TV Review: The Dragon Prince, Season 2

Today, we move boldly into season 2 of The Dragon Prince and continue the story. If you missed the review for season 1, it can be found here.

My expectations for season 2 were higher than I’d normally give to most shows. Season 1 nailed all of the critical elements to create a perfect opening into a long form story, we learn the essential relevant history of the world, we are introduced to our key players, and we discover what forces are at work. In season 2, it needed to dig deeper into the motivations of the characters, learn their weaknesses, and watch them try and then fail to meet their goal.

And it totally does.

The Story

We end season 1 with the dragon egg hatching, which gave us a little closure as well as changing up the challenges going forward. In season 2 we see three distinct groups at work; Viren, the advisor to the assassinated king who has taken control of the Kingdom and wants nothing more than to eradicate the elves once and for all; the elves who want payback for what the humans have destroyed; and our heroes who are caught in-between as they work to restore the now baby dragon to it’s mother.

Season 2 gives us a more in-depth view of why Viren is trying so hard to vanquish the last of the elves by sharing the story of what really happened when they ended up killing the Dragon king. Like many antagonists, he believes that his actions were justified for the good of the people. In this case, he needed a powerful magical ingredient from the heart of a Xadia magma titan to bring an end to the drought and provide food for two starving kingdoms. To succeed in his quest to vanquish the elves, he needs the support of all five kingdoms to agree to go to war – and they won’t give it to him. He turns to more dark magic to force their hands.

Meanwhile, Callum hasn’t told Ezran that his father, the king, is dead and struggles to find the right way to do it without breaking Ezran’s heart. They continue their quest of taking the baby dragon back to its mother, knowing now that it’s more important than ever to heal the rift between elves and humans. When Ezran learns of his father’s death through other means, he feels compelled to return home.

We end season 2 with Ezran being crowned king and taking on a responsibility that he knows he’s not ready for.

My Review

Season 1 excelled in building the frame of the story and giving us just enough to want to know more. Season 2 charged ahead in filling out that story and gave even more emotional depth to the many conflicts that weave themselves together. Every character has a significant challenge they they are working to overcome and all of these challenges work together in a way that makes the story that much greater as we see the successes and failures start adding up.

Season 2 also dives deeper into the contrast between dark magic, which is stolen magic that is practiced by humans, and the natural magic of the elves who can pull power from their assigned nexus. We see this in Viren’s growing desperation to gain the power and support he needs from the five kingdoms by cooperating by a mysterious mirror artifact. We also see this in Callum’s efforts to access natural magic, even though as a human it should be impossible for him.

There is quite a lot of drama in this season, and all of it fits beautifully into the story to amp up the tension and make things that much more compelling, which I love. When this is done right, it’s amazing. When it’s done wrong, it feels artificial and forced.

Dragon Prince totally does it right.

Recommentations

There’s so many good things going on in Dragon Prince that there is something for every fantasy lover out there ranging from danger and adventure, to the political intrigues and quests for power. My only warning is for those sensitive to the idea of dark magic and subversion, Viren does dabble in quite a bit of it during season 2 and doesn’t let up going forward.

I give The Dragon Prince, Season 2 5/5 for maintaining it’s awesomeness.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Dragon Prince, season 2 today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

TV Review: Dragon Prince, Season 1

Looking back, I did something a little weird. I reviewed season 3 of Dragon Prince all by itself instead of posting the different seasons in order. Seeing as we might be getting close to the release of season 4, which is slated for the end of eternity, erm, in 2021, it’s a great time to remedy that.

If you’ve been following along, I do have a soft spot for 2D animation films created to showcase art and story. This is true with my fascination with Castlevania as well as the Studio Ghibli universe. It’s no surprise that Dragon Prince is among my favorites.

