing to suspend disbelief to enjoy Black Mirror. The tech is cool, but because everything else is so grounded in reality, it becomes vulnerable to scrutinizing and saying, “Hey, wait a minute… if they can do that, then why doesn’t that also happen?” But if you’re willing to play along with the rules in each episode and allow yourself to dwell on the social implications more than the technology, you’ll have a gloomy, good time.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?