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.

TV: Catastrophe, Orphan Black, Jackie Robinson,Togetherness, the Magicians, The Last Panthers

 

Several series are wrapping up and we got a couple of great new ones while I count down the days until the April 24th debut of Game of Thrones.

Premiers

Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)

If you missed Season 1 of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime, go watch it now. It’s only 6 one-half hour shows so it is easy to catch up with. It is about an American businessman who has a one-week fling in London with a girl he meets in a bar. She becomes pregnant and the two of them work through what they are going to do. Catastrophe is that new genre of “dramady” (like You’re the Worst, Togetherness, and Master of None), which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Several of them are about millennials moving in to adulthood but this one has more comedy and a little less drama than others. The two lead actors playing Rob and Sharon, write, direct and produce the series and they are so good. There is such a great relationship between them as they blunder their way through life with perfect dialogue.

Season 2 dropped April 8 on Amazon Prime. I watched all 6 episodes and they were terrific. This show may have a bit too much crude language and sex for some but the pluses far outweigh the negatives for me. We return to Rob and Sharon a couple of years later fully entrenched in a house in London with a toddler and newborn. Rob is still in his horrific job (although a new sexy co-worker is introduced) and Sharon is struggling with being a stay-at-home mom. Each episode is crisp with unbelievably pithy dialogue and deals with a main event that moves the plot along nicely. The trip to Paris episode turns out to be a disaster (as you can imagine) and the episode where they invite all their friends to meet the baby is equally as bad. The supporting cast, including Carrie Fisher at her best, is more prominent in this season and adds depth to the story. Unfortunately, the Season is over in less than 3 hours and we are going to have to wait a year for the next one. I’m sure I’ll go back during the summer and re-watch both season 1 and 2, as they are so great.

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black returned this week. Season 1 was extraordinary – there had never been a show on television quite like it. Tatiana Maslany was brilliant playing a number of clones with completely different looks and personalities. This Canadian actress came out of nowhere to deliver the best performance of the year. The next couple of seasons slipped dramatically in terms of writing and story telling. They introduced male clones, new villains etc. and it was extremely difficult to figure out what the heck was going on. Nonetheless, despite not understanding the plot, watching Maslany as Alison, Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Rachel etc. Is just magical. I can watch her all day long.

The reviews for Season 4 have been encouraging. The writers are going back to some of the elements that made it great in Season 1. The premier did not disappoint. We flashed back to Beth’s backstory (she committed suicide in the first episode of season 1) and met a new clone , MK who I’ll just refer to as “Sheepgirl” given the mask she wears. We saw what happened with the murder Beth was being investigated for and introduced new mysteries. There was also a a surprising reveal about Beth and her partner’s Art relationship. It was a great start to Season 4.

Jackie Robinson (PBS)

As a student of history, there is nothing better than a Ken Burn’s documentary and Jackie Robinson does not disappoint. I was a bit skeptical as I really dislike baseball but there is plenty of meat here that has nothing to do with the sport, which helped immensely. It is a perfect balance of Jackie Robinson’s story amidst the history of the period. The narration is great as are the historians and other commentators used by Burns who even got President Obama to participate. We all think we know the story of Jackie Robinson but Burns provides so much insight into the years after his life in baseball which is pretty much ½ of this documentary. This is an important story and the 4 hours fly by. PBS usually repeats these documentaries many times over so if you missed it, just hit that cable “On Demand” button and see it.

Finales:

Togetherness (HBO)

Togetherness ended its 2nd and last season (was not renewed) this week. This is really a great show and I’m sorry to see it end. I don’t think the creators knew they were going to be cancelled when they wrote what turned out to be the final episode but it still was a satisfying conclusion to the series. The right people got together and the interaction between each of the couples was perfect. I wasn’t a huge fan of the charter school plot line this season – it was too much like Parenthood – but even that resolved itself satisfactorily. The acting is just great in this show and hopefully we will be seeing the actors again soon.

The Magicians (SY FY)

I’ve written about the Magicians a couple of times. It is the biggest disappointment for me of this Television season. I had such high hopes but by the end of Season 1, I was just screaming at the TV and trying to gauge out my eyes. How writers (with input from the author) could butcher the books so completely is beyond my comprehension. The plots changed, the characters changed, the worlds changed and none for the better. I watched each and every week for it to start to turn around and instead, it just got worse.

The finale was no different. A fat, ugly guy with a ram’s hat? Really? I realize that the budget is limited but Ember and Reginald the Fox were major disappointments.   Ember may not be truly god-like but he certainly wasn’t that! Why is Alice not a Niffin? It’s not like the actress is so great that they need to keep her around. Much of book 2 of the magicians was incorporated into season 1 so I’m really not sure where they are going to go with this. There can’t be enough material to sustain more than one more season of the show. I guess they could go the route of the backstory of the gods but given the kindergarten-like costumes of the finale, I don’t think that would be a good idea.  Unless the showrunner, writers and producers are fired and there is a major restructure for season 2, I won’t be back.

DVR Alert:

I don’t have access to the Sundance Channel but a new show on that network is getting a lot of good buzz. The title is “The Last Panthers” and if you get this channel, it is worth checking out. It is a 6-part miniseries that traces crime across Europe (primarily London, Marseilles and Belgrade) and really explores how international crime syndicates work and the fine line between legal and illegal. For me, I’ll have to wait until it hits Netflix or one of the other services.