Poker Face Ep 1-4 Review

I have watched all four episodes of Rian Johnson’s new crime mystery show Poker Face. In my previous blog post I questioned why four episodes had been dropped all at once. I’m still not sure but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on these episodes. Mild spoilers to follow.

The first episode has the unenviable job of introducing the main character, her circumstances, her personality, and the hook for the rest of the season. It does this while also having it’s own crime mystery for Charlie to solve. The opening is very Colombo showing off the entire crime before rewinding a bit and shifting to Charlie’s perspective. Seeing the time of the crime from her pov without cutting to the crime really grounds the audience in the character. We know what really happened but we get to see Charlie poke at the pieces she sees.

The aesthetics of the show are perfect for the “seventies/eighties weekly crime mystery show” style they’re going for. Frost Jr’s suits are perfect and the casino also has slightly outdated look. Natalie and Charlie’s cars are older models that invoke that past time period. And the Mother of Pearl handle gun is just chef’s kiss. Despite the older aesthetic, smart phones and tablets do show up in the episode and are smartly integrated into the plot. The villain is smart enough to erase evidence from a phone and even check that he isn’t being recorded at one point but slips up in other ways.

The ending of the first episode is strong. Charlie solves the murder of her friend and gets back at the men who killed her. Her victory is short lived after Frost Jr kills himself in disgrace, which puts her on Mr. Frost’s short list. Thus the premise of the show, Charlie Cade, human lie detector, on the run from Mr. Frost’s men, is established.

Watched the second episode and I loved it. It’s very Incredible Hulk or The Fugitive with the main character wandering from town to town getting mixed up in the local crime of the week. I really like that the show isn’t afraid to spend time (17 minutes this episode) setting up the crime before Charlie shows up in the episode at all. The one thing I’m missing is a short intro explaining the premise; not because the show needs it but because it would fit with the style of the show and be fun.

Something like, “Charlie Cade is a human lie detector. Her best friend was murdered by the men who run Las Vegas. She uncovered the truth and now she’s on the run from Mr. Frost and his right hand man Cliff. They will stop at nothing to find and kill her.”

I like the recurring bit with Charlie not being able to remember a word. They did it a couple of times in first episode and once in the second. It’s a fun audience participation moment; the grownup version of a Muppet asking you to sound out the word on the screen.

Charlie’s lie detector skill is used but it isn’t the crux of the show. She does plenty of boots on the ground information gathering and investigation; mostly using her skill to ferret out contradictions (in a very Colomboesque manner).

The episode’s ending is a little week because Charlie has to run before seeing Jed getting arrested. The fact that we do see the police pulling up, lights and sirens blasting, lets us know he doesn’t get away with it after all.

Episode three is the first episode not directed by show creator Rian Johnson who wrote the first episode and directed the first and second episodes. The show’s style is so well defined that I did not see a noticeable difference. Plus it can be hard to say what differences are from directing, writing, or editing.

I was sad about the dog until it turned out to be a “MAGA dog”. It’s a funny bit and lessens to blow of the dog’s apparent death (spoiler the dog lives but is still racist). I thought the dog was going to stick around as Charlie’s “sidekick” but thankfully it gets a home at the local radio station.

The music cues while Charlie was tasting the different woods was a very interesting way to convey that information. Later when she first smells the cinnamon floss we hear an air horn which calls back to George calling it an air horn at the symphony which Charlie literally calls back to in the scene a minute later. And then later the lack of a sound becomes instrumental in unraveling the murder conspiracy.

It’s a little funny that this show, that streams on Peacock, would include Okja, which was a Netflix movie, as a plot point.

In this episode unlike the last one, Charlie gets to stay on the scene until the police show up giving her and us closure before she fades away. Overall I think I liked this episode a little bit more than the second but all three episodes so far have been very good. On to the next episode.

The fourth episode feels like the weakest episode so far. It’s still good but lacking some of the complexity of previous episodes. The murder is fairly straightforward and so Charlie’s investigation doesn’t have many twists to uncover.

I expected Ruby to deny Gavin wrote the song and for that to lead to a gotcha moment but it didn’t because she just admitted it. She checks out the amp and sees that it has the three prongs. So it should have been safe, which again felt like it should have lead to a gotcha moment but also just goes no where. And when Charlie realizes the whole band was in on the murder not just the one guy, that felt like it should have raised the stakes but she just accuses the whole band and gets kicked out.

Cliff showing up also was kind of anticlimactic. The villain’s right hand man catches up to her and she easily evades him and escapes.

The ending, where the song’s melody is revealed to be copied from the sitcom Gavin was watching and having the whole murder plot exposed by a true crime podcaster, was the best part of the episode. Still an enjoyable episode and if I wasn’t writing this review I probably wouldn’t have thought to much about it.

