A gripping podcast adaptation, a UK/USA co-pro, a Brazilian adult animated series dubbed over by contestants of RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE, and the Duplass Brothers. Just another normal week in Peak Television! Check out our thoughts on the hottest TV premieres of the past week.
Amazon as a streaming platform is known more for its misses than its hits, but HOMECOMING is a sharp turn in the right direction. A “Hitchcockian” psychological thriller adapted from the hit Gimlet podcast, HOMECOMING follows counselor Heidi Bergman (played exquisitely by Julia Roberts) who works at a facility for war veterans designed to bridge the gap between war and civilian life. If you—like me—have not listened to this podcast in advance, I won’t do you the disservice of disclosing any information beyond that. It is an absolute spider web of intrigue that unfurls beautifully over its modest 10 episodes with a solid cast, excellent writing, and a great soundtrack. It’s subtle enough to keep the harsh TV critic on board, but pulpy enough to elicit those delicious “yell at the screen” moments. (As I binged through the entire season, I capped off many an episode with a gleeful rendition of this classic from Vine.) If I had to come up with one complaint, this show does love the shit out of some Hitchcock, and there’s only so many overhead shots of spiral staircases one person can take before the “Ok, I get it” comes out. While I unfortunately can’t speak as to whether or not it’s a successful adaptation of the podcast, I can say it absolutely holds its own as a TV series. If this is any indication for how future Gimlet adaptation endeavors will go, sign me up for REPLY ALL: THE PODCAST: THE MOVIE. [Kate Brogden]
ROOM 104 Season 2 (HBO)
As the Forrest Gump of television genres go, you’ll never know exactly what you’ll get with each episode of a anthology series. In its sophomore season, ROOM 104 keeps depending on their nosy audience to keep opening that hotel door, so they can find whatever unique conflict lies ahead. The longevity of an anthology series depends on the creativity of the writers and the versatility of the premise, and the Duplass brothers delivered a simple setting that provides the ability to tell countless stories through different genres about a variety of lives. Set in a single motel room in New York, each episode follows the different guests that have inhabited the room and whatever baggage (physical and emotional) they bring with them. What’s most enticing about ROOM 104 is the voyeuristic quality to it, as hotel rooms can be so personal despite serving the most general and routine purpose. Thus, season one thrived on not only clever twists, but being able to trap its viewer in a voyeuristic spree.
Like the initial premiere, the second season begins with “FOMO,” a horror that follows Grace, a woman celebrating her 30th birthday with a pair of her best friends. Things go awry immediately when her “strange” older sister Karen shows up invited. This episode doesn’t give us as many surprises, as the horrors that lie in the end are foreshadowed by how ominous Karen’s sudden arrival is, but the end of the episode still features a frightening commentary for us to reflect upon how much we share on social media. As far as storytelling goes, “FOMO” is a weak beginning in comparison to what we’ve seen in the season prior, as we’re one step ahead of Karen throughout the entire episode. But as anthology series can promise forgiveness, there’s still time for ROOM 104 to recuperate in the coming episodes. After all, watching ROOM 104 isn’t worth it for just the allure of this mysterious motel room, but for the feelings of intrigue and curiosity that comes with momentarily peering into lives behind closed doors. [Michelle Vera]
There’s something both familiar and remarkably unique about Julia Davis’ latest foray into TV comedy via SALLY4EVER On its surface, the premise feels all too predictable: a bland relationship is upended by a Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-type who shows our timid hero a different side of life. But, because we’re talking about Julia Davis and because we’re talking about SALLY4EVER, this is not quite the case.
Instead, the pilot plays out as a sort of precursor to a cautionary tale about the choices we make and the patterns that can emerge in our relationships. When we first meet Sally, she’s barely moving through life as a mid-level marketing executive tasked with the assignment of “making eggs sexy” and fending off advances from her boyfriend of over 10 years who is boring at best and manipulative at worst. After locking eyes with Emma across a crowded subway train, however, a shift occurs in Sally and she dives in headfirst. This is the part of the rom-com where the protagonist must learn how to deal with all of the love interest’s unique idiosyncrasies that are just odd enough to be considered “quirky,” while still falling under the umbrella of “endearing.” Instead, the audience can easily start to see the very visible, very real cracks in this new life of Sally’s as Emma’s personality as a toxic narcissist becomes clear. With that said, there’s a chemistry between Sally and Emma that makes even the cringe-worthiest scenes believable.
Anyone familiar with Julia Davis’ previous work (most notably, the original British version of CAMPING) will find familiarity in this show. While her characters can occasionally feel over-the-top and nearly too terrible, they also contain a complexity and well-roundedness not often seen in half-hour comedies. While brash, unsentimental, and willing to delve into the darker, twistier corners of a new relationship, the characters Davis has created have the potential to be some of the funniest on television this season. [Anna Thorup]
SUPER DRAGS (Netflix)
One would think that an adult animated comedy show featuring three colorful drag queens who are also superheroes would have no problem finding an audience. Unfortunately, I doubt this is going to be the case for SUPER DRAGS. Originally from Brazil, this animated piece of weirdness suffers from not knowing what it is, or what it wants to be. In a word, it’s confusing. The premise of the show is that every LGBT person in the world has a “highlight” inside them which makes them gay and fabulous, but an evil old drag queen wants to take the highlight away from them (her reason for which is never very clear). Enter the Super Drags, a trio of “lady-boys” who can use their “gay-dar” to help protect “the queers” of the world.
The show teeters on the edge of being funny, but unfortunately, never quite gets there. The attempts at jokes always miss the mark, more often relying on simply showing dicks every once in a while and hoping it will get a laugh (it doesn’t). If the show goes more extreme either way, either becoming even more over-the-top and weird, or going the other way and becoming more satirical and witty, it may have a chance at finding an audience, but at the moment, it’s in the mediocre middle. [Anna Mansager]