Movies: The Lovers, War Machine and the Wedding Plan

 

The Lovers

The Lovers, starring Debra Winger (Mary) and Tracy Letts (Michael) isn’t going to appeal to the same demo as Guardians of the Galaxy but should find an audience of Baby Boomers.   It is a smart, well-paced view into a marriage past its prime.  Winger and Letts play a couple that go about their daily routine by rote, communicating as little as possible.  They are calm, they don’t argue but they also, don’t connect.  Quickly it becomes apparent that to escape this existence, each has taken up a lover and two new characters enter the fray.  There is Michael’s lover, a crazy dance instructor who constantly pressures him through histrionics to leave his wife for her and a much more placid and sensitive man (Aidan Gillen or Littlefinger for many of us!) who is Mary’s erstwhile lover.

It all comes to a head as Mary’s and Michael’s lovers continually try to force their partners to end their respective marriages.   The resultant tension created causes Michael and Mary to start backing away only to find a new sexual attraction between them.   They start cheating on their respective lovers which strained the bounds of credibility based on what had happened up to that point in their relationship but it was fun.  Intertwined through all of this is the arrival of their son and his girlfriend creating a catalyst for these relationships to implode.  Humor is interspersed with pain throughout the film but the honesty and realness of these characters is never challenged.  You will never think that you are watching an unreal slice of life despite an ending that is a bit of a stretch.

It is great to see Debra Winger on screen again as she reminds us what we have been missing.  Have fun with this movie. 

War Machine

This wartime satire starring Brad Pitt premiered on Netflix last week.  Pitt’s performance as the embattled General Glen McMahon (based on Gen. Stanley McChrystal) is completely over the top but does that make it more impactful or reduce its effectiveness?  The critics are mixed on this.  At any rate, it is hard not to have some sympathy for this General who was brought in to command the Afghanistan forces in 2009/2010.  He had his own ideas and personality and perhaps made some progress in trying to work through a very murky strategy.  Of course, it doesn’t help his legacy that his successor, General Patraeus was much more successful.

McChrystal was undone by a Rolling Stone writer, the late Michael Hastings, who was embedded for a while and wrote a scathing article resulting in the President firing the General.  The movie is based on Hasting’s book “The Operators”.  The film explores the General, his relationships with subordinates and his belief in his own ability to win the war even while everything falls apart around him.  The supporting cast is excellent from Ben Kingsley as President Hamid Karzai to Meg Tilly as McMahon’s long suffering wife.  They are all very good.

I did not particularly care for the movie.  It was no Mash.  Pitt’s acting choices in playing the General might be brilliant but the characterization grated on me.  It wasn’t the worst film I have ever seen by a long shot, and it was free on Netflix so I didn’t have to waste money on it, but the subject matter is tough and the writing not particularly compelling.  Nonetheless, war is hell and this film portrays that theme throughout.  There is no reason not to check out the movie but feel free to abandon it along the way.  That is one of the great benefits of Netflix!

The Wedding Plan

I was looking for more from this film which was rated 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I could not stay awake during the first hour.  I’m usually pretty good with subtitles but in this case, the lead has most of the dialogue, a melodic voice speaking Hebrew and the subtitles were positioned such that I got tired of reading them.  At any rate, it is the story about a young orthodox Jewish woman, Michal, who is jilted by her fiancé 30 days before their wedding.  She decides that come hell or high water, she will find a man to marry on the original date because life would clearly not be worth living were she to remain single at age 32.

The film is advertised as a romantic comedy/drama and is clearly more heavily weighted toward the drama.  The comedy was not very prevalent. Michal solicits help from a couple of matchmakers to help her quickly find a husband but I must admit, all the candidates looked and acted the same to me.  The only interesting male was a touring musician named Yos played by an Israeli pop star Oz Zehavi.  He had charisma and their relationship had some depth.  Other than that, it was all somewhat bewildering and I don’t think it is because it is hard for me to relate to the character’s need to be married which of course it was.

