Monday, 4 April 2022

Screen: April TV Roundup

Recent travels and a film festival put me out of sync with television series, which I watch in gaps between movies to cleanse my palate, like an amuse bouche. And of course, the more I write about shows, the more are sent to me to watch before they air, so keeping up gets trickier and trickier. But I'm working through things! And here are things I've watched over the past couple of months...

A riotous blast of James Gunn nuttiness, this DC spinoff is packed with terrific characters who are all at cross-purposes with each other. They're also unusually flawed for a superhero show, which makes them far more gripping to watch. John Cena is perfection as the too-focussed title character. Everything he says sounds sexist or racist, even though he's neither (his father, played unapologetically by Robert Patrick, is both and then some). Some of this is too wacky for its own good, but the central plot is surprisingly involving, and the core characters begin to feel like family: we wouldn't want to live with them, but we care. (HBO)

This Is Going to Hurt

Ben Whishaw gives a spectacularly committed performance as an NHS ob-gyn barely clinging to sanity amid the everyday chaos of his job. Writer Adam Kay based this on his experiences, and it plays at a blackly hilarious fever pitch, skilfully evoking the feeling of life out of control, plus a sense of impending doom. Thankfully the script continually surprises us, as do the unusually complex characters, with fine support from Ambika Mod (as Adam's newbie colleague), Rory Fleck Byrne (his gorgeous fiance), Alex Jennings (his thoughtless boss) and the great Harriet Walter (his imperious mother). And it's difficult to recall a more emotionally devastating series than this one. (BBC)

The Book of Boba Fett
While it looks great, making the most of its desert planet setting and first-rate effects, this spinoff series meanders between two timelines to tell the underwhelming story of the title character, played with understated steeliness by Temuera Morrison. Then it suddenly shifts and becomes its parent show The Mandalorian, which is much more involving. The overarching plotlines are a little awkward, such as contriving to get Grogu back into the show, but the Pedro Pascal brings some badly needed personality that sustains the simplistic storytelling. This includes a climactic battle sequence that's properly epic but so long and violent that it becomes oddly dull. (Disney)

The Afterparty

A clever premise sets this show apart, especially as it plays out so inventively. After a top actor/singer (Dave Franco) dies at his school reunion, his classmates are quizzed by a detective (Tiffany Haddish). Each episode centres on one person's account, told in different styles (including Ben Schwartz's full-on musical and Zoe Chao's bonkers animation) as bigger details emerge about the characters and their twisted connections over the past 15 years. The excellent ensemble includes Sam Richardson, Ilana Glazer, Ike Barinholtz and a wasted Jamie Demetriou. Each performer dives in fully to the sometimes frantic comedy and edgy drama. (Disney)

The Gilded Age

Is this the most sexless show HBO has ever made? Essentially a far less lusty American Downton Abbey, this lavishly produced series is set in 1880s New York as old money sneers at new, and dramas take place both up and downstairs. After a young woman (Louisa Jacobson) discovers her father has left her nothing, she turns to her estranged, imperious aunts (the fabulous but oddly muted Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon), and secretly befriends their ambitiously wealthy new neighbours (Carrie Coon and Morgan Spector). But it's relentlessly dull, with dense and oddly stilted conversations that leave little space for personality. I gave up after four episodes. (HBO)


Too gimmicky for its own good, this comedy stars Will Arnett as a ridiculous detective whose ex-wife (Haneefah Wood) is the chief. Each episode features a rookie partnered with him for one case, with the hitch being that actors are playing themselves without a script and must identify the killer. Guest stars like Sharon Stone, Annie Murphy, Kumail Nanjiani and Conan O'Brien bring their specific energy to the show. So it's a shame that the narrative is set up so specifically that the show feels stale by the second episode. Little is made of the overarching mystery, Arnett is too dopey to be likeable and the only fun is found in the guests' throwaway gags. (Netflix)


