*TV SERIES RECAP: RUN

RUN was a guilty pleasure watch. The premise and concept of this limited HBO series are somewhat irresistible to me. We have two former lovers, Billy (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ruby (Merritt Wever). They made a pact to each other during their college years, that if either one of them ever texted the word “RUN” to the other, followed by a return text with the same word—then they will both drop whatever they are doing, and meet at Grand Central Station and be there for each other.

Now in their 30s, Ruby is married with kids. Billy is a successful motivational speaker and author. It seems like they have previously texted RUN to each other throughout the years, but this is the first time that the text was actually returned. The ex-lovers meet up and embark on a cross-country Amtrak train ride.

The whole idea of dropping everything in your life and making a wild run has crossed my mind multiple times, and perhaps this is why this show appealed to me from the get-go.

Episodes for the first season are roughly about a half-hour long with 7 episodes. Pretty easy to power through the whole thing in one sitting. It is a fun show, with lots of tension and slow revelations. Layers and layers of information about the characters are slowly revealed, so you have to be patient to see where the story is actually going. The tension keeps on building up with each episode.

The supporting characters are essentially the main obstacles in this love story. Billy’s assistant Fiona (Archie Panjabi), is stalking and blackmailing Billy — she is holding some dark and compromising secrets regarding Billy.

Ruby’s husband, Laurence (Rich Sommer), seems to be aware that his wife has run off to be with someone and is willing to forgive her if she returns home to her family. All the supporting characters added along the way add a very compelling dynamic that worked well for me. Most notably, the inclusion of the character Laurel (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), A taxidermist, who collects roadkill, and gets involved in the plot.

There is this exciting sub-plot between Laurel and police officer Babe Cloud (Tamara Podemski) that develops midway through the first season,

Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson have solid chemistry together. I was all-in on the idea that these two were once lovers. The sexual tension was believable. Wever’s performance is pretty intense and remarkable. She has this uncanny ability to deliver lines in a very deliberate manner. The character flaws between both characters are worth exploring further…. if there is a second season, which I hope there is.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

RUN (2020). Streaming on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2)

In the final months of a dreadful 2020, I got the chance to finish up the year watching the second season of one of the most enjoyable book adaptations in recent memory.

His Dark Materials is based on a series of books by Phillip Pullman, who also serves as showrunner for the series. Season 1 was mostly based on book 1 of the trilogy, The Golden Compass.

This second season is based on book 2, The Subtle Knife, and season 3 will be based on book 3, The Amber Spyglass.

In season 2, we continue to follow the adventures of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her Daemon Patalaimon (voiced by Kitt Connor) as they explored the alternate world that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened up after killing Roger (Lewin Lloyd) at the end of season 1.

Season 1 was excellent — there was a lot of exposition, lots of world-building, and many moving parts coming at you pretty fast. But it all worked well, and things came together nicely by the end of the season.

We catch up with Will (Amir Wilson), who is also exploring this new alternate world. Will and Lyra’s eventual encounter will put our two heroes on the path to fulfill the Witches Prophecy. They both need to rely each other, as they find themselves on a journey full of obstacles,

The Magisterium senses a dire threat to their control and power and dares to cross into this parallel reality to stop Lord Asriel and Lyra. The idea of witches and non-believers challenging the dogmatic and authoritarian ways of the Magisterium is dangerous for their hold on things and the power of The Authority. Here, at the intersection of politics, philosophy, witches, religion, and multiple worlds is where the series becomes more exciting and compelling.

Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is brilliant yet again — she is pure magic whenever she is onscreen, and she is way more manipulative and deceptive in this second season. Mrs. Coulter is by far one of the most outstanding villains on TV.

In a sense, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) becomes a more sympathetic and less villainous character in this season. The onscreen chemistry between Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter is exceptional.

Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is terrific again. I enjoyed how they have continued to develop this character from the first season. I was glad to see Lee’s Daemon, Hester (voice by Cristela Alonzo), getting a bit more involved in the plot than in the first season.

Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a physicist who studies dark matter, is crucial to the plot. Dr. Malone allows the audience to understand better what dust might be, and we get to go on this journey of discovery along with her.

But the young characters are the heart and soul of the story here. The loss of Roger haunts Lyra, and Will is obsessed with finding his father. The bond between Lyra and Will is a critical factor as both characters move forward.

According to the prophecy, Lyra is supposed to be the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” This is why everybody is supposed to protect Lyra — Will, Lee, and the Witches are supposed to protect Lyra at all costs.

The set up to the eventual war between the multiple worlds is set in motion in this season’s final episode. We see Lord Asriel appealing to the Angels as he tries to raise enough support to wage war against The Authority. The post-credit scene with Roger in this season’s final episode is shocking and sets up season 3.

