Yay! Netflix’s One Day at a Time is back for its third season on February 8th. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno lead the ensemble on this show, which is a delightfully cheery, feel-good, unapologetically progressive sitcom about a working class Latino family in California. I wish it got more attention, because it really is deserving of the acclaim, especially when these kinds of sitcoms are mostly lame, outdated CBS stuff. This one is kind of a perfect, responsive antidote to the era we’re living in.
The strength of the #MeToo movement has brought about a resurgence in trying to bring predators to justice, but many have escaped its grasp for years. In the case of R. Kelly, it’s been decades. This new documentary series produced by Lifetime, from filmmaker and cultural critic Dream Hampton, attempts to redirect our newly found outrage on behalf of black women and girls, and towards one of the powerful men who’s been hiding in plain sight since the early 1990’s.
The six-part series chronicles R&B artist and producer R. Kelly’s childhood, in which he is portrayed though his own words and those of his younger brother, to have been a victim of sexual abuse himself, who then grew up to become an abuser, as he began preying on teenage girls from his own former high school as early as his twenties. After finding success in the music industry in Chicago, he quickly used his status as a powerful artist with a posse of assistants and managers around him to recruit young girls who wanted to break into the industry, gain their trust and solicit sexual favors from them, turning them subservient to him. Like most predators, he preyed on the weak, girls from underprivileged families, and groomed them to become submissive to him as he showered them with attention, gifts, material riches and promises of big futures.
The documentary employs interviews with Kelly’s family members, former assistants and managers, revealing just how openly he indulged in his abusive and predatory lifestyle, with a cadre of men surrounding him who enabled and facilitated this behavior, assisting in the recruitment of girls as young as 12, from as far back as the early 90’s. Like others of his ilk (Michael Jackson comes to mind) many incidents played out in plain sight, such as his 1994 marriage to his 15-year-old protege Aaliyah, when he was 27, to the infamous “pee tape” of him urinating on a 14-year-old that found its way onto the internet and became a massive scandal in 2002. Throughout the scandals, R. Kelly produced hits that made him more or less untouchable in the industry, allowing the larger public to brush aside his behavior, as the black community remained somewhat polarized, always an issue when celebrity and wealth is involved, as we know.
The series focuses on the victims, interviewing multiple survivors of Kelly’s, who have now come forward to tell their stories, which range from child molestation over decades to the more recent revelations that he ran a sex cult out of his Atlanta mansion where women were locked up in rooms, used as sex slaves, beaten, and starved among other tortures. The horrific details of this behavior are explained to devastating effect in title cards that reveal how and at what age each woman met R. Kelly and show that he was recruiting teenagers during his 2008 trial for child pornography regarding the infamous video, on which he was acquitted of all charges. Artists continued to work with him throughout the scandals, as the industry supported him or at best ignored the damning allegations and settlements over the years, and the series challenges his continued acceptance in the black community, as the devaluation of black women and girls becomes a primary concern. One wonders whether Kelly would have been acquitted if video evidence showed him abusing underage white teenagers, as one juror is interviewed and freely admits to not believing the victims because he didn’t like the way they “looked.” Even Chance the Rapper, one of the few artists to agree to be interviewed for the series (John Legend is another), admits on camera that he didn’t value the accuser’s stories because they were black women.
This documentary is highly emotional advocacy journalism at its core, employing reality show tactics in some of the later episodes as producers follow the parents of current victims still in R. Kelly’s circle, as he cuts them off from all family members and the outside world, brainwashing them to become entirely dependent on him (one survivor details his harrowing confession that some of the women have been with him for up to 15 years, including the girl in the video, who never came forward to accuse him publicly). Several parents are still attempting to get their daughters back, as his post-trial tactic was to recruit vulnerable women of legal age or just below, so that when they came of age he could snap them away from their families and no legal action could be taken. Reality show producing tactics aside, it is the women’s stories that are most important to reveal, and the plea for action taken against the man who has escaped justice for his crimes can still be heard by the public (some investigations in Atlanta and Chicago have already been spurred again in response to the outcry). Turning the focus of the #MeToo movement (whose founder Tarana Burke is prominently featured here) back on the stories of black women and girls is an important cause to be spotlighted, and attempts to gain justice once more over longtime predators (and in the music industry overall, which has not made as much of an effort to purge itself of its criminals) make this a worthy and important series that wants to make a real world impact and challenge a new generation (as well as the old) to become aware of the kind of man R. Kelly is and not let him off the hook this time. I think it succeeded in its aims.
The full trailer for the second (and likely final) season of The Punisher dropped today and it actually looks pretty good. Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle is back and doing his best punishing, looks like in order to protect a young girl played by Georgia Whigham. Ben Barnes is back as Jigsaw, the villain created in the bloody finale last season, and Amber Rose Revah as Agent Madani. Surprisingly, I guess that was it for Micro, who I figured was still going to be his sidekick, but he’s nowhere in sight in this trailer and apparently isn’t on the cast list for this season either. I do hear that Deborah Ann Woll will be back as Karen Page, so hopefully there’s some kind of closure to that storyline between them. The season is out on January 18th.
Oooh, I bet this is gonna be good. A new, eight-part miniseries based on the book Fosse, is set to chronicle the relationship and partnership between Bob Fosse and his longtime partner and ex-wife, Broadway star Gwen Verdon, one of the great theater collaborations of all time. This might be something that only appeals to theater junkies who actually know these names (though for those who are unaware- Bob Fosse is the legendary choreographer and director responsible for many, many musicals, and whose movies include Cabaret and All That Jazz, so look him up), but the story is good enough to grab anyone and with these actors there’s already a lot of hype. It premieres in April on FX.
Well, I’m just surprised I got any of these right, but looks like my wild guess for The Kominsky Method paid off. Also got Sandra Oh and Richard Madden correct. I should have known The Americans had a chance in series, remembering that Breaking Bad also only won here for its last season (I don’t think the HFPA really liked either of these shows much, but felt they ought to give in to the critical praise when the shows finally ended). As for the ceremony itself this year, Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg were pretty much bad all the way through it, sorry. I still don’t think the Globes need a host. Maybe none of these shows do, maybe we’re in post-awards show host era. What do you think?
DRAMA SERIES: The Americans
DRAMA ACTOR: Richard Madden, Bodyguard
DRAMA ACTRESS: Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora
LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE ACTOR: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace
COMEDY SERIES: The Kominsky Method
COMEDY ACTOR: Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
COMEDY ACTRESS: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects
Here we go with Globe predictions! On the TV side, I haven’t seen everything, so I don’t expect these to go exactly right, but the general rule of thumb with the Globes is that they like new stuff, a lot. Have to keep that in mind for every major category.
BEST TV SERIES- DRAMA
So here all but The Americans is a new show, which likely narrows it down by one. They also nominated actors from each of the new shows (plus the leads from The Americans). Hmm. I’m thinking this is either Bodyguard or Killing Eve. Bodyguard was a phenomenon in the UK late last year, and the HFPA might have loved it too. Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Killing Eve, but I’m going with Bodyguard.
Alternate: Killing Eve
Dark Horse: Homecoming
BEST TV SERIES- COMEDY OR MUSICAL
The Good Place
The Kominsky Method
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Aside from Barry, I’m in the dark here because I haven’t seen these, but I don’t know how much Barry is the kind of show the HFPA likes. Problem is I don’t know if these other shows are either. Mrs. Maisel won this last year and the Globes very rarely repeat, so I think I’m going with a total wild guess and pick The Kominsky Method.
Winner: The Kominsky Method
BEST LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Escape at Dannemora
A Very English Scandal
This is unknown to me- could be Versace or A Very English Scandal. Gonna guess English Scandal, which also did very well in the UK.
Winner: A Very English Scandal
Alternate: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Dark Horse: Sharp Objects
BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Julia Roberts, Homecoming
Keri Russell, The Americans
Oh, man. Can the Globes resist giving it to Julia Roberts? Probably not a wise move to bet against her, but I think they’ll go with Sandra Oh (also the ceremony’s co-host this year).
Winner: Sandra Oh
Alternate: Julia Roberts
BEST DRAMA ACTOR
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Stephan James, Homecoming
Billy Porter, Pose
Richard Madden, Bodyguard
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
I think it’s one of the newcomers, so I’m gonna say Richard Madden (also since I picked the show to win in Drama).
Winner: Richard Madden
Alternate: Stephan James
Dark Horse: Billy Porter
BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Kristen Bell, The Good Place
Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown
Alison Brie, GLOW
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Brosnahan won this last year, so I don’t think it’s her, but on the other hand, only she and Kristen Bell have their shows nominated too. It’s not like the Globes to choose a veteran actress either. I would pick Alison Brie if GLOW had been nominated….but she might still take it anyway. I’ll go with her.
Winner: Alison Brie
Alternate: Kristen Bell
Dark Horse: Candice Bergen
BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Sacha Baron Cohen, Who is America
Jim Carrey, Kidding
Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
Couple of movie star choices for them here. I guess I ought to pick Michael Douglas, since I picked his show to win too (I could be totally wrong here, maybe the Globes go for Barry all the way after all).
Winner: Michael Douglas
Alternate: Jim Carrey
Dark Horse: Bill Hader
BEST LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora
Connie Britton, Dirty John
Laura Dern, The Tale
Regina King, Seven Seconds
I think Amy Adams takes this one. She might win two Globes, one on the TV side, one on the movie side.
Winner: Amy Adams
Alternate: Patricia Arquette
Dark Horse: Regina King
BEST LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE ACTOR
Antonio Banderas, Genius: Picasso
Daniel Bruhl, The Alienist
Darren Criss, Gianni Versace
Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose
Hugh Grant, A Very English Scandal
Lots of people think Darren Criss for this, but I don’t think they can resist movie star and old Globes favorite, Hugh Grant, who was also really good. They might split it up and give it to Grant here, and Versace in Series, actually.
Winner: Hugh Grant
Alternate: Darren Criss
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects
Penelope Cruz, Gianni Versace
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
I don’t know on this one. Maybe Penelope Cruz? Could easily be Thandie Newton though. I think I’ll pick Newton, following the Emmy win.
Winner: Thandie Newton
Alternate: Penelope Cruz
Dark Horse: Alex Borstein
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Edgar Ramirez, Gianni Versace
Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal
Henry Winkler, Barry
I lean towards either Kieran Culkin or Henry Winkler for this one. Winkler would be nice, but I think former child actor Culkin might take this.
Winner: Kieran Culkin
Alternate: Henry Winkler
Dark Horse: Ben Whishaw
Netflix has been dumping their Marvel shows in rapid succession, but Season 2 of The Punisher was already in the can, so my guess is they’ll let it come out and then, not long afterward, cancel it like the others. Same for Jessica Jones. They’re already whiffing on promotion for this new season, which is apparently dropping on January 18th and is only now getting a minimal teaser, which shows glimpses of the new villain Jigsaw, who had his origin story last season. If you’re a fan of this one, enjoy it while you can.
I decided to do a top 20 this year just for fun, as there’s always plenty of quality television to watch and 2018 was no different. These were my favorites of the year. Every one of these shows is worth checking out in full. Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to 2019.
1) THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD
2) GLOW SEASON 2
3) KILLING EVE
5) A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL
8) BETTER CALL SAUL SEASON 4
9) CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
10) SHARP OBJECTS
11) PATRICK MELROSE
12) THE TERROR
13) JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT
14) HOWARDS END
15) ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK SEASON 6
16) THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL
18) CASUAL SEASON 4
19) BLUE PLANET II
20) DAREDEVIL SEASON 3
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.
Filmmaker Mike Flanagan had a chance to show off his auteurship here, as he wrote and directed all ten episodes for Netflix of this third adaptation of The Haunting, the iconic 1959 Shirley Jackson novel. 1963’s Robert Wise film is the classic of course and cannot be topped (1999’s embarrassing attempt is better left forgotten), but for this new one Flanagan changed it by making it a story about a family instead of just crazy Nell (she’s one of the kids now). This time, a family of seven move into Hill House for a summer in the early 90’s, with the parents (Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino) intending to renovate and then sell the place, but big horror ensues of course.
The show is structured a lot like This is Us, with flashbacks to that 90’s summer interspersed with present day scenes of the kids all grown up and variously damaged by their experiences. Each episode is centered around one of the kids, so they all get developed to a certain extent, but Flanagan is limited in his ability to write with depth. Each Crain sibling gets exactly one character trait to exploit over and over again (Luke the drug addict, Shirley the controlling one, Theo the psychic, Steven the judgmental one, Nell the unstable nervous one, etc). This is trick writing- hollow, surface level people masquerading as substantive. It wears very thin, very fast, especially when later episodes are marred by cheesy monologues and obvious storytelling tropes (the white Crain kids are conveniently paired with cardboard cut-out love interests of varying ethnicities- I see what you did there, Flanagan).
On the bright side, there are some real scares on this show. Suspense is appropriately drawn out and infuses every episode (especially the flashbacks), and Flanagan’s filmmaking style (as opposed to his writing) is innovative for television, as you can see him experimenting with long takes, unusual staging and creative camerawork. The acting is also stellar for the most part, with each Crain kid played very well by both their actors (this might be some of the best acting I’ve seen from multiple child actors in a long time), and Carla Gugino a true standout as the tormented mother who slowly loses her grip as the family’s stay in Hill House extends itself (Henry Thomas fares less well, with his older counterpart Timothy Hutton turning in a more finely tuned performance).
The show peaks with episode five, “The Bent-Neck Lady,” a truly haunting and terrifying hour that works on both levels, the horror and the character drama involving the youngest Crain sibling (nicely played by Victoria Pedretti), the one named for the unstable main character of the novel, played by Julie Harris in the 60’s film version. It’s difficult to not want to recommend a series with so many genuine scares and a great episode like this, but the resolution in the finale goes so over the top into melodramatic cheese and seriously bad dialogue that it leaves off on an unfortunate sour note. Ultimately the forced melodrama feels inauthentic when it comes to the Crain adults not named Nell, and the comparisons to This is Us are accurate in that it’s mimicking that show’s unbearable sentimentalism. I could have easily done without all that, to be honest. The horror is good enough that I wanted more of it and less of these people arguing.