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.

 

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TV: Winter TV is Back: Sneaky Pete, the Young Pope, Victoria, Taboo, Colony and Bright Lights

 

The winter TV season has begun and it is coming fast and furiously! Here are some of the new arrivals with more coming in the next few weeks.

Series Premiers:

Sneaky Pete (Amazon)

Sneaky Pete is the story of a hustler (Marius) who gets out of prison and needs to hide from some gangsters led by Bryan Cranston out to get him. Marius takes on the identity of a man still in prison (Pete) and hides out in upstate NY at Pete’s grandparent’s house claiming to be their long lost grandson. They haven’t seen him for 20 years so are excited that he has come back into their lives although Grandma (played marvelously by Margo Martindale) is suspicious. Pete takes mysterious trips to NYC to try and settle some of his business scores while maintaining his secret life as Pete and helping out in the family’s bail bond business.

I’m not in love with this show but given my admiration of Bryan Cranston and Margo Martingale, I’ll give it a few more episodes to make me a fan.

The Young Pope (HBO)

I’ll watch Jude Law in anything and he is indeed excellent in this new HBO series about a young American Pope who mysteriously lands up in charge of the Catholic Church. His wry expressions, subtle humor and general shiftiness keep the audience guessing at to what his motivations and without an actor of Law’s caliber, I’m not sure this show would work. The series also stars Diane Keaton and James Cromwell although we don’t see them much in the first episode. This first episode is pretty strange including an opening scene where Law emerges from a pile of dead babies in a dream sequence. I’m not exactly what to make of this new mini-series as it jumps all around with moments of sarcastic humor but it makes for compelling television.

Perhaps living in Trumpland, I’m sensitive to how those in power use that power to lead and this show topping off a night in which I watched Homeland and Victoria seemed like entertainment became reality. I am anxious to see the next few episodes where James Cromwell apparently becomes focused on bringing down the new pope. Here’s to Coke Cherry Zero and the brilliance Law brings to the role. This may be the weirdest show I’m watching but I’m in for the ride.

Victoria (PBS)

Masterpiece Theater premiered a two-hour opening episode in its new series on Queen Victoria in the time slot formerly allocated to Downton Abby. I don’t think this will be as good as the Crown (or Downton Abby for that matter) but if you like history, British royalty, the Crown Jewels and lavish costumes, you should enjoy this new show. Rufus Sewell is engaging as Victoria’s mentor Lord Melbourne and Jenna Coleman in the lead role is fine but can’t compare to Claire Foy in the Crown. I’ll be watching in order to learn more about Victoria’s long reign. 

Taboo (FX)

FX is delivering some of the finest TV around (The American, OJ etc.) and getting the award nominations/wins to prove it. Taboo is the network’s latest project and premiered this past week with Tom Hardy playing a mysterious man named James Delaney. Delaney appears in early 1800’s London after the death of his father in order to claim a piece of land in the Pacific Northwest. The land apparently has some sort of mysterious power. There is also a sister who is married to a not very pleasant husband who needs the inheritance from their father. The tone is dark and sinister and reminds me of Peaky Blinders which I couldn’t get in to. There are clearly any number of secrets we aren’t privy to and I’m not sure how much of the supernatural is involved. The show is very weird, confusing and I’m not ready to commit to it yet but I’ll try another couple of episodes to see if there is anything to engage me.

Season Premiers:

Colony (SyFy)

To begin Season 2, Colony chose an interesting tactic. Instead of picking up where things ended last season with Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) escaping the “block” to try and find his son, we flashback to when the aliens first came and put up the wall around LA. We see life as it was before the invasion with the Bowman family. While interesting, it was not nearly as intriguing as Alan Snyder’s toiling away as a purchasing manager while embezzling money when representatives of the aliens (knowing all about him) come to recruit him for a job in the new order.  Turns out Snyder was not a provost at Stanford after all. Peter Jacobsen nails it as a rather shifty individual faced with a difficult choice.

We have a new character, Devon, who is introduced in Season 2 as Will’s possibly “dirty” FBI partner pre-arrival. She escaped the “block” as the wall comes down and is apparently the key to finding Charlie in the present. We also get a glimpse into why Katie joined the Resistance but we don’t make progress in the first episode towards an understanding of what the Factory is or other dangling plot points from last season. I like Colony and even though it isn’t the best show on TV by any means, the combination of Carleton Cuse and Josh Holloway from Lost gives me  hope that the show will continue to grow and get better.

Movies for TV: 

Bright Lights (HBO)

This documentary on Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher is everything you’d want it to be given their recent passing. No one could have predicted the tragic deaths within a day of each other after having shared so much of their lives together. It is Karma that their fans have access to the wonderful HBO documentary “Bright Lights” which depicts their lives together and apart in the last two to three years of their lives. The film, which was to be released later this year, was moved to January 7th and provides a fitting tribute to their amazing lives.

We see childhood pictures and home movies of Carrie and her brother with their parents. They seemed very happy although Carrie suggests otherwise in the film. Carrie is on stage singing early in life with an eerily foreshadowing of the future when she sings “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. The main focus of Bright Lights however, is the recent story of Debbie and Carrie living next to each other in Beverley Hills where they have a daily routine of visiting each other. The documentary begins in 2014 when Carrie is hysterically working with a trainer to get in shape for Star Wars. We also see Debbie Reynolds going strong in her late eighties by still appearing on stage. She is wonderful.

Bright Lights turns out to be a lasting homage to two wonderful and talented women who are gone too soon. It chronicles two fighters who bound themselves to each other after a period of estrangement and one can’t help but be sad about these two “Bright Lights” who have been snuffed out and what their family and friends have lost.