I really cannot recommend binging this series enough.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2). Streaming on HBO MAX

* TV SERIES RECAP: DEAD TO ME (Seasons 1 & 2)

It originally came out in May 2019 on Netflix, but it wasn’t until this past summer of 2020, during the confinement when I finally had the chance to sit down and binge on seasons 1 & 2. The show runs for roughly 30 minutes at 10 episodes per season, making it very easy to binge through the whole thing in a few sittings.

It’s essentially a dark comedy but with a lot more drama than comedy; the humor and comedic moments are hilarious, but when the drama arrives, the show gets dark pretty fast.

We have Jenn (Christina Applegate), a widower searching for her husband’s killer, who was the victim of a hit and run driver. She spends most of her time obsessively looking for speeding cars passing through the scene of her husband’s death, with the hopes of finding a lead to the hit and run driver who killed her husband. She theorizes that perhaps the killer might be living in her neighborhood. Christina Applegate was nominated for an EMMY for this performance, probably her most intense performance ever. She is remarkable here.

While attending a grief support group, Jennifer meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). Judy is an upbeat, positive-minded person but seems to be hiding a secret. Her interest in befriending Jenn is suspicious. Linda Cardellini made this character likable — at first, I was taken aback by her decision to get close to Jenn, but as the show progresses, you cannot help but root for Judy.

On a dual role, playing twin brothers Steve and Ben, James Marsden adds a unique dynamic to the plot. Katey Segal’s addition to the cast was an excellent choice; her character has a manipulative, sinister vibe to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in season 3, especially when she gets to interact with Jenn, which will feel like an unofficial Married with Children reunion of sorts.

The acting is what makes this type of material work. The entire ensemble cast is excellent—lots of drama, emotions, and heavy emotional content. The writing feels real and raw. The acting and the writing come together naturally and organically. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Once the two female leads are established as characters, their personality traits remain consistent. The rest of the female characters, like Detective Perez and Jenn’s mother-in-law, are well written — all the supporting characters are compelling and exciting.

There is this unique display of affluential, upper-class living portrayed by the luxury and flawless appearance of the houses inhabited by most of the central characters. They present this illusion of perfection, which is a mirage of the chaos, misery, and overall unhappiness in their personal lives. There is a particular scene when Jenn is crying her eyes out while an immaculate-looking kitchen surrounds her; A perfect example of the facade her character exhibits.

Season 1: It is mostly about Jenn’s grief and her family dynamics.

Season 2: We get to know more about Judy and explore her backstory further. There are many layers to Judy’s backstory, and season 2 gives you a more in-depth look at her life. 

Netflix announced in July 2020 that a 3rd and final season would be coming, but there have been rumors of a possible cancellation, which would be sad and unfortunate. This show deserves to come full circle and bring Judy and Jenn’s story to a conclusion.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Streaming on NETFLIX

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE OUTSIDER

The legend of El Cucu finally gets a spot on mainstream TV — Based on a Stephen King novel and adapted for TV by best-selling crime novelist Richard Price — The Outsider is not a straightforward murder mystery like I initially imagined; it is a detective crime drama with a huge supernatural component.

The premise is not as simple as it seems: A kid has been murdered in a small town, and all of the forensic evidence points to the local little league coach Terry (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But coach Terry seems to be well-liked by all the town locals. However, plenty of evidence points to him being miles away from town at a conference when the murder happened.

Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is a grief-stricken cop who has tragically lost his kid recently. Ralph is hell-bent on solving this crime and is convinced coach Terry is guilty.

The paradox of being in two places at the same time becomes, at first, the main obstacle our protagonist must solve. This is a dark but slow and steady show. It can be a bit frustrating if you are not into slow-moving plots. Nevertheless, there are some solid elements to The Outsider that merits watching it.

There are some weird but pretty cool camera shots and angles. We have different and exciting characters that feel real; they seem like regular people confronted all of a sudden with the supernatural, and we get to see how they attempt to rationalize things that they cannot explain rationally. The entire ensemble cast of supporting characters is excellent.

The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is the best thing about this show; she adds a particular dynamic and energy to the plot. Stephen King fans will immediately recognize this character from the novel Mr. Mercedes (2014). This show introduces her as this quirky, weird private investigator who has this extraordinary ability to see things from a unique perspective.

El Cuco (The Coco) is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, primarily known in Hispanic cultures, but there are versions of this entity in just about every culture worldwide. It is also known as El Cucuy, El Cucui, and Coca. However, the lore of El Cuco was mildly presented and loosely explored in the show. Nonetheless, they explained that this entity feeds on the suffering, grief, and sorrow people feel after a tragedy and how it copies the identity of people it has come into contact with by scratching them.

