Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Runaways," Year One

Minor spoilers ahead.

I knew very little about the "Runaways" comic before watching the show, only that it was about a group of teenagers in the Marvel superhero universe who discover that their parents are members of a secret cabal of supervillains. On the surface, Pride is a group of wealthy philanthropists raising money for charity, but the kids catch them in the middle of committing a ritualistic murder one night. The premise sounds perfect for a teen show - there's a diverse cast of characters, tie-ins to the the Marvel cinematic universe, and several big honking genre metaphors for growing up and the generational divide. However, the particulars of the plotting also offer some challenges.

First off, there are more than a dozen major characters to keep track of immediately. Brainy Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) is the son of former crime boss Geoffrey (Ryan Sands) and high-powered lawyer Catherine (Angel Parker). Goth-girl Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano) is the daughter of tech gurus Tina and Robert (Brittany Ishibashi, James Yaegashi). Popular jock Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) is the son of famous inventor and innovator Victor Stein (James Marsters) and his wife Janet (Ever Carradine). Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) is devoted to the Scientology-like Church of Gibborim, run by her mother Leslie (Annie Wersching) and actor father Frank (Kip Pardue). Finally Riot grrrl Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and her adopted younger sister Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) are the daughters of eccentric scientists Stacey and Dale Yorkes (Brigid Brannagh, Kevin Weisman).

The comic focused on the kids, but to generate enough material for multiple seasons of a television show, the "Runaways" creators have chosen to spend just as much time exploring the parents, who are reportedly much more nuanced and complicated than their original versions. This also allows the series to be structured more like a mystery show, with the history of Pride being revealed little by little at a very leisurely pace, and multiple new subplots in play. After the ten-episode first season, it feels like the series is just getting started, with very little resolved and several of the bigger revelations being held back for future seasons. The writing is pretty good on an episode by episode basis, though the kids are noticeably more well-rounded and relatable than any of the adult characters. Their smart, occasionally sarcastic attitudes help keep them very watchable. I like that they poke fun at themselves and point out when they stumble over old cliches.

Where "Runaways" runs into some trouble is the performances. The kids are all relative newcomers, with varying levels of talent, and the parents aren't all that much better. There are a couple of big moments that don't land right at all, and are a stark reminder that it's harder to play these kinds of melodramatic, over-the-top, comic book roles than it looks. Rhenzy Feliz and Ariela Barer are the standouts as Alex and Gert, who manage to come across as fairly normal kids despite their constantly ridiculous circumstances. The show is much better when it's about the thorny interpersonal dynamics of the parents and kids than it is whenever the superpowers and magic heirlooms come out.

And I should caution that the show is very much a comic book fantasy, and introduces a lot of these elements quickly. After a fairly restrained first episode, we're plunged into a world where magic, mutant powers, time travel, aliens, and mad science all co-exist. And though the show does its best to downplay a lot of the most outlandish business, and nobody ever actually uses terms like "mutant" or "alien," it still causes a fair bit of tonal whiplash when the kids are dealing with serious issues like domestic violence and grief one minute, and then discovering a dinosaur in the basement the next.

At least "Runaways" has enough of a budget that the dinosaur looks pretty good. The production values are high and existing fans should be happy to find that the show's creators took many of its visuals straight from the comics. Despite the plotting deviations, there's every indication that the show was made by people who love this property, and took pains to ensure that it was brought to the small screen with some fidelity. This is not the best version of a "Runaways" show that could exist, but it's still pretty strong, and plenty entertaining.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

"The Crown," Year Two

For those of you worried that "The Crown" wouldn't be able to recover from the departure of John Lithgow's excellent Winston Churchill, I'm happy to declare that this isn't the case. The series has a wonderful deep bench of acting talent, and the writing, primarily by Peter Morgan, remains fantastic. In many ways I like this year's episodes better than the first, as everyone feels more settled into the series format, and more risks are taken.

