Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: December 2019

Tuesday

31

December 2019

1

COMMENTS

Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up Is a Shallow Series That Fails to Shed Light on Its Star

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The Kevin Hart Oscars scandal was an unfortunate train wreck. It’s easy to understand Hart’s position of not wanting to apologize for statements he’d already addressed several times in his past. There’s also little humor to be found in so-called “jokes” about threatening a child with violence for playing with girl’s toys. Too many members of the LGBTQ community, myself included, have been threatened for simply being who we are.

With that in mind, it’s hard to muster up too much sympathy for Hart’s predicament. As the new Netflix series Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up shows, Kevin Hart is living the dream. Hart is an immensely talented individual, parlaying his success as a comedian into a broader portfolio that includes a production company, HartBeat Productions.

Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up starts off with the Oscars controversy, though much of the series was filmed in 2018, well before the scandal. This fundamental disconnect creates some narrative issues for the six-part series as a whole, which mostly divides its time between three broader storylines. The show mainly focuses on Hart’s family life, his brand, and the fallout from his scandals.

The narrative works best when it focuses on his family. Hart passionately describes the influence of his mother, who imposes a strict routine to keep him away from trouble. The series includes a few touching interactions with his father, whose history with drugs supplied material for some of Hart’s early routines. Hart’s wife Eniko Parrish is also a compelling figure in the show, serving as a steadying force in his life.

Prominently featured in the show are Hart’s “Plastic Cup Boyz,” his entourage of friends and fellow comedians. The series presents the Plastic Cup Boyz as committed to keeping Kevin out of harm’s way. In some ways, it’s endearing to see Hart’s obvious affection for his friends, as well as his desire to share his good fortune with those who have stood by him.

Trouble is, the emphasis on the Plastic Cup Boyz imposes a broader problem with Don’t F**k This Up as a narrative. The show, produced by Hart, essentially exists as an infomercial showcasing the greatness of Kevin Hart. The broader theme is clear throughout every episode: Kevin Hart works very hard.

Hart’s hustle is obvious, but his efforts to showcase how hard he works exposes many flaws in this whole approach. For all his hard work, he’s still a grown man who requires a full entourage as a security blanket. He’s seemingly incapable of doing much of anything without three or four of his buddies to help. The show fails to paint Hart as particularly inspiring because it would be practically impossible for anyone to follow his lifestyle.

This dynamic is most apparent when Hart talks about his Las Vegas affair, a low point in his life. Hart takes full responsibility, but Don’t F**k This Up repeatedly implies that if more of the Plastic Cup Boyz had been around, they might have been able to prevent the affair from happening. Herein lies the problem with producing a docu-series about yourself. Hart lacks the perspective to see when he’s hurting his own case.

The episode that focuses on the Oscar fallout is a peculiar mixed bag. Don’t F**k This Up deserves credit for wholeheartedly portraying Hart’s reaction as wrong. Seemingly everyone in his orbit tells him he handled the situation poorly, jeopardizing dozens of livelihoods in the process. He owns up to his faults, namely his efforts to portrays himself as a victim instead of choosing to condone violence against the gay community.

As refreshingly honest as the episode is regarding the precise nature of how Hart screwed up, the whole presentation feels pretty hollow and manufactured. Hart says he’s sorry, but repeatedly refuses to go on an “apology tour” to express contrition. The docu-series says that Hart spoke with gay friends who told him where he went wrong, but we don’t see any of those interactions, only ones with his own employees.

One of his executives summarizes this situation best in the closing minutes of the series. Carli Haney, a gay woman, mentions how the production company will now include gay characters in series moving forward. The moral of the whole Oscars saga isn’t about how Kevin can make amends, but rather how he can profit off the scandal. Plenty may feel that additional apologies aren’t necessary, but the whole series feels shallow in the absence of demonstrable remorse.