If there is a second season, I would love to see them tackle more of the folklore of El Cuco and expand on this entity and its connection to similar cases all over the world.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE OUTSIDER (2020). Streaming on HBO

*TV SERIES RECAP: COBRA KAI (Season 3)

First of all, I’m a true O.G. fan of this series — I watched the first season the same week it initially dropped on YouTube Red way back in 2018. I think it took me a couple of nights to watch the whole thing; I would watch it late at night after getting home from work — I pretty much did the same thing when the second season moved over to Netflix.

Needless to say, I binged the fuck out of season 3 the same day it dropped on Netflix. I watched the whole thing in one sitting on New Years Day — it was an excellent way to start 2021.

Season 2 ended with this insanely well-choreographed High School fight scene between the rival Dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai. Which ended on a cliffhanger with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) going over a stairwell down a few stories and landing on a railing, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma.

Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is on the run from the cops for kicking Miguel over the stairwell and leaving him in a coma. Robby is more of an outsider in this season; He feels betrayed by all the people he once trusted.

Season 3 is darker than the first two seasons, and all of our favorite characters are in a state of disarray, but the rivalry between the two Dojos is the one true constant throughout season 3. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel La Russo (Ralph Macchio) are still beefing with each other just like in the previous two seasons.

Here is where our three main characters and the rest of the Karate Kids find themselves:

DANIEL LA RUSSO:

Daniel is in a tough spot with his car dealership — His top competitor is making deals with Daniel’s Japanese business partner, threatening to shut Daniel off from his Japanese car importer. And in a desperate attempt to save his dealership, Daniel goes back to Japan to try to work things out with his car distributor, Doyona International. While in Japan, Daniel decides to visit Mr. Miyagi’s Tomi village in Okinawa. Tomi village has completely changed to how it looked in Karate Kid II, and now it resembles a typical American town center, full of name-brand American retail shops.

Here Daniel reunites with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). This Karate Kid II reunion perfectly nails the Karate Kid franchise’s essence, and it filled me with warm nostalgia for these characters. Chozen teaching Daniel new techniques and pressure points was one of the highlights of season 3. Chozen should return in season 4; maybe this time around, he can visit Daniel in the States.

JOHNNY LAWRENCE:

Season 2 ended with Jon Kreese (Martin Kove) taking back control over Cobra Kai Dojo, casting out Johnny and leaving him in a bad spot. Also, Johnny received a notification on Facebook that Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) had accepted his friend request….more on her later.

Johnny is still trying hard to make amends with Robby, but Robby wants nothing to do with him. The relationship between Miguel and Johnny continues to be central to developing his character and the overall plotline, especially as Johnny attempts to help Miguel with his recovery— Johnny’s rehab techniques are ridiculous and outlandish. Still, you have to suspend disbelief and go along with it for the sake of the story. There are some bizarre scenes, like when Johnny sets fire to Miguel’s feet to see if he feels anything or when he dangles an old porn magazine from the 80s over Miguel’s head so he can reach out and grab it.

We also get more of Bobby (Ron Thomas) in this season. Bobby’s expanded role in season 3 is great; he provides a bridge to the original Karate Kid film and to Johnny Lawrence.

Johnny’s relationship with Miguel’s mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), continues to grow this season. Carmen begins to sees that Johnny is a good man underneath it all. However, Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) returning to the Valley and to Johnny’s life throws him for a loop. He seems conflicted between Ali and Carmen — I think this whole love interest conflict stuff is critical for the growth and development of the Johnny Lawrence character and his road to redemption.

I’m happy to see Carmen given more screen time this season — I still believe that she might be connected to Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) or Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) from The Karate Kid III movie. She did say that Miguel’s father was “a very bad man.” And those two are both very bad dudes indeed.

JOHN KREESE:

Now back in charge of Cobra Kai Dojo, Kreese reverts to his original philosophies of the Karate Kid Movies with “Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy,”…. and the whole idea of the “Enemy” is out there type of stuff.

However, Kreese gets his moment in the sun here — he gets to be humanized a bit with flashbacks to his younger days. We get to see John Kreese’s origin story and his time in the Vietnam War. We learned that his mother was an alcoholic and committed suicide. We get to see where Kreese got his initial Karate training and philosophies and how those philosophies are rooted in his military experience. We get hints of a young Terry Silver as one of the members of his military team. The whole Vietnam flashback stuff is full of easter eggs and teasers for season 4… I think.

Also, Kreese is planting seeds of deception with Robby, turning him against both Daniel and Johnny. This plot twist is setting us up for something big on season 4.

ALI MILLS:

The return of Ali Mills is beyond crucial here…She brings both Johnny and Daniel together beautifully. She tells them hard truths, like telling them that they are both very much alike and that they have a hard time admitting it. It was pure magic watching Ali return to the Karate Kid extended universe.

