Category: Reviews

With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

I’ve been a big fan of Harlan Coben’s thrillers for a long time. His clever, complicated stories always challenge the reader to “keep up”. And simultaneously, lull readers into a sense of false comfort because each tale is authentic and “real world”.

I lived in the metro NYC area for years. I can tell you that Harlen Coben was always able to channel the hopes, fears, and the anxious dread that, for so many, goes hand in hand with that kind of suburban living.  His protagonists seem like people next door who get caught up in situations far beyond anything they could imagine. And then Coben ratchets the tension up. It always gets worse for the characters.

This visionary writer struck a deal with Netflix to produce short series based up on his books.  And you know what? I think that an 8-episode story is just about the perfect length to adapt his books.  In the old days, back when we’d all go to movie theaters to watch movies, the “big win” for an author was seemingly to have her or his work adapted into a 90-minute movie.  Anyone who had read the book would, of course, be either disappointed that so much was cut, or constantly comparing and contrasting the merits of the prose version vs. the cinematic version.  But today’s streaming shows are the perfect way to enjoy a filmed version of a book, without sacrificing huge chunks of the narrative or cutting back the cast of characters

Harlan Coben’s Stay Close is his latest book to be adapted by Netflix.  It’s the story of a woman named Cassie (love that name – it’s big in my family) who’s been trying to put her sordid past behind her, and things just got more complicated. But caveat emptor (or should I say caveat lector, “Let the reader beware”?): Stay Close has a complicated, decades spanning plot with a large cast of characters.  A storyteller like Coben can both confuse viewers and help them solve the puzzle – piece by piece- at the same time.

Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

Of note: there’s a psychotic pair of killers in this series. They are creepy, wacky and they scared the bejeezus outta me.  I don’t know where or when exactly these types of characters started, but I would venture to say that it may have begun with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from the 007 movie, Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  In Ian Flemings book, these two eccentric killers weren’t nearly as memorable as their cinematic counterparts.  Kudos to Coben for finding a way to improve upon this trope and deliver something fresh and memorable. And creeeeeeeepy.

For longtime Coben readers, there’s a lot of Easter eggs, including mentions of Ridgewood, Waldwick and Baumgarts Café.  But the coolest part of Stay Close is the way this author keeps pushing it – and continues to deliver a clever mystery, keeping even a long-time mystery lover on the edge of his seat.


Note: The Innocent, from 2018, is another Coben book recently adapted into an 8-episode Netflix series, and I’d highly recommend that one too.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry

In “Better Late Than Never”, join Marc Alan Fishman as he trips sideways into streaming his way through a series and comes back to his column here on Pop Culture Squad to talk about its greatness as if the series just came out.

Shortly after meeting our titular Cleveland-based assassin Barry Berkman in writer/star Bill Hader’s Barry, he sits, staring into the middle-distance — his face blank, but the body language and minimally adorned apartment he calls home clearly shows us a man 7 feet below ground in exhausting depression. A jump cut later, Barry collects a crappy sedan below a staggeringly cyan blue sky of Los Angeles. Another job — to assist the Chechen Mob — has Berkman out West. By the end of the pilot, Barry completes his initial hit, not without complications; Chief among them his sudden fascination with potentially becoming an actor and abandoning his hitman profession. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry”

Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review

Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review

I am so excited to say that Lego Masters is back with Season Two. The first episode launched on June 1, 2021, and new episodes debut of Fox on Tuesday nights at 9 PM. There are twelve new teams, but I’m happy to see Will Arnett is back as host with his same funny schtick, and thankfully,  Brick Masters Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett have also returned.

The prize is the same as last season, $10,000 and the “Lego Master” trophy.

The teams are:

    1. Zack and Wayne – Brothers from California.
    2. Zach and Tim – Son-Father from Michigan
    3. Mark and Steven – Brothers from Georgia
    4. Syreeta and Randall – Friends from Illinois
    5. Natalie and Michelle – Friends from Oklahoma and Arizona
    6. Paras and Moto – Friends from Massachusetts and Colorado
    7. Maria and Philip – Married couple from Michigan
    8. Susan and Jen – Friends from Utah
    9. Jack and Dawn – Siblings from Ohio and Michigan
    10. Dave and Richard – Friends from Illinois and New York
    11. Caleb and Jacob – Brothers from Wisconsin
    12. Bryan and Lauren – Siblings from California

The show grabs you from the first episode, and I find that I cannot wait until next week.

