Nerd Premiere Twofer: Harley Quinn & The Mandalorian — a review

BobRoss

Sometimes, things that I didn’t intend to happen occur, and, again sometimes, I go with the flow to see where events take me.

This is how I got to tour the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee (which is in a dry county, ironically). It’s how I ended up taking the tour of Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee (at least the first time). It’s how Sharon and I made a side trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, years ago, and how I participated in a two-man pub crawl in Houston, Texas, one memorable evening with a complete stranger.

Some of my most vivid memories begin this way. Something happens, and way leads to way, and a memory is created. Unplanned. Unscripted. What the painter Bob Ross used to refer to as “happy little accidents.”

That’s what happened this morning.

Okay, there was a smidgen of intelligent design behind the randomness. I have been planning to watch DC Universe’s Harley Quinn cartoon and the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian at some future date. My intent was to let both series finish out their freshman seasons, and then view them at my leisure. I had convinced myself that my current entertainment docket was already full.

If you don’t already know me, allow me to explain.

All my rambling about “way leads to way” and “happy accidents” may make me seem impulsive and spontaneous, perhaps even flighty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Usually. I’m one of those guys who likes the illusion of control, even though I know fully well it’s an illusion. I’m a planner and organizer. An inveterate list-maker. I lay out my clothes for the next day the night before. I do my laundry on the same day every week. I check my morning alarm every night before going to bed, and I’m almost always ten minutes early arriving at work. It’s who I am.

I plan out my entertainment choices for the week as well. If that stresses you out, then you are not like me at all. Which is okay. My wife is nothing at all like me, and we still love each other. I plan for two entertainment installments—for lack of a better word—each day. In this case, an “installment” may be a single episode of a television series (whatever the running time) or perhaps fifteen minutes or so of a movie or documentary. I know this is an odd way to watch a movie, but I’ve discovered it’s the optimal way for me when I plan to review a project. If you do the math, that means I’m planning, at most, two hours of entertainment a day, a total of 14 installments per week.

Maybe that seems like a lot to you. For several decades, I never had much in the way of free time. A plan like this wouldn’t have worked for me. Then, I decided to retire from retail management, and suddenly I had too much free time on my hands. When I began to work a 40-hour job as a postal clerk for the USPS, I still had more free time than I could recall having since I was a kid. Planning my entertainment choices gave me a sense of structure. Of purpose. It made me happy.

I usually watch a series episode in the morning before going to work. Then, I’ll watch another, on my iPhone, during lunch at work. If I watch anything else during breaks or after I come home in the evening, it’s usually a program not on my entertainment schedule or something I had planned for later in the week. This is the way I watched all of the episodes of every Star Trek series. It’s how I’ve been catching up on Supernatural (to the tune of five episodes per week). It’s also my current method for watching The Crown, The West Wing, Watchmen, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Castle Rock and, beginning again later this week, The Expanse. And all of the Star Trek movies, fifteen minutes at a time (I’m currently finishing up Star Trek Insurrection, by the way).

I had convinced myself that, with only 14 slots to fill each week (5 of those taken by Supernatural until I catch up to Season 15), I didn’t really want to add any more choices to my list. I wanted my evenings mostly free for spending time with my wife, or other unplanned entertainment choices such as reading or playing my PS4 or, naturally, writing.

I have more time to fill during the weekend, of course. I’m always awake too early in the morning, and I have it on good authority that I can be as noisy as a herd of horned beasts in a Pfaltzgraff boutique. So, I try to find ways to keep myself amused until my wife gets up. This morning—a Sunday—included my planned installment of an episode of the second season of Castle Rock. Sharon was still asleep after I finished that one, and I was already three cups of coffee into my day. The only other thing I had planned for the day was fifteen minutes of my Star Trek movie. I like to watch that in the bedroom, though, running the DVD on my PS4, sometimes wearing my headphones while I take notes. It’s a whole process, and I’m a creature of habit. With my wife still abed, that wasn’t a viable option this morning.

I could have watched anything else on my current schedule. Instead, I decided to watch the premiere episode of Harley Quinn. It had a short running time, 23 minutes, and served only to whet my appetite. Since I was already misbehaving, I decided to watch the premiere of The Mandalorian as well.

This has been a good morning so far (still morning as I’m typing this, and my wife has been up for only thirty minutes or so). I liked both of these episodes a lot, and Castle Rock was good, too.

Which brings us to here: the reviews.

Since my preamble was so long, I’ll keep these short and sweet.