MIYAGI-DO VS COBRA KAI:

The power of mentorship continues to be the central theme here. We see how the passing of wisdom and knowledge can have both negative and positive influences on all these young karate pupils’ lives.

Samantha (Mary Mouser) continues to grow and develop as a character. In season 3, she is dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions and personal conflicts. This Samantha character is a compelling one, and I feel like the Miyagi-Do legacy rests on her shoulders.

Eli/Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) has some dark scenes but seems conflicted throughout this whole season. His rivalry with his former best friend Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) is still going strong.

Tory (Peyton List) gets a lot more screen time, and we get a small but better glimpse of her background. I initially thought that she was connected in some way to Terry Silver or maybe even Mike Barnes (the villains from Karate Kid III). We got to hear Tory’s mom speak off-screen, but we never got a chance to actually see her or find out her name. There is a good chance that Tory might be related to Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) from The Next Karate Kid movie or Jessica Kennedy (Robyn Lively) from Karate Kid III. And now that we know a little more about Tory and her home life, I get the sense that she is in some way related to a character from Karate Kid III…. In any case, Tory is slowly becoming the primary and lone villain of the series.

Of course, there are some insane, hard-to-believe things going on in the plot, like the idea that in 2020-2021, we have rival karate Dojos running around fighting each other with no government or authority figures present….it is straight-up escapism at its best.

As I said earlier, Season 3 is a bit darker than the previous seasons. Most of the comedic parts are centered around Miguel’s rehab and Ali’s return.

All the characters continue to be massively compelling and appealing. Especially Johnny’s sentimentality and references to the 80s…. the 80s and 90s are near and dear to my heart, so I can directly relate to Johnny.

Cobra Kai is slowly becoming the Daniel LaRusso slash Johnny Lawrence buddy dramedy show. The chemistry between these two is terrific. I cannot get enough of them every time they share some screen time.

I get the sense that in season 4, they will take this whole concept of mentors and students to a higher level, especially with the potential return of Terry Silver and Mike Barnes.

This entire three seasons of Cobra Kai has provided a brilliant blueprint for how a successful revival of a series or franchise should be put together.

Beyond excited for season 4.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Cobra Kai (Season 3). Streaming on Netflix.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE MANDALORIAN (Season 2)

The Mandalorian First season was excellent, but the second season is unbelievably fucking good. Here is the thing, if you are a hardcore Star Wars fanboy like myself, you are going to love season 2. if you disliked the sequel trilogy or barely stomached them as much as I did, then you are in for a special treat.

In this season, we continue to explore other parts of the galaxy. Also, the western sci-fi elements are still there, as well as some Eastern philosophical vibes. The show’s episodic nature makes it a lot more exciting to watch; I was impatiently waiting each week for a new episode to drop. And after the whole season was done, I binge through the entire thing in one sitting, well, almost in one sitting; I had to go to work at some point.

Season 1 brought forward everything we love about Star Wars, especially the original trilogy’s tone, but there really wasn’t any direct connection to the Skywalker saga. However, In this season, the Easter eggs begin to drop early on. The nostalgic nods are sprinkled brilliantly throughout each episode, and things are put in place for established characters to show up at some point.

The structure for every episode is nicely executed, and the side quests on every episode worked well for me. We get to explore new systems, new characters, new villains, and new heroes in each new episode.

Episode 1 — THE MARSHALL (Episode 9, In chronological order from season 1): Written and Directed By Jon Favreau.

Din Djarin AKA Mando (Pedro Pascal) has been tasked with reuniting “The Child” with the Jedi — he seems skeptical and somewhat reluctant at first, but as we all know; This is the way. 

Mando goes to a Tattoine mining town searching for a fellow Mandalorian to assist in his quest to reunite Baby Yoda with the Jedi. The mining town is called Mos Pelgo and is run by the local Marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), who shows up wearing Bobba Feet’s armor. Cobb explains he bought the armor from some Jawas. Mando wants Cobb to give up the armor since it doesn’t belong to him. Cobb makes a deal with Mando to surrender the armor if Mando teams up with him and with some Tusken Raiders to destroy an underground Krayt Dragon.

Some of my favorite and most memorable highlights from this episode are Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) playing this underworld crime figure type and the scene-stealing Pell Motto (Amy Sedaris). But Temuera Morrison showing up in the last scene was fucking amazing. Is he supposed to be Bobba Fett? Has he been living in the outskirts of Tattoine all these years? or is this mysterious character a member of the original clone army who has survived all this time living in hiding in Tattoine? Whatever the case might be, this was an extraordinary scene.

Episode 2 — THE PASSENGER: Directed By Peyton Reed — Written By Jon Favreau.

