It’s a TV roundup of opposites this week. The highly anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s GOOD OMENS dropped last week, in which an angel and a demon must team up to stop the apocalypse. We also have Ava DuVernay’s passionate retelling of the interrogation, conviction, and eventual release of The Central Park 5; and we’ve got Jeff Ross dressed as a Black Panther while Gilbert Gottfried plays Hitler roasting Anne Frank. Do opposites attract? I guess we’ll find out!
GOOD OMENS (Amazon Prime)
As anyone who knows me can vouch, I’ve been a hardcore Neil Gaiman fan my entire life. From CORALINE to NEVERWHERE to THE SANDMAN, I’ve read every single one of his books, including his autobiography, comics, and various collections of short stories. So, when the highly-anticipated screen adaptation of GOOD OMENS was announced, it didn’t take much to sell me on the series. David Tennant as Crowley? Michael Sheen as Aziraphale? Buddy celestial entities in a slow-burn bromance trying to prevent the apocalypse? What more could you possibly need?!?
With the Anti-Christ’s appearance on Earth, the doomsday clock starts ticking. Demons and angels rejoice, eagerly anticipating the big showdown. But there’s two beings—a book-loving angel, and a music snob demon—who are a little less keen on seeing everything they love go up in flames. They vow to thwart the end of days, but preventing the apocalypse just might turn into a comedy of errors.
GOOD OMENS sees the whimsical return of Gaiman’s more playful side. The visuals, especially the credits sequence, call back to MIRRORMASK—Gaiman’s dark, mind-bending fantasy take on THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. The effects in this show are impressive, and the world is thoroughly immersive and compelling. Tennant (who I adore, and is by-and-large my favorite actor) revives his DOCTOR WHO hair and cavalier charm, but also delivers several wonderfully dark scenes. Sheen is magnificent as the yin to Tennant’s yang, and most of the show’s fun and charm derives from their witty banter and spirited teasing.
If you’re a fan of Gaiman’s works, and are looking for a fun, British comedy reminiscent of HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE, GOOD OMENS is simply put, divine. It closely follows the book, but adds a few more easter eggs for the eagle-eyed viewer. However, the pacing does run slow at times, which is trying for those unfamiliar with Gaiman’s flamboyant charm. I watched the first several episodes with my father, who frequently grumbled and missed every comedic beat. Dry, tongue-in-cheek wit is baked into the very DNA of the show and source material, so unless that’s your cup of tea, the series might not be for you. But, that being said, I highly recommend checking out this imaginative, gorgeous series. Gaiman’s stories are truly a Godsend, and unlike anything else you’ll see on TV right now. [Tracy Nicoletti]
HISTORICAL ROASTS (Netflix)
When the highlight of your show is Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler, something has gone terribly wrong. What more can be said about a show that’s been on the air for a little less than 48 hours and has already been condemned by Holocaust survivors? Jeff Ross’ HISTORICAL ROASTS is a befuddling fever dream; an alternatively unfunny and offensive slog; an experience so bizarre, so tonally dissonant, so strange, that multiple times throughout the short, 30-minute episodes, my viewing partner and I looked at each other to make sure what we were seeing was real.
The premise is that B-list comedians don the guises of various historical figures and act out a heavily scripted in-character “roast” of one another. The first episode promises some laughs with Bob Saget as Abraham Lincoln and John Stamos as John Wilkes Booth, but nary a laugh is found. (Well, not true actually—when asked by Jeff Ross why he “never smiled” in his pictures, Jerron Horton’s Frederick Douglass replies, “I didn’t have a lot to smile about, Jeff. I was a fucking slave.” One laugh.) But of course, I had to go right for the throat: episode three, the historical roast of Anne Frank. Dear reader, it is exactly as bad as you think it is, and then some. My addled mind struggled to squeeze out the final dying gasps from my serotonin receptors, which resulted in some funny-ish moments from Gottfried as Hitler. It’s probably the voice, but in the full hour I spent on this series, I’ll take what slivers of joy I can get. I will confess to only watching two episodes of this garbage, but rest assured that there is a thumbnail from the Martin Luther King Jr. roast where Jeff Ross is dressed as a Black Panther and I want absolutely no part of it.
I’ll make it simple: do not watch this. It is bad. I’d say that I don’t even know who this is for, but it’s clearly for Jeff Ross—he’s happier than a pig in shit the whole time, like this has been some twisted dream of his for years and he’s finally brought it into the universe.
But at what cost, Jeff? At what cost? [Kate Brogden]
SWAMP THING (DC Universe)
Bayous, contagions, and monsters—oh my! Fans of John Carpenter’s THE THING rejoice, your beloved 1980s horror flick has found an unofficial sequel in DC Universe’s new series SWAMP THING. Gruesome body horror punctuates a relatively linear mystery story, which blends elements of THE SHAPE OF WATER and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.
A reimagining of the comics of the same name, SWAMP THING places us in Marais, Louisiana, deep into the murky waters of the deep South. We follow Abby Arcane, a CDC Epidemic Specialist, who returns home to investigate a series of strange events. She’s our vehicle through the show, and yet, she doesn’t really seem to do much of… anything, really. Almost solely guided by plot, Abby stumbles from discovery to discovery, often finding herself at the center of every horrific, disgusting encounter with antagonistic, sentient plant life.
This show was hard to watch. I like horror, and usually don’t have a problem with body horror, but I found myself gagging and nauseous at several points in the pilot. Gruesome doesn’t even begin to cover it. In a show that really leans into its monsters, SWAMP THING will not cut away, and will not spare you from the gore. It’s delightedly proud of being nasty, but it’s more cringeworthy and vomit-inducing than it is scary. The visuals are impressive, and it’s above-average horror fare, but use caution as you ford these waters. [Tracy Nicoletti]
WHEN THEY SEE US (Netflix)
There are a lot of takeaways one can have from WHEN THEY SEE US, but my first one was this: Ava DuVernay is pissed, and rightfully so. Most of us Online today may just barely remember the unfortunate saga of the Central Park Five in 1989, and those of us that don’t remember have heard of it in documentaries and podcasts since then. Ava DuVernay brings her political passion from SELMA and 13TH to WHEN THEY SEE US—depicting the most vicious railroading put to film since L’ARRIVEE D’UN TRAIN EN GARE DE LA CIOTAT (1895).
My critic brain wants to point out the lack of nuance in the series: the white police officers are cartoonishly evil, and while Felicity Huffman’s character starts off wanting to do right by victims of sexual assault, she quickly derails into “Whatever, make the timeline fit.” On the other hand, the “person alive in 2019” in me understands that this is a real thing that really happened, and continues to happen to this day. CHERNOBYL comes to mind as a similarly upsetting show that pulls off its hair-pulling depictions of incompetence through its depth of character. It’s clear from the jump that everyone is trying to do the right thing—even when it is very clearly the wrong thing, we understand the power structures and cultural norms in place that give context to the batshit decisions that led to the worst nuclear disaster in history. That examination and nuance is missing in WHEN THEY SEE US—but I’m not gonna be the one to go, “Ava, listen. Love your show, but… what are the white people feeling?” Maybe in an alternate universe where we actually did solve racism in the 2008 election there could be room for a story that examines both sides of the Central Park 5 equation, but in the year 2019, these situations and feelings are all too real for the people of color in America. Indeed, our Cheeto-in-Chief makes an unsavory appearance in this story, tossing out what little ambiguity DuVernay’s message had to begin with.
WHEN THEY SEE US is a masterful work of television, beautifully shot and acted, passionately written, painful to watch, and culturally necessary in our modern political climate. Bring tissues. Like—a lot of them. [Kate Brogden]