TV Reviews

TV Roundup 11/11/19: Streaming War Ceasefire

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How nice of Disney+ to give Apple a week before it completely smashes it in the Dawn of the Streaming Giants! We’re all fastening our Mickey Mouse ears for the big drop on Tuesday, but in the meantime, a few great gems snuck in during the ceasefire this week, including the long-awaited return of RICK AND MORTY. Check out our thoughts below!

TV Roundup Back to Life

BACK TO LIFE (Showtime)

After watching a few episodes, it’s easy to see why Showtime’s BACK TO LIFE is being so heavily compared to the BBC’s FLEABAG.  With a few the same producers on hand and a conceit that centers around a woman trying to rebuild her life amidst tragedy, the show feels like a welcome companion to the latter.  However, though it undoubtedly will scratch some sort of itch for FLEABAG fans yearning for similar-feeling content, I’ll argue that BACK TO LIFE is truly its own beautiful, messy, tragic, lovely beast.

The premise is simple—a woman, Miri (played wonderfully by EPISODES’ Daisy Haggard), returns to her small town home after being released from an 18-year prison sentence. While we don’t find out the extent of her crime until mid-way through the season, it’s evident in the pilot that whatever she did (and, it’s always clear that she did do it) was extremely bad, leaving the audience to reconcile with the idea of empathizing with a murderer.

It’s in this way that the audience’s reactions mirror the response of the town and those surrounding Miri.  As she struggles to reclaim her life and carve out a new one, she’s constantly thwarted by memories from her past and the stigma that hangs over her. If this show sounds dark, that’s because it is—but also, it isn’t. While the premise is weighty, the show itself is filled with quick wit and awkward humor audiences have come to love from shows like FLEABAG.

With that said, the biting humor is somehow softer in this show than the one spawned by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It’s still gutting, but provides a gentler landing to the punches it throws. This not only helps distinguish it even further, but also aides the audience in more easily wading through the darkness to cling to the hope that exists from the show.

Overall, I sat down to watch episode and emerged hours later, nearly done with the season. If finding comfort in the uncomfortable is your thing, this could be your next binge watch. [Anna Thorup]

GREEN EGGS AND HAM (Netflix)

Talk about expanding on the source material! Dr. Seuss’s classic work of children’s literature famous for containing only 50 unique words dropped on Netflix last week in the form of 12, 30-minute episodes of television. In this expanded story and universe, Guy (would not, could not try Green Eggs and Ham) and Sam I Am embark on a PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES-esque road trip/heist surrounding a mystical creature called a Chickeraffe. Seussian hijinks ensue as they traverse various modes of transportation—and yes there are foxes and boxes and the like.

There’s a lot to love in this series. While there are moments that feel a little young by modern Netflix animation standards, the writing is extremely solid overall. It’s a well-crafted story, it’s silly and funny in the right ways, and the characters (existing and new) are deceptively nuanced for such a simple story. On the other hand, the actual execution leaves something to be desired. The environments are beautiful and the CG elements blend seamlessly with the 2D, but the overall style feels burdened by the source material. The character acting is really muted. I’d imagine that this is an effort to remain on-model with the classic Seussian look, but it deeply undercuts the amazing voice acting and the wacky tone. (Sidenote: Adam Devine needs to do way more voice acting. He absolutely crushes it as Sam I Am!)

If you’ve been hearing about this one and are even the least bit curious about it, check it out! It’s not HILDA or SHE-RA, but it certainly holds up to the other prestige Netflix animated offerings on the kids side. As Sam I Am himself would say, “How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t even tried it?” [Kate Brogden]

HIS DARK MATERIALS (HBO)

I guess HBO decided to just send the GAME OF THRONES special effects budget to a different fantasy book series. Smart move, considering every frame of HIS DARK MATERIALS oozes production value, dazzling the viewer with utopian cityscapes and chaotic wilderness biomes. It feels primarily like a visual experience. The plot, dialogue, and acting are carried out with gleeful tact, but what stuck out most to me was the freshness of the universe.The arms race in both TV and movies to create the most stunning frames has left me as jaded as any American. So when something actually makes me stop and stare at it, I take notice. Plus, everyone’s soul physically manifests as a fuzzy animal, which is just delightful.

Story-wise, the pilot recalls early Harry Potter films: there’s a secret magical force in the world called Dust. There’s a baby chosen by prophecy to save the world from impending doom. She’s kept in the dark through her childhood, but her mischievous ways lead her to discovering the truth. She’s probably gonna have to go through some shit, but I get the feeling she’ll end up saving the world. The exact details of the story blend together somewhat, but the viewing experience overall feels like a warm hug from a beloved relative. Such a familiar story being told with original components and absolutely gorgeous cinematography stands out in HBO’s heady line-up of psychological mindfucks and relentless examinations of our current hellworld. It’s not the next GoT, but it’s what we need to recover from GoT. [Dan Blomquist]

TV roundup Rick and Morty

RICK AND MORTY S4 (Adult Swim)

What the fuck are Rocky and Mordo gonna do for seven more seasons? That’s the first thing their name brings to my mind: the fact that there’s at least 69 more episodes slated to be released over what could easily be a full decade. And they’re in a hole not just in regard to the episode commitment, but in terms of subject material. If the show is too heady, it’s a barrage of “very high IQ” memes. If the show is too dumb, it loses what made it special and becomes a reformat of Futurama. But now that the first offering to this Faustian pact has been made, I actually have a sliver of faith that Rick and Morty could legitimately be The Simpsons for the 21st century.

The fourth season premiere handles the smart/stupid line by loudly announcing when and how they’re crossing it. That way, they can do things like heavily reference the 1988 anime classic AKIRA without forcing casual fans to read a groupchat lecture from their “smart” friend to understand it. They also take light jabs at their PC critics while saving most of their wrath for fascism, which is as close to an even-handed response as I can imagine anyone getting. If Rick and Morty’s pretensionsess/fanbase/general vibe has been off-putting to you up to this point, this just might be the right time to jump in. S4 so far demonstrates astonishing self-awareness and sticks to what made them great: sci-fi rigamarole with existential dread. [Dan Blomquist]

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