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Review: Forbidden Science: Season One

2.5

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Forbidden Science: Season One

Many attempts have been made to transcend the lowbrow status of adult entertainment through stronger characterizations and storylines, but the problem remains the same: either the sex interrupts the story or the story interrupts the sex. The two never seem to sit well together. What Russ Meyer once referred to as the “one-armed audience” doesn’t care much for exposition. Usually, the trick is not to tell a story where the sex is incidental to the narrative but rather one where it’s the very point of the narrative. Basic Instinct had this pretty much figured out back in 1992 and helped usher a glut of “erotic thrillers” ranging from studio productions like Jade to the often barely coherent late-night cable-TV movie. The famous “fuck of the century” scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone was central to the narrative of the Paul Verhoeven film; there wasn’t a moment in which the camera could discreetly pan over to the fireplace.

Doug Brode has his own ideas, however, and his new series Forbidden Science is really not about sex at all. It’s clearly meant to fill a slot in Cinemax’s After Dark schedule, but unlike its bikini-car-wash and lusty-affair brethren, the show is an attempt at something more sophisticated. Described as a “noir science fiction series with an erotic edge,” the 13-episode series takes place in a Cronenberg-esque world of tomorrow, ostensibly somewhere in Canada. Centered on the controversial work of 4Ever Innovations, an elite corporation developing technologies to download and sell memories, uploading them into cloned replacements of lost loved ones, the program is literally about “forbidden” science, the danger zone where science challenges notions of morality.

Julia White (Vanessa Broze) sits at the heart of the story. The clone of a scientist murdered by her husband in order to steal her discoveries, Julia is unsure of her place in a world where clones and androids are seen as slaves. When she meets a suicidal sex droid named Max, she falls immediately in love and helps him to escape his abused existence, setting off a violent pursuit by the representatives of 4Ever Innovations for whom Max is worth a great deal.

Forbidden Science gets a few important things right from the start. A story like this one would usually be shot in front of a slew of green screens with all the skill of the local weather report. Instead we get sets that are sparse but which draw the eye to very specific props and décor, helping to create a sleek, futuristic look that sells the authentic narrative within a reasonably believable universe. And aside from a few leftovers from the Skinemax School of Acting, the main cast is quite good. The women, in particular, seem to have been cast more for their craft than their talent at sliding down a stripper pole. They also resemble reasonably real women rather than some nip-tucked Silicone Valley resident.

In fact, trimmed of some of its lengthier sexual encounters, Forbidden Science could air comfortably on the Sci-Fi Channel. While there is quite a bit of softcore sex on display (sex with androids, sex with clones, sex within virtual reality, and once in awhile even sex between actual humans), Brode has quite an ambitious vision for the show that extends far beyond sexual titillation. His scripts are heavy on theme, stressing the idea that a clone is just a copy of a human, not the dead brought back to life. He uses Julia to probe ideas of what it is that defines a human being. If we are not the accumulation of personal memory, then what are we? It remains to be seen whether the show will sate those who came for the sex rather than the story, or if late-night audiences will find Brode’s sincere attempt at clone existentialism to be their cup of tea. Or even their weekend six-pack.

Cast: Vanessa Broze, Levi Freeman, Joanne Alderson, Austin Ball, Noelle Dubois Airtime: Cinemax, Fridays, 11:35 p.m.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Review: Amazon’s Hanna Quickly Exhausts the Novelty of Its Premise

The series fails to uphold, subvert, or otherwise comment on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

1.5

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Hanna
Photo: Amazon Prime

Like the 2011 film upon which it’s based, Amazon’s Hanna follows the eponymous teen (Esme Creed-Miles) as she embarks on a revenge mission against a shadowy spy agency. The series milks visceral thrills from Hanna’s fight skills as she kicks, punches, shoots, and kills burly adult men. But where Joe Wright’s film was distinguished by its thumping Chemical Brothers score, bluntly filmed and brutal action scenes, and strikingly lensed locations, the series neither carves a unique path for itself nor upholds, subverts, or otherwise comments on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

After an opening sequence that sees Hanna’s parents fleeing for their lives from the spy agency, the series flashes forward to regard Hanna training with her ex-military father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman), in the woods where they live in solitude. When the duo is eventually forced to flee their safe haven, Erik reveals to Hanna that he’s actually been preparing her to hunt and kill a villainous C.I.A. agent named Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). While Marissa is shown in flashback to be nefariously connected to Hanna’s childhood, Erik tells Hanna nothing else about her target. Consequently, the central mystery of Hanna’s origin, and Marissa’s role in it, is predicated on the secrets that Erik keeps from her for reasons that are never made clear.

Every episode of the series more or less follows the same format, as slow-burning cloak-and-dagger spy games eventually yield a few more revelations about Hanna’s past before leading to an eruptive and often incoherently filmed climax. The season’s middle stretch is particularly dull, as Erik and Hanna’s first attempt to kill Marissa goes awry and the teen finds herself stranded with a vacationing English family. Hanna attempts to use the relationship which emerges between Hanna and the family’s daughter, Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), to yoke a violent revenge plot to a coming-of-age teenage drama—which doesn’t work, chiefly because it’s impossible to understand why the otherwise unremarkable Sophie would be suddenly obsessed with Hanna, who’s nearly feral and prone to extreme violence.

Of course, Sophie’s fascination with her new friend is mysterious in part because Hanna herself is purposefully difficult to know, with Creed-Miles uses her open face and wide eyes to portray Hanna with a faraway look and a curious intelligence. The girl is inscrutable by Erik’s design, but less understandable is why the adults in the series, particularly Marissa, are similarly vague. Throughout, Hanna goes to great lengths to make its villain, who’s shown committing heinous acts, more sympathetic to the viewer. Certain plot twists suggest that Marissa may be ready to deal with her guilt over the nature of Hanna’s being, yet Enos’s severe, unsmiling performance and the season’s hectic third act go a long way toward muddying our sense of whatever change of heart the woman may be experiencing.

This muddled depiction of Marissa’s ostensible moral transformation, along with the introduction of a cabal of more menacing villains operating alongside her, rob the season finale of catharsis—which is about the only quality otherwise still preserved in the vicious retributions doled out by Hanna. Just as the series struggles to define Marissa’s motivations, it doesn’t hint at what might eventually happen to the rest her shadowy organization. The season’s conclusion asks as many questions as it answers, appearing to exist only so that Hanna may sustain itself, offering more henchman bones for Hanna to snap without wondering whether the character should, or even wants to, keep snapping them.

Cast: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Khalid Abdalla, Rhianne Barreto, Benno Fürmann, Sam C. Wilson, Félicien Juttner Airtime: Amazon Prime

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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