Once again, the contestants are friendly with each other, but each team wants to win. The builds are bigger and more challenging then Season One. It is hard to pick a favorite because they are all so great at building and you hate to see any team leave at the end of each episode.

Episode 1

The first episode, each team had to build an eye-catching float in the first-ever LEGO Day Parade. The prize for the winner of this challenge was the “Gold Brick”. The team that wins the “Gold Brick” can use it only once, to be safe from elimination. The team that won, you know once you saw the final build, they were going to win it. Each “float” was amazing and fun to look at.

Episode 2

The second episode, each team had to build their own slow-motion hero shot. They picked their own mini figure at random and build something to explode behind them. The teams have to use one of four blasting substances: Glitter, slime, water or dust, and the mini figure CAN NOT be blown/knocked off, when the explosion happens.

Once again, this episode, didn’t not disappoint. Each team’s blast, was as amazing as the one before. I do not envy the Brick Masters job to pick the team that has to go home.

When a team leaves the stage, everyone hugs the team and the team leaves their personal mini-figure at the entrances to the stage. My heart was saddened every time a team leaves, but the show must go on.

Episode 3

Continue reading “Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review”

With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident

With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident

As we bring you some of the highlights of the writing assignments from my Ithaca College Promoting and Managing ITHACON class, this week is the first runner-up by Maya Lewis.

Maya’s column spoke to us from the a very emotional and introspective place. Some of the things that good media can do is promote introspection and inspiration. Maya found that in the HBO show Insecure. The way that she relates to the show and how it has affected her are what we are looking to promote here at Pop Culture Squad.

Insecure Made Me Confident

by Maya Lewis

Growing up, my mother was always against me watching copious amounts of television, to the point where she had me convinced that if I watched too much TV, I would lose brain cells. And I believed her, that was until I got older.

I started to find a comfort and joy from bingeing shows and fell in love with the feeling of immersing myself into the lives of different characters and their storylines, both emotionally and mentally. It was both therapeutic and freeing, and nothing compared to the feeling I felt, when I was able to recognize parts of myself within certain characters, allowing me to form a deeper connection with both them and the show itself. Unfortunately, this feeling did not occur often, as I rarely encountered shows that starred young black women as leads, who did not play into stereotypical tropes. However, this feeling changed during the summer of 2017 when I discovered Insecure, which is a comedy-drama television series set in Los Angeles and stars Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, who plays her best friend, Molly. The show is centered around these two women, who are both in their late 20s, navigating through different aspects of their lives. Continue reading “With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident”

With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!

With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!

As a kid in the mid-sixties, it was a big deal when there was going to be a new Superman show on TV.  Batmania had taken hold, and there was a ravenous hunger for more superhero stories. I loved the Justice League comic of the day, which had one dominant message for young readers – if you like Batman, he has a bunch of friends and you should buy their adventures too!

Filmation’s The New Adventures of Superman debuted on Saturday mornings, and it was a must-see. Never mind fellow-comic book alumni Casper on the opposite channel (although Secret Squirrel looked kinda cool). That was the show for me. Even though it was, in many ways, a retread of the old Superman radio show, we just knew these NEW adventures presented to best version of Superman ever! Continue reading “With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!”

Review: Lego Masters Season Finale

Review: Lego Masters Season Finale

On Wednesday April 15, 2020, the final episode for the first season of Lego Masters aired on Fox at 9 pm EST. The show is hosted by Will Arnett, and the final show came down to three teams:  Sam and Jessica, Tyler and Amy, and Mark and Boone.

The final episode included a challenge for each team to build whatever they wanted in a twenty-four hour period. They had one hour to plan and design their build and then the final twenty-four to make it a reality.

Here is a little bit about each team:

Sam and Jessica are in an adult Lego group, but didn’t meet until the competition. Because of that dynamic, they struggled in the beginning, but as the competition evolved, you could see their teamwork and confidence in each other grow. Their strength comes from them both being art-focused and creative. Continue reading “Review: Lego Masters Season Finale”

LEGO Masters: A TV Show That Will Knock Your Block Off

LEGO Masters: A TV Show That Will Knock Your Block Off

Someone has figured out a reality show for adults who love to play with their favorite toy as a kid and turned it up a notch. I am talking about LEGO Masters. It is on Wednesday nights at 9 pm EST on FOX.  It is based on a British show of the same name. The best part about the show is its family-friendly feel.

There are ten teams of two and what a great group they are. The diverse teams are made up of fathers and sons, brothers, couples, friends, and even a team that met at a club for adults who love LEGO. The winners will win $100,000 and a LEGO Master’s trophy. The first week they competed for the Golden Brick, of which the winner is immune from being eliminated at a time of their choosing.

There have only been two episodes so far. It premiered on Wednesday, February 5th and is hosted by Will Arnett (In case you don’t know he is the voice of LEGO Batman, but don’t worry. He will remind you.). He is the perfect host for this show. He has two expert judges with him. Amy Corbett is a senior design master at the LEGO Company. She works on the LEGO Friends line and worked on the concept team for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. You can follow her on Instagram at @brickmasteramy or on Twitter at @BrickmasterAmy. Jamie Berard is the other judge, and he is a LEGO Brickmaster, with thirteen years of experience with LEGO. He works on LEGO products for teens and adults with a focus on the Creator Expert and Architecture lines. You can follow him on Instagram at @brickmasterjamie. Continue reading “LEGO Masters: A TV Show That Will Knock Your Block Off”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #053: Oh Schitt!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #053: Oh Schitt!

I had consumed nearly every show I was told I’d love on Netflix as I’d contemplated transitioning to Amazon Prime — Orange is the New Black, GLOW, Living With Yourself, Big Mouth, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, The Kominsky Method, Bojack Horseman, F is for Family, Maniac, and Master of None to name a few. And in the case of all of the above (with about 8 or 9 more I decided not to list)… I did in fact love them. Some more than others, but all appropriately dynamic and enjoyable.

With everything seemingly checked off my bucket list for the time being, I was about to sign off, and one last series peaked its head around the corner. I’d been recommended to look into it several times, but something about it seemed bland. Every still shot of the show was set in some rural-ish small town, with an obvious fish-out-of-water placement of Eugene Levy or Catherine O’Hara looking befuddled. I’d told myself it wasn’t worth my time. I hovered over the preview and watched. All the tropes were there: a wealthy family no longer wealthy, Eugene Levy being… Eugene Levy, Chris Elliott being… Chris Elliott, small town vs. big city. Whatever. But, an inadvertent click popped the preview into a pilot, and I took my seat. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #053: Oh Schitt!”

Brainiac On Banjo #049: Pennyworth – Might See TV?

Brainiac On Banjo #049: Pennyworth – Might See TV?

Did you notice there are a lot of television shows based upon superheroes? Do you have a television set and an internet connection?

If you think it’s getting crowded, just wait. Disney announced a whole bunch of new Marvel shows, including Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel – and remember, Loki, WandaVision, What If…?, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have yet to debut.

DC has Stargirl coming up soon, and they’re threatening to follow Arrow up with a new CW series – not counting Batwoman, which starts in a bit over a month. Watchmen starts soon (maybe it’s already on – I can’t tell anymore), and the Harley Quinn animated series is pretty much in the can. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #049: Pennyworth – Might See TV?”

Swamp Thing From DC Universe Is Dark & Enjoyable

Swamp Thing From DC Universe Is Dark & Enjoyable

DC Universe launches its third live-action series, Swamp Thing, on Friday, May 31st. This April, the originally thirteen episode order was shortened to ten, mid-production. Rumors swirled about the impending demise of the DC Universe platform, but the alarms turned out to be unfounded as more content is added to the app.

The comic version of Swamp Thing has been retconned and rebooted several times, each with very different vibes. The original Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson Swamp Thing was a Mary Shelley on the bayou, while the Alan Moore version was Faulkner on bad mushrooms. I was curious which way the new series would lean, and while it will probably evolve as the series goes on, the producers have drawn on their horror backgrounds to make a gumbo of the two.  Continue reading “Swamp Thing From DC Universe Is Dark & Enjoyable”