Callum and Ezran

The Story

As with all opening seasons, there is the expected setting up of all the different forces at work. We see this done masterfully here in the first season of Dragon Prince. The world is essentially divided into two groups, the humans and the elves. The humans, believing they were protecting their world, destroyed the dragon king and his egg which earned them the elves as an enemy.

In retaliation, elven assassins hunt down the human king responsible for the dragon king’s death. What they don’t know is that the dragon egg was not destroyed, but stolen by the human king’s advisor.

All of this big story leads us to focus on the two most important characters, the human king’s son, Ezran, and Rayla, the elven assassin who has a change of heart when she learns that the egg hasn’t been destroyed. Together, along with Ezran’s older half brother, Callum, they vow to return the egg back to the Dragon queen.

Along their journey they encounter all manner of obstacles and difficulties, both in the form of monsters in the world and also from hunters from the kingdom trying to rescue the crown prince Ezran from Rayla, who they believe has abducted him.

With the death of the king and the prince missing, the kingdom falls into the hands of the king’s advisor, Viren, a powerful sorcerer who uses dark magic. While his intentions have always been good, his methods are questionable at best. With each turn, he digs himself deeper into a hole that will bring the kingdom to ruin.

Rayla and Lujanne

My Review

This show has everything I love in a story. Noble characters, dark and light magic pitted against each other, plenty of humor, and some adorable friendships/relationships. It also has amazing art design, great music, and awesome dialogue.

Honestly, if I were to pick one thing about this show that I didn’t like, it would be that they chose to give Rayla a very distinct Scottish flavored accent. It took a few episodes to get used to it, but after that it felt like it totally worked.

There’s also two different sibling relationships that are beautifully contrasted against each other. One is between Ezran and his half brother Callum which is supportive and playful. The other is between Soren and Claudia which is fraught with issues caused by having a dark sorcerer as their father. Soren, who is as naïve as they come, wants to be an amazing knight of the realm and Claudia, who inherited her father’s intellect and magical talent, wants to please her father.

My Recommendations

My eight-year-old loved all of this show, even the parts that I thought would be too intense and scary. Yes, the plot is fairly intricate and yes there is plenty of tension and also yes, there is the use of dark magic which involves sacrifice of living things to make work, but beyond that, there are hundreds of examples of people making the right choices even though they are hard. I count that as a win.\

I rate Dragon Prince, Season 1 5/5 stars for being all around awesome.


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Book Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

How perfect is this? A book by two of my favorite authors which was later made into a TV series starring two of my favorite actors. It’s like a gift from the universe specially made for me. And even better, it’s pretty amazing.

The Story

There is a lot going in in Good Omens. We have three distinct story lines following the key players. First, there’s main story of how an angel and a demon are trying to prevent the apocalypse because frankly life in the 20th century is everything they’d ever want it to be and they would rather not see it end.

Then, there’s the story of the boy who is supposed to be the Antichrist and bring about the apocalypse.

There’s also a thread of the story as we watch the four horsemen of the apocalypse organize themselves and set things into motion.

Lastly, I’m going to lump together the characters revolving around the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a book of prophecies which is distinct from other books of prophecies for one reason alone – It’s 100% accurate, this includes the descendant of Agnes, Anathema Device (best name for a character, ever) Newton Pulsifer, and Witchfinder Sergent Shadwell.

We see the book in three main time periods; the events surrounding the placement of the baby Antichrist into a suitable family; the key points of the boy’s growing up when both the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley work to ensure he’s given a proper education so when the time comes for the apocalypse, he’s ready; and then the time when the apocalypse is supposed to happen.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on here.

My Review

The one thing that I always find delightful in Pratchett’s books is his use of distinct and likable characters. We see loads of this here. The cast is absolutely massive in this book and yet each character is built in such a way that they walk fully formed off of the page. Take the demon Crowley, for example. He could have been played like a stereotypical villain and not been anything more than that. Instead, we have a man who loves his vintage Bentley (even if every cassette he tries to play in it in time turns into a Queen album), raises houseplants like children (which he sacrifices regularly to threaten the others to grow better, he is a demon after all), and created the M25 just to annoy humans.

