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Review: Turn Up Charlie Doesn’t Spin Comedy Gold But Idris Elba Shines

The show pulls in too many directions at once, many of them far removed from the sporadic charm of its concept.

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Turn Up Charlie
Photo: Netflix

Pairing Idris Elba with a sassy kid in a sitcom sounds like an inoffensive, even endearing proposition. The series could feasibly coast on their chemistry and Elba’s marquee value, piling up seasons of comfortable comedy. On the surface, that’s what Turn Up Charlie seems like it wants to do. But for eight episodes, the series pulls in too many directions at once, many of them far removed from the sporadic charm of its concept.

Elba stars as Charlie Ayo, a one-hit wonder DJ who blew all his cash during his 15 minutes of fame and now sends the residuals to his parents while living with his aunt (Jocelyn Jee Esien). He’s not necessarily a slacker, just a guy whose life isn’t where he’d like it to be, and certainly a long way from the comeback he hopes for. Charlie’s luck, however, changes once he reunites with his childhood friend, David (JJ Feild), a now-famous actor married to Sara (Piper Perabo), a more famous DJ with the cultural cachet and in-home production studio to potentially relaunch Charlie’s career. The problem: Instead of working on his music, Charlie agrees to nanny David and Sara’s daughter, Gabrielle (Frankie Hervey), who’s so precocious that she labels herself as such when she isn’t saying things like “bitch, please.”

Gabrielle and her folks have moved to Britain from Los Angeles, both to enroll her in school and encourage more family time. Her parents are still, of course, focused on their careers, so Gabrielle is often left with Charlie to act out when she’s not devastated by her perpetual disappointment. If this sounds saccharine, clichéd, and more than a little irritating, it sometimes is. But it’s also the only thing that Turn Up Charlie has going for it.

The rest of the series is dedicated to bafflingly long tangents about Charlie’s music career, Sara and David’s rocky marriage, and other threads of so little note that their reappearance feels like the writers suddenly remembered they existed. Supporting characters are hardly developed, feeling as if they’ve been dropped in as if from out of nowhere, and then the series tries to mine them for a drama that’s supposed to have been simmering entirely off screen. At times, the effect is so sloppy and abrupt that it feels like episodes are missing.

Elba and Hervey have a fun, abrasive dynamic that’s legitimately charming when the series is willing to get out of their way. Watching their characters bond is neither original nor affecting, but it’s totally acceptable as background noise. Elba in particular takes to television comedy with total ease, leveraging his formidable presence to convey comic exasperation as Charlie is frequently disarmed by the kid he’s supposed to watch. In other words, not even Turn Up Charlie can totally kill Elba’s natural charisma by bludgeoning it to death with a turntable. But as Charlie careens from one baffling decision to the next, it sure seems determined to try.

Cast: Idris Elba, Piper Perabo, JJ Feild, Frankie Hervey, Jade Anouka, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Angela Griffin, Guz Khan Airtime: Netflix

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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.

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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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