Central Park (2020)


Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars)
Tituss Burgess (The Addams Family)
Daveed Diggs (Wonder)
Josh Gad (Frozen)
Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms)
Leslie Odom Jr. (Murder on The Orient Express)
Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games)

Central Park (2020)Bob’s Burgers’ creator Loren Bouchard teams with Nora Smith and Josh Gad on a joyful New York-set musical that could be a breakout favorite for Apple TV+. Watching Apple TV+’s recent promotion for the new animated comedy Central Park, you might have little awareness at all that the series is, on any level, a musical.Even acknowledging how hard it is to promote musical elements in a 30-second or 60-second spot — the initial two-minute trailer at least tried — it’s still a peculiar choice because as an animated family comedy, Central Park is pleasant, amiable and sometimes funny, but probably not hugely impactful. As a musical, Central Park is something wonderful, a joyful and elating experience almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face at a moment when pure pleasure is a welcome salve.Central Park (2020)The show hails from Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard with Nora Smith and Josh Gad. The focus is on the Tillerman family, who live in a caretaker’s house in the middle of Central Park. Patriarch Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.) is the actual caretaker, obsessed with the rules and regulations that he thinks allow Central Park to thrive. Wife Paige (Kathryn Hahn) dreams of doing serious investigative journalism, but she’s stuck writing puff pieces for “the No. 1 most left-on-the-subway paper in the city.” Daughter Molly (Kristen Bell) is dealing with aspects of her biracial identity through a comic series she doodles, while son Cole (Tituss Burgess) is full of love, which becomes a problem when he adopts a missing dog that happens to belong to the nefarious Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci), a diminutive billionaire with designs on taking over and commercializing Central Park.Bitsy’s scheming against the Park, abetted by her long-suffering assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs) is, through the four episodes sent to critics, the spine of the series, as Owen endeavors to keep things orderly and vibrant while Paige captures her reportorial mojo in trying to bring the evil plot to light. The entire series is framed by Gad’s Birdie, half intrepid busker, half peeping voyeur and all Park-loving, guitar-strumming narrator.Originally developed for Fox, Central Park has more than a passing resemblance to Bouchard’s Bob’s Burgers, which has carved out a 10-season niche as an astonishingly consistent comedy that sometimes gets lost in lists of TV’s best animated shows. Especially in the episode-opening scenes in which the Tillermans prepare for their respective days, Owen’s social anxiety is quite Bob-esque, Paige’s unselfconscious enthusiasm is Linda-esque and Cole’s hygiene-starved innocence tends toward Gene-esque. There’s a lovably wholesome sloppiness to this close, wide-eyed, weak-jawed clan, and the humor builds as you recognize the characters and their voices. I laughed more rewatching the first couple of Central Park episodes than on my initial viewing.2081881-1302492777Fans of Bob’s Burgers know Bouchard and company’s love for songs. The Die Hard/Working Girl musical episode, written not coincidentally by Nora Smith, is a series peak, and every episode concludes with a song over the closing credits, some written by luminaries like Fiona Apple. Nothing in that Bob’s Burgers precedent prepares you, though, for just how good and expansive the songs in Central Park are. The musical numbers, all produced by Frank Ciampi, hail from a varied who’s who of Broadway and Broadway-adjacent composers. In the second episode, the remarkable empowerment anthem “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes” was written by Sara Bareilles. “Rats,” from the third episode, has synth-y ’80s power-ballad touches and was written, naturally enough, by Cyndi Lauper. And it isn’t even like the songs from the A-listers are outliers. Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure wrote for multiple episodes; their anthem “Own This” from the premiere, bringing together the entire cast for Central Park jubilation, is a glorious earworm featuring counter-melodies and complex harmonies and I can nearly guarantee you’ll want to rewind and watch again immediately.Screenshot-2020-05-28-at-07.04.38With so much of the cast, including guest voice Christopher Jackson, boasting Hamilton on their résumés, it’s no wonder that many of the songs have a hip-hop inflection, but just as many are Disney-inspired. They’re also amusingly wonky about New York and Central Park history, making this the rare series that might play even better if you’ve read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. Having songs of this scope and ambition requires that you have a vocal cast capable of doing them justice, which Central Park surely does. Whether rushing through complicated rhythmic verses or letting loose on range-stretching choruses, Odom is a standout, not that anybody will be surprised. Gad’s vocal versatility isn’t a surprise either, nor are the musical chops of Burgess and Bell, though I guess I was struck by how good they sound together. Did I know Hahn had a great voice? Probably not. Am I shocked? I’m pretty confident at this point that Hahn can do anything. Once you know that the evil little old lady is voiced by Tucci, it’s impossible not to hear and it’s admirable how good he is, singing in this particular and peculiar character.central-parkBouchard has always made a point of “Best person for the job” vocal casting, untethered to gender or race. Having Tucci and Diggs voicing women of a certain age feels a little bit like a stunt, but the show doesn’t suffer from it and the distraction is minimal. It even adds a layer of irony when the easily overlooked Bitsy sings, “I’m constantly ignored. No one sees my genius / I’m constantly ignored. Must I grow a penis?” Perhaps if Molly’s biracial identity were an afterthought for the character, I wouldn’t balk at Bell’s casting. However, Molly spends the series dwelling on her difficulties fitting in and the comic book incarnation of herself that she’s drawing uses her unruly hair as a superpower and differentiator. Under those circumstances, it’s hard not to feel this is an ill-considered casting choice — surely nothing would be lost by casting an Amandla Stenberg or Zendaya in the role.Owen26-jpgThis feels particularly relevant with this week’s reminder of how often Central Park has become a politicized and racialized space, the ultimate unease melting pot location in a city that has always been an unease melting pot. Instead, Central Park prefers to view its location as an uncomplicated oasis, and I think Bouchard and company are capable of something more nuanced. Maybe that depth will come in future episodes? After watching four, though, I’m ready for a full-season binge and for a soundtrack. Especially for the soundtrack. Because no matter what Apple TV+ is trying to tell people, Central Park is a musical and it’s a heck of a musical.




