TV: Help! It’s Sweeps Month and I can’t keep up! “Anne with an E”, “Riverdale” and “The Catch”

TV:

With all the Season Finales coming at me fast and furiously and my DVR piling up with episode after episode of Billions, Guerrilla, and Legion, I took a break to binge a new Netflix series that you should watch and as for the rest, it will come as soon as I can get to it!

Season Premiers:

Anne with an E – Netflix

I read all the Anne of Green Gables books as well as seeing the brilliant 1985 PBS series with Megan Fellows rather late in life.  It is difficult for me to believe that any remake of this remarkable children’s story could top what is already out there so I went into Netflix’s new “Anne with an E” with some skepticism.  The new Netflix version which dropped its first season this past Friday is a much darker rendition of the orphan girl who settles with a new family on Prince Edward Island.

Netflix’s “Anne” played almost perfectly by Amybeth McNulty hides many scars from her past as she navigates her new environment.  This adds a richness to her character that was missing in the simpler versions of her story as she struggles with acceptance in a family, and a community that initially doesn’t accept her.  McNulty successfully captures the upbeat personality of a child that has survived using her vivid imagination as well as books to take her out of the world that has treated her so cruelly.

There are changes to the original in this version of Anne including a love interest for Mathew, a much nicer best friend for Marilla, the premature death of Gilbert Blythe’s father and two thugs who are going to move in to Green Gables at the end of Season 1. However, we still have the broach incident, the dress with the puffed sleeves and the saving of Diana Barry’s young sister to keep us linked to the original.  I enjoyed this version of “Anne with an E” despite the writers adding additional drama and darkness to make the story more reflective of what current TV audiences look for.  This drop has only 7 episodes and given the positive critical reception, I expect there will be many more seasons.   Lovers of this charismatic young red headed girl should check it out as well as those who have never experience this classic.

Season Finales:

Riverdale – CW

Speaking of red hair, there is an abundance of it in Riverdale.  I got through this spring’s new take on the Archie comic books and it was quite good.  I’m not sure that I’ll return to it in the fall as a show about a bunch of beautiful teenage sleuths is not generally my thing but that is not to say the show isn’t well written and acted.  Riverdale, like “Anne with an E” is a much darker version of the comic books we loved as kids.  The town has become a home to gangs, murderers and drug traffickers and there are even a couple of gays in this more modern version.  The season’s plot revolved around the murder of a star athlete Jason Blossom who was the boyfriend of Betty’s sister and son of the wealthiest person in Riverdale.  His twin sister is, of course, captain of the cheerleading squad and out to find her brother’s murderer.  Betty, Veronica (who is now a good person) and Jughead (a more complex nerd) try to solve the murder as well.

The finale has several big cliffhangers with the shooting of Archie’s father; Jugheads apparent assimilation into a criminal gang; his father’s continued incarceration for Jason’s murder although he is innocent and Veronica’s criminal father about to be released from jail.  Note:  he will be played next season by Mark Consuelos (Kelly Rippa’s husband) now that Pitch has been cancelled.  Meanwhile Jason’s sister burns down their family estate and Betty’s sister is pregnant with Jason’s baby.  Well, maybe I will turn back in to see what happens next season!

Series Finales:

The Catch – ABC

This was not supposed to be a Series Finale but The Catch was cancelled the day before the final episode aired.  Thus, it is left to our imaginations as to what will happen to Ben and Alice and whether they will ever be reunited.  The 2-part season finale was probably the best show in the series and Shonda at her finest.  It wrapped up the season-long arc that identified Rhys as the criminal mastermind “Mockingbird” rather than the easy going reformed thief that the audience believed him to be throughout the season.

The Catch struggled to find its niche in Shondaland and retooled this season to make it more of a Rom Com than a hardcore PI/Cop show and it worked for me.  The acting was always great with Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger and John Simon.  This year we got more Gina Torres and the introduction of Philippa Coulthard as the long-lost daughter of Ben and Margo.  I could watch these actors all day no matter how ridiculous the plot is and I did.  So, the show fades into the sunset but I had some fun with it before it did.  It won’t be one I’ll miss terribly but it wasn’t bad and I look forward to seeing Krause and Enos in something new.