Mando’s mission in this episode is to transport a passenger to another planet safely. This passenger is referred to as “frog lady” who carries a jar of eggs to be fertilized and save her species from extinction. The main plot conflict here is that Mando’s ship cannot use the hyperdrive because it would jeopardize the eggs. She is putting them in a tough spot and making them vulnerable to pirates and space criminals.

There are a bunch of cool space chase scenes all over this episode. We get to see the Razor Crest battle and outmaneuver new Republic X-wing patrols. The idea of including the X-wing patrols in this episode was a rad decision. Probably the weirdest and most awkward episode of the season, but lots of fun and lots of cool visuals.

Episode 3 — THE HEIRESS: Directed By Bryce Dallas Howard — Written By Jon Favreau.

This episode has a lot to digest; Mando ends up in a compromised position and needs urgent assistance — when three Mandalorians show up to rescue Mando. They immediately removed their helmets, revealing their faces, which we know is believed to be forbidden by the Mandalore way.

The rescuers’ leader is Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who is on a quest to capture the DarkSaber, which is currently in possession of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Important to note that Katee Sackhoff initially voiced the character in the animated series.

We learned that Mando belongs to a fundamentalist faction of Mandalorians who follow an ancient creed called “The Way.” On the other hand, Bo-Katan belongs to a different faction of Mandalorians called “The Watch.” We hear about a past war between followers of The Way and members of The Watch due to their conflicting ideologies. The Way stood against more progressive changes to their ancient creed, and thus division and infighting began.

There are so many well-executed action sequences all over this episode. The battle scenes in tight corridors within the imperial ship are excellent, pure Star wars fan service. The Razor Crest is left in bad shape by the end of the episode and literally falling apart

Episode 4 — THE SIEGE: Directed By Carl Weathers — Written by Jon Favreu.

The first thing I have to say is that Carl Weathers should direct more episodes. I was very impressed with how he put this episode together and the choices he made.

This episode’s side quest is for Mando and friends to break into an old and almost abandoned imperial base operating in Nevarro. The thing is that this imperial base is not entirely abandoned and is full of Stormtroopers. There are also Speeders and Tie fighters, which are direct throwbacks to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Mando returns to the planet Nevarro from season one to perform emergency repairs on his ship. We get to see Cara dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) return to the story. Also, we have the return of Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the first episode of season one.

Episode 5 — THE JEDI: Written and Directed By Dave Filoni.

Man, this episode kicks some major asses. Mando arrives at a forest system called Corvus, where he is supposed to find a Jedi. He finds Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who I guess has been living in hiding for all these years. In the way this episode is presented, I get the sense that Ahsoka has been living like a Ronin warrior.

We learned Baby Yoda’s name (Grogu), and we have a small cameo by Michael Biehn, but most importantly, the foundation for the Ahsoka Tano spinoff series is set in motion.

Episode 6 — THE TRAGEDY: Directed By Robert Rodriguez Written By Jon Favreau.

I loved this episode where things move at a fast pace, and we get to see Robert Rodriguez execute some of his trademark action sequences; Rodriguez fits Star Wars like a glove and should be involved in future Star Wars projects for sure.

The monster size revelation here is that Bobba Fett (Temuera Morrison) is alive and back in the middle of things. They decided to make Bobba Fett’s armor look small and tight-fitting, which I do not have any issues with; let us remember that Bobba is older, and it makes sense that he has somewhat outgrown his armor. I wasn’t a big fan of Bobba Fett growing up, but this series got me overly excited about the idea of Bobba Fett being back in the Star Wars Universe. He still remains fresh and exciting, as we have so much more to explore about this character.

Baby Yoda goes to an ancient Jedi temple and sits on a rock that serves as a medium to connect with other Force-sensitive beings throughout the galaxy. We get to see Dark Troopers introduced, and they are AWESOME.

The only small beef I had with this episode was trying to understand a continuity issue regarding Mando’s jet pack. Maybe I need to watch this episode again and see if it makes sense.

Episode 7 — THE BELIEVER: Written and Directed by Rick Famuyiwa.

This episode is pretty intense; Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) is back and teaming up with Mando this time to access a base that holds information on Moff Gideon’s coordinates. Bill Burr shines bright here. Mando taking off his helmet for a good chunk of this episode is pretty compelling stuff.

Episode 8 — THE RESCUE: Directed by Peyton Reed  — Written By Jon Favreau.

This is where everything comes together beautifully. Some of the most exciting and suspenseful moments in all Star Wars history happens in this episode.

The Mando fight scene with the Dark Trooper is terrific. Moff Gideon is creepy as fuck, especially when he delivers this epic line; “Assume I know Everything.” Gideon and Mando dueling it out was also a pretty fantastic scene. We learned that the DarkSaber could only be taken by winning it in combat.

