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Stranger Things s1, Atlanta s1, Krampus (2015), Childish Gambino, The Hamilton Mixtape

December 7, 2016

“Stranger Things” s1 – This is the best show that I’ve seen in 2016. It’s a throwback to 1980’s horror/sci-fi that felt like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. meets Stephen King’s It (the novel, not the movie). I was pretty much giddy the whole time I was watching it. The show manages to be incredibly fun while not taking itself too seriously, which makes its supernatural plot easy to swallow. The cast in this thing is phenomenal. I’ll be shocked if Wynona Ryder doesn’t get an Emmy nomination as she does arguably the best work of her career here, and Millie Bobby Brown is a child star revelation that probably deserves one too. David Harbour as the sheriff is also excellent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of the members of the young cast go on to have solid acting careers – it’s a very well rounded ensemble performance. I honestly have no idea where the writers can go in season two, but I can’t wait to see what they do next. You are really doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen this yet. 5/5 (Must Watch)

“The League” s2 – I took a very long break between the first half of this season and the second half, so I’ll just comment on the latter, which gave us classic stuff like “Vinegar Strokes” and Andre’s appearance as an expert witness. Andre’s testimony is the hardest I’ve laughed watching T.V. in a long time. I like Jenny’s inclusion into The League as she fits in very well with the guys and her success is an added bonus in emasculating Kevin. I’m not sure if I like Ruxin or not – Nick Kroll is funny sometimes, but usually I just find him over-the-top and annoying. 3.5/5 (Decent/Good Stuff)

“Atlanta” s1 – Donald Glover is a genius. Seriously, I have tremendous respect for his work ethic. He’s as talented an entertainer as anyone in the industry right now. This show is his creation as he stars in it, as well as directs and writes a number of episodes. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from “Atlanta” and it still shocked me. This show is completely bonkers. On one hand, it’s a realistic look at what it’s like to be a young black man on the verge of stardom in the rap game (or in his entourage) and on the other hand, it’s whatever it wants to be. Seriously, anything goes. Glover is solid as Earn, Paperboi’s manager and cousin, and Lakeith Stanfield’s (Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) Darius is definitely a series highlight. I highly recommend this unique show; it’s smart and funny, but I advise keeping an open mind while watching it and multiple viewings are recommended.
4.5/5 (Good Stuff/Must See)

Krampus (2015) – This is a fun horror/comedy that I overlooked until I walked through the maze at Universal Studio’s Hollywood Horror Nights and thought “okay, I need to watch that.” I’m not sure Krampus is going to join the elite horror movie monsters, but there is definite franchise potential here and the Christmas setting makes for a unique premise that really hasn’t been done well since Gremlins. A lot of times, horror movies will introduce a bunch of one dimensional and unlikable people (and one heroine) before systematically killing them off, but Krampus gives us more of the Home Alone/Christmas Vacation lovably flawed crowd, so when they start disappearing, it actually stings a little – and the kids aren’t off limits here. The movie has some solid visual effects and the makeup for Krampus himself is A+ stuff. This is a definite recommendation for fans of the horror genre – although it’s on the lighter side of scary – and an all around fun film. Sequels are inevitable. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Hamilton Mixtape – This is a solid supplement to the fantastic cast recordings of the Broadway phenomenon. There is great original music from The Roots, Common, Nas, and the mastermind himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus standout covers by Usher and Alicia Keys. I was kind of disappointed with the Chance The Rapper and Francis and the Lights rendition of “Theodosia,” which I was really looking forward to, and there are a number of songs by lesser known artists that are definitely the weaker moments on the mixtape. Queen Latifah and Ashanti and Ja Rule make some nice throwback appearances. Overall, a good album with great moments.
6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love” – More Donald Glover brilliance. Yeah, the kid makes good music too. This album sees Glover’s transition from solid rapper into great musician fully realized – it’s not a rap album, it’s a tribute/cautionary tale to his baby boy disguised as a convincing Prince impression. “Redbone” is a candidate for my favorite song of the year, featuring possibly the best production I’ve heard in 2016 and a solid performance by Gambino that is greatly enhanced by vocal effects – it’s song-making perfection. “Zombies,” “Baby Boy,” and “Terrified” are other highlights, and truly, the more I listen to the album, the more it is growing on me. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

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