 

 

Movies: The Zookeeper’s Wife and Queen of the Desert

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is an adaptation of the book by the same name (which, by the way, was excellent).  It stars Jessica Chastain as a Polish woman who with her husband manages a Zoo in Warsaw as Hitler rises to power. The movie doesn’t have the subtlety or complexity of the book but it is fine and Chastain is quite good.  The story is true and worth knowing about as this couple saved as many as 300 Warsaw Jews through their commitment and bravery while constantly risking their lives.

This is a difficult story to bring to screen and the film over simplifies the story.  The “good guys” are heroically perfect and the “bad guys” completely evil with no “grey” to be found.  The atrocities against the Zoo animals are graphically displayed yet the even more horrific atrocities against those in the Warsaw ghetto are glossed over.  Are we to walk away thinking more about the animals?  I think not but that is not clear in the film.   Chastain as Antonina is at times more like Cinderella with the little birds floating around her ( at least while there are still animals in the zoo) than what I suspect was a very hard working couple in real life.  I never got that impression reading the book as this was a difficult profession to be in even before the war.

In the end, the Zookeeper’s wife is a perfectly acceptable film about World War II that lacks the urgency, complexity and magnitude of the impact of the player’s actions.  The story has been told before and better by other filmmakers but I think most viewers will still like it.  It certainly is one of the better big box movies playing now.  I just wish there had been more depth to the story telling.

Queen of the Desert (Limited Release and Streaming)

Queen of the Desert, with a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, went pretty much straight to Streaming.  It is the story of Gertrude Bell, based on a biography of the same name and Directed by Werner Herzog.  Nicole Kidman stars as the lead character who was a British Woman in the early twentieth century who journeyed to the Middle East and became one of the most influential persons of her time.  She was often referred to as the “female Lawrence of Arabia” (played in the film by Robert Pattinson).

There are some positives to the film.  Nicole Kidman plays Gertrude Bell with the authority and gravitas that the character requires.  Arabs were actually cast to play Arabs.  Robert Pattison, James Franco as her first love and Damien Lewis (as her second) are all fine.  The cinematography while not in the same league as Lawrence in Arabia is still compelling and realistic.  Above all, the story of Gertrude Bell and her role in carving up the modern day Middle East is an important one that everyone should be aware of.

There are more negatives. The beginning of the film drags.  The back and forth with James Franco seems endless and I just wanted to skip it and get to the time in Bell’s life where she was being impactful.  Also, the noises that camels make is certainly not understated and becomes distracting. But perhaps the most significant issue with the film is that we leave not having a better understanding of what drove Gertrude Bell to be the pioneer that she was nor the role she played in the 1921 Cairo Conference.  While instrumental in the Conference which divided up the Middle East, her recommendations were largely overridden by the political scheming of Churchill and the French which was not mentioned.  Instead, the end of the film sees Gertrude riding off into the desert on a camel as if she was Lawrence.

Everyone should know more about Gertrude Bell but I’d read her biographies rather than see this movie.

 

 

Books: Two Dystopian Novels that could take place now: “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Water Knife”

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I wasn’t reading any books in the mid to late 1980s being too busy birthing children and working so I missed Margaret Atwood’s eerily compelling story of a completely male dominated society.  Because I wanted to watch the new HULU series based on the book (and am a firm believer of reading the book before the TV show/movie), I picked up this classic and wasn’t disappointed.  Like 1984 and Brave New World, the Handmaid’s Tale warns us of what might occur if we continue along the path we are on and it is terrifying.

