Streaming News Roundup: Jul 17, 2017

Netflix Scores Big With Emmy Wins, Hulu and Amazon Get Some Love, Too

Streaming companies saw huge increases in Emmy nominations this year with Netflix getting a whopping 91 nominations, making them the year’s second most nominated network behind only HBO. Netflix received noms for shows such as the critically acclaimed Stranger Things, the Queen Elizabeth miniseries The Crown, and the documentary 13th. Hulu saw a decent bump in its number of nominations this year at 18, thanks in large part to The Handmaid’s Tale. Meanwhile, Amazon held steady from last year with 16 nominations.

[Via Variety]

Hulu Now Has Exclusive Streaming Rights to Bob’s Burgers

Take heed, all ye fans of the Fox animated series.

[Via Engadget]

Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access Has a Premiere Date

There’s a lot riding on possibility of success for Star Trek: Discovery, which could essentially make or break CBS’s future as a streaming network. Star Trek is by far one of their most iconic television properties, so I can see why it might make sense to use this as their starting point to streaming-exclusive programming. That being said, it caters to one of the most tech savvy fanbases of any franchise, which increases the potential for piracy if people want to (illegally) avoid paying the subscription fee to watch it.

I know I’ll be tuning in, at least to the premiere which will also be broadcast on CBS before it becomes available on-demand on September 24th at 8:30PM ET. Immediately after the first two episodes will be available to stream, which new episodes coming weekly every Sunday until November 5th. The second part of the 15 episode season will then resume in January.

Check out the trailer here

[Via Deadline]

HBO and Cinemax Are Now Available as Add-on Packages for Hulu Users

Hulu has previously partnered with Showtime to offer a streaming package. The pricing for HBO on Hulu is consistent with HBO Go, so this is primarily aimed at people that want to consolidate their streaming content into one place. Winter is coming, Hulu users.

[Via CNBC]

Netflix Review: Castlevania Season 1

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Where to watch: Netflix exclusive

Best for: Fans of the video game series, people who regularly watch anime

Based on the long-running video game series by Konami comes Castlevania, a gruesome and dark animated show for adults that is currently a Netflix exclusive. The story takes place in fifteenth century Romania and begins with a story of Dracula’s love for an intelligent young researcher named Lisa who comes to Dracula’s castle seeking advanced scientific knowledge. They are eventually married but when church officials find science equipment in Lisa’s home they accuse her of witchcraft and burn her at the stake.

Dracula in his anger warns the townspeople that he will unleash an army of demons to kill them in one year. The townspeople remain undeterred and a year later celebrate the death of the “witch” rather than flee, so as promised Dracula unleashes his wrath. The rest of the show follows Trevor Belmont, the last son of a noble family the townsfolk blame for Dracula’s wrath as he teams up with a group of mystics that have been demonized by the church called the Seekers. The Seekers believe they can find a legendary “sleeping solider” that can defeat Dracula and his army.

The animation itself is skillfully done and is on par with what one would expect from a popular anime series or perhaps the direct-to-video DC Comics films. One should approach the series with an expectation that much like the video games, there will be a gratuitous amount of violence- there’s blood raining from the sky, mutilated bodies, gouged out eyeballs, and the like throughout the show’s four-episode first season. While I was never a huge fan of the Castlevania series (but am still keeping my fingers crossed for the rumored Legend of Zelda Netflix show), I’d imagine this works well as a supplement to the video games and will perhaps satisfy the diehard fans of the series to see their beloved characters in animated form.

For everyone else, however, there is little to offer in the way of engaging plot lines or characters to empathize with. At no point did I feel seriously invested in any of the character’s wellbeing. The show seems reliant on pointlessly unsettling imagery that has no redemptive qualities. The downside of adapting video games into films or TV shows is that while they appeal to a highly devoted fanbase, they offer very thin storylines when you take out the interactive action sequences from a game. Castlevania, unfortunately, fails to reverse course in what has been an endlessly disappointing line of video game adaptations.

While the quality of animation was at times very impressive, I can’t recommend the show to anyone outside of the most loyal base of fans for the Castlevania games. Even among those devoted masses, however, this series might feel like an overlong, bloated cutscene that you wish you could press “a” to skip so you can get on with your button-mashing video game adventures.

