Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

TV Reviews Archive

Saturday

16

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Dead Still Is a Well-Crafted Period Drama with Plenty of Humor

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Pictures carry a degree of disposability in the modern era. Selfies on Instagram or Snapchat can disappear into the void not long after they’re taken. Set in Ireland during the 1880s, Acorn TV’s new drama Dead Still captures an era back when photographs were still a valuable commodity, a luxury that few could afford.

The show follows Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley), a memorial photographer who makes his living taking pictures of the recently deceased. A practitioner of the daguerreotype process, which uses steel plates to capture photographs, Blennerhasset finds himself in an era that is rapidly evolving, with cheaper and easier methods hitting the market. Accompanied by his niece, Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins), and gravedigger-turned-assistant, Conall Molloy (Kerr Logan), Brock goes about his business as a broader conspiracy involving the illicit photograph trade begins to ensnare him.

Dead Still owes its success to the delightful chemistry between Smiley, O’Higgins, and Logan. The three are absolutely marvelous to watch, elevating each other in practically every scene. Smiley brings an understated dry wit to Blennerhasset that’s well complemented by the more affectionate Nancy and Conall. The show makes a compelling case for why they’re drawn to each other, outcasts who find community in their rather peculiar line of work.

O’Higgins often sets the tone for the narrative, working wonders as the show’s sole primary female character. Nancy is maybe a bit more modern than period drama purists might like, but O’Higgins exudes such emotion in each scene that it’s practically impossible not to like the character. Dead Still looks like the kind of show that’s a lot of fun to work on, with a sense of joy that permeates through the screen.

The show finds a good balance between drama and comedy, frequently using humor to lighten the dark aesthetics. Blennerhasset’s coachman Cecil (Jimmy Smallhorne) is quite amusing, though Smallhorne brings a surprising amount of depth to the character. Dead Still makes great use of the Irish landscape, frequently giving the eyes plenty to feast on with its emphasis on old architecture.

The six-episode season mostly utilizes serialized storytelling, though the front half is a bit more self-contained. The narrative bites off a bit more than it can reasonably chew in six episodes, emphasizing world-building and character development over pacing of the narrative. This approach works pretty well, endearing the characters to the audience while leaving plenty of hunger for more. The season could’ve easily gone on for another four episodes.

Dead Still is way more fun than you’d expect from a period drama about photographing the recently deceased. The acting is superb and the production values are top notch. Acorn TV has a gem on its hands, hopefully one that has a second season in the works.

The entire six episode first season was screened for review.

Share Button

Friday

15

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Dummy Is a Self-Indulgent Slog That’s Never as Funny as It Wants to Be

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

There are countless shows about people who make shows. Hollywood’s longstanding fascination with itself occasionally produces a gem, but the self-indulgence often comes at a cost. For a show like Quibi’s Dummy, based on creator Cody Heller’s real-life relationship with Dan Harmon, narrative is often substituted for an endless parade of winks at its audience.

Dummy follows the adventures of a fictionalized Heller, played by Anna Kendrick, as she develops a budding friendship with Harmon’s (Donal Logue) sex doll, voiced by Meredith Hagner. The sex doll, which Cody names Barbara, serves as a kind of motivational force for her middling career as a writer. Most of the shortform episodes center around the rapport between Cody and Barbara, functioning kind of like a buddy comedy.

The humor is pretty lazy. There are a few scattered laughs to be had from listening to Barbara’s vulgar antics, but the routine wears thin after the first couple of episodes. Heller writes plenty of surface-level jokes about feminism and the MeToo movement that play too hard for shock value. Absent is any sense of deeper truths uncovered from this line of thinking.

Heller displays a weird fascination with the Bechdel test, producing several painfully pedantic takes on the concept. It’s fairly unclear what she’s trying to say about any of this other than the rather obvious point that women can in fact be bad feminists. These revelations are neither insightful nor amusing.

The Quibi format hardly does Dummy any favors. The first few episodes contain way too many conversations that feel like they’re playing at 1.5 times the normal speed. This might be more forgivable if it wasn’t an artificial mandate for a show that could in theory be as long as it wanted. The back half of the season does mostly rectify this problem.

The episode runtimes don’t exactly provide much time for character development. Kendrick does a satisfactory job as a foil to the zany sex doll, but Heller as a character lacks any sense of depth. She’s an unmotivated writer in LA who never loses sight of the good fortune that’s been handed to her as a result of her romantic partner. It is unclear why anyone would think that this is a good formula for a protagonist.

Dummy grinds its superficial meta humor into the ground, a shallow inside joke packaged as a television series. Even for devoted Harmon fans, it’s unclear who the target demographic for this show really is, besides maybe their extended families. The fact that Heller does seem fairly self-aware only makes the whole experience even more disappointing.

Share Button

Thursday

14

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Upload Is a Fun Binge with an Underwhelming Story

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Humanity has been telling tales of the after-life for as long as storytelling has existed. Amazon’s Upload builds on the seemingly all-encompassing nature of the Internet to provide an alternative form of heaven than the pearly gates. As one might imagine, its depiction of life after death is hardly full of angels and endless happiness.

After a tragic accident, Kevin (Robbie Amell) finds himself “uploaded” to the Lakeview community, the afterlife in the form of a digital upscale hotel and spa. The scenery is beautiful, but most of the amenities come with a charge, with real-life “angels” working on hand to make sure residents are happy, and spending plenty of money. Kevin’s purse strings are closely guarded by his still-living girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards), but he finds comfort in the company of his angel Nora (Andy Allo), toward whom he begins to develop ill-advised feelings.

Upload has fun with its premise, presenting a haunting yet amusing take on the afterlife. Set in 2033, the world-building is pretty solid, rarely letting the narrative get bogged down in exposition. There isn’t a ton of suspension of disbelief required to get on board with its take on the not-so distant future.

Capitalism is the show’s real villain, tormenting the deceased by tying their fortunes to the purse strings of the living. The show has a lot of fun with this concept, though it’s one of the areas where the broader logistical concerns tend to surface. A few episodes handle this dynamic quite well, but it’s an issue that’s always present even when the narrative tries to kick it under the rug.

The first season does waste a fair bit of time on generic romantic plotlines that follow predictable paths. Kevin is a pretty bland protagonist, with Amell doing relatively little to endear his character to the audience. Allo fares better with Nora, the show’s most compelling character, especially when she’s out in the real world.

Refreshingly absent for the most part is the broader moral dilemma of a place like Lakeview. It’s hardly the kind of place one would want to see themselves confined to until the end of time, yet it’s easy to see the surface level appeal. The show never tries to sell its concept to the audience while also not exactly condemning its hellish version of “heaven.”

Upload leaves a lot to be desired on the storytelling front, but the acting and world-building make for a pleasant experience. With the show renewed for a second season, there are issues that will hopefully be addressed in its sophomore effort. While hardly revolutionary, Upload is an easy binge in these chaotic times.

Share Button

Saturday

9

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Batwoman’s First Season Is a Clunky Ride in Need of Work

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

In many ways, Batwoman is the perfect member of the “Bat-fam” to adapt for the small screen. Created in 2006, the comic book version of Kate Kane operates without close to a century of history associated with her cousin Bruce Wayne. Unlike other associates such as Robin or Batgirl, Batwoman has never been the Dark Knight’s sidekick, treated as more of an equal when working alongside the Caped Crusader in arcs such as the post-Rebirth Detective Comics run.

As the marquee film franchise of the DC Comics lore, one would not expect the top tier villains of Gotham to make the kind of regular appearances in Batwoman that holds true for baddies like Lex Luthor or Zoom in the Arrowverse. Kate Kane maintains a healthy degree of independence from Bruce, a smart formula for a weekly television series. Even as Batman’s lengthy absence looms heavily over the narrative, Batwoman has done a fairly good job establishing itself on its own two feet.

Carving an identity independent of Batman is a vital step, but Batwoman has struggled with where to go from there. Like Bruce, Kate is a vigilante driven by tragedy. The reappearance of her long-presumed dead sister Alice, now a maniacal villain, has driven the bulk of the narrative for the show’s first season.

As a character, Alice is an important part of Kate’s story. As a regular presence on a weekly series, Alice is an intensely stifling presence on the narrative. Comic book supporting characters can come and go. Regular cast members need weekly screen time. Rachel Skarsten is one of the more compelling actors on the series, but Batwoman struggles to balance Alice’s arc with that of its titular character.

