Monday 24 April 2023

Screen: April TV Roundup

I'm always amazed at how watching an episode or two every now and then adds up so quickly: these are the shows I saw over the past few months in between the movies and stage shows. I use TV as an amuse bouche to reset my brain between work, which is why I won't watch anything based around death (I avoid shows about detectives, doctors, lawyers or cops). I'm also not a huge genre fan, but I do get into some fan series now and then...

W H A T   A   D R A M A

The Mandalorian: series 3
Folding this show's narrative in line with other series is showing some strain, as writers abandon what made it so special to begin with. No longer a series of little adventures, it's now a big, overly complicated mega-plot with random action beats and far too much murky conspiracy-mongering. Plus stunt cameos. There are still small joys to be found, thankfully. And it does eventually bring story threads together in a meaningful, even exciting way. But Disney's cinematic universe-building has snuffed out this show's charm. (Disney). 

Star Trek - Picard: series 3 
This show gets bigger with each season, and this one sends Patrick Stewart's ageing admiral on an epic adventure as he takes on old but newly fearsome foes, all while being a fugitive from Starfleet justice. Over these episodes, he reassembles virtually the entire cast of The Next Generation (as well as the score), which is thrilling even without the enormous action set-pieces they are thrown into. The plots are properly mind-bending, which may make us long for more simplicity. But the show's ambition is impressive and hugely satisfying. (Paramount)

His Dark Materials: series 3
Philip Pullman's trilogy of novels come to their on-screen conclusion with a remarkable faithfulness to the material. Impressively produced to a high standard, this fantastical story reaches a powerful, startling conclusion. The excellent ensemble cast is led by the terrific Dafne Keen and Will Parry, as two young people pulled into a parallel-world adventure. And where it goes is remarkably mature, never speaking down to teens in the audience. It of course helps to have the likes of James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson on board. (BBC)

Welcome to Chippendales
Skilfully written by Robert Siegel, this series centres on the pioneering male-stripping venue and its shocking history of murders and suicides. It boldly takes on the American dream with complex, surprising results. And it features stellar performances from Kumail Nanjiani as businessman-founder Steve Bannerjee, Murray Bartlett as his creative genius cohort Nick Dei Noia and Annaleigh Ashford as Steve's brilliant wife Irene, plus ace support from the likes of Juliette Lewis, Robin de Jesus and Andrew Rannells. The show also cleverly mixes pitch-black elements with 1980s glitter. (Hulu)

Ambitious and smart, this show challenges the viewer to think about the future as the episodes skip years ahead in time, from the 2030s to 2070. Loose connections along the way are clever, as are observations and conjecture. Although there are some undercooked elements, most notably the tech (clear glass screens look cool but are ludicrously impractical) and fashion. And some of the science sounds a bit iffy. But the stories have a strong kick to them, and the terrific A-list cast finds moving emotions along the way. (Apple)

Pretty Baby:
Brooke Shields
There's an astonishing honesty to this two-part documentary. A model virtually from birth, Shields was sexualised by the media from a very young age, treated as either a slut or a goody-goody, and never allowed to be either a complex person in her own right. She speaks openly throughout, accompanied by interviews with family and friends and an excellent archive of photos and footage. Through all of this, Shields is articulate and never afraid to explore even the darkest chapters of her life, from rape to postpartum depression. Which leads to a powerfully insightful conversation with her daughters. (ABC)

I T ' S   C O M I C A L

Steven Yeun and Ali Wong star in this pitch-black comedy about two angry people whose road rage incident blossoms into a full-on family feud. As it gets messier and messier, the show is sometimes very hard to watch, but the characters are so vivid that we can't look away. The writers sometimes push things into cartoonish territory, but the terrific cast keeps it grounded, including ace supporting players Joseph Lee, Young Mazino, David Choe and Maria Bello. Watching this is a harrowing experience, but it's packed with insight into human nature. (Netflix)