I give it: 2 stars (out of 5)

Netflix Review: Okja

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Where to Watch: Netflix exclusive

Best for: People that enjoy Korean films, vegans

This is a film that seems so utterly bizarre it might be a little difficult to describe. The film concerns a giant pesticide and agricultural products company called the Mirando Corporation (a not-so-subtle nod to the controversial Monsanto Corporation) which has prepared 26 “superpigs” that they claim were raised naturally and represent the future of agriculture. This project was the conception of the company’s CEO Lucy Mirando (played by Tilda Swinton- who else?), a woman that is trying to repair her image after inheriting the company from her grandfather, who had a poor reputation.

They distribute the superpigs out to farmers around the world in a competition to see who can raise the best superpig. The winner will be crowned in a ceremony ten years later. The film follows a young girl, Mija (played by Ahn Seo-hyun) who raises one of the superpigs with her grandfather on a South Korean farm. There are some beautiful sequences of the Korean countryside that highlight the bond Mija has to her beloved pig naked Okja.

This film has a tough concept to sell- a human forming a bond with a giant, computer-generated pig. One would think that could easily come across as cheesy or strange to the point of detaching the viewer from the plot of the story. Yet the talented director Bong Joon-ho (director of Snowpiercer and 2006’s The Host) manages to sell this concept extremely well in a way that few creative minds possibly could.

The plot thickens when an eccentric TV host named Johnny Wilcox (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a role where you barely recognize him due to his odd fashion choices and campy persona) arrives at the farm with a group from Mirando Corp. to take the superpig away, as it has been selected as the “winner” of the best superpig competition. Mija will follow Okja to Seoul and eventually New York City in a journey that sees her teaming up with a group called the Animal Liberation Front (or ALF).

Okja combines several genres of films together so much so that it could even establish a genre all its own. Sequences where Mija rides Okja in a chase scene through the streets of Seoul are reminiscent of a Disney animated film or perhaps even the works of Studio Ghibli. Whereas the film’s satirical focus on society in scenes focusing on genetically engineered food, animal welfare, and corporate coverups rival the likes of Thank You for Smoking in their mirroring of society’s shortcomings. The movie manages to capture the fun of a family film about people bonding with animal friends with the dark humor you might expect from the works of Tarantino. After all, as Lucy Mirando says, the superpigs need to taste “pretty f*cking good.”

This film has been a bit controversial in the film industry for the studio’s decision NOT to release the picture theatrically before heading to Netflix. Theatrical releases today are mired with so many cash-grabbing “cinematic universes” and franchise sequels, that a movie that truly takes artistic risks such as Okja feels incredibly refreshing. If this film is any taste of what’s to come from streaming-exclusive movies, the industry will have some major catching up to do as it responds to an ever-evolving media landscape.

Okja is smart, inventive, and will make you feel for a CGI “superpig” in ways you didn’t think were possible. If you’re looking for a new movie to stream tonight, Okja is a serious contender. You might want to hold off on the bacon for a while, though…

I give it: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Now Streaming: Supergirl TV Show Review

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Currently Streaming On: Netflix, The CW’s website

Please note: This is current at the time of publishing in July 2017. Shows come and go from streaming services all the time so visit justwatch.com to see where (or if) it’s currently streaming)

Episodes Available: Netflix, 42 episodes (2 seasons) The CW, 5 most recent episodes (no sign-in required)

Best For: People who enjoyed seeing Gal Gadot kick butt in Wonder Woman, fans of the various shows in the Arrowverse on The CW (Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow)

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s Supergirl streaming on Netflix. This series, which originally aired on CBS before switching to The CW in its second season, is a lighthearted, upbeat show that harkens back to the old days when superheroes fought for truth, justice, and the American way rather than starred in morally ambiguous tales that attempt to reboot their “cheesy” earnest qualities with gritty realism (I’m looking at you, Batman v. Superman).

I’ll admit I was skeptical when the show was first announced and they released the first trailer back in 2015. As this show predated this year’s excellent Wonder Woman, Supergirl had the distinction of being the first major female superhero on-screen outing, big screen or little screen, to come about in the modern cinematic universe era. This could be perceived as a preview of the female superheroes to come, and the first trailer unfortunately made it look like they were trying heavily to give it a Devil Wears Prada-esque romcom feel in order to pander to female audiences. Many compared it to the parody trailer Saturday Night Live had made for a fake Black Widow movie with Scarlet Johannsson.

