Yay! Barry is back for the second season on Sunday, March 31st, after Veep. With the murder of Janice looming over everything, it’ll be harder for Barry to keep the secret, but everything’s going to probably have to come to a head a lot sooner on this show, than say, Breaking Bad. Bill Hader said at one point he thinks three seasons was the max it could go, and that’s probably smart. I hope they stick to that, but I can’t wait til next month.
The original premise of Groundhog Day was so instantly unique that any other take on reliving the same day over and over again probably owes that movie royalties. The latest is Russian Doll, a fantasy/sci-fi/comedy from Natasha Lyonne (who also stars), Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler. As Nadia, a woman who keeps dying and waking up at the same starting point (her 36th birthday party), Lyonne is fierce and funny in the role, but after the initial conceit plays itself out a few times, it turns into something different when she runs into another person experiencing the same situation.
I should probably say that Natasha Lyonne is a bit of an acquired taste. After seeing her start out as a teenager in Slums of Beverly Hills and the American Pie movies, and then watching her on Orange is the New Black for so long, I’m pretty well acquainted with this “character” of hers, the constantly wisecracking Jewish New Yorker- you might even say it’s a bit of a caricature, actually. But if you watch Orange is the New Black, this is basically a non-incarcerated Nicki starring on her own show, and if you’re anything like me, you think that Nicki basically works best in doses. In other words, this is a lot of Natasha Lyonne, and I can fully understand anyone finding her far more abrasive and obnoxious than endearing. I do myself sometimes, although she still gets some good lines in there that make me chuckle. Watching her die over and over again after her birthday party is entertaining (especially a bit where she can’t get down the stairs) but it’s still derivative of Groundhog Day.
Where it changes though, is in the introduction of the charismatic Charlie Barnett as Alan, a new idea in this very familiar premise. He’s a stranger to Nadia, (although they’re neighbors) and a completely different kind of character. He’s uptight, he’s obsessive, he’s suicidal after being dumped by his longtime girlfriend (fellow Orange alum Dascha Polenko- hey, is this the reason Daya has lasted on that show for so long?), and yet he’s got this very unique, naive sweetness about him that contrasts wonderfully with Nadia when they bump into each other and realize they’re connected in their absurd situation. He keeps dying too, at the same time as her, and whatever force is pulling them together suddenly takes the show in a brand new direction that we haven’t seen before, and it becomes riveting, especially as the personal and philosophical revelations start piling up.
My favorite part of the series is the interaction between these two highly original characters. It feels like a relationship that really hasn’t been seen yet and that makes it worth watching, aside from the intrigue over how many different kinds of deaths Nadia and Alan can suffer each day. As there always is in a Groundhog Day plot, there’s a wake-up call, a spiritual component that must occur to spark a change in the lives of the people being targeted for this kind of hell, but seeing them go through it together is a fun twist that leads to a somewhat open-ended conclusion, with questions left to be answered another day (possibly). It’s a creative, well-written project from an all female writing team and a new insight into the kind of talent Lyonne possesses apart from her well-worn screen persona.
Boy, is this gonna be a tough sit. Reports out of the Sundance premiere of this four hour documentary were that audiences were left pretty shattered. HBO will be airing it over two nights, two weeks from now, on March 3rd and 4th. It’s expected to garner a lot of attention, but it remains to be seen if it will cause more former victims of Michael Jackson’s to speak up about suffering sexual abuse at the hands of the pop star. Unlike the R. Kelly situation, since Jackson’s been dead for years now, shining a light on the truth and acknowledging the victims feels like all that can be done at this point.
Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger is back for its second season on April 4th, and though I thought the first season displayed more potential than it fulfilled, this trailer is surprisingly action-packed and looks a lot more intriguing than I expected. Hopefully it ironed out some of the wrinkles over the hiatus (pick up the pace, put C&D together as a pair in every episode, not just occasionally) and improved its storytelling. I’m willing to give it a shot. The leads were both very promising, and the new villain, Mayhem, is a step up from last season already, I can tell.