The first episode of the series begins in 1956 with Suez Canal crisis, which coincides with a five month separation between Elizabeth and Philip, who is sent to tour the Pacific. The last episode takes place in 1963 during the Profmo affair, mirroring another test of their marriage. There's plenty of political and social upheaval in this run of episodes, and the United Kingdom changes greatly during the time period, but this series of "The Crown" feels much more personal, with the state of the royal marriage constantly at the forefront. Two episodes center on Philip, including a fantastic one that mirrors his difficult childhood with that of a young Prince Charles (Julian Baring). Two episodes center on Princess Margaret, who finds a new partner in photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode). And then there's the fantastic installment devoted to poor old Uncle David, the exiled Duke of Windsor.

There are artistic liberties being taken left and right in the name of historical melodrama, but you rarely see such literate and well-researched historical melodrama. The Duke of Windsor episode finds ways to tie the publishing of the Marburg Papers to the UK visit of evangelical preacher Billy Graham (Paul Sparks) via the Queen experiencing a personal crisis of faith. The much-anticipated episode featuring the Kennedys postulates that a meeting between the Queen and Jackie O. (Jodie Balfour) spurs her political actions in Ghana. There's so much here for a history buff to enjoy. At the same time, the characters have never felt more like genuine, complicated people. Though there's still some occasional pageantry, "The Crown" feels more like "Mad Men" than "Great Moments From History," especially with the amount of alcohol Princess Margaret downs.

Once again, Claire Foy delivers a tremendous performance as Queen Elizabeth, humanizing her and elevating her in just the right amounts. I love her moments of uncertainty, feeling insecure about impending middle-age, or the awkward filming of her first televised Christmas message. However, it's still spine-tingling to see her fully wielding the power of the Crown, dressing down a Prime Minister or making a surprise appearance before an astonished underling. Her clashes with Philip are more impactful this year, and Matt Smith has really stepped up as a scene partner. He's much more sure-footed, not afraid to have Philipp come off as obstinate or petty or even cruel at times. Yet this is also easily the most sympathetic and fascinating Prince Philip I've ever seen onscreen.

And then there are all the smaller roles, inhabited by dozens of memorable performances. Matthew Goode makes a vaguely unsettling, and occasionally very funny Tony, who plays wonderfully with Vanessa Kirby. Anton Lesser has several good appearances as Prime Minister MacMillan, and I was so happy to see Alex Jennings back as the Duke of Windsor. Sadly Michael C. Hall wasn't able to do much with John F. Kennedy, but he was barely onscreen long enough to register. It sticks out as an odd piece of stunt casting. Jodie Balfour's Jackie was considerably better, and she had the more important role anyway.

The production values remain obscenely gorgeous. The usual British prestige pics I've seen this year don't even come close. There's more emphasis on remote landscapes and moody interiors, but somehow there was also the budget for Philip's far-ranging tour of the Pacific, a Nazi funeral, and a state visit to Ghana. What's more, the level of the filmmaking continues to impress. I particularly enjoyed the finale with its long silences, and the Kennedy episode for its use of various different forms of media.

I'll be very sad to see this cast go, but as long as Peter Morgan, Stephen Daldry, and the rest of the creative team are still committed, I'm sure the further series of "The Crown" are going to continue to make for excellent viewing.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Rocking "Thor: Ragnarok"

First, I had very high hopes going into "Thor: Ragnarok" because of Taika Waititi's involvement, and I'm happy to report that it is the best "Thor" movie by a wide margin. However, it is far from the really full-throated, rule-breaking comedy that I was hoping for. "Ragnarok" is still very much a typical Marvel movie, with the same requisite action beats, mediocre villains, and distracting connector pieces to other Marvel movies. There's a lot of good stuff here, so it's well worth a viewing, but it's best to temper expectations.

Easily the best thing about "Ragnarok" is that it gives Chris Hemsworth the opportunity to have more fun as Thor. There aren't any major changes to the character, but he's been recontextualized so that he comes across as more of an affable buffoon, cheerfully getting into dangerous situations and provoking trouble without thinking things through. In his prior adventures, his godly status gave him an air of invulnerability. In "Ragnarok," the universe is not playing along, and makes him look like an idiot as often as it lets him look cool. Hemsworth is perfectly game for both. Loki, similarly, undergoes similar reworking so that he comes off as more vain, pathetic, and weaselly, to great comic effect. In this outing, he and Thor actually feel like brothers who have grown up together and been at odds since they were kids.

