Sunday 2 June 2024

Screen: June TV Roundup

It's astonishing how much TV you can watch if you just slot in episodes in between doing other things. I'm astonished that I got through all of these shows in the past two months or so. Because I vote in a few TV awards, this is the season when everyone is sending me links to watch their shows and consider them for votes. This allows me to get ahead on several series, although it's impossible to watch everything. Or to even watch everything I want to see. Let's start here with the dramas...

Steve Zaillian takes a highly stylised approach to this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's iconic novels, writing and directing in a way that evokes 1950s-era Hitchcock. It's moody and gorgeous, even if it sometimes feels mannered and forced. And Andrew Scott's central performance as the opportunistic, conscience-free Ripley is utterly riveting from start to finish, often chilling in the way it sidesteps expected emotions. Supporting performances (including Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn and a superb John Malkovich cameo) also ripple with intrigue, while cinematographer Robert Elswit gives the Italian settings a monochromatic beauty. (Netflix)

Bridgerton: series 3
Things turn steamy very quickly, as Colin (Luke Newton) returns to London as a sweaty, hairy muscle hunk at odds with his former best pal Penelope (Nicola Coughlan). Romcom rules make it clear that these two will work out their differences, and they do so in an intensely entertaining, sexy way. Meanwhile, there are several more hugely engaging storylines swirling around, including more for siblings Eloise (a scene-stealing Claudia Jessie) and Benedict (Luke Thompson), which bodes well for future seasons. This is one of the most delightful guilty pleasures streaming anywhere. It's impossible not to binge the episodes the moment they land. (Netflix)

True Detective - Night Country: series 4
Jodie Foster is riveting in this fascinating anthology thriller, which this season includes hints of supernatural intrigue. This tale ripples beautifully, and very darkly, with the local politics and folklore in rural Alaska, set during the winter when the sun only barely peaks over the horizon. And the murder mystery at the heart of the show is both horrific and infused with an intriguing dose of magical realism. It's also filmed with some astonishingly outrageous visual flourishes, adding both picturesque and seriously grotesque moments. Superb costars include Kali Reis as a haunted local cop and the great Fiona Shaw as a rather otherworldly loner. (HBO)

Baby Reindeer
Cleverly mixing comedy into the darkest of dramas, this series is based on the life of writer and lead actor Richard Gadd, who boldly bares his soul while reliving a seriously harrowing series of experiences. He plays an aspiring comic who becomes the target of a relentless stalker (Jessica Gunning), a situation exacerbated by a previous sexual assault. The fact that he has written about this stirs controversy, but also makes the story even more honest and important than expected. So where these events go is staggeringly intense, and also so skilfully written and played that it's movingly cathartic. Essential. (Netflix)

Star Trek - Discovery: series 5
This final season unfolds with an limited series-style plot around which the excellent ensemble of actors gets to play out their own personal journeys, led by the superb Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala, plus terrific new crew member Callum Keith Rennie. There seems to be even more technical mumbo jumbo than before, and the plotting feels very corny, sending the crew on an implausible scavenger hunt leading to a mind-boggling tech, with scary baddies on their tail. Plus rather a lot of series-finale sentimentality. But it's easy to put that clunky writing aside because the characters and relationships are so strong. (Paramount)

With a deliberately twisty script by Abi Morgan, this missing-child thriller cleverly uses a children's TV show to add imaginative touches, including the title character, a man-sized monster puppet. Set in 1985 New York, it stars a seriously committed Benedict Cumberbatch as puppeteer Vincent, whose young son (Ivan Morris Howe) disappears, the final fracture in Vincent's marriage to Cassie (the superb Gaby Hoffman). But the best story thread involves the investigating detective beautifully played by McKinley Belcher III. With inventively detailed production design and salient social themes, the story is gripping even if it's naggingly over-controlled. (Netflix)

A Gentleman in Moscow
Ewan McGregor oozes charm in this gently amusing drama that spans the decades of the Soviet Union, as an aristocrat is spared the firing squad during the Russian Revolution due to his connection with a pro-communist poem. So he is instead placed under house arrest in a grand olde-worlde hotel. Over the years he befriends a young girl then becomes surrogate father to her daughter. He also has a decades-long fling with a sexy actress (played by McGregor's wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead). It all feels rather fable-like, but it's lavishly produced and warmly engaging. And there's a nice mix of earthy realism and dreamy wistfulness. (Showtime)

Sadly not as controversial as the internet outrage suggests, this series is less explicit than most, timidly shot through a disturbingly misogynistic perspective: women are naked objects, men are carefully concealed heroes. "Loosely based" on Italian pornstar Rocco Siffredi, it's skilfully produced to recreate the 1970s and 80s, and the actors are solid, particularly Alessandro Borghi as Rocco and Adriano Gianni as his thug brother Tommaso. Among the women, only Jasmine Trinca's vivid Lucia registers. But for a show about sex, it's never actually sexy, there are no likeable characters, and a current of homophobia runs through everything. (Netflix)

J U S T   F O R   L A U G H S

Hacks: series 3
Blisteringly well played by Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder, this comedy continues to push barriers with its story about ambition and creativity in show business. As Smart's established comic Deborah Vance pursues her dream of hosting a late night talk show, her relationship with Einbinder's writer Ava is stretched in ways neither of them expect. Episodes layer in fascinating details at every turn, even if some plot points feel a bit stale (such as Ava discovering what she thinks is an engagement ring in her girlfriend's things). But expanded roles for Deborah's family members add texture, as do starry cameos. And the performances are unstoppable. (Max)

Dead Boy Detectives
There's a nicely sparky tone to this offbeat series, which offers a mystery per week for likeable British teens Edwin and Charles (George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri), who died some 70 years apart and have chosen to remain on Earth as supernatural problem-solvers. The over-arching story is more than a little annoying, trapping the boys in the Pacific Northwest as two comically vile villains (Ruth Connell's Night Nurse and Jenn Lyon's witch Esther) send things nonsensically spiralling. But there are terrific side roles for Lukas Gage and Michael Beach, and some clever touches and themes amid the silliness. (Netflix)

Loot: series 2
Maya Rudolph is terrific in this show about an obscenely wealthy divorcee who is trying to devote her life to something more important through her charity foundation. But she also still enjoys living the very high life. Michaela Jae Rodriguez is excellent as the head of the charity, and their evolving relationship adds some bite to this season, as do expanded journeys for fabulous costars Joel Kim Booster, Ron Funches and Nat Faxon. There's a guilty pleasure element to this show, watching people spend absurd money in an attempt to do the right thing. And some new characters add additional spark, and a lot of laughs, this season. (Apple)

Palm Royale
Sudsy enough to hold the interest, this show is rather frustrating because its central character, Kristin Wiig's Maxine, is so oddly unlikeable. This isn't Wiig's fault; it's the premise itself. We never root for her to triumph in her pointless goal to surmount the social strata in 1969 Palm Beach, using the pedigree of her hapless husband (Josh Lucas) to try to establish her status. We're far more interested in Allison Janney's imperious queen bee, Laura Dern's new age dropout and especially Carol Burnett, who is awesome even when her nutty diva is in a coma. Even Ricky Martin, surprisingly solid as a snarky muscled pool boy, is far more engaging. (Apple)

Acapulco: series 3
Past and present finally collide this season as Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) returns to Mexico with his nephew (Raphael Alejandro), becoming part of the story rather than just bookending it with his narration. There are still flashbacks to the hilariously pink-hued 1980s with young Maximo (Enrique Arrizon) and his lively cohorts, who get up to all kinds of surprisingly complex antics. But this time there is also a much stronger connection with the present day, as plot threads hinge on various revelations that echo through the decades, and we get to see where several of these people end up. It's still a lot of fun, but with a bit more subtext than before. (Apple)

The Big Door Prize: series 2
After the frustratingly vague first season, this show thankfully gains a sense of momentum, with more nuance in the characters and their messy relationships, including some engaging ambiguity. It also feels a lot funnier, as connections between these people have ramped up due to additional discoveries about who they are and who they should become, thanks to this odd fortune-telling machine that throws their lives into chaos. It's a bit cartoonish, but Chris O'Dowd, Gabrielle Dennis, Sammy Fourlas, Djouliet Amara and Josh Segarra continue to shine in the ensemble cast, creating roles that are witty, complex and intriguingly sympathetic. (Apple) 

Abbott Elementary: series 3
A steelier edge kicks off this season with some unexpected textures. It's still relentlessly silly, using that same deadpan camera stare far, far too much. Even if the writers give up on the idea, there are intriguing layers of politics as Janine (Quinta Brunson) is working for the district, complicating her relationships with colleagues who are still struggling with budget cuts in this scrappy little state school. Janine's will-they-won't-they romance with Gregory (Tyler James Williams) is still eye-rollingly farcical. While Sheryl Lee Ralph continues to steal the show as the no-nonsense Barbara, and Janelle James' narcissistic principal gets funnier each season. (ABC)

The Conners: series 6
It seems like this show can simply run forever, with characters aging as their children and grandchildren face new issues in new times. Even back when this was called Roseanne (1988-2018), the generational comedy gave the show its kick, finding as much entertainment in old people moaning as in kids facing their own obstacles. John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert and Alicia Goranson are as strong as ever. And the wider variety of characters allow writers to take on themes without contriving too much. As always, the show presents recognisable realities and absurdities of present-day life without preaching, even if the points are clear. (ABC)

Night Court: series 2
While the scripts for this relaunched legacy series (1984-1992) are relentlessly goofy and a bit too quick to catch, the cast is bright enough to make it entertaining, often acknowledging the absurdity of the show's over-written and deliberately dopey sense of humour. The ensemble is ably led by the likeably offbeat Melissa Rauch and John Larrouquette. And the show makes terrific use of the night court setting, with a continuous parade of nutty guest characters. It's a bit frustrating that there isn't much going on under the surface to hold the interest and make us care about these people, but it keeps us smiling. (NBC)

R E A L   L I F E   V I B E S

Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces
Thoroughly entertaining, this two-part biographical doc is packed with fantastic clips from this iconic star's singular career. It's fun to be reminded of the many highs, and even his lows (like Pennies From Heaven) are significant artistic achievements. The first part explores his years as a groundbreaking writer and stand-up, leading into scene-stealing appearances on Saturday Night Live and classic comedy films. The second half looks at his more serious side, along with his interest in art, writing, his personal life and now Only Murders in the Building. It's bracingly honest and features a range of terrific interviewees. A must-see for fans. (Apple)

Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show
In everything he has done, Carmichael has found laughs alongside sharp commentary about larger issues. And now that he's so dramatically come out of the closet, this approach takes on a whole new range of topicality in this hybrid series, which combines fly-on-the-wall reality moments with confessional stand-up routines based on his experiences. Each brief episode is packed with moments that are breathtakingly honest, as Carmichael delves into both his past and the things he wants to improve about his behaviour. In other words, he is putting himself on-camera in a way that's astonishingly raw, hugely engaging and powerfully important. (Max)

I GIVE UP: The French series Fiasco has a great idea, set around a film production that goes wildly off the rails, plus an ace cast (including Pierre Niney and Francois Civil) and enjoyably full-on production values. But the writing is just too inane. As the show strained for laughs, I was exhausted after two episodes. (Netflix)

GUILTY PLEASURES: Britain's Got Talent (17), Drag Race UK vs the World (2), Selling the OC (3), The Circle (6).

NOW WATCHING: The Big Cigar, Expats, Fantasmas, The Regime, The Sympathizer, Sugar.

COMING SOON: The Acolyte, The Boys (4), Presumed Innocent, The Bear (3), That 90s Show (2), Sausage Party: Foodtopia, Lady in the Lake, Snowpiercer (4), Time Bandits.

Previous roundup: APRIL 2024 > 

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