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: The Young Pope, Legion, Planet Earth II, Bates Motel

I have been remiss in my TV updates but there have been a few interesting finales and premiers over the last couple of weeks with even more coming over March and April as spring TV ramps up.

Season Finales:

The Young Pope (HBO)

I watched the entire mini-series of the young pope and I’m not sure I could explain it to anyone.  Jude Law was fantastic; the costumes magnificent and I loved it every time Dianne Keaton opened her mouth (and even when she was speechless).  Law, plays Lenny Belardo who becomes Pope Pius XIII under questionable circumstances, begins his reign as a smug, condescending outsider who spies on his enemies and generates a high level of arrogance (remind you of anyone?).  Along the line, he questions his belief in God and has multiple strange visions.  Almost every day is spent trying to come to terms with the parents who abandoned him as a child and wondering about their whereabouts.

We wind our way through the season there are probably more bad moments than good but even the bad ones are so weirdly strange and beautifully shot that I was reeled in.  We don’t know what Lenny’s actual beliefs are as they change constantly while becoming one of the world’s greatest tyrants.  The biggest issue I had with the show is that there was a real lack of character development that prevented us from understanding anyone’s motivations.  If there is a second season, I’ll give it a try as Law is mesmerizing. 

Series Premier

Legion (FX)

Legion recently premiered as the latest in a series of Marvel comics coming to life on the small screen.  Apparently, this character (David Haller) is a very minor character in the Marvel world and he is clearly disturbed, teetering between schizophrenia and some type of specialized mental power.  The premier was 1 ½ hours and most of it was like a 1960s-acid trip.  The weirdest thing I have ever seen.

The second episode was not quite so trippy but a lot is happening.   Dan Stevens (Downton Abby) plays David Haller, a diagnosed schizophrenic since he was a child.  The government thinks that he is perhaps the most powerful mutant ever so interrogates him until he is rescued by a couple of women that were in the psych hospital (“Clockworks” don’t you love it) with him.  They bring David to Dr. Bird (Jean Smart) who tries to make him healthy and happy again so that he can be used in the war against the government.  In the interim, there are lots of flashbacks, evil stuff, powers moving from one person to the next and general craziness but if you like the Marvel Universe, this kind of pulls you in.  I’ll try to stick with it until I’m so confused I must give up which is what usually happens with my forays into the Marvel universe.

Planet Earth II (BBC America)

What is not to love about this magnificent look at Nature with the inspiring new score by Hans Zimmer and perfect narration by the marvelous David Attenborough.  I have seen Mountains and Islands and can’t wait for more.  Spectacularly done with the most amazing technical advances that put the series in a difference orbit than even the original Planet Earth, you can only wonder if this is the last we will see of many of the species shown.  With only a handful (7) of episodes there is absolutely no excuse not to see this and anyone who doesn’t believe that man is destroying this world should watch the show.  It is extraordinary.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I love this series and particularly the acting.  It stars Vera Fermiga and Freddie Highmore and is a prequel to Pschyo.  Last year’s finale found Norman murdering his mother and finally, we have him in full “psycho” mode.  I wasn’t sure how Vera Fermiga would be able to continue in this final season that recently started but Carleton Cuse and the Bates team have brought her back to life in a creative way.  It is harder to integrate Norman’s brother (Dylan) and Olivia Cooke into the story as they moved away and have no relationship with Norman but the writers are trying.  While one part of me wants them back in the action, the other part knows that this would be a very bad thing for their survival and after all they have been through, I don’t want them killed by Mr. Psycho.  Also back is Norma’s sexual predator brother who comes back to town.  Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is in jail and again, trying to keep him connected to Norman is difficult but I love every scene he is in.

I’m enjoying every minute of the last season of Bates Motel and wish Fermiga and Hightower would get the Emmy recognition they deserve for this little gem of a show.

When We Rise (ABC miniseries)

When We Rise is the history of the Gay Rights movement and teams together again the powerful combination of Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black who respectively directed and wrote Milk.  It follows several real-life people (particularly Cleve Jones who also was an important figure in the movement and has a major role in the movie Milk) who converged on San Francisco in the 1970s and continued the Gay Rights movement up through DOMA.  The series is playing all this week and while the last few hours might not be that interesting to people, I find that the first couple of episodes covering the 1970s and 80s are particularly good.