Then we have the build-up to the most astonishing surprise in recent Star Wars history. We see a lone X-Wing showing up, then a cloaked figure emerges from the X-wing, lights up a green lightsaber, and awesomeness ensues.

By now, the whole world knows that Luke Skywalker was the mysterious figure arriving on the X-Wing. Luke’s battle scenes were out of this world, similar to Vader’s Rogue battle scene. Also, R2D2 showing up was glorious, and of course, the emotional scene between Mando and Baby Yoda was very touching. All in all, this was a special episode and a gift for hardcore Star Wars fans such as myself.

I was not too impressed with Luke’s de-aging. This is the same company behind Nick Fury’s de-aging in Captain Marvel and Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man. So I assume that those productions had bigger budgets, and higher emphasis was placed on CGI effects. Hopefully, as we advance, we get to see an improvement in Luke’s de-aging special effects.

MANDALORIAN SEASON 2 FINAL THOUGHTS:

I have to say that this season opens up the door to fix what Rian Johnson and Disney did to Luke in a big way. The timeline of his arrival in the show makes sense since Luke is supposed to be starting a Jedi Academy, and Grogu could become the star pupil.

The Book of Bobba Fett is coming out in December 2021, and I’m beyond excited to know that Robert Rodriguez will be behind this project.

When it comes to Star Wars, There is no such thing as too much fan service. Mandalorian has delivered two unforgettable seasons. This is precisely what we hardcore fans have been hoping for all along, unlike the sequel trilogies that lacked a singular vision. The Mandalorian under Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni seem to be organically following a singular vision in terms of knowing exactly where the show is heading and what the endgame will be.

I am looking forward to more Star Wars content from Disney+.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Mandalorian (Season 2). Streaming on Disney+

*TV SERIES RECAP: HUNTERS

Hunters is an over the top TV series that brings an alternate version of history with some real historical facts sprinkled throughout its fictional plot. The show takes on historical facts like the Holocaust, World War II, and Operation Paperclip — it takes all those historical facts, and it reimagines them as a TV series along similar lines as Inglorious Basterds.

The opening scene in the first episode is outstanding, and it gives you a taste of what to expect from this show in terms of over the top violence. The entire first episode feels like a movie — in the sense that the first episode is about 1 hour and 29 minutes long — All the remaining episodes are roughly about an hour.

Set in 1978, New York City, we have young Jonah (Logan Lerman), who works at a comic bookstore and lives in Brooklyn with his Holocaust-survivor grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin). Ruth is murdered inside their home; Jonah witnesses the murder but fails to stop the killer. At her funeral, Jonah begins to suspect that grandma had a separate life from the one she lived at home. Soon, he discovers that grandma was a secret member of an underground Nazi-hunting organization.

We get to see how Nazi war criminals and many Nazi scientists were brought to the United States under US government protection and given high-level jobs after World War II. And now, years after the war ended, these same Nazi war criminals are being recognized by Holocaust survivors in random cities throughout the United States.

Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) leads a team of Nazi Hunters, hell-bent on tracking down leads and executing justice in violently imaginative ways. Al Pacino seems to be having a blast with this role. I enjoyed his performance.

The Nazi hunters’ team is an interesting one; we have the fantastic husband/wife team of Murray (Saul Rubinek) and Mindy (Carol Kane); their backstory is super compelling. Roxy (Tiffany Boone) is a foxy brown type of character. Lonny (Josh Radnor) is a cool, sophisticated, and fun-loving actor who specializes in disguises. Joe (Louis Ozawa), a combat expert and Vietnam vet who has PTSD. Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvaney) a nun and a former British agent. This nun character is the most mysterious in the group. She seems to be regularly reporting on the progress the Nazi hunters are making to someone on the phone.

We also have Millie (Jerrika Hinton), an FBI agent. She begins to connect the dots between the random killings of German-born US citizens and realizes that all these killings are somehow connected. All of the victims seem to have a mysterious past—she soon discovers that these murder victims were former Nazi war criminals living in the US. In some cases, they were living under new identities given to them by the US government.

The Colonel (Lena Olin) and Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) are excellent villains. However, the character by the name of Travis (Greg Austin) stands out as one of the most remorseless and terrifying villains of recent memory.

Hunters is a daring show that goes into dark places; It deals with white supremacy rising from the shadows and how these Nazis had a plan to infiltrate US institutions of government and fields of science, politics, religion, technology, and business. There is a long game at play here for these Nazis, in which they will destroy the United States from the inside and give rise to a fourth Reich.