All and all, I was disappointed by this film.  Feel free to skip this one.

TV: Did You Think I Stopped Watching? Network Finale Wrap-Up

TV:

May sweeps came fast and furiously with most shows wrapping up their seasons.  Instead of going over each one in detail, I’m just going to provide some random thoughts on this season for many of the shows I watch: 

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC):  Wow, a huge explosion and fire at Seattle Grace (or whatever its not- so- new name is) and no one died.  It’s a first for the show that is known for its disaster finales that always entail big deaths.  We did have one doctor leave the show because of the fire but I didn’t care for that character so no big deal.  I am amazed at how this show just keeps chugging along.  I’m in for the long haul as well as the love triangle that the season finale set up for next year.

Scandal (ABC):  It’s a good thing Scandal is ending next year.  It has gotten to be so far-fetched that it spends most of its time in the world of the absurd.  Nellie as President – really? Not in our lifetime.  Olivia as a power-hungry manipulator in the white house?  I’m afraid the foundation for that plotline was loosely laid.  Fitz off to a quiet life in NH?  If true, he’d certainly be in the best place of any of them but I doubt it will last.  Olivia’s mother is back….pleez…don’t they have any new ideas?  Certainly, not for Quinn who is pregnant with who knows whose kid.  Ugh…. a show that started off so fantastically is well beyond its prime.  Wrap it up!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC):  Somehow, this show actually got renewed for a 5th season.  I didn’t love this year with the AIDA killing everyone and the alternate universe where Fitz is a baddie and his relationship with Simmons on the rocks.  I can’t say as I followed who exactly were the bad guys and how next season was set up but I suppose I might eek one more year, maybe, out of this show.  I don’t think it will last for more.

The Blacklist (NBC):  Another show where I have invested years and they aren’t exactly paying off.  To have to wait 4 years to confirm what everyone had pretty much figured out from the beginning (that Reddington is Liz’s father) was so anti-climactic as to be a “who the heck cares any more” moment.  I was sorry to see Mr. Kaplan go but am intrigued enough by the “bones” headed toward Liz to tune in next year.  If they drag out that mystery too long, however, I’m out of there!

Mary Kills People (Lifetime):  This is not the most intellectually compelling show you’ll ever see but it is well done and I hope it will be around next year.  If you missed it on Lifetime, catch up this summer.  Not only is it shot beautifully, the acting is good (particularly Caroline Dhavernas as Mary) and it is written and directed mostly by women.  Each episode moves quickly with the requisite amount of suspense and the subject matter is compelling.  And, despite its compelling subject matter, there is humor which is needed to break up the death scenes.  Hopefully there will be a Season 2 because the show deserves it.

Jane the Virgin (CW):  I love, love, love this show and it never disappoints.  The characters are amazing and have so much heart that the viewer is emotionally attached to each and every one.  This season has primarily revolved around the central theme of love or in Jane’s case, her re-entry back into the world of dating after coming to terms with Michael’s death. Her parent’s relationship deepens and ends in marriage and even her grandmother finds love.  The finale introduces us to Jane’s probable new love interest for next season and I can only count the days until this show comes back in September.  Jane is a tough show to catch up on as there are approximately 23 one-hour shows per year and there have been several seasons but if you have missed it, and have “binge” time this summer, try it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Flash (CW):  I thought the Flash this season was a bit too morose and dragged out Iris’s death interminably.  Barry’s disappearance at the end of the season should be short-lived next season and I assume we will be back to the creature of the week with an overall super villain story-arch.  I like what they did with the Killer Frost character in the finale by not having Kaitlin go back to normal with no ramifications.  It keeps that character complex and interesting.  Hopefully next season will recapture some of the “lightness” the first two seasons had as this one was just a little too dark for me.