Rob McElhenney (Wonder Boys)
F. Murray Abraham (Star Trek: Insurrection)
Imani Hakim (Reign Over Me)
David Hornsby (Minority Report)
Danny Pudi (Powerless)
Ashly Burch (Critical Role)
Charlotte Nicdao (Thor: Ragnarok)
Jessie Ennis (Better Call Saul)

mythicquestquarantineThe truly remarkable thing about Mythic Quest: Quarantine is just how stubbornly unremarkable it is for much of its running time. This is as close to a “normal” episode of Mythic Quest as possible given the circumstances. The half-hour even begins with a cold open of sorts in which the series’ three lead characters, Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney), Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao), and David Brittlesbee (David Hornsby) engage each other in a video chat call.MythicQuest_110_F0027F-700x394We’ve seen this comedic set up countless times in our quarantined lives on shows like Saturday Night Live and A Parks and Recreation Special, but the way in which Mythic Quest handles the cold open video chat is refreshingly new and bodes well for the rest of the episode. The show doesn’t treat its setup like a one-off gag but rather uses it to establish running concepts like Poppy’s stubborn refusal to shower, while also perfectly reacquainting the audiences with the show’s main trio and their quirks. And if that weren’t enough, it also marks the debut of McElhenney’s pale bare ass on the show.UntitledFrom there, Mythic Quest: Quarantine is damn near dogmatic in its approach to classic sitcom techniques. Rather than bowing to the limitations of video chatting as a narrative device, the show wrestles the concept of remote storytelling into exactly what it wants to do. Never did I imagine that seeing a simple A-B-C half hour story structure again would feel so satisfying.Rob-McElhenney-interview-How-Mythic-Quest-Quarantine-episode-came.jpgw1200stripall-1000x600Quarantine has a few ongoing plot threads just as any “normal” episode of Mythic Quest would. Fittingly Ian and Poppy make up the show’s A-plot, which finds both lead game designers trying to deal with the stress of social isolation as best they can. For Ian that means relentless self-aggrandizement, for Poppy it means working herself to the bone. Over in B-plot land, David and producer Brad Bakshi (Danny Pudi) engage in a high-stakes series of Street Fighter games. If David wins, Brad will consent to donating the company’s funds to charity, if Brad wins, David will lose…everything. Notably, Mythic Quest will be replicating that $600,000 charitable donation in real life. Elsewhere, Lou (Chernobyl writer Craig Mazin, who is apparently just part of the main cast now) drops in to annoy Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim), and Jo (Jesse Ennis) tries to teach C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham) how to operate his computer.Mythic-Quest-quarantineThe humor throughout Quarantine’ is undeniably effective. The concept of David losing one eyebrow, all eyelashes, and his mustache plays out perfectly. As do little details like Jo’s home office having a portrait of Ronald Reagan and Ian telling Poppy that a muscular man on the street “called his bluff.” Even the requisite “old man accidentally enables” filter technology trope comes across quite nicely, though of course C.W. Longbottom has to animoji-ize his face, this being an Apple production and all. For much of its runtime, Quarantine proves itself to be a coherent, recognizable, and funny episode of Mythic Quest, which is in and of itself a huge achievement thanks to the aforementioned asterisk. But in the end showrunners McElhenney, Hornsby, and Megan Ganz decide to go for something even deeper and emotionally resonant. It’s important that Mythic Quest: Quarantine isn’t merely a “Very Special Episode” of Mythic Quest. But that doesn’t mean that those final couple of scenes aren’t truly special.6a0120a5580826970c0263ec1bd3d6200c-800wiThrough Poppy’s cat-like aversion to showering and her work addiction are played for laughs throughout the special, the end reveals that they are symptoms of a larger problem. Poppy is quite simply: not doing too well. And there isn’t an intensely dramatic reason for that beyond why any of us would not be doing too well. Granted, Poppy has the added stress of being extra isolated since her family is in Australia. But the weight of this whole experience bearing down on her shoulders is intensely relatable. Mythic Quest’s solution for acknowledging Poppy’s pain, if not solving it, is beautifully simple.mythic-quest-quarantine-rob-mcelhenney-scaledIan just shows up to Poppy’s place and gives her a hug. That’s it. Just a hug. It’s a small thing, but in the context of our current era it’s quietly revelatory. It helps that there is also a technical artistry at play here with the moment occurring far off in the frame on two different cameras. This is largely a practical decision as, due to the show’s dedication to social distancing, Ian is actually played by Charlotte Nicdao’s absolute unit of a husband, Bayden Hine. But that only enhances the experience in a poignant, Lost in Translation kind of way. It gives the characters some semblance of privacy for this powerful moment of social distancing transgression.mythic-quest-quarantine-danny-pudi-scaledThe appeal of many sitcoms throughout TV history is that they present problems that can easily be solved in 22-25 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, Mythic Quest isn’t solving anything here. Nobody made a vaccine, and our own frustrations with the state of the world are sure to return once we close our laptops or turn off our TVs. But for one nice little moment, Poppy got a hug from her friend. And that helps. In its final scene, Quarantine trades in the private moment between Ian and Poppy for a larger spectacle. It’s admirable how all the various plot threads wrap themselves up and lead into a grand finale of each available character propped in front of their respective screens once again for a marvelous remote Rube Goldberg contraption. It’s particularly wonderful that C.W.’s role in this whole thing is merely figuring out how to operate his camera.mythic-quest-quarantine (1)This is not only another impressive technical achievement for the show (one that Ganz and McElhenney said took plenty of practicing but only one take), it’s a cathartic note to go out on. As the characters celebrate their strange group victory, someone calls out “fuck coronavirus!” as the episode’s last line. It’s a cheeky, yet sincere interjection and a fitting conclusion to a cheeky, sincere, and utterly triumphant episode of television.





Rob McElhenney in Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet (2020)


Rob McElhenney (Wonder Boys)
F. Murray Abraham (Star Trek: Insurrection)
Imani Hakim (Reign Over Me)
David Hornsby (Minority Report)
Danny Pudi (Powerless)
Ashly Burch (Critical Role)
Charlotte Nicdao (Thor: Ragnarok)
Jessie Ennis (Better Call Saul)


Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Elisha Henig (American Vandal)
Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother)
Caitlin McGee (Plus One)
Jake Johnson (New Girl)
Aparna Nancherla (Space Force)

MV5BNTFiYzA1NzMtNjI3NC00ZGY5LTgxMTUtYmUyMGNlMWFmOWI3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Given just how colossal the video game industry is, it’s pretty wild that more TV shows haven’t tried to delve deeper into it (except, of course, when in need of inspiration from some previously established and particularly valuable IP). But it’s maybe for the best that one of the first series to take it seriously — while also making merciless, informed fun of it — is “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a new comedy from the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” team that has a sly bite behind every hilarious joke.MV5BMDVjNWVlNGItNzU3MS00NTlhLWFlMTMtZGRlMWE3NTNjNDI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1579,1000_AL_As conceived by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz, “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” — so named for the long-awaited “Raven’s Banquet” expansion that launches in the pilot episode — is smart to take most of its structural cues from other workplace comedies, including character archetypes including an insecure and unpredictable boss Ian (McElhenney), the not-so-secretly diabolical assistant (Jessie Ennis), and a beleaguered HR representative trying desperately to convince everyone that she is not, in fact, a free in-house therapist. Every character, from Ian to the pair of game testers (Ashly Burch and Imani Hakim) tentatively flirting in the wings, is drawn with specific and vivid detail that gives their individual sense of humor context and drive.MV5BYTUxOTJmZTUtOGY4Mi00NDRmLTk2ZTYtZjZlMTcwMWI5MzQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_Ian is the chaotic creative mind behind “Mythic Quest,” a “World of Warcraft”-esque collaborative game that steadily generates millions even while fending off constant competitors. The original inspiration for the game came from the novels of C.W. Longbottom (Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, having the time of his life), an eccentric sci-fi writer who doesn’t need to understand video games to bask in the praise his stories have been getting since Ian got a hold of them. Meanwhile, ostensible righthand man David (“It’s Always Sunny” recurring player David Hornsby) is mostly an anxious mess set to a constant low boil, while resident corporate shark Brad (a measured, scene-stealing Danny Pudi) keeps his cool at all times in the pursuit of finding more ways to bleed their customers dry. All four of these men, collectively played with a calculated grin, are variations on a theme of character that “It’s Always Sunny” has perfected over its 14 (and counting!) seasons: insecure, egotistical men who make life harder for most everyone around them, both by accident and design. There’s even a mini-me in the making with Elisa Henig’s “Pootie Shoe,” a teen streaming sensation who can make or break a game — and, much to everyone else’s annoyance, knows it.aZNohuRuxYWLNjEs87aCvLImR11On the flip side is Ian’s real secret weapon Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), a brilliant young programmer who nonetheless spends half her time trying to corral Ian’s more ludicrous instincts. Nicdao gives as good as she gets from McElhenney, making Poppy and Ian a wonderful, compelling odd couple (of friends — there’s never a hint of romance between them, a refreshing and frankly necessary change of pace). But the real key to Poppy, the show’s anchor and immediate standout, is that she isn’t some basic, annoyed voice of reason. She’s ambitious, smart, power hungry, and downright weird in her own right. At her best (or at least funniest), she’s enraged as she constantly has to keep proving herself, and try to make her own mark on Mythic Quest beyond making Ian’s dreams come to life.MV5BYTUxOTJmZTUtOGY4Mi00NDRmLTk2ZTYtZjZlMTcwMWI5MzQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_Outside of the characters, the show’s also smart in the ways it tackles some of the particular issues facing the industry it’s depicting. One episode, for instance, has David scrambling to give an empowering tour of the office to a group of wide-eyed schoolgirls, only to have the few female employees available confirm that even though they love it, yes, it is very hard to be A Woman in Gaming. Another has the characters attempting to handle an influx of white supremacist players, first by immediately agreeing to ban them, before backsliding into semantic debates all too familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to have frequented Twitter in the past decade. Then there’s the one in which the game get hacked, leading to Ian scoffing that “no one cares about privacy, they just want a good story” — and ultimately, being proved right. One of the best episodes is a complete tonal departure in the form of an extended flashback, starring perpetual sitcom MVPs Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti as partners in life and business whose gaming company quickly buckles under the pressures of cynical corporate demands.193500093It would be enough for “Mythic Quest” to be funny, and it is. But in taking on the complex, under-examined world of video gaming, the creative team gave themselves a rich area in which their wild, clever, selfish characters can bounce around unlike any other currently on TV.


Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)


Chris Evans (Knives Out)
Michelle Dockery (Hanna)
Jaeden Martell (IT)
Cherry Jones (The Beaver)
Pablo Schreiber (First Man)
Sakina Jaffrey (Lost In Space)
Betty Gabriel (Unfriended: Dark Web)
J. K. Simmons (Spider-Man)

Chris Evans at an event for Defending Jacob (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Paul Wesley (The Vampire Diaries)
Poorna Jagannathan (Awake)
Jake Picking (Top Gun: Maverick)
Nathan Parsons (Roswell, New Mexico)
Leighton Meester (The Judge)
Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries)
Daniel Henshall (Skin)
Matt Lanter (Disaster Movie)
Patrick Fischler (The Finder)
Megan Byrne (Ghost Town)

Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)As a limited series packed to the gills with recognizable faces and even big-name stars, Defending Jacob is yet another step in the right direction for Apple TV+. Though the nascent streaming television (and movies) service from one the biggest tech companies in the world has had something of an uneven start, with ambitious, big-budget series like The Morning Show and See that created relatively small ripples in the sea of streaming content when they likely should have been the source of enormous waves signaling a massive change in the day and age of Peak TV. Nevertheless, the progress of Apple TV+ continues apace, with nearly every subsequent television show being arguably better than the last (with the exception of Amazing Stories, sadly). And while the service finds itself taking smaller steps toward seriously competing with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, the inclusion of star-driven adult-oriented dramas like Defending Jacob make the service a welcome outlier among services relying on ubiquitous IP or that are relentlessly chasing the next Game of Thrones.Adapted from the novel of the same name by William Landay, the series is written, executive produced and showrun by Mark Bomback (Outlaw King), with all eight episodes directed by Morten Tyldum, who helped create the somber look and feel of Starz’s superb sci-fi spy drama, Counterpart. Like most of Apple’s original series to date, Defending Jacob looks like a million bucks, with its chilly color palette that accentuates the story’s brooding and moody tone. It’s sort of the complete package, in terms of prestige-y dramas, with the aforementioned Evans and Dockery playing Andy and Laurie Barber, a well-to-do Massachusetts family who finds their world is one day shattered after their son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell), is accused of brutally murdering his classmate.Pooka-10What follows is a slow-burn thriller that asks how far a parent would go to protect their child, even when the questions regarding his guilt are too great and too compelling to ignore. Complicating matters is Andy’s position as an assistant D.A., a fact that shines an unwelcome spotlight on a crime that already has their community in an uproar. But while Defending Jacob could have been a compelling two-hander, with Evans and Dockery weighing the possibility that their child is indeed guilty of a horrific crime, all while doing everything in their considerable power to ensure he’s set free, the series offers a robust supporting cast that helps make the Barber’s world feel more lived-in and compelling, especially as it begins to turn on them.Defending_Jacob_Photo_010104The rest of the cast is made up of terrific character actors like Cherry Jones, Sakina Jaffrey, and Pablo Schreiber, while also bringing in the always-welcome J.K. Simmons and Betty Gabriel (who both worked with Tyldum on Counterpart). Each supporting role plays a fascinating part in examining the ways in which a community can be torn apart by violent crime and the ensuing accusations that emerge as a result. They also help ground the story as it unfolds, and as the series introduces plausible and not-so plausible answers to the question at hand. But many of the key supporting players — Jones and Gabriel, chiefly — also aid in assuaging one of the biggest obstacles the series faces: that of convincing the audience that Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are the middle-aged parents of a teenaged son.a5-21-e1585242550178In approaching this concern, Defending Jacob stacks its cast with characters for whom this is not at all unusual. It’s a bid to normalize what is essentially an odd sticking point for an otherwise compelling mystery-thriller that just happens to have cast two people who very much look like movie stars as everypersons. The result, then, is something of a strange throwback to the kinds of mid-budget thrillers that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why Evans was attracted to the material (he also serves as executive producer on the series), having come off an extended stint playing the lab-grown super soldier and idealized version of the male form for Marvel. So, while it may be a bit of a stretch to think there’s a small-town D.A. with biceps bigger than the average human’s head racing to keep his son out of prison for a crime he may or may not have committed, it’s ultimately a small quibble considering Evans and Dockery deliver strong performances that, along with the rest of the cast, ultimately make the series worthwhile.200412-defending-jacob3Though it’s easy enough (especially right now) to jump into a dark eight-hour drama with a cast as appealing as this, it’s important to note the series dutifully takes its time getting started, as though the term “slow-burn” wasn’t just an apt descriptor but the ethos of the entire production. In that sense, Defending Jacob feels a great deal like HBO’s superb The Outsider. And while the former doesn’t have the benefit of a supernatural entity haunting its edges, it does have a compelling mystery and thoughtful performances to keep audiences watching until the end.


For All Mankind (2019)


Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad)
Michael Dorman (The Invisible Man)
Wrenn Schmidt (Our Idiot Brother)
Sarah Jones (Alcatraz)
Shantel VanSanten (The Flash)
Jodi Balfour (True Detective)

Joel Kinnaman in For All Mankind (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Chris Agos (Chicago Fire)
Matt Battaglia (Thor)
Chris Bauer (The Devil’s Advocate)
Jeff Branson (All My Children)
Colm Feore (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Ryan Kennedy (Tin Star)
Eric Ladin (American Sniper)
Rebecca Wisocky (Devious Minds)
Arturo Del Puerto (Ride Along 2)
Noah Harpster (Transparent)
Sonya Walger (Lost)
Wallace Langham (CSI)
Nate Corddry (Ghostbusters)
Lenny Jacobson (Bumblebee)
Spencer Garrett (Yes Man)
Saul Rubinek (Hunters)
Krys Marshall (Supergirl)
Brian Stepanek (Young Sheldon)
Meghan Leathers (American Waste)
Edwin Hodge (The Purge)
James Urbaniak (American Splendor)
Megan Dodds (CSI: NY)
Olivia Trujillo (The Toy Box)
Leonora Pitts (Manson Family Vacation)
John Rubinstein (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)

Mark Ivanir, Michael Dorman, Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, Meghan Leathers, and Olivia Trujillo in For All Mankind (2019)Battlestar Galactica and Outlander creator Ronald D Moore heads back into space and back into the past again, with one of Apple TV+’s make-or-break launch dramas, For All Mankind. But rather than robot invaders or time travelling romantics, the fantasy here is restricted to an alternative history, asking what would have happened if the Russians had beaten the Americans to landing the first man on the moon. In Moore and co-creators Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert’s version of 1969, the US – driven by the utterly self-serving President Nixon (no need for fantasy there) – refuses to take the defeat lying down and the space race rapidly escalates into a Battle To Control the Moon.For All Mankind (2019)But while that may sound like the title of a sci-fi B-movie, For All Mankind is ostensibly a period drama – with the drama in question alternating between the immaculate suburban houses of the astronauts and their partners, the NASA Mission Control room, the bar where NASA personnel go to blow off steam (if they really did this much drinking, it’s a wonder they ever made it off the launch pad) and, of course, the Moon.For All Mankind (2019)The family politics that arise from hard-drinking, occasionally womanising men waiting to blast off into space are dealt with well, but can drag a little, and as you’d expect, the real moments of tension take place when launch time approaches, in front of not only the controls of lunar modules, but also the TV screens where the astronauts’ wives gather to watch their husbands’ latest nail-biting manoeuvres broadcast live. Whether NASA would really choose to televise in real time so many situations that could quite easily end in the failure of their missions or the deaths of their astronauts is questionable but it’s certainly a good technique for evoking the stresses and strains of having a partner whose job is being shot into space on top of several hundred thousand pounds of rocket fuel.Even the first episode – which has a lot of work to do simply in terms of scene-setting – offers up a couple of great cliffhanger moments. But once we reach the Moon, there are opportunities to really ratchet up the tension, mostly driven by NASA and the astronauts’ questionable willingness to throw the rule book out of the window in their desperation to secure a lunar first over the Russians. Of course, Nasa in 1969 was a very male-oriented world but in formulating the show it’s clear that Moore and co thought have thought hard about how they can put women at the heart of the space-based action too.Dave Power, Sonya Walger, and Joel Kinnaman in For All Mankind (2019)In reality, NASA didn’t begin an astronaut programme for women until 1978 and to this day a woman has still not set foot on the moon (NASA’s current target for that is 2024), but here circumstances dictate that the women’s programme starts much sooner, giving us a second, female-focused, strand to the space race story with at least as much drama as the men’s event and far more emotional impact. Performances are good across the board. The ever enigmatic Joel Kinnaman is well cast as tightly-wound yet soul-searching astronaut Edward Baldwin. Shantel VanSanten plays his equally focused wife Karen, balancing her duties as one of the matriarchs of the astronauts’ wives club with her deeply buried fears about the danger that her husband’s job puts him in.Sonya Walger, Sarah Jones, Cass Buggé, Krys Marshall, and Jodi Balfour in For All Mankind (2019)Sarah Jones is a stand-out as fellow astro-wife Tracey Stevens, overwrought by the infidelities of her husband Gordo (Michael Dorman) but with the possibility of glory of her own on the horizon. And Wrenn Schmidt plays pioneering Margo Madison, a mission control engineer striving to make a name for herself in a man’s world – also the position that the brilliantly laconic Sonya Walger finds herself in as aspiring astronaut Molly Cobb. Aside from Margo, the NASA control room is largely populated by real-life characters (a depressed Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn even hang out in the background after their failed attempt to make it to the lunar surface). Colm Feore plays Wernher von Braun – the German scientist who headed up the US space programme – as warm and principled, which may surprise those who know how von Braun’s skills were utilised during the Second World War.Joel Kinnaman in For All Mankind (2019)Eric Ladin as Chief Flight Director Gene Kranz gets to perform a couple of spine-tingling inspirational speeches ahead of some heart-in-mouth moments, and Chris Bauer is great as firm-but-fair Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton, the man who makes astronaut selections and who must spar with Nixon’s cronies as they attempt to push his mercurial agenda on NASA. And, well, it’s probably best if I stop listing names at this point… Because despite this initial over-abundance of personnel, and some slower moments in the earlier episodes, For All Mankind has a lot going for it – some winning characters and great performances; easy-on-the-eye sets and moonscapes; gripping scenes and uplifting moments – and not least the fact that it’s for all Womankind, too.