Then, we mix all these amazing characters into a story line that’s both so complicated and yet so simple which screams iconic Gaiman.

It’s a hard combination to pull off and yet, for me, was 100% successful in creating an delightful romp through something running just parallel enough to the truth that it can be enjoyed first while reading, but also again as you think about all the bits and how they fit together.

Recommendations

If you’re already a fan of Pratchett and Gaiman you’ll already know that they both love to walk on the edge of the acceptable and explore what is considered right and wrong and why. That said, if reading about the Antichrist as a very real person, and worse, a child, makes you a little squeamish, then this whole book might be a little too much for comfort.

Age recommendations – I’d stick this one to adult readers and the older teenagers they let play. Besides the playful religious overtones ranging into the questionable at times, there only a sprinkling of curse words, I think f*^# is said once, and the violence and romantic content is present but subdued. The reason I recommend older readers is that the story won’t make much sense without context and life experience.

I rate Good Omens 5/5 for its excellent characters, delightful unlikely situations, and the most unusual of friendships.


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TV Review: Castlevania, Season 2

Back in February I reviewed Castlevania, season 1. It’s high time to move onto season 2. I’ll leave my warning upfront and center for anyone who’s made it this far.

Castlevania is not for kids. Don’t let the animation fool you. There is extreme gore, violence, innuendo and mature themes.

And, I still think it’s amazing. All the elements that make up my favorite stories are in here so I’m certainly going to continue watching.

Meet one of the necromancers, Hector.

The Story

At the end of season one we left Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades in the aftermath of a massive battle between Dracula’s forces and the people of Gresit. During the battle, the two of them fall into deep catacombs beneath the city and find Adrian Tepes, who is the half vampire son (also known as a dhampir) of Vlad Dracula Tepes and his wife Lisa.

Adrian, now known as Alucard (which is dracula spelled backwards) fights Trevor and Sypha to test them before joining them to challenge Dracula and stop him from wiping out all mankind.

Season two follows their journey and also steps back to fill in the gaps left by season one. We see details on Lisa’s arrest and subsequent execution – the reason why Dracula has become incensed and feels driven to make the world of men pay. We also see Dracula’s world and the political forces within it, including a few human necromancers who create the undead army of grotesque creatures. This is important, because not only is this a fight between Dracula’s forces and the world, but there is also plenty of tension between the vampires and the necromancers.

Meanwhile, Trevor, Alucard, and Sypha return to Trevor’s destroyed childhood home and uncover the massive secret underground library which contains the answers about how they can possibly stop Dracula’s forces, as well as several specialized monster hunting weapons.

All of this leads up to several heated conflicts and battles. Several of Dracula’s vampires have agendas of their own, and will stop at nothing to see them through. There is an attack on another city as well as a showdown at the Belmont Estate where undead creatures work to eliminate our three heroes.

We end the season with a epic vampire battle between Alucard and Dracula, the outcome of which changes everything.

We also meet Carmilla, one of the vampire queens with a massive agenda.

My Review

Where many second seasons suffer from a lack of focus and a sense that the writers never planned on continuing the story, Castlevania flourishes. All the hectic story building in season one slows down and we finally get to see things happen at a much more reasonable pace. When there needs to be a flashback, it’s satisfying and fits into the story in a way that enriches the experience instead of distracting from it.

The complexity of the plot is Castlevania’s two-edged sword. People are going to love it or hate it because of just how many storylines are running amok. This complexity comes from the massive cast of important characters, all of which have relevant backstories that need to be explored to make the decisions they are making in the present make sense. This means lots of flashbacks to build up these stories. Some might feel this slows down the story and the action too much and takes away from the good parts of the story that’s unfolding in the present.