Rest assured that Supergirl is safe from such romcom-washing attempts. While it does focus some time on Kara (aka Supergirl’s) relationships, there are plenty of other plot elements to supplement this.The story follows Kara, played by the charming Melissa Benoist, who is the cousin of Superman that was sent to Earth from Krypton to protect him after their home planet was destroyed. While traveling to Earth in a space pod she got stuck in a black hole that caused her to delay her journey from Kypton and thus age slower than Superman due to the time warp, explaining how she’s younger than him (I know this seems like a lazy plot device but it’s borrowed from the comics).

While on Earth, Kara is taken in by an adoptive family with ties to the study and protection of alien life. Her sister, Alex (played by Chyler Leigh), who works for an organization called the DEO (or Department of Other-Wordly Affairs), makes for one of the series’ most compelling characters and their sisterly bond helps ground the show in relatable and sincere elements that help balance the fantastical world of aliens, superpowers, and space travel. Similarly, the DEO agent known as Hank (played by David Harewood) provides a multi-dimensional character with some engaging, albeit at times a bit convoluted, plot lines.

The special effects used in the series look excellent for a TV show and lack the tacky characteristics one might associate with a “made-for-TV” movie. Even the transition from CBS to The CW in the second season didn’t seem to cheapen the appearance or scope of the series’ scale. There are certain parts of the show that may seem a bit jarring- the “bad guy of the week” plot lines used towards the middle of the first season seem to get a bit old after a few episodes, the completely wooden performance from Helen Slater (the original Supergirl) in a performance as Kara’s adoptive mother ruins some otherwise dramatic scenes, and certain political references in the plot seem like a tacky attempt to be topical (hey guys, we’re talking about “aliens” seeking citizenship- get it?!)  that would have worked better in a more nuanced way.

Still the series has one thing that many superheroes stories of late, at least in the DC Comics world, do not. It has warmth, humor, and a genuine sense of heart that help ground the series. Melissa Benoist’s performance as Kara, a girl who is at times nerdy and bumbling but still manages to realize her power, is an anchor of the show. Her character has flaws and makes some serious mistakes throughout the series whose gravity is portrayed in detail. A complaint many might have of Superman and Supergirl is that they are TOO powerful, but the show successfully manages to neither make Kara an inaccessible goddess nor a weakened “Superman-lite.”

Like Tobey Macquire as Peter Parker in 2002’s Spider-Man, the producers of the show have made a character whose mild-mannered alter-ego makes you truly want to root for them when they don their tights and cape. That’s what truly makes this series, well, super.

I give it: 4.25 stars (out of 5)

Netflix Review: Ultimate Beastmaster

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Currently streaming on: Netflix (exclusive series)

Episodes Available: 10 episodes, 1 season

Best for: Fans of American Ninja Warrior, live sports

This series builds upon the formula established by the likes of Ninja Warrior and Wipeout by adding a more complex obstacle course, and international teams from six countries (The U.S., Germany, South Korea, Mexico, Japan, and Brazil). The obstacle course itself that the athletes traverse through feels more like a live-action video game with spinning platforms to jump onto, moving conveyer belts to run over, and a design that resembles the inside of a giant “beast” complete with water that’s been dyed red to resemble the “blood of the beast.”

Fans of the Olympics will find the international competition a welcome change over Ninja Warrior, and it’s fun to see the hosts from the different countries banter with each other. Netflix opted for a unique approach to the localization of this series as all six versions of the show are filmed concurrently with two hosts from each nation speaking in their own language in side-by-side booths. Some of the obstacles seem slightly more risky than Ninja Warrior (one episode featured multiple male contestants falling crotch-first on a platform), so that does raise the stakes a bit.

A drawback to the series is something that ironically benefits many other shows on streaming services- all of the episodes were released at the same time. While it may be enticing to the diehard fans of the show to watch every minute of each episode I’d imagine most viewers would find themselves skipping ahead since most of the episodes feature the same stages. Releasing a series like this one episode at a time gives shows like Ninja Warrior an edge over Beastmaster, in that you perhaps have slightly more motivation to watch every episode when the competition comes to you in one small piece each week.

I found myself watching this show when I needed something to turn my mind off for a bit or was multitasking when working on my laptop. It has all of the thrills (perhaps even more) of Ninja Warrior, but seems a bit less exciting when I know I can skip ahead to a later stage of the competition with a few clicks of my Roku remote. For that reason it may have worked better as a 5 to 8 episode series rather than a 10 episode one.

I give it: 2.75 out of 5 stars*

*that’s right Netflix, I’m still using stars!