Greetings from Southern California, where we are all sheltering in place and only leaving for essential services during this most serious COVID-19 crisis. And outside of some fictional 2-day accelerated nursing school degree, I can think of no better way to serve members of TFA right now than a recommended viewing list. And I’ve been very busy, friends.
While there is plenty more to recommend, today’s offering will only feature NEW shows that are in Season 1 or are a Limited Series. In other words, I’m not here today to suggest you catch up on the first 5 seasons of this or that. I’m sure Breaking Bad will find its way to someone else’s suggestion list. So off we go!
“STUMPTOWN” – Cobie Smulders is Dex Parios, a Portland, OR based P.I. and PTSD suffering Army veteran. She barely makes ends meet picking up cases here and there and has relationships among Northern Oregon’s Native American population. She cares for her brother, Ansel, a highly functioning Downs young man who strives for independence and really loves the Portland Timbers (nobody’s perfect). Dex (a very likely alcoholic) frequents the local bar owned by her best friend Gray (“New Girl’s” Jake Johnson), where Ansel also happens to work. She fools around with, and later doesn’t, a local Portland Detective played by Michael Ealy and those smokin’ eyes of his (even I have to admit). She picks up some work from Ealy and his Police Lieutenant boss (Camryn Manheim), and is generally causes or finds trouble quite often. Gray occasionally gets pulled into cases with her, and there is occasional humor. It’s a great show, especially for Network caliber quality right now, and I encourage you to catch up On Demand (Live Viewing Wednesday’s at 10:00PM)
AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
“HUNTERS” – A fantastic ensemble cast make up the Hunters, a group of Jewish immigrants and a couple of their allies who actively hunt down high ranking Nazi transplants in the U.S. and bring them their own unique brand of justice (revenge). Set in the summer of ’77 in NYC, the show centers around Jonah Heidelbaum, a young, largely faith-disconnected 19-year old comic book store worker whose grandmother is murdered in the home he shares with her. As Jonah, who happens to be inherently gifted in seeing patterns and codes, seeks answers and some form of justice, he meets Meyer Offerman, a wealthy Holocaust survivor who had some relationship with his grandmother. After first trying to take justice into his own hands, Jonah is eventually welcomed into the Hunter’s circle and joins their quest for vengeance. It’s terrific. And bonus – a fantastic over-the-top performance by Dylan Baker as a Nazi plant in the State Department (it’s no Colin Sweeney from The Good Wife, but he’s still great).
“DISPATCHES FROM ELSEWHERE” – Jason Segel stars and was heavily involved in bringing this to the screen, and is a story loosely based on real events. He plays Peter, a lonely data manager for a music website in Philly who doesn’t feel much of anything. He looks at all kinds of flyers for interesting and strange activities hanging on lampposts, and one day, actually tears off the phone number and dials. He chickens out, hangs up, but they call Peter back. They seem to already know who he is and invite him to an “initiation.” Out of curiosity and probably a healthy dose of boredom, Peter goes to the address and is taken to a strange but beautiful little room, where he is treated to an informational video about the JeJune Institute, which is led by a pitch perfect Richard E. Grant, who also serves as the show’s narrator. What he learns takes him on what seems like will be a fascinating journey. We’re 5 episodes in at the time of this printing, and the show is filled with wonderful color, imagery, and imagination. Peter is matched with a team of strangers to be his teammates on the quest, played by Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and a wonderful Trans actress named Eve Lindley who you will instantly fall in love with. The show has a very strong Wizard of Oz vibe with the 4 making their way through Richard E. Grant’s “Wizard” like maze. Enjoy! (For live viewing, 10:00PM Monday)
CBS ALL ACCESS
“STAR TREK: PICARD” – Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Patrick Stewart in general will enjoy the series. At times slow, the show is set some 15 years after Picard’s resignation from Star Fleet following the botched evacuation of Romulus (their home planet which we saw destroyed in the first Star Trek revival film starring Chris Pine). He’s living on his French vineyard with a few staff members when a young girl seeks his aid. Before we know it, she is killed right in front of Picard by a group we later learn is a militant wing of Romulans. It is at that time Picard learns she was a daughter of Data, and that she has a twin, Soji, who he puts the crew together to save. I wish they had given us more backstory on several of the new characters introduced here that make up Picard’s “rag tag band” trying to rescue Soji (who’s working, as it turns out, on a distant Borg Cube reclamation project) from the ardently anti-synthetic Romulans. Great cameos by a few Next Generation cast members are involved, as well as a strong performance by Alison Pill as a doctor who specializes in synthetic organisms.
“THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA” – What would happen if Charles Lindbergh ran for president against FDR in 1940 and trounced him? This 6-part drama, based on the 2004 book by Philip Roth, tracks the life of a middle class Jewish family in New Jersey and how their fears are slowly revealed as Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism and fondness for Hitler and Nazism start to take hold of America. The family divides sharply over Lindbergh, as one member (played by Winona Ryder) begins to date a controversial rabbi (John Turturro) who has embraced Lindbergh. 1 Episode in at the time of this printing (For live viewing, 6:00PM East Coast Feed of HBO on Monday)
“DEVS” – This “FX for Hulu” offering is a fascinating look at the oversized power and influence of giant Silicon Valley tech companies. Set amid the woodsy campus of “Amaya” and under the watchful, spying eye of a giant (creepy) 5 story high statue of his daughter of the same name (who died as a child), Nick Offerman’s “Forest” is the founder of the tech behemoth, but lives Warren Buffett style in the modest home he bought before making billions. The show begins with Forest and his seemingly #2, Katie (Alison Pill – yes, she’s everywhere!) recruiting a young man named Sergei to the Development Division (“Devs”), where a mysterious and highly secretive project is at work among a small, select group of coders. Sergei becomes VERY concerned over the ethics of the project on day 1, and storms out. He’s “dealt with,” and the show (going into it’s 5th episode this week) becomes centered on Sergei’s girlfriend Lily and her dangerous search to find out what happened. I don’t want to say more than that!
“I AM NOT OK WITH THIS” – Sydney Novak is a bright but not entirely popular high school girl in Western PA. She has a major crush on her best friend Dina, who is bright, more popular, and dating an absolute doucher of a guy, Brad, about whom Sydney makes no secret of her disdain. She resents her likely alcoholic mother, and her father took his own life in what I believe was within the last year. She has a bright younger brother who she loves and cares for deeply, but frustrates her mother for her absenteeism in working around the clock and not caring for him herself. And within a couple of episodes (Season 1 is a lightning fast 7 half-hour episodes), we learn that Sydney’s inner rage reveals itself with great power during outburst. Early on, she throws a rock at a railroad sign and finds it odd that she knocks the sign out of the ground and reeling some 50 feet. Later, it’s grown to her screaming with such intensity she flattens all of the trees in a particular diameter around her. As Dina spends more time with douchey Brad, Sydney befriends the loveable nerd Stanley, who has his own parental relations problems in the form of a red-neck dad who thinks everything Stanley does or wears makes him look like a “fa#”. Sydney finds a bond and an outlet with Stanley, who witnesses among other things the tree flattening while driving by the woods in which Sydney finds herself on that particular evening. All the while, we feel there is someone watching or following Sydney. Is this mysterious figure her imagination? Or is there a potential mentor out there that can help her harness her rage into a superpower? I guess we’ll find out in Season 2?
“LOCKE & KEY” – This very enjoyable Season 1 follows the Locke family of Seattle, who, following the murder of their father, moves to his ancestral, boyhood home in Massachusetts, “Keyhouse,” to start anew. As the high school age duo of Tyler and Kinsey try to find their way socially and at their new school, their younger brother Bode befriends a mysterious and possibly sinister lost soul trapped at the bottom of the families well. Bode is also busy learning that the sizeable house has quite a bit of magic about it, including a number of keys he shares with his siblings that unlock an increasing level of power, mystery, and danger represented by Keyhouse. They also learn that their father grew up with a tight group of friends and that something happened to them all their senior year of high school. Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield (a.k.a. “Red”) plays their recovering alcoholic mother who is mourning but trying to find her own way about town in a new life for her family. It’s largely a family friendly show for sci-fi / mystery / magic and trap-door loving nerds with only a few frights.
“OCTOBER FACTION” – The Allen family have been members of the secretive, monster-fighting super agency “Presidio” for generations. When this generations patriarch is murdered, his Presidio member son and wife take a monster-hunting sabbatical and move back to upstate New York to settle affairs and explore what happened. The Allen children are high school aged twins, completely unaware of their parents real jobs, and a good portion of Season 1 tackles their difficult time fitting in at their new school. We soon find mom and dad’s monster-hunting sabbatical is short lived, and Presidio calls on them to tackle a number of alerts and activity going on in their area. We are also introduced to a very strange witch-like woman named Alice Harlow, whose intentions – largely with the Allen teens – are a mystery. Plenty of twists to enjoy as this season progresses. Very “campy.” Enjoy!
“QUEEN SONO” – Nutshell: She’s a South African “Jane Bond.” This six-part international action thriller does indeed feel like a taut, extended Bond film with a strong storyline and timely themes surrounding national governance and stability in Africa, which naturally include greedy European’s attempts to exploit crisis and discord. Queen was once a petty thief, haunted by the trauma of seeing her mother murdered in front of her as a child. That mother, Sifaya Sono, was a national (s)hero among the anti-Apartheid rebels and ANC community. Raised by her (very cute and entertaining) grandmother after her mother’s death, Queen eventually ends up caught up by the law, who actually turn her into an international badass as a member of a secretive and elite security unit set up to fight corruption in South Africa and other parts of the Continent. You meet other characters like Queen’s best friend Wiliam and his girlfriend, Queen’s sometimes lover and possible nemesis Shandu, and of course the big bad, “Ekatarina Gramova,” a Russian arms dealer who employs a huge army of independent contractors. It’s good fun and gets us out of our “Northern Hemisphere-Centric” lives for a few hours. I certainly hope Netflix will finance 2-3 more seasons!
“THE STRANGER” – Hannah John-Kamen (“Ant Man & The Wasps”Ghost) plays The Stranger, Netflix’s latest adaptation of mystery writer Harlan Coben’s works (another being “Safe” with Michael C. Hall). The Stranger is Hell bent on blackmailing several people in town over secrets they or their spouse are keeping, often without the knowledge of the other. At the center of the many schemes she’s running is Adam Price (The Hobbit and Berlin Station’s Richard Armitage), who she tells, with receipts, about his wife Corrine faking a pregnancy of a couple short years ago that she claimed ended in miscarriage. When he confronts Corrine, Adam is surprised at her inability to explain or admit anything. Next thing you know, Adam receives a text from her saying they need some time a part and she’ll be staying out of town. Another scheme involves informing Heidi Doyle (played with seriousness by the Absolutely Fabulous Jennifer Saunders) that her daughter has been paying for university by advertising herself online as an escort. Chasing the leads and word of this “Stranger” is CDI Johanna Griffin, Heidi’s best friend, played by Siobhan Finneran (last seen playing everyone’s least favorite Downton Abbey Character, Thomas’ favorite Mrs. O’Brien). Other side stories also add to the tension and make the series very hard to look away from. Great small parts for not only Saunders but also Steven Rea as Adam’s seemingly only law client, and Anthony Head (He’s Buffy’s Giles!) as Adam’s distant father. A really solid mystery. Will the Stranger’s motivations for this “blackmail justice” be revealed? Find out!!
“BRIARPATCH” – USA’s positive vibe show era of campy beach doctors, snappy dialogue lawyers, and fake psychic detectives is over. A new, darker USA Network has emerged, first with Mr. Robot, and now with the not nearly as dark but certainly tense Briarpatch. A great ensemble of familiar A and B list actors make up this mystery. Rosario Dawson plays Allegra Dill, a U.S. Senate Committee investigator who returns home to small town Texas to solve the mystery of her Sheriff’s Deputy sister’s car bombing murder. She is first greeted by her sister’s supervising colleagues, one of whom is later hospitalized indefinitely when he is also car bombed. As Allegra pushes Police Chief Eve Raytek (played sassy and homespun by Kim Dickens) and others for answers, she gets help from a local attorney, A.D., who seems to have plenty of time on his hands. At the same time, Allegra is still charged with taking care of some Senate business while in town, most notably investigating a pair of wealthy arms dealers, one of whom is a childhood friend who happens to live in town. Plenty of other colorful characters enter the scene, from Ed Asner as a mysterious, wealthy town influencer, to Mel Rodriguez as the womanizing town mayor. Season 1 is nearing its end. Lot’s more I didn’t even get to. Enjoy catching up On Demand.
Stay safe, stay SMART, and Happy Viewing!
Adding to the “virtual” queue and based on your encapsulations I’m putting Hunters near the top…