Tuesday 2 April 2024

Screen: April TV Roundup

I feel like I've had less time than usual to watch television shows over the past three months, largely because of organising the Critics' Circle Film Awards, taking a three-week break to visit family in California and the 38th BFI Flare festival. But I've been sneaking episodes in here and there, and even watched one of these series on the flight. Starting with some shiny new shows...

Mary & George
Casting is everything in this lurid historical series about the first Duke of Buckingham, his voracious mother and King James. Nicholas Galitzine, Julianne Moore and Tony Curran are fantastic in these roles, spinning around each other with multiple layers of intent. The first four episodes are spicy, sparky and great fun, and then the story settles into the political rumblings that have previously stayed in the subtext. So the last three episodes are a bit of a slog, getting lost in stylistic indulgences and painfully dry plotting. It's frustrating that the writers couldn't maintain the juicy, sexy vibe to the end of this true story. (Sky)

Mr & Mrs Smith
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine play spies assigned to live as man and wife, although we have to wait until the final episode for a replay of the spy-vs-spy mayhem depicted in the 2005 movie. The show is played with a nice sense of edgy humour and a parade of terrific guest stars that liven things up in various episodes. So it's very entertaining, even if the overall plot feels rather underpowered, building the connection nicely before nosediving into relational trouble without any real warning. Thankfully both Glover and Erskine are intriguingly offbeat leads, the locations are gorgeous and the expected cliffhanger ending leaves us wanting more. (Prime)

3 Body Problem
Apparently set up as the first of four seasons based on Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, this near-future sci-fi show gets off to a strong start thanks largely to a very strong cast. The globe-spanning plot is epicentred in Oxford, where top scientists get entangled with alien technology, learning that beings from another world are heading toward Earth (due to the show's title). Quite a few central characters die in the process, often in shocking ways, as the show explores issues of mortality and destiny and so on. While the intrigue is fascinating, it's all a bit dense. And the ending is merely a set-up for more to come. (Netflix)

Open to It
A web series with snappy short episodes, this comedy centres on Cam and Greg (Tim Wardell and Frank Arthur Smith), a couple who invites a third into their relationship to liven things up. But of course there are the usual underlying issues, unspoken reservations and nosey neighbours. Intriguingly, the scripts take on deep-seated beliefs relating to morality and fidelity, which puts gay relationships into a fresh context. While it's a refreshing take on polyamory, the show never quite grapples with the issue. But the open-minded approach is lively and sexy, with some drag-scene antics that provide extra colour. (OutTV)

The Flatshare
The uber-likeable Jessica Brown Findlay and Anthony Welsh star in this sparky British comedy about two young professionals who share an apartment on alternating schedules without meeting each other. Except that they do of course, in a somewhat contrived embarrassment that sparks a flurry of wildly random plotting, which spirals into an entertaining mess of humour and emotion. There's never even the slightest doubt where this is headed, but the writers and a superb ensemble of actors have some fun getting there. And while it's a nice look at professional life in London, it feels a bit scrubbed-up. (Paramount)

My Life With the Walter Boys
Enjoyably stupid, this earnest drama is full of soap opera style characters who don't act like normal people. So watching the show is effortlessly escapist. Even the premise is vaguely dodgy, as teen Jackie (Nikki Rodriguez) goes to live with family friends (Marc Blucas and Sarah Rafferty) when her parents die in a crash. This couple already has 10 kids, including four teen boys who are around Jackie's age, but no one thinks it's a problem for them to all live in a massive Colorado ranch house. Love-triangle chaos ensues, but these are resolutely cliched caricatures, so the drama is silly rather than involving. (Netflix)

A N O T H E R   H E L P I N G

Fargo: series 5
Quite a bit darker than previous seasons, this one has hints of horror and surreal nastiness along with some genuinely harrowing storylines that focus on domestic abuse. As always, the first-rate cast is terrific at balancing the tone with witty throwaway dialog, ably led by Juno Temple. There are also wonderful scene-chomping turns from Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh as very different kinds of baddies. Show-runner Noah Hawley is terrific at coming up with sympathetic characters who get into life-or-death situations, often at random, revealing untapped strengths ... or weaknesses. Riveting. (FX)

Feud - Capote vs the Swans: series 2
Lavishly produced with a terrific cast, this long-awaited follow-up to 2017's Feud: Bette & Joan centres on Truman Capote's relationship with New York's elite socialites in the 1960s and 70s. Scrambling the narrative eliminates any momentum, so it's essentially a series of beautifully played scenes exploring how Capote (an on-fire Tom Hollander) fell out with his inner circle of powerful women (including Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Demi Moore, Chloe Sevigny, Calista Flockhart and Molly Ringwald). It's a great story, but a more linear approach might have carried a stronger punch. This feels oddly massaged to death. (Hulu)

Young Royals: series 3
For its final season, this Swedish teen drama piles on the usual mix of romantic messiness entangled with royal family politics, as spotty 16-year-old Crown Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) grapples with more trouble at his posh school, his now out-in-the-open romance with dreamy scholarship classmate Simon (Omar Rudberg) and ongoing family chaos. On-off villain August (Malte Gardinger) is less sneery this time round, although Simon's sister Sara (Frida Argento) still only ever looks worried. Thankfully, the show remains a bit prickly even when it strains to be Heartstoppers cute. Cue another sweet song by Simon. Awww. (Netflix)

Girls5Eva: series 3
Wildly overwritten, this rapid-fire sitcom packs more hilarious gags into a 20-minute episode than most shows can manage in a 20-episode season. The problem is that it's such a relentless pile-on of references, puns, absurd jokes and silly gags that it's impossible to take it all in. Thankfully, the foursome (Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell) is able to layer in some surprising pathos beneath the nuttiness, as this 1990s girl band attempts to take a reunion tour culminating in a hopefully triumphant concert at Radio City. What could go wrong? More than seems humanly possible. (Netflix)

Invincible: series 2
It's easy to zip through episodes of this hyper-violent animated superhero series, which plays on the idea that people with powers are as complex as mere mortals. The title character Mark has been crushed by his now missing all-powerful father, leaving his mother distraught. So Mark tries to carry on with his studies and also be a good hero. But a call from a planet of insects diverts his attention, changing his destiny. This show is enjoyably messy, bombastic and grisly, but not quite deep enough to really work. But its bonkers approach to the narrative makes sure that it is never remotely dull. (Prime) 

GUILTY PLEASURES: The Traitors (2), Queer Eye (8), Drag Race (16).

NOW WATCHING: Ripley, Palm Royale, The Gentlemen, Expats, Sexy Beast, Night Court (2), Abbott Elementary (3), True Detective (4).

COMING SOON: Loot (2), Star Trek: Discovery (5), Sugar, The Sympathizer, The Veil , Acapulco (3), Hacks (2), Bridgerton (3).

Previous roundup: JANUARY 2024 > 

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