Review: “This Is Us” – Season 1

Between life and death lies an infinite amount of moments. And there has never been a show more able to portray them than NBC’s “This Is Us”.

Last night, the finale of the first season aired and showed once again the magic in ordinariness.

“This Is Us”: A unique show

In “This Is Us”, the viewer gets to explore the lives of the Pearson family. It is not just a drama series, it goes way deeper than that: it is a life series, exploring different kinds of lives at the same time thus making it possible for each viewer to find a way to identify with the characters. Its title even reflects its uniqueness, as it literally applies to everyone – “us”.

Renewed for two seasons, we can gear up for more tears and laughs in the two years to come. But for now, we can reflect and think about the great moments we encountered in the past six months.

Pro of “This Is Us”: Great characters

For one, we met the Pearson family with Rebecca and Jack as single adults, couple, married couple, parents and obviously separated by death/remarried; Randall Pearson as the adopted black son fighting for perfection in his life when realizing he is living the perfect life; the twins Kate and Kevin Randall who are total extremes in appearance, but share much more anxieties than they are ready to reveal – even towards their loved ones. Thereby, the viewers get to see on the one hand, very simple characters, which on the other hand seem to bear much more depth in them than one realizes at the beginning of the series.

Then, we have amazing supporting parts like Randall’s other half Beth, his biological father William and Kate’s boyfriend/fiancé Toby. They fit perfectly in the picture, completing the apparently ordinary with the extraordinary.

Flashbacks in “This Is Us”

But that’s not all. Besides great characters and ensuing plotlines, “This is Us” uses time jumps to keep things interesting. In a lapse of almost 40 years, the viewers can uniquely travel through the timelines of the characters – better than Facebook could ever provide them with.

Whether it is an episode which fully plays out in the 1980s or one whose scenes jump between past and present like a ball in a ping-pong game, the last thing the viewer gets confronted with in this show is boredom.

“This Is Us”… or this is too much drama?

However, the drama is real and intense – sometimes way too much. This is a con, because the show has the ability to create a new genre instead: a series about human life, everyday-life and all the moments which make it special, but sometimes also hard to live. Therefore, some plot twists appear too forced, too much. For example the way too long and artificial extension of Kate revealing what happened to her father – which actually still did not take place. Obviously, the show plays with that and uses the suspense to keep the viewers excited for the following seasons. But the whole reveal took way too long and did not leave enough space for other interesting storylines including for instance Beth, Toby or even Miguel’s life stories which have not been explored yet at all.

Another example for those “too much drama”-twists would be the storyline of Jack becoming jealous of Ben who is playing with Rebecca in the band. The basic concept is interesting and as we have seen: It opens up possibilities for new stories, for instance to see Jack and Rebecca separated (even if we do not want to). But the way it actually turned out and that Ben really tried something with Rebecca was just too much of it all. The effect of Jack’s jealousy having its roots in his dissatisfaction with Rebecca and her life choices would have been much greater, if there had not been any reason to be jealous of someone in the first place (and it would have been much more realistic too, by the way!).

But being in the drama business, the series did not have much of a choice.

A duckling’s review of  “This Is Us” Season 1

Thus, for all of you ducklings who have not watched “This Is Us” yet – it is worth your time. But only, if you are really into drama and do not start crying easily, because even though the show gives you tons of moments to laugh, it opens up double as much possibilities to cry.

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Review: “Nashville” – Season 5 Premiere

It’s been forever since we’ve got to see Rayna, Juliette and the whole gang on our screens. Now they’re back and the least one can say is: the 5th season of the country music drama series did not start softly.

Or let’s say more or less.

Summary

The 2-hour-premiere of the 5th season from “Nashville” which moved from ABC to CMT opens with a sequence which at first rather appears to be a flashback, but then turns out to be actually a flash-forward. Rayna is on the road with a glorious Mustang and gets depressed/sad when hearing a song being played by an old man at a gas station. This melancholic start gets shattered by the discovery of Juliette’s fate: No, there wasn’t just a “problem” with the plane, in which she sat in, it totally crashed and – in all Nashville-drama-style – Juliette Barnes was the only survivor. The only thing which kept her alive was the voice of the woman who found her.

