Series Review: The Good Lord Bird (2020)

We all agree that slavery was one of the worst things in human history, right? Alright, good. At least we’re on the same page on that.

Ladies and gentlemen… “The Good Lord Bird”.

The story follows Henry “Onion” Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a young slave who gets freed by abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke) and then joins his merry band of freedom fighters. And we follow Onion as he follows along on Brown’s crusade to free the slaves. What I found fascinating about “The Good Lord Bird” is the interesting use of of tonal shifts to tell its story. While at its core it’s a serious drama about the liberation of shackled people, the writers use a surprising amount of comedy throughout, which adds quite a bit of nuance to proceedings. But it’s not just a tonally unique slavery drama, but it’s also largely a coming of age story, since we get to see how this young boy gets to evolve while following along with Brown’s crusade. And while this sounds like it could be quite messy, it really isn’t. I found the story here to be utterly engrossing and entertaining, having me utterly engaged throughout the seven episodes.

The characters in this are colorful, flawed, surprisingly layered (like an onion, HA!), and really entertaining. Joshua Caleb Johnson plays Onion, the young slave who becomes part of Brown’s gang. He has quite an interesting and highly enjoyable personal arc in this, while also serving as the audience in this story, being our look at Brown and his antics. And I think Onion is a really fun protagonist, with Johnson giving a great performance. Next we have Ethan Hawke as John Brown, preacher and abolitionist. He is a fascinating individual, being really passionate about the emancipation of the slaves. And when I say passionate, I mean PASSIONATE, borderline fanatic. His heart is of course in the right place, it’s just that he’s maybe also a bit gung ho about it all, making his methods seem a little insane at times. But that’s what makes him such a fascinating character. And Ethan Hawke is terrific in the role, selling every bit of Brown’s eccentric personality wonderfully. We also get supporting work from people like Beau Knapp, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Ellar Coltrane, Mo Brings Plenty, Nick Eversman Daveed Diggs, and many more, all giving top notch performances.

The score for the show was composed by Jamison Hollister, and I thought it was really good. If you’ve heard a western score in the lat 30 years, you probably know what you’re getting. A fair bit of strings, high energy, and just a vibe that says “this is a fun western”. There’s also a fair amount of licensed songs used throughout, and they work surprisingly well in their respective scenes. So yeah, this show has good music.

Based on the novel of the same name by James McBride, “The Good Lord Bird” was developed for Showtime by Mark Richard and Ethan Hawke, with writing and directing by a whole load of cool people. And the craft on display here is superb. Usually when I watched a tv show, even ones on high budgets with super talented crews, I can still usually tell by how it’s shot that it’s a tv project. But I don’t really get that feel here. They’ve taken careful steps to make sure it blurs the line between cinema and television with their shots and camera movements here. This comes partly from Peter Deming’s beautiful cinematography, and partly from the directing which crackles with energy and feels so lively. This doesn’t mean that anything feels rushed, because the crew really know when to slow down and let moments simmer, creating a perfect balance between the fun, the emotionally charged, and the exciting.

This show has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 100% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 84/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.2/10.

“The Good Lord Bird” is a highly entertaining, fascinating, and unique take on slavery-themed drama, and is one of the best shows of 2020. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Good Lord Bird” is a 9.91/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “The Good Lord Bird” is now completed.

Ethan Hawke has two modes in this show: Low grumbly growling and PASSIONATE, THROAT-RUINING SCREAMING.

Series Review: The Comey Rule (2020)

Politics, a clusterfuck of ideologies clashing. I will never find myself truly understanding it, but I’ll do my best. So anyhow, let’s talk about a political drama.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gents… “The Comey Rule”.

The story follows FBI director James Comey (Jeff Daniels) as he and his team investigate allegations of Russia attempting to meddle with U.S. politics leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election. So yeah, we’re dealing with sensitive shit here. And I honestly think the storytelling here isn’t great. And before you accuse me of some political bias, no, stop. The story here feels like it skims over a lot of details, like it only plays the “greatest hits” of those strange times. And even those moments feels rushed, so as to get onto the next one. There are admittedly moments I do like in the series, most relating to Comey’s reaction to certain events, and I was also never bored. But the storytelling feels incomplete and undercooked, making for an unmemorable and hollow experience, despite the potential for a great narrative.

The characters in this are whatever… yeah, that’s it. I don’t think they’re the most uninteresting necessarily, but like the story they feel slightly underdeveloped. Jeff Daniels plays Jeff Comey, a hard-working, kind, well spoken man who also happens to be the director of the FBI. He’s our main focal point throughout the very short series, and we do get to know him decently well, and he’s a pretty interesting character. And Daniels is great in the role. Brendan Gleeson shows up in this too playing Donald Trump (oh dear), and it’s uncomfortable how fucking good his performance is. We also get really solid acting from other people like Holly Hunter, Scott McNairy, Michael Kelly, Steven Pasquale, Shawn Doyle, Amy Seimetz, Oona Chaplin, Jonathan Banks, Brian d’Arcy James, Jennifer Ehle, and many more. So yeah, mediocre characters, great performances.

The score for the show was composed by Henry Jackman, and it was pretty good. It’s overall well composed and could fit in almost any drama… and that’s the issue here. It doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t say “THIS is the Comey Rule score!”. It just says “Drama!”. I love Henry Jackman, but just like any other person, you can’t always hit a homerun.

Based on “A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey, “The Comey Rule” was created, written, and directed by Billy Ray, and I have mixed feelings here. I am a fan of Billy Ray’s previous works, he’s made two movies I’d happily put in “best of the year” lists. I do however feel like this isn’t as strong as those. A lot of scenes are nicely helmed and have this beautiful cinematic quality. But then there are also times where Billy Ray wants to hammer home a point so hard that his imagery is a bit too abrasive. And let’s not talk about the inconsistent color grading. Sometimes it looks somewhat believable, if mildly exaggerated to create a beautiful cinematic image… but then there are times where it looks insanely artificial and bafflingly bad. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that some of it came from rushed production… but it’s hard to tell.

This show has gotten mixed reception. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 64% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 58/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6.8/10.

“The Comey Rule” is a disappointing biopic that at times does entertain. It has a meh story, meh characters, great performances, pretty good music, and mixed directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Comey Rule” is a 5.9/10. So while very flawed, I can still kinda recommend watching it.

My review of “The Comey Rule” is now completed.

*sigh*. So much missed potential.

Series Review: City on a Hill – Season 1 (2019)

Crime. Don’t do it. It’s bad. I was gonna do a more clever intro, but couldn’t come up with one. So I guess we should just jump into the review.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s discuss the first season of… “City on a Hill”.

Boston, the 1990s. A group of criminals commit a big robbery. So an attorney (Aldis Hodge) has to team up with a crooked FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) to try to solve this case, which leads them down a spiral that shows us the depths of Boston’s corruption. So now we have our crime-drama. And it’s a good one. The core plot is interesting, even if the writing can be a tiny bit sloppy at times. There are also a few plot threads that, while somewhat interesting, don’t serve a bigger purpose in the story than to fill out the runtime. But when it focuses on the main story, “City on a Hill” is a compelling crime drama that entertains and intrigues.

The characters here are layered, flawed, and overall pretty interesting. Kevin Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, a crooked FBI agent that works to solve the case at the center of the story, while also trying to serve his own ego. He’s an absolute scumbag, but you can also tell that there’s some goodness left in him, somewhere, hidden beneath the booze, coke, and jackassery.  And Kevin Bacon chews the scenery quite hard, which makes for a really enjoyable performance. Aldis Hodge plays Decourcy Ward, the assistant district attorney that Rohr works with to try to solve the core case. Unlike Rohr, Decourcy is straight as an arrow, wanting to do things by the book… but starts showing cracks the more he works with Rohr. So it’s interesting to see him work the case. And while Hodge sometimes seems like he’s half asleep, Hodge generally does a good job in the role. Next we have Jonathan Tucker as Frankie Ryan, one of the people involved in the robbery that helps spark the main plot. He’s a family man, trying to steer clear of trouble, but often gets dragged into shit partly due to previous action or because of his fuck-up of a brother (Mark O’Brien). And he’s certainly one of the more compelling characters in the main cast. And Tucker is great in the role. We also get supporting work from people like Mark O’Brien, Lauren E. Banks, Amanda Clayton, Jill Hennessy, Jere Shea, Kevin Chapman, Kevin Dunn, Sarah Shahi, Rory Culkin, and more, all doing well in their respective roles.

The score for the series was composed by Kevin Kiner, and I think he did an okay job with it. It’s a bit bland, fitting snuggly in with most crime dramas, but with enough little Celtic elements to make it fit into the Boston setting a bit more. It’s not bad, and it works well enough in the various scenes it can be heard. There are also a fair bit of licensed songs used throughout the season, and they work decently in their respective scenes.

The show was created by Chuck MacLean, with writing by a whole bunch of different people (MacLean included) and direction by other people. And overall I’d say the show is well crafted, creating some decent tension throughout, while also keeping the viewer engaged with some pretty good camerawork. And I rarely mention this, but I have to kind of mention the dialogue, because it sometimes sounds like someone on the crew read a bunch of Dennis Lehane novels and thought “I’ll make my own version of this… ON TV!”. Not complaining, it’s just something I picked up on.

This show/season has been decently well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 74% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 64/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,6/10.

While not perfect, the first season of “City on a Hill” is still a really solid crime-drama. It has a good plot, good characters, great performances, okay music, and really good directing/writing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “City on a Hill” season 1 is an 8,66/10. So while flawed, it’s still worth watching.

My review of “City on a Hill” season 1 is now completed.

Boston might have one of the funniest accents around.