Category Archives: television

Soundtrack Review: Altered Carbon (2018)

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Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. In Netflix’s Altered Carbon, Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitized; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent.

Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder … that of Bancroft himself.

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The soundtrack is composed by Jeff Russo, who has also composed music for Star Trek: Discovery and Fargo. For the latter, Russo earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special in 2017. Russo began his music career in 1990, after founding his rock band TONIC. The group quickly achieved great success and in 2003, received two Grammy nominations, one for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” for “Take Me As I Am,” and one for “Best Rock Album.” The band was a great showcase for Russo’s guitar work and songwriting that allowed him to branch out and begin his solo career in producing and composing.

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I’d heard that the soundtrack for Altered Carbon was unusual for a story in the cyberpunk genre, and now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack album I can definitely attest that this is true. As a general rule, the music in any show or film set in the future (and particularly in a cyberpunk future like Altered Carbon) has an “edgy futuristic” feel to it. Notable examples of this practice include: Blade Runner and its sequel; Automata; The Machine and Forbidden Planet. These films have soundtracks with weird electronic noises, guitar riffs and descents into heavy rock beats during action sequences.

But the soundtrack for Altered Carbon doesn’t do this. Instead, the music, beginning with the “Main Title” has a mysterious quality to it. There are long, held-out string drones that combine with soft vocals (that are half muttering, half singing) and a cello solo. The opening title has the slightest touch of a drum beat, but it only lasts for a short time and doesn’t dominate the track.

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Most of the album: “Consciousness,” “Bancroft Shows Kovacs,” “Her Daughter,” and “Attacked by Troopers” are all variations on the same musical arrangement: strings with a prominent solo cello, combined with female vocalizations and an on-again/off-again background of electronic music. This is not a bad thing: In fact it shows that the world of Altered Carbon has a consistent musical background (and consistency is never a bad thing in film and television music). It’s actually refreshing to listen to a science fiction soundtrack that doesn’t include heavy rock music. Jeff Russo has composed a beautiful soundtrack for an amazing show. If you haven’t watched it yet, the first season is currently available on Netflix. The soundtrack became digitally available from Lakeshore Records as of February 9th, 2018.

Let me know your thoughts on Altered Carbon and its soundtrack in the comments below! My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

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Cancelled Too Soon #14: The Handler (2003-2004)

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You ever hear the expression “Too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup?” Well, there’s a similar turn of phrase in television “Too much tinkering will ruin a television show” and that’s exactly what happened with the CBS crime series The Handler. Starring Joe Pantoliano (two notable roles include Cypher in The Matrix and Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos) and created by Canadian writer-producer Chris Haddock, the series followed FBI agent Joe Renato (Pantoliano), whose job is to train and “handle” young undercover FBI agents (hence the title “The Handler.”) Co-stars included: Hill Harper as Darnell; Anna Belknap as Lily; Lola Glaudini as Heather and Tanya Wright as Marcy.

The show followed a format similar to most crime shows: in each episode the team must use their skills as undercover agents to stop a particular criminal or gang by the end of the episode (including jewel thieves; bank robbers; white collar crime and “black widow” schemes among others).

The show debuted on September 26th, 2003 to tremendous ratings, prompting CBS to order a full 22 episodes for the show’s first season. But then…things turned sideways. After initially scoring high ratings, the numbers began to go down as the season went on. Suddenly the promise of 22 episodes contracted to 16. As show creator Chris Haddock tells it, by this point there were so many people with their own ideas as to where the show should go that the ratings only dropped further and the show was abruptly dropped after episode 14 (episodes 15 and 16 were never aired, even though a preview for episode 15 was shown on TV).

I was so disappointed to see this show disappear from television. Pantoliano did an amazing job in the role of Joe Renato (not to be too cliche but there was never a dull moment when he was onscreen). Unfortunately, to my knowledge, these episodes have never been released on DVD nor are they currently available for streaming (if anyone has information to the contrary please let me know because I would love to watch this show again).