In the case of the novel, some sort of event has created a United States with radioactive “colonies” and safer religious centers ruled by men with the female population having been subjugated.  Women can’t vote, have jobs or a bank account and are divided into several classes.  The Handmaidens who dress in red are assigned to wealthy couples to have sex with the male, get pregnant and hand over the child to the wife. The Wives dress in blue and seem to spend their time at home gardening and knitting.  The “Martha’s” dress in green, are infertile and assigned to be servants.  Other “Unwomen” are sent to nuclear decimated “colonies” to help out until the radiation kills them.  Gays and Lesbians are executed.  There is a great deal of praying.

The book takes place in Gilead which is Boston and it is suggested that the reason society has changed is because of the feminism that arose in the 1970s.  The religious right has taken over and infertility is an issue due to environmental issues created by whatever event changed the political landscape.  The event that caused the catastrophic physical changes to the United States is never explained but the it doesn’t matter as the novel has enough to cover exploring the aftermath.  How each of these characters try to survive in this environment along with the hints of a rebellion are enough to make this book intriguing.

The Handmaid’s tale is not the most well written book you’ll read nor are all the characters sufficiently flushed out but it has had a resurgence in the last few months due to the current political climate and the story being brought to the small screen.  Many readers, including myself, will be horrified by the concept of this novel but it is well worth reading and then seeing the TV show.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

For those of use living in Arizona, the Water knife is not a far-fetched dystopian novel.  We only hope it doesn’t describe something that will take place in our lifetime.  Picture the Southwest after a long drought and a fight between California, Arizona and Nevada to get what little water is left in the Colorado. Politicians and their private armies control water access and allow certain cities just to dry up.  This is the world of the “Water Knife”,  Angel Velasquez who works for Catherine Case, the Las Vegas woman who controls the water for her area.  Angel’s job is to get water no matter how it happens.  A former gang member with tattoos covering his entire body, Angel is a star at his job. In the course of his duties, he seems to either be murdering people or having them trying to eliminate him. He meets Lucy, a female journalist and Marie, an immigrant from Texas along the way and these characters become instrumental in Angel keeping one step ahead of death.

I’ll be honest, I was listening to this book on CDs in the car and found it to be confusing.  Granted, I had to focus on driving but I always have an audio book playing so am reasonably adept in paying attention to the books and driving at the same time.  It wasn’t until the last couple of CDs that I seemed to be on top of the various plots.  I thought the book bounced all over the place and the multitude of characters and story lines at the beginning didn’t matter much by the end.  I guess the Water Knife is a combination Sy Fy, thriller, mystery but there is a lot of violence and hoping around that I didn’t care for.  I also felt the end was contrived and disappointing given the events leading up to the final chapter.   Despite all that, it is a scary potential reality for a large section of the US and worth reading for anyone living in this area.

TV: Mary Kills People, Catastrophe, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, Genius, Feud and Bates Motel

 

Premiers:

Mary kills People (Lifetime)

I never thought I would watch a Lifetime show but this one received reasonably good reviews so I gave it a go.  After all, how much worse could a show about Assisted Suicide be after just getting through “13 Reasons Why”?  Mary is a divorced doctor who with the help of another M.D. provides terminally ill patients with a cocktail of lethal drugs to end their misery.  She and her partner get the names at the hospital they work at and believe they are providing a humanitarian service.

The first episode was a quick 45 minutes and covered a botched suicide and the back stories of the two doctors who perform the assists.  There is plenty of action as Mary’s lesbian teenage daughter discovers her hidden stash of drugs and the doctors don’t realize they are in a potential race to escape from the authorities who are on to her activities. It all moved with pace and  good performances by the lead characters and I’m looking forward to the remaining five episodes.

Catastrophe (Amazon)

Amazon dropped the third season (6 thirty-minute shows) this past Friday and I immediately sat down and watched them all.  Catastrophe is a one of the new style comedies often referred to as a “dramedy” because they delve into some pretty difficult topics (e.g. depression, alcoholism, bi-polar, and breast cancer. are just some of the plot lines in shows of this genre that I watch) and Catastrophe is not an exception.  The third season, however, is much darker than the first two.

