Monday, September 11, 2023

End Of Season - Discontinued

I'm going to do the usual here and cram three shows into one post when really I ought to give each of  them a post of their own. At least I'm not going to attempt to blend them all together in one half-baked critical pie, so there's that...

Disenchantment Season Five

Last night I watched the fiftieth and final episode of Matt Groening's Disenchantment, which for some reason I always want to call "Disenchanted". The fifth season was mostly satisfying with a soupcon of disappointing to taste. Episode L as a closer, though, (They count off in Roman numerals for some reason.) really did the job.

The best thing about the series coming to an end after five ten-episode seasons is that at least the writers knew this was going be the last. I don't believe the whole thing was plotted as a five season arc because if it had been it surely would have made a lot more sense but these days you have to learn to be happy with the endings you get and this was about as tidy a wrap as I've seen for a while. Where Titans and The Owl House both left a number of options intentionally open for possible future storylines, Disenchantment seemed determined to not just to close every door but firmly lock them all and throw away the keys.

The finale was written by Groening himself, his only episode in the entire series and the only one in the entire run credited to him alone. In fact, his only other writing credit on the whole series was the Season One opener, which he co-wrote with Josh Weinstein. Weinstein also wrote the penultimate and pre-penultimate episodes, giving the climax something of the feel of parents coming back to tidy up the old family home before moving out for good.

The show debuted on Netflix in 2018 but I didn't start watching until I subbed to the streaming service a couple of years later. In 2021 I mentioned it here for the first time with great enthusiasm: "The writing is subtle, the characters convincing, the stories compelling and the animation supple...I like it so much, for my birthday I asked for three different t-shirts featuring various characters". I'm wearing one of them as I type this.

By 2022, though, I'd cooled off a little: "We're on Season Four now and I'm not quite convinced it's as strong as the previous three". At the time I wrote that I'd only seen the first three episodes and I was prepared to reserve judgment but by the time I'd seen them all I found I didn't need to revise my opinion all that much. I still enjoyed the show a lot but it definitely didn't seem to have either the focus or the bite it once had.

Season Five does little to reverse that trend. I still loved it but I loved it as a fan. As a critic, I'd say it felt a little baggy in places. There were a lot of fight scenes. Visually it remains a treat, filled with fleeting gags that demand heavy use of pause and rewind. The voice acting was on point as always although I felt the dialog wasn't always quite as sharp as I remember from the early years.

The characters remain as loveable as ever, many of them even more so, with the show's unusual but extremely welcome habit of remaining ever-open to genuine emotional growth and personal redemption. The show has a vast cast of recurring characters, some of whom, like Mop Girl, graduate from background artiste to starring role. Others shift from villain to hero or at least become the kind of people who try to do the right thing once in a while.

The central characters, Bean herself, Luci, Elfo and King Zog especially, show so much personal growth across the five seasons they're scarcely recognizeable as the venal, vicious, stupid, selfish people we were introduced to back in Season One. Without spoiling any of the details, I will at least reveal that all of them, along with quite a few more, get very happy endings indeed; endings which, I have to say, seem entirely merited.

The overwhelming sense I got from the final episode was one of closure, which is what you want from something like this, I guess. I almost never let the credits play all the way through but for once I waited until the very end. I had the feeling there would be a final word of some kind and there was: the drawbridge to the castle winches up and the entire castle vanishes, just as if it had never existed at all. 

You can't really make it plainer than that. I guess we won't be getting any more Disenchantment. In a way I'm disappointed because I've spent a lot of time with these characters and I'd happily spend a lot more. In another way, though, the show began to amble a while ago. If you're the sort of viewer who needs these things to be going somewhere in a fairly obvious and definable way, you'd probably say it went on a little too long.

On balance, I'm happy to let it rest where it landed. Whenever I think of Disenchanted now, the images that come to mind will mostly be of people I liked being happy. Maybe not for ever after but at least for a while. It's a pretty good way to end a show.

Carole & Tuesday Season One

A couple of nights before I came to the end of my run with Disenchantment, I wrapped up the first Season of what's quite possibly my favorite show of the year so far, Carole & Tuesday

Not that it came out in 2023. It originally debuted in Japan in 2019 and appeared on Netflix almost immediately afterwards. For some reason, Netflix didn't choose to flag it up as something I might want to watch until a few weeks ago. That was the first I heard of it.

