|The Great (Hulu)|
Written by Lindsey Cook
Month three of quarantine and the binge-watching continues! Highlights include: six seasons of a detective show and excitement over HBO Max's wonderful film library!
Check out my past media diaries here.
The Half of It (2020)
Netflix teen movies are typically...fine. Look, they can't all be To All The Boys I've Loved Before, can they? The Half of It is yet another take on the Cyrano de Bergerac (seriously, did every Netflix exec read that and only that; every other rom-com on the platform is not only based on it but references it specifically) but this time, there's a twist.
As a movie about a budding friendship, this movie is sweet and charming. As a love triangle? Not so much. No offense to Aster, the object of both Ellie and Paul's affections, but it is never made very clear what either of them see in her, aside from a pretty girl with an artsy side. But the growing friendship between Ellie and Paul is the heart of the movie, and it is sweet to watch their relationship unfold. It would have been nice to have discarded the romantic plot halfway through to focus on the friendship.
There's also some odd religious overtones thrown in, first as background scenery but then becoming increasingly overt toward the end, including a climactic scene in a church where high school students may or may not be getting engaged, as well as concerns over Ellie's sexuality from a religious standpoint. Essentially, The Half of It could have used about half the plot.
Bad Education (2020)
If Hugh Jackman doesn't win an Emmy for this performance, I will question everything. He is absolutely phenomenal in this HBO movie about a corrupt Long Island superintendent and the high school paper journalist that uncovered the years of misappropriated assets and corruption. And if that sounds too good to be true, it's not, because this film was based on a true story. Insanity! Also, Jackman and Allison Janey are just wonderful scene partners, and it is delightful to watch.
The arrival of HBO Max and its wonderful library means it's time to catch up on some notable lapses in my film education. As stunning as this movie is, I didn't tear up over the romance. What really got me weepy was when the patrons of Rick's sing "La Marseillaise" to drown out the Germans. Something about watching a group of people rise up against fascists at the same time that protests were starting all around the country...it was beautiful to watch.
I'm not as blindly enamored with this series as the rest of the world seems to be, but it is still a whole lot better than most shows these days, especially in the romance department. It's a beautifully filmed, thoughtful series without the high concepts that bog down other "prestigious" television, and I think the simplicity of the concept—two people falling in and out of love, always finding themselves drawn back together—is what has made it such a hit. When the world is as complicated as it is these days, sometimes you just want to watch attractive people in love.
Bosch (seasons 1 - 6)
Give me an iconic mid-century modern house precariously perched atop the Hollywood Hills and I'll hang along for the murder cases and detective work too. No, I don't know how an LAPD detective can afford this house, either!
But for real, if you love film noir and detective stories, you will love the rich and intricate world that Bosch has developed. The world building is immaculate, with each season fanning outward a little bit more around detective Bosch and the colleagues and family who surround him, and in a time where I can't wander out through the streets of LA, the show's deep love for the city, through all its faults, makes me happy.
Of course, I watched this show weeks before our entire understanding of the police shifted in the wake of violent protests (violence predominantly created by police officers) and I will say that looking back on this show, the way Bosch skirts the law in pursuit of "the truth", the discussions around race and class politics both within the department and throughout the city, and the belief that the law—and the police who serve the law—is always just and fair. There's even a plot line where the chief of police attempts to quell a young activist's planned protest regarding race issues that hits a lot differently now than when I watched just weeks ago...and even then, the plot left a weird feeling in my stomach.
As we reexamine what it means to police our communities and even how the police are represented in popular culture as a means of propaganda, Bosch is guilty of falling into this category. As an intricate noir series, I think it's great, but no work of art is created in a vacuum, and so the larger context in which we consume a work like Bosch needs to be taken into account.
Never Have I Ever (season 1)
Mindy Kaling's creative track record hasn't been perfect (looking at you, Four Weddings and a Funeral series) but when she gets it right she knocks it out of the park. Her new series for Netflix focuses on an Indian-American girl named Devi as she tackles high school drama, budding romance, and the expectations of her strict mother. Devi's experiences of high school are universal, but she is also a rare example of the Indian-American experience on television, which has been really special to see. Not only is she struggling with crushes and best friend drama, she's also feeling a constant pull between two cultures, and I think how the show handles this complexity is wonderful. Last, Mindy Kaling has perfected the enemies-to-lovers romantic trope, and Never Have I Ever has another cute instance of this come to life. Available to stream on Netflix.
Billions (began season 5)
As you know, I'm a huge fan of Succession. What you may not know is it was my binge of Billions this time last year that got me to finally check out Succession. Both shows are about uber-rich New York assholes with an inverse relation between morals and zeroes in their bank accounts. However, where Succession knows to laugh at its characters, Billions sees its protagonists as idols of sorts; flawed, complicated, and often morally repugnant idols, but always there is a sense that we are supposed to think these "smartest guys in the room" are better than everyone else around them. And while the fifth season (or half of it anyway, as production was cut short with the pandemic) is still fun, it reads differently to see Axe complain about not being able to get million-dollar paintings when, you know, millions are unemployed and people are dying. Talk about first world problems, Axe.
It would be dangerous to call this show The Great if it were not, well, great, but luckily you do not have to worry about this show failing to live up to standards, because it is every bit as great as the title suggests.
Elle Fanning has outdone herself with her portrayal of a young Catherine the Great pre-coup, blending an optimistic innocence with sly cunning, all while wearing a truly delightful array of macaron-colored gowns, and Nicholas Hoult has found his calling with the obnoxious, tempestuous, and often cruel Peter, Catherine's idiotic and doomed husband.
If you are searching for historical accuracy, I suggest finding a biography because other than the names and overarching plot points, The Great does not concern itself too much with getting the facts right, but who cares when the end result is this much fun? Fans of The Favourite will surely adore this series (they share a screenwriter), as will fans of Game of Thrones and/or Marie Antoinette. You think I make a jape, but for all the court politics and elegant dresses there's even more sex and bloodshed than a typical day in Westeros. Dessert with a side of severed Swedish heads, anyone? Huzzah!
Week to week watching: Insecure, Billions, Killing Eve, What We Do In The Shadows