Home Before Dark (2020)


Brooklynn Prince (The Turning)
Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas)
Abby Miller (Swelter)
Louis Herthum (Westworld)
Kiefer O’Reilly (All Yours)
Mila Morgan (The Baby-Sitters Club)
Michael Weston (Garden State)
Kylie Rogers (Collateral Beauty)
Aziza Scott (Like Blood)
Adrian Hough (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Joelle Carter (Justified)
Jibrail Nantambu (Halloween)

Jim Sturgess, Mila Morgan, Abby Miller, Kylie Rogers, and Brooklynn Prince in Home Before Dark (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Deric McCabe (A Wrinkle In Time)
Whitney Peak (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Serge Houde (Smallville)

unnamedKids have been solving crimes in movies, books and TV shows for a long time, from Nancy Drew, Harriet The Spy and The Secret Seven to Lindsay Lohan vehicle Get A Clue. The major difference with Apple TV+’s 10-part new crime drama series Home Before Dark, is that our 9-year-old roving reporter, Hilde Lisko, who gets embroiled in solving a kidnapping and murder case, is based on an actual 9-year-old – Hilde Lysiak – who really did report on crime at such a young age. What results is a slightly uncomfortable genre mix of kid-centric wish fulfillment and crime drama about a child-killer, complete with the dark color palette of a grown up murder series. Jon M. Chu who made the excellent Crazy Rich Asians directs the opening episode setting the tone somewhere between Press Gang and All The President’s Men (which young Hilde is obsessed with), bizarre as that sounds.0b49a4d0-7313-11ea-8095-3bce93f200d7_800_420Brooklynn Prince plays Hilde Lisko the precocious young editor of her very own newspaper and website called The Magic Hour Chronicle. When the Lisko family – Hilde, sisters Izzy (Kylie Rogers) and Ginny (Mila Morgan), mom Bridget (Abby Miller) and dad Matt (Jim Sturgess) – have to relocate from Brooklyn after Matt loses his job, Hilde finds herself in the small town of Erie Falls, the place where Matt grew up and the scene of a 30-year-old case which saw Matt’s childhood best friend go missing, presumed dead. The elder brother of an old friend of Matt’s is in jail for the crime but it turns out Matt was one of the few witnesses for the defense, testifying that they’d got the wrong guy.EUnDy4TWoAckManThough Hilde is based on a real person, this isn’t a real case. The idea that police would really give files pertaining to a child’s disappearnce to a 9-year-old is (hopefully) unrealistic and while the real Hilde did report on a murder in her home town, with quotes and comment from neighbors and police, scooping other news outlets, she didn’t get involved in solving the case. Reality aside, this is a slightly odd, but still compelling series as it charts a wrongful conviction, police corruption and small town prejudices as well as family tensions and teen/pre-teen angst.downloadMatt is a former reporter who would sometimes take young Hilde with him to work, so when an old friend of Matt’s dies mysteriously Hilde is quick to report the death as a possible murder. After inspecting the crime scene, Hilde launches her own investigation into what might have happened and how it connects to the disappearance of Richie Fife three decades ago, with her new misfit friends Donny (Jibrail Nantambu) and Spoon (Deric McCabe). But the meddlings of a bunch of pre-teens aren’t entirely welcome in the town and Hilde is certainly not helping her big sister Izzy make friends. The man in jail for Richie’s murder just happens to be the brother of the woman who was killed and Hilde is starting to believe he’s innocent. Though Matt, Hilde and Bridget Lysiak are all consultants on the show some scenes are downright uncomfortable, particularly when Hilde decides to go on the run with a convicted felon. Subtext about the responsibility and importance of a free press feels slightly trite in Home After Dark – a shame since the real life Hilde did come up against negative commenters and was even threatened with arrest for her reporting.Hilde-and-her-Scooby-gang-min

Prince does an admirable job of embodying the young Hilde though she treads a very fine line between inspirational youngster and irritating know-it-all. The show does address this, with Hilde learning tough lessons early on about reporting without really knowing the full story. A subplot involving a former friend of Matt’s who is now an officer working under his well respected but dishonest police chief father brings an extra layer of nuance to a story with multiple moving parts. If the tone is sometimes a bit uneven and the threads difficult to juggle, the plot and performances manage to carry the show through its 10 episode run.downloadProduction company Anonymous Content bought the rights to Hilde and Matt’s book series Hilde Cracks The Case, an illustrated set of six stories with titles including Hero Dog!, Bear On The Loose! and UFO Spotted! It’s this duality of fun, kids-on-bikes adventure and gritty murder story that doesn’t always quite work in Home Before Dark – it’s not clear who this show is actually for. Nonetheless this is an entertaining and unusual series that has scope for more seasons to come.


Samuel L. Jackson, Nia Long, Nicholas Hoult, and Anthony Mackie in The Banker (2020)


Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers Assemble)
Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Infinity War)
Nicholas Hoult (Dark Phoenix)
Nia Long (47 Meters Down: Uncaged)
Scott Daniel Johnson (Raising Dion)
Taylor Black (Dynasty)
Michael Harney (A Star Is Born)
Colm Meaney (Star Trek: DS9)
Paul Ben-Victor (Daredevil)
Jessie Usher (Sgaft)
Gregory Alan Williams (Brightburn)
Rhoda Griffis (Runaway Jury)


Samuel L. Jackson, Nia Long, Nicholas Hoult, and Anthony Mackie in The Banker (2020)Though an original idea in film certainly helps grow the medium out of the sequel/remake doldrums, not every movie has to break new ground in the way it tells its story. Sometimes traditional, A-B-C storytelling about something interesting and/or truthful can still inspire those who are watching. And inspiration, not innovation, is AppleTV+’s The Banker’s primary goal.Directed by Goerge Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) with considerable confidence (aided, no doubt, by Apple’s limitless checkbook), The Banker aims to not only transport the audience to another time but teach them a lesson as well. The tried-and-true traditional storytelling techniques thus make it more of a fun, expected ride rather than a preachy history lesson.The Banker centers around Bernard Garrett played with stoic seriousness by the usual live-wire Anthony Mackie. Garrett is a mathematical genius with the will and desire to apply said genius to the real estate world. There is only one problem: it’s the 1950s in America and Garrett is black. Even in Los Angeles, away from his rundown, segregated hometown in Texas, Garrett experiences the ingrained racism the United States has to offer. Even in his most brilliant suits and despite his calm, academic demeanor, buying white properties in LA becomes an endless battle. But after teaming up with the enigmatic Joe Morris (Samuel L Jackson), a successful black businessman who owns dozens of properties, Garrett decides to use white family friend and mathematical novice Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to be the public figurehead for business deals in LA, with Morris and Garrett acting as silent partners so the white residents of their buildings don’t know any different. It leads to a decade of successful real estate purchases in which Garrett and Morris become co-owners of hundreds of buildings in white-only areas, including the tallest commercial building in LA.But when Garrett wants to move back to Texas to help the black community acquire property, they realize the only way to successfully infiltrate the much more racist market is to own a bank. Thus Garrett and Morris’ clever scheme of using Steiner as a front for their business dealings takes on new challenges. For real estate is a cinch for Garrett and Morris but what do they know of banking? With everyone from local bigots to the federal government swirling around potential bank deals, Garrett is about to come across the biggest challenge of his life. As mentioned before, The Banker doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to presentation. It tells a very straightforward story and allows the cast to do the heavy lifting. Mackie is particularly good playing against type. Most popular as the wise-cracking sidekick to Captain America, Mackie’s somewhat forgotten dramatic chops get a refresher course as his straight man routine carries the film. Garrett’s no-nonsense nature and simmering passion is what gives the film its dramatic core. But it is also his quiet confidence that keeps the film measured; there is no room for melodrama here.z3t2cwzm1m341Mackie playing against type allows Samuel L Jackson to be more like himself as the charismatic foil to Garrett. Jackson, now in his 70s, is still as engaging and exciting to watch as ever and his cool guy routine isn’t out of place in this serious drama. Backing up the two leads is the always likable Nicholas Hoult as real estate/banking rookie Steiner and Nia Long as Garrett’s wife Eunice, who stands by her man with pride and fortitude, sometimes steering the action herself. Effortlessly transporting the audience to ’50s/’60s California and Texas, Apple’s considerable funds allow for the production design and costume design to perform a total transformation of the physical setting. Though their might be a little too much polish to make this feel like a lived-in environment, the seduction of shots of full city streets with period-specific cars and top of the line suits and dresses makes for engaging, if not beautiful, cinema.OIg1ybNRegardless of how it looks though, The Banker relies on what it says about our culture to carry the day and the film succeeds in speaking truth to power. Not only is the story inspiring for what occurred in the past, but it can serve as an example of how to move forward as well. In today’s society, where tribalism is becoming more and more acute and politics so polarizing, the dehumanization of entire groups can become all too real. The Banker shows that it isn’t the color of our skin or the money in our pockets that drives us but our own internal passion and industriousness. With brainpower and positivity comes results and, as Variety reported, the filmmakers “stand by the film and “its positive message of empowerment”.”5cnDFp6It is that dedication to empowerment that allows superb casting and production design to simply stand as icing on the cake. The Banker looks good but it feels good too. And upon its release, you should go out and watch it.


Truth Be Told (2019)


Octavia Spencer (Ma)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Hunter Doohan (Your Honor)
Lizzy Caplan (Now You See Me)
Elizabeth Perkins a(28 Days)
Michael Beach (Aquaman)
Mekhi Phifer (Lie To Me)
Tracie Thoms (Cold Case)
Haneefah Wood (Schooled)
Ron Cephas Jones (Luke Cage)

Octavia Spencer in Truth Be Told (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Tami Roman (Saints and Sinners)
Rico E. Anderson (Hole In One)
Annabella Sciorra (Jungle Fever)
Brett Cullen (Lost)
Molly Hagan (Izombie)
Nic Bishop (Snowfall)
Barry Livingston (Argo)
Katherine LaNasa (The Campaign)
Lyndon Smith (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Jeff Kober (Sully)
Laura Allen (The 4400)
Cheryl White (Major Crimes)
Tim DeZarn (The Cabin In The Woods)
Billy Miller (Suits)

Aaron Paul in Truth Be Told (2019)Octavia Spencer, Aaron Paul and Lizzy Caplan star in this Apple TV+ mystery crime drama about a journalist who creates a podcast to exonerate an innocent convict. These stories always start with a jaded veteran cop who comes out of retirement for one final case: the case that made (or broke) his career. Except in Truth Be Told, the story starts with a jaded veteran reporter who leaves The New York Times to start a podcast: a retelling of the case that made her career.Creator Nichelle Tramble Spellman based this series on the novel Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber, which in turn was heavily inspired by Sarah Koenig’s juggernaut investigative podcast Serial. The plot centers on a decades-old murder case that may have convicted the wrong killer (what else is new?). Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer stars as a journalist who feels creeping guilt from having condemned a teenage boy accused of murder 20 years ago and publicly reinvestigates the case in order to redeem herself and exonerate him. Her podcast narration becomes our framing device, full of bon mots about truth and justice. Think of it as a gritty, long-game Murder, She Wrote.cristo-coolSpencer’s Poppy Scoville-Parnell made her bones publishing stories on the violent 1999 death of Stanford professor Chuck Buhrman and the weirdo neighbor kid eventually sentenced for the crime. But when a tape surfaces showing Buhrman’s teenage daughter being coached during her statement to the police, Poppy decides to reopen the case, putting herself at risk from her judgmental family, the sinister Buhrmans and the supposed murderer himself, played by Aaron Paul. (Can he please do a rom-com or something? This guy is bumming me out.) The timid teen has grown into a snarling prisoner covered in swastikas, which presents logistical and psychological challenges for Poppy, who grew up in a family of radical civil rights activists.MV5BODE2MjIzNDI4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTk2OTIwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1489,1000_AL_The racial undercurrents of the show are one of its core strengths — how frequently do you get to see a successful, plus-size black woman on TV absolutely owning her writing career and intimidating the hell out of her naysayers? (Spencer nails this commanding role.) But so many people close to Poppy question why she would help a guy in the Aryan Brotherhood that you, too, start second-guessing her endeavor. As Poppy might tell you, something something justice, something something the truth will set you free. Watching the episodes, replete with weak coincidences and dopey plotlines, I did not care at all if Paul’s character was guilty or not, nor did I care who even killed this professor. (You literally learn almost nothing about him, anyway.) Instead, what occasionally thrilled me were the compelling family dynamics at play here, with prosperous Poppy returning home to the Bay Area — and her family’s biker bar — after living an entire other life out on the East Coast.MV5BODE2MjIzNDI4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTk2OTIwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1489,1000_AL_We’re also treated to some delightfully creepy adult twin interactions here, thanks to Lizzy Caplan’s compelling dual performance as Buhrman’s daughters Lanie and Josie. It’s just too bad these nuanced relationships are stuck inside a mediocre murder mystery bound to a meaningless title. While Poppy reopens old wounds in Menlo Park, furtive Lanie and Josie play out their own psychodrama far from prying eyes. Lanie, a brunette hospice care doula and likely sociopath, raises alarms when Poppy comes sniffing around all these years later, but has no one to turn to but a protective aunt. Her twin sister vanished without a trace years ago, though the audience soon learns she’s now blonde, living in New York City under an assumed name and an assumed British accent. The mystery of why she disappeared is the only captivating question mark of the series, a credit to Caplan’s vacillating vulnerability and menace, which she infuses into both characters simultaneously. “You terrify me,” Josie tells her sister. (Josie narrates the original novel, where Poppy was a mere supporting character, so the switch-up here is a fascinating choice.)MV5BODE2MjIzNDI4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTk2OTIwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1489,1000_AL_I was most interested in Poppy’s relationships with her biker family, including her skeptical sisters, played by Tracie Thoms and Haneefah Wood, and her prickly father, played by Ron Cephas Jones. I appreciate the authenticity of Poppy and the Scovilles’ complicated connection, despite her stereotypically glamorous TV job. Wood particularly stands out during a brief but heartbreaking silent scene where her character is arrested and processed in jail, gradually humiliated as an officer removes all of the elements of her femininity. It’s a cold and powerful look into the dehumanizing experience of the American penal system. Jones is magnetic here, playing a former Black Panther who may be in the early stages of dementia. With his long face and daunting stare, he reminds me of a sea deity — a King Squid — and his patriarchal imperiousness chilled me, as though I were his daughter. Poppy, still traumatized by her mother’s early cancer death, struggles to know what to do about “Daddy’s” erratic behavior. When he speaks to her hatefully during a fugue state and later grabs her after a tense family moment, Poppy doesn’t just let it go and forgive. Instead, she holds on to her pain because of her self-respect and because she knows it might help save her dad. These are the moments when Truth Be Told sings. I would watch a version of this show as a biting family drama, but its gaze into the court of public opinion leaves it toothless.



