TV: The Keepers, The Last Tycoon, Casual and Diana Our Mother

There isn’t much original programming on TV right now so I have mostly been streaming aside for every Sunday night when I get to watch Game of Thrones!

The Keepers (Netflix)

The Keepers isn’t the “can’t stop watching” sort of true murder mystery that say the “Jinx” is or “Making of a Murder”.  That might have to do with the lack of an arrested suspect to focus on.  It might also have to do with the fact that it is the story of two women (same high school class as myself) who are investing the murder of a beloved nun they had for a high school teacher in the late sixties.  The process of this work is slow and painstaking as is some of the TV show.  I am perfectly happy to watch women who are my peers become more effective investigators then the Baltimore police but that might not work for everyone.  Nevertheless, it is a compelling story that brings a different dimension to the Catholic Church abuse stories that we have been exposed to over the past few decades.

This seven-part series is like watching “Spotlight” only squared.  It is a deeply disturbing trip into the sexual abuse of countless girls by a priest in a Baltimore Catholic High School in the sixties. There is mystery, intrigue and even the Wire can’t compete with this true story of corruption and cover-up encompassing the Church, police, and what seems like the Who’s Who of Baltimore. The most compelling individual in this story is a woman, Jean Hargadon Wehner who suffered abuse and then blocked it from her memory for decades.  She started to recall disturbing elements of her ordeal and filed suit against the Church and the perpetrator priest in the early 90s.  “Jane Doe” as she was known as during the lawsuit is remarkably open about her experiences and every time she is on the screen, she completely owns it.

As the individuals who participated in the murder and cover-up have died, it is unclear if we will ever know for sure who committed the murder of Sister Cathy.  The dogged determination of two wonderful women, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins have opened up the case and brought the story of the abuse and murder to the forefront of many Americans.  The Keepers is a powerful TV series (although I found it dragged in parts) and it is most effective when the camera just lets the survivors tell their stories.  While other similar programs like the aforementioned “Jinx” or “Making of a Murder” might be more riveting, “The Keeper”s is well worth checking out – particularly if you are interested in the subject or just a murder mystery buff.

The Last Tycoon (Amazon)

Yes, Matt Bomer is perhaps the best-looking actor in Hollywood but he can act and he does it well in this new Amazon series based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that was unfinished at his death.  I watched the entire nine-episodes and enjoyed it.  It is a period piece that takes place in 1930s Hollywood amidst a backdrop of Nazi bankers and the Great Depression.  The strong acting and visually appealing sets will remind the viewer of Mad Men which isn’t too surprising as they share the same costume designer.  The pilot wasn’t the greatest but after that, the story of a small movie studio head (Kelsey Grammer) and his creative genius partner (Bomer) trying to keep their heads above water while attempting to make great movies was entertaining.  Bomer plays a Jewish character, Monroe Stahr, who is still in love with the ghost of his movie-star wife who perished in a fire.  Grammer’s character, Pat Brady, has several flaws, including a strong jealousy of his partner, which prove in the end that a completely immoral streak probably is required to become a great success in Hollywood.

Lily Collins plays Brady’s daughter who inexplicably is given a major movie to produce at the age of 19 with absolutely no experience.  I didn’t love this plot line nor Collin’s performance in a role which I thought required more acting ability than Collin’s is currently capable of.  Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) makes a very strong appearance in several episodes and it was great to see her back.  Grammer and Bomer were especially strong and anyone who thinks the latter is just a pretty face should watch what he does in this series.  His reaction to Brady cutting him off at the knees was magnificent as was his performance at the engagement party.  The costumes were fabulous and along with the camera work and scenery take the viewer back to a time forgotten.

It is unclear as to whether the Last Tycoon will be renewed for another season (or more) but it ended on a cliff hanger and I’m sure there is a lot more story to tell.  The novel upon which it is based was apparently only half finished so the writers could go several different directions with it.  My only fear would be that it moves toward the Lily Collin’s character running the studio, the groundwork for which has been laid.  There are several other plotlines that could be explored in more depth including the Nazi impact on the studios and the Jewish establishment in Hollywood.  The first season certainly touched on these themes but the story could get quite fascinating as WWII becomes a reality.  I don’t want to spoil the finale but I’ll just say that I need Bomer to return to the series if it goes another season.