Ruby Rose hardly helps this dynamic. Her Kate Kane is a reactionary figure, a figure far better suited for a lone wolf than as a leader of a team. The Arrowverse relies on an ensemble formula that clashes with Batwoman’s aesthetics, something that Arrow itself needed time to figure out. Kate doesn’t want to let people in, but of course she’s going to build a group around her. None of this is particularly interesting to watch.

Alice might be Kate’s best sparring partner, but Batwoman’s relationship with her father is the most fascinating of her series’ lore. The show captures the essence of Kate and Jacob’s relationship pretty well, with Dougray Scott softening the rigid comic book character quite a bit. Batwoman desperately needs to figure out the Kane family dynamic, which drowns out practically everything else the show tries to do.

There are a few bright spots for the season. The supporting cast is pretty fun. As Luke Fox and Mary Hamilton, Camrus Johnson and Nicole Kang provide much needed levity, balancing out Rose’s monotonous acting. The show is the perfect vessel to eventually debut Fox’s Batwing for the first time in live action.

Batwoman’s sexuality has been a milestone for LGBTQ superhero representation. The episode “How Queer Everything Is Today!” did a masterful job addressing how a lesbian superhero is both a big deal and something that should also not be as noteworthy as it currently remains. Hopefully in the future this kind of revelation won’t seem like such a big deal, but for now it is most certainly something to celebrate.

Batwoman is a salvageable show, but the first season has been a bumpy ride to say the least. Plenty of series need time to figure themselves out. Of all the shows in the Arrowverse, only The Flash had an inaugural effort that can be safely described as great. Batwoman can be a family drama alongside its other ambitions, but it has to do a better job in balancing its many moving pieces.

Share Button

Tuesday

28

April 2020

1

COMMENTS

Homeland Ends with a Thud

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The world has changed quite a bit since Homeland premiered in 2011. The series has had to adapt to a landscape where a completely incompetent executive branch feels less and less outlandish. In the world of alternative facts, fiction has an uphill battle to compete with reality.

For a show that had its fair share of ups and downs over the course of its eight seasons, Homeland worked best when it focused on its characters. Claire Danes and Mandy Patankin often carried the series, aided by superb supporting players such as Rupert Fiend and F. Murray Abraham. With figures such as Nicholas Brody, Peter Quinn, and Dar Adal long absent from the fold, a final adventure with Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson seemed like just what the show needed as it prepared for the endgame.

Most of season eight focused on a tug-of-war over a flight recorder of a downed helicopter that killed the presidents of America and Pakistan. Considering that previous seasons have featured hacked pacemakers and CIA car bombs, it does seem fairly radical for the show to feature a mundane explanation for the helicopter crash devoid of terrorism or Russian interference. Carrie’s ability to retrieve the device, irrefutable evidence for a president eager to entertain the counsel of the far-right, meant the difference between war and peace.

Homeland has repeatedly emphasized the power of the individual to change the world. Carrie, Saul, Brody, and Quinn each changed the course of history through their actions. Carrie embodied everything that James Bond has exemplified over his fifty-year tenure. Homeland worked best when Carrie was a kick-ass spy.

Season eight featured a completely unhinged Carrie, not just because of her bipolar disorder that the show often treats like a superpower. Carrie spent most of the season wandering Pakistan, in bed with the Russians, untethered from the confines of American foreign policy. It might have been fun if it wasn’t so aimless.

The pacing for the whole season was completely off, an issue that became far more of a problem as Carrie and Saul returned to America. The season never really felt like it had twelve episodes’ worth of story, but still managed to feel rushed by the end. Worst of all, Homeland pulled the tired trope of the mystery-asset, unbeknownst to Carrie for the duration of the series. Such a secret completely undercuts the relationship between Carrie and Saul that served as the bedrock for the show.

Suspension of disbelief is important for practically all spy narratives. There are little things here and there that Homeland could be forgiven for, such as Saul’s lack of security detail despite being National Security Adviser, especially after the death of a president. The series finale expects the audience to believe that Carrie, currently charged as an accessory to murder of that same president, is staying in Saul’s home without anyone batting an eye. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg for the plot holes, including a UN basement shootout, that become apparent in the absence of substance.

Homeland went out with a whimper, a final season lazily crafted as a betrayal of the show’s key relationship. Carrie didn’t need to go out as the hero or the villain, though one or the other might have been nice. Instead, there’s an aura of indifference that hangs over the head of the protagonist as she leaves America for presumably the last time. Like her daughter Frannie, Carrie’s legacy is largely left forgotten as the series limps toward its final bow.

Homeland was terrible as often as it was great. Eight seasons is a long time to be on the air. Final seasons generally work best when they remind the audience of why they fell in love with the show in the first place. For Homeland, season eight represented all the reasons why this show leaves behind such a complicated legacy.

Share Button

Monday

20

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Better Call Saul Looks to the Endgame

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

Prequels face a unique challenge. A show like Better Call Saul is expected to present some new revelations about Jimmy McGill that justify the show’s existence without too drastically altering the framework of the Breaking Bad character audiences know and love. On top of that, the show has to juggle its own original characters as well as those belonging to its predecessor series.

The early seasons of Better Call Saul are drastically different from the show it is now. Part of that can be laid at the feet of meth/chicken kingpin Gus Fring, given Giancarlo Epsosito’s dominating performances. Fring’s presence facilitated the separation of Jimmy and Mike for several seasons, slicing off a piece of Saul to service the events of Breaking Bad that Jimmy wouldn’t need to be a part of.

Season five has largely been about putting the pieces back together. After last season sidelined Jimmy’s legal career, Goodman is heading full throttle into the world of the cartel. The show has done an excellent job setting up its final season to directly lead in to Breaking Bad, while building off its own strong foundation.

For all the time Better Call Saul dedicates to the meth trade, season five works best when the focus is on Jimmy and Kim. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn are marvelous together, painting lines of obvious affection into the common sense desperation that ties the two together. Kim deserves better than Jimmy. The audience knows that, but Wexler sure doesn’t. The character’s absence from Breaking Bad doesn’t exactly bode well for her fate, but the flash-forward black and white introductions to each season offer a glimmer of hope for their relationship after Jimmy’s time at Cinnabon is up.

There are bits and pieces of narrative that hinder season five from fully utilizing its short ten-episode seasons. Howard Hamlin was a pivotal part of the show’s early years. That is very obviously no longer the case, beyond Patrick Fabian’s skills as an actor. Time spent on Hamlin is time that can’t be used for anything else, a tough storyline to justify with so much else going on.

The eighth episode of the season, “Bagman” appears designed to be the series’ version of The Sopranos’ iconic “Pine Barrens” episode. The long takes shot in the blistering heat represent a triumph for the series’ artistic endeavors, the kind of stuff that establishes Saul on equal footing as Breaking Bad. Jimmy isn’t a man destined to become an arch villain like Walter White, but rather broken in a different sense.

It is perplexing to think about “Bagman” existing as part of the same narrative that was once dominated by Jimmy’s feud with his older brother. Chuck’s legacy doesn’t quite loom as large over season five, with its eyes focused more on Breaking Bad. That’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, perhaps most noteworthy because Saul is a prequel destined to be evaluated by its relationship to its source material.

Season five represents a high point for the series as Better Call Saul juggles obligations to its predecessor against its own established lore. Wexler and Fring could easily be given their own series after Saul, an idea that’s both a testament to the series and indicative of its core predicament. There are too many interesting things going on in each season of Saul to adequately capture in a ten episode run. Six seasons is hardly enough to tell this story.

Share Button

Thursday

2

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Tiger King Proves Sometimes Reality Is Better Than the Dream

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

America finds itself in a period desperate for distractions to take our minds off the collective sense of anxiety many of us feel toward the present state of affairs. Cooped up at home, a narrative like Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness scratches this itch perfectly, the kind of train wreck you can’t look away from even as every fiber of your being feels dirty for having spent time with its subjects. The best true crime stories are the ones that are too absurd to work as pieces of fiction, with twist after twist designed to completely overload the senses.

At the heart of Tiger King is its titular subject, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, a man of poor taste in just about every sense of the word. For years, Joe Exotic reigned over the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, a small zoo in Oklahoma. Joe Exotic owned hundreds of tigers, earning the wrath of animal rights activist Carole Baskin, who operates the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida. Exotic’s efforts to wage war against Baskin left him financially ruined, leading to him attempting to hire a hit man to murder her. A 2018 arrest for those efforts, among other charges, lead to twenty-two-year sentence, which he is currently serving.