In a nutshell, Hunters is a well-made and entertaining comic book style show about Nazi hunters. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies or even the Kingsman movies, you will probably appreciate what this show attempts to do. I enjoyed it and looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HUNTERS (2020). Streaming on Prime.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE STRANGER

Imagine someone showing up out of nowhere to reveal a deep dark secret that nobody is supposed to know and exposing something hidden and possibly devastating from your past? That is the unique premise of The Stranger. Based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Harlan Coben and adapted for TV by Danny Brocklehurst(Shameless).

The Stranger is a mysterious woman (Hannah John-Kamen), who pops up out of nowhere, and drops bombshell after bombshell on unsuspecting people. Revealing secrets and throwing people’s lives in complete disarray. The central character is Adam (Richard Armitage), a successful lawyer and family man. He is approached by the mysterious Stranger and is told that his wife Corinne (Dervia Kirwan) lied to him about a lost pregnancy and has kept secrets from him. After confronting his wife about the revelation of her fake pregnancy, Corinne mysteriously vanishes.

The plot moves pretty fast as Adam begins to investigate his wife’s disappearance frantically. Every single character seems to have their own unique storyline, which directly and in some cases indirectly connects all the characters in the series to The Stranger and to whatever truth she has revealed. The cool thing is that there are twists within twists, some are pretty obvious, and you see them coming, and some are entirely unexpected.

Social media and technology are effectively used in the plot. It helps propel the story forward, which not all modern shows have successfully executed when using modern technology in their plotlines.

The ensemble cast is excellent. Detective Johanna (Siobhan Finneran) is brilliant as a down to earth detective. Her character was well written and carried a unique sensibility that only a seasoned actor could’ve achieved. Paul Kaye, our old buddy Thoros of Myr from Game of Thrones, shows up as a corrupt detective Patrick Katz; he became one of my favorite characters from this show. The always fantastic Stephen Rea plays a retired cop who hires Adam to wage a legal battle to stop a redevelopment project from tearing down his neighborhood to build newer and affordable housing. The cast of teenagers was solid; they were all pretty compelling and exciting characters.

The Stranger is an engaging mystery series that keeps you on the edge of your seat; however, as far as a mystery series is concerned, it is not as remarkable as, say, The Dublin Murders, which I loved and could not get enough of. Still, The Stranger is a very well put together, entertaining, and extremely binge-able show.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Stranger (2020). Streaming on NETFLIX.

*TV SERIES RECAP: COBRA KAI (Seasons 1 & 2)

First and foremost, I’m a HUGE fan of the Karate Kid movies, especially Karate Kid 1 and Karate Kid 3; those two are my favorite movies from the entire series. Karate Kid 2 was ok; I wasn’t too crazy about it. The Next Karate Kid with Hilary Swank was forgettable at best. The Jackie Chan reboot was garbage; it should have never been made.

The first week that Kobra Kai season 1 dropped on YouTube back in 2018, I immediately subscribed (Free Trial), and I binged through the whole thing in a few days. There are 10 episodes per season, coming in at roughly 30 minutes long…pretty easy to binge through the entire series in a few sittings.

Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), our two main characters from Karate Kid 1, are back; they are now middle age, and neither one has gotten over their high school rivalry.

Jhonny struggles with adult life; He has a hard time keeping a steady job — he is divorced, lives in a dump of an apartment, and his son hates him. Zabka gives an incredible performance, giving Johnny some humanity that the original film kind of flirted with. And in Kobra Kai, we get to explore Johnny’s background much deeper, getting a better look at his home-life growing up. We also see how he views the world around him; He seems stuck in time; He displays sexists and racist views. He is angry, frustrated, hasn’t gotten over losing Ali (Elizabeth Shue), and still sees his high school days as the highlight of his life.

On the other hand, Daniel has built a successful life for himself; he owns a local car dealership while using his background in Karate as a marketing tool. He has a lovely home and a beautiful family.

There is this revisionist aspect to the Johnny Lawrence character that has provoked plenty of debate online — reshaping Johnny as the real victim and painting Daniel LaRusso as the instigator and, in a way, the original bully of the entire series. It was Daniel who threw the first punch at the beach in the original Karate Kid movie, which prompted Johnny to defend himself and whoop Daniel’s ass — which was entirely understandable. It was Daniel who continued to provoke Johnny when he used a water hose at the high school Halloween dance and prompted another beat down.

I can see how there is a case for that argument; Daniel always struck me as a bit of a brat in the movies. Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) always seemed to figure out a way to bring balance into Daniel’s life, and in the absence of Mr. Miyagi, we see Daniel reverting to those bratty ways. The endless discussions on these characters are among the many reasons why these two characters and the Karate Kid movies have such enduring power.