Thor spends most of the movie stuck on the junkyard world of Sakaar, ruled over by the tyrannical Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who ropes Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) into the gladiatorial games he puts on. Thor's biggest challenge is talking his few potential allies - including Hulk, Loki, and a former Asgardian warrior (Tessa Thompson) - into helping him return to Asgard to defeat the invader, Hela (Cate Blanchett), before she destroys the place. This is not easy when he's lost most of his powers, nobody knows or cares who he is, and he's completely cut off from all his friends on Asgard and Earth. Fans of the Marvel comics will recognize a good chunk of the story has been adapted from "Planet Hulk." Also note that the film completely ignores the human characters from the previous "Thor" films.

The cast is superb, but they're not all well served by the script. I was really looking forward to Cate Blanchett's appearance in the film, but there's not much for her to do except look imposing (which she does) and throw out the usual cliche villain dialogue about taking over the cosmos. At least she looks like she's having fun, and commands the screen with every appearance, but it still feels like a waste of Blanchett's talents. Our other major newcomer, Tessa Thompson, gets to show a little more personality and deliver better dialogue, but still pings as sorely underdeveloped. Were some of her scenes cut for time? I actually felt more for Skurge (Karl Urban), an Asgardian who Hela recruits as an underling, since he at least gets a full character arc.

The more comedic the character, the more successful. Jeff Goldblum is perfect as Grandmaster, while deviating very little from his usual persona. Taika Waititi himself voices Korg, a soft-spoken rock monster who Thor meets in the gladiatorial games. I liked Benedict Cumberbatch here in his brief scenes as Doctor Strange more than I liked him in his own movie, because he's played as just a totally arrogant bastard. Waititi's influence really comes out whenever the film just lets the characters interact and bounce off each other, highlighting the inherent absurdity of their situation. Thor's multiple attempts to reason with the Hulk are a highlight. Nobody makes the mistake of taking things too seriously, like the last "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie.

"Ragnarok" looks great too, full of wild Marvel alien designs, bright colors, and kitschy little aesthetic touches reminiscent of Jack Kirby comics and 1980s space fantasy like the "Flash Gordon" movie. There's tons of eye-popping CGI, of course, but the best moments are often the little visual gags like Thor getting clobbered by a ricocheting projectile while trying to break a window. Mark Mothersbaugh was responsible for the delightful electronica-heavy score, and whoever cleared the rights for the film to use Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" as Thor's battle theme gets the biggest cookie. When Thor gets to be cool in "Ragnarok," he gets to be really cool.

All in all, this is a huge improvement for Thor as a cinematic character, finally giving him a larger-scale story that fits his outsized persona. After three films, he finally feels like a hero worth rooting for on his own terms. And I'm glad Marvel and Taika Waititi weren't afraid to go off in an entirely new direction from the previous films to get him there. I think "Ragnarok" could have been better in some key areas, but overall I'm satisfied. It's a big silly action movie, and commits to that wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"The Last Jedi" (With Spoilers)

There's a scene early in the film that I feel is a good test of how a viewer is likely to react to "The Last Jedi." Princess Leia's has just been ejected from her ship into space, and is floating in the debris field, appearing to be dead. Then suddenly she revives and appears to fly with the use of the Force until she's safe onboard the vessel once more. It's a somewhat ridiculous visual out of context. However, the sight of Carrie Fisher seemingly coming back to life, backed by John Williams' immortal theme for Leia, left me teary eyed.

And so did the throne room fight scene. And the return of the puppet Yoda. And Luke Skywalker fighting Kylo Ren. And the glorious binary sunset leading into Luke fading away into nothingness. I know that the film was overlong, had a lot of weaker material, and really didn't do right by some of its characters, but the parts that were wonderful were so wonderful that I'm willing to forgive it more than I probably should. Frankly, this was the "Star Wars" film that I needed in order to stay invested in this universe. It answered all the questions I had, gave me nostalgic callbacks that were actually meaningful, and realized some pretty damn ambitious filmmaking. We got new Force powers! A kamikaze hyperspace jump attack! And Rey and Kylo Ren fought those sinister looking elite guards in the red armor, who always looked way too cool to just be background extras!