For me, it makes the conflict all the more interesting and meaningful. No one in this story is a mindless puppet. Each one carries an emotional wound that they are desperately working to heal in often the most dramatic way possible. In a way, Game of Thrones tried to do the same thing. Each kingdom had an agenda and the viewer spent lots of time learning the motivations behind them. Where GOT fell short was not fulfilling any of those agendas even in a clever way. No one in GOT found satisfying closure to their stories, which is why everyone hated the end of season eight.

For Castlevania to be successful, each character with an agenda needs to end up with what they deserve and it needs to be a poetic twist on what they wanted.

Trevor gets a new powerful toy, an enchanted morningstar.

Recommendations

While season one seemed to delight in shocking the audience, season two made up for it by adding additional depth. There is still plenty of gore and violence, but it now feels balanced to what the story is trying to accomplish.

This one is for high school aged viewers and up. Period.

I give Castlevania, Season 2, 5/5 stars for it’s depth of story, stunning art, and complex characters.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Castlevania, season 2 today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

TV Review: Castlevania, Season 1

Warning – this dark animated horror fantasy isn’t for the kids and contains extreme gore, violence, foul language, innuendo, and mature themes.

That said, it’s awesome. I’m a sucker for great characters, engrossing stories, and in this case, some very impressive artistry. Castlevania has all three.

The Story

A little history. Castlevania was originally a Japanese video game series by Konami and follows the story of Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and Sypha Belnades as they defend their homeland against Dracula and his minions.

We begin with the story of Vlad Dracula Tepes and see his love for Lisa, a vivacious and determined human woman who forced herself into his life, grow into something special. Twenty years later, she is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake – an event that destroys Dracula’s faith in humanity and sets him on the path to kill every citizen who lives in Wallachia.

Enter Trevor Belmont who comes from a long line of famous monster hunters. The Belmont family is legendary in their efforts to rid the world of dark monsters. Here in season 1, Trevor is still reluctant to take up the family tradition and instead stumbles from town to town seeking out the next tavern and mug of ale. That is until he meets Sypha, a magician historian who is seeking a way to end the monster attacks plaguing the countryside. She’s got the knowledge, he’s got the brawn.

Sypha follows a legend saying that there’s a sleeping soldier in the catacombs deep beneath the city of Gresit who is capable of stopping Dracula. This soldier turns out to be the cast off half-vampire son of Dracula himself, Alucard.

The season ends with Alucard agreeing to help Sypha and Trevor challenge Dracula and end the conflict between vampires and humans for good.

My Review

Season one of Castlevania is super short, only four episodes. In that time, the history of why Dracula turned on humans needed to be revealed, Trevor and Sypha needed to be compelled to work together, and the first big enemy, the Bishop of Gresit, faced and defeated. That’s a lot of ground to cover so it’s no surprise that the story feels a bit disjointed as we get to know the characters and what’s at stake for each. The sheer immensity of the backstory trying to break through is impressive. By the end of the first season the viewer knows that there is so much more going on, but isn’t quite sure what.

Yes, they fridged Dracula’s love interest. It’s a common trope in the genre as a reason for the bad guy to be bad or the good guy to keep fighting. In this instance there are enough other factors also in place that it doesn’t feel forced.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and I found the characters to be likable and charming each in their own curmudgeonly way. The gore is a little much for what is needed to tell a good story, but is an expected aspect of the genre so is forgivable.

I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds and how the stakes are raised.

Recommendations

This series makes a place for itself by offering over-the-top brutal violence in an animated feature. I’ll say it again. IT’S NOT FOR KIDS. Highschoolers, maybe. But not kids. Beyond the violence and gore, there is also frequent swearing and reference to plenty of mature themes.

That said, compared to other similar stories, Castlevania has strong moral undertones. They characters show grit and determination to do what’s right, not because they’ll gain from it, but because it’s the right thing to do. They stand up against evil, protect the weak, and are willing to sacrifice themselves should it come down to it.

I give Castlevania 4/5 for amazing characters, a solid story, and a compelling villain.


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TV Review: Mandalorian, Season 2

Can you get too much of a good thing? Yes. Yes, you can. While I proudly say that I’m fond of the Star Wars universe, I can also say that there are elements of it that drive me batty. We might get into some of those.

Exactly a year ago I posted my review of the first season of the Mandalorian. Should you need a brief tutorial of the general idea of the series or who the Mandalorian is, go check it out here.

For the rest of you, let’s dive right into season two and all its hits and misses.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu in Lucasfilm’s THE MANDALORIAN, season two, exclusively on Disney+. © 2020 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

The Story

Mando’s goal remains the same: protect the child (We finally learn his name! It’s Grogu.) and deliver him safely to the Jedi who are hiding somewhere in the universe after their near extermination. This is harder than it sounds as now members of the Imperial Fleet, namely Moff Gideon, wants to harvest his blood to create magical super soldiers. I wish I was making this up. (It really doesn’t help that Moff Gideon is played by the same guys who plays Gus Fring on Breaking Bad – owner of Pollos Hermanos and cold methodical drug lord). Chicken anyone?

This goal is challenged by literally everything. Mando struggles to find the hidden Jedi and is forced to perform task after task to get tiny clues that bring him closer to his goal. This turns the beginning of the season into a monster of the week montage where the point of each episode is to defeat a literal monster. We’ve got a massive sand worm ala Dune, some freaky spiders ala Harry Potter, and a sea monster that kind of eats Grogu’s baby pod at one point. When Mando finally thinks he’s reached his goal, Moff Gideon’s robot warriors steal the child away.

Bad news for Mando. Great news for watchers. Ooooh, the tension! We finally get to the climactic action scenes between Mando and his motley crew of fighters and Moff Gideon’s super army and, well, a BIG THING happens.

I’m told if I give away this big thing a nice man will come and break my thumbs – and I need those for typing.

Meet Bo Katan, another Mandalorian who follows a different set of rules.

My Review

I struggled with season two. All of the cool stuff to set up the story already happened in the first season which left season two adrift in what we writer’s call the “murky middle.” This is where the characters know what they need to do but are missing a critical element and have to wade through plot bunnies to find it. When it’s handled well, the murky middle is a great time for character development, increasing the stakes, and deepening relationships – or challenging them depending on the story.

Mando spends a lot of time and effort trying to find where the Jedi are, the critical piece to the story. During that time there isn’t a significant amount of deepening the characters or raising the stakes in a way that felt meaningful. We do get reunited with old Boba Fett, which is nice. One of the criticisms of season one is they held back on using characters from the already established universe. Season two does make up for that.

When it comes to quality, I’ll say it again – the cinematography is stunning, and the artistry is amazing. These worlds feel real and the characters fit in without feeling puppet-like. On the other hand, the dialogue on season two felt way more clunky than the first season and many of the action scenes felt forced into something that seemed way over the top.

That said, should there be another season – although I can’t imagine how considering how this season ended – I’d probably watch it.

Moff Gideon, the complex but underexplored villain. And, yes, he rocks a dramatic cape.

Recommendations

Mandalorian season two is entertaining with some little depth, but not so much that it would push away those who are just here for the action. It’s got a fair amount of shooting and killing, which for me felt way more than needed, but not any significant blood or gore. I’d consider it fairly family friendly to the same extent that Return of the Jedi is family friendly.

Would I love it to be a little more meaningful? Of course. There are a few tender moments, but in all nothing that resonated as deeply as it could have.

All in all, it’s entertaining and that’s what we came for.

I give Mandalorian, Season 2 3/5 stars for leaning too heavily on the shooty bits and missing a few critical chances to give needed depth.


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2020 Year in Review

Well, my pretties, we’re here at the end. If you’re reading this then you’ve made it this far. Congratulations. This has been a different year for everyone, myself included.

At the beginning of this year, I had some pretty big dreams. I was going to power through editing and publishing the rest of the Shadow Barrier series and had two more books on stand by just waiting for attention. With enough good planning, I was going to get those out this year as well.

And, that didn’t happen.

But, I did get two books out:

In January, I rereleased Stonebearer’s Betrayal, with it’s fabulous new cover. And in June, it’s much awaited sequel – Stonebearer’s Apprentice. The third book in the series, Stonebearer’s Redemption, is a few months from completion. Huzzah.

I don’t think I missed a single week of posting on the blog which resulted in lots of book reviews, movie reviews, and some deep thoughts as I figured out how to live with all the COVID changes. It’s always fun to look back through the work of the year, and this year it’s interesting to note the change in tone of the personal essays as the months of isolation started to take effect.

Anyway, enjoy this end of year list post!

Christmas Movie Review Posts:

Book Reviews of Author Friends

Book Reviews

Non-Fiction Book Review

TV Reviews

Throwback Movie Reviews

Movie Review

Personal Essays

Miscellaneous


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TV Review: Lower Decks

This might flag me as a super nerd, but my little trekkie heart couldn’t pass this one up. Lower Decks is a officially liscensed Star Trek cartoon where instead of following the top brass as they brave strange new frontiers, we follow several lower deck crew members as they struggle fervently to not totally screw everything up.

Bravely going where no man has gone before. Or woman for that matter.

The Story

Ensign Mariner is a tough talking, utterly unambitious, oddly street smart member of the USS Cerritos crew. The goal of the Cerritos is to make second contact, meaning they follow around the more important discovery missions to do all the paper work. Mariner is also the daughter of the ship’s captain, Captain Carol Freeman, a fact that drives both of them a little crazy.

Each episode the crew is assigned to complete a new mission, much like any traditional Star Trek, and with each new mission we get to see how the different characters perform under pressure. Mariner’s friends represent different life philosophies, and as such react to all these bizarre events in very different ways.

Mariner’s closest friend, Brad Boimler, is desperate to get into command to the point that he will literally do anything to gain attention. This gets him into trouble, as his efforts are entirely misguided and shallow. Instead of being excellent at his job, he tends to seek out shortcuts instead. This makes him Mariner’s polar opposite. She is excellent at her job, despite being an inappropriate loud mouth while she does it, and she also has a knack for getting people on her side, something essential for a commanding officer.

There are also Tendi and Rutherford, two thoroughly geeked out engineers who fixate on how wonderful it is to do tedious engineering tasks. When it comes to real issues and dangers, the two are completely useless.

Mariner (center) has Boimler in a headlock as Rutherford and Tendi watch

My Review

Lower Decks is an irreverant and super amusing look at an industry that has prided itself in being serious since 1966. The whole feeling of the show feels as if someone took the attitudes from either Rick and Morty or Futurama and smashed it together with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Is it a perfect fusion of the two? Nah. Of course there are areas that could use tightening. Is it an entertaining show? Absolutely.

Much of the joy of this show is that it takes all the expectations of a traditional Star Trek – all the stiff stoicism, all the adherence to the Prime Directive, all the space ship utopia – and pokes fun at it in a fresh new way.

The one thing that’s missing from Lower Decks is a deeper meaning hiding beneath all the slapstick and violence, like we find in Rick and Morty. There’s no real message or theme that pulls the season together. Although it’s not strictly necessary, it would have turned something fun to watch into something that’s also interesting to think about.

Even with all that, I thought Lower Decks was fun to watch because of all the fun it pokes at traditional Star Trek all while carefully staying faithfully close to the franchise image and ideology.

And yes, they even snuck Q in there for his obligatory episode.