Tiger King uses extensive footage filmed over several years, allowing the filmmakers to capture Joe Exotic and all of his antics before he found himself behind bars. Exotic is a natural entertainer of the Trumpian variety, a man perpetually capable of stooping to new lows with his asinine behavior and lust for the spotlight. Much like his zoo, Exotic appeals in the same way as toilet humor, a juvenility perfect for Netflix, where the audience can laugh along without feeling ashamed for their enjoyment.

The seven-part series covers a wide range of topics beyond the Exotic/Baskin feud, itself full of subplots. Fellow tiger enthusiast Bhagavan “Doc” Antle receives an extended profile, a similarly vile character who runs a preserve/harem in South Carolina. Tiger King strikes at the heart of the types of people who engage in the shady business of exotic animals, an expensive endeavor that leads to plenty of abuse, both of the animals and the employees lured to the premises.

A Shakespearian tragedy fitting for this dystopian modern era, Tiger King finds a sense of mesmerizing beauty in its perpetual race down the gutter. Joe Exotic is a truly terrible human being, selfish and vindictive, hardly a suitable protagonist or anti-hero. Likewise, he’s not wholly a villain either, having a kind of weird charm that tugs at the heartstrings, if only for a moment. In Baskin, the show finds a suitable foil, herself an odd character who walks under a perpetual cloud of suspicion after her husband mysteriously vanished in 1997. There are no heroes in Tiger King.

The great triumph of the series lies with its utter lack of moral message. Owning exotic animals is bad, yes, but that’s also something already well-apparent to many viewers in the year 2020. Tiger King isn’t all that concerned with stating the obvious. Instead, the series mostly just focuses on the absurd nature of its narrative. Each episode contains more plot twists than most movies could get away with. It is magnificent entertainment.

To call it a guilty-pleasure almost doesn’t feel right considering all that’s going on in the country. Pleasure is in short supply. Joe Exotic is a seemingly-endless supply of amusement. Tiger King isn’t just must-watch. It’s the perfect narrative for our times.

Share Button

Tuesday

24

March 2020

3

COMMENTS

Star Trek: Picard Is Full of Missed Opportunities

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The very premise of Star Trek: Picard fulfilled a longtime wish for many Trek fans. Jean-Luc may be one of the most popular characters in the franchise, but the episodic adventures in Star Trek: The Next Generation frequently impeded the character development that would fully utilize the talents of an actor like Patrick Stewart. Serialization offered a chance to take the character to new horizons glimpsed in TNG episodes like “Family” and “The Inner Light.” Unfortunately, the series just doesn’t seem to know where to take him.

Picard is a series that can’t resist the allures of the past, often at the expense of its own narrative and original characters. This dynamic creates strain on the necessary exposition for the other series regulars, forced to eat up large chunks of episodes while leaving barely any room for the plot to move forward. The story moves at a glacier-slow pace, not exactly a great development for a spin-off of a show that almost always wrapped up its conflicts by the end of each episode.

Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Rios (Santiago Cabrera) are both interesting characters, but episodes like “Broken Pieces” expose the series’ broader flaw. With such slow pacing, why would anyone who loves Star Trek want to sit and watch two people sitting on the floor of their ship bonding over their various life problems? The presentation of the new characters is bound to please nobody, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the premise of Picard isn’t exactly welcoming to new fans. For a show that’s only supposed to last a few seasons, there’s a lot of time wasted on slow-walking.

The very nature of the “daughters of Data” plotline feels quite perfunctory, a mere excuse to bring Picard out of retirement for one final ride. Data obviously means a great deal to Jean-Luc, but Soji (Isa Briones) is essentially just used as a vessel for android nostalgia. The show hasn’t given the Romulan “Artifact” narrative the time it deserves, leaving it to come across as a poor imitation of Section 31. The whole story is just a big mess.

Nostalgia can be a very toxic force in art. Picard utilized an easy opportunity to bring back fan favorites like Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis), but it’s unclear why others like Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) or Bruce Maddox (John Ales), very minor characters in TNG, received so much attention when the show has its own roster of characters to worry about. All the time spent playing “remember when…” adds up pretty quickly over the course of a ten-episode season.

