Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

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Daily Bread [2017] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

When a solar flare passes through the earth’s atmosphere, all electricity and electronic devices cease to work, which throws the entire planet into chaos. The cast and crew of a famous cooking show are stranded in a mansion in the middle of nowhere, a group of isolated preppers, and a homeschool colony are all forced to cross paths in unlikely ways as they fight for survival with guns and MRE’s. In the end, who will survive the deadly new world that’s been created since the power went off?

Production Quality (1 point)

On the bright side of this season, a lot of good time and money was spent on the video quality and drone shots in the episodes. Thus, for the most part, camera work is acceptable. The same can be said for the sets, locations, and props, even if some of them are overused (liked num-chucks). One of the most glaring issues to point out in this production relates to audio quality, as there are a lot of loud background sounds in outdoor scenes and echoes in indoor scenes. The audio as a whole is very uneven as many scenes are full of clattering noises and as the soundtrack is all over the map since many songs are not situation-appropriate and since the music often overpowers spoken dialogue. It goes without saying that the introductory sequence is arguably better than the rest of the series, mostly due to the fact that the editing throughout the season is horrific with many cut-off scenes and many choppy transitions that throw scenes at the audience one after the other with little organization. As a whole, unfortunately, while there could have been something here, it just didn’t pan out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Needless to say, it gets worse too. The most glaring issue with the plot is obviously the 48340982 characters that have to be kept up with due to the sheer number of subplots that this season forces upon the viewer. For the first half of the season, every episode is constantly introducing new characters to the point of embarrassment. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the sheer number of subplots throughout the course of this season, and this causes many subplots and storylines to become ‘extra’ and easily discard-able. Even if these subplots were the best in the world, it’s very difficult to understand the actual point of people randomly wandering around and acquiring guns and possessions in violent ways immediately after the power grid collapses. What are the characters defending themselves from? How are we supposed to know who they are as people? What does any of it have to do with a cooking show? Any hope or time there was for real content was frivolously used on trivial scenes and utterly purposeless asides. Narration randomly pops up throughout the course of the season, and flashbacks are used inconsistently where they should have been a focal point. A more consistent use of them would have been one of the only ways to fix this mess, along with eliminating nearly half of the characters and coming up with a real central focus other than prepping for an unknown and unseen apocalypse. What’s going on in the world outside of these characters? What is the government’s response? These are all unanswered questions that would be pertinent in this genre rather than sequences of forced drama, conversations depicting off-screen content that seems way more interesting than the actual season, cooking montages, and literal recitations of the Constitution and other forced Christian content. Basically, it’s better luck next time with trying a different genre.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Due to the high number of characters, this obviously leads to the assembling of a giant cast. One would think this would mask the minor weaknesses of some cast members, but that’s not the case as there are many acting errors, including overly practiced line delivery and stiff emotions. Some line delivery is half-hearted, unsure, and slightly mistaken at times, and many scenes depict cast members awkwardly standing around talking to each other like they’re not really filming a scene because it seems impromptu. Besides this portion of acting, the costuming is extremely random, and the hair and makeup do not jive with the notion that these people have been trying to survive an apocalypse away from civilization for days. Basically, this is just another mistake-prone aspect of this season.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, there are many, many storylines to contend with here, but despite this, there is actually some continuity between the episodes. However, the story and character arcs aren’t any good since there are no substantial instances of character growth or dynamic storytelling. There are, of course, the usual instances of romantic subplots and villain plans, but other than that, there’s not much continuity to mention here.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt in the world that Christian entertainment is starved for new genres and new concepts, and we have to commend this creative team for sticking their necks out there to try something unique, but this isn’t the way to do it. Regardless of genre, characters have to always be deep because audiences want to connect with real, accessible people. Science fiction stories can be difficult to write and even more difficult to produce professionally, which is why proper planning and truly creative writing are essential. The budget may not be there, but if the storyline is dynamic, it shows that the creator is ready for bigger and better things. If you’re faithful with the little God’s provided you, He will give you the bigger budget down the road.

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points


The King’s Messengers, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Anwaar Osem and David Sutherland are on the run from the powerful force that has taken over the American government and has sent its enforcers to capture and kill those who resist their anti-Christian rule.  As they hide in the woods, they decide to record the truth about Christianity for all the world to see, even though the enforcement tries to stamp it out.  Will they be able to spread the truth and save people’s lives before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Despite a somewhat strong beginning and several years of production experience, this Crystal Creek series is not what it should be.  Camera work is very shaky throughout, like a camcorder is being used.  Video quality is fine, but there are way too many scenes filmed in the dark.  Audio quality is also below standard as sound effects that sound like they came from Final: The Rapture are included.  The soundtrack is also underwhelming.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited and cheap-looking.  Finally, editing in this series is very poor a lot of unnecessary scenes and sequences are included, seemingly just to make the ‘episodes’ longer.  In short, a 2017 production should be much higher quality than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though there are plenty of potentially interesting and creative ideas at the heart of this series, they are never properly developed.  This season overall lacks focus as it relies on a very vague and unexplained dystopian premise and stock suspense dialogue.  There are far too many unrelated and empty characters that are put through unrealistic circumstances.  The subplots are overall disjointed and any ‘twists’ that are employed are actually quite cheesy.  Finally, the end of this season is very confusing and really doesn’t inspire one to want a second season.  It’s very difficult to see the justification for this so-called series.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Can someone explain to us why Daniel Knudsen consistency uses an obviously fake British accent?  It’s very off-putting and annoying.  Elsewhere, this is a typical Crystal Creek cast with a few new additions that have some talent.  However, acting coaching is still lacking as a lot of the line delivery in this series is monotone and phoned in.  Emotions are difficult to grasp.  It’s possible that this cast could do better with coaching, however.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Each so-called ‘episode’ is basically just the same plot over and over again.  Thus, there are no character arcs or real plot twists, as previously mentioned.  The format this ‘series’ is placed in makes it more like a movie than a season, since the breaks between the episodes are totally arbitrary and unnecessary.  They all run together, thus creating zero continuity.

Conclusion

We are certain that the Crystal Creek Media team means well, so we hope they will accept constructive criticism and use it improve in the future.  They have the drive to make movies and series, which is good, and they have the means to consistently produce them, though not very well.  They definitely like to build strong messages in their stories, but they need to build strong stories to hold their message properly.  They need to pool their resources to make one good production rather than a collection of bad ones.  Finally, their acting pool is limited, but they can be worked with if better coaching is employed.  We know all of this is easier said than done, but it’s so worth it in the end.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points