This series is about a couple, Sharon and Rob, who had a one night stand when Rob was on a business trip to London.  Sharon gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby and Rob moves to London to give marriage and fatherhood a shot.  The second season brings another pregnancy and highlights the difficulties of keeping a family together while utilizing humor to provide relief.  The third season adds more complexity and deeper problems to this goal of family unity.

I love Catastrophe but this was a tough season.  To top it off, Carrie Fisher had a minor role in the show (Rob’s mother) that she has just finished filming when she returned by plane to the US and had her heart attack.  The last episode reminds us just how great a comedian she was.  The show isn’t for everyone but if you like this genre and have missed it, check it out.  Because each season is only 3 hours, it is easy to catch up with, (or bag along the way) with little investment of your time.

The Handmaid’s Tale (HULU)

The first three episodes of the Handmaid’s tale dropped on Hulu last week and the remainder of the 10 episodes will appear on a weekly basis.  Unfortunately for me, that means a couple of months having to subscribe to Hulu although it is very easy to switch this service on and off.  The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel which I quickly read before I began the TV series.  It takes place in the not too distant future (since it was written in 1985 think “now” for more reasons than one) when all rights have been taken away from women who are no longer able to have jobs or bank accounts.  It is a world that the women never saw coming and has an eerie correlation to the current climate.

The women are confined to roles which are defined by the color of their dress.  The red dresses are for the Handmaids, those who are assigned to upper class men to be impregnated by them only to turn over the children to the men’s spouses.  There are also the women in the green dresses, the Marthas who are infertile and comprise the servant class.  The “gender traitors” (gays and lesbians) are sentenced to death as are the Unwomen who are slaves sent to the “colonies” (nuclear wastelands) to help out until they die. Of course, like in any dystopian tale, there are armed men everywhere keeping everyone in their appropriate place.

Elizabeth Moss is excellent in the starring role of Offred (of Fred) as is Alexis Bledel as Ofglen in what is possibly the best performance of her career.  Ann Dowd is marvelous as “Aunt Lily” who “trained” Offred to be a Handmaiden.  I loved the first three episodes and am looking forward to the rest.  So far, it is a real winner.  This is one worth checking out.

Fargo (FX)

Fargo Season 3 premiered recently and after two very good seasons, I was anxious to see what creator Noah Hawley has in store for us this year. Ewan McGregor plays two brothers (Emmitt and Ray), the first a big financial success and the other one a flop.   I didn’t love McGregor but did find the supporting characters played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ray’s girlfriend) and the terrific Carrie Coon as this season’s very competent police officer most engaging.

Fargo is not for everyone and the first two episodes of this season didn’t grab me in the same way as prior seasons so I’m not sure how I’ll find the rest of the series.  Maybe I’m just tired of the endless snow and the Minnesota accents but I’ll stick with it long enough to find out.  Fargo’s first two seasons left too much good will not to give the third a full run through.  Let’s hope that it isn’t another True Detective in that regard.

Genius (National Geographic)

I was disappointed by the first episode of Genius, the story of Albert Einstein’s life played by Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn (as the young Einstein) and directed by Ron Howard.  It jumped around a great deal and the dialogue was not particularly noteworthy or up to the level of the actors speaking the lines.  I didn’t come away with a real feel for Einstein’s motives and role in either the political or scientific world he existed in.  It was almost as if the writers were just trying to provide an Emmy winning role for Rush.  Maybe I expected too much from one episode so I’ll see how the next few episodes go in hopes that the show gets better.

Finales:

Feud (FX)

I found Feud to be hugely inconsistent in its portrayal of the “feud” between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  The first few episodes put me to sleep – literally – but the last few, beginning with the Oscar show were riveting.  Feud is Ryan Murphy’s one season follow-up anthology to last year’s brilliant “The People v OJ Simpson, American Crime Story” but isn’t at the same overall level.  Next year, Murphy will be doing Charles and Diana which could be fascinating.