Jason Momoa in See (2019)


Jason Momoa (Aquaman)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049)
Hera Hilmar (Anna Karenina)
Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker)
Archie Madekwe (Midsommar)
Nesta Cooper (The Edge of Seventeen)
Yadira Guevara-Prip (Mad Dogs)

Jason Momoa and Archie Madekwe in See (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Mojean Aria (Aban and Khorshid)
Luc Roderique (The Dragon Prince)
Peter Bryant (Legends of Tomorrow)
Tantoo Cardinal (Red Snow)
Marilee Talkington (Upside Out)
Sharon Taylor (Smallville)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Adrian Hough (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Lauren Glazier (Red Sparrow)
Franz Drameh (Legends of Tomorrow)
Timothy Webber (Cedar Cove)
Jessica Harper (Stardust Memories)
Joshua Henry (Sex and The City)
Aleks Paunovic (Van Helsing)
Gabrielle Rose (If I Stay)
Kyra Zagorsky (Arrow)
Dayo Okeniyi (Shades of Blue)
Alex Zahara (Horns)

Jason Momoa and Hera Hilmar in See (2019)Jason Momoa Slashes His Way Through Apple’s Weirdest New Series, Steven Knight’s action-drama is a strange-but-effective blend of its star’s burly warrior prowess and “Walking Dead” post-apocalyptic storytelling.
Hera Hilmar in See (2019)There’s a scene near the end of “See’s” hourlong, action-driven pilot where Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks), the malicious ruler of one of Earth’s last civilizations with electricity, interrupts her advisers by bluntly shouting, “I wish to pray!” Retreating to an oversized footrest bathed in light, the blind leader of a blind world licks her fingers, starts speaking to God, and then masturbates until her prayer and orgasm climax together.Tantoo Cardinal, Alfre Woodard, Jason Momoa, Bree Klauser, Brianna Clark, Hera Hilmar, Mojean Aria, Marilee Talkington, Luc Roderique, and Yadira Guevara-Prip in See (2019)There’s no particular explanation for this — not in the first three episodes, anyway — and the scene highlights both the peculiar experience of watching “See” as well as the show’s early shortcomings. For as odd as creator and writer Steven Knight’s choices can be, they rarely evoke an intuitive consequence from his apocalyptic premise or a clever way to maximize the bold new world he’s trying to build.Set centuries after a deadly virus reduced the planet’s population to less than 2 million people — and left the few survivors without vision — “See” shows its characters reduced to early settlers’ way of life. Anyone who doesn’t live in or near the queen’s water-powered dam (known as Payan Kingdom) reside in small villages, spending their days hunting live animals and their nights sleeping in tipis. Some homesteaders are mystics, others have special abilities that allow them to sense people’s intentions, but most fall into the hunter or gatherer ways of life.Chief among the hunters — and Chief of the Alkenny Tribe — is Baba Voss (Jason Momoa), an unmatched, but reluctant warrior who befriends, courts, and marries a newcomer to town, all before the series begins. You see, Baba always wanted kids, but he couldn’t have them, and Maghra (Hera Hilmar) walked into the village already pregnant — coupling up was their destiny… even if it sounds like a relationship based on convenience. Even more convenient: When the pilot episode starts, a ruthless army has breached the edge of the village, hunting Maghra. These Witchfinders believe, you guessed it, she’s a witch, and, worse still, she’s carrying children sired by a man who can see. Paris (Alfre Woodard), the town’s midwife and spiritual leader, gleans as much while Maghra’s in labor and Baba is at the front of the line, defending his village.An episode-long battle ensues, and here’s where “See” starts to click — literally. As the Alkenny army approaches their enemy, they communicate with tongue taps and careful clicks, even commencing an attack by lightly clinking their weapon on a rock. Before that, Baba gives an inspirational speech that’s half mumbled English and half new-world gibberish, and Momoa’s vehemency nearly sells it. Directed with a clear eye for the natural beauty surrounding the battle (and a rudimentary vision of everything else), Francis Lawrence helps create a compelling, lengthy, and somewhat different melee. Later scenes feature more well-choreographed carnage, and the expansive sets and found locations add a beauty to the show that helps set it apart.And yet, some of it just feels silly. A certain suspension of disbelief is required for a post-apocalyptic fantasy titled “See” about an unseeing society — that much is obvious — and there are plenty of cool swordfights where a combatant will pivot and thrust into a precise spot without any explanation for how they knew where to stab, or even how they knew an opponent (not an ally) was standing there. OK, fine, but what about when Baba hears the slightest clunk of a ladder smacking against his ledge, and he wisely tips the enemy’s ladder back over — but soon after, he dumbly ignores an even louder attempt at the same attack. It’s as though we’re expected to believe everyone in “See” has heightened and dulled senses simultaneously.Alfre Woodard and Jason Momoa in See (2019)Also nagging: Why have these people regressed so much? What happened to indoor plumbing and solar power, let alone computers and cell phones? It’s as though the big picture concept requires disability equate to inability, and even if that’s not the intent — producers hired cast and crew members who are blind or have low vision, and also employed a blindness consultant — there needs to be more of an explanation for how, exactly, this society ended up living like it’s 200 years in the past instead of 200 years in the future.Sylvia Hoeks in See (2019)Momoa, meanwhile, fits the role well — so well, it’s like they named the character after him — but he’s still a far cry from multidimensionality; one can see how Momoa pulls from Drogo for Baba, building off the “Game of Thrones” favorite for fight scenes while imbuing the new guy with good dad instincts and a haunted past to help form a well-rounded lead. But Momoa isn’t a subtle performer, and scenes where he’s forced to wrestle with tough decisions or face his inner demons require Baba’s facial scars to speak for him. While Momoa is glorious to watch. Indeed, the characters can be irrational, but that is due to a return to Dark Age mentality of superstition and fear. Is it so far from our current era? I encourage viewers to stay with it, and be rewarded.