So, did Poker Face need a four episode drop? No, I don’t think so. The first episode is outstanding and has a strong story hook to bring back the audience in the following weeks. If they had wanted to play it safe, dropping the second episode as well to give a taste of the weekly format wouldn’t hurt. I just don’t know what is gained by dropping almost half the season, four out of ten episodes, on the first day. I’m not complaining to hard because the show is great and I plan to keep watching it in the upcoming weeks.

Poker Face and the four episode drop

I’ve just watched the first episode of Poker Face, Rian Johnson’s new mystery show on Peacock. I love this first episode but I won’t know if I love the series until next episode. It’s a strong start, with a interesting main character, an intriguing story, menacing villains, a really great setup for a weekly episodic show.

I’m concerned that four episodes were dropped all at once. It’s become common for multiple episodes of a show to be dropped if they need, or there is a perceived need for, them to be seen together. Usually it’s two or three episodes. Four episodes of a ten episode season, nearly half the season, feels like a desperation move to hook viewers.

After seeing the first episode, which I remind you I loved, this feels completely unnecessary. I could understand dropping two episodes. This first episode while it does have its own mystery also sets up the rest of the season so it’s not indicative of a regular episode. So you drop the second episode to inform viewers of what a regular episode will be like.

I am going to watch the second and maybe third episodes tonight(three episodes of any show in a row is usually my limit) so this is just me speculating unto the motives behind the four episode drop. Everything I’ve heard so far about the show has been positive. People are eager to watch the rest of the season and as many more seasons as will be made. I hope I feel the same way.

Black Mirror Season 5 Review


The longer Black Mirror goes on the less it has to say about technology. Ideas from previous seasons are being recycled more and more. The show needs to move beyond “people use technology too much and that’s bad”.

Having said that, I still found these new episodes fun to watch. The

“Striking Tigers” Rating 2.5/5

Infidelity the episode. Except for the immersive VR this is a story that could be told with WOW or Everquest or even just Facebook. The new technology doesn’t create these behaviors it just enables it. You could tell this same story in 1910 with telephones. The cross-gender element was really underexplored along with the fact that they could have been any character but just choose the same ones each time.

“Striking Tigers” is one of the weakest episodes of the series. Only its actors save the uninspired plot from being unwatchable. Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II sell their friendship and romance incredibly.

“Smithereens” Rating 4.5/5

This is my favorite episode of the season. Set in present day, it is a dramatic thriller about addictive social media, big tech company overreach, and survivor guilt. There is an undercurrent of “social media bad” but the episode is more about unintended (and intended) effects of social media rather than a simple denouncement of such.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because while there are no major twists the story unfolds beat to beat rather nicely.

“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” Rating 3/5

“Virtual actors/singers and who controls the rights” to them is not a bad premise for an episode but the side plot of toy copies and the one superfan mudded the waters. I think “Waldo Moment” from season two did the premise better.

I was surprised a little bit by the episode’s plot. I was expecting the Ashley Too to malfunction and become malicious or manipulative. Unlike most other episodes with a copied consciousness, there isn’t a lot of handwringing about what to do with the copy and she is simply allowed to continue to exist.

This episode has a happy light-hearted ending and while it isn’t not my favorite episode it was the perfect way to end the season of what is normally a pretty depressing series. I’m not saying every season should end with a happy ending but it was nice to not feel soul crushed when going to sleep.

Final Thoughts

Overall season five is about average for Black Mirror. Some repeated premises, but good to excellent acting and with the exception of “Striking Vipers” solid stories.



Gillian Reviews Star Trek Discovery ep 1&2


Star Trek: Discovery ep1 or Star Trek: Shenzhou series finale part one

The opening credits are interesting. I like the mix of technical drawings and “strange new planets and new lifeforms” imagery.

As someone who grew up idolizing Spock and Data for their logical natures, I find Michael Burnham to be very interesting. Her logical nature overriding, but not eliminating, her emotions is what I had hoped to grow into as a child. She very obviously is not a human pretending to be a Vulcan but a human who was raised by Vulcans. Her overtly emotional response to the Klingons at first seemed in opposition to her “upbringing” but is fully in line with being a survivor of a Klingon attack as a child. Sarek even cautions her during their vip call to not let her past influence her decisions.

This first episode is very Burnham centric which makes sense because she is the main character but I don’t really feel like I got a read on any of the other characters. Except for Saru, Doug Jones’s character, the science officer. He is very good at sensing danger and death as we are reminded every time he speaks. Despite Burnham having served on the Shenzhou for seven years, I felt there was a sharp separation between her and the rest of the crew. I’ve stayed away from most spoilers but I know the Shenzhou does not survive episode two and Burnham is transferred to the Discovery. I don’t know if any other characters survive so this might just be to keep the audience from getting attached to temporary characters.

