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The Fall of the House of Usher: Quoth the Raven



Spoiler ravens incoming! 

Created by a pair of ruthless twin siblings long ago, the current Usher pharmaceutical empire begins crumbling into dust as patriarch Roderick’s adult children begin dying off. 

Oh this is a gorgeous one y’all, full of mood and tension and supernatural horror to knock your socks off, sure, but also sporting incredible performances from every single cast member. So let’s dive (off a high-rise balcony) into this! 

In the beginning, young Roderick Usher (Zach Gilford) and his twin sister Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald) came from nothing. Their religious fanatic of a mother Eliza (Annabeth Gish) worked as a secretary and occasional mattress-toy for their father William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet), the former CEO of the Fortunato pharmaceutical company. Which is all a glorious irony, because when mother gets sickly, she adamantly refuses to see a doctor due to her religious beliefs, and the children are left to fend for themselves when their father callously denies both them, and their mother, acknowledgement of any kind. And paid a heavy price for it too, when an enraged spirit rose from her grave to exact her righteous vengeance. 

Here in the present, old and haggard Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), Fortunato pharmaceutical emperor, opioid king, is haunted by his past mistakes, but also by the specters of his dead adult children. Diagnosed with a heroic list of physical (and let’s face it, mental) ailments, Roderick decides to invite his old nemesis Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) to a secret location, for a full confession of all his crimes, against the world and the courts and even Auggie himself, but most especially against his own family. 

Every single one of Roderick’s children comes with a name from an Edgar Allen Poe story and a whole laundry list of odd issues and secrets. Frederick Usher (Henry Thomas), the eldest and heir to the Fortunato empire, has trust issues with his wife Morella (Cystal Balint), and apparently the only actual grandchild thus far, Lenore (Kyliegh Curran). Far as I can tell, Frederick doesn’t actually do anything, other than regurgitate Roderick’s business policies and family fixer-attorney Arthur Pym’s (Mark Hamill) warnings about close-mouthedness as far as the public, media, and especially the law goes. Lenore is of course absolutely beloved by her grandfather, while her mother Morella seems to have past issues with another of Roderick’s kids, Prospero, or Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota) as he prefers to be called. 

Frederick’s eldest legitimate daughter, named Tamerlane (really? Wow) but of course she’s called Tammy (Samantha Sloyan) by most, has aspirations of being a different kind of family entrepreneur with her husband Bill Wilson (Matt Biedel) and his fitness influencer lifestyle. Tammy puts a lot of pressure on herself, has frankly utterly ridiculous demands her husband has to follow, and a very unusual way of using call girls to have a … one-some? practically every night. No kink-shaming here of course, but even I raised an eyebrow at Tammy’s nightly adventures and lack of actual sleep. 

Camille L’Espanaye is one of Roderick’s several illegitimate children, sharp-tongued and savvy is she, as the head of public relations for Fortunato. Her hair an iconic silvery-white, likely a nod to the older L’Espanaye women of the Poe story, she stalks the scandals, social media, the backgrounds and vices of all the Ushers, and is utterly ruthless in using everything in her power to spin doctor every last Usher disaster as quickly as possible. The on-going trial with older Auggie barely registers in Camille’s arrogant countenance, as she works those sharp-as-steel wits in overtime to address the sudden domino deaths of her siblings. Camille’s casual mistreatment of her two aides Toby and Tina as little more than walking, not talking, sexual stress relievers, it’s apparently literally in their employment contracts and multiple NDAs, is just as horrific as the misdeeds as the other Ushers, and her death comeuppance has a delicious irony to it in this regard. 

Victorine LaFourcade (T’Nia Miller) is the eldest of Roderick’s illegitimate children, tall and black and statuesque, a genius heart surgeon on whom Roderick places a ton of expectations and pride. Her partner Dr. Alessandra “Ali” Ruiz (Paola Nunez) is a partner in every sense of the word, both at work and at home, and while Ali has great faith in her gorgeous genius of a partner, she is also leery of using untried Fortunato products in their heart and pace-maker research. The grotesque labs full of monkey test animals and outright lies from an increasingly paranoid and pressured Victorine bring to mind the disaster that led to 28 Days Later, another master horrorpiece. 

Poor Napoleon, or Leo (Rahul Kohli) as he rightfully prefers to be called, tatted up and drugged out of his mind more often than not, can’t even rightly claim being a video game designer, as he tries to. No, Leo is a video game publisher and is adrift on the Usher money and lifestyle, both pulling away and edging back to the family that finds him a few shades disappointing. His boyfriend Julius (Daniel Jun) tries so very hard to be just chill about Leo’s increasing paranoia, depression, and hey, feud with that damnable black cat. 

