| August 3, 2020
Television is so much a part of this experience of being locked down… so I’ll skip to those adventures before getting back to movies.
Let’s start by paying tribute to FX. Devs. Better Things. And Mrs. America. This is some of the finest television of the decade.
For me, it’s Devs over Mr Robot. For many, it’s the other way around. But I ain’t gonna argue. Alex Garland is the closest thing we have to Kubrick. The pace can be glacial. He is not going to give you the easiest characters or easy answers. His answer may be something that requires you to marinate on for weeks, if not forever. He is fascinated by the mundane elements of life, but always is trying to figure out how they touch the face of God.
How do you review a show that, like shimmering interior of DEVS, changes a bit every episode. Looking back from the end, it seems that it was all inevitable. But watching from the start, there seem to be at least 4 different shows percolating. This both infuriating and exciting. Garland has a passion for super-dry performances and gooey moist romanticism. As a result, while Sonoya Mizuno is the lead of the show, it is Nick Offerman who truly embodies the two sides of Garland’s spiritual coin. Muzuno does well in the series, but it is Offerman’s eyes that speak volumes. In the last few episodes, Alison Pill also grows into the embodiment of that perfect emotional schizophrenia.
Pamela Adlon loves a good stunt. But what makes Better Things the best half hour on television in the last few years is what is true and raw.
Hulu seems to like to follow up the most recent episode of FX shows with the start of Better Things, Season 1, Episode 1. Watching that episode, it’s quite remarkable how the show has changed, season by season. The first season was very much a collaboration between Adlon and Louis CK. The pilot was directed by CK. Every episode of Season 1 features Adlon and CK as writers with just 2 episodes sharing credit with others (Cindy Chupak on Future Fever and Gina Fattore on Alarms).
After directing just 2 of the 10 Season One episodes, Adlon took over all the directing responsibilities in Season Two, still sharing writing duties exclusively with CK. Adlon’s directing skills were not as polished as the directors of Season One, but there was a fearlessness and intimacy that took the show to a higher level.
The New York Times story on Louis CK landed on the same day as the penultimate episode of Season Two first aired. A season that should have won award after award after award was muted by the situation and the space that Adlon understandably needed to process the public destruction of a work partnership that I first saw on a live stage in Hollywood as HBO was developing a series called Lucky Louis in 2005 or 2006. (She had one story credit on the series and wouldn’t get another until Louie in 2011.)
Season Three took a little longer to happen than before. FX moved it from a September launch to February. The season starts with, perhaps, the most famous single scene from Better Things… Sam (Adlon) in her closet, trying on clothes that she doesn’t quite fit in in anymore. Simple bra and panties and fearless visual self-examination. Episode Two also starts in her underwear (after she rips off her pants), dealing with (perhaps) menopause, then the first peak at Sam questioning her sexual boundaries, and what would become a recurring theme, a caring but caustic look at older people. Episode 4… unwanted sex dreams. Another big theme would be Sam’s similarly aged female friends at various stages in their relationships. Adlon also brings on writing staff and for the first time, even has episodes that she has no writing credit at all.
And this fourth season has had its own flavor again. Deepening. Deepening. Adlon opens the season with a dialogue-free three-minute sequence, just wandering around the house. The themes of the series continue. Broken relationships. The daughters finding out new things about themselves. More of the women dealing with life as they pass the halfway mark.
I think what I love so much about Adlon’s show is that I don’t know what is coming… but it always feels right… and it always leaves me thinking and feeling and wanting more. This is an exceptional thing in any of the arts.
Another COVID “discovery” was Marcella, a British cop show—of a sort. Anna Friel stars and she is roughly glamorous, and so broken. It’s not even clear what she does in the early moments of the first season. She is a mother. She is recently and painfully divorced. She is a mess.
And as it turns out, she is a top end murder police. The question of “whodunnit” flips on her, as a murder case turns out to be close to home and she, in her current state, has blackouts that mean she can’t trust herself in many ways.
The show airs on Netflix and I binged until I passed out.. then finished Season One in the morning. The cast is great. The twists are really unique. And it’s beautifully made.
Second season… not so much. The thing is, much of what is so special about the show is resolved in the first season. And honestly, I was done. I got four episodes into Season Two and lost interest. But man, that first season!
There is a fascinating and terribly important Frontline episode, which you should be able to bring up on the PBS app or elsewhere, on plastics and how the are being and not being recycled. Plastic Wars. I watched with my jar on the ground. Frontline is such a great show… and this episode blew me away.
I had bailed on Mr. Robot sometime towards the end of the second season. I just wasn’t interested in working that hard as an audience member. I know people LOVE the show. But on a too-tight content consumption schedule, it faded.
Then the final season came and all the superlatives that were flying in Season One were back. One friend in particular brought it up over and over and over again. So I leapt right into Season Four. And you know what… I liked this last season more (once I figured a few things out) that anything else I had seen from the show. I think it was because the actual premise was no longer a secret. And the stakes seemed so much more personal than I had felt watching the show before. It was great.
So if you are someone who fell of the Mr. Robot wagon, I encourage you to get back on there.
Shrill was one of those shows I never quite started with. Frankly, the design at Hulu keeps me from hanging around in and wandering around their content offerings. I am loving FX on Hulu, but it is always a challenged to get me to watch something for which I wasn’t already looking.
But the shutdown finally got me to start Shrill and I found it fascinating from start to finish. Aidy Bryant just falls right off the screen onto your couch. She is accessible and vulnerable and fun and dumb and brilliant. And her Annie Eaton on the show may be her in some ways and others not, but she can transfer that energy to her character and it is compelling in ways you never quite see coming.
It is the part of being open – or politically correct, if you like – that we seek to do “the right thing” for people whom we see as vulnerable, but never quite deal with the imposition of how we see those people. Nor do people find it easy to navigate the idea that people know what others see them as and sometimes they don’t feel it and sometimes they feel it deeply and the nature of both of those feelings is often misplaced, by the observer and by the object of the concern.
In many ways, Shrill is filled with the conventional. And then it just flips. and flips. And flips again. But it all makes sense. It just isn’t about nailing these characters – and not just the lead – down. Her parents! God, I loved Julia Sweeney and Daniel Stern as her parents. And Patti Harrison… holy crap… queen of playing the black notes only on the comedy keyboard.
I’m going to stop now. These review pieces have been sitting on the desktop for weeks and I’m trying to find my rhythm pushing it out. So for now, less is more… with more to come.
| August 3, 2020
| July 23, 2020
| July 14, 2020
August 11, 2020
James Mangold on Copland: "It’s what’s going on in our country in general, which is that as you deny resources and opportunities to people, they end up pitted against each other for what little remains. At that time, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it seemed like it was only getting worse. My movie was about a community of cops and the point of view that emanated from it. My own point of view is more sympathetic toward the communities of color that are besieged. But, in the context of what we’re talking about, it seems to me that we’re never going to unlock the white pathology that participates in this cycle if we don’t unpack what’s underneath this anger. I don’t mean to excuse it but to understand how people end up way out there in a cultish anger, where a uniform and a badge unites them with other like souls, and they start to develop a mercenary and deeply cynical attitude about the people they’re actually there to protect."
| August 10, 2020
"Amid massive layoffs at Warner Bros, I'm getting word of an absolute bloodbath at DC Comics. Bob Harras is apparently gone; so are editors Mark Doyle, Brian Cunningham and Andy Khouri. Jim Lee still with the company, but no longer publisher. DC Collectibles gone entirely."
"These are just the names I’ve heard multiple times. Many other longterm – I’m talking VERY longterm – DC employees have also been let go.Those who had large titles and big salaries are gone. This is a huge and significant downsizing of DC’s publishing operations that will have huge ripple effects across the entire scarred comics industry landscape. It’s impossible to see this as anything but a huge sign of disinterest in the comics publishing business by AT&T, WarnerMedia and the Global Brands division. While other WB divisions faced severe layoffs, losing such a huge swath of the executive leadership at DC is a lot more than just more layoffs."
| August 10, 2020
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019