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GODLESS and DARK: two new Netflix series that are mildly compelling…

Posted on December 5th, 2017
Posted on December 5th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

“Godless” (all episodes now available on Netflix) – The small Wild West town of La Belle, New Mexico, populated almost entirely by women, struggles to come back after a mining accident kills most of the male population. It soon becomes the target of the genocidal outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) when his number one gunfighter, Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) turns on him and seeks refuge there, showing up wounded on a nearby ranch run by a widow, Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery). With Griffin bearing down on them and with no means of escape, the citizens of La Belle prepare to defend themselves from the imminent massacre.

What’s fun about “Godless” is how channels a variety of Westerns that came before it. Some aspects feel like “Deadwood” and others like “Open Range”, “The Hateful Eight” and “Legends of the Fall” until slowly turns into a thinly-veiled remake of “The Magnificent Seven” towards the end. It’s not consistent but the influences are fun and easy to spot.

The show boasts an impressive, recognizable cast. The characters are well-written and most of the primaries get decent story-arcs. The best character is easily Mary Agnes (Merrit Wever of “The Walking Dead”), a tomboy sister of the sheriff who has taken a reluctant leadership role in the town. She is also a talented gunfighter, resulting in some satisfying scenes every time she wields a weapon. I hope Wever gets cast in more fun roles like this one.

However, the plotting is weak and often doesn’t make sense. The storylines are clunky and slow until the final episode. Characters run off for no good reason, only to return at convenient times or not at all. A ghost appears for no explicable reason, minor characters turn out to be ridiculously superhuman in battle while formidable characters are gunned down at annoying moments. There are unequal measures of brutality and sappiness that feel like they belong in stories of different tones. Plus there is some sort of ridiculous symbolism involving bees. It could have been put together better but it’s competent enough to enjoy.

“Godless” is presented as a ‘limited series’, meaning there are no plans for a second season, which works considering the series finale wrapped everything up. Not well, but it is a conclusion with a sense of finality.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“Dark” (all episodes now available on Netflix) – In a small German town near next to a nuclear plant, the residents are on edge after a high school student goes missing. Another teenage boy, Jonas (Louis Hoffmann) who lost his father to an unexplained suicide becomes the focal point of a mystery that connects many members of the community and has something to do with a tragedy from thirty-three years in the past. A mysterious letter, an ominous warning from a senile man, a howl coming from a cave in the woods, all the phones in town ringing at once and another disappearance of a child signals that the tragedy is repeating itself and that something terrible has arrived into their lives. Plus there are hints that ‘time travel’ may be involved.

Netflix is marketing “Dark” as a spiritual successor to “Stranger Things” and that makes sense from a marketing perspective, but the show is only similar in a superficial way. Tonally, it has more in common with darker episodes of “The X-Files”, “Twin Peaks” and the 2001 film “Donnie Darko”. Unlike those shows, “Dark” is utterly humorless and struggles to give the audience a chance to find levity with or likability in the characters. Like “Stranger Things”, there is some sort of connection to the 80’s, but instead of fun nostalgia, it’s a downer whenever any of these references are revealed as they are tied to morbidity.

“Dark” begins very bleak and based on the first two episodes, it won’t get any lighter. The mystery is a compelling one, but so far it seems mostly to involve the characters holding back secrets that need quick answering in order for the story to move forward. Hopefully the rest of it will unfold organically and the characters can find something other than tragedy to bond them together. So far, it’s off to a interesting start, but audiences will have to endure some gloomy German melodrama in order to get to the meat of it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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