Friends, as you know, I watch ALL of the TV so you don’t have to. Or, rather, I watch so you know what may be worthwhile out there for you to binge or enjoy viewing at the controlling pace of an old-fashioned TV network or those bastards at Hulu (What gives, Hulu? What’s so sacred about Wednesdays?).
There are several late summer gifts out there that I thought you should know about. So, without further ado, here’s what I enjoyed or am currently enjoying.
Another Life (Netflix): Season 1
This intricate sci-fi thriller is being eviscerated by critics (it has a 7% Rotten Tomatoes score), but I really enjoyed the story and the realistic pacing of how much could be accomplished in a Season 1 (10 episodes). Starring Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as “Captain Niko Breckinridge,” who leads a team to a faraway planet to make contact with an alien species who have sent a strangely shaped artifact to a point of the U.S. (it’s just sort of sitting in a field) Plenty of drama and palace intrigue take place about their high-tech spaceship as they face many dangers in route. Meanwhile back at home, Niko’s super scientist husband, “Erik” (Justin Chatwin) is working with the government/military to try and communicate with the artifact. Nosing her way in on that is popular newswoman (with a huge social media following) “Harper Glass,” played by a hardly-seems-sick Selma Blair. Are the aliens friendly? Are they dangerous? What kind of drama plays out among the crew in outer space? You will definitely find out, but I’m not telling!
GLOW (Netflix): Season 3
If you aren’t already watching this female empowering series inspired by the real 1980’s program “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW),” It’s time you catch up with the 30 half-hour to 40 minute episodes of this dramedy. It’s a true ensemble cast, but mostly lead by Alison Bree as idealistic actress “Ruth,” who plays a Soviet “foil” Zoya the Destroya, Betty Gilpin, who’s “Debbie” plays the heroic American superstar “Liberty Belle” in the ring, and who has a complicated relationship with Ruth. Once best friends, we find out in Season 1 that Ruth had an affair with Debbie’s husband and only now in Season 3 are they mostly friendly again. Rounding out the bigger stars of the show is Marc Maron’s wonderfully cranky “Sam Sylvia,” a moderately unsuccessful former horror movie director who writes and directs the women’s wrestling action.
This season, the show is no longer on television and has moved to the fictional “Fan Tan” casino in Las Vegas, where a 3-month spring run turns into an invitation from Geena Davis’ wonderfully named “Sandy Devereaux St. Clair,” a former showgirl turned Casino owner through marriage. The cast is tired, injured, and missing family members, but they stay through the winter holiday season and do one or two things to keep the show fresh that I won’t give away. This third season also allows much more screen time to Chris Lowell’s “Bash Howard,” the rich trust fund kid who has – through his controlling and judgmental mother “Birdie,” played perfectly cool by Elizabeth Perkins – bankrolled the whole GLOW endeavor. This season focuses a lot on Bash’s rushed marriage to “Rhonda,” one of the wrestlers who in the ring plays the sexy scientist girl “Britannica.” Rhonda clearly loves Bash, but when the honeymoon phase begins to wear off, we learn more about Bash’s sexuality and perhaps what he expects of the marriage. Meanwhile, dating wrestlers Yolanda and Arthie go through some ups and downs, Sheila the She-Wolf really works on her acting craft and “unmasks” herself, Melanie dates a local Vegas “John” with jokes about payment for sex, and Cherry and her wrestling referee husband Keith separate after he leaves GLOW for work back home when he tires of Cherry’s unyielding commitment to the show.
Of course, I’ve buried the lead by closing with the fact that Marc Maron’s “Sam” finally confesses his love to Ruth, and mixed results ensue. The show cliffhangs with uncertainty about the future of the show and Ruth and Debbie’s friendship to boot. GLOW strikes a great balance between very comedic/satirical moments and straight up drama and should not be missed!
Mindhunter (Netflix): Season 2
If you like David’s Fincher’s often eerie work (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, Gone Girl), and don’t scare easily, the more toned down but still haunting drama of Mindhunter may be for you. Fincher’s style and tones really work for this late- ‘70s set drama about the “Behavioral Science” unit at the FBI formed to study what they initially called “multiple murderers.” The 3 central characters are Jonathan Groff’s “Holden Ford,” a former hostage negotiator who is fascinated by serial killers and is often quick to push the envelope and annoy his partner, Holt McCallany’s “Bill Tench,” that you can imagine he’s not so good with stress or office politics. Tench, on the other hand, is the older, grizzled veteran of the FBI. A kind of tough guy exterior (like McCallany himself) with a compassionate inside. Then there is Anna Torv’s “Dr. Wendy Carr,” the academic of the group who insists on consistency of interview questions and other protocols when interviewing serial killers so that the science of it all can be consistent and a real book can be written about these awful, twisted men (probably by her if she has her way). The actors they have playing the serial killers, among them Ed Kemper, and this season David Berkowitz and Charles Manson, are very colorful and even humorous (unintentionally, I think).
