- House of Cards, Season 2 - I was pleased with the first high-profile season Netflix series last year, but came away a bit disappointed that so many threads were left open. The first season did have its own arc, and there was a good stopping point, but there were just several subplots that were left way too vague in the end. Well, all that stuff is resolved within the first episode or two of the second season, and in spectacular fashion too. It's pretty rare that I'm so surprised at this sort of thing, but it was pretty well shocking and a whole boatload of fun. Sorta. I mean, this is kinda like the bizarro universe West Wing, but instead of Aaron Sorkin's idealized politicians, we get a more Machiavellian, evil twin, goateed take. To me, it's completely absurd, but a whole lot of fun. After the first couple episodes, it mellows out a bit, but I can sorta tell that it's gearing up for something even more crazy, which I'm totally on board for. In the end, while I wouldn't characterize this as a groundbreaking series, it is something worth subscribing to Netflix for...
- The Lego Movie - After a three day incubation period, it feels like the "Everything is Awesome" song has completely and utterly taken over my brain. I cannot get that thing out of my head. But it is a fun song that's part of a really fantastic little movie. Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made a career out of making movies out of seemingly stupid premises. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was based on a great book that didn't seem at all like it could be made into a feature length movie, but it worked. 21 Jump Street sounded like the worst idea ever, but it was one of the funniest movies of that year. And now we get to a movie based on a toy. Of course, the licensed Lego video games have long been a surprisingly solid series of entertaining experiences, but I still wasn't expecting this Lego movie to be quite as fun or poignant as it ended up being. Lego was in really bad shape not too long ago, but they ended up saving the company by licensing a bunch of pop culture artifacts, notably Star Wars, and started soaring as a result. But is that really what Legos are about? One of the points of the movie is that such conformity is a bad thing, and yet, it doesn't go to far along those lines. Indeed, one key turning point comes when our hero recognizes that being super creative and different may actually be antithetical to their purposes, and devises a plan that their opponents would never expect: they're going to play by the rules. Of course, there's still lots of room for creativity, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie take on a subtle balance of positions like that. Plus, just on an execution level, these guys just nailed it. The jokes come at a dense, steady pace, and I'm sure there a ton of stuff here that would reward multiple viewings. The voice performances are all pretty great, and the visuals are sometimes spectacular. In the end, this was about a thousand times better than I was expecting.
- True Detective - A decidedly more dour experience than the previous two examples, this appears to be an excellent series in its own right. I'm only a few episodes in, but this represents an interesting take on the whole Police Procedural drama we're all so used to on TV (indeed, it's nothing like those series). Plus, with performances form Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, it's a hard series to beat, and they're given lots to chew on as well. I'll hold off on judging the series because it's still relatively early, but it does seem like a winner.
Pop Culture Tasting Notes
Just some quick notes on recent pop culture happenings, in no particular order: