Yay! This show has always been an underrated little gem and its final season is officially bowing on January 9th. Looks like Jimmy and Gretchen will finally tie the knot, but in their own, unsentimental, twisted way of course. Can’t wait.
As a longtime watcher of teen shows, if you tell me that a new one is essentially Skins meets Gossip Girl, that pretty much guarantees that I’ll at least be giving it a shot. And this new Spanish teen drama Elite, is exactly that. So much so that as someone who watched both those other shows, I’d really like to know if the creators of this one did too, because all the elements are in there, with a bit of Big Little Lies thrown in for good measure.
Skins was the UK teen show known for its hard core drug use and teenage sex scenes, while Gossip Girl was all about the rich private school kids manipulating everything and everyone around them while centering every episode around some sort of lavish event catering to the extremely wealthy. This show does both of those things, and you know what, it does them pretty well. It’s addictive, it’s juicy, it’s got sex, murder, drug use, parties, everything you want in a teen show for the most part. And it does a pretty good job establishing its own characters too, with a cast of able, attractive twenty-somethings who all get meaty, soapy storylines.
I’m not surprised it’s already been renewed for a second season at Netflix, because this is the kind of show that a lot of people (mostly fans of at least one of those other shows I mentioned) will gravitate towards and become very quickly hooked on. The difference of course is that this show is from Spain, so with a Spanish-speaking cast, that does gives it something of a different kind of feeling than those others, but only so much, as all the elements of the classic soap are still in play. As for the set-up, three teens from a public school whose roof caved in get treated with scholarships to attend the richest, most elite private school in the country, and of course, walk into all kinds of conflicts with the shit-stirring, class biased, privileged teens who make their lives hell.
There’s no real central antagonist here, as the large ensemble cast of nine share about equal screentime. There’s a crime being led up to in flashback mode (the Big Little Lies conceit I mentioned earlier), so over the eight episodes we get the lead-in to that along with the swapping of romantic partners and interludes, etc. Thankfully the actors all deliver here (never was the case with the Gossip Girl cast), and every plot thread is actually interesting, so I never got bored, hoping they’d get back to a character I’d rather spend more time with. But my favorites are probably Guzman (Miguel Bernardeau, below), the ringleader and seeming head jerk of the rich kids who turns out to quickly have much more depth than is let on, and Carla (Ester Exposito), who is slowly revealed as an ice cold master manipulator (I always gravitate towards the bad guys on these kinds of shows for some reason). Here’s the bottom line- if you like teen dramas, you will like this show, I guarantee it. It’s fun, crazy addictive and loads better than Riverdale. Check it out.
If you don’t want any spoilers for the new season, don’t watch this one, but I don’t know how you might not have at least guessed this was going to happen if you actually watch the show (it’s at the end of the trailer and it involves Brianna). Besides that, the new season’s getting closer! Jamie and Claire come in contact with Native Americans and slavery in colonial America this season, about eight years before the Revolution. Outlander was already renewed for seasons five AND six, so barring the actors quitting the show or something, we are going to get to that revolution onscreen (it actually started in Book 7, so this is the beginning of a long build-up).
Shows about power hungry, obscenely wealthy family dynasties full of squabbling relatives is somewhat familiar territory to me by now- I wasn’t sure how interested I was in watching one vaguely based on or inspired by the Murdoch clan, especially in this climate. A bunch of rich assholes jockeying for power as they trample all over the rest of us didn’t particularly sound all that appealing. But…HBO’s Succession is created by The Thick of It writer-producer Jesse Armstrong, who knows how to insert enough comedy to make fools out of these assholes, and also produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, so I gave it a shot.
I’m glad I did, because in the end, this show is compelling enough to warrant further consideration, and the actors do a good enough job to make you feel invested in their characters by the season’s end, even if it takes a little while to get there. Brian Cox stars as Logan Roy, a media tycoon whose four adult children and heirs spend their time squabbling and vying for power within the company he built and which now owns just about everything- like I said, it’s very Murdoch-esque. Cox is one of the best parts about the show, effortlessly convincing as the dominant, tyrannical, almost frightening patriarch who verbally and mentally abuses his kids while playing them against each other and remaining in the seat of power at the ripe old age of 80, not content to drive off into the sunset and give his weak sons control of the family business.
The sons are led by Jeremy Strong as Kendall, the former addict out of rehab who desperately wants to prove his worth and take over the company from Dad, but his pathetic, waffling nature prevents his stepping up to the plate as he continually fails in his behind the scenes corporate wrangling (he’s kind of like the Jared Kushner of the family). Kieran Culkin is the talentless youngest son Roman, who whines and smirks and pretends to side with his brother but fears his father and is an incompetent coward at his core, Alan Ruck is Logan’s oldest son Connor from his first marriage (he’s on wife number three now of course), who lives off his inheritance on a ranch in New Mexico and stays out of the business while enjoying the spoils of it, and Sarah Snook is the daughter Siobhan, resentful of her dad’s favoritism towards his sons and spites him by working in politics on the other side of the aisle from his moneyed interests.
The family dynamics are what make the show interesting, as the siblings alternately seem to hate and love their dad, and each other, everyone capable of nasty broadsides and vicious exchanges (this is from a Thick of It/Veep writer after all) that turn on a dime as they always congregate back together at an extravagant gathering (each episode seems to center on some kind of party or gala or PR event, recalling oddly enough, shows like Gossip Girl- I guess this really is how the extremely wealthy spend their time). At first it seems abrasive, but there’s enough of a weird bond in this family to eventually pull you into these character’s lives, especially as the stakes in the corporate warfare and father-son battle escalate as the season builds. And the very Veep-like dialogue infuses this with enough humor to be entertaining at all times, making it something of a dark comedy in places. Even if the show starts out a bit slow and you wonder when it will kick into high gear, I’d say stick with this first season til the end, when the epic finale brings everything full circle and ensured I’d be coming back for the next season at least.
The sweetness of the so-called “slow burn” is debatable. I’ve gone back and forth over the years from loving it to hating it to tolerating it, and everything in between, but rarely have I ever seen it work as deliciously well as it does on Better Call Saul, whose entire run so far has been that slow, sweet burn from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman, not as drastic a transformation as his infamous successor’s journey from Walter White to Heisenberg, but more bittersweet and heartbreaking, as Bob Odenkirk’s well-meaning Jimmy is ever more slowly (and over a much longer period of time) pushed by circumstances to get back at the world that’s spurned him over and over again.
Better Call Saul is two stories, of course, or arguably even three. There’s the origin story of Jimmy, his tragic, nearly Shakespearean battle with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), his relationship with girlfriend Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and his struggle to maintain his law license. Then there’s the parallel story of Mike (Jonathan Banks), whose origins were explained in the first season, and whose employment with Gus Fring (the brilliant Giancarlo Esposito), ties the world of the show into the cartel and the inevitable link to its sequel series Breaking Bad. And I would say that there’s a third story in here, lingering on the fringes, which involves the black and white flash forward that begins every season and which, adding it all together, is telling us the story of “Gene” in Omaha, Nebraska- a post Breaking Bad world that I suspect the show will catch up with eventually, perhaps long enough to spend an entire season in.
The great balancing act of this show is the way it plays with time and takes us between all these stories, placing us deep in the hearts and minds of so many characters in ways that even Breaking Bad didn’t. As a result, we feel that we know Jimmy, Kim, Mike, Chuck, and Gus intimately, we understand their motives and can empathize with their actions, even as we see the desolate directions they’re heading in. There’s a bleakness to this season in particular, as it begins with the death of Chuck and the broken piece of Jimmy he takes with him. He’s seemingly unscarred by his brother’s death, and despite Kim’s efforts to bring a bit of feeling out of him, by season’s end we’re given the impression that that part of him is gone forever, as the echoes of Saul Goodman inch their way in to take over his damaged psyche ever more.
One of the great mysteries of Saul is in the character of Kim Wexler, who as far as we know, did not exist on Breaking Bad, which means there’s an omnipresent question about what happens to her (or doesn’t) before then. The timeline of the show hits 2004 this season, still four years away from Walter White’s entrance into the underworld, so plenty of time for lots of things to happen, and the options are expanded this year, as Kim drifts towards her own dalliance with darkness, as she longs to pull off the con with Jimmy and grows bored and disillusioned with her banking job. That’s one of the bigger surprises of the season, as we realize that Jimmy’s transformation into Saul could very possibly be aided and abetted by her rather than hindered, and we wait to find out more. What heart there is on the show comes from the relationship between these two, and what the end result of this relationship leads to- or does it end at all? Is Kim alive and well all through Breaking Bad, hidden from view as Saul keeps her out of the spotlight? Can she possibly come back in the black and white coda world to help Jimmy/Saul out of his final jam? These questions permeate the season and the series, as we ponder and theorize and see if we can guess at Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan’s end game.
The Mike and Gus portions of the show line up more with direct prequel-land, as we find out exactly how Gus built his underground lab this season, and how Mike descends further into his role as hired hitman. The more Gus is present on the show, the more we remember how much we liked him on Breaking Bad, and the smooth professionalism between the two veteran criminals is inherently felt in their scenes together. I wondered if the show would miss something by the absence of Michael McKean’s somewhat diabolical Chuck (though he does show up in a flashback or two), but the strengthening of Jimmy and Kim’s dynamic makes up for it, as the air of waiting for it all to go horribly wrong and how imbues every frame of this story. Bob Odenkirk carries the show handily with humor and gravitas as Jimmy boils over in frustration and rage by season’s end, giving way to cynicism and amorality that will lead us right to Saul Goodman, as there can’t be too much story left to tell in the build-up. And then we see what happened afterwards. I can’t wait.
I quit House of Cards years ago, after the third season and way before Kevin Spacey was fired for being a sexual predator last year, so I won’t be tuning in to the last eight episodes, but I have to admit it does give me a twinge of curiosity seeing Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood take over the lead role as the new president (Spacey’s character Frank was killed off). One of the things that always bugged me about this show was the fuzziness of the politics, to be honest- it seemed like it existed in some alternate universe where the parties and issues bear no resemblance to real world parallels. If Claire was a Democrat with the positions and policies of actual Democrats, I really wouldn’t mind seeing her wreak havoc on all the people who deserve her vengeance.
The fourth and final season of UnREAL was filmed a while back, right after the delayed third season, and then dumped sort of unceremoniously on Hulu just months after the third season aired on Lifetime. Despite the truncated ending of the show, the last season is pretty enjoyable, if notably darker and even more twisted than usual.
Rachel (Shiri Appleby) is still reeling from being told that she should be alone forever and comes back to Everlasting with a new blonde hairdo and ready to be the very best (re: worst) version of producer she can be, for a season that’s going to be about all stars and bringing in past contestants. The idea is pretty decent, since the show can only go through so many iterations of The Bachelor, and an all star season seems a good one to go out on. There’s a new male producer named Tommy, who wants to be Rachel’s partner in crime, but Rachel is set on finding herself a husband from the returning contestants in order to prove everyone wrong.
Meanwhile Quinn and Chet are back together, but drama still ensues as Quinn finds herself pregnant from her one night stand with August, but despite the soap opera-ness of it all, Quinn and Chet are actually pretty stable this season, funnily enough. I think the show decided they liked Craig Bierko’s Chet too much to make him the sleaze he was at the beginning, so now he’s basically 100% committed to Quinn and apparently the perfect partner for her after all. But that stuff is a nice break from the darkness that engulfs Rachel this season, who throws herself into her evil side as she doesn’t even bother to try helping the contestants anymore and goes so far as to engineer a near-rape. It’s a shocking storyline that’s meant to provoke but perhaps goes too far, as there’s really no way to redeem or root for Rachel at ALL after she does something so horrible.
The all star season of Everlasting is pretty entertaining, as any pretense of romance is jettisoned for shock value and stupid reality TV stunts, with all the contestants in on the game and knowing how to maximize their airtime. I think I preferred the third season to this one, but any loose ends involving all of the main characters- Rachel, Quinn, Jay, Madison and Chet, are pretty much wrapped up in an untidy little bow, and even the Everlasting set gets a big dramatic sendoff in the series finale. All in all, I’m glad the show was at least able to go out on its own terms, even if the places it took the characters (really just Rachel, as Quinn, believe it or not, is often the most sympathetic character this season) was too morally questionable to be fun anymore at some points in these eight episodes. But all the drama, twists and all around nuttiness in the last couple of episodes kind of make up for the unpleasantness in the middle. It was never boring, that’s for sure.
Netflix announced suddenly last week that the new season of Daredevil was dropping October 19th, and now here’s the trailer for it. Looks like Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is back in play, after sitting out most of the second season in prison. No more Elektra, apparently (I cannot stand Matt and Karen together, so I’m hopeful that she may show up at some point anyway). And rumor is that famous Daredevil villain Bullseye will finally show up this season- maybe he’s the guy in the costume at the end here.
A full look at this gives a taste of the back and forth tone they seem to be going for here, and it may seem a bit strange, but I’ll give it a shot. Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis as Aunts Zelda and Hilda seem promising too- they can bring the kooky.