I don’t mind the new(old) look of the Klingons. Klingon history and government was not offered as an elective at my high school but there’s enough exposition to keep the plot running without bogging down the story. I do like the idea of the different “races” of Klingons.

Star Trek: Shenzhou series finale part two

In this episode, we get a glimpse of Burnham seven years ago when she joined the Shenzhou crew. I’m a little confused about how some one who trained at the Vulcan Learning Center and Vulcan Science Academy just joins a Starfleet crew. Maybe they transferred her credits. Anyway we see her Vulcan upbringing did take quiet well but she has loosened up a bit in the last seven years.

Surprise, Burnham is carrying part of Sarek’s soul with her that lets them mind meld over light years and it’s never come up in the past seven years or anytime before that. This would have been a great season one reveal during Star Trek: Shenzhou.

Starfleet is thoroughly established as non-violent which I like.

I was not expecting the ending with Burnhan being court martial-ed and sentenced to life imprisonment. It’s going to be interesting to see how they justify making her first officer of the Discovery. I knew “something” happened, the Shenzhou was destroyed, and she ended up on the Discovery. I didn’t expect that “something” to be her committing mutiny.

Previous series and movies have kind of played a little loose with enforcing Starfleet regulations. As long as the hero saved the day any transgressions were swept under the rug or punished with a slap on the wrist. For example, Kirk and co. stole the Enterprise and blew it up during The Search for Spock and were punished in The Voyage Home by being assigned to the new Enterprise.

These two episodes are well crafted and fun to watch but I’m worried about how the rest of the season will(or won’t) flow with them. They set up a lot of Burnham’s character and the state of Klingon/Starfleet relations but I feel like that could have been revealed in episodes set on Discovery. The series is named after the Discovery so it seems like an odd choice to the start the story before the main character reaches the ship. I’m not saying I don’t like these episodes. Maybe it was important for us the audience to see the Shenzhou’s last mission before getting to Discovery. I will be watching the rest of the series.

Rating 4.5/5

Gillian Reviews “Dimension 404”

Dimension 404 is a six episode scifi anthology series by Rocket Jump airing on Hulu.

Ok, so this isn’t the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits.  The show is more akin to Black Mirror but with a lot less depressing consequences.  Its episodes are centered around modern tech culture and pop culture with a scifi wrench thrown into the machine.

I’m going to be honest the first two episodes felt mostly average.  Rocket Jump has made a lot of really smart and cutting edge shorts.  I just didn’t feel these first two episodes live up to what I know Rocket Jump can produce.  Even Patton Oswalt doesn’t elevate the second episode, Cinethrax, above good.  From Wikipedia, I can see the first two episodes had several people working on the story and writing the episodes.  The rest of the series has just one writer per episode.  It looks like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen on those first two episodes.

The third episode,Chronos, is absolutely fabulous.  A procrastinating physics student discovers that her favorite ’90 cartoon seems to have been erased.  And then the main character from said cartoon appears in real life leading to an adventure through time.  The writing of this episode is really good which can be be hard when time travel is involved.

The fourth episode Polybius is based on the creepy pasta about a video game cabinet from the ’80s of the same name that had some unusual effects on players.  It’s set in the ’80s, the one episode not based in modern times.  Another solid story but it does lean on the video game tropes a little hard.

The fifth episode, Bob, is tied with the third as my favorite.  An Army psychologist about to head home for Christmas is tasked by the NSA to help the giant brain they’ve hooked into the internet with some performance issues.  I especially love this episode because Jane the psychologist is shown talking to her wife and daughter at the beginning and no one ever says anything about it.  There’s never a scene where she gets mistaken for straight.  Also, I love how much diversity there is in this episode.  Jane is played by Constance Wu.  The NSA agent who picks her up is a woman, going by her actress’s nationality she’s Chilean.  The Director of the NSA black site is a white woman and the technician who tends to Bob is black, played by Malcolm Barrett who also plays Rufus on Timeless(another show I love).  The only white man of note, in this episode, is the terrorist Bob is trying to track down.

I really like this series and hope they continue it. There’s one more episode left in the series to air on April, 25, on Hulu.

Rating 4/5

Brief Review of Timeless

So, do you remember the Quantum Leap episode where Sam encounters an evil leaper and has to set right what they put wrong?  Well, Timeless is basically that episode as a series but better.

Timeless is a new series on NBC about a team of three, a historian, a soldier, and the time machine’s pilot, who go back in time to prevent an anit-American terrorist from changing America’s history in a stolen time machine.  Don’t worry there’s no Islamophobia in this show.  The terrorist leader, Garcia Flynn, has his own as yet unknown reasons for wanting to change the past but they seem to be tied to the historian of the good guys and main character, Lucy Preston.  Flynn has a notebook that has Lucy’s handwriting in it, which he claims she hasn’t written yet but will one day.

The other members of the are Wyatt Logan, a soldier chosen by Homeland Security, and Rufus Carlin, the time machine’s pilot and the black man of the team.  Wyatt has a dead wife in his backstory which he wants to save now that he has a chance but he is also a dedicated soldier.  Rufus is an employee of the company that built both the stolen time machine and the prototype they use to try to stop Flynn.  He was actually very reluctant to be the pilot not only because of the danger of time travel but also because he is black.  He says one of the best lines to his boss, “Also, I don’t know how it works across the pond, but I am black. There is literally no place in American history that would be awesome for me.”  There’s something shadowy going on with his boss but it’s not clear how much Flynn knows.

This show has a nuanced take on time travel or rather the results of time travel.  In many shows it’s common for history to be almost immutable, resisting changes with almost comical deus ex machinas.  Or history is a delicate jenga tower, pull the wrong block out and it all comes crashing down(until you put it back exactly like it was before).  In Timeless the characters act like history is the jenga tower but if they keep things mostly in place history goes on like nothing has happened.  Well, almost like nothing happened.  The main characters involvement, if significant, do become a part of history and can have effects that are unpredictable, like having a school named after your alias or changing someone’s family tree.

At this point I’ve only seen the first three episodes.  The first two were really good with trips to the Hindenburg crash and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  The third one didn’t have a specific event tied to it but was still a good episode.  Overall I’d say give the first episode a watch.  I know there are like two other time travel shows starting soon but this one feels like a home run.

CW Streaming App – Review

This review is based off the Roku version of the The CW’s app.

A few weeks ago all The CW shows disappeared from Hulu.  This concerned me because I watch The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, iZombie, The 100, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and I was really looking forward to season two of Supergirl.  Then I found out The CW was planning on launching their own streaming app.  Their parent company CBS also has a streaming app that costs $5.99 for limited commercials or $9.99 for no commercials.  I was afraid The CW would follow suit and I would be forced to wait until the seasons were available on Netflix.

The new app launched a couple of days ago and I checked it out last night.  First off there’s no subscription or sign in needed. The app is completely free for everyone.  New episodes are available to stream the day after they air.  There are commercials but they are short and only add about 10 minutes to the run time of a 40 minute show unlike broadcast which adds 20 minutes.

Brief sidebar about commercials:  I don’t mind them.  I’ve been watching broadcast and cable tv for 30+ years so I have accepted them as a fact of life.  Especially on a free app like The CW’s.  They have to make money either through charging for a subscription or showing ads.  I would rather watch ads than re-buy my cable subscription one channel at a time.

The layout of the app is a bit different than other apps.  Unlike most streaming apps which have copied Netflix and Hulu’s horizontal scrolling design, The Cw’s app has a vertical design.  (It is actually a copy of The CW’s other streaming app “The CW Seed”, which mostly offers older tv shows, DC Comics animated movies and shows like The Birds of Prey and Constantine, and a few new shows made just for the streaming service.)  On the left side is a small sidebar with four tabs to chose from: Featured, Latest, Shows, and About.  The rest of the screen is divided in half with the middle section for displaying and selecting episodes or shows and the right section acting as an info pane.

The app opens on a “Featured” tab which flips through screen size title cards for the featured shows.  The images do take a second to pop in making it a little jerky to watch.  The “Latest” tab is probably going to be the most useful tab since it lists episodes from newest to oldest letting you quickly see what has just arived.  Since the app lacks a favorites or queue, this is the best way to find new episodes without going to the page for every show you watch.  The “Shows” tab every show is listed in alphabetical order.  From here you can lookup all the available episodes and extras, which don’t show up on the “Latest” tab, for a given show.  And the “About” tab is just boilerplate legal info.

There isn’t much else to say except that the app works.  Playback starts after a couple of seconds, transitions to and from commercials are fairly smooth, and closed captions are available by pressing the options button.   I watched an episode of The Flash to see how long the commercials are.  Each break is about two minutes with three or four commercials and the breaks are visible on the timeline as tic marks if you pause the show.  I found them to be mostly non-intrusive though a bit repetitive as I saw the same commercials several times but this is a problem Hulu has as well.

I had a minor issue when I tried to watch a new episode half an hour after it appeared in the app(12:30 am) and got a 404 error. The new episode played fine when I went to watch it later(1:30 am).  This is probably just a first week hiccup and most people won’t try watching new episodes right after they become available.

Overall I like the app.  Hopefully the image load times will get better but it doesn’t really effect the app’s usability.  Have an app to check for new tv episodes is less than ideal but it’s better than having to wait until the season is over to catch up on Netflix. And you can’t beat the price of free.