With 2018 rapidly coming to a close, I’m trying to finish reviewing all the shows I watched in time to get my top ten list out on New Year’s Eve. That leaves me with one last batch of shows that I’m just going to round up right here, so without delay, here’s the last of the series/miniseries/movies/specials that I nearly literally just finished watching:
Comedian Hannah Gadsby got a lot of attention for her stand-up comedy special that was released on Netflix in June, and for good reason. For one, there was debate over whether it really was a comedy special or more of a one woman show. To that I ask, isn’t every comedy special kind a one man/one woman show? What this is is an expansion of the form itself, and anything that does that always has value. Gadsby is funny, but she’s also honest and angry and passionate and righteous, and this powerful rallying cry is the perspective from someone who existed on the margins of society, and in telling her story she gives voice to those people for a change. This isn’t a show that’s going to make men feel comfortable or perhaps even laugh that much, but like it or not fellas (as she would say), her truth is the truth of millions throughout the history of the world that have been stepped on by you to get where you are. For all the cliches about the sad clown or the comedians who exercise their demons through comedy, Gadsby goes further than that and trusts the audience to exercise her demons first as comedy, then as a deconstruction of comedy with just plain truth-telling, in all the raw, genuine emotions that pour through her and from those who can identify with her story. It’s a voice that’s been waiting to be heard.
The second season of one my favorite shows of 2015, Deutschland 83, finally came out this year on SundanceTV and it’s mostly fun, though it does not reach the highs of the first season. That’s due to a couple of things- one, it takes way too long to get Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) out of South Africa, where he’s been banished by the HVA for the last three years, and as a result, he’s actually not in the show enough this year. As the likable and reluctant young spy, he was and still is an immensely appealing lead, and though the ensemble cast is expanded with a lot of new characters and the beefing up of some returning ones, he needs to be front and center in every episode, which he eventually starts to become again as he finally makes his way back to East Germany more than halfway through the season. Maria Schrader as Lenora, Martin’s calculating aunt, has a bigger part this time and is given a love interest and more shades to her gray as ever character, but the expanded roles of people like Walter, Martin’s dad and Annett, his diabolical baby mama, don’t fare as well, as these two simply aren’t as interesting and don’t hold our attention the way Martin does. In 1986, the Soviet Union as a whole is starting to fail, and East Germany itself is in a freefall economic crisis, causing the HVA to turn away from its ideals and partner with capitalist countries to ensure its own survival through illegal arms deals, etc. Martin double-crosses his way through all this to come home to the son he’s never seen, and as the season winds down, the action and intrigue ramps up, with Martin finally back in Berlin (on both sides of the wall) and the series starting to feel like itself again. It makes me much more excited for the third season, which is already bought by Amazon Germany and will be called Deutschland 89, set right in time for the fall of the Berlin wall. Can’t wait.
THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL
South Korean director Park Chan-Wook set out to expand his filmography by helming all six episodes of this very elegant, elegiac adaptation of John Le Carre’s 1983 spy novel. It’s become a fad of late to adapt Le Carre’s novels for film or television- since 2011 I count Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, A Most Wanted Man, and The Night Manager among them. This was meant to be in the vein of The Night Manager, also a co-production between the BBC and AMC, and it does mimic that series’ international globe-trotting sense of style, but with Park Chan-Wook at the helm and a fiercely commanding performance from the very talented Florence Pugh at the center, this one is much more special, and adds up to a meditative, artistic exercise in style from a director who likes to work in bold colors, striking visuals and contemplative themes. Pugh is a rebellious young actress with a shady past who’s recruited to work for Israeli intelligence in the late 1970’s, going deep undercover as a Palestinian radical, and handled by Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Shannon as Mossad agents. The slow pace and methodic languishing does not allow this show to be for everyone, but sometimes that can make you as a viewer feel even more richly rewarded for sticking with it. This show respects your intelligence by not speaking down to you and is a slowly dissolving treat to be savored.
BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH
Less a movie and more of an experimental video game, this special Black Mirror entry stands apart from the show (the fifth season is slated to come out sometime next year) and has been labeled their first “interactive” episode. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a choose-your-own-adventure style activity that follows Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead as he sets about programming a computer game in the early 1980’s and slowly starts to wonder if he’s going mad (because we are controlling him and his decisions of course). I’ve made it through several endings but am still curious to go back and choose different options when prompted, just to see how much of a divergent path they take us on. With over 312 minutes of filmed footage, there’s quite a lot that could potentially happen, although apparently only five “official” endings. It’s weird and twisted in the classic Black Mirror sense, but also funny (especially one option I made it to where it is confessed to the character that he’s being controlled by an entertainment streaming service from the future called “Netflix”- you can imagine his reaction). As a gaming novice though, I’m sure that my amusement partly stems from the simple thrill of making our lead do strange things, where actual video games that employ this technique are far more advanced than Charlie Brooker’s episode (this is not really a movie at all, even though they’re calling it that). Is this the way of the future, for Black Mirror itself, or for television in general? Who can tell? I just know that it’s enjoyable in its own meta way, but it doesn’t hit with nearly the kind of impact that some of the best narrative episodes of the show have.