25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: DICKINSON – There’s a Certain Slant of Light

Dickinson (2019)


Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee)
Toby Huss (Halloween 2018)
Jane Krakowski (Pixels)
Adrian Enscoe (Seeds)
Anna Baryshnikov (Manchester By The Sea)
Ella Hunt (Anna and The Apocalypse)


Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Zosia Mamet (The Flight Attendant)
Gus Birney (Darcy)
Gus Halper (Cold Pursuit)
Jessica Hecht (Dan In Real Life)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager)
Matt Lauria (Kingdom)


There’s a Certain Slant of Light

2Christmas at the Dickinson household is — as I believe the kids still say — lit. We have: sexual escapades at the dinner table! Drunk Jane Krakowski singing Christmas carols! A cool aunt who got “widow’s euphoria” and took her husband’s death as an opportunity to clean up on a cruise to Spain with ham-eating gentlemen! Zosia Mamet as Louisa May Alcott! Hair so tightly curled you could tug it at the bottom and it would BOING back into place! Everybody binge-reading Bleak House like it’s the streaming sensation of the day! It is the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately for Papa Dickinson, he has to miss all of these festivities because he has to go to Washington and insist upon the rule of law, decency, and the ongoing tolerance of slavery. He and Em have not made up. When he finds her inside refusing to bid him farewell at the curb, she threatens to be gone when he gets back. In a tender, patronizing voice, he replies, “Where would you go?”3Their relationship is one of the most intriguing of the show. His love for her is inextricable from his total control over her life. Every freedom she enjoys that most women of her station do not — to read and write (in private), to defy the pressures to get married and have children — are indulgences he is granting her and, at any moment, could rescind, and the only things he really lets her do are the things that align with his own interests. It’s his fear of having to live without her, not his respect for her desire for a life free from the drudgery of housewifery, that drives him to let her stay single forever. And he gets to let her have her “independence” because he knows there’s no real independence without financial independence, which she doesn’t have and never will. But also, he does love her and probably is a little bit in awe of her and her talents — so much so that he is terrified at the idea of the world finding out what a wonder she is.
4Mama Dickinson is so distraught at her husband’s departure that she takes herself to bed. But Christmas will go on, and Ben MUST stay, and Em, who has previously feigned an allergy to the fabric that makes aprons, will oversee the goose roasting and other such things. This allows her to flirt with Ben in the kitchen and cosplay as a housewife for a hot second because she is feeling, in her bones, the need to get out of her father’s house. Of course her only way out of one man’s house is into another’s, but at least Ben sees her as a peer and doesn’t hit her in the face when he’s feeling emasculated. Slim pickings in the mid-1800s!5Aunt Lavinia, Vinnie’s namesake, is here to talk about how invigorating it is to be around handsome ham-eating men in Europe. The Humphreys brought their friend from Concord: Louisa May Alcott, who just made $35 for her first book and will not not talk about the money, because that’s the whole reason she’s in this business. God bless her. On a pre-dinner run (“I love to run, that’s like an actual fact about me”), Ms. Alcott gives Em some no-bullshit talk about the publishing industry and working as a professional writer. This brings us the absolutely perfect line, “Hawthorne can eat a dick, am I right?” Yes, you ARE right! This will be my go-to response if and when it comes up that I never got around to reading The Scarlet Letter even though it was assigned to me twice. I should’ve been allowed to read The Handmaid’s Tale instead! The syllabus was totally sexist.
6So, Louisa tells Em to not be so precious and to write what sells. Sponcon is fine. Don’t worry about the disapproval of your family who may never speak to you again. “So what? You’ll be out there making a living on your own.” Her number-one piece of advice: Never get married. “In the time it takes you to raise one baby, you can write four or five novels and you can sell those novels.” (Em points out that she is a poet, not a novelist. LMA’s reply: Ah, that’s another problem.) Mama Dickinson rallies in time for dinner. She is sloshed. Christmas! Joseph is here and Vinnie, encouraged by her namesake’s declaration that “if you want something in life you have to reach out and GRAB IT,” takes Joe’s hand and pulls it up her skirt so she can have some hilariously timed orgasms at the dinner table. Louisa comes up with the idea for Little Women and considers, but drops, Moby Dick: “Like a dude chasing a whale? Nah, that’s fucking boring.” THAT IS TRUE. That is another book I did not finish. See above, re: sexist syllabus. Why didn’t I have to read any books by women in my senior year of high school? That’s RUDE is what it is.8Jane casually drops that she’s engaged to William Wilkinson, which makes Mama Dickinson lament that her daughter Em is “being left behind.” “Of course,” she drunkenly slurs on, “Getting married is no guarantee that you won’t be lonely.” Yikes, but also, show me the lie. As Mama Dickinson leads a round of carols, Sue, who is so jealous, tells Em to stop “throwing herself” at a married man. Em has not yet told Sue that this wife does not exist but I hope she does soon, because Sue is really bringing me down. Em puts her mother to bed, who in turn tells her daughter that it’s actually fine if she doesn’t get married because she can just stay here and take care of her parents forever! Em’s face pales. Back in her room, she and Sue are sharing a bed again. (Guess Austin got over that whole thing?) She puts it together that Ben isn’t really married, thank goodness, and she also is honest about her envy and how selfish it was of her to expect Em to just hang around and be available to her “like a pet.” I am impressed by this level of introspection. Em describes how she feels with Ben, how fully understood she feels by him, and Sue’s jealousy returns — since, you know, Austin barely understands her at all.8Happy Christmas morning! Vinnie tears into all the gifts before anyone else comes downstairs. There’s just one thing for Em that she left untouched: Plans for a conservatory, a gift from their dad. Supposedly this is so Em can “have roses all the time” but she sees it for what it really is: a bright and flower-filled prison, built and owned by her father, from which she will never escape. Sue’s Christmas gift to Austin is a very real hug and a loaded question: Can they be really honest with each other? She admits that she is afraid of having children because her mother died in childbirth. Austin says they don’t have to have kids, which is pretty progressive for a man of his day, but then they immediately have unprotected sex right there in the living room, so, we’ll see how that shakes out. Ben wakes up with this gross cough. Em walks him home and kisses him anyway because she doesn’t know about germ theory. (It wouldn’t be proven by Louis Pasteur for about 30 more years, which is bad news for everybody in range of that extremely contagious-sounding throat situation.) While this is all very sweet — Ben says he doesn’t want to get her sick, and Em says, “I’ve never felt better in my life” .8A great Christmas episode for this quirky comedy/drama show, and its defiantly worth a watch over the Christmas season.