Don’t F**k This Up is a self-indulgent vanity project designed to sell Kevin Hart as a brand, a superficial six-episode commercial with little depth. Fans of Hart may appreciate the backstage look at his life, but there’s little of substance here. An outside production company might have been able to shine a better light on this situation, but Hart is too close to the action to pull anything meaningful from his mistakes.

 

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Saturday

28

December 2019

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8 came with plenty of high expectations, even if there probably isn’t a single soul out there who thought that Disney would kill off Baby Yoda after his capture at the end of last week’s episode. Director Taika Waititi, who also voices nurse droid IG-11, is one of the most imaginative filmmakers currently working, a perfect choice for the finale. Unsurprisingly, he delivered a spectacular episode of television.

The opening scene with the Scout Troopers was an emotional roller coaster. Jason Sudekis and Adam Pally were pretty funny, mocking their profession’s well-known reputation for being horrible marksman. They also repeatedly hit one of the cutest characters in television history. Hard to laugh when such an adorable baby is in pain.

For a show with relatively few characters, The Mandalorian managed to deliver satisfying arcs for practically everyone who appeared in more than one scene. IG-11 is not exactly a character who needed to return after chapter one, but the show gave the reformed assassin a redemptive narrative that ended up working quite well. The scene where he rode into town guns-blazing was an absolute treat.

Does Moff Gideon seem like the kind of guy to give people until nightfall, presumably several hours away, to turn themselves in? The whole sequence felt a little arbitrary, especially with the blaster-resistant sewer grate. The revelation of Mando’s name, Din Djarin, was almost as exciting as the sight of his face after all these episodes.

The flashback sequence was also well-executed, though hopefully we’ve seen the last of Mando’s droid bigotry. Baby Yoda’s use of the Force has been handled well, deployed sparingly in a believable manner. The way this episode handled IG-11’s death makes Kuiil’s quicker demise seem a little shortchanged by comparison.

The Armorer ended up being a more emotionally powerful character than I would have expected following her last appearance. Her support of Mando’s mission feels genuine, though the embrace of Baby Yoda by the Mandalorians in general makes you wonder why Mando didn’t just bring him to Mandalore in the first place. Her action sequence battling the Stormtroopers was well-handled. A death by those incompetent fools would have been a bummer.

Hopefully next season will feature more of the backstory behind what happened on Navarro after chapter 3. The Mandalorians paid a heavy price for helping Baby Yoda, especially when you consider how that whole mission went against The Guild, hurting their credibility as bounty hunters. We know little of their broader belief system, but they do seem like genuinely good people.

Carl Weathers did a fabulous job as Greef throughout the season. This episode saw the character deliver his best line, “Come on baby, do the magic hand thing!” His case for the planet of Navarro also felt quite genuine for something that was clearly intended to be comedic relief.

Moff Gideon was well-deployed this episode. The Tie Fighter sequence was great, and the Darksaber revelation was absolutely wild for fans of the Expanded Universe. I’m glad that he survived the season, as Giancarlo Esposito is too good of a villainous actor to only use in two episodes.

I do wonder why it seems that only important characters seem capable of surviving ship crashes in this saga. Luke took several shots to his X-Wing in the Battle of Yavin while practically everyone else not named Wedge Antilles saw their ships destroyed with a single blast. Maybe Moff Gideon had a great airbag.

As much sense as it makes that the group would go their separate ways at the end of the episode, part of me wishes that Cara Dune had stuck with Mando. That whole dynamic would have clashed with the show’s gunslinger vibe, but the episodes where Mando has an ally have worked better than the ones where he’s alone in taking care of Baby Yoda. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be back next season though.

This episode was easily the best of the season, one of the most exciting chapters in the entire Star Wars saga. The storylines came full circle in a very satisfying manner, while leaving plenty to be excited about for next year. The bar was set pretty high for Taika Waititi, who made the perfect case for why he should be given his own trilogy.

Quick programming note: my full season review will be posted later this week. Thank you to everyone who’s followed along with our recaps this season. I hope you had as much fun as we did.