Supergirl (CW):  Supergirl is destined never to have a lasting love interest and this season was heartbreaking for her as her Daxamite boyfriend Mon-El can no longer exist on earth and is sucked into a black hole in space.  On the plus side, Supergirl kicked Superman’s ass and Cat Grant (Callista Flockheart) was in the last two episodes and yes, she does know who Kara is!  Bring this woman back full-time!  We were introduced at the end to next season’s villain – a blood sucking kryptonite who was also launched from the planet as it was exploding to what I only assume will be a landing on earth.  Supergirl and Flash are my antidote to watching Rachel Maddow in the hour before them.  They take me away from it all!

Premiers:

So, with all those finales, you must be wondering whether I saw any new shows and unfortunately, I did.

Bloodline (Netflix):  The first season of Bloodline was “bloody” fantastic.  One of the main reasons was Ben Mendelsohn who was just plain spectacular.  Unfortunately, he died at the end.  Season two had Mendelsohn in flashbacks but it just wasn’t the same and the show was not good.  Season three (the final) dropped last week on Netflix and because I am a glutton for punishment, and a perverse side of me wants to see all the Rayburns rot in hell, I watched the first episode.  The whole thing took place in the dark and I couldn’t even see the characters.  It was extremely irritating.  The most obnoxious thing, however, is that I am going to have to watch it again to have any understanding of what happened.  It seems like a high price to pay to have to watch an entire season of this just to see them all get their just rewards but I can be a masochist especially during the summer when there isn’t much happening elsewhere on TV.  If you haven’t seen this show, don’t get involved with it!!!!!!

Note:  I still haven’t caught up on DVR with Billions, Genius and Legion but now that things are calming down, I intend to do some catching up!

 

Books: Who Knew the Little House Books could have been written by Ayn Rand? “Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books”

 

Libertarians on the Prairie:   Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the making of the Little House Books by Christine Woodside 

I adored the Little House on the Prairie books growing up.  They provided many an hour of joy as I immersed myself in the amazing story of this pioneer family and the trials and tribulations they faced trying to survive in the American West.  Although these books were instrumental to my love of reading as a child, I never pursued information about the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder as I grew older.  Perhaps if I did, the information contained in “Libertarians” would not have been such a surprise.  It never occurred to me that the story of Wilder’s early years would not be absolutely accurate and that her daughter manipulated the course of the narrative to support her own political philosophy.

Christine Woodside has done extensive research to prove that the books written during the 1930s and ‘40s were heavily influenced by Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane and that the original manuscripts developed by Ingalls were substantially altered by Rose.  Woodside is able to compare the “before and after” to show how the finished copy bears the Libertarian philosophy of self-reliance and anti-government intervention in a direct reaction to New Deal reforms and the growing reliance on the Federal Government to solve problems.  In fairness to Rose, Woodside also makes it clear that she is by far the better writer and that the end result of her editing produced  better books than had she not been involved.

Although Laura held conservative views, it was her daughter Rose who grew to become one of the greatest proponents of modern Libertarian thought.  Laura was no writer when she undertook to write her story in her early ‘60s but her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane was a famous author and journalist and it becomes quite clear early in the Woodside’s book just how much influence Rose had while “editing” the books. A fact that was well hidden from the public at the time.  In fact, the strain placed on the relationship between mother and daughter became permanent due in part to the heavy edits Rose made on her mother’s work in order for the story to support her increasingly strong political views.

As Lane became more conservative, she interacted with other conservative thinkers including H.L. Mencken, Ayn Rand, and even the Koch brothers.  If nothing else, “Libertarians” gives us a peripheral view into the rise of conservative thought in this country.  This isn’t the easiest book to read.  It jumps around and repeats things but if you loved the Little House books and are interested in American history, I suspect you will find this read time well spent.  If you are already well versed in Ingalls’s history and her daughter’s political views and role bringing the books to the public, there probably isn’t much new for you in this book.  As for me, I plan to go back and reread these the Little House series to watch for the subliminal (and the more obvious) messages that Rose Wilder Lane was able to incorporate into her mother’s writing.

 

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.