Friday, July 21, 2023

Almost Paradise, Season Two, on Freevee

Don't go to Barbie. Watch the second season of this Philippines-set cop show instead. Yes, they are vastly different, particularly in terms of their ethical bearings. Barbie features a child-like rendering of China’s imperialistic “Nine-Dash Line,” which asserts their illegal claims to the waters and fishing rights of the South China Sea, way beyond its borders. The studio claims their prop map just coincidentally resembles the CCP’s notorious Nine-Dash Line, but has there ever been a film that lavished greater attention on its art direction and design details than Barbie?

In contrast, the third episode of
Almost Paradise’s second season directly addresses the dire economic hardships experienced by Filipino fisherman as the result of China’s naval imperialism. There are also ten new crimes for the somewhat unlikely trio of detectives to solve in season two of creators Dean Devlin & Gary Rosen’s Almost Paradise, which premieres today on Freevee.

Almost Paradise sounds vaguely familiar, season one premiered on WGN, back in 2020. Now, it is a Freevee, show, but little else has changed, except Alex Walker’s formerly high blood pressure. For health reasons, he retired from the DEA and moved to Cebu, where he had fond memories from his first case. He actually got healthier, despite working several cases with Mactan detectives Kai Mendoza and Ernesto Alamares, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes through his unwelcome initiative. Their boss, politically savvy (but not corrupt) Chief Ike Ocampo is always eager for the benefits of Walker’s DEA experience—and contacts. The ambitious Mendoza and the Zen-like Alamares are impressive, whereas Walker is grizzled and burned-out, but his new Filipino friends steadily rejuvenate his soul.

Almost Paradise
is a very traditional throwback-style of detective show, in that all ten episodes of season two can easily stand alone. There is a recurring villain, Vargas “The Water-Boarder,” a drug lord Walker busted in the first season, but each episode has its own self-contained arc. In terms of theme and tone, the series should appeal to fans of Lenkov-verse shows like Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-O, but it also incorporates Filipino and Cebuano culture in smart, interesting ways.

The first episode, “The Magellan Cross,” refers to a relic of early colonial times, but it might be the weakest of the season, so keep going. “Breaking Badminton” is indeed set in a dodgy badminton club, which is about as Philippines as it gets. “A Fishfolk Tale” calls out the Chinese maritime grab by name, while showing how the resulting hardships exacerbated tensions between two clans of fishing families.

“Ghost Month” (S2E6) might be the best episode, exploring local belief in “hungry ghosts,” without completely undermining the supernatural themes with a pat “Scooby Doo” ending. “All In” is a clever caperish installment, wherein Walker agrees to test the security of a luxury casino owned by Ann Villegas, the heiress he is trying to romance, while “Uncoupled” handles some creepy cult stuff pretty well within its forty-some-minute time constraints, when Walker and Mendoza go undercover in a New Age couples retreat.

Some of the humor at Walker’s expense gets a little shticky, but Christian Kane can shift from fish-out-of-water comedy to deadly serious action-standoffs with remarkable speed and flexibility. Clearly, Samantha Richelle should be a future star for her action cred and her screen presence. Art Acuna perfectly compliments her as the lowkey, wryly observant Alamares. The trio has nice chemistry together, which wears well over the course of season two. Dante Basco snarls with gusto, making Vargas an appropriately fierce nemesis, while Max Collins is effectively femme fatale-ish for Walker, as the seductive yet unattainable Villegas.

The elements are admittedly familiar, but the Filipino twists keep it fresh. Clearly, the producers (including the Filipino-American Devlin) have an affinity for the local culture and empathy for the people (whereas
Barbie will throw them under the bus to please the Chinese censors). If you like cop shows, definitely watch Almost Paradise. If you like international law, skip Barbie. Recommended for fans of beach-adjacent detective shows, the second season of Almost Paradise starts streaming today (7/21) on Freevee.