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Saturday

28

December 2019

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Greta Gerwig’s Little Women Is an Absolute Delight

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The idea of adapting a beloved classic like Little Women presents certain unique advantages and challenges. There’s a natural fanbase built in, but one of the most popular books in American history also has plenty of great cinematic adaptations already. Fortunately, director Greta Gerwig found plenty of ways to put her own unique spin on the Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel.

Gerwig’s narrative plays with Alcott’s timeline quite a bit, largely splitting it into two distinct periods. Much of the story follows the first half of the book, set in 1861, jumping back and forth with the later events in 1868. This non-linear approach not only sets the adaptation apart from its predecessors, it also keeps the audience from explicitly knowing what’s going to come next.

There are plenty of deviations from the source material, but Gerwig keeps the core of Little Women intact. Several scenes feel more like a stageplay than a film, with the obvious glee of the actors aiding the sense that the book is being performed rather than embodied. The tone is often quite lighthearted, emphasizing fun over strict realism.

Unsurprisingly, the acting is top notch. The A-list cast delivers perfectly. As the titular “little women,” Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen have a natural chemistry, with a certain understated familial relationship. Barely any time is needed to endear them to the audience. The same holds true for Timothée Chalamet, who’s absolutely charming as Laurie.

The veteran performers in the cast, namely Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper, all put forth strong supporting efforts. Streep is one of those actresses who has a tendency to command any scene she’s in, but Gerwig deploys her Aunt March sparingly, heightening the dramatic impact Streep makes on the narrative.

The beauty of Gerwig’s interpretation stems from her strong grasp of emotion. Linear narratives often spend their runtimes building toward a payoff at the climax. Gerwig’s splintered timeline tosses plenty of powerful scenes at the audience throughout the film, opening the floodgates at moments where you least expect it.

Books have an easier time of delivering emotional payoffs, having far more time to endear the reader to the characters. Little Women has the luxury of having an audience that already loves the material, but Gerwig consistently finds new ways to use this relationship to her advantage. The film consistently celebrates the highs and lows of these sisters’ lives without feeling predictable or forced.

As with many adaptations, there’s sections of the source material that don’t get the attention that some would like. The strength of Watson and Pugh’s acting may leave many wanting to see more from Beth and Amy, but this is mostly Jo’s story. Gerwig at times lets Jo exist as a stand-in for Alcott herself, supplying timely commentary on the agency of women in an era often lacking in opportunity.

It is easy to say that the world didn’t “need” another Little Women adaptation, even after putting aside how much of today’s cinema is taken up by remakes, sequels, and franchise. Gerwig makes a strong case for why her version should be the definitive take on Alcott’s work. The film works on just about every level, a narrative that makes the book’s magic come alive consistently throughout its runtime.

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Tuesday

24

December 2019

17

COMMENTS

The Witcher Is Thoroughly Mediocre

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As a genre, fantasy can be challenging to present to an audience on television. There’s a lot of world-building that needs to take place, on top of all the other obligations expected of new narratives. As with many fantasy shows, The Witcher is based off a popular long-running book series. Unfortunately, the execution of its source material largely falls flat.

The Witcher might have the least effective world-building of any fantasy show in history, a remarkably bland palette that kills any desire to pay attention. The world of “The Continent” isn’t particularly complicated to understand. There are monster hunters, sorcerers, elves, and plenty of standard fare that is easy for an audience to digest. The first few episodes throw so much at the wall that practically nothing sticks.

The season adapts the introductory stories to The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski, a series with a complicated chronology. The show dumps a lot of characters and plotlines all at once, an approach that’s quite difficult to follow along with unless you’ve read the source material. It’s not that what’s presented is particularly complex, but the delivery just lands with a thud. It is so boring that it becomes practically unwatchable.

As the titular Witcher, Henry Cavill does the show no favors. It would be a bit unfair to blame him for the show’s failures, but his lifeless performance doesn’t help. Geralt of Rivia has almost no personality and little is done to endear him to the audience. He feels more like a reactionary figure than a lead character, making it especially hard to care about his journey.

The special effects are pretty decent, though any goodwill on that front is squandered by the sets. The color palette is as bland as the writing, moody villages that reek of grey. It’s actually kind of depressing to watch, but not in a way that enhances the narrative.

The show does occasionally try for humor, mostly through the traveling bard Jaskier (Joey Batey). Jaskier crafts a song in the second episode that’s probably the most memorable aspect of the show. That sadly represents a rather poor investment in anyone’s time.

Things do pick up a bit after the first few episodes when the show starts to pump the brakes on the exposition a bit. There isn’t some drastic improvement, but likely enough to please longtime fans of either the source material or the genre itself. The cast do seem to grow more comfortable with their roles as time goes on, though it might be too little for a general audience.

The Witcher isn’t an offensively terrible show, just one that manages to do almost nothing right. Fans of fantasy may find something redeemable in a binge, especially this time of the year. Sapkowski’s excellent source material deserved much better than this underwhelming slog.

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Monday

23

December 2019

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A Hidden Life Is Peak Malick

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For a director who once took a twenty year hiatus in-between films, Terrence Malick has been quite productive throughout the 2010s. The Tree of Life remains a strong contender for best film of the new millennium, a powerful meditative commentary on the nature of humanity. His last three fictional narratives have fallen a bit flat in their unstructured delivery, though there’s plenty of novelty value in seeing A-list actors try and tackle Malick’s inscrutable form.

A Hidden Life represents a return to (relative) structure for Malick, utilizing an actual script for the first time in years. The film follows Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer, as he grapples with his refusal to swear an oath to Hitler throughout World War II. The real-life Jägerstätter was beatified by the Catholic Church as a martyr, the kind of quiet hero perfect for Malick’s transcendental approach.

Franz makes for a unique protagonist in the crowded field World War II narratives. His actions did not directly save any lives, a conscientious-objector who simply refused to pledge loyalty to a cause he knew was wrong. The specific value of his heroism is a powerful point of discussion in the film, as many in his village urge him to consider what will happen to his family as a result of his actions. His wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) is shunned by the village, though she herself wonders why her husband must carry this burden that so many others have relinquished.

Malick is in peak form, using the beautiful mountain landscapes as backdrops for his meditations. For all the chaos of war, A Hidden Life stakes out a quiet plain to contemplate the nature of morality. Malick occasionally uses archival footage of Hitler to underscore the unspoken terror of his fascism and the many people who followed in his wake.

Diehl and Pachner both put forth powerful performances in the lead roles. Given Malick’s love of voiceovers, the actors are often left to communicate their scenes with sheer expression. Diehl manages to portray’s Franz’ martyrdom in real-time, a man at peace with the inevitable outcome of his actions. Pachner allows Franziska to air her frustration without turning her husband into the villain some may believe him to be.

The precise question of why Franz decided to resist is a subject that A Hidden Life largely keeps at arm’s length. The audience spends three hours listening to Franz’s thoughts, but he only dances around the nature of answers. For some, this approach represent a poor return on one’s investment, but the execution gives plenty of food for thought long after the credits stop rolling.

A Hidden Life is the perfect vessel for Malick to explore the nature of morality with a keen sense of focus absent from his past few films. Longtime fans will appreciate the narrative’s stronger continuity while retaining the many serene contemplative moments that define his work. The film is probably a solid hour longer than it needed to be, but few other than Malick can get away with that. The film is a masterpiece well-suited for the quiet resistance of its subject.

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Monday

23

December 2019

1

COMMENTS

Mystify: Michael Hutchence Gives INXS Fans a Front Row Seat to a Tragic Story

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Michael Hutchence had a certain kind of energy that made him an exceptional performer. INXS is a band full of talented musicians, but one’s eyes can’t help but return to Hutchence’s dynamic presence whenever a clip of the group plays. His life tragically ended in 1997 when he committed suicide at the age of 37.