 

Harley Quinn, Season 1, Episode 1 “Til Death Us Do Part”

HarleyQuinnS1

This episode wanted you to know immediately that it wasn’t the same series as Batman the Animated Series, even though Harley Quinn started out in that old familiar costume. There is cursing and blood and gore (cartoonish, to be sure, but still blood and gore). The themes are adult in nature.

The premise is beautiful in its simplicity. Poison Ivy convinces Harley that the Joker doesn’t love her. In fact, he loves Batman more than he loves her. The way Ivy convinces her is campy and involves a convoluted trap the Riddler devises that makes Joker choose between killing Harley or Batman. Guess who he refuses to let Riddler get the credit for killing?

This episode was funny. The art direction was both retro and modern at the same time, if that makes any sense. Harley ends up ditching the classic costume for one more in line with the Suicide Squad version of Harley Quinn. She also trades the comically oversized mallet for a baseball bat.

Kaley Cuoco, of Big Bang Theory, gives Harley her voice. Lake Bell is Poison Ivy. I guess Mark Hamill wasn’t available for the Joker, but we get nerd-favorite Alan Tudyk instead. Likewise, Diedrich Bader instead of Kevin Conroy for Batman. This is Harley’s show, so that’s okay with me.

This episode sets the tone for the series, which is more comedic than serious, even though the emotional notes it hits seem genuine enough. There are some things I don’t particularly care for. This Joker seems stockier than my favorite version of the supervillain. And, Commissioner Gordon is being portrayed as looney as the Arkham Asylum inmates he can’t keep caged up. Neither of these minor quibbles kept me from enjoying the premiere, however.

Firewater’s Crown-Princess-of-Crime Report Card: A

A

Was there ever any doubt? Yep, I’ll keep watching this one. I’m not sure if Season 1 is going to be six episodes or thirteen, but I plan to watch them all.


 

The Mandalorian, Season 1, Episode 1 “Chapter 1”

MandalorianS1

Technically, this isn’t a cartoon. But, with CGI special effects, the line between live action and computer animation is blurred, if not completely obliterated. I’m okay with that when a series looks this good.

I’ve purposely kept myself in the dark about this series. I’ve read nothing about it on-line because I wanted to get into it with fresh eyes. I didn’t even know that this premiere was written and directed by Jon Favreau, who must be on the shortlist for King of All Nerds. (Speaking of lists, this off-the-cuff remark may have inspired a future 10-List from me.)

This episode was thrilling and thoroughly Star Wars, and I already like this series more than I liked Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I don’t understand everything that is happening here, and I like that as well. The story itself is giving me more information about the world it’s taking place in.

Our main character is a bounty hunter. A Mandalorian, to be precise. He’s not Boba Fett, I don’t think. I don’t know if he’s a Jango Fett clone or not, but I’m guessing probably not. I always knew that Jango and Boba were wearing Mandalorian armor, but I had never considered that Mandalorians were another Star Wars alien race. It seems that they are. Some sort of knights errant, I’m guessing, with an armor fetish.

The series is set after the end of the Empire. There’s no mention of the First Order, so I think we’re between second and third trilogies here.

In this episode, the Mandalorian accepts a vague bounty contract to bring a target back alive. He is being paid in a metal called Beskar that the Mandalorian uses at an armorer to make another piece of his customized armor. All the bounty hunter knows is that the target is 50-years-old and he’s given a tracker to locate the target.

This is a western fantasy with science-fiction trappings. There are seedy bars and familiar Star Wars alien races and technology throughout. It has everything a Star Wars fan like me is looking for, in fact.

The guest stars are impressive as well. Carl Weathers plays a bounty hunter agent. Werner Herzog is the client with the mysterious bounty. Horatio Sanz is the first bounty we see the Mandalorian capture. Brian Posehn is a speeder pilot who exits the series unceremoniously. Nick Nolte provides the voice of an alien named Kuiil (who looks more like Rance Howard).

The episode also features a bounty hunter droid—an IG unit like the one that dates back to the original trilogy. Modern special effects make the droid seem much more formidable than George Lucas ever did.

There are shootouts and explosions and a surprise reveal at the end that I won’t give away here, but one that makes me want to continue watching. I’m still not sure what’s really happening here, but I like it.

Firewater’s Galaxy-Far-Far-Away Report Card: A+

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No breaking news here: I’m a Star Wars fan. But, this episode has made me more excited for the new J.J. Abrams movie than I have been to date.


 

Funny thing. It seems I’ve suddenly cleared up a couple of slots on my weekly schedule.

smile

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