In Feud, Jessica Lange stars as Joan Crawford and I think she pulls off the character better than Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis although both will likely get Emmy nominations.  Crawford comes off as the more tragic figure here and the story ends with her death.  Shortly before, there is a great dream sequence where Joan dreams that she and Davis reunite and become best friends.  It provides the series with a great “What if” to contemplate.  Feud is worthwhile TV but it just doesn’t have the overall quality that O.J. did.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I’m sorry to see Bates Motel go.  This was a very good show the last two seasons and a pretty good one for the first three seasons.  How Carlton Cuse and team could eek a 5-season prequel to Psycho is quite impressive as we all knew the endgame.  Freddie Highmore reached new acting heights as he played not only Norman but Norman playing Norma and Norman playing Norma playing Norman.  This show delivered to its audience and far exceeded what meager expectations were initially set for it.

As Norman descended into his deepest insanity over the last few episodes, there were glimmers at the end that he knew what reality he existed in and that carting the decomposing corpse of his mother around would not continue to be a viable option.  When Dylan shows up to help, it becomes clear to both that the only way out for Norman is death.  Leading up to that point, Dylan and his wife (played superbly by Olivia Cooke) have several emotional moments.  Vera Farmiga was wonderful for the entire five seasons as was Nestor Carbonell.

If you missed Bates the first go around, it’s worth checking out understanding that the first couple of seasons have some fits and starts as the creators work their way through how to make this story work most effectively given where Norma and her son end up.

Movies: Their Finest, After the Storm and Patriots Day

Their Finest

Their Finest is described by one site as a “Comedy, Drama, Romance”.  It is a drama with some romance interspersed with comedic relief by Bill Nighy.  Don’t think for one second that this movie isn’t a drama about World War II and what it was like to make a movie in the forties.   The film focuses on a small group of screenwriters tasked with creating propaganda for the British war effort during the London blitz.  Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired based on some work she did in a newspaper that was viewed as campy enough for the writing a lighthearted film with a female perspective. She is briefly caught up in a three-way romance but it is clear from early on, who she should end up with.

Bill Nighy plays an aging actor with few options other than to agree to act in this “B” film and he is excellent as the vain elitist who over the course of film integrates with the cast.  This culminates in a scene where he sings a beautiful melancholy song that one never could have predicted having listened to his crass Christmas rendition in “Love Actually”.  Nighy does deliver important comedic breaks in an otherwise serious drama with both predictable and unpredictable war deaths.  Arteton is quite good as Catrin and fills the screen admirably.  There is also a wonderful cameo by Jeremy Irons as he gives a dramatic speech about the criticality of using the film to draw America into the war.

In the words of one of my favorite Washington Post critics, “Their Finest” is an old-fashioned movie about old-fashioned movies, where sincerity and optimism can often look like kitsch but in which values are rightfully celebrated, without a trace of condescension”.  I think that sums up the movie perfectly.  It is a very good movie albeit not great that will please those viewers not expecting a war movie with lots of battle scenes or a comedy.  It is emotionally gratifying as you move from laughs to tears and even gain an understanding of the sausage making machine that is the movie industry.

After the Storm (subtitles)

After the Storm is a slow-moving journey into one man’s day to day existence as he struggles to get through life.  To say Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is not a success is an understatement.  He is divorced, unable to pay child support and thus denied frequent access to his son Shingo.  Although he has written one relatively successful novel, he can’t come up with the inspiration required to do another.  He works for a private detective agency where he shakes down deadbeats, gambles away the few dollars he receives and even steals from his mother.  His beautiful ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) has moved on with her life while looking back at the disappointments it has brought her.

When a typhoon strikes, Ryota, his ex-wife and son are stuck in the tiny apartment of his mother and the emotional interplay as they reflect on their lives is the heart of the movie.  At one point, Ryota, Kyoko and Shingo hole up outside in a large pink children’s play apparatus outdoors in the park at the height of the storm while they reminisce on their lives.  The Director is asking the viewer to forgive the generally unappealing Ryota before he can forgive himself.  There is no definitive ending to the movie.  The only hint as to what may happen in the future is that Ryota says to his mother earlier on that he wants to be the man he is capable of being.  As he walks into the crowd at the end, has he turned the corner or has his mother mentions more than once, has this late bloomer started to bloom?