Well, now that we and our emotions had a terrifying ride on a hell of a rollercoaster, we get back to the ground safely and move forward in time. Gunnar and Scarlett are back together as I guess the Ex-Exes? The James/Claybourne-patchwork-family finally appears to be happy, though let’s not forget that N°1 nag Maddie is back to being part of the gang so the “Don’t worry, be happy”-course line will rapidly change to “Oops, she’s back at it again”.  Our favorite couple, the star-crossed lovers Avery and Juliette, is also a thing again, but even though Juliette had amazing luck to survive, she is paralyzed and in a wheelchair which doesn’t make things exactly easy for anyone. And let’s not forget Will, who thanks to him standing up for himself in the finale of the 4th season, is suddenly cherished and courted by everyone – and that means TIP (Trouble In Paradise) for Kevin and him.

Themes

Now, let’s move on to what the first two episodes of the new season are all about. Love is of course a big theme with all the couples back together. But let’s not forget that all of our favorite country singers on TV are artists and that of course makes them seek their own selves. While Rayna is looking for her (old or new?) “Me” and finding that in her relationship with Deacon, Juliette is trying to understand how she was deserving of the luck to stay alive; Maddie of course is still very keen on pushing herself to be THE star whereas Scarlett seems to finally get that she isn’t always at the center of attention, meaning that not everyone does something in relation to her person. So, yeah, we have many possible developments originating from those two first episodes.

Review

  • Pros: Juliette finally gets a bigger and more interesting profile than only the country pop star and her eccentricities. Simultaneously, Deacon gets more attention as an artist instead of as a houseman, though at the end, he still gets undermined by Rayna, which brings us to the…
  • Cons: Rayna seems more out of balance due to the plane crash than Juliette, who was the one who had to live through it, and achieves to make it revolve around her and her music which actually leads to the idea of a concept album with her husband (wait, I thought she went on the road trip to find “herself” and not her being with Deacon?) and their bumpy road to their Happily Ever After. Too bad that Deacon doesn’t want to risk too much and simply  adheres to his wifey’s command…
  • Other notable aspects: Will is back to being a rocking country star, but the charming – ***cough: way too old*** – clothes designer threatens his happy, balanced love-life with former and present boyfriend Kevin. Well, Will: You can’t have it all. Speaking about former lovers: With Gunnar and Scarlett being – apparently happy – back together, the writers just had to find something to make their relationship stick out in the whole bundle of couples: Scarlett gets angry because she thinks Gunnar voluntarily chose women who were also part of her life to hurt her (Come on, writers: even for Scarlett, that’s kind of a far-fetched and irrational theory!), but decides then to move on. Let’s see for how long she’s on that trip…

So yeah, “Nashville”’s 5th season started with a (more or less) “bang” and plunged the every-reason-to-be-happy couples back into drama. Hey, let’s not omit the scary reveal of an existing Rayna-stalker at the end of the premiere…but I have the feeling it will not take long to find out who’s sitting behind the wheel and the shattered windshield.

Yellow Duckling’s Tip

My tip for you, little ducklings: Go for it. “Nashville” is back with its drama and there are stories to be told. We’re waiting – and that – BTW – also applies to the music which unfortunately came a little bit short in that premiere. But let’s see where the next episodes are headed. Have fun, y’all!

 

The elegant bromance

Suit up little Ducklings! One week after the start of “Suits”´ fifth season on USA Network, the popular TV-series about angry, but good-dressed lawyers got renewed for another season.

And that even though the viewers´ numbers decreased over the years. So what makes this TV-series that interesting that one of the major US-networks decides to give it another go for next year?

To summen it up briefly: “Suits” is about two guys, one kicking-ass lawyer and one other kicking-ass lawyer who however doesn´t actually have a law degree (even though he wrote and passed tests for others to enter law school). Then, you also have the always bitchy-behaving boss Jessica but after a while you realize that she´s actually  a very tough and good boss and that the “bitchy-thing” is only due to the fact that she is woman (you can try the experiment and imagine a man speaking her lines: it would really not be that bitchy!). And last, but not least, you do have Louis Litt who seems to be angry, jealous, depressed, crazy and totally immoral 24/7 for most of the time for no reason at all. So, what do you think?