The final season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a mixed bag, split in half, literally. The first six episodes were hilarious and absurd and every bit as funny as the show’s best seasons, while the last six episodes were mostly a disappointment, slowly letting the wind out of the sails of a once great series as it signed off.
The first half of the season, which came out way back in the spring of 2018, saw Kimmy on a quest to teach boys to be better men, and is inspired to write a children’s book in her usual, fantastical, Kimmy way. Infused with the spirit of the MeToo movement, the show responded to the zeitgeist with jokes referencing Harvey Weinstein and accidentally putting Kimmy in the role of sexual harasser at work, while Titus faced his own terrifying encounter with Mr. Krumpus, the orange puppet producer who demands sexual favors at auditions (I could seriously not stop laughing at the sight gag of this). Kimmy Schmidt has always been a show about trauma at its core, dealt with in an outrageous, cartoonish, absurdist fashion, but still dealt with and confronted head on. One episode was an hour long Netflix spoof documentary in the “true crime” style glorifying the crimes of Jon Hamm’s evil Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, enraging Kimmy and inspiring her confrontation with a militant men’s rights activist (Bobby Moynihan). The experimental episode was offbeat, but I thought it worked, deliberately dealing with the entitlement of white men and toxic attitudes toward women that is so much a part of the culture and at the heart of the show’s premise (which was probably ahead of the curve somewhat).
Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline gets a bit shortchanged in this first half of the season, but she does get one moving episode, finally cementing a motherly bond with Xan and helping her fight off her own entitled white boy at college. And Kimmy’s and Titus’s adventures are so funny (especially Titus’s tyrannical rule over an elementary school as a drama coach and Kimmy’s surreal and homicidal interaction with a backpack come to life as a cartoon character) that it more than makes up for any subpar material for Jacqueline and Lillian (Carol Kane). But then the second half comes around and whatever steam it had going for it in the last season is all let out, as the last six episodes are comprised of a series of mostly one offs that don’t feel anything like a show that’s about to be ending. Kimmy dates a guy at work and falls in love with his parents in an episode, Titus continues to try to win back Mikey (a subplot that went on way too long), and Zachary Quinto shows up as a rival talent agent/love interest for Jacqueline in the last two episodes that feels like the writers’ attempt to throw her character a bone while knowing they stopped using her a long time ago. There’s one more extended episode that asks what if Kimmy had never got in the Reverend’s van, but this time the experiment is unsuccessful, as the alternate lives of the characters feel meaningless and Tina Fey misses her chance to make a final point about Kimmy’s experiences in the bunker. The last episode wraps everything up really fast for our foursome with an uncharacteristically happy ending (everyone gets rich and famous? Really?) and sends us off on what it thinks is a high note, but feels suspiciously rushed and not at all in line with the Kimmy we’ve come to know, at least in my view.
I still love the show overall, and I suppose it was time for it to end (especially if this last batch of episodes is an indication that they were simply out of ideas), but given the darkly absurdist humor they’ve managed over the years, I’m bummed that it didn’t go out with a more powerful, subversive punch. It had it in there, as it’s shown in the past- to not go for it in the last season is a real shame.
Yay! One of my favorite shows of last year is back for Season 2, starting April 7th, this time on BBC America and AMC apparently. It was the fastest growing week to week audience in BBC America’s history, and you can see why if you watch that first season. Now Globe and SAG winner Sandra Oh is back as Eve Polastri, with the criminally overlooked Jodie Comer (which seems not possible if you actually watched this show) as the deadly Villanelle. I can’t wait.
The second season of The Punisher is plagued by the same thing that infects every Netflix superhero show- not enough story to fill the mandated thirteen episodes. What makes this season even worse is all that filler being made up of long, repetitive, monotonous conversations about nonsense, taking place between all the characters that go nowhere and mean nothing.