Clearly there were things that didn't work, or weren't developed enough to pass muster. Just about everything in Canto Bight fell into that category, which was a shame because what little we saw of the planet made me want to see more. Rose and Finn's romance was very awkwardly put together, but I still like both characters and appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do. Much more problematic was the material with Poe Dameron and Vice-Admiral Holdo, one of those dreaded extended conflicts that could have been sorted out if people were communicating properly. I don't think it would have taken much to improve that storyline either. As memorable as her exit was, this still felt like a waste of Laura Dern in what could have potentially been a very strong role. I suspect that the writers simply weren't as invested in these characters and their stories as they were with others.

These are many of the same issues that cropped up in the other post-Disney "Star Wars" movies, particularly "Rogue One" in its deeply flawed first and second acts. There's been a lot of chatter online about how the film was actively trying to subvert the fanbase's expectations related to a lot of the little mysteries that were set up in "The Force Awakens," like Rey's parentage. I think the issue was really that there were a lot of clever ideas that weren't handled well, not everything fit right, and the film gave some answers that people didn't like. It also had no end of tonal clashes and pacing problems. At 150 minutes, this was the longest "Star Wars" film and it certainly felt that way. Even with the bigger climactic moments sprinkled throughout, "The Last Jedi" is often a slog, and exhausting to watch.

However, it still got enough right that I'm plenty invested in where the story is going next. I expect that JJ Abrams coming back will mean a much more restrained final film, but also one that will have a lot more room to expand into new territory since "The Last Jedi" provided such a strong, definitive conclusion to Luke Skywalker's story. I'm looking forward to Rian Johnson making more "Star Wars" films, and maybe some of the problems he had here might be alleviated by being able to tackle a whole trilogy from the beginning. Another writer or two in the mix would also help. Johnson's got solid filmmaking fundamentals, but could use a little more finesse with the dialogue.

I'd expected to be much cooler on the movie after all the sturm and drang about it being such a disappointment to a certain segment of the fanbase. Instead, I'm absolutely delighted. Sure, the movie has flaws, and big ones. However, it was also made with love and care and more guts than I would have thought possible. And if it's got so many people this upset, it probably did something right.

"Star Wars" is dead. Long live "Star Wars."


Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Last Jedi" (Without Spoilers)

I loved "The Last Jedi." I don't know what all the controversy has been about, or all this business concerning subverted expectations and the disappointed fanbase, but I'll tell you that as a fan of "Star Wars" since I was eleven years old, I loved "The Last Jedi" unreservedly. And I haven't felt that way about anything "Star Wars" since the originals.

My biggest issue with "The Force Awakens" was that it felt like a Greatest Hits compilation of the first"Star Wars" trilogy crammed into a single movie, and didn't give enough of the spotlight over to the new characters. "The Last Jedi," though it pays obvious homage to the older films, and has particularly strong echoes of "The Empire Strikes Back," avoids this. Yes, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) living like a hermit on the craggy islands of the planet Ahch-To and training Rey (Daisy Ridley) is reminiscent of Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah, but the dynamics are different. A battle on the crystalline planet Crait resembles the one on Hoth, except that the mechanics and strategy are different.

More importantly, there is a significant sense of advancement in the story. Big things happen, and quickly. We aren't just visiting with old friends, but watching Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) off having their own meaningful adventures. And returning characters like Luke Skywalker and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are now in very different phases of their lives, and their stories are still steadily moving forward as well. Luke, for instance, naturally shows up in the aged master role, but he's very different from the Luke who appeared in the original trilogy, having become bitter and disenchanted with the notion of resurrecting the Jedi. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) continues to progress further down the path to the Dark Side while showing occasional flashes of doubt.

"The Last Jedi" is often an uneven outing because all these different characters aren't as equally compelling to watch. Finn and his new bestie Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) gallivanting around an intergalactic casino, and Poe recklessly plotting a mutiny against the infuriating Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), feel silly next to the juicy melodrama of Rey trying to convince Luke to join the Resistance, or Rey's Force visions of Kylo Ren. There's so much crammed into the movie, though, that even if you don't particularly enjoy one segment, the next one is likely to knock your socks off. Unfortunately this makes the film feel mightily overstuffed. By the time we got to the big finale at Crait, after what I thought was the big finale in space, and the big finale with Snoke, I was incredulous that we somehow still had another full act to get through. But it's one hell of an act.

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are still the strongest performers in the cast, and "The Last Jedi" gives them several scenes together, all very enjoyable. However, the performance that's really going to stay with me is Mark Hamill's as Luke Skywalker. Unlike the return of Han Solo in "The Force Awakens," Luke feels like someone who went and had a lifetime of adventures since we last saw him, someone familiar but who we don't really know anymore. Getting to know him again is a fantastic experience. There's also a substantial improvement in the portrayal of Princess Leia, who is given a more solid leadership role. The actors saddled with the weaker material, namely John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, still manage to nail their better moments when they can.

The production design is endlessly inventive, full of gorgeous new alien worlds, fantastic imagery, and flawless CGI. There are sequences on Ahch-To and Crait, and at least one shot in the big space battle, that I expect will be considered as iconic as anything from the original trilogy. John Williams' score does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting, but then it's been such a long time since any movie has allowed for that, it was a thrill. I'll be humming "Rey's Theme" for days.

As for the director, Rian Johnson, the last time I reviewed one of his movies, I declared that he was very close to making a great movie. I can't say that "The Last Jedi" is that movie, but it's one that feels more like a "Star Wars" movie than anything else I've seen in two decades.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

"Justice League" and the DC Movie Mess

Spoilers ahead.

Zack Snyder was the worst thing to happen to the DC films, and I can't say I'm sorry that he wound up sidelined from the "Justice League" after a personal tragedy. His vision of Superman and the other DC superheroes as these heavy, morose, tormented souls was a complete misunderstanding of their appeal, and worse, a bore. There's still a lot of this in "Justice League," and Joss Whedon's contributions to the film often clash terribly with them, but at least the resulting film is watchable, whereas Snyder's "Batman v. Superman" was not.

Let's focus on the good things first. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman remains a highlight, though she's not given much to do. I also enjoyed Ezra Miller's take on the Flash as a quippy, wet-behind-the-ears newcomer, and Jason Momoa as a shaggy, hard-living Aquaman. Momoa gets one of the movie's best laughs, in a scene involving Wonder Woman's lasso. Frankly, the fact that there are some genuine laughs, and that several of the actors display good rapport with each other, goes a long way toward making up for the rougher, more slapdash parts of the film. I was less impressed by the introductions of Ray Fisher's Cyborg and Amber Heard's Lady Mera, but there's still some potential there.

The movie did nothing, unfortunately, to improve the portrayals of either Batman or Superman. Affleck gamely plays along, but his Bruce Wayne is inert, and his Batman mostly relies on gadgets and vehicles. He seems to be around for exposition more than anything else. I found reports of Henry Cavill's digital mustache removal a little overblown, but he still feels awkwardly shoehorned into the last act of the movie, with nothing resolved about his status as a potential threat to the human race. The film's big crisis, involving the alien invader Steppenwolf, a CGI monstrosity voiced by Ciaran Hinds, is nothing egregiously bad, but it's certainly nothing interesting or enjoyable either.

The action scenes were thankfully comprehensible, in spite of the chaotic plotting that strings them together. Wonder Woman gets a good set piece early on, and and I liked the way the Flash's super-speed was shown in slow-motion. Ironically, it's one of Zack Snyder's little stylistic touches that actually makes sense in context. Aquaman's underwater sequences, however, were pretty poor. I have no idea how they're going to build a feature around this character when they clearly haven't figured out ocean-based action scenes for him yet. Then again, the "Aquaman" movie is being handled by a different director who only has to focus on one hero, so we'll have to wait and see.

I think that the series could continue in this vein for a few more films, and in the right hands it could improve. Joss Whedon, left to his own devices, would probably turn out something a little too close to the "Avengers" movies, but even a knockoff of "Avengers" would be a pretty good outcome considering how rocky the last few DC superhero movies have been. However, as a fan of these characters and this universe, there's a significant part of me that thinks that Warners should just scrap it all and start over from scratch. I expect Superman will need to be rebooted or at least heavily reworked again, as Snyder's just done so much damage to the character.

