Titans Episode Review S01: E05

It’s been an interesting road for Titans up until now. With eleven episodes planned for the season, Episode 5 — or “Together” — marks the closest thing to a “half-way point” the show is going to have. So how does that point fare? Well, it’s nothing spectacular, but it does at least continue the trend of being “potato chips” (take a look at my review for Episode 4, if that throws you for a loop). That being said, there is one major slip-up that the episode makes that could very well irreparably damage the show as whole.

Before we get too carried away, however, let’s recap. Following a series of events, which include but are not limited to both blowing up a church and meeting a fully cognizant robot, all of our main players are now in one place. Dick takes this as an opportunity for the “team” become more familiar with their own abilities. There’s only one problem: a renewed Nuclear Family is hot on their trail. Suffice it to say, the results are explosive.

So let’s start with the good. First, the show is immensely more enjoyable when it has everyone in one spot. It feels more organic when a character is allowed to focus on more than one problem, something that becomes easier the more people someone can interact with. Granted, everyone sort of gets the short end of the stick compared to Dick Grayson, but they still have different stories building at the same time. Frankly, it adds some nuance to the decidedly straight-forward proceedings.

Without getting too close to spoilers, the choreography in this episode is quite good as well. Unlike the infamous alleyway fight from Episode 1, movement doesn’t feel as jerky or sped-up here. Camera cuts are fast, but not so fast as to be confusing. There is a slight dip in quality midway through one fight scene…a dip that, at least in terms of what this point entails, doesn’t really make a whole lot of narrative sense. However, even that is miles ahead of what we’ve seen up until now, and the quality also ramps back up after a brief interlude.

Now, what about the bad? Well perhaps the most pressing is that, at this point, the show seems to be meandering quite a bit. After Episode 3, it felt like we were on the cusp of getting some sort of answers, and I forgave the slow build-up to that point because of course you can’t have everything all at once. Yet, two episodes later, and we really don’t have any new knowledge in terms of the larger, overarching plot. On top of that, it doesn’t seem like the show even knows how or when it’s going to divulge something critical. The whole affair is somewhat of a confusing mess, and it feels like the writers are just going to keep stringing us along until Episode 9.

And as for my not-at-all-hyperbolic position of the show being in ruins due to ONE decision? Well, depending on who you ask, it may not be as doom-and-gloom as that, but it is indicative of a larger problem in terms of character-building. There is one interaction between two characters that, if you know anything about the source material, is not exactly a surprise, but is also done so haphazardly and hastily that you might get whiplash from seeing it. This is something, that if played right, would have been an easy home-run — something so expected yet hoped-for that it wouldn’t have mattered if it didn’t have the best lead-up. Instead, the writers opted for NO lead-up whatsoever. It’s a nonchalant rush to the finish, and it makes about as much sense as that phrase.

So, yes, Episode 5 is a glimpse at what the entire show is leading to — a fully-functioning Titans squad — and that’s very exciting. Despite all of the show’s problems when it comes to its script, CG, or just acting in general, it still knows how to relish in the fun of finally throwing all of its heroes together (sorry, I couldn’t resist). However, it still can’t seem to get past its extremely lacking writing quality and character development. In earlier episodes, it was just something to hopefully chalk up to growing pains, but as we approach that 60%-mark, the show desperately needs to find something to give us that’s more worthwhile than just, “These are the Teen Titans you know…with a twist!”

6/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E04

Titans is quickly becoming the television equivalent of potato chips; there’s no substance and it’s not very good for you, but it’s pretty tasty and I would definitely eat two family-sized bags in one sitting if DC let me. To that end, while Episode 4 of the series — titled “Doom Patrol” — is still good, it does feel like it somewhat wastes the momentum the show had coming out of Episode 3.

Jumping in, Rachel has just blown up a convent (subtle, eh?) that was holding her captive and is now running through its backyard-forest. Soon, she’s intercepted by Gar Logan, a.k.a. Beast Boy, who takes her to his home to hide out. It’s here where we’re introduced to a ragtag bunch of misfits who are hiding out to avoid persecution for their physical abnormalities. Those who know better will recognize these characters as Robotman, Negative Man, and Elastic Girl.

I really enjoyed the banter and lighter tone that this partial Doom Patrol lent to the episode, and I think Geoff Johns (the episode’s sole writer) did what he could to keep it enjoyable while very minimally pushing the narrative forward. And while, yes, there is very little of consequence that occurs throughout the hour-long run-time, I get why it had to happen this way. At least while nothing was happening, most of the dialogue (that wasn’t coming out of Dick Grayson’s mouth) was fun. It seems fairly obvious that the Doom Patrol series that’s slated for 2019 will most likely take a few cues from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films (honestly, what ensemble-driven media isn’t?), but hey, if it works — which in this case, it does — I say go for it.

