Man, can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I wrote that last post about catching up on recent(ish) TV shows. Since last fall, I worked my way through some more shows and I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few of the stand-outs (with one exception).
First, though, I wanted to give this one – which I’d already written about in that preceding post – another look, because back then I said that I’d found the first season a bit disappointing (despite the many things this show has going for it). Well, the second season is far better – or, at least, it gelled for me in a way the first one didn’t, so that now I have a greater appreciation for the series overall. I still think it could be better, but it’s worth watching.
I kept seeing this show get talked up online, mainly with positive assessments, so I decided to give it a watch and see what all the fuss is about. And – I’m still wondering what all of the fuss is about. Even before I did a little digging and found a few less than glowing reviews about the show, I swear one of the first thoughts that popped through my head when I got finished watching the first season was: ‘This is kind of like dark and gritty Love Boat.’ I was gratified to see that at least a few reviewers shared my assessment (i.e., they either compared it to Love Boat or Fantasy Island.) I also got a laugh when I saw the two call girls in the second season referred to as ‘Laverne & Shirley’ by one reviewer.
Anyway, I just don’t see the point of it; it’s all very cynical, full of mostly unlikable characters (with a few exceptions) being miserable and, well, unlikable.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Station Eleven is a dystopian SF series that is just completely engrossing, with an eponymous and rather mysterious graphic novel at its heart that drives much of the plot. The story begins in early 2020, when a new strain of virulent, highly infectious swine flu spreads across the globe like wildfire and pretty much wipes out humanity (those initial scenes in the first episode in particular are very unsettling to watch in the post-COVID 19 world). The main character is a girl/woman named Kirsten, who at the start is a child actress appearing in a production of King Lear in Chicago on the night the pandemic hits the US. The play gets cancelled because the main actor, a famous movie star, dies of a heart attack on stage. In this chaotic situation, she eventually gets taken in my a man named Jeevan, who was attending the play, and they end up stocking up on a few months of food and going to stay with his reclusive brother in his high-rise apartment as the world falls apart around them. Over the course of the series, the story shifts back and forth from different periods, i.e., pre-pandemic and immediate post-pandemic periods and twenty years in the future, when Miranda is a young woman who is a member of an itinerant theater troupe that travels around Lake Michigan staging Shakespeare plays for the remnants of humanity. It has ten episodes, tells a complete story and is really quite good across the board: very well-written (it’s based on a novel by Emily St. John Mandel, which I’m really interested in reading now), beautifully filmed and edited, with an outstanding cast, esp. Mackenzie Davis and Matilda Lawler as the adult and young Kirsten, respectively and Himish Patel as Jeevan.
Of all of these shows that I’ve managed to watch over the past year, I think this one is my favorite. It’s kind of hard to pin down the genre, as it sort of straddles the line between SF and urban fantasy – with a healthy dose of sitcom mixed in (in a good way, though). Also hard to summarize without writing a whole page of text, but I’ll try: set in the present, the entire world seems to be at peace and harmony because everyone is taking advice from an AI phone app called ‘Mrs. Davis’. One of the few hold-outs, who refuses to have anything to do with Mrs. Davis, is the main character, Sister Simone. However, in the first episode, after her convent gets sold and shut down, Simone strikes a deal with Mrs. Davis (who has to speak to her through human proxies) to go find the Holy Grail, and in exchange Mrs. Davis promises to delete herself. What follows is a wild series of (mis)adventures, with conflicting secret societies (including one attached to the Catholic Church) alternately helping or trying to stop Simone. The series was created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, and it’s very intelligently written, fun and funny, but with a lot of heart and emotional depth. And the cast is great, mainly Betty Gilpin as Sister Simone, Jake McDorman as her ex-boyfriend Wiley, Elizabeth Marvel as Simone’s estranged mother and Andy McQueen (who has a small role in Station Eleven, by the way) as Simone’s husband – remember, nuns are all brides of Christ…
(Another great thing about this one is that – like Station Eleven – it tells a complete, satisfying story in its eight episodes.)
If you happened to watch this movie from about a decade ago called Julie and Julia, and, like me, pretty much only liked the parts of it featuring the flashbacks of Julia and Paul Child (wonderfully portrayed by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci) in Paris in the 1950s, then this show is for you. This first 8 episode season covers the period in the early 1960s when Child first started appearing on television and eventually got her own show. It’s a really, really well-made and entertaining series with a fantastic cast: Sarah Lancashire does a bang-up job portraying Child, and David Hyde Pierce as Paul Child and Bebe Neuwirth as her best friend Avis DeVoto are similarly brilliant. One thing you should be aware of is that this isn’t an entirely faithful biographical series: I think some details have been fictionalized, and there is one character in particular – a TV producer named Alice Naman – who is fictional.
I’ll just close by making brief recommendations for two shows I liked way more than I thought I would – and take us back to the world of comics. To wit:
Brutal, often over-the-top violent, but incredibly funny and entertaining. John Cena is brilliant in the title role.
b) Harley Quinn
Generally I’m not a fan of the trashy, baseball bat wielding Harley, and yes, like Peacemaker, it’s often over-the-top violent (and full of f-bombs -like that trailer above) but this really won me over with genuinely funny stories and great characters portrayed by an amazing cast of voice actors, e.g., Kaley Cuoco as Harley, Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, and Alan Tudyk in multiple roles, but especially Clayface, who’s probably my favorite character.
And that’s it. This post would have been a lot longer, because I thought I’d include a few more shows that I didn’t like as much, but – with the exception of White Lotus – I decided to keep this one more positive and give everyone recommendations for things I genuinely liked, or least thought were pretty good. Also, fellow Junk Shopper Greg Burgas saved me the trouble of writing about one of those that I didn’t like as much, The Last of Us, as he covered it quite thoroughly a few months ago (and I left my own thoughts about it in a comment there).