With âThe End of Time,â the Doctor Who careers of two giants of the showâstar David Tennant and head writer and executive producer Russell T Daviesâreach their conclusion. With only Part One so far broadcast, we are not even halfway through the storyâthe second episode is significantly longerâso this can only be a preliminary assessment. But already it looks to be the most ambitious story Doctor Who has ever told.
As ever with a Davies season finale (I know there hasnât been an actual season this year, but the principleâs the same), this isnât the place to look if you want a small-scale, tight-knit, self-contained story. Davies can do that when he wants to (see âMidnightâ), but here heâs looking to pick up threads going all the way back to the beginning of the revived series in 2005 and create an epic. Along the way, thereâs a certain amount of expediency evident in the plotting. Thereâs some bad comedy. There are irrelevant celebrity cameos. But thereâs also heartfelt character work, some great performances, and a cliffhanger which turns everything seen so far on its head and left me avid to see what happens next.
We start unusually, with an unseen Narrator, whose wonderful deep, sonorous voice is provided by Timothy Dalton: âIt is said that in the final days of planet Earth, everyone had bad dreams.â Everyone on Earth is having dreams of the laughing face of the Master (John Simm), premonitions of the events to come. But only one person remembers these dreamsâour old friend Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins).
Wilf, out doing his Christmas shopping, finds himself drawn to a church where he notices a stained glass window with a small but recognizable blue box in one corner. A strange woman in white (Claire Bloom) tells him a tale of a demon from the sky, striking a convent on this site in the 1300s, which was overcome by a âSainted Physicianâ in a blue box. The woman suddenly vanishes when Wilfâs back is turned. As yet, nothing further has come of this, but bear it in mind for next weekâŠ
The Doctor arrives on the planet of the Ood in a carefree mood. Heâs been in no hurry to obey the summons he received at the end of âThe Waters of Mars,â instead taking time off to do some vacationingâincluding a brief marriage to Queen Elizabeth I which apparently didnât turn out well (humorously tying up a loose end left dangling at the end of âThe Shakespeare Codeâ). But it turns out he would have done better not to delay. The Ood are also having bad dreams, of something returning âthrough the darknessâ to their world. They show him visions of the Master (âThat man is dead!â), Wilf, an unknown manâJoshua Naismithâwho weâll meet later, and finally an imprisoned Lucy Saxon (Alexandra Moen). This leads into clips from âThe Sound of Drumsâ and âLast of the Time Lords,â reminding us how the Master became Prime Minister, unleashed an invasion upon the world, was shot by his wife Lucy, and died, with his body being burned on a funeral pyre.
An explicit recap of these events from two years ago is very necessary, since this part of the story is a direct sequel to them. Lucy Saxon is taken from her prison cell to a secret ceremony being conducted by a hitherto unknown Cult of Saxon, evidently set up by the Master back then as a contingency plan. One of the cult is revealed to be the woman who picked up the Masterâs ring from out of his ashes at the end of âLast of the Time Lords.â With that, and various other ingredients (including a âbiometrical signatureâ from Lucy), the Master is resurrected in a very Harry Potter-ish sequence. I wasnât particularly happy with this use of what is basically a magic spell in Doctor Who; those of us who prefer the show to have at least a veneer of science fiction have to fall back on Clarkeâs Third Law here, and assume that this is super-advanced Time Lord know-how which just looks like wizardry to us. (On the other hand, itâs an improvement on the 1980s treatment of the Master, when the series stopped bothering to even attempt explanations for his repeated escapes from certain death.)
Back in Series Three, Alexandra Moen made quite an impression as Lucy Saxon despite having only a handful of lines, and she makes the most of her brief appearance here too. It turns out Lucy has been plotting in secret herself, and she manages to disrupt the resurrection at the cost of her own life. A huge explosion destroys the prison, but the Master escapes just ahead of the Doctorâs arrival.
In an industrial wasteland, the Master reappears as a feral figure with bleached white hair, in scruffy jeans and a hooded top. We find out the botched resurrection has left his body âripped open,â his life force thrown around with abandon. This unleashed energy gives him the ability to fire lightning from his hands and make Superman-like leaps into the air. But at a costâhe keeps momentarily fading away to just a skeleton, and he is now a creature of unending, voracious hunger able to vampirically drain the life force of others. He scoffs a burger (and later, rips apart a turkey and wolfs it down) in a manner guaranteed to put anyone off their Christmas dinner.
John Simmâs performance in this episode is amazing. In the hands of a less skilled actor, such an over-the-top character would have degenerated into mere scenery chewing, but the sheer visceral intensity Simm brings to every moment heâs on screen means you canât take your eyes off him. The way a speech will start out normally but turn into long strings of obsessed, gabbled syllables (âCanât hide anywhere. He can see me. He can smell me. Canât let him smell me. Doctor Doctor Doctor Doctor Doctor stop the smell, the stink, the filthy filthy stinkâ) shows a man barely holding together, liable to fly apart at any moment. For once the Master has no plan, no schemeâhe has been stripped down to his core essence, an implacable will to survive at any cost.
The Doctor senses him as he arrives at the wasteland, and the Master responds by beating out the four-drumbeat tattoo that we discovered in âThe Sound of Drumsâ has obsessed him for his entire life and driven him insane. However, the Master gets away when the Doctorâs chase is interrupted as he is found by Wilf and a gang of his pensioner friends, including a cameo from June Whitfield (Absolutely Fabulous) as Minnie âthe Menace.â This bit of broad comedy rather outstays its welcome, as Minnie looks the Doctor over approvingly, poses for a photo with him, etc. Still, itâs easy to guess Tennant will get lots of invitations to re-enact this scene at the next convention he attends, as Minnie gets to live out the dreams of any number of fans by fondling his bum.
Wilf takes the Doctor to a cafe, where all the episodeâs sound and fury drops away. No matter how you feel about Daviesâ propensity to construct overblown epic plots, his talent is obvious in scenes of quiet conversation. Just two characters sitting at a table, talking. But itâs not at all cosyâthe Doctor starts by staring fixedly at Wilf, demanding âWho are you?â How is it he can track down the Doctor in a matter of hours when others canât? Thereâs some manipulation of events going on here, that keeps pushing them together. But the Doctor has other things on his mindâfor the first time, he admits bluntly that heâs going to die. And the Tenth Doctor doesnât want to die. Even the prospect of regeneration is cold comfort: âEven if I change it feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And Iâm dead.â
Suddenly, they see Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) outside. Wilf brought the Doctor here to see her, in the hope that he could reverse what he did to her at the end of âJourneyâs End,â where the memories of her time with the Doctor had to be locked away in order to save her life. But it canât be doneâthe Doctor reiterates that if the sight of him reawakens those memories, Donnaâs mind will burn up. For those (like me) who came to love Donna during Series Four, her brief appearance in this episode is a bittersweet gift, but this isnât her story (at least, not yet), and she drives off with her new fianceâyes, sheâs got engaged again.
The Doctor: âSheâs got him.â
Wilf: âSheâs making do.â
The Doctor: âArenât we all.â
The Doctor tells Wilf heâs still traveling alone, and in a near breakdown, confesses his recent errors on Mars (âBut I did some things, it went wrongâŠ I needâŠâ). Tennant yet again shows he can take the Doctor to emotional places heâs never been before. And Bernard Cribbins is absolutely wonderful throughout the episodeâthereâs not a false note anywhere, from comedy to, as here, the most heartbreaking empathy.
The Doctor leaves to track down the Master. And now, at the exact halfway point of the episode, the voice of the Narrator, backed by Murray Goldâs soaring music, breaks in to remind us that this is all taking place on a much wider canvas. The prologue is over, as unseen forces manipulate events towards a grand convergence.
The Narrator: âAnd so it came to pass that the players took their final places, making ready the events that were to come. âŠ As Earth rolled onwards into night, the people of that world did sleep, and shiver, somehow knowing that dawn would bring only one thingâŠ the final day!â
Cut to the chase. Or rather, cut to after the chaseâsince we already know the Doctor and the Master can sense each other anywhere on Earth, we go directly to their confrontation in the wasteland. The Doctor steadily advances toward the Master, ignoring bolts of energy being fired to each side, until finally the Master fires directly at him to immobilize him and leave him gasping in the dirt. Ninety seconds have passed without a word of dialogue, just the play of emotions on the two actorsâ faces.
The Doctor canât get the Master interested in the prophecies and the evidence that something is manipulating them; the Master is still obsessed with the unending drum-beats in his head. But then he mentally links with the Doctor, and the Doctor is shocked by what he hears: âI heard it! But thereâs no noise, there never has been, itâs just your insanityâŠ What is it? Whatâs inside your head?â
The Master is overjoyed to be finally vindicated (âItâs real! Itâs real!â) but before he can do anything else, he is abducted by thugs in the pay of Joshua Naismith, and the Doctor is left unconscious.
Christmas at the Noblesâ house. Watching television, Wilf again sees the strange woman in white. She salutes him as an old soldierâwho never killed a man in his military serviceâand warns him that a war is coming, in which he will have to take up arms again. She gives an ominous warning, which will no doubt come into play next week.
The Woman: âTell the Doctor nothing of this. His life could still be saved, so long as you tell him nothing.â
From under his bed, Wilf takes out his old service revolver. A stone thrown at his window alerts him to the Doctor lurking outside the house. He goes outside to shoo him away, and is followed by Sylvia (Jacqueline King). Despite the danger to Donna, the Doctor has come to find Wilf because heâs the only lead he can think ofâhe needs more information. The most successful comic interlude of the episode follows as they try to keep the Doctor and Donna apart. Eventually the Doctor takes Wilf with him in the TARDIS, despite Sylviaâs protests (âYou canât come with me!â âWell, youâre not leaving me with her.â âFair enoughâ), and they head off to the Naismith estate.
Joshua Naismith (David Harewood) and his daughter Abigail (Tracy Ifeachor) are the least satisfactory part of the episode by far. Nothing about them is interesting; they are a couple of cardboard characters who only exist to join up various bits of the plot. Heâs your standard-issue ultra-rich businessman and author, whose book is bought by Donna for Wilf, who shows it to the Doctor, who recognizes him from the visions of the Ood. Sheâs a spoiled kid whose dilettante investigations into âthe legends of Harold Saxonâ led her father to the Master. In their house they have the Immortality Gate, a piece of alien technology acquired from the Torchwood Institute (after its fall in âDoomsdayâ) which can perform cellular regeneration. They intend to put the Masterâs abilities to use to get the device working properly.
Itâs obvious from the start that Naismith is completely out of his depth with the Master; he might put him on a leash and in a straitjacket, but the Master always has his measure. (âI like you.â âThank you.â âYouâd taste great.â) From the moment the Master sees the Gate, his fierce intelligence starts working again as he begins to turn the situation to his advantage. Naismithâs cluelessness is shown even more when, unexpectedly, two of his technicians turn out to be disguised aliens, known as Vinvocci, who are trying to get the Gate activated for their own purposes. These rather silly-looking green, spiky aliens are mostly used for comedy here, although theyâll probably be more useful next week, given what happens at the end of the episode.
The Doctor and Wilf arrive, sneaking around and into the house just like in any number of old Doctor Who stories (âPyramids of Marsâ comes particularly to mind). After easily exposing the Vinvocci, the Doctor learns that the Gate doesnât regenerate individuals, but entire populationsâitâs like a super-powerful version of the nanogenes in âThe Empty Child.â He realizes immediately what the Masterâs plan is.
In the completely mad climax, the Master easily brushes aside Naismithâs restraints and activates the Gate. Its signal affects everyone on Earth except Wilf (thanks to a handy shielding booth) and Donna (whose Time Lord memories begin to activate in response). The Master changes every other human on Earth to look like himself. There are some eye-popping shots with dozens of copies of the Master in different costumes, which must have been hellish to do. John Simm milks the ending for all heâs worth (âBreaking newsâIâm everyone! And everyone on EarthâŠ is me!â) with a final awesomely dreadful pun about âthe Master raceâ which everyone should have been able to see coming.
But now, the real cliffhanger (which the producers kept back from all preview screenings, to preserve the surprise). We finally see the Narrator in full, and heâs not speaking for our benefit: âAnd so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist. But even then, the Master had no concept of his greater role in events. For this was far more than humanityâs end. This day was the day upon which the whole of creation would change forever. This was the day the Time Lords returned. For Gallifrey! For victory! For the end of time itself!â
Suddenly the Narratorâs voice is full of menace. The camera zooms out to show a huge amphitheater full of Time Lords in their ceremonial regalia. With the crowd taking up the Narratorâs final shouts, itâs a shot reminiscent of the end of âBad Wolfâ four years ago. The two sides of the Time Warâthe Daleks and the Time Lordsârevealed to us in the same way.
TO! BE! CONTINUED!
Obviously, this episode doesnât stand on its own, so a final assessment will have to wait until after Part Two. It really is basically a hugely extended prologueâthe Narrator explicitly says so halfway through, but even at the end the sense is that only now are all the pieces in position so the real story can begin. Rather alienating for the casual viewer (especially at Christmas), but if ever there was a suitable time to take such a risk itâs now, with the lure of Tennantâs grand finale to bring the viewers back next week.
As with the huge, world-destroying climaxes of previous years, thereâs no real tension generated by the âMaster raceâ event, since we all know it will end up being undone with no lasting effects in the next episode. Its power comes from the fact that the Master could hardly have come up with anything more simply offensive to the Doctor than to see the human raceâs individuality arrogantly replaced with six billion copies of his nemesis. In that sense, itâs already served its purpose, regardless of what happens next week. The biggest question it left behind is, whatâs going to happen to Donna now that her buried memories are awakening?
The Time Lords, though, are another matter entirely. The idea of the Doctor as the last survivor of the Time War, having seen his entire race wiped out, has been a central component of the new series. It has led to some of the seriesâs most powerful and emotional momentsâright up to the Doctorâs bout of megalomania on Mars last episode. Are the Time Lords back for goodâor evil? Will the Doctor end up having to destroy his people again? Where does the woman in white fit in? What will Wilfâs ultimate role end up being? And will we be seeing the Ood again? They did say that something was returning to their world. So many questions, so many possibilitiesâŠ
Some of the plot construction is disappointingly crude. The episode takes a long time to really get going, as numerous unrelated elements have to be set up one after the otherâthe Ood, Lucy Saxon, the Masterâs resurrection, Naismith, Wilf and his friendsâŠ The comedy (apart from the scenes involving Donnaâs family) tends to fall flat. And Iâve refrained from mentioning the Obama thread until now out of charityâone of those ideas that probably seemed hilarious at three in the morning, but really should have been reconsidered. But when it gets it right, this episode really gets it rightâthe Doctor/Wilf and Doctor/Master scenes are brilliant, and the performances of Tennant, Simm and Cribbins are pitch-perfect throughout.
Iâd like to end by noting that with Part Two of âThe End of Time,â the new series of Doctor Who will clock up sixty episodes. Davies has written or co-written thirty-one of those, and was involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in all of the others as well. He has successfully taken Doctor Who from a dead-and-gone show remembered mostly as a joke, to a central pillar of popular culture in Britain (and, to a lesser extent, all over the world). I can think of many things he might have done which would have been more to my taste. But I canât imagine a single thing he could have done to make the show more successful with its most important audienceâthe general public. For this old Doctor Who fan, itâs been a glorious five years. David Tennant once described Davies as âthe least cynical man in a cynical age.â I love Steven Moffatâs work, and Iâm really looking forward to next yearâs series with Matt Smithâbut the sheer joy, exuberance, and unselfconscious absurdity Russell brought to Doctor Who will, I think, be greatly missed.
Next Week: The arrival of a new year, a new decade, and a new Doctor. Itâs Part Two of âThe End of Timeââsee you on the other side.
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: âThe Deadly Assassin,â starring Tom Baker. This is the only classic series story where the Doctor traveled alone, without a companion. But its main importance is its depiction of the Time Lords. They had made brief appearances before, but this was the first Gallifrey story, where their society was shown in all its baroque intricacy. Radical in its day, this story became the foundation for all succeeding Time Lord lore, right up to âThe End of Time.â
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Review: The Boys Is a Bleakly Cynical Take on the Superhero Genre
The Amazon series is a little too fond of its antiheroes to really throw them in the muck.2.5
Adapted from writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertsonâs cult comic book series, The Boys is a cynical, bleakly comedic take on the superhero genre. In both the comic and TV show, superheroism has been privatized, with various costumed fighters managed and marketed by companies like Vought International. When, for example, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher)âwhoâs part of an elite team called the Seven and bills himself as the fastest man aliveâaccidentally crashes into a woman on the street, her body explodes into a gory soup of blood and bone, the fingers on her severed hands still intertwined with those of her boyfriend, Hughie (Jack Quaid). A Vought representative assures Hughie the company wants to do âthe right thingâ and offers him $45,000, as long as he signs a nondisclosure agreement.
Voughtâs celebrity superheroes are so rich and powerful, so above it all, that the deaths of normal people donât faze them. Crowds may be good for the adoration that fuels their fame and feeds their images, but on an individual level, a regular person is as significant to them as a scuff on their focus-tested boots. This, a trench-coated, bearded man named Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) tells Hughie, is where he and his teamâinformally called The Boysâcome in, to retaliate against superbeings when they get out of line, by whatever means necessary.
Much was made of the difficulty in adapting something so gleefully profane as Ennisâs Preacher for TV, and his Boys comics arguably go to even greater (and occasionally pointless) extremes. In translating them to a one-hour-per-episode streaming format, the showâs writers add about as much as they subtract. Amazonâs adaptation certainly maintains the graphic violence, though in the writersâ attempts to excavate Ennisâs salient commentary and anarchic ideas, they judiciously cut much of the sexual violence and juvenile shock tactics while turning a more sympathetic eye to the characters. No longer do any of them feel like simple vehicles for cruelty, or targets meant to receive it. A large portion of each episode is even devoted not to The Boys, but to the inner workings of Vought, from the perspective of the largely sociopathic Seven and the companyâs vice president Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), whoâs as practiced at navigating super-egos as she is at coldly crunching the numbers behind smoothed-over corporate acts of representation and empowerment.
Some of the showâs very best moments come from its wicked corporate satire, often seen through fresh-faced hero Starlight (Erin Moriarty), the newest member of the Seven. Her glimpse behind the scenes is hardly what she expects, as her outfit is made more revealing by the marketing team, various characters encourage her âauthenticityâ as if itâs a cultivated false persona, and festivals featuring organizations named things like âCapes for Christâ book her for speaking engagements. Though The Boys includes hilarious moments like hero The Deepâs (Chace Crawford) attempt to rescue a dolphin from his SeaWorld-like sponsor or a proposed reality show about the Seven, the series satirizes our fascination with celebrities, fictional heroes, and capitalism at large without losing its class-conscious edge: There are no real supervillains in this world, only the natural abuse of power by the super-powerful.
Elsewhere, though, the show maintains a few of the comicâs problems with race and women. Itâs in the silent, infantilized Asian woman (Karen Fukuhara) who joins The Boys, the Middle-Eastern terrorist clichĂ©s, and all the dead women piled around the storyâs margins to motivate its chiefly male protagonists. But it also never quite reconciles the pitch-black roots of its principal characters with their more sympathetic TV counterparts. The Boys are no longer a C.I.A.-sanctioned hit squad as they were in the comics so much as everyman vigilantes raging against the machine, and rather than regard their actions and bravado with skepticism as Ennisâs source material did, the show arrives at an awkward middle ground.
For as much as The Boysâ exploits start off with a gruesomely literal bang, the Amazon series pulls back to posit them as more of an investigative crew engaged in some occasional blackmail as they dig through Voughtâs secrets, leaving only Urbanâs Billy Butcher to occasionally play the wild card. The Boysâs skewering of superheroism is often clever, but as the series progresses, the more hands-off approach of Butcherâs crew can leave them with little to do, to the point where the messy, circular plotting of the finale all but leaves them sitting on their hands. Although this adaptation excises the most misanthropic parts of its source material, Ennis did, at least, have a clear thematic vision for that mean, nihilistic story. This show, by contrast, is a little too fond of its antiheroes to really throw them in the muck, to the point where they can feel like guests in their own series.
Cast: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Elisabeth Shue, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Jennifer Esposito Network: Amazon
Review: Season Three of GLOW Offers a Multifaceted Vision of the â80s
Season three eschews the notion that thereâs a single experience of the â80s that should dominate above the others.3
Netflix is awash in nostalgia for the 1980s, and from a certain distance its original programmingâs reliance on the visual kitsch of the early MTV era can come off as a bit cheap. The opening credits of GLOW, which is loosely based on the eponymous real-world troupe of women wrestlers, goes all in on â80s-era signifiers: Neon-pink block letters alternate with rotoscoped outlines of women adorning themselves with headbands and tights against a black background, all set to Patty Smythâs âThe Warrior.â Taken by itself, this opening sequence suggests a gene splice of Jem and the Holograms and A-haâs âTake on Meâ music video, promising little more than bouncy â80s camp.
To series creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, however, the â80s are more than fodder for fun visual references. Yes, Debbieâs (Betty Gilpin) hair can get pretty big, and itâs hard not to notice that Ruth (Alison Brie) often wears her jeans tucked into her oversized sweat socks. But such recognizable hallmarks of â80s fashion are small details of a concretely realized world, grounded foremost in the showâs characters rather than in glitzy pastiche. GLOW mines an era of visual overstimulation, corporatized sexuality, and gender politics for stories that remain deeply relevant in a time when most people are keeping their socks under their pant legs.
Whereas the first season of GLOW focused on the schism between struggling actresses and former best friends Ruth and Debbie, season two refocused the narrative attention by spreading it out, supplying full arcs for the better part of its expansive and diverse cast, and season three follows suit. As the season opens, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling has transitioned from a fledgling local television program to a limited engagement at a Las Vegas casino run by Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis). The city of spectacular excess is neither fetishized nor condemned, but it does have an effect on the L.A. transplants, compelling each of them toward reconsiderations of their sexual desires or identitiesâor, in Sheilaâs (Gayle Rankin) unique case, her she-wolf personaâand their goalsâlike Debbieâs struggle to balance her life as a new mother with her ambitions to become a successful business woman.
While Debbie and Ruth each find themselves at a crossroads as their show extends its Vegas runânow a producer as well as a performer, Debbie looks to seize more power behind the camera, while Ruth grows anxious about her stalled acting careerâthe other women contend with their own issues in the highly gendered space of Vegas variety shows. Cherry (Sydelle Noel) begins to have second thoughts about having a child with her husband, Keith (Bashir Salahuddin), because of the impact it will have on her career as a wrestler and stuntwoman. TammĂ© (Kia Stevens) hides the toll that performing is taking on her spine for fear of losing her only gig. And the meek Arthie (Sunita Mani) must take stock of her own sexuality after a fight with her girlfriend, the much more unapologetically out Yolanda (Shakira Barrera).
And then, of course, there are the men: Bash (Chris Lowell), the founder and bankroller of the wrestling show, remains GLOWâs go-to comic relief, an infantile millionaire susceptible to the flashiest trends in clothing and live showcases. Bash is more than a punchline this season, though, as his recent green-card marriage to British-born wrestler Rhonda (Kate Nash) and his meeting with drag queen Bobby Barnes (Kevin Cahoon) allow a more meaningful exploration of the repressed homosexuality that the earlier seasons merely alluded to, just as Bobbyâs unofficial integration into the wrestling showâs collective life spurs Arthie and Sheilaâs own reconsideration of their identities. Nash stands out this season as Rhonda, the deceptively simple-minded Londoner who consistently outwits the sweet-natured but oblivious Bash, whom she grows to genuinely adore, and his abrasive, elitist mother Birdie (Elizabeth Perkins).
As Sam, the director who orchestrates the wrestling showâs action, comedian Marc Maron continues to surprise. Sam has softened up a bit in season three, but his growing compassion for the women under his watch is still tinged with the barely reformed misogyny of a hip â70s auteur (he suggests a poor manâs Brian De Palma, as his films are beloved equally by aesthetes and sleazeballs), a juxtaposition of qualities lent credence by Maronâs ability to simultaneously project cynical world-weariness and puppy-dog woundedness. Like the much younger Ruth, Sam is increasingly finding the repetitive nature of his showâs live performances unfulfilling. Trapped together in the secluded playground of Vegas, the two begin reconsidering the nature of their relationship, which leads to comically cringe-worthy tension with Ruthâs long-distance beau, Russell (Victor Quinaz).
If the first two seasons of GLOW were about this group of women coming together, season three is implicitly about them growing apart as they seek validation outside of their shared pro-wrestling gig. These episodes arenât anchored by a strong, centralizing narrativeâsaving the wrestling show, vanquishing a greedy casino owner, finding true love, or triumphing over sexist managementâbut, rather, it explores varying aspects of these womenâs lives with each relatively self-contained episode. Even if a couple of these stories end up a tad undercooked, this approach to serial television gives GLOW an admirably democratic vibe, as it eschews the notion that thereâs a single experience of the â80s that should dominate above the others.
Cast: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Kate Nash, Gayle Rankin, Kia Stevens, Jackie Tohn, Chris Lowell, Bashir Salahuddin, Kevin Cahoon, Sunita Mani, Shakira Barrera, Geena Davis, Ellen Wong, Britt Baron Network: Netflix
Review: Season Three of Harlots Retains the Showâs Campy Flourishes
The series is ultimately content to luxuriate in the well-established tension between its central characters.2.5
Season two of Huluâs period drama Harlots seemed to trace the arcs of its female protagonists to their logical conclusions, with Madame Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) fleeing London for America, the villainous Madame Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) committed to the Bedlam psychiatric hospital, and Margaretâs daughter, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay), ascending to the role of âbawdâ of the Greek Street brothel. These developments presented the writers with an opportunity to expand the showâs world, but while season three introduces new players to its gritty London backdrop, Harlots is ultimately content to luxuriate in the well-established tension between its central characters.
With Margaret and Lydia in exile, the seasonâs early episodes focus on Charlotteâs budding rivalry with a pimp named Isaac Pincher (Alfie Allen), whoâs aggressively claiming territories in London. Perhaps because the slick, unctuous Isaac is so easily detestable, these episodes lack the knotty moral dynamic that the show previously derived from the strife between Margaret and Lydia. The two veteran madams are more nuanced characters than either the sympathetic Charlotte or the plainly villainous Isaac, and when Charlotte, ambitious but ultimately kind-hearted, attempts to outmaneuver Isaac, Harlots assumes a didactic pose.
The series has always focused on women struggling against a patriarchal system, and the conflict between Charlotte and Isaac renders the showâs overarching theme in literal terms. The writers do attempt to imbue their relationship with intricacy by adding a romantic layer, yet as Isaacâs actions toward Greek Street become more violent, Charlotteâs attraction toward him, which is merely unexpected at first, becomes inexplicable.
While these episodes donât provide the showâs most nuanced character portrayals, they feature enough soapy excitement to hold the audienceâs attention until Margaret and Lydia reemerge in London. The cat-and-mouse conflict between Charlotte and Isaac leads to a number of memorable set pieces, including a typically playful and bawdy one in which the women of Charlotteâs Greek Street brothel raid Isaacâs tavern for gold. Each episode is punctuated by a cliffhanger, including a cataclysmic event in episode three which signals an impending paradigm shift for Harlots. As the plot twists accrue, palpable chemistry emerges between Findlay and Allen, with the actors toggling between archness and sincerity to characterize the underdeveloped romance between Charlotte and Isaac.
While the initial episodes suffer some narrative foundering, season three retains the showâs campy flourishes, including an upbeat, anachronistic score and intentionally stagey performances. Findlay, Allen, and the rest of the cast loudly betray their charactersâ emotions, contributing to both the showâs bubbly soapiness and its sympathetic view of its characters. The harlots arenât cowed sex workers, driven to secrecy; as ever, theyâre brazen and proud. The showâs vivid costume design provides bursts of color, and informs our perception of characters: Consider the transformation in Lydiaâs wardrobe as she reenters society, or the way her sad-sack son, Charles (Douggie McMeekin), is draped in drab and subtly frayed jackets.
Certain scenes last mere seconds before the narrative shifts to other characters, and the whirlwind pace contributes to an overall breeziness that makes Harlots, despite its poignant and occasionally disturbing material, so easy to digest. The series cycles through surprising plot twists, ribald humor, and glimpses of cruelty, while maintaining a focus on the precarious state of its charactersâ lives. And because the showâs world remains characterized as much by cheer as danger, its horrifying moments are thrown into stark relief. In particular, the climactic catastrophe in the seasonâs third episode reminds the audience that no one in Harlots is safe from harmâand that old grudges die hard.
Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, Eloise Smyth, Kate Fleetwood, Liv Tyler, Holli Dempsey, Danny Sapani, Alfie Allen, Ash Hunter, Douggie McMeekin Network: Hulu
Review: The Loudest Voice Is Confirmation Bias as Liberal Bedtime Story
The miniseries does little more than reinforce everything the left always suspected about Fox News.1
Showtimeâs The Loudest Voice, a seven-part miniseries about the rise of former Fox News head Roger Ailes (Russell Crowe), is predisposed to the sort of blustering speeches that constantly tumble from Croweâs latex-encased maw. His Ailes has a gift for neatly packaged profundities and generalizations about the nature of TV and its viewership, a succinct and incendiary vision from which subsequent battle plans are drawn. In the first episode, Ailes insists that the nascent network should, instead of vying for the attention of the public at large, target those âwho are predisposed to buying what we are trying to sell.â In a monolithic yet totally unexamined irony, the series itself operates with a similar strategy, forgoing any challenging truths in favor of reiterating gospel long ago accepted by the choir.
Because, of course, while Fox News is designed to stoke right-wing paranoia and prejudice, The Loudest Voice similarly emerges from and is designed specifically for confirmation bias. The series does little more than reinforce everything the left always suspected about Ailes and the long con of his news network through painfully obvious and patronizing dialogue, as when Ailes rallies the troops by declaring, âWe become the loudest voice. We bring to this country fairness and balance.â As the series so dutifully demonstrates, Ailes knew that he was twisting facts and spreading propaganda, which he justifies with statements like: âPeople donât wanna be informed; they wanna feel informed.â The entire series plays like a self-satisfied âgotcha,â as if the ultimate proof and punishment of wrongdoing is to reenact it on television.
The structure of the miniseries traces the development of Fox Newsâs methods over the years, with one person or another usually disapproving of Ailesâs tacticsâperhaps even outright forbidding him from doing something, as owner Rupert Murdoch (Simon McBurney) does when the network repeatedly characterizes the Obamas as terroristsâonly for Ailes to continue doing things his way. Heâs a man who, by and large, cannot be stopped, whether in his work pursuits or in his sexual assaults and general harassment of countless women; heâs fond of making them twirl around before him, all the while leering.
The problem with depicting Ailes as an essentially unstoppable force that does little more than shout in order to get his way is one of repetition. The Loudest Voice intends to convey how Foxâs rhetoric escalated over time, but because every internal conflict plays out so similarly, we get little sense of that escalation, of different lines being crossed that werenât already crossed in previous episodes. The series struggles to even depict the results of Ailesâs editorial decisions. As a result, the initial episodes of The Loudest Voice all but play out in a vacuum, more concerned with relating how Ailesâs decisions were made.
The responses to Fox that are depicted are only the biggest ones, such as other networks picking up their ACORN conspiracy, or the Obama campaign requesting a private sit-down after so much negative coverage. An argument at a coffee shop grows heated enough to encompass multiple customers in the town where Ailes bought out the local newspaper, and there are ominous clips of a mob protesting the Obama administration, riled into a frenzy by Fox coverage. But with no real buildup to these responses from outside The Loudest Voiceâs Fox-centric perspective, theyâre less examinations of the consequences than just the basic proof that Fox did, in fact, provoke a response, as if thatâs the only thing worth exploring.
The series waits until the third and fourth episodes before alluding to the upbringing that shaped Ailes into the man he became, as he relates stories about his father and where he grew up. But even these are surface observations made mainly through environmental shots of the rusted corpse of his hometown of Warren, Ohio, where the factories have since pulled out and the working class ekes out a living amid trash-ridden streets and homes in varying states of disrepair. It amounts to little more than pointing the finger at abandoned buildings looming large in the distance, as if a simple gesture toward where Ailes is from explains everything about his formation into an eventually infamous figure. âEconomic anxietyâ has struck again as the readily accepted culprit for noxious political views.
In a similar fit of oversimplification, Ailes increasingly seems unaware of the sociological context for what heâs presenting to the public; despite coming across as so calculating in the first episode, he eventually seems to simply believe some of the conspiracies his network peddles. The characterization of his wife, Beth Ailes (Sienna Miller), is even thinner, insofar as sheâs hardly characterized at all. Sheâs mainly relegated to a sounding board so that the beliefs and actions of Roger Ailes may be spelled out to the audience.
The result is a suffocating, overlong dramatization of what happened where the why is purely incidental, a Wikipedia recitation from a credibly make-upped Russell Crowe who never quite decides what regional American accent heâs supposed to be doing. The Loudest Voice is a liberal bedtime story; it doesnât argue a point or even particularly inform so much as blandly recreate the heinous actions of a Republican bogeyman. In doing so, it merely pacifies, assuring us that the world functions exactly as we expected while leaving us safe and secure in the knowledge that the monsters are exactly where we always knew they were.
Cast: Russell Crowe, Sienna Miller, Naomi Watts, Seth MacFarlane, Annabelle Wallis, Simon McBurney, Aleksa Palladino, Josh Stamberg, Josh Charles, Mackenzie Astin, Lucy Owen Network: Showtime
Review: Legionâs Unhinged Final Season Plunges Us into an Unknowable Mind
The showâs third and final season is a visual achievement, typified by imaginative flights of absurdism.3
After Legionâs shocking second season finale, in which it was revealed that David (Dan Stevens) had sexually assaulted his girlfriend, Syd (Rachel Keller), the series enters its third and final season with a lingering ambiguity: Is David, the showâs titular telepath and diagnosed schizophrenic, redeemable? Furthermore, to what extent is he responsible for his actions? Throughout season three, in which David is hunted by the Shadow King (Navid Negahban) and Division Three while he attempts to travel back in time to rectify his misdeeds, Legion struggles to answer these questions, which serve as the crux of the series.
Certainly, by framing Davidâs efforts to alter the past as self-serving and expedient, Legion maintains one view of its protagonist as an egomaniac and probable sociopath. In conversations with a rightly unmoved Syd, Davidâs protestations and glib promises to simply undo the past reflect his inability to grasp the gravity of his crime. And the characterâs first effort at time travel, in which he attempts to protect his infant self from the Shadow King, is tinged with both self-interest and an attempt to shift the blame for his actions.
From this perspective, Legionâs depiction of David is a trenchant critique of toxic masculinity. But the series also suggests that David, while impurely motivated, might not be wrong to seek an excuse for his behavior. Nothing in the season dispels the notion that he could, by preserving his own innocence from the Shadow Kingâs influence, prevent himself from becoming a manipulative and self-obsessed personâor one who would commit sexual assault.
This conflicted portrayal at least makes Legion extremely effective as a plunge into sheer narcissism. To engage with David, and the showâs ever-shifting reality, is to experience the sensation of being gaslit firsthand. His passionate pleas when enlisting the help of a young time-traveling mutant, Switch (Lauren Tsai), are backed by rousing strings on the soundtrack, which imply virtue in his determination. Similarly, when David professes his love for Syd, Stevens strips David of his usual guile, offering an earnest portrayal of heartbroken regret. Such moments, which tempt us to empathize with David, and maintain the idea of him as the showâs hero, are contrasted by deflating glimpses of his selfishness. When he thoughtlessly implores an exhausted, injured Switch to bring him back to the past after a failed attempt, the series punishes us for having trusted David to consider anything beyond his own self-interest.
Legion remains a visual achievement, typified by the imaginative settings and flights of absurdism which, at their most effective, serve to illuminate Davidâs mental state. Season three finds David with a new cult of followers, who surround him in a ramshackle house that acts as both plot device and canvas for his volatile emotions. The houseâs exposed pipes, which resemble veins or synapses, glow neon blue with a substance revealed to be a sedative drug created by David. While the drugged cult evinces Davidâs craving for any kind of admiration, the claustrophobic space is a realization of his addled mind. When the character is at one point consumed by rage, the pipes turn a foreboding shade of red, and his followers begin to froth at the mouthâan effectively unsettling metaphor for Davidâs chaotic instability.
Some of the seasonâs other oddball incursions are less thematically coherent or informative, especially as the series builds toward its ostensible conclusion. Series creator Noah Hawley has publicly cited David Lynch as an inspiration for the series, and while Legion does possess a Lynchian sense of unmooring suspense, the weirdness can also merely forestall whatever intelligible vision of Davidâs arc the series is approaching. In one such instance, a confrontation between Switch and David pushes him toward self-assessment, but the conversation quickly evolves into the entire cast singing a melancholic version of â(Whatâs So Funny âbout) Peace, Love and Understanding?â In a series with so little peace, love, or understanding, the wry song choice is clearly meant to be ironic, but the whimsical indulgence serves no purpose except to reinforce Davidâs already well-established inability to learn.
Season three includes more than one such musical number, which consistently resemble escapes from the character resolutions the series simultaneously inches toward and avoids. Surreal tangents once provided crucial insights into Davidâs mind, yet now they just as often distract from the showâs emerging assessment of the character. Legion alternately views the very act of telepathy as a violation, and David as a victim of his own abilities. Crucially, the series, by building toward a conventional showdown between David and the Shadow King, seems unsure as to which character is ultimately responsible for Davidâs past actions.
As the season approaches its conclusion, Legion occasionally hints at offering elusive truths about Davidâs nature, but just as often seems to be building toward an opaque conclusion for the character: one in which David, and his fragmented mind, simply might not be understandable in any conventional sense. Still, in its attempt to provide both character study and pure, unhinged abstraction, Legion has fashioned yet another visually distinct and uniquely bizarre season around a manâs unknowable mind.
Cast: Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Amber Midthunder, Bill Irwin, Jemaine Clement, Hamish Linklater, Navid Negahban Network: FX
Review: City on a Hill Is a Bonanza of Character Detail and Hammy Thrills
When the series isnât immersed in pulpy shenanigans, it aspires to be a sort of Bostonian The Wire.3
Not since Gerard Butlerâs riotous, bloody doughnut-eating turn in Christian Gudegastâs Den of Thieves last year has an actor plumbed the scumbag depths quite like Kevin Bacon does as wayward F.B.I. agent Jackie Rohr in Showtimeâs City on a Hill. Everyone within the showâs various layers of Boston law enforcement seems to know Rohr, and not a single person likes the guyânot the co-workers who bristle at his presence, not the people who return his greeting with an immediate âfuck off,â and certainly not his mother-in-law, Rose (Catherine Wolf), who threatens to expose his serial infidelity by telling his wife, Jenny (Jill Hennessy), about his recent STD test. In retaliation, he grabs a model Red Baron planeâa memento from Roseâs late husbandâfrom the mantelpiece and makes like heâs going to smash it. âYou put me in the fucking doghouse,â he growls in his hoarse Boston accent, âand Iâm gonna be like Snoopy and blow your shit right the fuck out of the sky.â
When City on a Hill isnât immersed in such pulpy shenanigans, which find the casually racist Rohr doing things like brandishing a fish at an angry old woman who calls him a âwhite devil,â it aspires to be a sort of Bostonian The Wire. The series, set in the early â90s and based on an original idea by creator Chuck MacLean and executive producer Ben Affleck, constantly keeps one eye on the systems that contribute to the cityâs rot as it moves through a fictionalized account of the âBoston Miracleâ police initiative that statistically reduced violence in the city. One-eyed District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) is an idealist beaten down by what he sees, given to statements such as âI like what my job should beâ to justify why he thanklessly works to improve the system. Heâs black, so he gets the kind of scrutiny that doesnât afford him any goofy bad-cop antics, but Hodge dials up the searing intensity with a wide-eyed stare, the only window to the drive and the outrage bubbling beneath his no-nonsense exterior. Every so often, it leaks through with a shouted line like, âIâm not their boy.â
Rohr and Ward fall into a mismatched partnership thatâs surprisingly absent any of the explosive confrontations that typically characterize odd-couple pairings in film and TV. Their hesitant camaraderie just sort of happens as they recognize their mutual interests; even if they donât like each other, they understand one another. And from there, the series unfolds the complications (of which there are many) and the key players (of which there are even more) that will figure into a wider arc that begins with a simple armored car robbery. Laying out all the different systems that figure into the story, though, makes the first few episodes somewhat slow-going; some scenes tend to devolve into a lot of bureaucratic jargon and off-the-cuff mentions of Boston locations that might lose anyone unfamiliar with the city.
Where the series excels, however, is in the level of detail it brings to its individual characters. Armored car robber Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker), for example, works stocking a grocery store, and heâs often seen doing lottery scratch cards as if constantly on the lookout for alternative cash flow. When he cuts himself putting up a bathroom cabinet, it figures into foreplay with his wife, Cathy (Amanda Clayton); he holds up his bandaged hand to say heâs not afraid of a little blood while she goes to pull out a tampon âthe size of a frigginâ bus.â And when Cathy suspects her screw-up brother-in-law, Jimmy (Mark OâBrien), of absconding with their money, she yanks the cabinet out of the wall to reveal the nook where they keep unlaundered cash. Here, Frankieâs cut hand, bathroom cabinet, and working-class lifestyle converge to describe his relationship with Cathy and the exact degree of her complicity in his operation. Elsewhere, Rohrâs menacing of the model plane neatly (and hilariously) outlines his living situation and the strained relationships that encompass it.
While itâs true that none of these characters are particularly unique even within the setting (Affleckâs own The Town features a similarly honorable robber stuck with a volatile sidekick), they feel dynamic enough that their familiarity ceases to matter. They all know their way around a punchy, profane turn of phrase, and theyâre usually good for some kind of amusing sight, whether itâs Rohrâs coked-up air-drumming to a Rush song or Jimmy driving to see his kids in a car filled with balloons, singing along to Marky Markâs âGood Vibrationsâ with a mouthful of Bubble Tape. Such a confident grasp of character goes a long way toward smoothing over the showâs somewhat clumsier big-picture narrative, as City on a Hill proves itself as effective at small, interlocking details as it is at purely hammy thrills.
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Aldis Hodge, Jonathan Tucker, Mark OâBrien, Lauren E. Banks, Amanda Clayton, Jere Shea, Kevin Chapman, Jill Hennessy, Blake Baumgartner, Catherine Wolf Network: Showtime
Review: Years and Years Is a Captivating Dystopian Family Drama
The series manages to pile on the cataclysms without taking pleasure in the pain of its characters.3
In his memoir Self-Consciousness, John Updike describes his early adulthood by saying, âI turned thirty, then forty,â and in doing so skips over a decadeâs worth of information unnecessary to the reader. Russell T Daviesâs miniseries Years and Years, which will launch on HBO following its run on BBC One, similarly makes economic use of time, but where Updike jumps into the future, the series sprints. Every so often throughout the four episodes made available to press, a searing montage pushes the world a few years forward, relaying key geopolitical developmentsâa landmark legal decision, a diplomatic falling out, an environmental crisisâbefore settling back down in a global order even shakier than before.
We experience these changes through the perspective of Britainâs Lyons family, which includes tough but caring matriarch Muriel Deacon (Anne Reid) and her grandchildren: Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a banker; Daniel (Russell Tovey), a housing officer; Rosie (Ruth Madeley), a school cafeteria manager; and Edith (Jessica Hynes), an activist. The siblings, their partners, and their children are Years and Yearsâs primary concern, and with each lurch into the future, their lives tend to get worse rather than better. All the while, Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson), a fear-mongering pseudo-populist, launches and advances her political career, deploring the worldâs degradation and promising to represent the true wishes of the British people.
At one point, the Lyons siblings hop on a conference call to react to one of Rookâs appearances on the news. Rosie appreciates Rookâs straightforwardnessâthe series opens with a shockingly candid and unempathetic on-air comment that Rook makes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflictâDaniel is horrified by it, and others lie somewhere in between. Rook is more than a little Trumpian, a resonant representation of the crassness that heâs made politically viable. And as Years and Years proceeds, this much becomes clear: Although it largely centers around the Lyonses, the series isnât really about them, but about Rook. Itâs about the potential for the world to operate in a way that enables Rookâs ascent and leaves people like the Lyons family staring slack-jawed at her demagoguery and electoral swashbuckling.
As Rook, Thompson seems to multiply the minutes she gets on screen with the ferocity and sheer gravitational pull that the actress brings to the politician. When sheâs on television, Rook looks directly into the camera, at the Lyonses and at the viewer. And when sheâs participating in a local debate, she defiantly stands at the center of the stage, in the middle of the screen, her opponents surrounding her like planets stalled in orbit.
The rest of the castâs performances similarly ground the seriesâs socio-political thought experiment in human experiences. Kinnear, as Stephen, realizes a soft stoicism, a resilience undergirded by subdued positivity. When that faĂ§ade finally cracks, following a death in the family, we know that Stephen doesnât cry solely because of the loss; heâs also grieving a financial crash along with his increasingly fraught marriage, which together contribute to the gulf separating what he thought his life would be and what it has become.
Though thoughtful and moving in its exploration of such suffering, both individual and collective, Years and Years occasionally stumbles by insufficiently using its characters to contextualize its political world-building. At Rookâs debate, which Rosie and Edith attend, Rook wins over her detractors in the crowd with a swiftness thatâs jarring given the weakness of her argument, which essentially justifies authoritarianism as a bulwark against the proliferation of porn. Rookâs victory feels artificial, like she manages to sway her doubters purely because the series needs her to in order to demonstrate the shortsightedness of voters. Rosie and Edithâs presence should, in theory, render Rookâs beguiling charm more believable, but the series fails to interrogate the reasons for the pairâs attraction to her.
