Monday, 20 June 2022

Screen: June TV Roundup

There seems to have been rather a lot more television series released over the past few months than usual, as streaming services wage war with each other. Many are high-profile shows with A-list casts, and it's simply impossible to watch everything. Especially when you have a day job that requires watching films and stage shows! Anyway, here's what I've managed to catch since the last TV roundup in April, starting with seven new shows, then four series that wrapped up their runs, then nine more that have been back with new seasons...

This British romance is one of the most joyous TV series in recent memory, following a group of teens navigating relationships, with added complexities as they are still discovering who they are and whom they're attracted to. The characters are so bracingly realistic that it's easy to identify with all of them, as the writing, direction and acting are packed with knowing details. Young leads Joe Locke and Kit Connor deserve to become stars, and it will be very cool to watch them grow up over the next two seasons. But then everyone on-screen is excellent, including a terrific side role for Olivia Colman. (Netflix)

Moon Knight
Oscar Isaac is the main reason to watch this rather nutty action series about a man with multiple personalities who is the superpowered human avatar to a tetchy Egyptian god. This allows Isaac to have a lot of fun with his multi-faceted role in a show that's deliberately bonkers. The plot is enjoyably freewheeling, with some big stylistic flourishes that add visual panache to a range of adventures as our hero stumbles from one outrageous situation to another, simply trying to survive (and perhaps save humanity) amid the bickering deities. Ethan Hawke is also terrific as his nemesis, as is the superb May Calamawy in a complex leading role. (Disney)

An inventive premise gives this show an instant kick of intrigue, as does its bonkers 1970s aesthetic, with endless corridors and advanced-but-archaic tech. Adam Scott is solid in a rare serious role as a man whose ordered life, in which his personal and professional consciousnesses have been severed, begins to unravel. All of this is perhaps a bit gimmicky, hinging on something intriguing that never quite makes sense. But the show's internal logic is compelling, as are startling characters played by the fabulous likes of John Turturro, Christopher Walken and Patricia Arquette. (Apple)

Big Boys
Complex and introspective, this show is presented as a comedy but features a strong kick of emotional drama along the way. Based on a memoir, it centres on young Jack (Derry Girls' Dylan Llewellyn), who defers his university studies to keep his mother (Camille Coduri) company after his father's death, then struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality. On campus, he befriends Danny (Jon Pointing), who opens up his world in increasingly unexpected ways. It's a rare show that depicts an close friendship between a gay and straight man who need each other to make sense of the world around them. (C4)

Our Flag Means Death 
Based on the true story of a man who abandoned his family to become a pirate, this show's pilot is directed by Taika Waititi, who then pops up as the fearsome Blackbeard in this wildly amusing comedy set on a pirate ship in 1717. Rhys Darby manages to make the effete gentleman captain Bonnet strongly endearing, and his hilarious ragtag crew includes the likes of Joel Fry, Vico Ortiz, Samson Kayo, Ewen Bremner and Mathew Maher. It's utterly ridiculous, but manages to poke witty holes into the masculinity of its posturing characters. And while everything is very silly, there's a deeper point here about the mentality that drives men to war. (HBO)

Ten Percent
A remake of the hilarious French comedy Call My Agent, this London variation holds closely to the original for the first few episodes, then begins to spread its wings in some uniquely British ways. Led by Jack Davenport, the offbeat cast is solid, and each episode contains starry cameos that are more knowing than jaw-dropping. It's a superb skewering of the insanity of a talent agency, amped up by the arrival of a couple of Americans who add fake Hollywood smiles to every nasty thing they do. The bland direction and slack pacing may leave it feeling a little undercooked, but by the end of this season the show finds its stride and leaves us looking forward to more. (Prime)