The upcoming slate of DC movies is totally made up of stand-alone features at the moment, plus the "Wonder Woman" sequel. I sincerely hope the Matt Reeves "Batman" feature can help to course correct the Affleck version of the character a bit, and that a successful "Shazam!" or "Aquaman" might encourage Warners to keep exploring the more obscure DC comics material for a while. "Flashpoint" has been long rumored, and that's the one I'd be the most interested in seeing with the current cast.

However, I don't have much interest in another "Justice League" in the short term, or see much of a future for this version of a shared DC universe. There's been such a stunning mismanagement of the DC IP over the past few years, I'm actually surprised "Justice League" wasn't worse than it ultimately was. I can only hope that the film's failure at the box office will eventually lead to significant changes at Warners, regarding the DC cinematic universe going forward.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Return of "Roseanne"

I've gotten into the habit of waiting until a season of television is over before writing anything about it, but I'm going to make an exception for the "Roseanne" revival.  For one thing, it's timely in a way that few pieces of media have been outside of late night, and has generated a lot of conversation. For another, the two episodes that aired last week already provide more than enough material to write a whole post about.

So it's been roughly twenty years since we last saw the Conners and Langford.  Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (John Goodman) are now in their sixties. Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has just moved back home with her two kids Harris (Emma Kenney) and Mark (Ames McNamara), after losing her job.  Widowed Becky (Lecy Goranson) works as a waitress and has agreed to be a surrogate mother for a wealthy woman named Andrea (Sarah Chalke). DJ (Michael Fishman) is fresh out of the army, taking care of his daughter Mary (Jayden Rey) while his wife is still stationed overseas.  Finally, Roseanne is in the middle of a feud with Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), and they haven't spoken since the election.

Most importantly, the show's creators decided that the last, weird, nutball season didn't really happen.  So Dan survived his heart attack, and the Conners are still working class and struggling to get by. There are definitely some new challenges - Roseanne is now "Granny Rose" to a biracial granddaughter and a grandson who is more comfortable in a skirt, while Darlene struggles with being a single parent.  Still, most things are the same. Roseanne and Dan remain loving and abrasive. Darlene and Becky trade insults constantly. Jackie is still a basket case. The Conner homestead is almost totally unchanged. Some of the actors are a little rusty in the first episode, noticeably Gilbert and Goranson, but they settle in by the second.

And by and large, the show is able to pick up almost right where it left off.  The laughs come easily, and the moments of melodrama have some surprising bite.  The show is uncomfortably genuine at times, reflecting middle and lower class America in a way that not much other American media does.  There's been a lot of press about Roseanne being a vocal Trump supporter, which is at the center of her feud with Jackie. The show keeps the actual politics offscreen, only mentioning Jill Stein by name, but it's still unnerving to hear Roseanne firing off right wing slogans without a hint of irony.  That's a good thing, though. It wouldn't be "Roseanne" if it wasn't going against the grain in some capacity.

As a revival, "Roseanne" is among the better ones I've seen.  The changes in the characters feel very organic, and the show's '90s sitcom format still works fine.  Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman remain the MVPs of the cast, as they always were, but I found that I was happiest to see Roseanne herself almost exactly the way I remembered her - opinionated, loud, uncompromising, and yet terribly endearing.  The second episode was much better than the first, as it puts the Conners in the middle of a new parenting (and grandparenting) dilemma, and watches them deal with it in their typically raucous and blunt, but entirely well-meaning manner.

There are several nods toward nostalgia, including a very prominent voice-over right up front stating that "Roseanne" was taped in front of a live studio audience.  This also doubles as a disclaimer that the occasional "Oooohs" we hear in response to Roseanne and Jackie trading snarky political barbs are genuine. The little self-referential bits, like Dan finding Roseanne's book where he was killed off don't work as well, but I'm hoping the creators got most of that out of their systems after the first episode.    

It'll be interesting to see how the revival does in the long run.  I want to see if they'll handle race issues better this time around, and whether some of the old faces like Leon and Bev and Crystal wil return.  We've been promised that the politics aren't coming back, but I wish that they would. "Roseanne" could probably handle digging a little deeper into the psyche of a Trump supporter, and this is one of the better platforms for it.  Maybe next year - because it's already obvious that there needs to be a next year for this show.