A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3 starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman, Usman Ally, Jacqueline Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Matty Cardaropole, John DeSantis, Kitana Turnbull, Allison Williams, Dylan Kingwell, and Lucy Rush
Synopsis: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire continue to search for answers about the mysterious organization V.F.D, the importance of the missing sugar bowl, and further discover the volatile nature of people as they race Count Olaf to the Last Safe Place.
The worst was saved for last, as the situation of the Baudelaire orphans continues to deteriorate. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny find themselves at numerous crossroads, both literally and figuratively, as they continue to find themselves in increasingly perilous events. Yet, these crossroads bring numerous revelations about the schism of VFD and the sad story that brought our characters to this moment in time. The cast is still as entertaining as ever and the writing is sharp, humorous, and dark while still leaving room for moments of brevity. Harris seems to really embrace his role as Count Olaf in all its ridiculousness and villainy, and his talent and range are on full display. The audience is treated to a large range of stars reprising their roles in this final season and fans of the books will be entertained by both the parallels and the deviations. And while there are some differences in the translation from page to screen, it still has the same dramatic tone and feel of the books that fans have come to fall in love with. Even though the series is at an end, it will be watched and re-watched over and over again.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2 starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman, Usman Ally, Jacqueline Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Matty Cardaropole, John DeSantis, Sara Rue, and Lucy Rush
Synopsis: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire continue to search for answers about the fire that killed their parents, an apparent survivor of the fire, and the mysterious organization V.F.D as they are pursued by Count Olaf and his acting troupe.
Season Two begins with the Baudelaire orphans waiting in the office of Prufrock Preparatory School to be seen by the vice principal. In fact, they have been waiting there so long, Klaus (Louis Hynes) notes, that Sunny (Presley Smith) is now a toddler rather than an infant. Nothing like a bit of light humor to start off a much darker series of events for both the Baudelaire children and the audience. What I appreciate about the series is that the characters are being moved around in such a way that we become invested in their fates – in the books, many of the people the Baudelaires encounter are simply around for the duration of the book and then drop off, never to be seen again. For example, the librarian at Prufrock (Sara Rue) is recruited by Jacques Snicket (Nathan Fillon) as a V.F.D. member and is seen in later episodes aiding Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The audience is also more easily able to follow the journey of the notorious sugar bowl that was the catalyst for the events now occurring; it is seen repeatedly in the possession of a mystery female whom we are being lead to believe may be the survivor of the fire that killed the Baudelaire parents. The added musical numbers performed by Count Olaf and his troupe are delightfully amusing, especially given the rather dire and depressing nature of the series. And while this season ends on a literal cliffhanger (a fact that I am sure will not go unnoticed at the beginning of the next season), the audience is still somewhat prepared for further trouble to come, though we know not yet what forms it will take.
Jessie starring Debby Ryan, Peyton List, Cameron Boyce, Karan Brar, , Skai Jackson, and Kevin Chamberlin
Disney Channel, Fridays, 6:30/5:30c
Synopsis: Jessie Prescott has lived on a Texas military base for most of her life, but she has much bigger aspirations than adhering to the rules of her strict father. In an act of rebellion, she moves to New York and accepts a nanny job on the Upper West Side for the Ross family taking care of their four children. Will she make it in the city or will she have to go back to Texas?
I love that Debby Ryan is getting a chance to shine in her own series: she has a definite talent as an actress and a singer (in the true Disney child star fashion) and she is also credited as the show’s co-creator. Her character is quirky, determined, and has a lot of love to share for the kids she watches – a definite role model for viewers. She’s willing to acknowledge her faults and celebrates the wins. Her charges are definite characters as well: Emma is a diva, Luke is mischievous, Ravi is highly intelligent, and Zuri is highly creative. Even though Emma is the only biological child of the Ross’, she still plays the role of oldest when it comes to taking charge with her siblings though she often will only spend time alone with Zuri. Luke seems to be attracted to trouble, but he will pull through for his siblings when things get sticky. Ravi is arguably the most appreciative of his siblings. Zuri is sassy and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. The cast plays off of each other well, and it is hard not to like the characters and want to cheer for them, especially Jessie. She might not always know what she is doing, but she is willing to tackle every issue she encounters with the same gumption and spunk that won over the Ross family when she came to the city. The writing seems a little canned in some of the episodes, but the show does a wonderful job of showcasing a multi-cultural family that is working through their differences in order to become more accepting of each other and a stronger family.