The Pentaverate 
Mike Myers plays at least half of the roles in this wildly inventive comedy adventure centred around a secret society that runs the world. The difference is that this one is nice. Only a Canadian would have come up with this premise, and Myers packs the show with terrific characters, laugh-out-loud gags and witty pop culture references, including many that lampoon his own career. Starry guests (Rob Lowe, Keegan-Michael Key, Ken Jeong) and massive effects sequences add to the freewheeling, escalating plot. And while it is very gimmicky, it's far more effective and involving than expected. (Netflix)

T H A T ’ S   A   W R A P

Derry Girls: series 3
Three years later, this great sitcom storms back at full force with indelible characters in riotously funny situations. There isn't a dull moment in these episodes, which are stunningly well-crafted to bring out amusing details in each character while propelling five teens into early adulthood. The 1990s setting adds political subtext that takes on increasing resonance, especially in the final episode, which beautifully sticks the landing. The five young leads are so good that we never want them off-screen. The surrounding adults add knowing textures in even the silliest situations. And Siobhan McSweeney still walks off with the whole show as the bitingly sardonic Sister Michael. (C4)

Killing Eve: series 4 
Carrying on with that snarky glint in the eye, this show continued pushing its characters into awkward corners, now as a three-sided drama featuring killers Eve, Villanelle and Carolyn (the frankly awesome Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw). Because the situations are both terrifying and absurd, each actor can add a range of textures that hold the interest. So while the variations in tone are uneven, the show has a driving energy that carries us right to the end. After the previous three seasons, the series' final moments feel a little unsatisfying, going out with a bang rather than something more textured and transgressive. (BBC) 

Ozark: series 4b 
Iit was nerve-wracking to hit play on these final episodes, knowing that the writers have no qualms about getting very dark, and then darker still. It seemed impossible that there could ever be someone nastier than Darlene (Lisa Emery), and then Javi (Alfonso Herrera) turned up. And now his mother Camila (Veronica Falcon) takes the crown. Meanwhile as the Byrdes, Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner continue deepening characters who are pushed into various corners. And Julia Garner still shines brightest as the fearsome Ruth. Of course some of the conclusions are frustrating, but it's difficult to recall another TV series this intense. (Netflix)

Grace & Frankie: series 7b 
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have been so flat-out fabulous in these seven seasons that it's difficult to say goodbye to their characters. These last episodes don't scrimp on the tangled messiness, as the show continues to grapple with geriatric issues with openness and humour. This has been a rare show that has embraced sex, inebriation, honesty and power for people of all ages. There are times when things get more than a little cartoonish, but the sheer charisma of the entire cast makes each scene shine. And each actor unflinchingly embraces the more difficult aspects of their characters, which only makes all of them that much more loveable. (Netflix)

B A C K   F O R    M O R E

Bridgerton: series 2 
Shifting to the next Bridgerton sibling, this second season maintains the Austen-esque approach, introducing its prickly leads (the superb Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley) as romantic foils right at the start. The wrinkles and obstacles they face are enjoyably messy, and scenes are packed with sparky supporting characters, including fabulous divas Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh). Putting modern-day vibes in an 19th century setting makes the show fizzy, thoroughly entertaining and sometimes moving too. So the eight episodes go by far too quickly. The show needs to keep expanding its diversity; we all know where it needs to go now. (Netflix)

Young Rock:
series 2 
Dwayne Johnson continues to unpick his childhood, shifting between various periods to explore his lively relationship with his parents, sport and politics. This second season follows on seamlessly from the first, as the young Rocks (Adrian Groulx, Bradley Constant and Uli Latukefu) are allowed to grow up on screen alongside the terrific Joseph Lee Anderson and Stacey Leilua as his feisty parents. There's also more Randall Park goofiness in the amusingly cynical framing scenes with Johnson, plus added Sean Astin as a nemesis this year, although his subplot gets a bit lost along the way. (NBC)