And there’s my look at The Handler, another television show with a good concept that was cancelled too soon. If you saw this show during its brief life, did you like it? Do you think it was a mistake for the show to be cancelled? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

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See also:

Cancelled Too Soon #1: Constantine (2014-2015)

Cancelled Too Soon #2: Terra Nova (2011)

Cancelled Too Soon #3: Dracula (2013-2014)

Cancelled Too Soon #4: Moonlight (2007-2008)

Cancelled Too Soon #5: Firefly (2002)

Cancelled Too Soon #6: Birds of Prey (2002)

Cancelled Too Soon #7: Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

Cancelled Too Soon #8: Dr. Vegas (2004)

Cancelled Too Soon #9: Lone Star (2010)

Cancelled Too Soon #10: Alphas (2011-2012)

Cancelled Too Soon #11: Kindred: The Embraced (1996)

Cancelled Too Soon #12: The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000)

Cancelled Too Soon #13: Joan of Arcadia (2003-2005)

New TV series ‘Krypton’ receives a full trailer

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Krypton trailer

Okay, I admit, I might be able to get into this series after all.

When it was first announced (what feels like a million years ago) that SyFy was producing a TV show set on Krypton and following Superman’s grandfather as a young man, my first instinct was to roll my eyes and mutter “Great, just what we need, another show to rewrite some of the backstory for Superman.” In another time, I might have been excited about the concept were it not for the fact that I consider myself overexposed to superheroes and their inevitable origin stories. Therefore, I was determined to ignore Krypton.

And then the full trailer came out. Suffice it to say I was…intrigued.

In the trailer, Seg-El (the future Superman’s grandfather) is a young man dealing with the fact that the House of El, hitherto highly respected, has now been ostracized and shamed (for reasons as yet unknown). His life is further turned upside down when he encounters Adam Strange, a time traveler from Earth, who tells Seg-El that he needs to save Krypton because in his (Adam’s) time, Seg-El’s grandson becomes “the greatest hero in the universe.” But this admission of what’s to come leaves Seg-El in a bind (one that I suspect will be the overriding arc of the series): having an idea of what’s to come, does he work to save Krypton from destruction and thereby change history…or does he work to make sure that the original timeline is preserved?

Of course, given that it would cause way too many conundrums to have Krypton be saved, we all know what Seg-El’s eventual decision will be, but I have the feeling the series will (hopefully) take some interesting turns on the way to the inevitable conclusion (aka Krypton goes BOOM!) Would it sound weird if I said I hope that a series finale includes some visuals of Krypton’s destruction? Hopefully the series gets that far, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see for now.

Krypton is currently set to premiere on March 21st, 2018 on the SyFy channel.

Are you excited to learn more about the House of El and seeing life on Krypton before it blew up? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Soundtrack Review: The Walking Dead (2010-present)

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Unbelievably, in over seven years, there has never been a soundtrack release from The Walking Dead…until now. Composer Bear McCreary chose his personal favorites from the innumerable themes he has written for the series, along with tracks the fans begged to have included. Selections from the soundtrack include:

  • The Walking Dead “Main Theme”
  • “Sophia”
  • “Carl”
  • “Farm Invasion”
  • “Welcome to the Tombs”
  • “Negan”

This is just a sampling of what’s available, as there are 23 tracks in total. The “Main Theme” is probably one of the most iconic pieces from the series. The quickly moving strings that turn dark as the credits show how civilization has completely broken down (time winding to a stop, buildings decomposing, etc.), it just sucks you in to this (thankfully) fictional world where the dead walk and life as we know it will never be “normal” again (I haven’t watched in years but I AM curious as to what the endgame of this series will be, because nothing lasts forever).

And then there’s “Sophia.” Oh Sophia Sophia…the fate of that little girl came in one of the last episodes I remember watching and this theme fits her so perfectly. This young girl who had to live through the worst kind of apocalypse and (spoiler alert) ultimately didn’t make it deserves a theme that highlights her nature and this theme delivers. It is unexpectedly rich, warm at times, but there is always a hint of sadness, almost like McCreary was foreshadowing her fate (and he likely was). The detail I like the best is, in the middle of the theme, there is a hint of what sounds like a music box, something that is often associated with young girls. I liked that little touch to “Sophia.”

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“Carl” is very different from some of the others because, until the last 30 seconds, it is entirely piano. It reminds me very much of this scene where Carl “rescues” a can of chocolate pudding from a ruined house and eats it while sitting on the roof contemplating his surroundings. Now in the last 30 seconds some relatively ominous strings come in, but the piano simply repeats its theme. It’s simple, but beautiful in its simplicity.

“Farm Invasion” actually reminded me very strongly of his theme for Constantine (the short-lived TV show) and that’s because it’s a perfect blend of classical and rock elements. There are strings, yes, but there is also drums, modern percussion, I do believe there is an electric guitar mixed in as well. The snapped strings (a technique where you hold up the violin/viola/cello/bass string and let it snap back against the fingerboard) create the effect of gunshots and given the title of the theme, that seems very appropriate. You can almost follow the action that this scene accompanied: any time the group directly confronts walkers, the music is in your face, up-tempo, heavy string snaps. When they’re running or there’s some emotional drama, it pulls back a bit (but not by much). There’s an awesome guitar moment around 4:28 as well. What makes McCreary’s music so good is that it pulls you in by constantly keeping the pace moving, there’s no way to lose interest. I also hear fragments of the main theme mixed in, or at least something reminiscent of it. But when I say fragments I mean that literally; it sounds “broken”, like he took the theme and smashed it apart. This is a much longer track (almost 9 full minutes) but it is definitely worth listening to.

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The last track I will highlight is “Negan” and boy oh boy, based on everything I’ve heard, this theme describes him perfectly. The opening note is this long synthetic “whine” that immediately puts you on edge. And what’s interesting is, you’re not confronted with the “idea” of Negan right away in the music. It’s not until the electric guitar comes in that you realize HERE is the essence of Negan, and it’s nothing good. It’s dark, ominous and I’m kind of glad I left the series before he was introduced because some of the things he’s done would’ve completely broken me.

And that’s my look into the soundtrack of The Walking Dead. I highly recommend this soundtrack, not just for fans of the show, but also if you’re a fan of really good television music. Bear McCreary is one of the best in the business and it definitely shows here. Enjoy!

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Soundtrack Review: Stranger Things 2

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First off, I have a shocking confession to make. I have not seen a single episode of Stranger Things. It’s not that I don’t WANT to, but when it came down to subscribing to Netflix or Hulu…Hulu won. But I’ve heard amazing things about it (most of my friends are in love with the series) especially that the music soundtrack is very good. So when the opportunity came to review the soundtrack for the second season of Stranger Things, naturally I leaped at the opportunity.

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The album became available for digital download on October 20th, and a physical CD release will be coming later (along with an LP version). The music was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. The pair won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for their work on the first season of Stranger Things (2016). Their first season soundtrack was also nominated for a Grammy Award.

The first thing I have to say about this soundtrack…it is huge! There are 34 track listings which is a lot of music to find in a soundtrack. The average soundtrack album has around 12-14 tracks (more if it’s a “deluxe edition” or something of that ilk).

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The second thing I noticed straight away: none of the tracks are particularly long. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it’s actually refreshing to have a list of tracks that aren’t all ten minutes or more in length. Most of the tracks are between two and three minutes in length, which is more than enough time to get a feel for the music. And speaking of the music…

The music for the second season of Stranger Things sounds amazing! Since the series is set in the 1980s, the music has a distinct 80s sound, which means a lot of synthesizers in the mix. Particular favorites I’d like to highlight include: “Home”, “She wants me to find her”, “The First Lie” and “Connect the Dots.” This last one is particularly interesting to me because the title refers to “dots” and the music itself is full of “dots”, that is to say, there are many plunking sounds that create an aural image of dots in the imagination.

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I do have one small criticism of the overall soundtrack. Because so many of the tracks use synthesizers, some of the tracks have the tendency to sound very similar to one another.

Bottom line: if you love Stranger Things, you will definitely love this soundtrack. And if you’re like me and you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, then this soundtrack will make you want to go see it as soon as possible.

The digital album of Strangers Things 2 is available now, keep an eye out for the physical CD release in the near future. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: Teen Wolf (2011-present)

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Teen Wolf is an American television series that airs on MTV (the final season is currently airing). It is loosely based on the 1985 Teen Wolf film and tells the story of Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), a teenager who is bitten by a werewolf and must learn to live with the consequences. The soundtrack is composed by Dino Meneghin, who has worked on the series since its premiere in 2011 (which has really allowed for the musical themes to develop). The soundtrack for Teen Wolf was released on September 15th, so be sure to check it out!

In listening to any television soundtrack, I like to start with the main title. This sets the tone for any series and is usually a good indicator of what you’re going to get (that’s why McCreary’s theme for Constantine is one of my favorites). The main title for Teen Wolf is largely what I expected for a series of this kind: fast-paced, frenetic, a blend of symphonic instruments and electronic sounds, with a firm drum beat as well. I say this is what I expected, but that does not make it a bad thing. This is a show aimed at young adults after all, so the sound is right for that audience.

The next piece I listened to was “Hellhound” and for a few seconds I wondered if the track had been mislabeled. It starts out very soft and quiet, not what you’d expect. And then, out of nowhere, there’s a HUGE crash of drumbeats and you finally have the feeling of something menacing going on. It was still more melodic than I expected for the track title, but I enjoyed listening to it.

Of all the tracks I heard, “Fear Defeated” might be my favorite (with the main title running a close second). The track begins with an eerie sort of sound, followed by a strange clanking noise. I think this might be a mallet dragged over xylophones, or better yet, it may be the xylophone bars themselves clanked together to make a really creepy sound. The music then shifts into a dark and at times triumphant symphonic quality that I really enjoyed listening to. It really felt like the music you might hear in a movie, not a television show.


One thing I’ve taken away from listening to these recent television soundtracks is that the nature of television scoring has really changed from the early years. In some high-quality productions (most notably Game of Thrones), the music is so complex and thematic that it really stands on the same level as film music. But even in smaller (compared to GoT) productions, the music is now more symphonic, more nuanced and I couldn’t be happier. Whether it be television or film, music is often the make or break ingredient in any production.

I hope you enjoyed this short look into the music of Teen Wolf, the soundtrack is available now if you’d like to hear it in full. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: BoJack Horseman (2014-present)

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Well this is…different. I’ve never really watched BoJack Horseman, but I’ve heard enough of my friends talking about it that I decided it was worth checking out the soundtrack. If you haven’t seen it, the story takes place in an alternate world (largely in the Los Angeles and Hollywood area) where humans live side by side with tailless anthropomorphic animals. BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is the washed-up star of a 90’s sitcom called Horsin’ Around and seeks to re-ignite his stardom via a tell-all autobiography. The series is a satire of Hollywood and celebrity culture.

I sampled several pieces of the soundtrack that was composed by Jesse Novak and the music makes it pretty clear that this is not your typical show. Oddly enough, I found myself drawn to “BoJack’s Theme” which I can only describe as a quirky mesh of synthesizer, drums and brass that has a rather jazz-like tone to it. It’s actually pretty catchy in that I feel that it is growing on me.

“Seaport” also heavily employs synthesizer, and actually reminded me of a short theme from an anime (one of those scenes were the camera is pulling back and showing the viewer a landscape).

I was pleasantly surprised to find several songs on the soundtrack as well, the two I came across were “I Will Always Think of You” and “Back in the 90’s.” Now I haven’t seen any episodes of the show, but it sounds like these are being sung by BoJack (please correct me if I’m wrong on this detail). I say I was pleasantly surprised because, well, most television soundtracks don’t have songs (You’re The Worst is another wonderful exception). “I Will Always Think of You” is actually a really nice song, it’s a duet between a male and female singer, and it really puts me in mind of a classic love song circa the 1950s/60s (this reminds me of something Sinatra might have crooned back in the day).

All together, the soundtrack for BoJack Horseman turned out to be full of many pleasant surprises. Season 4 premiered on Netflix on September 8th, so if you haven’t checked out the series, I officially recommend it and I also recommend checking out the soundtrack. My deepest thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available so I could review it. I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the music of BoJack Horseman.

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