Patriots Day (Now Streaming)

Patriots Day went in and out of the theater so fast this winter that I totally missed it.  The story of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred just a few blocks away from where I played squash for years is one of horrific tragedy followed by the hope and spirit of the Boston community.  The movie, staring Mark Wahlberg as a Boston cop is at its best when retelling the story of the massive manhunt for bombers.  The first part of the film flashes back and forth between victims and police to set the stage for the main event.  This part of the film is slow, confusing and difficult to follow.  Once the bombing occurs and the FBI and Boston/Watertown police engage, the plot takes on an edginess that keeps the viewer completely engaged until the end.  The way the authorities pinpoint the bombers in the various Commonwealth Ave. establishment’s security videos is fascinating and the hunt through Cambridge and Watertown thrilling.

The film is part documentary, part thriller and part police procedural with plenty of stars (in addition to Wahlberg there are Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and J.K. Simmons as Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese).  Anyone who enjoys documentaries, thrillers, police procedurals or any movie about Boston should be happy with this film.

TV: Homeland, the Magicians, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Guerrilla, 13 Reasons Why

There is so much happening with TV in April, I haven’t been able to get to all of it.  Fargo for example, must wait until next week.  Here is what I could catch up with this week! 

Finales:

Homeland (Showtime)

RIP Peter Quinn – again.  Homeland has gotten progressively better after a few rough years but has yet to reach the greatness of the first two seasons.  It was a big gamble to bring Peter Quinn back from the dead this season and like with Brody, I felt the show runners kept a character on for a year beyond where they should have.  Not that I didn’t love this character,  but watching Rupert Friend’s Quinn struggle with the combined effects of PTSD and a stroke all season was tough and didn’t move the plot forward in a way that was worth the pain.

In an “Art imitates Life” season of Homeland, we have a female President with the characteristics of Trump.  There was a “Fake News” plot line as well as a war between the intelligence community and the new elected President.  Franny is removed from her mother and it would be nice if that child could just go live a normal life with her aunt rather than going back to Carrie who is clearly someone who shouldn’t be raising a child.

We end season 6 with Saul in jail as President Keene expands the Patriot Act in a dangerous fashion and the government in a precarious place.  Will Carrie move back to DC (seems inevitable)?  What will happen to Saul?  Will the writer’s parallel life in the 7th Season?  Devoted Homeland viewers will turn in next winter to find out.

The Magicians (Syfy)

You may recall that I thought last year’s first season was horrible.  As a real fan of the books, I had so many issues with how the translation from book to TV took place that I couldn’t enjoy the show at all.  Still, I tuned in for Season 2, deciding that it couldn’t get any worse and wanting to see if it could align any better with the books.  Rather, the season went AWOL from the books and as a result, was much better and at times, was very good and engaging.  The characters and plot lines were far stronger in this coming of age story of millennials struggling with the demands of adulthood.

Season 2 has a much better developed Margo character (although the writers still have a way to go with her) working with Elliot to rule Fillory and having to make decisions with devastating consequences.  Quentin brings back Alice to a human form with mixed results but his killing of Ember sets in motion the elimination of magic in all worlds.  Although Season 2 is better than 1, it was still irritating in the way it cuts between characters and plot lines to keep Julia (the series best character/actress) in the main story.  It made my head spin at times.  The show has been renewed for a third year and if it can continue with what made Season 2 so much stronger, it will be worth watching.   I think the Magicians will appeal mostly to the younger demographic who have not actually read the books, grown up with Harry Potter and love fantasy.  For the rest of you, it won’t likely resonate.

Premiers

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul came back recently for Season 3 and it didn’t take long to meet back up with Gus Fring, the evil protagonist from Breaking Bad.  The first two episodes have long periods without dialog (first with Mike trying to find a listening device in his car and then with Jimmy in the restaurant watching for a package exchange) and these sequences are brilliant.  This show isn’t my normal genre but scenes like that keep me coming back.

I don’t know how long it will take for Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman but early on in this season, with Mike alerted to Los Pollos Hermanos and sending Jimmy in to interact with Gus, we have commenced the transition.  We also have the beginnings of the inevitable split between Kim who does everything above board and Jimmy who cuts all the corners.  Saul’s assistant in Breaking Bad is also introduced and hired by Jimmy as the show creeps slowly toward its Breaking Bad roots.

Better Call Saul is very well done and Bob Odenkirk is showing great dramatic acting chops in this series.  When Better Call Saul is over and done, it will be fun to binge it along with Breaking Bad all at once to appreciate the many connections between the two.  Breaking Bad seems like a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy.

Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers, one of my top five shows on television, commenced its third and final season with a super weird premier that had me reading multiple recaps and listening to podcasts to try and figure out what happened.  It started out with a religious sect in 1844 believing in the rapture which doesn’t come although some members of the cult become the precursors of he Guilty Remnant.  As is typical of the show, there is another big time jump, this time to the 7th anniversary of the Departure.  We catch up with most of our key characters in the premier but there are two key ones missing.  Carrie Coon is just fantastic in this show which is not to be missed.

The mysteries keep on coming.  Kevin, puts his head in a plastic bag and appears to die and then marches out of the house in perfect health.  Where are the missing characters?  And then the final scene where one of the key characters is shown about 10 years later on a different continent not seeming to know about her former life is a jump the shark moment.  There are also a lot of birds at the beginning and the end of the episode which mean something although who knows what and a few other crazy things.  So, the Leftovers is back in its full glory, the viewer is totally confused and this rather brilliant TV show will unfold over the next 7 episodes as only a Damon Lindelof show can.  I can’t wait.

Guerrilla (Showtime)

Guerrilla a 6-episode mini-series that premiered on Showtime last week is the story of how a mixed-race couple become revolutionaries in 1971 London.  Although Patty Hearst and Angela Davis come immediately to mind in watching two bohemian characters turn violent, there are certainly parallels with today’s world.  Marcus (Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto) start out as the quiet couple who quickly become emerged in a revolutionary world when their friends are imprisoned and killed by the police.

I can’t think of anything more relevant now than how peaceful people become violent revolutionaries and I will tune in for the next 5 weeks to gain whatever insight I can into this phenomenon.  Pinto is great so far and I want to see more of her lighting up the screen.

Streaming:

13 Reasons Why (Netflix)

I went through the last half of this very well done mini-series on teen suicide quickly.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much packed into the final four episodes.  I have one word of warning.  Do not finish the last couple of these late at night or you’ll likely have nightmares as the suicide and rape scenes are graphic.

I would recommend this series to everyone.  It is so well done and the leads (Hannah played by Catherine Langford and Clay played by Dylan Minnette) are wonderful.  Many critics found the middle episodes to drag and the sub plot with Jeff completely unnecessary so I was expecting that but didn’t find it to be the case.  I did not binge the series except for the last 4 episodes as they were tough and though provoking enough to need to be spaced out.

I guess the big question is whether the rapes and suicide should have been so realistically portrayed and my thought would be that yes, they needed to be done this way.  The show would have lost its credibility had Hannah’s end been glossed over.  It was extremely difficult to watch but an important moment in her story.   Hopefully those loose ends at the conclusion don’t mean the producers are thinking about a second season.  That would be a travesty.  Hannah’s story is finished and it should remain that way.  Watch this show.

 

Books: Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel and a couple from 2008: The Sleepwalker, Dreamers of the Day and the Story of Edgar Sawtelle

 

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

If you are a fan of Bohjalian, you will know that he often sets his novels in Vermont and that some of them have very twisty mysteries.  The Sleepwalker, his latest novel, has both.  It is the story of a beautiful woman, Annalee Ahlberg, who is a sleepwalker (later we find out she is a sleepsexer) who disappears one night when her husband is away at a conference.  Her daughters, Lianna (the narrator of the story and a college student) and twelve-year-old Paige are devastated as they try to find out what happened to her.