My Recommendations

There is a lot of gory freakish cartoony violence in this one, more than expected or strictly necessary. As the violence is usually used as part of a joke, the severity of it all doesn’t really register. It’s just kind of gross. The general subject matter of each episode also tends to skew into adult topics that often border on the inappropriate. There are plenty of mild swears, anything more serious is bleeped out. As for nudity, I think there are a few naked butts in there, anything else is blurred. There is talk of romantic interest, such as flirting, kissing, and dating and is at times a bit rude.

To put it short – this one’s for the adults and the teens they let play.

I give Lower Decks a 4/5 stars for being a fun romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


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TV Review: Hamilton

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put down your pitchforks. I know Hamilton isn’t technically a TV review, it’s a musical theater review. Unlike a lot of people, I never had the chance to see it in a real theater. Watching it on Disney plus is the next best thing I could get my hands on. Did I miss out on the full experience, yes. Absolutely. Watching a recording of a stage production means that you miss the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. That, and it’s all too easy to watch the three plus hours in small chunks over the course of a week. Some of the experience is lost there as well.

But, now I can join the ranks of those who have seen the show. For that alone, it’s worth it.

About Hamilton

For those of you who have lived under a rock for the majority of the 2010s, Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a impressive figure when it comes to the founding of the United States of America. Because it is history, I’m not going to worry about giving away spoilers at this point. I figured you had over 200 years, it’s fair.

We start the story with a young Hamilton trying his hardest to be the best he can be with his limited means. He’s ambitious and willing to do the work it takes to make a difference as the United States is taking shape and shaking off its ties to Britain. He meets Eliza, the woman who becomes his wife, and we see the conflict that causes in her older sister who is attracted to his drive and intelligence, not to mention his passion for the causes he chooses to support. We also see the beginning friction of his relationship with Aaron Burr as Hamilton is a man of action, and Burr prefers to wait.

The Revolutionary War is in full swing and America is doing poorly. They don’t have the supplies they need and enlist the help of France through the help of Lafayette. This leads directly to the victory at Georgetown and the end of the war.

King George isn’t amused.

The end of the war means nothing but work for Hamilton who puts his every waking hour into writing up documents and creating systems to enable the United States to finance her government and govern her people. Eliza goes upstate to be with family leaving Hamilton the time and space he needs. This leads him down the path into temptation and he finds himself in the arms of another woman who ends up blackmailing him to keep his infidelity secret.

Meanwhile, Burr is causing more friction by switching parties to defeat Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler. France is experiencing its own revolution, and Jefferson champions the cause of America going to its aid. Hamilton advises neutrality and his argument wins which puts him under intense scrutiny. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr want to discredit him before Washington.

All of this leads to the publication of the Reynold’s document, written by Hamilton himself and detailing his affair and subsequent blackmail. He chose to come clean publicly to prove he didn’t misuse government money. This destroys him, his family, and leads to the death of his son in a duel gone wrong defending his father’s honor.

The last straw between Hamilton and Burr occurs after the election of 1800 when Hamilton endorses Jefferson over Burr. Burr demands a duel and the rest, well, is history.

My Review

I went into Hamilton not knowing what to expect. It is a musical that defies all expectations in so many aspects. When it comes to an American historical my first reaction is that it’s going to be just as exciting at the Hall of the Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, meaning not exciting at all. To counteract this, Hamilton was written for today’s young people. The music is fast and clever, lots of rap and hip hop music, lots of very contemporary humor.

That said, after watching the first 45 minutes I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Sure it was interesting, but at that point it wasn’t that interesting. Most of the music up to that point wasn’t memorable with perhaps the exception of Hamilton’s own iconic song that defines his character, “I’m not giving away my shot.”

What caught my attention was the use of choreography and dancers. In many musicals the dancers feel like a nice layer of frosting, coming in and out only when a point needs to be made. However, in Hamilton, they are actively used to not only add interest and dimension to what’s happening in the spotlight, but to also illustrate concepts that are hard to catch on stage, such as the path of a single bullet.