The extremely brief description looked interesting: "Part-timer Carole meets rich girl Tuesday, and each realizes they've found the musical partner they need. Together they just might make it." I like shows about bands trying to make it. There aren't nearly enough of them for my liking. I'm always up for another. I added it to my watch list and as chance had it a space opened up almost right away.

When I started watching I got a bit of a surprise. The thing that thumbnail neglects to mention is that the whole thing takes place in the future. And not just any future - the future on Mars! Oh, and it's directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, the director of Cowboy Bebop (The anime version, not the live-action remake.) which makes it more of a big deal than I realised.

These are the sort of things you think someone might think to mention when attempting to lure viewers in but I'm glad Netflix marketing department were slacking for once. The science-fiction setting, which is marvelously eliptical and utterly lacking in any form of exposition, as all the best SciFi ought to be, set all my expectations spinning as I settled down to watch what I thought was going to be a relatively mainstream, contemporary show. 

As for the presence of the director of one of my favorite animated series, I didn't even discover he was involved until I started researching the show for this post. It made me feel all kinds of pleased with myself when I found out. I'd been debating in my mind whether to mention all the ways the show reminded me of Cowboy Bebop, something I was a little concerned might reveal more about my very limited exposure to anime than demonstrate any perceptive critical analysis on my part. Apparently all those years studying practical criticism in college weren't wasted after all.

I have a lot of things to say about Carole & Tuesday but I think I'm going to save most of them for another post, after I've seen the next Season. There are only two. I haven't started the second because I enjoyed the first so much I want to come to Part Two as a true sequel, not barrel right into it as if I was watching a soap opera.

I would like to mention the structure of Season One, which I thought was exemplary. Despite the fantastical setting and the melodramatic narrative, there's an inarguable authenticity to the whole thing. The show steers remarkably clear of those "Well, that would never happen" moments. Instead, the destinies of the two young singer-songwriters from opposite sides of the wealth divide intertwine in a wholly believable, even logical fashion.

Everything that happens could happen. Most of it probably wouldn't but that's why we're hearing these girls' stories and not someone else's. Mere credibility wouldn't run an engine as powerful as the one that drives this show, though; for that kind of traction you need a more formal structure, the kind with its own internal consistency, along wit the sort of architectonics that make everything hang just so.

What's a better platform for a tale of musical rags to riches than a talent competition? And what's more hackneyed and cliched? To turn that coat inside out and make it look like new without even showing the seams is some trick yet they pull it off with seeming ease.

The keys to the trope's success as it plays out in Carole  & Tuesday are first the way it creeps up, unflagged and unexpected and then the way it entirely takes over. It's almost like a show within a show... until suddenly it's not.

Shows about talent competitions are generally just that; shows about talent competitions. They can be fine but we know what we're going to get, going in. Carole & Tuesday upends all of that. The show uses the formality of the competition as a scaffold, not a framework; it's not there to prop the narrative up; it's there to let us get closer to the story.

It's also about the third or fourth way the duo search for some kind of way in to a music industry even more closed to outsiders than our own. In their world, AIs write the songs; humans merely perform them. Social media creates buzz but buzz doesn't necessarily translate to interest from anyone that matters. Except sometimes the people that matter aren't always those you think.

The overwhelming impression I got, watching Carole & Tuesday, was that it was just that; overwhelming. That's mostly why I found myself thinking of Cowboy Bebop early on. There's so much subtext you can scarcely see the story for it sometimes. Nothing ever seems unfreighted with meaning, from a street scene to a sunset to a freeze-frame. It's a rich mix.

I watched the show with the English-language dub. I'm a subtitles guy when it comes to live action but for animation I'm happy to use my ears. The voice acting is mesmeric and odd. Carole is normality itself; Tuesday sounds like one of the companion characters in a video game. There's a wide mix of accents and timbres, all of which work towards making Mars seem not like Earth, which is as well because it looks like Earth, most of the time.

The script itself I find absolutely fascinating. It has that hyper-real quality so familiar from the best translated games. Everything is impeccably correct, grammatically, and yet much of it sounds heightened, somehow. There's an indefinable formality about the way people speak that I find quite delicious. 

It's a very specific register that no-one I ever heard naturally uses and I love it. I particularly love the codas that append themselves seemingly uninvited to the end of simple, declarative sentences, as if saying just exactly what you mean isn't quite always enough, somehow, but always needs qualification, preferably with a conjuctive adverb.