Picard has managed to give one legacy character a substantive arc. Though Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) had never interacted on screen with Picard prior to the series, the show has given the Voyager star plenty of moments to shine. Seven feels organic to the plot, exploring some of her old themes with regard to the Borg in a way that actually feels productive.

As for the rest of Picard, the show is a deeply frustrating experience. This is the first new Star Trek production that isn’t a prequel or reboot in close to twenty years. The world has changed quite a bit since the destruction of Romulus. So far, we haven’t really been given an opportunity to explore that.

Star Trek: Picard has all the makings of a prestige series. The sets are beautiful and the cast is excellent. Unfortunately, the pacing is just a total mess. As a captain, Jean-Luc Picard was thoroughly prepared for anything. It’s not too much to expect a series bearing his name to possess the same amount of diligence.

Share Button

Wednesday

12

February 2020

0

COMMENTS

The L Word: Generation Q Is a Slight Improvement on Its Shallow Predecessor

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The L Word will always be regarded as groundbreaking television series by nature of its premise. Public opinion toward LGBTQ people has undergone a massive transformation since 2004. Despite its status as a pioneer of queer representation in popular culture, The L Word has aged quite poorly as a narrative. Obsessed with melodrama and the superficial lives of its upper-class lesbians, it’s pretty embarrassing to think that this show served as many people’s point of entry to engaging with LGBTQ issues.

Popular culture has changed quite a bit since then. The L Word: Generation Q finds itself in a climate that’s far more unforgiving toward poorly crafted gay narratives. It’s not enough to feature lesbians on television, now you have to find something interesting for them to do. In this regard, Generation Q demonstrates that The L Word really hasn’t learned all that much.

The show was smart to keep the returning characters to a minimum. Bette (Jennifer Beals), Shane (Katherine Moennig), and Alice (Leisha Hailey) are the sole members of The L Word’s large ensemble cast to come back as regulars. The absence of Jenny Schecter, a strong contender for worst LGBTQ character ever depicted on screen, is refreshing, but Generation Q falls to put forth a strong case for why the audience should want to spend more time with Bette, Shane, and Alice.

Shane is still pretty cool. Alice is still annoying and obsessed with serving as a standard bearer for the community. Bette has more first world problems, this time running for mayor without any clear sense of conviction. The show is more than willing to forgive its characters’ shortcomings, shallow people living shallow lives, but it’s not very interested in demonstrating how any of these people have grown.

The new characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Sarah, better known by her last name Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), is the standout of the bunch, an executive assistant on Alice’s TV show who squats in Shane’s house. Micah Lee (Leo Sheng) helps correct the sins of the past in the trans masculine department, an adjunct professor with lots of depth in the romantic realm. Dani (Arienne Mandi) and Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) are less successful, an engaged couple with family melodrama that feels better suited for the climate of the original show.

The L Word was pretty horrifically terrible in the realm of transgender representation, repeatedly demonizing its trans male character Max in cringey depressing manners. In addition to Micah, recurring characters Pierce (Brian Michael Smith) and Tess (Jamie Clayton) are given substantive plots that don’t hinge on their transness.  The show is spread pretty thin with its ensemble cast, but manages to blend the new characters in with the holdouts pretty well.

The biggest problem for Generation Q is the writing. The superficial storytelling isn’t very interesting in a world with far better LGBTQ representation. Eight episodes isn’t a lot of time to craft compelling plotlines for such a large cast, but the show doesn’t really try. For the most part, it’s far too content to revisit tired tropes explored by its predecessor.

It’s not really quite clear who Generation Q is trying to please. It’s not really a “greatest-hits” style revival like many other reboots of the past few years. The legacy characters aren’t simply there to pass the baton either. Trouble is, they’re not really there to do anything interesting. Alice has already been on television and Bette spent the entire previous series jumping around from various high-status professions. Are we supposed to care about seeing this again?

For some, that answer might be yes. Generation Q is hardly unwatchable, unlike the later seasons of its predecessor. It’s hardly a satisfying experience. The LGBTQ community deserved better than the shallow storytelling of The L Word. The past few years have given the community just that. There isn’t much need for The L Word anymore. Generation Q doesn’t do much to change that sentiment.

Share Button

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

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

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.

 

Share Button