At first, it appears as if she walked into a river and drowned while she was asleep and that is what most people in the town assumed happened.  It is not until later that questions arise around that theory.  Along the way, Lianna becomes involved with a police detective investigating the disappearance of her mother.  He was also a close friend of Annalee and twelve years older than Lianna which borders on the very creepy.  How the family copes with grief as Lianna becomes increasingly skeptical of her new boyfriend and what he is hiding is also a theme.

This book reminded me somewhat of “Double Bind” Bohjalian’s masterpiece which was also set in Vermont and super twisty.  The author is very good at delivering surprise endings and this latest mystery is no exception.   Along the way, you will learn more about sleepwalking than you ever wanted to know.  I probably now need to reread the book to catch all the clues  Bohjalian leaves along the way because I’m sure they were there and I missed them the first go around.  Sleepwalker will be popular with Bohjalian fans.  It isn’t the best of his novels, nor the best mystery out there but it is perfectly satisfying and worth a read.

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

What makes this 2008 novel something to check out is not the quality of the novel (it is lightweight and sometimes borders on the absurd) but how it gives us glimpses into a period of history that created the basis for much of the instability in today’s Middle East.  The main character and narrator of the novel is Agnes, the only member of her Ohio family to survive the flu epidemic of 1919.  A spinster-like character who had lived with her mother, she buys an expensive wardrobe with her small inheritance and sets out to visit Egypt.  Her motives are a bit unclear but her sister’s family had been missionaries in the Middle East and so that seemed to be the connection.

Agnes arrives in Cairo with her dog (not exactly welcome in Muslim society) at the time of the Cairo Conference which established the boundaries for the modern day Middle East.  She meets up with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who had been friends with her sister.  She also encounters Gertrude Bell, one of the most influential women of the 20th century.  Winston Churchill takes her to see the pyramids and she also has a somewhat one-sided relationship with a German spy Karl who is likely based on an amalgamation of Germans who were spies in the area at the time.

Dreamers of the Day doesn’t have enough history in it for my liking and the novel is at times a bit silly but it will cause many readers to further research the Cairo Conference and Gertrude Bell.  There are several great biographies of Bell to read  as well as T.E. Lawrence (including the well regarded “Lawrence In Arabia” by Scott Anderson).  If you have never heard of the Cairo Conference or Gertrude Bell, it is well worth your time to check out this novel.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I first read this novel in 2008 when it came out and didn’t remember a lot about it except that it was (a) depressing (b) about a lot of dogs, (c)  well reviewed and (d) there was a big fire.  I have this novel on audio CDs and as there is always  an audio book going in my car, I figured I’d reread it.  This was probably a mistake. This story of a handicapped boy and his family’s dog kennel is modelled after Hamlet and we all know how Shakespearian tragedies end.

The story takes place in a small town in Wisconsin where Edgar, who is unable to speak, lives with his parents.  They own a dog kennel where they breed and train extraordinary dogs that are sold across the country.  Beware, you will know more about his family’s dog breeding techniques than you’ll ever want or need to know.  Despite not being able to speak, Edgar has his own sign language and is able to train dogs.  The first tragedy strikes early in the book when Edgar’s father dies.  His uncle Claude (think Claudius) comes to help Edgar and his mother Trudy (think Queen Gertrude) and of course, there is a ghost.

Along with the Shakespearean characters and the ghost, Edgar runs away for what seems to be one of the longest sojourns into the wilderness ever.  I won’t spoil the ending other than to say it is representative of what happens with Shakespear’s tragedies but, the dogs do survive – this could only be more depressing if there were dead animals.  This novel is compelling, well written (although overly long) and if you are in the mood for something really heavy and depressing, go for it.