Season 3 includes more episode openers with the BTK killer, a few interesting interviews with the men mentioned and some other colorful killers. Ford’s determination to get to the heart of the child killings in Atlanta in the late ‘70s and insistence on a profile he has in mind for a single killer behind the crimes creates a good amount of the drama, as does his relationship with the African-American community that just sees him as another white guy making promises. Tench is cocktail party-popular with some higher ups at the Bureau and Justice who are learning more about the Behavioral Science Unit, but is keeping to himself the horrible drama unfolding at home – that his young adopted son was part of a child killing and may harbor evil tendencies of his own. Wendy makes strides as an interviewer of killers herself this season, though is later benched. And, while I haven’t completed the season just yet, I get the feeling she will be the victim of the sexism that was even worse back in that time. She has also forged a relationship with an attractive young lady who bartends at their local haunt near Quantico that, at present episode, has gotten quite steamy. I doubt a show like Mindhunter gets more than 3 seasons, but I sure hope it gets that 3rd season. It’s very compelling stuff.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (Hulu): Season 1
Inspired by the movie and Co-Executive produced by the film’s writer Richard Curtis (also the author of Notting Hill and Love Actually), this version is show-run by the one and only Mindy Kaling and is set in modern day London with a whole new cast of younger actors (though there are cameos by Andie McDowell and the guy who “thought he was in there” with her after Angus’ wedding in the movie. The show is an ensemble, but generally led by Game of Thrones and Fast and Furious Star Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays idealistic American political staffer Maya. Maya has come to London fresh from losing her job with a U.S. Senator with whom she wasn’t the only one, she sadly learns, was having an affair with him. She’s there for her college friend Ainsley’s wedding, and she unknowingly meets and has an instant attraction to Ainsley’s fiancé Kash after bumping into him at Heathrow arrival. That tension sizzles all season long after Kash leaves Ainsley at the Alter.
Maya and Ainsley’s college friends Craig and Duffy are also central to the show, and the four of them live the trials and tribulations of love and life as expats in London. I’m a particular fan of Duffy given he’s played by John Reynolds of “Search Party” and (as one of Hopper’s more dopey deputies from) “Stranger Things.” In addition, an array of great secondary characters add significantly to the story, including:
- The Crown’s Alex Jennings as gay Tory MP “Andrew” for whom Maya ends up reluctantly working
- Ainsley’s elitist friend “Gemma,” whose husband sadly represents the Funeral of the series
- Tony 2, Ainsley’s gay design apprentice
- Dermot Mulroney rich American “Bryce” who may serve as a rebound love interest for Ainsley
- Fleabag standout (think big tooth) Jamie Demetriou’s “Marcus,” Maya’s Tory frenemy in the MP’s office (with his normal teeth)
- And especially Guz Khan’s “Basheer” and Rakhee Thakrar’s “Fatima,” who make a terrific pair as Kash’s funny best friend and potential rebound arranged marriage, respectfully.
The Boys (Amazon): Season 1
Probably my biggest surprise to fall in love with this summer was Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys,” based on the graphic novels about a group of guys (and one feral female) who take on America’s popular corps of Superheroes known as “The 7.” The 7 are actually a narcissistic, jaded and corrupt group of “supes.” They are sponsored and seem to be in indentured servitude to Vought International, a big evil corporation determined to lobby the military to allow “the 7” to help lead our troops to victory in sanctioned, vs. vigilante, combat alongside them. After all, why wouldn’t the public want “The 7” winning every war? But we really know it’s Vought’s attempt to become THE defense contractor of record. The 7’s main handler is Elizabeth Shue’s (welcome back!) “Madelyn Stillwell,” who is as twisted herself as she is ambitious. One can see she was clearly a well-adjusted and well-meaning person at one point, until “Homelander” came into her life. Speaking of …
The 7 include “Homelander,” a real prick who’s powers are a cross between Superman and Captain America, and who is the leader of The 7; Chace Crawford’s “The Deep,” an Aquaman stand in who is comically vapid but cares deeply about sea creatures; “A-Train,” our Flash stand in who introduces us to “Compound V,” a super steroid/chemical that enhances the powers of the “supes” and we learn later may be at the heart of their creation; “Queen Maeve,” our Supergirl stand-in who was once an idealistic do-gooder who seems in it now for the parties and fame. She’s conflicted – she wants to do good but doesn’t want to displease Homelander, and is clearly trying to protect an image that would not have the world find out she might actually be gay; Then you have “Black Noir,” who is fully suited and doesn’t talk much… but he has a nice touch on the piano; “Translucent,” our resident invisible man, and finally, “Starlight,” a.k.a. Annie January, who is the newest and youngest of The 7.
The Boys are made up of Karl Urban’s “Billy Butcher,” whose wife is missing and presumed dead. Urban absolutely “crackles” in the role. We learn a few episodes in what was allegedly done to his wife, by whom, and why Butcher is so determined to bring down The 7 and expose Vought for the evil caretakers they are. Butcher is the leader, but he’s joined by “Mother’s Milk,” a family man whose day job is actually working with troubled youth, and “Frenchie,” about whom not much background is known, except that he does not have a great relationship with Mother’s Milk and is very loyal to Butcher. Rounding out The Boys is its newest members, Jack (I really look a lot like my father Dennis) Quaid’s “Hughie Campbell,” whose girlfriend has just been accidentally killed by A-Train in one of his fast-paced but reckless pursuits (making his recruitment easy for Butcher), and “The Female,” a likely “supe” who is quick as lighting and an effectively brutal killer. Somehow, however, Frenchie is able to build her trust and she leaves The Boys be.
Butcher leads this rag-tag band (yep!) around to set the supes up for failure and gather evidence of their misdeeds. At one point, they even involve Haley Joel Osment’s “Mesmer,” who – like the Dead Zone’s Johnny Smith – can see things about people by shaking their hand. The team eventually brings a contraband vile of Compound V to an exasperated but sympathetic FBI Associate Director “Susan Raynor,” played by a seemingly ageless Jennifer Esposito. As Raynor confronts Shue’s “Madelyn” and says Vought is in big trouble, a crisis is conveniently created to keep The 7 working and away from culpability. A final showdown does occur between Butcher and Homelander… but let’s just say it ends the season with quite a cliffhanger!
…. And I didn’t even allow enough time to get into the romance between Hughie and Starlight! (they really do make a convincing couple). Go to Prime Video now and Check out The Boys!
Join me for Part 2 in a couple days, where we’ll look at what to consider on HBO, Showtime, and on Premium Cable networks.