Two monologues that Daniel delivers encapsulate the seriesâs sporadic inconsistency. In one, he holds Rosieâs newborn baby while questioning, aloud and at length, if itâs right to bring a child into a deteriorating world. As Daniel bemoans the banks and the corporations and fake news and more, he ceases to blink, his voice rising and quickening. He becomes a machine unleashing a diatribe thatâs too neat to be convincing, the character of Daniel giving way to a Daniel-shaped megaphone. Later, though, Daniel tells off a xenophobic visitor to the refugee camp he works at in his capacity as a housing officer. This scene, in contrast to the earlier one, doesnât burden Daniel with the weight of the world. Rather, it gives him the freedom to discuss what heâs personally and passionately invested in: the idea that refugees deserve allâand more thanâthe help they receive. Here, Danielâs dialogue and Toveyâs performance are vastly more organic, emerging from within the character as opposed to simply flowing through him.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Years and Years is the compassion with which it considers its characters. It would be easy for a series filled with so many cataclysms, both global and personalânuclear weapon launches, deaths, infidelitiesâto err on the side of sadism in its depiction of that turmoil. But it takes no pleasure in the pain of the Lyonses. Instead, Years and Years recognizes that pain is edifying as well as transient, and it accordingly gives the pain that it inflicts space to evolve: to form, to torment, and to pass, like each year that comes and goes, taking more and more away with it.
Cast: Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear, TâNia Miller, Russell Tovey, Jessica Hynes, Ruth Madeley, Anne Reid, Dino Fetscher, Lydia West, Jade Alleyne, Maxim Baldry, Sharon Duncan-Brewster Network: HBO
Review: Euphoriaâs Depiction of Teen Hedonism Is Both Frank and Lurid
Euphoriaâs central relationship is luminous, but the series struggles to develop its other characters.2.5
Sam Levinsonâs Euphoria announces its self-consciously provocative nature within its first minute, when Rue Bennett (Zendaya) says that she was happy once, over an image of the girl, in fetus form, about to be born. Airplane engines begin to howl alongside baby Rueâs POV as she exits the birth canal, at which point the episode transitions to a shot of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. She was born three days after 9/11. The juxtaposition here is loud and in-your-face, and though itâs tonally similar to the deluge of ironic trigger warnings that open Levinsonâs film Assassination Nation, it has the benefit of some actual thematic coherence, for the way the open-with-a-literal-bang image acknowledges 9/11 as the unmistakable divide between Euphoriaâs teens and everyone else.
Rue characterizes the world she grew up in as a chaotic, aimless place devoid of much understanding for her people her age, which leaves her generation concerned mainly with wringing out as much enjoyment from it as they can. And the series, which is adapted from an Israeli drama of the same name, depicts such teenage hedonism in frank, explicit terms: a high school world awash in pills, sex, and nude photos thrown to the winds of social media. The nature of these occasionally graphic depictions is complicated by Levinsonâs consciously âattitudeâ-laden stylings: Are they graphic purely to shock, or to authentically portray what todayâs young people go through, or both? Regardless, the series finds its character-driven groove by turning an empathetic eye toward the inner lives of its principal teens, observing their listlessness and small moments of solace as much as their outward pain.
Rue, we learn, is a drug addict fresh out of rehab whoâs largely uninterested in getting clean. And while the showâs other teens feel their way through seedy meet-ups with older men, pursue self-actualization through porn, and cope with invasions of privacy, Rue provides the perspective through which we view nearly everything and everyone else. She narrates even the events that donât involve her, lending them a general vibe of playful, sarcastic worldliness. She determines the flow of the action, freezing a sex scene outright for a digression on modern porn habits or summoning a cutaway gag, like a lecture on dick pics complete with projector slides. Zendaya plays Rue with a perpetual murmur and effortless remove, like an observer sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by, until she succumbs to a desperate, drug-seeking freak-out or one of the panic attacks those drugs are meant to distance her from.
The series tempers some of its heavier material with an often laidback atmosphere, a world of deep shadows drenched in multi-colored hues and dreamy hip-hop beats that belie the darkness in its corners. If the universe is falling apart around the charactersâ ears, the result is that Euphoriaâs characters see little reason to consider what encroaching adulthood will mean, to ruminate on what will come next when there might as well be no ânext.â Thereâs only the all-encompassing ânow.â âThe world is coming to an end,â Rue says to justify her drug use, âand I havenât even graduated high school yet.â
Euphoriaâs best scenes are its oases of joy and humor, particularly the luminous relationship between Rue and Jules (Hunter Schafer), the new-in-town trans girl whose sunny disposition contrasts Rueâs overall remove yet masks a deeper restlessness. The chemistry between Zendaya and Schafer paints a believable portrait of a companionship only possible before adulthood, when you have as much free time as you have affection to distribute.
The two might have sustained the series by themselves, though Euphoria struggles to develop its other characters. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), for example, is largely undefined beyond the sexual history sheâs trying to move beyond, while her boyfriend, Chris (Algee Smith), seems to exist only to express discomfort about that history. Beneath his football-playing faĂ§ade, Nate (Jacob Elordi) has a streak of violent calculation that dances on the edge of caricature. Only Kat (Barbie Ferreira) seems to develop beyond her basic template of virginal angst, mainly because the series resolves the issue almost immediately before sending her down a Pornhub rabbit hole on an amusing journey of self-discovery; her burgeoning sexuality comes to encompass an attractive classmate as much as a man on Skype who wants to be her âcash pig.â
The fourth episode only emphasizes the disparity between the showâs development of the teens. As the camera glides between multiple perspectives at the same carnival event, Jules has a scary revelation about an older, married man, Cal (Eric Dane), she recently hooked up with, while a panicked Rue searches for her sister, Gia (Storm Reid), whoâs still reeling from Rueâs overdose prior to the events of the series. However, the more half-sketched characters, such as Cassie and Nateâs long-suffering girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie), take drugs seemingly so theyâll have something to do for the duration of the episode. While itâs realistic that not all the characters would have intricate stories to engage in (Katâs storyline is also comparably low-stakes), sidelining Cassie and Maddy feels like a concession that the series isnât totally sure what to do with them beyond displaying their suffering.
The success of Euphoriaâs teen drama ultimately depends on which teen it focuses on at any given moment. With Rue and Jules at the center, you feel the exhilaration of their friendship as much as a real concern for their growing troubles. But with its less fully developed characters, the series can feel like little more than a lurid performance of teenage pain.
Cast: Zendaya, Maude Apatow, Angus Cloud, Eric Dane, Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi, Barbie Ferreira, Nika King, Storm Reid, Hunter Schafer, Algee Smith, Sydney Sweeney, Austin Abrams, Alanna Ubach Network: HBO
Review: Huluâs Das Boot Forfeits the Telescoped Focus of Its Source Material
The series transforms a story that captured something of the experience of war into a familiar melodrama.1.5
One of the strengths of Wolfgang Petersenâs classic submarine drama Das Boot, based on Lothar-GĂŒnther Buchheimâs novel of the same name, is that itâs no glorification of the German war machine. Indeed, its shocking ending underlines the absolute senselessness of war and the meaninglessness of heroism. Das Boot is a war film that could only be made in a country where virtually everyone had experienced the horror of war firsthand, whether it was on the frontlines or cowering in a bomb shelter. But itâs also a story told strictly from the perspective of the gentile German sailor; women appear quite literally on the marginsâat beginning and end, when the boat disembarks and returnsâand non-gentiles are neither seen nor mentioned. War crimes are far from the filmâs purview, and its sailors are, for the most part, not terribly interested in Nazism.
Johannes W. Betzâs new series solves this problem by flashing back and forth between the crew of a U-Boot captained by the young Captain Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon) and a plot of betrayal and subterfuge in the shipâs port in La Rochelle, France, centered around German Navy translator Simone Strasser (Vicky Krieps). In doing so, however, Betzâs Das Boot eschews much of what made the original film effective: the feeling that the viewer is stranded in the narrow gangways of the submarine on a mostly blind journey through treacherous waters.