Casual Season 3 (Hulu)

This story revolving around the completely dysfunctional members of the Meyers/Cole family spiraled into even more of a heavy drama in season 3.  The showrunners did well in physically separating the Meyers from Alex this season and it helped with the story telling.  New characters, like Judy Greer as Alex’s boss were brought in and additional plotlines established making for a more engaging season.  After all, one can only take so much of three deeply flawed characters being with each other 24×7.  Each character was strengthened and individualized as they set out on their own journey towards happiness – which of course is not ever in the cards for them.  While these were all positive changes, they created a scenario that resulted in multiple plotlines being very depressing and by the middle of the season I was ready to quit.  I did hang in there and it picked up toward the end with the finale setting the stage for Alex and Val to go back to living together in Season 4 although Laura is parked at her horrific grandmother’s house.

Casual is one of many “Dramedies” (You’re the Worst, Catastrophe etc.) that have focused on dark, topics with less and less comedic undertones.  They are tough to watch despite being excellent.  In the future, I think I may have to decrease the number of these that I follow and Casual might be the one that I ditch.   It’s nothing against Casual, it is just that I can only take so much of dysfunctional people in their 30s/40s with drug abuse, alcoholism, bi-polar disorders and other problems creating chaos in their lives.  I could use just a little more “comedy” in my dramedies.

Documentaries:

Diana Our Mother (HBO)

This documentary put together by William and Harry will appeal to anyone with an interest in Diana or the Royal family.  It is an intimate look into the woman who meant so much to so many people and it shows the deep scars her death left upon her children.  There isn’t much more in this special than has previously been made available but we do see her through her children’s eyes and are shown new family pictures. The boys discuss her sense of humor, their last call with her and the void she has left in their lives. It is worth watching for anyone interested in the Royals and as we mark the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s tragic death.

TV: Broadchurch, Legion, Casual and Orange is the New Black

Season Premiers:

Broadchurch – Season 3 (BBC America) 

Broadchurch Season 1 was one of the best murder mysteries I’ve seen in years.  Olivia Colman (Mrs. Miller) and David Tennant (Alec Hardy) played detectives investigating the death of a young boy, Danny.  Everything about it was excellent.  Unfortunately, the brilliance of the first season did not extend to Season 2 where the show went off the rails.  Part of the problem was the fact that the showrunners decided to drag the trial for Danny’s murder out over an entire second season and it resulted in a very unsatisfactory outcome making the frustration with the season’s pace even more of an issue.  In the meantime, the best feature of the show, the interplay and relationship between Miller and Hardy was missing as each was bogged down in their own serious personal issues.  Finally, the new case they were involved with was not very interesting or compelling.

For some reason, after that disaster of a second season, Broadchurch was renewed for a third and final season and I, being the sucker that I am, tuned in for the premier and I’m so glad I did.  The hour flew by as Miller and Hardy set out to investigate a new case involving the rape of a middle-aged woman.  The victim, Trisha (played by Julie Hesmonhalgh) gave one of the most emotional performances of the year as the detectives slowly took her through the steps of recounting what occurred.  Miller and Hardy seemed to be mostly back to normal and Colman radiates on the screen.  I am excited about where this show is going in its final season and can’t wait for the next episode.  I am cautiously optimistic that Broadchurch has found its mojo from season 1.

Note:  For those who aren’t familiar with some of the more distinct British regional accents, I recommend you put on the closed captioning.  Also, for those who have not seen it, S1 &S2 are on Netflix and I think you could watch Season 1, skip to 3 and then decide if you want to go back and do S2. 

Clearing out the DVR

Legion Season 1 (FX)

Well the first thing I should mention is that watching 3 episodes of Legion as they aired and then letting the rest pile up on the DVR and not getting back to this trippy show until months later was not a smart idea.  I was already at a disadvantage not knowing the Marvel world which spawned the Legion story.  When I tuned in to Noah Hawley’s most bizarre tale, I found it hard to follow but kind of hung on because it was so unusual.  Returning months later, I was completely overwhelmed with confusion.  To add insult to injury, my comic book expert daughter who watched the show refused to help me understand what was going on.  She told me that I took up too much of her time with Flash which was a much simpler show to explain to a non-comic book person.

I will say that the cinematography is amazing and although I never actually took LSD, this show seems to be one long LSD trip.  Alternative “planes” or universes have never been my strength and Legion has an endless number of them so the lines between real and imagined in this universe are blurred in every episode.  All I need is time travel to totally put me over the edge.  At least there were recaps to fall back on as I attempted to unravel what happened in each episode.  Dan Stevens is great in the lead role and it’s amazing to see how far from his Downton Abby role he has come.

I am clearly not the target demo for Legion but I can tell it is well done and for the Marvel Universe lovers out there, I can understand why they love this show.  I won’t be returning next season but I’m glad I got a chance to finish off this one as it was one of the more unique TV viewing experiences of the year. 

Streaming:

Casual (Hulu)

I decided to check out this critically acclaimed show as I had reopened my HULU account to watch Handmaid’s tale.  I watched all of Seasons 1 and 2.   This is one of the an increasingly large group of 30 minute dramedies appearing everywhere and many of them are excellent. Among the best are Better Things, Catastrophe, You’re the Worst, Fleabag, Transparent and One Mississippi.  I have watched them all.  They are comedies with main characters who are often deeply flawed and always must deal with serious issues such as bi-polar condition, breast cancer, alcoholism, transgender family members, etc. Every comedic moment seems to arise out of a very depressing scene.

Casual is about a brother Alex and his sister Val.  Alex made a lot of money developing an algorithm for a dating site.  Now he pretty much sits around in an expensive home and does nothing except have casual sex with beautiful women, most of whom he altered the algorithm to show that they were compatible matches.  Val is recently divorced after her husband had an affair and she moves in with Alex along with her sixteen-year-old daughter Laura.  Everyone, including Laura has a lot of sex in this show.  Again, there is A LOT of sex on this show.  They are all looking for something deeper (well maybe not Alex) without success.  Alex and Val are messed up primarily because their parents were hippies following the free love movement around the country and didn’t care much about or for their children.  This family probably beats the Pfefferman’s for TV’s most dysfunctional family and that is tough to do.

Casual is well done.  It is very funny but I don’t see that it brings more to the table than the other shows I mentioned.  It isn’t worth getting a HULU subscription to see it but if you already have Hulu and maybe haven’t seen some of these other shows which are on Netflix, Amazon and Cable, check it out.  It is a good summer binge.  I’m sure I’ll get through the current Season 3 soon as TV is slow right now and I want to cancel HULU as soon as I can but I’m not sure I need to go back to Casual next year. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Whoever thought that an entire 13-episode season should cover only three days of a prison riot was a good idea should look for another occupation.  The emotionally devastating finale last year showing Poussey’s death by strangulation left a huge void in the show without a clear path forward so I’m sure the show runner’s decided to try something unique. It doesn’t work for me.  I’m not sure I’m even going to get through this season so thought I would note how much I disliked what was going on even though I’m only less than half way through the episodes.  The reason that I’m fairly certain I won’t make it is that I am having real difficulty even getting through one episode in a single sitting.  I generally need to break it into two viewing segments.  This can’t be good.

What are the issues?  To begin with, I can’t get past the fact that if there was a prison riot in a woman’s minimum security prison that federal troops wouldn’t move in and quash it rather than standing around outside doing nothing.  The women have only one gun and no idea what they are doing or what they should be focused on yet the authorities don’t bother to intercede. It is ridiculous.  I am also tired of the flashbacks.  By now, we have seen flashbacks for anyone we care about and I can’t even tell who they are doing them on at this point.  OITNB needs to find a new mechanism to bring the inmates stories to life.  Finally, I’m just not interested in anything any of these women are doing during this prison riot.  It is just boring.  So, assume this is my last post ever on OITNB unless by some miracle, the show makes a miraculous recovery and it gains some of its former appeal in which case, I might try it again.