Dog With a Blog starring G. Hannelius, Blake Michael, Francesca Capaldi, Stephen Full, Regan Burns, and Beth Littleford
Disney Channel, Fridays at 7/6c
Synopsis: Avery Jennings and Tyler James have a lot of adjusting to do. Not only are they step-siblings that need to learn to get along, they just found out (along with Tyler’s younger sister Chloe) their dog Stan can talk. The three new siblings decide to keep it a secret from their parents, lest they lose their family pet to science. But Stan has a secret too: he has a blog in which he writes about the happenings in the Jennings-James household. Hey, it’s the internet; anything is possible.
Well, what can you expect to get out of a show whose premise is pretty much summed up by the title? The show doesn’t actually have a whole lot going for it, to tell the truth: the writing is cliché, much of the humor is rather forced, and the characters feel a little flat and superficial. On the other hand, this family-oriented comedy offers the viewer clean-cut hilarity and a chance to see a family working through some very real problems. G. Hannelius and Blake Michael have a believable chemistry as step-siblings and their character’s personalities balance out in such a way that they almost complement each other. Capaldi’s character is probably the most random 7-year-old I’ve ever seen, but the effervescent nature of Chloe’s character keeps the Jennings-James parents on their toes and a source of entertainment for her older sibling and step-sibling. Stan is a cute dog with a heart of gold that wants to be able to help the family out of whatever situations in which they find themselves, but he’s obviously got to do it without the adults realizing he can speak. The fact that he has a blog is somewhat amusing and the fact that he is writing about the humans he lives with is even more amusing, but not quite amusing enough to keep the show as a whole together. I can appreciate that TV is trying to bring back the talking animals bit that was popular in the 90s, but there is a point at which you just need to let an idea go and move on to something else.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 3: Fire
Nickelodeon Animation Studios, 2008. DVD/Netflix
Synopsis: Having mastered Earthbending and survived the battle with Azula, Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph must now enter the Fire Nation so that Aang can master the final element. Once in the Fire Nation, they learn about the plans Firelord Ozai has to use Sozin’s Comet to spread the war’s destruction and his authority over the four nations. With lots to learn and very little time to do it, the group will have to rely on unexpected alliances if they are to help Aang realize his destiny.
Our heroes have had it surprisingly easy so far, compared to the challenge they face entering the Fire Nation and defeating Firelord Ozai. The story and the world continue to build on itself as we are introduced more fully to the people of the Fire Nation and Aang begins to embrace the idea of himself as the Avatar, though he still has some reservations about what this role means for him. Katara and Sokka have grown up significantly since the beginning of the series, and have developed into warriors in their own way as they help Aang master the elements. And even though Toph has only been with the group since the previous season, she is becoming more of a team player and a more compassionate person. Zuko has changed noticeably as well, but has he changed for the better or will he fall back into old habits? The art in the series is continually solid and lovingly animated to send our heroes out with a bang as we work toward the four-part finale that brings the series to a close. It’s sad, sweet, funny, and everything we love about the series, but it is still hard to say goodbye to these characters that we have been cheering for. But we can always go back to the beginning and start the series over…or The Legend of Korra….
Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2: Earth
Nickelodeon Animation Studios, 2007. DVD/Netflix
Synopsis: After mastering Waterbending, Aang, Katara, and Sokka journey into the Earth Kingdom to continue Aang’s quest to master the four elements. As Aang continues to train, the group seeks to stay one step ahead of Fire Lord Zuko and his sister Princess Azula, who are hot on their train. Along the way, they will encounter old friends and new who will aid them in bringing an end to the war and restoring peace to the world.
This series has the unique ability to keep building on itself and that is what this second season does: adds more and more dimensions to the world and the characters. We see much more of Zuko’s backstory and begin to understand the harshness and the anger behind his actions goes far beyond what we first believe. We also meet Toph, a blind Earthbender who reluctantly joins the team to help Aang master the element of earth. I think she’s actually one of my favorite characters, and not just because she can be overly sarcastic; she sees the world in a very different way because she is blind and she has a different take on what it means for Aang to become the Avatar. Sokka continues to provide a majority of the comic relief, but his awkwardness is slowly being outgrown as the series goes on. There’s also much more romance in the air in this season, partially because the characters are growing up a little more. The art that swept us away to a snow-covered North in the previous season now takes us to the orange and browns of the deserts that make up the Earth Kingdom, almost in tandem with the sense of urgency that our characters feel as they find themselves growing more and more anxious about what their futures will bring. The story is well-written, the scripts well-executed by the actors, and it has a rare depth to it that goes beyond the notion that cartoons are just for kids. It is a show that is enjoyed on multiple levels by all ages.