Here we go with the last season of Homeland. It’s sure been a long and crazy eight years. Carrie’s last trauma will start with the aftermath of losing seven months of her life in a Russian prison, and her memories. Let’s hope it can end on something of a good note for Carrie. This last season is apparently set in Afghanistan, and was shot on location in Morocco. It premieres on Sunday, February 9th.
The TV reunion movie was thought to be a thing of the past, but perhaps no longer! This year brought us two of them, albeit in big budget, high production value fashion, and with much better screenplays. Also, we’re calling them just plain movies now (although what they both really were were epilogues to their original series endings). Luckily, they are both well worth your time, assuming of course you were a viewer of the shows in the first place. As a fan of both shows, I’m happy to say I was more than satisfied with these films.
In the series finale of Breaking Bad, the last we saw of Jesse PInkman was him driving off into the night from where Season 5’s Neo-Nazi villains had kept him hostage for six months, forcing him to cook meth for them while locked to a cage by chain. Whether or not you were satisfied with that ending, with simply seeing Jesse escape after triumphantly killing the evil Todd (Jesse Plemons) is likely to dictate whether you enjoy or feel this new movie about his immediate whereabouts in the aftermath of the shootout, is necessary at all. I personally remember not being totally satisfied with that ending, firmly believing Aaron Paul’s Jesse to be of limited evasive criminal skill to most likely be pulled over and arrested five minutes after breaking out of that place. So I’m happy to say that even if this two hour Breaking Bad epilogue (that’s essentially what it is) may be superfluous in nature, I enjoyed every moment of it and am even happier to report that it’s superbly written, acted and executed. El Camino doesn’t miss a step in feeling of apiece with the show that spawned it. That’s primarily thanks to Vince Gilligan, who wrote and directed this film, in which we follow Jesse in the few days after his escape, meet up with his old pals Dodger and Skinny Pete, experience some flashbacks to his captivity with tormentor Todd (Jesse Plemons looks much older, but it still very effective as the world’s most manipulative psychopath) and serves as the final performance of Robert Forster, who returns as Ed Galbraith, the man who ushers criminals into a type of witness protection program. For a fee of course. The movie needs some conflict with antagonists, so now we get to find out who else Jesse came in contact with during his caged slave cook status, and yes, Bryan Cranston appears for one last flashback moment between Walt and Jesse. Gilligan does a splendid directing job, executing those perfectly agonizing suspense sequences Breaking Bad was known for in its heyday, and Jesse’s ultimate triumph in a western style showdown completes his transformation into mini-criminal kingpin after all, while never losing the long suffering likability that made him such a fan favorite (and really co-lead) of the original series. I can easily imaging revisiting him in another ten years (which would be a full twenty years after BB’s original timeline) for a kind of History of Violence inspired story regarding his new life in Alaska. God speed, Jesse Pinkman. It was quite a ride.
DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE
Deadwood was a highly acclaimed HBO series that aired from 2004-2006 in a brief, beloved run, ending in a cancellation that really cut short a show that had come nowhere near its natural end. Now, thirteen years after its demise, David Milch is given a chance to revisit his old crew and give them the gift of a proper ending that they never received, and the result is a lovely, supremely affectionate coda that respects its characters the way they were and pays tribute to the storylines left so harshly unresolved. You would never expect a show that had been gone for so long to feel so intact in what could have amounted to a reunion movie, but is instead the kind of fitting end that any fan would be happy with. From its opening shot ten years after the last season, with the return of Robin Swigert as Jane, now back from her travels and in full Calamity Jane attire and reputation, set to find her lost love Joanie Stubbs, you know you’re in good hands. We meet up with the various Deadwood citizens, pretty much all of whom come back with their original portrayers (aside from Powers Boothe, who died just two years ago), including the great Ian McShane as Al Swearengen, and Timothy Olyphant as now marshal Seth Bullock. Everyone fits back into their original roles like a glove, particularly McShane and especially Olyphant, who since his time on Deadwood, has matured as an actor through various television roles (including the long running Justified) and returns to this part more confident and assured than he was in the first run. Gerald McRaney is back as the villainous George Hurst, now a senator, and return to Deadwood for the first time since his reign of terror in the final season. Milch does a great job wrapping up this unfinished storyline and putting weight to it by adding some important deaths that don’t feel thrown in for the sake of it, but instead give added resonance to the lives of these characters. There’s a shootout, a wedding, a birth, and a fulfillment of vengeance long sought, all of course with the classic and unique Deadwood dialect intact. It’s such a treat to revisit this world, with its noted language and obvious affection from the actors for this project, and with enough action to justify its setting as a movie, along with payoffs that had been years in the making (Calamity Jane, always a fan favorite, gets her best ever moment in the entire series). Ending the film on one last Swearangen kiss off is the perfect note- what more could you want from this? I got nothing.
Okay, well, this was my absolute favorite show not just of two years ago, but maybe the last 10 years, so if James (Alex Lawther) is actually dead and this new season is just about Alyssa and whoever this new girl is, I can’t fathom the reason for its existence. I mean, you can say there was no reason for a second season at all anyway, but if they couldn’t figure out a way to bring back BOTH of them, then there really is no point. Yet, that’s looking like it’s very likely the case to me. The new season will be out next week apparently. I’m kind of dreading it.
The Terror: Infamy really has nothing to do with last year’s The Terror, which was based on a novel and was about a monster stalking 19th century explores in the Arctic. Instead it takes the title to tell another kind of supernatural story set in a completely different time period. It takes place in WWII, and tells a ghost story with an almost entirely Japanese (and Japanese-American) cast, centering around the internment camps, one of the most shameful chapters in U.S. history.
As admirable as that premise is, and as refreshing as it is to see a show centering Japanese actors, the series ends being about 50/50 on the internment camps versus the ghost story. Or maybe even 60-40 (in the spirit’s favor). The good news is that both stories work, the show is wonderfully produced and acted, but you can’t help but find the internment camp storyline more compelling, especially given the comparisons to the current political climate and the detention centers along the border. One of the horrors of this is realizing that even the internment camps were more humane than what’s going on right now. But the stain of how wrong it was to do what we did cannot be glanced over, and the early scenes of wholly innocent families rounded up and displaced to various prison centers for 3-4 years is haunting.
But since it’s called The Terror, there has to be some kind of supernatural occurrence, and this comes in the form of a yurei (an ancient Japanese spirit) who stalks Chester (Derek Mio), the twenty something American born son of a family that harbors secrets in its immigrant past. Chester is in love with Luz (Cristina Rodlo) a Mexican woman who’s pregnant with his child, and the secrets of bloodlines are crucial to the spirit’s grudge. There is a lot of sudden death in this, as the yurei takes possession of multiple inhabitants, and the horror is effective, which is lucky, because Chester’s curse takes over the series more and more towards the end. But you can’t help but wish that a more grounded story regarding Japanese internment during WWII could have been told here, without the ghosts and magic and murder. Not that the ghost story doesn’t work, but it feels occasionally like two different shows running alongside each other and if you asked me which one I’d rather watch, I’d choose the former.
Even so, they bring the series to a satisfying conclusion and the only real problem I had with the story of the yurei is the way Chester truly is the impending doom of every character he comes in contact with because of the way he attempts to deal with his demon (and he doesn’t quite seem to realize just how much death he’s caused to people around him even by the end of this). But I want there to be more shows made that highlight the history of marginalized groups in this country and learning about the ancient beliefs and rituals of Japanese horror stories is one of the perks of this series. Plus, the yurei (played very well by Kiki Sukezane) is cool. But I think focusing on one of its main plots over the other would have sharpened and strengthened the overall impact.
I missed this one a few days ago, but here it is now. You know, with what’s become of Facebook lately and Mark Zuckerberg being revealed to be such a massive, massive shithead, Silicon Valley could have gone in that direction with its satire, but I’m kind of glad it’s not, since I’ve always kind of liked these guys and it’d be sad to see them end up that way. But that’s why it’s not reality.
Yesss!!! Netflix has finally released the trailer for season 3 of The Crown, coming out November 17th. The next two seasons will have a new cast playing royals Elizabeth, Phillip (Tobias Menzies) and Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) in their middle aged years, and new additions like Charles and Camilla as young adults (before bringing in Diana next season!!!). I can’t wait.
At first glance, a saga about the Game of Thrones-style battles to succeed the patriarch of a Murdoch-esque business empire seems like the last thing I’d want to watch in this day and age. I mean, who are we supposed to be rooting for in a family of assholes and monsters? And I’ve had issues with shows where the ensemble is made up of entirely awful people (see my past reviews of House of Cards and Veep for example), but admittedly, Succession is the one that pulled me in- I may still have my moments of hatred towards an occasional character, but the trick of creator Jesse Armstrong’s writing (aside from the Veep-like constant snark; the series could qualify as a comedy), is to make you sympathize with one character for one episode while rooting against another, and changing it all around from week to week as you watch these family members do battle under the thumb of their monstrous father’s manipulations.
Let’s talk about that monstrous father for a second. All hail Brian Cox, who plays media tycoon Logan Roy, the Rupert Murdoch stand-in, with so much effortless dominance that it’s quite a feat of acting. He’s arrogant, he’s abusive, he’s manipulative, he’s deceitful, he’s entirely in control of his business and his children, and Cox plays him without an ounce of sympathy. If anything the writing dodges some of the evil that men like Murdoch spew every second of their shameful existence in this world by avoiding portraying any explicit racism and misogyny coming directly out of Logan’s mouth or by letting us see those kinds of actions (only obliquely referring to past events), but Cox gets around that by letting the audience know, through his subtleties of delivery and force, that this guy is bad. And he’s so good at it that this bad, bad man is kinda the reason you want to watch. At least it is for me. Get the Emmy statue engraved right now. I’m sure he’ll be taking it home next year, and deservedly so.
But there’s a larger ensemble, and even though the various Roy kids flatten under their dad’s iron fist and never manage to spark too much sympathy, the one that comes closest is Jeremy Strong as Kendall, who turns in a quietly amusing performance (and even affecting at times) this season as a pathetic hangdog so utterly defeated by his Chappaquidick incident last year (covered up by Daddy of course) that he gives himself up to Logan entirely, doing and saying whatever he says, whatever he wants, until that killer twist in the season finale, which is built up all season long and makes you desperate to see what happens next (am I actually rooting for poor little rich boy Kendall after what he did? Maybe I am, which tells you how skilled the writing is on this show, and how it can jerk you around).
Keiran Culkin and Sarah Snook continue to be good as Roman and Shiv, who get their own storylines, especially Shiv, who firms up into the whole Ivanka thing with ease (the haaaate, I can feel it growing), while Culkin gets the bulk of the zingers from the scripts. Shakespearean stakes aside, the show’s not quite as smart as it thinks it is, with one Kavanagh hearings-inspired episode that was a particular trigger for me and included some highly ludicrous actions that would never, ever have taken place in reality, and you can’t help but think about reality when a show wants you to believe it’s knee deep in the weeds of corporate takeovers and board meetings and the like. It wants you to think this stuff is really happening with the Murdoch family, and tries to make you understand this world without glorifying it. But…it’s still entertainment first, and whenever British writers have their hands in something American politics adjacent, I can always tell where they just don’t get it (cough, race, cough). Even so, the show succeeds where it matters most this season- the personal fight between Logan and his kids, and it pulls off the trick of making me feel very highly invested in where it’s going. For that I salute them, and I salute Brian Cox most of all. Well done, sir.
Yay! Okay, so yes, the last season was…less than good because of the Brianna stuff, but if I remember correctly she has a much less important role in Book 5. Actually, I don’t know if Outlander is going to keep going for each and every book or maybe start condensing the later ones, so it doesn’t have to go on for fifty years, but if it does, maybe go ahead and send Roger and Bree back to the present earlier? No one would complain, believe me.
The pioneering actress Diahann Carroll passed away today at the age of 84. The Oscar nominee was the first black woman to win a Tony award and the first African-American woman to star in a non-stereotypical lead role on television in NBC’s Julia, which ran from 1968-1971. She got her first film role in 1954’s Carmen Jones, alongside Dorothy Dandrige, and then went on to act in films like Porgy and Bess and Paris Blues before winning the Tony in 1962 for the musical No Strings. She won a Golden Globe and was Emmy nominated for Julia, and was then nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for 1974’s Claudine. She joined the cast of Dynasty from 1984-87 as Dominique Deveraux, and was nominated for a third Emmy for her recurring role on A Different World in the late 80’s. She went on to guest star on television into the 2010’s and was finally inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011.
Opening credits of Julia (1968-71):
My latest favorite teen drama is back for Season 2 and it’s sooo good!! Yes, I’m starting to believe that eight episodes really is the perfect amount for a show like this- enough time to do an overarching storyline plus outlandish soap opera twists and raunchiness without suffering through plot burnout or characters pulling 180 degree personality switches or too much mix ’n’ match coupling to start rolling your eyes at.
Elite is better than ever this season, even with the introduction of some new kids, as all shows like this are wont to do (with the departure of characters like Marina last season and in some plot turns necessitating the early absences of Christian and Nano, you need some replacements to fill out the group). For the most part, the three new kids are integrated well- we have Valerio as Lu’s half brother sent over from Mexico (the best new addition to my mind), Rebeka, a newly rich student due to her mom’s thriving drug business who prefers to hang with the un-rich, like Samuel and Nadia, and Cayetana, the secret daughter of the custodian posing as one of the wealthy to befriend the elite. Cayetana is probably the least successful of the new kids, as her pathetic posing is kind of irritating, but it does serve a purpose by season’s end.
The main thrust of the season is the continuation from last year, with Marina’s murder not forgotten, and the flashback mystery this time involving Samuel’s supposed season end “disappearance.” He’s desperate to free Nano from prison and find Marina’s real killer, and to do so he attempts to seduce ice queen Carla of all people. However, this pairing does not work, mostly because Samuel has zero chemistry with any of his co-stars, least of all romantic (I wasn’t into him and Marina last season either). Luckily, with a big ensemble cast, you don’t spend too much time with any one character or pairing, so we get the continuation of Nadia and Guzman’s romance, Ander and Omar’s, and most juicy of all, the season long manipulations of Carlo and Polo (and eventually the poor, tortured Ander) to hide what they did from their own friends, so they can all still be a group. That is one cold, murderous duo. I love it. The show also has plenty of rich teen show staples, like the big party/event of every episode, a taboo incestual romance for Lu and Valerio, and a casual hookup between gay Ander and bi Polo while hanging out in the same bed as their straight pal Guzman (not kidding!). The show doesn’t shy away from raunch while keeping focused on its season long mystery and there’s nothing about the many pleasures it delivers that feel guilty. It joins the ranks this season of the best of the genre. Don’t miss it.