Of course, one can´t leave out the two beautiful  love interests of the protagonists whose witty and smart lines might be the one of the only reason you keep watching the series. Rachel is Mike´s (the fraud) precious jewel and Donna is Harvey´s (the real kicking-ass lawyer) secretary, though ,over the seasons, you kind of get the impression that there is more to the story. And of course it is! But: I don´t want to spoiler here.

For me, it is very difficult to understand why I myself keep watching “Suits”. Nothing ever really changes: It´s always the same curses, problems, fights and (more or less effective) conciliations. Not to forget that in every episode the viewer has to desperatly understand cases which at the beginning seem complicated, difficult and impossible to solve and at the end, are resolved by a simple signature of a guest star. And one thing you learn for sure: Love always comes after the career.

But isn´t this what series are all about? The creators  keep prolonging or repeating the same usual stories because they know that´s what we want to see, right? Maybe that´s why I did not completly watch the fourth season: they tried something new and got more entangled with a case than with an actual plot. I, as a viewer, couldn´t follow anymore and everything around the case lost relevance.  Perhaps, that might be the reason why between August 2014 and January 2015 the series lost a huge amount of viewers.

All in all, what can I say? “Suits” is absolutly NOT an all-nighter and I am not sure it is really a relaxing type of series because of all the fighting, but for all of you who watchted “Suits” for a couple of years now, I believe it is still worth to continue the journey with the angry, but good-dressed lawyers – at least for the fifth season. And for all of you who did not yet watch the TV-series: you can spare yourselves the first few seasons and easily start with the fifth without having missed anything at all.

True Story – cause no story is never true

A journalist´s way to the heart of the reader is not confusion, but truth. Because it´s harder for the reader to accept the blankness and nudity of the truth than getting mesmerized by the reflection of their own beliefs and opinions.

“True Story” is the story of two men who at first, on the surface, appear to be very different from eachother: One (played by James Franco) is accused of the homicide of his entire family; the other one (played by Jonah Hill) is a successful New York Times-Journalist, though, he is also accused of manipulating the facts of his covergae in order to make it more believable, to reflect people´s view on certain problems instead of unmasking the much broader and complex truth. The drama starts with an introduction of those two characters in their most vulnearble and life-changing moment: the first one introduces himself to a stranger as the other one, while the latter realizes that with his next move, his career might be in jeopardy.

Their meetings in the prison are preferably documented by close-ups which makes it possible to see every twitch of the eyes, every wrinkle of a smile and witness the exchange of lies and trues. In “True Story”, it is never about knowing if  one committed the crime he was accused of. It is not about innocence or guilt, but whether one can really know when the story stops and truth begins or the other way around.

Throughout the drama, extremes and simultaenously similarities dominate the scenography and atmosphere: great heat vs. icy cold, bright secondary colours vs. dark primary colours and so on. Two elements which appear so different and extreme that suddenly because of their shared perversion they are the same. Because isn´t it as gruesome to be free, healthy, happy and tell the story of a man who killed his whole family, as being imprisoned, psychichally damaged and indifferent? Isn´t the real prison the own mind rather than the physical presence of cellbars? There are probably very divergent opinions about these last thoughts, though, there is no right or wrong answer.

Seemingly and quite fantastically simulated, the characters seem to grow and change throughout the movie. However, there is only one person who retrieves from the passive role into an active one: the (ex-)journalist´s girlfriend (played by Felicity Jones). But, here I ask myself: Was she really ever passive? Didn´t she know from the beginning on that this was not about finding the truth or with other words: She was aware that for both men it was the sought of the best way to tell a story.

All three lead actors performed – in my opinion – incredibly good and nearly seemed themselves to have lost the sense for a story or the truth.

For everyone who enjoys thrillers, mysteries and a lot of thinking after watching a movie should definitly see “True Story” whose title itself is only a mirror for us to recognize that we are the living completion of two extremes: a story and the truth.