In a show for which music plays such a central part, none of this might be enough if the songs didn't come across so it's a blessing that they do. It's also a mystery that they work so very, very well in context, when most of them sound somewhat less impressive, heard alone. I had the soundtrack playing while I wrote some of this post and although it's all good stuff and nice to listent to in the background, there's littlesense of the kind of emotional impact it packs in the show itself.

And that, of course, is exactly as it should be. Carole & Tuesday isn't a concert movie. It's not the animated video of some actual band's greatest hits. It's a story in which music plays an important part but it's important the music doesn't take over entirely. Like Carole and Tuesday themselves, the songs and the images need to work in harmony to become more together than they could be apart and that's just what they do.

I've said more than I was going to say. I'll leave it at that for now. Obviously, I recommend this one highly but I imagine most people reading this, those who'd be interested, anyway, will already have seen it, long before I did. You won't need me to point the way.

Cannon Busters Season One (And Only.)

And finally in this trilogy, a show I finished watching months ago but never got around to reviewing. Cannon Busters is yet another anime that premiered on Netflix back in 2019 but which I didn't discover until this year. Although it was produced in Japan it's an adaptation not of a manga but of an American comic-book from the early aughts. 

The comic, however, was written and drawn by LeSean Thomas, an animator who for at least the last fecade and a half has mainly worked in Korea and Japan. I gave up worrying about authenticity years ago so I'm just going to go ahead and consider it in the same bracket as all the other shows it reminds me of, which would be Cowboy Bebop (Again.) Edgerunners and Edens Zero.

I liked Cannon Busters a lot but I wouldn't claim it was a great show let alone one that makes a whole lot of sense. It's more of a picaresque romp in which a crew of very disparate characters careen off each other like lightning bugs in a mason jar. 

The animation, as I'm coming to understand seems to be the norm with these things, is both kinetic and engaging. A big part of the pleasure in animation, whatever the style, comes from just watching, something I always knew but had forgotten. When your eyes are having fun your brain doesn't always need to be getting in the way.

Much the same can be said for the ears. Cannon Busters opens and closes with a couple of really great themes. The music througout is top class. 

As for the acting, once again, the English dub is entrancing. SAM, played by Kamali Minter, is incessantly upbeat in the way only a robot could be. Stephanie Sheh, playing Casey, inevitably my favorite character, makes SAM sound downbeat. Philly the Kid (Kenny Blank) is almost permanently outraged or manic, frequently both at once, something which ought to make listening to him exhausting. It does, only in a good way. 

I found all of them and the rest of the cast a joy to spend time with. The plot, such as it is, rambles like a drunken Eagle Scout through a series of settings that throws the Old West and the Old East into some kind of retro-futuristic steampunk blender to make a fizzing cocktail of tropes that ought never to fit together except when, like this, they do.

The whole farrago is shot through which such an exuberant sense of innocent self-indulgence you just can't help but love it. Well, I did, anyway. 

Unlike the first two shows in this post, however, Cannon Busters does not come all tied up with a neat bow around the final episode. It stops resolutely in mid-climax in the clear expectation of a second season which, so far, has not appeared. Since it's been four years now, it seems unlikely it ever will.

If you can stomach a show that ends in the middle and you don't hate enjoying yourself more than you know you should, I'd recommend Cannon Busters wholeheartedly. If a lack of resolution makes you itch or you believe plots always ought to make sense, well this is probably not going to be your kind of thing...


  1. I watched the first few episodes of Disenchantment years ago and then forgot about it. I probably should go back to it sometime.

    1. It seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it show. I think people have expectations of Matt Groening and it's not always meeting them. I loved it, though, even if it is really all over the place at times.

  2. I'll echo Tipa on Disenchantment, had exactly the same experience. I honestly thought it was low rent fantasy Futurama, probably need to try it again :-)

    Also, holy cow Carole and Tuesday sounds right up my alley. I had no idea it was a sci fi. Thanks for putting that on my radar.

    1. I tried Futurama long ago and didn't much like it. I ought to give it another go.

      I just started Season 2 of C&T and from the intro I'm guessing the SciFi setting is more important in the second season. It's mostly just the backdrop to the first, albeit a very atmospheric one.


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