Jokes and unlikely companions can only do so much, however, and that’s a lot of heavy lifting for, admittedly, fairly weak concepts. No matter how effective such tertiary details are, any problems with the primary events are going to somewhat overshadow them. That’s not to say that this episode is bad — far from it. It has a decently intriguing plot and it’s probably the best episode in terms of “pace” so far. However, much of it is just sort of “fluff”. Rachel feeling confident enough to voluntarily use her powers is certainly an interesting development, but that 30-second exchange is essentially the biggest take away from the episode until the VERY end. Even that ending borders on amounting to nothing because it’s something that anyone who has a passing understanding of the property, or even someone who has only ever seen Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, knows is going to happen at some point.

Additionally, the show-runners are going to have to come up with different things for Rachel to do other than the same thing she’s be doing for four episodes now. Her entire narrative up to this point can be summed up by this sequence: girl is upset and skeptical of new person, girl learns to trust, girl shows kindness despite being literally possessed by Evil incarnate, girl finds herself restrained or in a situation in which she must now use her dark powers, girl learns that maybe you shouldn’t trust EVERYONE. Lather, rinse, repeat. Thankfully, it does look like we’ll be switching gears starting in the next episode, but for the good of the show, this formula needs to go away for a very long time.

When it’s all said and done, however, I do think the show has finally hit its stride. While it’s not as bombastic and tense as the previous episode, Episode 4 is still very enjoyable even when nothing is really happening. As long as these chips keep tasting this good, I’ll keep stuffing my face.

7/ 10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E03

“Third time’s a charm,” or so they say, and the third episode of Titans, titled “Origins” makes a pretty solid argument in favor of that. DCUniverse’s premier “belle-of-the-ball” had a bit of a rocky start, but it seems to have, thankfully, begun its upswing. Episode 3 still has a few problems, but they’re minor and ultimately inconsequential.

In “Origins”, we pick up immediately where we left off at the end of Episode 2, with the fallout of The Nuclear Family’s attack on our heroes being the jumping point. From there, however, the show starts to dive into what seems to be the crux of the season, “Who is Rachel Roth?” While much of the info that we’re given isn’t exactly new for comic fans, it is nonetheless exciting to be exploring a central plot and committing to moving the story forward.

While it abandons the more focused lens that was present in Episode 2 in favor of returning to showcasing multiple team members, the direction doesn’t feel as hectic and scattered as it did in Episode 1 either. Nothing feels out of place or random, and transitions between characters are much more cohesive. This makes for a good pace and the episode never really feels like it’s dragging.

The last two episodes haven’t done much in terms of forward momentum, but Episode 3 really pushes the narrative; it’s very much a welcome relief to be moving away from thin exposition. Plot details come fast and characters feel fully realized, rather than the vague, one-note standees that they have been. Motivations make sense, reactions are understandable, and everyone finally takes a beat to somewhat digest the situation with the viewer.

Much of the plot movement can be attributed to Kory Anders (a.k.a. Starfire) being present in a more significant way and not just murdering some Russian thugs. Anna Diop’s off-kilter, amnesiac version of the character is a little strange at first, but the approach is different and promises something interesting for the future. In fact, all three of the main characters that are on display in Episode 3 (Beast Boy only makes a brief appearance, once again) are at their best in terms effectiveness. Dick gets the short end of the stick, but he does get some interesting flashbacks that further flesh out his childhood.

It’s not all perfect – the horrendous CG makes a return appearance and even somehow manages to be laughable this time around. Think Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which came out in 2001, and that’s the quality we’re getting now – with a new show – in 2018. The script is still tripping over itself as well, though the cringe-worthy dialog isn’t as prevalent as it has been. At some points, it actually seems to relish in the idea of being in so-bad-it’s-good territory, but overall, hits somewhere between “serviceable” and “inoffensive”.

None of this was bad enough to make me stop watching, however, or even make me stop enjoying myself. If the rest of Titans is at least the minimum quality that Episode 3 has established, there’s a lot to look forward to every Friday now.

8/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E02

After the series premier of Titans, I was cautiously optimistic about the trajectory of the show. It definitely had room to improve, but it seemed to get off on the right foot. Episode 2, titled “Hawk and Dove”, is another step in the right direction, albeit while still stumbling on the same major problems that were present in the first episode.

This episode strictly follows Dick Grayson and Rachel, a.k.a. Raven, and introduces two new faces to the proceedings – the eponymous Hawk and Dove. Despite the end of Episode 1, Beast Boy makes no appearance and Starfire is completely absent, which is kind of nice because it allows for a more focused story this go-around. Hawk and Dove do have their own limited narrative, but it’s nested within Dick and Rachel’s attempts to understand what’s happening with her latent powers.

Speaking of Rachel, as of Episode 2, the troubled teen’s story is already running into issues. The most telling of which being that any transition away from Hawk and Dove felt tiring. Whether it be Rachel just being, frankly, uninteresting as a character or her mystery not taking any meaningful steps forward, her scenes with Dick are kind of boring. They can only have the same conversation so many times before it starts to become white-noise. It also doesn’t help that these two leads feel very wooden; Brenton Thwaites has no urgency and Teagan Croft has no subtlety. The resulting interactions feel kind of like a mix between a text-to-voice app and a soap opera. This, for obvious reasons, never works.

Once again, the writing really feels like it was thrown together in a day, and I fear this will be a persistent problem throughout the series. There are Man-of-Steel-sized leaps in logic, most of the dialogue feels stilted and forced, and little to no attention is paid to what is actually happening outside of “the moment”.  There’s no room to breathe and get a feel for the characters beyond one word descriptors. True enough, it’s only the second episode, but there should be something that we’re continually learning about these people. Yet, unless they’re new characters, everyone on display feels stagnant; ancillary characters that have had about ten minutes of screen-time across the first two episodes feel like they’re on the same developmental level as our main characters. There’s a real opportunity for a well-crafted character-driven show if the writers had any sort of confidence in the viewer. Not a single scene can go by without everyone on screen taking a beat to virtually look straight at the camera and say, “DON’T FORGET ABOUT RAVEN, GUYS. ALSO, DICK IS REALLY ANGRY NOW, REMEMBER?”

Which is a bummer considering the glimpses of what could be with Hawk and Dove. While not perfect, the interaction and chemistry between the two aforementioned heroes makes this episode much more enjoyable than the first. They keep the plot grounded in a central location for a while and provide a much-needed break from the Raven stuff, even if she is still always lurking around the corner. Most importantly, I actually kind of had fun with this episode, despite its flaws – and that’s just because of some minimal work between two secondary characters. Their choreography was frenetic, their dialogue, while not Shakespearean, was at least interesting, and it actually felt like there was a reason to root for them other than, “They’re the good guys.” Their presence in the show is left seeming like it might fluctuate by the end of this episode, but I would very much enjoy seeing their evolution as people – provided the writers felt up to the task.

6/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Comic Review – Stranger Things #1

Image result for stranger things #1 comicFans of the NETFLIX original series “Stranger Things” get a new insight into the experience of the character of Will Byers, who was mysteriously transported into the Upside Down by the demonic creature, which would be known as ‘the Demogorgon.’ The latest 4-issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics is written by award-winning comics veteran Jody Houser (Valiant Comics’ “Faith”), with pencils by Italian artist, Stefano Martino, inks by Keith Champagne (IDW’s “Ghostbusters”) and colors by Lauren Affe ( “Buzz Kill” Image).

The comic series picks up right after the first 10 minutes of the first episode “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers.” Although throughout the first season of the show we merely get glimpses of Will’s time in the alternate-version of his world, which is similar in almost every way, except for the ever-present darkness and the rotten, poisonous atmosphere. As he realizes that he is no longer home, his journey is compared to his adventures with his friends in their Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in which he plays the wizard, Will the Wise, as he wanders the dark forest of “Mirkwood.” But just as in his D&D adventures, the party of adventurers have been separated, and as he knows, splitting the party can have disastrous consequences!

Although the first issue is somewhat shorter than expected, at only 20-pages, it does add much more to the story of Will’s dilemma in the Upside Down, as the show focuses mainly on the powerful, young girl Eleven, with whom he encounters briefly. But the first issue ends on a heart-pounding cliffhanger, as Will tries to seek the safety in the alternate version of his bedroom, while the terrifying ‘Demogorgon’ is stalking him! I’m looking forward to this limited series, which is a must for any “Stranger Things” fan, as well as a good jumping off point for new fans too. The series also comes in a standard cover and three variant covers, including a photo cover that features scenes from the show, as well as some very surreal art covers by various talent. The first issue also includes a two-page preview of the new “Mystery Science Theater 300 the Comic.”