TV: Better Call Saul, the Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, Genius, House of Cards and SYTYCD

 

Season Finales:

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I actually like Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad.  Saul at least has some with redeeming qualities – particularly Kim and Jimmy McGill before he becomes Saul.  This season was great as we ease closer to the world of Breaking Bad and see some of the characters making choices that will forever doom them.  But the reason I love Better Call Saul is that the characters of Kim, Chuck and Jimmy are complex, interesting and the actors are fantastic.  Michael McKean is brilliant as Chuck who we never completely have a handle on.  Is he mentally ill?  A fake?  The only person who sees through Jimmy and tries to protect the world from him?  Just a jealous brother who makes poor Jimmy’s life miserable or all the above.  Although the finale helps with answer several of these questions,, we will never know all due to the final scene of the season.

What is keeping me going now is wanting to know what happens ultimately to Kim who is not in Breaking Bad.  I can only hope that she finds happiness and moves far away from New Mexico but that would not exactly be in the DNA of a Vince Gilligan show.  Jimmy started down the path towards Saul this year although he still showed he had a heart in the last two episodes.  That will be gone soon.  Mike has made the permanent turn to crime signing on with Gus and Nacho remains an intriguing character.  A good deal of progress was made this season toward where these people are in the Breaking Bad universe so I’m not sure how much of a story is left but I’m totally in until the end.  This was a great season of a great show.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent.  Elizabeth Moss was riveting as was Ann Dowd and even Alexis Bleddel had fine moments (and I’m glad she will be back for Season 2).  The TV series deviated from the book (as can be expected) particularly at the end as it has been renewed for season 2 which must go beyond the book’s story.  Next season, we will be in unchartered territory for the adapted screenplay of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel which provides for some interesting plotlines given the open-ended conclusion to the book.

Handmaid offers a look into what could be a near term world for us all.  It has eerie correlations to our current political environment to the point of being uncomfortable but it is really good and marks Hulu’s entry into well constructed original TV dramas.  Don’t be scared off by getting a Hulu subscription.  It is easy to subscribe and unsubscribe from and it is worth getting a month’s subscription to watch this show.

Fargo (FX)

This third season certainly was filled with death and destruction as only Fargo can provide.  It was good but didn’t grab me the way the first two seasons did although the addition of Carrie Coon was a really good one.  With Leftovers showing at the same time as Fargo, my Carrie Coon fix was certainly satisfied this spring.  The whole Ewen McGregor playing two brothers (Ray and Emmit Stussy) thing I found somewhat tedious but Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ray’s girlfriend was this season’s star.  She was amazing and I felt that her character was the only one that was fully developed.  None of the others seemed to have the completeness she had which made for a less than optimal viewing experience.  It also took me the entire season to realize the evil V.M. Varga was played by none other than David Thewlis who played the loveable Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series which I have seen more times than I care to admit.  The make-up and vocal changes were excellent for this villain.

I find Fargo hard to watch week in and week out and keeping a handle on everything that is going on due to the fact there are so many other TV shows competing for my time.   I think that this might be better watched all at once to stay on top of the subtleties and nuances in the plot lines. Nonetheless, Fargo has turned out to be a very good series and hasn’t lost its excellence despite changing stories, actors, Directors etc.  each season which I assume is because the Creator, Noah Hawley, is the glue that holds it all together keeping it true to its Coen brother roots. While this was its weakest season, I would still recommend the show.

Genius (National Geographic)

I didn’t love Genius.  I felt there were too many episodes and the story dragged.  This show which premiered for the first time in the spring dedicated its first season to the story of Albert Einstein.  Einstein’s biography is interesting (although every time it discussed the Theory of Relativity in depth, I had panic attacks remembering a college physics course) as I don’t think many people know that much about his personal life.  The show spends a great deal of time on Einstein’s marriage to his first wife along with the affair that led to his divorce and second marriage to his cousin played very well by Emily Watson.  The great Geoffrey Rush plays Einstein in his later years and he was fine but I liked Johnny Flynn even better as young Einstein.

Genius had barely enough going on with action and character development to keep me going and I wish it had been about 6 or 7 episodes instead of 10.  Had it premiered earlier in the year when there was more competition, I doubt I would have stayed with it.  Next year’s “Genius” season will be about Pablo Picasso.  I don’t honestly know if I’ll tune in.

Finished Streaming:

House of Cards (Netflix)

I think I might be done with House of Cards unless all the critics next year exclaim that Season 6 is brilliant.  First of all, 13 episodes was about 3 to many for Season 5.  Most of the episodes dragged and it wasn’t until the last couple that I engaged.   It’s not just that Frank Underwood and his administration have several things in common with the current one that made the drama humdrum, it is that the same old plotlines seem to just keep remerging.  Frank does dastardly things but doesn’t seem to have competent enemies like he used to call him out; Will had potential but disappeared in an airplane meltdown; the Congressman who was going to bring him down is convinced to withdraw his opposition and no other contenders emerge (although the Patricia Clarkson character has some potential).  Then there is Doug.  Why is he back?  Same old, same old and what’s with all the guys named Tom?  Well I guess there is one less of them at the end of the season.

I found all the circuitous storylines swirling around the first 2/3s of the season to be dull and confusing at the same time.  Claire is the only truly intriguing character at this point.  The rest are just blah.  There is too much great TV out there to continue with this series.  I didn’t watch season 3 and came back in season 4 and didn’t miss a beat so maybe I’ll try that again.

Season Premiers

SYTYCD

It’s back, I love it and I’m dumping World of Dance as a result.  Once again, we have great adult dancers, a judge’s panel where at least 2 out of 3 know what they are doing and for that, I can easily ignore Mary Murphy’s screaming.  Hopefully we will once again see some of the great choreographers that provided Emmy winning performances in the early years.  The fact that Mandy Moore (La La Land) was helping out during the auditions gives me a great deal of hope.  I’ll ignore Vanessa Hudgens for the time being and hope my summer go- to -show goes back to its roots after I had to walk away from it the last two years.

 

 

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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.