The youngest of the illegitimate Usher children, Prospero known as Perry seems determined to live the life of a young bacchanal, full of drugs and sex with multiple partners, an exclusive VIP party that seemingly never ends, and Perry would be the gatekeeper, the overlord of the orgy. His eager ideas for a very posh orgy-porgy amongst the bright young things of the city, with him emperor Dionysus above all, while cute, lacks anything resembling common sense. Indeed, Perry thinks the best place to have his pop-up party of the century is a disused private lab testing site for Fortunato pharma and was meant to have been torn down long ago, but since the Usher family owns these sites (allegedly) he can go ahead and use them worry-free, right? Gives a whole new terrifying spin to, “Make it rain!” 

The whole thing with the trial and an elderly but still spry Auguste, and how it directly relates back to that time in the ‘80’s when a much younger Auggie (Malcolm Goodwin) and younger Mads (Willa Fitzgerald) and younger Roderick (Zach Gilford) all wanted to take on current Fortunato head Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco) and the absolute ass of a jester he’s acting like, is the kind of full-circle irony that a tidy universe loves to show us. Indeed, it’s way back here on a fateful night where, after a beleaguered Roderick has betrayed pretty much everyone but his twin sister, because Mads always has a plan for long-term revenge, that they meet a very strange bartender, who offers them both the deal of several lifetimes. 

The woman, or rather the entity that we come to associate as the specter of Death, is never actually given a name. The show BTS information calls her Verna (Carla Gugino), a rearrangement of raven, arguably Poe’s most well-known poem and known in many cultures as the bringer of death, if not Death itself. As the Usher children begin dying, Verna pops up and either guides them through it, or in a rather Final Destination fashion, outright causes their deaths to happen. Verna made a rather monstrous offer of a deal to the Usher twins long ago, they both had to take her up on it, which begins the domino effect that leads all the way to the real fall of the House of Usher, and its lasting legacy on the entire Usher bloodline. Verna encourages the Usher empire founders to think of themselves like that, referring to Mads as Cleopatra and nudging Roderick with his obsession of suicide by khopesh, or the legendary sapphire eyes of Egyptian Queen Twosret, none of which helps the mindset of the Usher family. 

The Poe references splashed throughout, the use of light and shadow as each Usher character declines into madness (or dives), absolutely stellar performances from a powerhouse cast, all make for a ride through the haunted legacy of the House of Usher worth repeated viewings! Be there for the collapse of an empire in The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix now!

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Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life



The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God. 

Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes. 

Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God. 

We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant. 

Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed. 

Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus. 

Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship. 

Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care. 

The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love. 

Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls. 

Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now! 

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off



“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.

The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.

The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.

The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.

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Platonic On Apple TV



“Platonic,” the comedy series on Apple TV, is a refreshing addition to the comedy genre, blending humor and heart in a way that resonates with a diverse audience. Developed with a keen understanding of human relationships, the show explores the complexities of friendship and the blurred lines between romance and platonic connections.

At the core of “Platonic” is a stellar cast, whose chemistry elevates the material to new heights. The performances are nuanced and authentic, with each actor bringing a unique energy to their role. The lead duo’s dynamic is particularly commendable, effortlessly navigating the intricate balance between comedic banter and moments of genuine emotional depth.

The writing is sharp and clever, delivering witty dialogue that keeps the audience engaged throughout. The humor is not only situational but also rooted in the well-developed personalities of the characters. The series intelligently tackles contemporary issues, offering a relevant and insightful commentary on modern friendships and the evolving nature of human connections.

One of the standout features of “Platonic” is its ability to evoke laughter while also exploring deeper themes. The series doesn’t shy away from addressing the challenges and vulnerabilities that come with navigating adult friendships. This blend of humor and introspection adds a layer of authenticity that distinguishes it from typical sitcoms.

Visually, the show is well-crafted, with polished production values and a vibrant aesthetic. The use of cinematography complements the storytelling, enhancing the comedic timing and emotional beats. The pacing is brisk, keeping the audience engaged without sacrificing the narrative’s depth.

While “Platonic” primarily falls under the comedy genre, it successfully transcends the limitations often associated with sitcoms. It manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, making it a standout entry in the realm of contemporary television. Whether you’re seeking a good laugh or a more profound exploration of human connections, “Platonic” on Apple TV delivers on multiple fronts, making it a commendable addition to your watchlist.

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