Mystify: Michael Hutchence aims to shed light on the singer’s troubled life. By only using archival footage throughout the narrative, director Richard Lowenstein keeps the focus on Michael while voice-overs from friends and family serve as the guiding force for the film. The end-result is quite satisfying, allowing for Hutchence to represent himself in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

The archival footage is spectacular, showcasing Michael at very intimate moments in his life. Fans looking to learn more about what he was really like are treated to numerous scenes of him on vacation or merely at home enjoying himself among friends. The scope of the footage fits well with the narrative, covering his happy days and well as the darker moments where it becomes clear that his health was deteriorating.

The film largely splits its attention between Michael’s time in INXS and his romantic relationships, an approach that may prove divisive for longtime fans. His bandmates only appear sporadically at the beginning and the end. There’s a bit of obvious tension between Andrew Farriss and Michael that isn’t really fully explored, particularly centered around the song “Disappear.”

To some extent, it makes sense that Michael’s time in the band doesn’t take up the bulk of the narrative. Mystify presents itself as a film about him, not them as a collective. The participation of several of Michael’s former lovers provides an intimate perspective that few documentaries can capture, but there’s a peculiar dynamic in place through the narrative. The film presents a deeply intimate perspective while also feeling that it’s holding back.

The film finds its footing toward the end as it explores the nature of a traumatic brain injury that robbed Hutchence of his ability to smell and taste. The footage of him after the injury exists in stark contrast to earlier, happier days. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of precisely what happened to make him take his own life, Mystify peels back the unsettling curtain.

Mystify is a puzzling film, one that is quite powerful at times and rather boring at others. The decision to solely use archival footage perhaps set fairly rigid terms for the narrative, dictating the confines of where it could go. After awhile, the many accounts from his lovers start to get a bit tedious, especially in the absence of his bandmates.

As a documentary, Mystify is one intended for hardcore fans of INXS. It’s not a particularly accessible narrative for casual listeners. There remains the sense that the film didn’t live up to its full potential, dragging its feet at times with a runtime that was probably twenty minutes too long.

Despite its flaws, the documentary is a must-watch for anyone looking to learn more about Michael Hutchence. His story is heartbreaking. Mystify works best when it uses his own words to capture a life that sadly ended too soon.

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Sunday

22

December 2019

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Sinks in Familiar Territory

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There’s a line in The Last Jedi where Kylo Ren is practically addressing the entire Star Wars fandom. The suggestion to, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to,” is good advice for a franchise perpetually in love with its own lore. The sequel trilogy was designed to introduce new characters into the mix, even as the films themselves often looked like remakes of earlier, better material.

The return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair suggested a change in course from Rian Johnson’s mandate in The Last Jedi to let go of that which came before. The Rise of Skywalker is a film all about the past. From the many cameos to the mirroring of earlier narratives, it’s hard to even discuss the film on its own merits, for it doesn’t really have any. The Rise of Skywalker is more like a greatest hits compilation than an actual movie.

Rey, Finn, and Poe were all introduced as characters with the potential to carry the franchise to fresh worlds and new adventures. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all have obvious chemistry, characters brought together by a shared desire to belong to something greater than themselves. There could have been a point in time where a great trilogy could have been crafted all about these characters, and their adorable spherical droid companion BB-8.

The sequel trilogy always struggled to juggle its many pieces. There are the old characters, the new characters, the older plot, and the minor deviations the new narratives take to differentiate themselves just enough to justify their existence. The Rise of Skywalker can’t plot its own course because Abrams never allows it to stray too far from familiar territory. It’s hard to tell your own story when you have to squeeze in so much of earlier Star Wars lore as well.

The film does handle Carrie Fisher’s death quite well, making the most of mere minutes of footage left over from the previous two entries. It would be quite difficult to wrap up the “Skywalker saga” without Princess Leia. Abrams honors Fisher’s legacy in a way that feels vital to the narrative.

The same holds true for most of the other legacy characters. After being mostly sidelined for the past two films, C-3PO and R2-D2 each get multiple moments to shine. Anthony Daniels gets plenty to work with as everyone’s favorite mildly annoying golden protocol droid. Billy Dee Williams brought plenty of his signature charisma to Lando Calrissian, absent from the films since Return of the Jedi. Even Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, who took over from Peter Mayhew who died earlier this year) gets a meatier plotline than previous entries.

Star Wars means a lot of different things to its large fandom. There are those who appreciated Rian Johnson’s efforts to plot a new course for The Last Jedi and there are those who loathe what the film did to Luke Skywalker. Plenty of people enjoyed Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which often felt like a straight remake of A New Hope.

The Rise of Skywalker understandably carries the most appeal to fans who want a nice heavy helping of nostalgia to go with their space battles and laser sword fights. The biggest problem with this entire approach is that it robs the new characters of any chance to stand on their own feet. Rey may be the hero, but this isn’t really her movie. It’s not Luke’s either, or Leia’s or Han’s, or any other possible person the film may try and make you remember. It’s the past’s movie, your childhood memories brought back to life for the sake of another ticket sold.

Star Wars used to make its audiences’ collective jaws drop, with stunning technological feats. George Lucas may have no skill for dialogue, but the man knew how to take people to places they’d never been before. As a child I was blown away by the sheer sight of R2-D2 on the bridge of the Tantive IV in the very first film.

The Rise of Skywalker lacks any of that wonder and awe. It doesn’t make an earnest effort to try to impress anyone. Rather, a half-hearted attempt is made to reignite the audience’s faded memories of better times with better movies. Lightning may never strike the same spot twice, but force lightning seems to only know one tired story. We’ve seen this all before.

 

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Thursday

19

December 2019

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 7

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After a few episodes that were mostly episodic in nature, The Mandalorian is back to serialized storytelling, fitting for the end of the season. Giancarlo Esposito, best known for playing Breaking Bad’s arch-villain Gus Fring, was announced as part of the cast before the season started. The question of when his Moff Gideon would appear remained a subject of intrigue, especially since the final scene of Chapter 5.

Chapter 7 brought the season full circle in many ways, featuring the return of several recurring characters. Kuill, the Ugnaught farmer, and Cara, the New Republic shock trooper turned bounty hunter, are the two closest things Mando has to friends, though Baby Yoda may not identify Cara as such just yet. Both characters work well with Mando, suggesting that the show might have been better off keeping one of them, or both, around for some of the middle episodes. Mando is far more compelling of a lead when he has someone to interact with besides a Force-wielding baby.

IG-11 has been reprogrammed as a butler/nursemaid! The whole “Mando hates droids” bit is getting kind of old, but it was nice to see that the assassin robot can have a nice second career. My second recap was critical of Kuill’s place in the story, but the character brings out a side of Mando that had been missing in previous episodes.

From a narrative standpoint, it makes perfect sense that the Baby Yoda Squad would return to Navarro. It would have been a shame not to see The Client again, especially knowing how much Werner Herzog loves Baby Yoda. The logic behind such a move against a powerful figure makes a little less sense.

Greef Karga is probably right when he says that The Client will never stop hunting Baby Yoda. That said, it’s difficult to say that Mando has really tried all that hard to hide from him. The past few episodes have shown him putting Baby Yoda in harm’s way for the sake of jobs, unlike his past attempt to lay low on Sorgan. The galaxy is supposed to be big.

This whole dynamic grows more complicated when you think about how Obi-Wan decided to hide Luke. Anakin may not have known that Padme was pregnant, but Obi-Wan hardly came up with much of a plan in sending the baby to live with Darth Vader’s step-brother on his home planet, while only changing his first name. By this logic, Mando only needs to buy a remote house and start going by Ben-dalorian.

Baby Yoda showing off some healing powers to save Karga helps expose the obvious trap, leading to a change of heart that comes off as mostly sincere. The plan to deliver an empty bassinet to The Client came across as pretty ridiculous, but these sorts of scenarios are destined to go wrong. From the looks of it, The Client is dead, sadly gone before he could share another scene with Baby Yoda.

The Stormtrooper and Scout Trooper armor looks phenomenal. The sight of the Scout trooper’s on their speeder bikes was a nice throwback to Return of the Jedi, though sadly their aim has improved. Poor Kuill. His reluctance to go on the mission kind of pegged him for death. Too nice a person in this cold, cruel world.

Chapter 7 demonstrated this season’s grasp of episodic storytelling while still building toward the payoff of a serialized narrative. Moff Gideon looks to be an especially sinister bad guy, but the show doesn’t feel like it’s slow walked his introduction. The season seems destined to end on a cliffhanger, but that feels okay from where we stand now.

With only one more episode left of the season, it’s fairly safe to call The Mandalorian a great success. The action sequences have been spectacular, and the character development has been pretty strong for a show with one lead who never shows his face and another who doesn’t talk. Above all else, the show has made a strong case for shorter episode runtimes. Some of the episodes have been a bit lacking in exposition, but that’s certainly better than the drawn out filler approach used by far too many streaming shows these days.

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Tuesday

17

December 2019

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Season Three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Is Best Enjoyed with Low Expectations

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Seasons used to matter in television. That is, until the streaming era came along. Summer used to be a wasteland of reruns, making it fertile territory for offbeat shows like Six Feet Under to lay their roots. The idea of releasing prestige TV in the month of December was once unheard of, interfering with that holiday featuring Santa and the elves. Nowadays, plenty of shows, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, have staked their territory in the days leading up to Christmas.

In many ways, Mrs. Maisel is still a show best enjoyed through the lens of holiday fluff. True to creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s form, the period piece struts the line between comedy and drama. Season three showcases this dynamic in a bit of different sense than many “dramedies.”

Rather than presenting a blend of the two genre, episodes of Mrs. Maisel often squarely fit in one box. There’s comedy one episode and drama the next, even if the more serious episodes contain their fair share of laughs. This formula mostly works, even if it does leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed by the end of the season. Hence where the fluff comes in.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel doesn’t really have much to offer as it relates to feminism, equality, or the broader #MeToo movement. It’s not entirely fair to say that Midge Maisel isn’t empowering or a role model, but she is a thoroughly flawed character. There’s a strain of revisionism as it relates to the past that can permeate through contemporary period works, such as Downton Abbey’s strong progressive values, that reflects what we would like to have seen from that era versus what might have actually happened.

As was the case last season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is hindered by the show’s insistence with keeping Joel as part of the core cast. There’s nothing wrong with Michael Zegen’s performance, but he’s simply not an interesting character. Time spent on him naturally comes at the expense of some other plotlines.

The show is anchored by the relationship between Midge and Susie. Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Bornstein are comedy gold together. Jane Lynch puts forth a solid effort as Sophie Lemon, Midge’s rival who takes up much of Susie’s managerial attention.

This season features Midge on the road for much of the narrative, traveling around opening for Shy Baldwin. The change of pace works well for the show’s entertainment value, but sputters a bit as a cohesive body of work. The road episodes function like a fun vacation, though the season stumbles when it comes time to try and make something of its broader narrative. Eight episodes aren’t enough to tell this story.

That doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem, especially when you take the time of the year into consideration. Season three is fun television. The sets are beautiful, the acting is top-notch, and the scripts are full of Sherman-Palladino’s signature humor. Some might say that’s the perfect recipe for this time of the year.

If you are someone who wants something more out of this story, you might feel a little underwhelmed. Of the principle characters, only Midge’s parents Abe and Rose feel like they’re actually trying to move forward instead of maintaining the status quo. This narrative rarely cares about the destination, leaving talk of Midge’s career destined to fall flat since it’s given such little attention.

Season three offers plenty of laughs, albeit with a sense of diminishing returns. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel used to be one of the best shows on TV. That’s not really the case anymore. The show is still fun to watch, especially this time of the year when comfort food is in abundance. Many of us may wish that Mrs. Maisel was a better show, but that shouldn’t get too much in the way of a mostly good experience.

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Saturday

14

December 2019

0

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The Mandalorian Season 1 Review: Chapter 6

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Note: This review contains spoilers

Six episodes in, it’s become fairly clear that The Mandalorian isn’t interested in the kind of serialized storytelling that’s dominated the streaming era. Back when shows like Kung Fu or Walker, Texas Ranger aired, the constraints of the pre-DVR era required many narratives to remain fairly episodic in nature, accounting for fans who wouldn’t necessarily tune in every week or might watch the shows years later in syndication. Disney+ does not possess these limitations as no one is obliged to watch the episodes out of order.

The episodic format presents many advantages. A show like The Mandalorian doesn’t necessarily need some big overarching narrative. There’s nothing stopping the show from adopting more of a serialized approach down the road, or even next week if it wanted to.

While the show borrows heavily from the Western genre, The Mandalorian often skimps on the kind of exposition that’s usually required to endear the audience to the situation presented. Western heroes, like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, are often stock characters without much backstory, but there’s usually a few scenes meant to explain who the person is and why an audience would care about them.

Chapter 6 exposed some of the broader flaws with the series, mainly its reluctance to explain any of the Mandalorian’s decisions. This show has almost no exposition. Mando travels to planets or starships, shoots his weapon, and Baby Yoda looks cute. That’s basically the whole show.

That kind of model has produced some good television thus far, but there’s a lingering problem facing Chapter 6 that it chooses not to address. Why would Mando bring Baby Yoda to a ship with very shady people that he clearly doesn’t trust? His old friend Ran is a slight exception, but he spars with the rest of the group almost immediately.

Two episode ago, Mando was trying to lay low with Baby Yoda. He even considered leaving the little guy on Sorgan to live a better life before realizing that there’s still plenty of danger out there. Since then, we’ve had two straight episodes where Baby Yoda has been put in harm’s way because Mando can’t find a solid babysitter.

Does he need money? We don’t know. The show decided not to tell us.

Did anyone really think it was possible to hide Baby Yoda on a small ship with that many people on board? We learn absolutely nothing about Mando’s thought process with regard to taking this job. This episode was longer than many at just over forty minutes, but again we’re presented with a situation where a few more scenes of basic narrative exposition would go a long way.

The fellow bounty hunters were perfectly fine. Bill Burr was engaging as the evil Mayfield, who had the audacity to drop Baby Yoda. The Gungan joke was hilarious. Xi’an fell a little flat, relying a bit too much of her past history with Mando that we the audience know nothing about. We’ve seen the Twi’lek species before, but these random characters are harder to care about when the show decides it doesn’t feel like telling us anything about them.

As for the job, the action was fine. The droids certainly looked cool. The whole New Republic emergency beacon thing was a little unnecessarily convoluted. The double crossing of the Mandalorian was quite predictable, underlying a broader concern with the narrative. It’s harder to feel sympathy for the plight of Mando when we’re not let in to his thought process at all. He even hates droids, yet is perfectly content to leave Baby Yoda alone on a ship with one.

Chapter 6 topped last week’s episode as the weakest of the season. In many ways, it’s great that there isn’t some big broad narrative underpinning the show. These episodic narratives have occasionally been a lot of fun.

Trouble is, we the the audience are following along each week. The Mando of last week needs to have something in common with the man we’re seeing in the next chapter. The same mistakes each and every week just isn’t going to cut it forever. As the season progresses, the returns are starting to diminish.

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