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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.