In contrast to the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes nearly ripped my heart out. We are confronted with tragedy after tragedy. Hamilton admits to is indiscretions and nearly loses the love of his life as a consequence as we watch her take all of his letters and burns them. His son dies after being shot in a duel to defend his honor. And the culminating blow, Hamilton himself knowing he is going to die and confronting each of his decisions and wonders if he made any difference.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad I watched this in the dark comfort of my own home. Lots of tears shed.

Considering everything, Hamilton is every bit of the success it has gained. There is a huge emotional payout, a mother load of talent, and in the end several catchy songs that stick in your head.

Recommendations

While this is intended for today’s audience and has plenty of pop culture influences to make it fun to watch, it does have a few mature elements that I’d blush to share with my kids. They don’t shy back from relating the tale of Hamilton’s infidelity, in song no less. That, and the subject matter itself is complicated enough that even I struggled to keep track of who was doing what and why.

However, I think that all high school students should watch it so they have a better understanding of what the Revolutionary war and our cry for independence meant for the people who lived it.


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TV Series Review: Picard, Season One

I’ll admit I had some huge reservations about this new chapter in the Star Trek universe. Picard has always been my captain. The Next Generation was the Star Trek I grew up with. I had so many expectations that it would take nothing short of a minor miracle to fulfill them all.

Good thing I believe in miracles.

The Story

Time has passed since Captain, now Admiral, Picard has commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise. He’s retired and doing the thing he always envisioned he’d do, managing the Chateau Picard vinyard in La Barre, France.

And he’s bored.

He left active duty with the Federation with a bad taste in his mouth. One of his last efforts as Admiral blew up in his face when the Federation didn’t give him the support he needed. The resulting deaths still haunt him.

So when a mystery falls into his lap, he’s not only intrigued, he feels obligated to act. Back during the events of Nemesis, his dear friend, Lieutenant Commander Data, sacrificed himself to save Picard. This new mystery is linked directly to some of the more mysterious parts of Data’s past, namely where he came from and who created him.

If he can solve the mystery, he will not only save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, but he might also find resolution over the death of his friend.

My Review

As with any long standing science fiction universe, you can expect the story to be complex and nuanced. There are several planets, species, cultures, and goals all colliding with each other. Add to this the emotional motivations of each playing character, of which there are many, and that’s a lot of information to track.

The writers handled this challenge well. They avoided the common pitfall of using massive info dumps, instead choosing to carefully present information one crucial parcel at a time. For me, it was not unlike putting together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to reference the picture. I enjoyed the challenge, but it was too complex for my teenager (and too mature for the younger kiddos).

From the acting, to the effects, to the writing and dialogue, Picard delivers everything a true TNG fan could ever hope for. We have so many of our favorite elements coming into play. There’s the Borg collective, the friction with the Romulan Empire, Picard’s past as Locutus, and diving deep into the concept of synthetic life and what it means to be alive.

There are also plenty of other elements that come into play to add extra spice, such as using a non federation ship and seeing what happens when Picard must step outside the rules. One of my all time favorite Voyager characters, Seven of Nine, falls into the story in a way that’s both true to her character and essential to the plot. Win.

I can’t wait to see what direction they take as the story continues to unfold. As for me, I’m thrilled with the story so far.

I got my minor miracle.

Recommendations

This is a more mature Star Trek and definitely not for younger viewers. I recommend viewers be at least high school age considering some of the themes and situations. While the use of coarse language is fairly minimal, it’s still there as well as casual intimacy, graphic violence, and intense scenes.

If you loved TNG, and are okay with an increase in the intensity, you’ll love it. Easy as that.

However, if you’ve never been into Star Trek and want to start, this isn’t a good place to do so. There’s a lot of history behind many key characters that will be lost on you. The show might still be enjoyable, but I think you’ll miss out on many of the emotional notes.

I give Picard a rare and shining 5/5 stars for the amazing work that went into the story telling and all the emotional punches.


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