Jason Segel brings his hangdog brand of comedy to this smart sitcom about psychologists who take their personal issues to work. As a recent widower with a sparky teen daughter (Lukita Maxwell), Segel is as likeable as ever. And his banter with colleagues Harrison Ford (who's hilarious) and Jessica Williams is a lot of fun. Coming from the team behind Ted Lasso, the tone is warm and gentle, which can leave scenes feeling like they need some edge. But the characters get increasingly endearing over the course of these 10 episodes. So it's good news that more are coming. (Apple)

That 90s Show
Rebooting That 70s Show with a new era of nostalgia, the writers cleverly bring back most of the original cast in cameo appearances, but centre around returning scene-stealers Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp, now dealing with the antics of their granddaugher (Callie Haverda), who makes charming idiot friends while visiting for the summer. Most jokes and sight gags are the same, but by shifting everything by two decades there's a whole new perspective, plus an endless supply of things to make fun of. And the new characters are great. (Netflix)

History of the World: Part II 
Mel Brooks' 1981 movie History of the World: Part I finally gets a sequel. And it's as uneven as ever. Once again, all-star cameos populate the sketches, which usually simply take a historical event and overlay it with jokes based on either Jewishness, social media or both. It's not particularly clever, and some sequences are too silly to elicit a laugh, but it does have enough witty moments to make it worth a look. And some recurring performances are memorable, from Wanda Sykes as a sassy Shirley Chisholm to Jay Ellis as a super-cool Jesus. (Disney)

Rob Lowe teams up with his son John Owen Lowe to play, yes, father and son in this over-goofy sitcom set in a biotech company. Written by Lowe Jr, the script cleverly and mercilessly pokes fun at Lowe Sr, who plays a handsome-genius scientist who, working with his nutty scientists, might be able to save the planet from climate change. Each character is so broadly ridiculous that they're not particularly believable, but they're fairly hilarious, and well-played by Sian Clifford, Aaron Branch, Rachel Marsh, Emma Derreira and Frank Gallegos. (Netflix)

Young Rock:
series 3

Dwayne Johnson continues mining his childhood for amusing anecdotes, and it's beginning to look like he will never run out of material. Not only is he a lot of fun in the framing scenes with Randall Park (and Dawnn Lewis in this season), but the actors playing his younger self (Adrian Groulx, Bradley Constant and Uli Latukefu) continue to grow on us. They also continue to grow up, which adds an extra zing to the overall narrative arcs. The little sermons tucked inside each episode are corny, but they add to the charm. (NBC)

Abbott Elementary: series 2
This sitcom is never as sharp or original as it could be, but it's hugely watchable thanks to its smart setting in an underfunded state school populated by teachers who love their jobs. The chemistry between the cast members keeps it engaging, even if the will-they-won't-they situation between Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams never quite builds up steam. And some token characters feel oddly underdeveloped. But Janelle James is hilarious as the scene-stealing principal, and Sheryl Lee Ralph is a national treasure. (ABC)

The Conners:
series 5
This extremely long-running sitcom, which began as Roseanne in 1988, continues to take on current issues with unapologetic honesty, finding earthy humour in unexpected places while deeply developing each of its lively characters. The ensemble cast is as strong as ever, and it's a rare series that has allowed the shape of the family to grow and change over the years, reflecting real life through an astute and refreshingly amusing perspective. Which allows comments about things like fractured politics and the rising cost of living to have real bite. (ABC)

I   G I V E   U P

Poker Face: This is a very well-made show, with clever writing and a terrific cast made largely of scene-stealing guest stars. But I'm simply not a fan of series that hinge around murders, and barely made it through three episodes. (Peacock)

Marie-Antoinette: Sharply written and produced, this show struggles to feel like anything new amid a sea of more inventive period costume dramas. It has terrific wit, and a solid Euro-cast, but it never quite held my interest. (BBC)

CURRENTLY WATCHING: Mrs Davis, Schmigadoon (2), Ted Lasso (3), Dave (3), Succession (4), The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (5).
COMING SOON: Citadel, Bupkis, White House Plumbers, The Afterparty (2), The Other Two (3).

Previous roundup: DECEMBER 2022 >

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