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Review: Supernatural: Season One

Supernatural’s shortcomings could have been mitigated were its plotlines authentically scary.

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Supernatural: Season One

Two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, make up all of the recurring roles on the narcoleptic X-Files wannabe Supernatural, where the biggest mystery is what happened to the rest of the cast. The show’s shtick is straightforward: Sam and Dean’s dad was a successful “hunter” (of spooky things) who one day simply disappeared. Dean, who had been working with his father as a hunter, seeks out Sam, who had given up the family business and gone to college. The two agree to continue their father’s monster-extermination duties while at the same time hoping to locate him. The show’s individual episodes are almost totally linear, without any B- or C-stories, or any genuine attempt at character development. There are some crumbs scattered throughout, but the writers’ inane attempts at injecting humorous sibling rivalry and dime-store philosophizing into the dialogue ring false. Perhaps the duo’s first case should have been to investigate whatever demonic possession caused the WB’s development execs to greenlight this clunky series in the first place.

Supernatural’s shortcomings could have been mitigated were its plotlines authentically scary. Unfortunately, the scripts seem to be composed chiefly of watered-down rehashes of classic weird fiction or popular urban legends. In the episode entitled “The Wendigo,” for instance, Algernon Blackwood’s outstanding and genuinely frightening short story is transformed into an utterly prosaic monster hunt, while this week’s offering features teenagers summoning the vengeful spirit “Bloody Mary” by—you guessed it—repeating her name into a mirror. The first thing to remember about good horror and weird fiction (and the first thing that Supernatural’s writers apparently forgot) is: what people don’t know or understand is almost always scarier to them than what they do. A big reason Blackwood’s story, for example, is so creepy is that the Wendigo itself is never really revealed or explained. The reader’s own imagination is left to fill in the “what ifs”—a much more powerful device than any special effect or ominous line of dialogue, because it’s automatically tailored to his most powerful fears. In short, a good piece of horror writing lets the reader/viewer/listener do most of the work himself.

Supernatural, though, like a cranky union boss, doesn’t want to let viewers do any work at all. Indeed, Sam and Dean arrive at every incident armed with their father’s old journal, a miraculous and bottomless source of explanation for every weird phenomenon they encounter. They’re also packing a bunch of barely-explained, pseudo-scientific gadgets that, in the tradition of Ghostbusters, instantly detect and deal with ghosties in fabulously silly ways. Dean, for example, has a spook-detector fashioned from an old Walkman (and I can’t even get mine to play my old Hank Williams tapes anymore). This failure to leave anything hidden makes each episode more a laborious exegesis of a weird story than an actual weird story—like reading only the footnotes to a volume of H.P. Lovecraft’s complete works.

Stylistic problems also abound. For a series that must have a lot of money left over from the acting budget, the production values sure seem low-carb. Entire episodes are shot without leaving the same four or five sets, and Supernatural features some of the lamest special effects I’ve seen since that time I tried to learn Final Cut Pro. Further, Sam and Dean incessantly refer to each other as “bro” or “my brother”—so newcomers to the series can understand that they’re definitely not gay, no sir. This, of course, makes for some contorted dialogue, but this also seems like a bad move strategically: If people are left to wonder whether or not these guys might be gay, it would at least inject some sexual tension into a show that desperately needs any kind of tension it can get.

Cast: Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles Airtime: WB, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Buy: Amazon

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Review: What We Do in the Shadows Struggles to Carve Out Its Own Identity

The series struggles to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the original film.

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What We Do in the Shadows
Photo: Byron Cohen/FX

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows seems like a natural fit for episodic television. The film was somewhat episodic itself, less an ongoing story than loosely arranged chapters of modern vampire life: going out on the town, having virgins over for dinner, dealing with the cops when there are bodies in the basement. For their FX adaptation, Clement and Waititi mostly succeed in translating the film’s comedy into half-hour chunks, albeit sometimes to a fault, as frequent echoes of the film leave the series feeling like it’s still in search of its own identity.

Both the characters and the New York setting of the series are new here, but the setup is the same, with a documentary crew filming the lives of a group of vampire roommates. All of the vampires are hopelessly behind the times, their shared house a dimly lit den adorned with antique furniture, old-timey portraits, and clothing that’s centuries out of fashion. Though the vampires still maintain the otherworldly allure that guides mortals to their demise, vampirism’s sheer flamboyance hardly meshes with the most banal facets of the present day: The local supermarket doesn’t take ancient coins, and one junior member of the Staten Island Borough Council can’t quite hack it as a vampire’s doom-saying herald.

It’s familiar material to be sure, but going back to the film’s bloody well still yields plenty of goofy, memorable personas. Matt Berry’s commanding presence as Laszlo sells the vampire’s oblivious pomposity when he insists on wearing a cursed hat or says something like, “You are a credit to the women’s suffragette movement.” Human servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) carries out his grim work with an excitable verve, insisting, “I’m not a killer. I find people who are easy to kill.” At its worst, though, that same familiarity leaves some scenes feeling like they were lifted from the film’s outtakes reel. Certain traits of the film’s characters seem to have been divided among Laszlo, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Guillermo, which can lead to the actors seeming to outright channel Waititi and Clement’s performances.

The acerbic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) adds a more observant dynamic to the general buffoonery of her housemates even as she’s still prone to similar moments of profound silliness, like stalking someone with an old camera that uses a vintage flashbulb. Elsewhere, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) emerges as the show’s most memorable creation: a caricature of a milquetoast, nasally desk jockey who’s revealed to be a day-walking psychic energy vampire. Colin, a sentient mound of dull khakis and sweaters, roams the cubicles of his day job, absorbing people’s boredom and irritation, which he amplifies with mind-numbing small talk. When he feeds, his eyes glow and his mouth gapes in an orgasmic snarl that would be frightening if it weren’t hilariously juxtaposed with Colin’s unassuming appearance.

The vampires’ goal is to conquer the “new world” of the United States (or maybe just Staten Island), which opens comic possibilities like a meeting at the aforementioned city council. There are other bits of continuity between episodes, like LARPing enthusiast Jenna’s (Beanie Feldstein) ongoing transformation into a vampire after Nadja took pity on her, but the series isn’t burdened by a serialized plot. For one, the third episode covers a werewolf feud totally unrelated to the group’s fumbling attempts at conquest of America.

Even with such departures, however, these episodes can struggle to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the film. The series certainly offers some amusing additions to this occult universe, but the comedic value of its more familiar material has begun to diminish now that the concept must sustain not only a feature-length movie, but multiple episodes of television.

Cast: Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch, Beanie Feldstein Airtime: FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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