One of the first series produced by a hook-up app, this wacky comedy features six brief but over-plotted episodes that follow chatty, self-absorbed Terry (Jimmy Fowlie), a bridesman in the wedding of his rather intense childhood friend Judith (Sydnee Washington). But he's unable to stop fantasising about her dumb-jock fiance (David Mudge). The story mainly centres on the cartoonishly spiky bridesdmaids, while Terry has a couple of superficial sexual encounters. It's bright and camp, and plays on several transgressive ideas, but it completely misjudges its intended audience by being merely goofy rather than even remotely lusty. (Grindr)

A N O T H E R   S E A S O N

Snowpiercer: series 3
Plotting gets increasingly central with each season, this time digging even deeper into the rivalry between Wilford (grinning villain Sean Bean) and Layton (tenacious nice guy Daveed Diggs). This war involves tactics, attacks and betrayals that grow increasingly nuanced. This isn't as compelling as the social satire of the earlier seasons (or the 2013 film), because the premise and characters are far more intriguing than violent tit-for-tats. But the season builds interest, adding dark complexity as things twist and turn around the growing possibilities that Melanie (Jennifer Connolly) is alive, and there might be somewhere on Earth that's thawing out. (Netflix)

Star Trek Discovery: series 4b

Fans will remain devoted, but this show continues its slide away from more intelligent interpersonal dynamics with each episode, falling back on much less engaging action, threats and antagonism. The superb cast skilfully continues at full speed, even in some dead-end plotlines. But it's tricky to stay engaged when favourite characters depart for realistic (but frustrating) reasons. It's also difficult to get very excited about another "anomaly" and the sciency jargon that goes with it. Still, the twists in the plot do manage to hinge around deeper character issues. And in the first-contact scenario in the final set of episodes, this season generates some terrific thrills. (Peacock)



A strong premise and terrific cast make up for some rather clunky writing in this enjoyable comedy about a group of people trying to launch a female-targetted magazine in the early 1970s, taking on the patriarchy of Playboy and Penthouse. Ophelia Lovibond is solid in a rather thankless role as an uptight feminist journalist who can't quite comprehend the sexy magazine she's editing. But she has great chemistry with Jake Johnson as the counterculture publisher who knows how these things work. Oddly, the show is still shot from a male gaze, essentially apologising for the lashings of masculine nudity. But at least the actors dive without hesitation. (HBO)

The Conners: series 4

As the grandkids begin growing up, this sitcom has found a variety of intriguing things to say about three generations of a family living under one roof. Carrying the plotting forward sometimes feels a bit forced, although the wedding episode did have some classic moments, while officially adding Katey Segal to this messy family. Laurie Metcalf still steals all the best lines, but everyone around her is on fine form too. These characters continue to have a properly current resonance, taking on big issues to create a much more grounded picture of American life than the usual shiny version on television. And the joke hit-rate is unusually high too. (ABC)

This Is Us: series 6

Quite why this show is ending with this season is anyone's guess, as the multi-timeline premise lends itself to endless reinvention. Oddly, these final episodes are circling around themselves rather pointlessly, continually revisiting the same situations and emotions without pushing people in new directions. The cast is still excellent, selling the big feelings even if we've felt them all before. Surely it would have been much better for the audience (and the ratings) to continue to push things forward into new territory, bringing new characters into focal positions. They've really missed a trick, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a spin-off or follow-up in a few years. (NBC)

L A T E   T O   T H E   S H O W

Shrill: series 1-3

I'd never heard about this show, but spotted a box set of all three seasons on my long flight to Los Angeles in March. I watched all of it, and really enjoyed the story of Annie (the likeable and seriously up-for-it Aidy Bryant) as she seeks to make the most of her life, even as everyone criticises her for her weight. Based on Lindy West's memoir, Annie is a superbly complex character, funny and confident, and also full of doubts. Relationships are also nuanced and beautifully played by a terrific ensemble cast (John Cameron Mitchell!). It's a rare TV series that's funny, hopeful and also realistically painful. (Hulu)

NOW WATCHING: Moon Knight, Our Flag Means Death, Minx, Bridgerton (2), Euphoria (2), Star Trek Picard (2), Young Rock (2), The Conners (4), This Is Us (6)
COMING SOON: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Only Murders in the Building (2), The Boys (3), Ozark (4b), Grace & Frankie (7b).

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