Like a lot of people, I read the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid (although I think I stopped somewhere around Anne of the Island, so maybe I ought to go back and finish). Anne Shirley was the heroine to many an adolescent girl- a dreamer who reached for the skies while hating her hair and her looks, a fiery redhead who wanted to fulfill her dreams, an orphan whose makeshift family proves more loving than anyone else’s. Of course, the story is so well known that it’s had countless film and television adaptations, the most famous being the 1980’s CBC miniseries. But now it’s back again in the form of a new Canadian series, called Anne (or Anne With an E for Netflix’s international distribution, but I refuse to call it that), which is loosely based on the original books. By “loosely,” we’re talking character names, occasional events from the book (not necessarily in order) and a lot of made up incidents. This may prove aggravating to purists (and there are a lot of those when we’re dealing with a property this beloved), but I find it refreshing to not necessarily know everything that’s going to happen. Think of this one as more along the lines of the 1970’s Little House on the Prairie show- inspired by but not necessarily based strictly on the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels.
The show was created by Moira Walley-Beckett (a veteran writer/producer from Breaking Bad of all things) and the first season skewed a little closer to some of the events in the early part of the first book, but Walley-Beckett is most interested in updating the story to fit to modern times. This Anne is more or less a feminist in the making, and the issues Walley-Beckett wants the show to deal with are more serious subjects that could affect women at any time. I don’t mind this radical interpretation of it- I always wonder myself how to update period pieces to deal with contemporary material (one of the shows that did this best was Steven Soderbergh’s very underrated The Knick). The success of shows like Stranger Things has re-opened the door for more films and series to take young people seriously, and this is a rare show that centers a child (Anne is thirteen in the first season) and her classmates, while also giving adequate screentime to Marilla (played very well by Geraldine James) and her brother Matthew (R.H. Thomson, given a lot more screentime than the character has ever seen before). In this version, there are traumatic flashbacks to Anne’s time at the abusive, Dickensian orphanage and the appropriate amount of horror paid to the experience of her first period (another subject rarely tackled in period pieces, though surely many women have wondered how they managed back then- just towels??? Horror indeed).
By veering closer to the book, the seven episode first season is more successful overall than the second (this is my favorite version of the Gilbert “carrots” tease- and Gilbert himself is perfectly cast with the very appealing Lucas Jade Zumann), but let’s talk about what makes Anne worth watching, and that’s Amybeth McNulty, giving one of the very best child performances I’ve ever seen on television. I don’t say that lightly, but even as I do, I warn you that me saying that does not guarantee that you’ll like her character, and that is exactly what makes it so brave. McNulty is a unique screen presence from the beginning, the very first version of Anne that actually warrants the label of awkward or even homely, and as a character her outspokenness often comes across as rude, arrogant, or ignorant while also throwing herself into this imaginative, at times selfish girl with true abandon. There are episodes that you want to throttle her, others where she embodies the inspiration and spirit of a true rebel ahead of her time. It’s a bold performance because whatever she is, she’s never unconvincing as the true eccentric who comes to Avonlea to shake things up. I have no doubt that she will be a polarizing character and your response to her may dictate whether you can stick with this show or not. But I admire her gusto wholeheartedly and I think she often delivers Anne’s flowery, over the top diatribes in a way that no other actress her age probably could.
The ten episode second season hit a couple of speed bumps, one involving a (thankfully) three episode storyline about two con artists who scam the townspeople out of their savings with a literal gold-digging scheme, and Gilbert’s sojourn traveling the world is kind of farfetched and keeps him and Anne away from each other for far too long. But it does more or less successfully introduce some diversity into the very white world of turn of the century Avonlea with the likable original character of Bash (Dalmar Abuzeid), who travels back to Canada with Gilbert to help him tend his farm. Most of the season has nothing whatsoever to do with anything from the books though, so if you were waiting for that, you’re out of luck. More contemporary issues are introduced, with Miss Stacy as a motorbike riding, pants wearing, first wave feminist, and Diana’s Aunt Josephine in this version is a bohemian lesbian whose longtime partner has passed away. New classmate Cole is also gay, and these are revelations which Anne miraculously accepts as perfectly fine with her, the consummate outsider. Is it anachronistic? Perhaps, but it gives the show a special kind of tone that’s all its own- a tone that can be a bit strange at times as it volleys back and forth among these present day concerns. Not every character is likable either (Cole himself didn’t do much for me, sorry), but I enjoy the show enough to stay with it- in some ways it’s a bit like Downton Abbey meets Stranger Things, and you have to admit that’s an odd combination. But the Netflix budget provides for a lovely production that’s elaborate in it’s early 1900’s detail, and the supporting cast works wonders with what they’re given. It’s an interesting experiment with some heavily used material, one that could use a refresher.