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.

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TV: The Americans, Billions, The Catch, Feud, Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons Why and Colony

 

I am so behind on TV for several reasons and April TV which is an entire season in and of itself is beginning which means even more premiers so I’m just going to jump in and hit some of the highlights for shows that I’m watching which have recently started or ended.

Season Premiers:

The Americans (FX)

My favorite TV show is back for its fifth (and next to last) season and seems even more relevant given the current “Russia” headlines.  At the end of last season, Philip (Mathew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) were on the verge of being discovered and seriously contemplated taking their family back to Russia.  Their daughter Paige is aware of her parent’s profession and struggles to come to grips with it as she pursues a relationship with the next-door son of an FBI counter intelligence officer.

The season opens with the immediate crisis passing and a new mission involving a recently settled Russian family.  The father is very anti-Russia and the son Pasha is having difficulty adapting to American life.  There are connections to the real Russian wheat shortage of the time.  Also in transit, presumably on his way to America is Philip’s son Misha.  The premier has the longest grave digging episode in the history of television but we do get past that albeit without a surprise death.  Thankfully, Margo Martindale (Claudia) and Frank Langella (Gabriel)are back in their handler roles.  As the season progresses, things get more complicated as Philip struggles with the morality of his work; Paige has no idea how to deal with having a boyfriend whose FBI father could destroy their lives and Claudia and Gabriel are losing some confidence in their star spy family.

Note:  If you haven’t seen the Peabody award winning “The Americans”, you can see the first 4 seasons on Amazon Prime.  There isn’t anything better on Television and each season gets better and better.  This is a great show.

Billions (Showtime)

I missed Billions last year because my Sunday nights were filled with TV shows that I was watching so I caught up on Season 1 and am have watched about half of Season 2.  I like Billions.  The interplay between the lead character Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) and his arch enemy Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) is fantastic and there has rarely been a more despicable character than Rhodes.  Even though Bobby, a billionaire hedge fund magnate has obtained his money through shrewd insider trader schemes and taken advantage of 9/11 victim’s families, you still want him to win against the Feds (headed by Rhodes) who are on his trail.

Season 2 again pits the two main characters with a laser- like focus on eliminating each other.  Bobby is consumed by a desire to destroy Chuck and this single-minded focus seems certain to wreak havoc on both his personal and business life.  Chuck, who was hit hard both personally and professionally at the end of last season is still out to get Bobby but seemingly in more devious and creative ways.  There are a couple of new faces at Axe Capital which so far are very intriguing.  One is the performance coach (replacing Chuck’s wife) and the other is a transgender whiz kid whom Axe is immediately ready to take advantage of.  Billions may be the first Showtime drama that hasn’t crashed and burned its second season.  I’m in for the ride. 

The Catch

The Catch, Shonda’s Thursday night replacement for HTGAWM, premiered its second season a few weeks ago.  I gave up on HTGAWM a long time ago.  Viola Davis couldn’t make up for all the obnoxious 20 something year olds that were on the show along with their ridiculous storylines.  The Catch isn’t going to win any awards but it has much better leads (Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger) and supporting characters (Gina Torres for one).  I love to watch all of them at work – even with the crazy over the top plots.

In my opinion, the thing that worked best last year with this show was the Pink Panther-like escapades that Ben (Krause) was engaged in during his various heists.  Season 2 quickly gets him out of jail and sets him up to do undercover work for the FBI doing the same type of work.  This is a fun show and after all those seasons of the Killing where Enos never smiled or changed her clothes, it is great to see her do both.  There is a freshness to this Shonda show that makes for a good, light-hearted crime series that hopefully will continue to grow and get better.  

New Series:

Feud (FX)

Feud is the story of Joan Crawford (played by Susan Sarandon) and Bette Davis’s (played by Jessica Lange) relationship.  This should have been a great series given the actresses involved but I have found it boring and hard to stay awake for.  It is worth it, however to stick with it (or just skip directly to episode 5) to watch the epic Oscar dual that that pits a vengeful Crawford against Davis who is nominated for Best Actress.  If you love movies and the Oscars, episode 5 gives great insight into the political side of the Oscars. of the past. Sarah Paulson is fantastic in a brief appearance as Geraldine Page.  Feud can be skipped but you may want to check out the last couple of episodes. 

Big Little Lies (HBO)

Big Little Lies is based on the book by Liane Moriarty which is a total beach read.  I didn’t care for the novel so wasn’t going to watch the miniseries produced by Reese Witherspoon (and others) as a vehicle for great women parts.  It stars Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley along with Alexander Skarsgard.

Even knowing how the mystery ends, I found this mini-series so well done that I couldn’t miss it each Sunday.  The acting is phenomenal, the writing (David E Kelly) great and I enjoyed the show so much more than the book.  If you have HBO and somehow missed this series, go watch it.  It is great.

Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix)

 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix last week.  At first I was hesitant to watch a show about a teenager who commits suicide but it hooked me from the get go.  Hannah (Katherine Langford) commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes about the people in her life who impacted her decision to kill herself.  Langford is riveting as the lead in her first major role as is Clay (Dylan Minnette) her (questionably?) best friend.

I am less than half way through but I understand from those who have watched the entire 13 episodes that it drags in the middle. Also, you will be very frustrated by Clay’s slowness in listening to the tapes.  It is irritating.  Apparently the 13 people who had tapes about them, don’t necessarily deserve an entire episode devoted to their character.  It would have been much better to do some doubling up and have maybe 9 or 10 episodes.  I also understand that the last few episodes are great so it is well worth sticking with.  I’ll let you know when I finish it up if that is the case. 

Season/Series Finales:

Colony

Colony ended its second season with what we are led to believe is LA being blown to bits by the aliens as the Bowman family and Snyder escape the city.  Madeline and Broussard’s fates are unknown.  We also get a glimpse at an Alien in a closing segment that ties to the season’s opener.  Colony was renewed for season 3 a few days before the finale and it has been announced that the show is being moved from LA to Vancouver.  Colony isn’t the best show out there but it fills my Sy Fy needs and I will always hold on to a Carlton Cuse/Josh Holloway show.

 

 

 

 

 

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