Yes, I hated this season and it was a chore to sit through from the very beginning. Jon Bernthal returns as Frank Castle, the Punisher, now exiled from New York and hanging out somewhere in the midwest, but he soon returns to the violence, which comes as a relief from the boring conversations and monologues. After a long, slow, dull fling with a woman who never appears again in the season, Frank is placed in one of the oldest formulaic plots in assassin history- the friendship with the innocent teenage girl (remember The Professional? Yeah, it’s like that). Never mind that this friendship makes no sense and there is no chemistry at all between Bernthal and Giorgia Whigham. We’re stuck watching it anyway and sitting through their boring conversations.
After spending three long, pointless episodes in the midwest, we’re back in New York where Frank meets up with his old pal Curtis (Jason R. Moore) for, you got it, some more boring conversations (there are episodes at a time where literally nothing else is happening). We also see the world’s worst government agent (another cliche) Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), who wants revenge on Billy, aka Jigsaw (Ben Barnes), now up and about and angry about his horribly disfigured face. Oh, sorry. I said horribly disfigured because that’s how he’s treated onscreen but what I meant was mildly, barely, inexplicably scarred (not possible after the beating Frank gave him last season). Jigsaw engages in an affair with the world’s worst psychiatrist (Floriana Lima) in another 100% cliched subplot (every woman on this show is the world’s worst whatever their profession is), but most of their relationship is, you guessed it- long, boring conversations. And nonsensical monologues.
There’s a bad guy following the teen girl, a Nazi preacher man played by Josh Stewart, and he has slightly less dull nonsense to spout and delivers more insanely bloody violence, which is I guess what people watch this show for to begin with, but by the end of the season every major character has been either beaten to a pulp, thrown through a window, driven off a bridge, shot or stabbed multiple times, and incredulously, no one dies or is even all that hurt. Did I mention none of these people are superpowered, but good old regular human beings? I mean, some of them are former soldiers, but, come on. The last three episodes finally up the action and cut back on the monologuing, but the sheer absurdity of the violence combined with the lack of impact any of it has on anyone makes for a ridiculous and meaningless ending. When someone is shot three times in the chest at point blank range for a “final” death I fully expected him to get up and walk out of the room unfazed.
Netflix hasn’t said anything (yet) about whether this is The Punisher’s final season, but all I know is that it was definitely mine. Showrunner Steven Lightfoot can get back to me when he comes up with an original thought. I won’t get my hopes up.
For a long time now, Outlander book readers have known we were going to hit the “Brianna problem” once we got to the fourth season, since each season of the Starz hit encompasses all of one Diana Gabaldon’s lengthy tomes. Drums of Autumn is one of the lesser favorites in the series, and since the show is extremely faithful in adapting these books, we all knew the Brianna stuff was coming. And it did, and it got it about right overall, but the big problem the show will continue to have for the remainder of its run was the absolutely fatal mistake in the casting of Sophie Skelton as the problematic character in question.
Brianna, the daughter of Jamie and Claire, has never been a fan favorite character to begin with. But for a show that has excelled in its casting decisions for the most part (David Berry hit it out of the park as John Grey, Richard Rankin is very compelling as Bree’s love interest from her own time, Roger, and even John Bell has turned another bland character from the books, Ian, into a lovable lad on the show), casting Sophie Skelton was among the most baffling choices the show has ever made. When you have a character who was never beloved in the first place due to iffy writing in the books, it’s crucial to have an actress who can make you at least interested in her, if not fall in love with her outright. But Skelton has struggled from the very beginning with the accent (Bree is American and Skelton is English), her delivery of every line is wooden and unconvincing and her ability to hold the camera nonexistent. It was such a huge mistake for a role that would have to eventually become so important (at least in this season) that it becomes even more essential for whoever her scene partner is to do all the heavy lifting, even though the story is centered on her.
The fourth season saw Jamie and Claire permanently settled in the American colonies around 1770, choosing to build a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina and take up residence on land granted to Jamie by the royal governor. Joined by several new supporting characters like Maria Doyle Kennedy as Jamie’s slaveowning aunt Jocasta, and the return of Duncan Lacroix as Murtagh (one of the few significant changes from books, as fans fell in love with the character on the series in a way that never happened in the books, where he was killed off early on), the atmosphere of the new setting is exciting, as are the consistent run-ins with Native Americans. But there are some clunky changes going on in this transitional season too. For some reason the production wasn’t allowed to actually film in North Carolina or New York, so having Scotland double for the American colonies is not believable (the weather consistently looks 50 degrees below zero and the trees and backgrounds are wrong), and the CGI needs for plantation settings and colonial towns is more obvious than it’s ever been. This decreases what was always a reliable standby for the attractions of the show in previous seasons- the lush and authentic locations, making you feel sincerely removed from modern times.
There are some good episodes early on though, with the new villain Stephen Bonnet well cast with Downton Abbey’s Edward Speleers, clearly having a great time as the lascivious Irish lech, more of a traditional love to hate bad guy than Tobias Menzies’ nightmare inducing Black Jack Randall. But the problem, as I referred to earlier, is one word: Brianna. About halfway through Drums of Autumn, she becomes the main character, as a contrived, soap opera-esque storyline involving a horrific rape, pregnancy, misunderstanding and mistaken identity all come together to separate her and Roger and force Jamie and Claire to take a backseat on their own show to help put their daughter’s life back in order. This was inevitable, since the show insists on never truly deviating from the book’s plot lines, but Skelton is incapable of handling the heavy material thrown her way and tasked with carrying entire episodes that she simply cannot pull off. Other actors drag her through her scenes, but leads Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan disappear for entire episodes as the world becomes All About Brianna. There are still compelling moments with the rest of the ensemble, and Rankin can at least carry an episode, but unfortunately, him and Brianna’s relationship and connection is crucial and he has no chemistry with Skelton whatsoever. Even one of Outlander’s famously lengthy sex scenes is awkward to sit through with two actors who are simply going through the motions.
I’m not an adherent of never changing anything when you’re adapting a novel to the screen. I think changes are often necessary to tell the best story possible in an entirely different medium. After becoming known for being so faithful, I can see why Outlander thinks fans have a certain expectation, but trust me when I say this- no one watching this series is here for the Brianna and Roger show. In order to keep the focus where it belongs, on Jamie and Claire, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with minimizing, or even cutting large swaths out of the Bree/Roger stuff in future seasons. Because I still love everything else for the most part- but we all fell for the show for a reason, and keeping Jame and Claire at the center of the story is more important than staying true to every beat of Gabaldon’s books.
Yay! The second season of the Emmy winning Barry, which was one of my favorite shows of last year, is coming out sometime this spring on HBO. My guess is it will come out in May, since I think it’s still filming, but April is possible. Maybe they’ll want to pair it with Game of Thrones. Be on the lookout, people!
As expected, Mrs. Maisel swept the TV comedy categories while This is Us prevailed once again in drama. I went 4 for 8 in my predictions, but at least my alternates won on the four I missed (I feel stupid not going for Tony Shalhoub- I forgot how many times that guy won awards for Monk). It wasn’t a very interesting set of winners or speeches, to be honest (I did enjoy Patricia Arquette giving a shoutout to Robert Mueller). So much for the expectation that Amy Adams was going to sweep all the TV awards for Sharp Objects, plus she whiffed out on the movie side to boot. One of these days, Amy. It’ll happen.
ENSEMBLE CAST IN A COMEDY: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
FEMALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
MALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY: Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
ENSEMBLE CAST IN A DRAMA: This is Us
FEMALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA: Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
MALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA: Jason Bateman, Ozark
FEMALE ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE: Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora
MALE ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace