Liike many people during this time of mandated respite I’ve found solace in a program of the filmed entertainments, or two (or ten). When I’m not biking, walking, writing, doing yoga, eating, sleeping, or reading, I enjoy some downtime streaming on the old boob tube, the small screen, the idiot box. I call it my digital storytelling portal. (Not really, I just made that up, but it’s not half bad.) Anyway, I’m appreciate the art — especially the writing — that goes into these shows. Herewith are some of what I’ve been enjoying (sans spoilers).
This HBO showcase has the high quality production values, crazy but provocative story lines, and acting you’d expect from the platform with the most Emmy wins. Sure, there’s plenty of nudity and violence, too, but it’s part of the story. I first watched a few episodes last summer, then I moved and couldn’t access it. Now it’s available again, I’m almost caught up with the current season three. It’s some mind-bending, armchair-grabbing stuff. J.J. Abrams executive produces and he’s no slouch. Neither is Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, a show about A.I. that went nuts but I watched to the end) and Lisa Joy (they’re married). Oh, if you aren’t hooked yet, the show’s only won 43 Emmy’s.
There are plenty of male actors to like, from heavyweights Anthony Hopkins (charming and creepy) and Ed Harris (intense and always watchable), plus the talented often overlooked Jeffrey Wright and ubiquitous James Marsden, I admire the strong women roles, particularly Thandie Newton as Maeve and Evan Rachel Wood as Delores. I can’t decide with whom I’m more in love, not that it matters. Both are beautiful and terrifying, and neither return my calls. But they occupy their roles so completely and convincingly that makes you care about them, even if they’re not as pure as we’re led to believe.
The fact that a Westworld — a show ostensibly about life-like robots entertaining humans in a cowboy theme park — makes you think philosophically about your own life, while enjoying some kick-ass stunts and eyeball-blowing cinematography, is an artistic and technical accomplishment that’s a thrill to watch. I’ll be sad when this season ends Sunday. But, word is three more seasons are likely.
Had anyone told me this bonkers time-travel comedy was produced by Seth Rogen (with nary a pot reference to be found, or maybe one), and that Happy Endings and Scrubs actor Eliza Coupe steals every scene, I’d have watched it three years ago when it came out. But like Westworld, the third (and in this case last) season of Future Man just came out on Hulu.
Starring The Hunger Games’ Josh “what’s his name” Hutcherson plays an everyman who stumbles into the consequences of winning a bizarre video game. This romp features some snappy writing, creative storytelling and set design, and a surprisingly humanistic message. Underneath the sex jokes, gore, foul language and general depravity, lies a kind heart that wants to do well, but just can’t resist a good fart joke. Full of homages to the sci-fi genre, it’s like Back to the Future meets Terminator and Pineapple Express and Superbad and, well, you get the picture.
I was never bored with this show because it zigged when I thought it would zag. At the same time, it’s not necessarily a high-brow status show, so it may not be for everyone. Ed Begley Jr and Derek Wilson (a hoot), Glenne Headly (RIP) and speaking of the dead, Haley Joel Osment from Sixth Sense all growed up and angry. Dudes may appreciate this more than women, but who am I to say? If you can handle the occasional (ok, frequent) raunchiness, it’s a really fun show.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Like with Future Man, had anyone told me one of the producers was in this case another comedy big name, Tina Fey, I would have given it a shot much sooner. A former co-worker told me about it (back when I had a j-o-b), and it seemed like the perfect thing to start during a pandemic. Someone coming out of a doomsday shelter who has an innocent, child’s naive view of the world. Cast perfectly for this perfect fish out of water story, I can imagine star Ellie Kemper (The Office) as a child actor at her first audition. Like a Little Orphan Annie or young Judy Garland, she’s a bundle of energy, smiles and sunshine that you can’t help but root for.
Also fun to watch is melodramatic roommate Titus played by Tituss Burgess, who has a phenomenally stunning tenor voice. He’s also fun to watch squirming with discomfort at his own misdeeds, a sort of uber-gay Black George Costanza. There’s the quirky landlady (Carol Kane), funny rich lady Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) with cameos from Peter Berg, Greg Kinnear, and Fey in a recurring role as a drunk therapist.
The show’s been the focus of some critiques of its handling of race, not without some cause. It’s a little cringe-worthy to watch a white actor of Polish descent try to play Native American while trying to comment on a white person playing a person of color. Critique of an episode by Asians about a Black man playing Asian, also has a point. I’m not apologizing for the show’s writers and producers mistakes — they probably should have workshopped it a bit more — but I also see the point about questioning and poking fun at internet outrage and actually employing Native American actors as Jacqueline’s parents.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty silly and fun show that has at heart good intentions. Whether that’s enough to entertain without offense — if that’s even possible anymore these days — is for each person to decide. I’m on the last season, four, and again my timing is good because there’s an interactive special airing May 12 on Netflix.
What are you watching during the “end times”?
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