Forfeiting the telescoped focus that keeps the film engrossing, the series substitutes hidden backstories and interpersonal melodrama that feels like it was pulled from the prestige-drama handbook. As the crew is assembled in the first episode, âNew Paths,â we learn that the long-serving First Officer Karl Tennstedt (August Wittgenstein), a familiar Nazi type whoâs been passed over for command of the ship in favor Hoffmann, is the son of a WWI hero. Tennstedtâs simmering resentment plays out, over the course of the four episodes available for review, as an escalating crisis of authority, as he grows increasingly bold in his defiance of the noble-minded Hoffmann, and sways the minds of several (rather easily convinced) enlisted men.
Meanwhile, Simone arrives in La Rochelle, where she expects to live and work alongside her younger brother, Frank (Leonard Scheicher), a radio engineer. When an accident on board Hoffmann and Tennstedtâs U-Boot damages the radio and seriously injures the shipâs engineer, Tennstedt summarily decides to assign Frank to the vessel. With no choice in the matter and suddenly facing an uncertain fate, Frank hands over to Simone a cache of materials he was supposed to deliver in a post-curfew rendezvous later that night.
In the second episode, âSecret Missions,â itâs revealed that Frankâs mission had something to do with a French girl heâs been seeing, Natalie (Clara Ponsot), and with a mysterious American resistance fighter named Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan)âwell, only âmysteriousâ inasmuch as the series clumsily cultivates an air of mystique around her, all oblique camera angles and vague dialogue. On the brink of explaining her intentions to Simone, Monroe stops herself, mostly, it seems, to extend the mystery for another episode or two. âProbably better if you donât know,â she says, though she might as well be addressing the camera.
Itâs in this episode that the seams of Das Boot really begin to showâor, rather, its bulkheads start to crack. Almost every aspect of the shorebound storyline, which becomes the showâs main focus, is an exaggerated contrivance. In a scenario painfully familiar from a dozen cable dramas that have pulled it off more convincingly (see The Americans, Breaking Bad, Barry), Simone conducts her illegal dealings with Monroeâs resistance cell under the nose of Gestapo inspector Hagen Forster (Tom Wlaschiha). Forster has a professional relationship with Simone, and, he hopes, a burgeoning personal one. As heâs drawn ever closer to her, Forster becomes increasingly blind to her traitorous activitiesâthough, naturally, episode four, âDoubts,â ends with him coming one step closer to discovering them.
This adaptation of Das Boot, which also incorporates elements from Buchheimâs 1995 novel Die Festung, transforms a story that endeavored to capture something of the experience of war into an overly familiar melodrama of obscure motivations, hidden backstories, and broadly sketched interpersonal conflict. The series may try to address Nazi terror in a way Petersenâs film leaves beyond its margins, but even its depiction of atrocity serves merely as a convenient motivator for familiar twists and turns. The sense of cheapness and naked commercialism that pervades the series makes its explicit depiction of disturbing violenceâa death by firing squad, the gang rape of a Jewish woman by German sailorsâfeel unearned and, particularly in the latter case, completely irresponsible. The series canât be counted on to deliver any insights on history or war, but compelling drama may be even further beyond its capabilities.
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Tom Wlaschiha, Lizzy Caplan, Vincent Kartheiser, James DâArcy, Thierry FrĂ©mont, August Wittgenstein, Rainer Bock, Rick Okon, Leonard Scheicher, Robert Stadlober, Franz Dinda, Stefan Konarske Network: Hulu
Review: Jessica Jonesâs Third and Final Season Feels Like an Afterthought
As it nears the end of its run, the series doesnât seem to have much more to say about trauma.2
The third and final season of Jessica Jones feels more like an afterthought than a farewell, an unevenly written retread thatâs uninterested in breaking out of a well-worn groove. Trauma is at the center of the Netflix showâs world, with the eponymous superpowered private eye (Krysten Ritter) having conquered the lingering pain of sexual abuse and childhood domestic strife across the first two seasons. And it being a Marvel Comics property, Jessica Jones predictably scrutinizes such personal trauma through the lens of highly literal metaphor: In the first season, an evil ex-loverâs telepathic powers represent the way that abusers get into our heads, and in the second, an abusive motherâs super strength stands for the seemingly indominable power parents have over their children.
The new season saddles its hero with more trauma, both psychological and physical, but loses the real-life resonance of the showâs previous themes, becoming an exercise in self-reflexivity. Jessica Jones now squares off against a serial killer, Gregory Salinger (Jeremy Bobb), whoâs the embodiment of misogynist male geekdomâwhich is to say, that corner of the internet thatâs predisposed to objecting to woman-driven action properties like Jessica Jones.
In the seasonâs first episode, âA.K.A. The Perfect Burger,â Jessica is taken by surprise when Salinger shows up at her apartment in the middle of the night, hunting her one-night stand, Erik (Benjamin Walker). The encounter leaves Jessica injured and newly traumatized, and Salinger psychotically obsessed with his incidental victim. Salinger resents Jones for being what real-world toxic nerds would call a âMary Sueââor, as Salinger puts it, for âcheating,â for not appropriately earning her powers, and for being a âfeminist vindicator.â
This new seasonâs use of allegory is a bit on the nose, which isnât the worst sin for a superhero property, but Jessica Jones clearly has aspirations to be a character-driven drama. Itâs an intent undermined by its charactersâ tendency to feel like little more than signposts directing us to the showâs message. In contrast to David Tenantâs chilling performance as misogynist villain Killgrave in season one, Bobb doesnât convey the menace or malicious seductiveness that might enliven Salingerâs often blandly scripted rants against womenâs empowerment.
Salinger also targets Erikâs wayward sister, Brianna (Jamie Neumann), a sex worker whom Jessica tries to protect by foisting her upon Malcolm (Eka Darville), Jessiscaâs neighbor and former assistant. This all intersects conveniently (and problematically) with Malcolmâs subplot, which concerns his flirtation with moral corruption as he works as a fixer for Jeri Hogarthâs (Carrie-Anne Moss) law firm. Brianna is stereotyped as an erratic, trashy prostitute whoâs sexually available to Malcolm simply because sheâs hiding out in his apartment. Sheâs characterized as a nuisance who becomes a kind of punching bag for the other characters, who talk about her poor life decisions in front of her as if she isnât there.
Malcolmâs is one of three major subplots that take up much of the run time of the eight episodes of the new season made available to press. In the others, both Jeri and Jessicaâs ex-bestie, Trish (Rachael Taylor), deal with their own moral transgressions. Of these, Trishâs story is the strongest. Newly equipped with (vaguely defined) superpowers, she aims to join Jessica as a superhero on the streets of Hellâs Kitchen, and sheâs given a satisfying and resonant origin story in episode two, the Ritter-directed âA.K.A Youâre Welcome.â
Jeriâs subplot, on the other hand, adds very little to a character already understood from previous seasons as self-serving and morally compromised. This arc, hardly more than filler, also features one of the seasonâs most regrettable scenes: a painfully kitschy seduction that involves Jeriâs former lover, Kith Lyonne (Sarita Choudhury), badly faking a cello performance as Jeri caresses her and the low-angle camera slowly tracks around them.
As for Jones herself, the series canât shake the feeling that its main character has simply become her outfit. The seasonâs opening shot, which has her leather boot stomp into the frame in close-up against the unaccustomed environs of a sunny beach, even evokes the way her personality is summed up by tattered jeans and grimy leather. In the form of Salingerâs initial attack, sheâs given a new trauma to work through, but after three seasons, this form of motivation seems more like an obligatory gesture than an exploration of character. By the time sheâs brutally besting Salinger in an amateur wrestling match in front of the pre-teen wrestling team he coaches in episode seven, âThe Double Half-Woppinger,â itâs clear that, as it nears the end of its run, Jessica Jones doesnât have much more to say.
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rebecca De Mornay, Jeremy Bobb, Benjamin Walker, Sarita Choudhury, Jamie Neumann Network: Netflix
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