Season 1 is mostly about Johnny and his newfound life-purpose by bringing back Kobra Kai Dojo and having a new crop of students following his teachings, which in a big way are the teachings of John Kreese (Martin Kove). The relationship between sensei Lawrence and his top-apprentice, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), is central to the plotline.

Season 2 is essentially Dojo vs. Dojo—Kobra Kai vs. Miyagi-Do. Daniel starts his own dojo with 2 students; Robby (Tanner Buchanan) and his daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser). Their main objective is to combat the rise of Kobra kai in the valley.

The power of mentorship is a crucial component here. We get to see how passing down knowledge positively or negatively can have a life-changing effect on young pupils. We see how the outcasts and the nerds become bullies by being taught Kobra Kai’s “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy” philosophy.

The cast of young misfits is excellent. Eli/Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and his rivalry with his former bestie Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) is an engaging sub-plot. Miguel’s mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), adds a compelling dynamic to the storyline, and I think season 3 should explore her background a bit further. I sense Carmen or even Tory (Peyton List) has a connection to Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) or Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), the two villains from Karate Kid 3. Tory shows up out of nowhere, and all of a sudden, she becomes the clear-cut young villainous bully the show was needing.

Kobra Kai is nostalgic TV at its finest. It pulls away from the 80s effectively, but it still embraces 80s culture beautifully. Exceptionally well produced and well written. It is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying binge-watching experiences of recent memory.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Cobra Kai (Season 1-2). Streaming on NETFLIX

*TV SERIES RECAP: WESTWORLD (Season 3)

We went full Matrix this season; Going beyond Science Fiction and more in-depth into philosophical themes of reality and consciousness. The complete series, seasons 1-3, feel like Cinematic TV at its finest.

Season 1 was excellent — I thought it was pure genius in every single aspect. I still believe that it was one of the most revolutionary, mind-blowing shows ever made. Season 2 was a bit underwhelming for me when compared to the first season, but I still liked it and found it to be pretty entertaining.

WESTWORLD Season 3 reinvents the western vibe of the whole series — following the escape of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) from the park at the end of season 2. Now we have a futuristic “real world” type of setting outside of the Westworld park.

The brilliant thing is that this future world looks and feels believable; it does not feel like a far-fetched version of a futuristic society. It feels like this type of setting, and this way of life is entirely possible, and like it is something within reach for all of us who live under our current timeline. All the little futuristic details worked well for me.

However, there is way too much exposition — lots and lots of exposition. Every single episode is full of drawn-out exposition. Things do not get going until the very end of almost every episode. This is not necessarily a bad thing — I just wasn’t in the best of moods when I binged through it.

I cannot get enough of Dolores; she is one awesome character. She has gone from this farm girl — always a victim type of character to a tough, take no prisoners approach, driven by revenge. There is so much room to keep growing and developing this character beyond this season….. If there is a season 4, then by all means, Dolores has got to be the central character.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) was very compelling in every single season; however, now, in season 3, she seems stuck and not really going anywhere. She is still trying to reunite with her fictional daughter, who has escaped into “The Valley Beyond.” Maeve’s character doesn’t seem to be developing further, and she is essentially repeating the same twists from previous seasons.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is suffering from similar issues as the Maeve character. He spends most of this season Prophesizing the end of times. Plus, Bernard now has Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) as a sidekick. I really don’t know how I feel about this — and besides escaping into the human world, these two characters did not really do much.

Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) has been consistently excellent ever since she showed up on season 2, but towards the end of this season, it felt like they were running out of ideas on what to do with this character.

William (Ed Harris) was always believed to be the real villain behind everything (believed by me, that is). Season 1 and season 2 established William as this sadistic, evil overlord, and Season 3 was all about redemption for William…. I am not sure William’s redemption was accomplished.

New Character Caleb (Aaron Paul) is a former soldier dealing with PTSD and struggling to readjust to life after his military service. I could not get into this character as much as I tried. Anyhow, he is supposed to be a john Connor type of character, leading the revolution — leading both humans and hosts.

The addition of Serac (Vincent Cassell) was a great idea. I am a big fan of Cassell’s work (everybody should watch Brotherhood of the Wolf, 2001). This Serac character is fascinating — his backstory was one of the highlights of this season.

…and what about the rest of the Hosts barely used this season like Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr), Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker), and so on…. I wanted to see them more involved in season 3. I also wonder if Teddy (James Marsden) will return in season 4. His absence was felt; Teddy was needed this season.

Hard to say if this series will go on; I sense the opportunity to move this series forward has been missed. I must admit that for me, there was an apparent drop-off from the first two seasons in terms of engagement. Nevertheless, I did enjoy all the profound philosophical and existential aspects of this season; however, sadly, I am no longer as invested or excited about future seasons as I once was.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

Streaming on HBO MAX