Star Trek - Picard: series 2 
While this second season succumbs to the Star Trek universe's odd affinity for wacky sciency anomalies and multiverse messiness, it also takes a swerve into something more existential with the return of both the Borg and the mischievous Q (John de Lancie). Also, much of the action is set in 2024 Los Angeles, which adds a present-day kick. Of course, the primary joy is seeing Patrick Stewart back in action, accompanied by a superb ensemble of costars. And there are cool cameos from several others from his The Next Generation days. Ultimately, what sets this show apart is its deeper themes and internalised storylines. So it's worth a look even for non-fans. (Paramount) 

Euphoria: series 2 
Kicking off with that same bleak, dark tone that made the first season a bit hard going, this new set of shows thankfully begins to dig a bit deeper fairly early on. It's still very heavy, and often rather preachy in a wallowing-in-the-muck sort of way. But it's made watchable by its willingness to delve intensely into things most shows gingerly step around. And this allows the cast to create often shockingly vivid characters. Zendaya is particularly superb as Rue, although her self-destructive behaviour is exhausting. Others are more nuanced, even if the writers continually push the casual drugs and violence way over the top. (HBO)

The Flight Attendant: series 2
Kicking off at the same frantic, out-of-control pace as the first season, these episodes immediately feel more tightly written. Even as the plot spirals out in several cleverly insane directions, the ongoing craziness surrounding Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) is entertaining and involving, including the way she consults with the various aspects of her personality. The central mystery is so bonkers that it's impossible to imagine where it's heading, especially as each clue seems to be downright impossible. Everyone in this show is hyper-distracted, and the things Cassie does are frankly idiotic. But it's fun to just hang on for the ride. (HBO)

Upload: series 2 
This second season feels truncated at seven episodes, and apparently a third series is coming. It's a show that allows you relax and stop thinking, brought to life by the criminally likeable Robbie Amell as a guy whose consciousness was uploaded to a virtual resort when he died. He continues to pine for his "angel" assistant Nora (Andy Allo) while his overbearing girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) pays his bills keeps a much too-close eye on him. The rich/poor divide is more integral in this season, complete with the addition of a group of anti-upload activists who want to bring down the entire system. But it's still mercifully predictable and funny. (Prime) 

Space Force:
series 2
An unusually strong cast makes this comedy entertaining, anchored by Steve Carell and John Malkovich immaculately underplaying absurdly ridiculous characters. Plus adept supporting cast members like Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome and Jimmy O Yang. The premise might be corny, and much of the humour feels underpowered, especially running gags about the lack of funding in this new US military branch. But above-average writing gives the actors something to chew on even in the most absurd scenes. It also helps to have guest stars like Jane Lynch, Lisa Kudrow and Patton Oswalt popping in. (Netflix)

Girls5Eva: series 2 
Fast and breezy, this rapid-fire comedy sends this riotously ridiculous girl group on another wildly outrageous journey, this time as they try to get their barely revived career back up and running with a new album and tour. As before, the songs are absolutely hilarious, while the four central characters played perfectly by Sara Bareilles, Busy Phillips, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell manage to stretch their stereotypes in all sorts of intriguing directions. And the show continually finds ways to explore the music business with striking insight, even as it indulges in the silliest jokes imaginable. (Peacock)

Elite: series 5  
Mindlessly trashy, this new season once again kicks off with a murder, then cycles back to build up to it as the teen characters throw a wildly sex-fuelled, drunken party seemingly every night. Stakes are upped by continuing last year's mystery while indulging in new red herring shenanigans. As always, it's a lot of escapist fun to watch these fabulously wealthy, ludicrously hot people squirm in a veritable hurricane of soapy calamities. As the show continues, its point of view is increasingly fragmented, so there's no longer a central figure to root for. But then, nobody in this show is very likeable, so it's easy to just sit back and watch the mayhem. (Netflix)

NOW WATCHING: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Becoming Elizabeth, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Ms Marvel, Pistol, Physical (2), The Boys (3), Stranger Things (4).
COMING SOON: House of the Dragon, Only Murders in the Building (2), Love Victor (3).

No comments: