TV Shows That Don't Deserve Their Own Thread

Started by scenicdesign71, May 05, 2020, 08:30 PM

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scenicdesign71

Has anyone else watched Ryan Murphy's new Netflix series Hollywood?  I just binged it today and was entertained despite the usual Ryan Murphy "WTF is he doing?" too-much-ness -- which is present here but relatively under control, at least by his own often-demented standards.  Revisionist "alternative history" narratives have been in vogue lately, but I can't think of one as determinedly sunny as this -- which, in our current real-life dystopia, makes it an enjoyable confection even if, in the end, what we're being asked to swallow is largely empty calories.


DiveMilw

I started watching a couple of weeks ago.  I watched an episode at work Friday night and thought it was #3 but really it was only #2.  A LOT happened in the pilot.  I'm liking it so far but, being a Ryan Murphy creation, I assume there will be much over the top stuff and then it will fizzle out if it continues for a number of seasons.  The first season is usually very good and then the shows get really wild and then tepid. 

American Horror Story may be an exception to that.  I couldn't get past the first season.  I thought it tried too hard to be shocking and just couldn't take it.  I even tried a different season but didn't care enough about it to finish.  Many of my friends really liked the show but it never caught me for some reason.
I no longer long for the old view!

scenicdesign71

#2
I've renamed this thread, which was originally dedicated to Hollywood.  The Film section has its own "Movies That Don't Deserve Their Own Thread" thread, so I figure television should have one too.

Specifically, I wanted an umbrella "Don't-Deserve" TV thread today because I just finished watching Ratched (also by Murphy, also on Netflix) last night, but didn't want to start an entire thread for it.  (Not to obsess over Murphy or Netflix, but, come to think of it, his first show for them, The Politician, also really belongs on this thread.  Or conversely, maybe I should try to be less judgy and just make this a Ryan Murphy thread, for pans and praises alike.  Decisions, decisions...).

I don't even have a whole lot to say about Ratched -- I guess I could waste an inordinate number of words on its loopy plotting and head-spinning inconsistency, but sifting though it all would only make my brain ache.  Like Hollywood, I got through the new show's entire first season in just a few days, and might even go back for more whenever a second gets made (though I have yet to grit my teeth and even really seriously consider watching The Politician's S2).  But like a solid majority of Murphy's work as a "creator", his latest is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.  (Out of the writer's chair, he seems on solider ground: I liked the film of The Normal Heart he directed for HBO quite a lot, and am looking forward to the Boys in the Band remake that he's executive-producing for Netflix, premiering next week).

What to say?  Ratched's design and cinematography are deliriously gorgeous -- for me, the show's real stars are a triumvirate of greens so disorientingly lush and tactile that they feel like a powerful contact high: the vibrant deep-emerald of the eponymous (anti)heroine's cardigan in the title credits; the electric mint of her spiffy Ford Coupe; and the crisp, luminous chartreuse of Cynthia Nixon's drawing-room curtains. (Not to mention a host of others, from the hospital's haute variations on "institutional" green and its staff's turquoise uniforms, to the velvety late-1940s iterations of sage, celadon, olive and verdigris in various carpets and upholstery there and elsewhere.  Frequent intrusions of livid red notwithstanding, it really is a show about green).

But the dramaturgy is utterly deranged; far too reliant on cartoonishly ugly ultraviolence that makes Murphy's American Horror Story look prim and gentle by comparison; and, more often than not, laughably unworthy of its supremely talented and hardworking cast -- if nothing else, the show is a masterclass on how brilliant performers (in concert, surely, with gifted and sensitive film editors) can sometimes, somehow, build compelling performances even on the quicksand of atrocious writing.

As many have pointed out, Ratched bears, as yet, no plausible connection at all -- narratively, tonally or stylistically -- to the Nurse Ratched we meet in ...Cuckoo's Nest.  With four seasons reportedly planned, and more than a decade's-worth of story to spin before arriving at the present-day of Ken Kesey's novel or MiloŇ° Forman's movie, I suppose there's plenty of time to course-correct -- never mind that the formidable Sarah Paulson was already several years older, while filming the show's Hitchcockian fantasy of 1947-50, than Louise Fletcher was in the movie's grittier, more naturalistic 1963.  There may be hope, but for now the show is a hot mess -- and, ominously for these last several Murphy outings, his shows more generally have a habit, as Tom pointed out, of peaking in their first season and growing only more scattered and incoherent thereafter.  So if things are already this unhinged from the get-go...

And yet, and yet... as usual in a Murphy joint, Ratched, even at its most maddening, is seldom less than entertaining -- it's certainly never boring -- and once in a very great while it stumbles into moments that are almost sublime.  His ear for dialogue is often appalling, but it's compensated at regular intervals by his eye for performances that manage, at least intermittently, to transcend the nonsensical writing.  (And also, more broadly speaking, by his plush casting: Paulson, Nixon, Judy Davis, Amanda Plummer, Sharon Stone and Sophie Okonedo are all reason enough to muddle though this season).

And when all else fails, there are those knee-weakening chartreuse curtains...


scenicdesign71

#3
In terms of quality (I haven't found many reviews since the season premiere aired last Sunday, but the handful I've seen are enthusiastic), I think Power, Book III: Raising Kanan absolutely "deserves" its own thread.  Still, given my undoubted bias (having worked on it from the very beginning, before the pandemic, up until the first season wrapped two months ago, with an unexpected six-month hiatus last year), I guess I'll play it safe and file it here among the miscellany for the time being.

Biased or not, I thought the season premiere was pretty amazing.  As a point of professional pride, I'm very pleased indeed with how the show looks; I think all departments have done a brilliant job (if I do say so myself) of bringing Kanan's granularly-specific world to the screen in a way that sails beyond "evocative" to "immersive".  It's beautifully designed and filmed, and the writing and performances are just as impressive.  Our cast is remarkable across the board, but in this first episode I was particularly taken with our formidable leading lady, Patina Miller (Pippin, Sister Act, Madam Secretary); Mekai Curtis in the title role; and Haley Kilgore (Once On This Island, Respect) playing the teenage version of a character portrayed by Anika Noni Rose in the original Power series.

I'll be happily watching the rest of the season with more than professional interest.  Having read most of the scripts during production, I already know they stay this smart and compelling right through to the season finale.  But I think the acting ensemble and the beautifully cinematic visuals just might tip the show into must-see territory.


scenicdesign71

#4
... Schmigadoon!, on the other hand, legitimately doesn't deserve its own thread.  I was less disappointed than this guy (and even he doesn't hate the show), but then I was never expecting much -- I hadn't really even aimed as high as basic watchability -- from something called Schmigadoon!; as his review points out, the title is an accurate indication of the general level at which the show's parodic humor operates throughout.

Onstage, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) covered this general territory with more wit, and onscreen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did so with more penetrating insight.  But with appropriately modest expectations, there's plenty of dopey lighthearted fun to be had here.  In the first two episodes, the performances are winsome and the writing and production are never less than crisply competent.  I won't begrudge the show two more hours of my life to catch the remaining episodes.


scenicdesign71

#5
I've been bingeing Life & Beth on Hulu, and while it's not my favorite show ever, I guess it is scratching an itch not unlike the one previously served by Somebody Somewhere a few months ago.  Coincidentally, both shows feature Murray Hill in similar supporting roles.  But Amy Schumer and Bridget Everett -- notwithstanding a certain broad kinship -- are very different leading ladies, and the feel-good moments in L&B are a little more rom-commy, a teensy bit less tinged with melancholy, than those of SS.  Enough so that, finishing episode 7 just now with things looking up for our heroine, I'm feeling disinclined to press onward into the season's final episodes at just this moment, preferring to bask in rosy escapism before heading back for what will surely be a serious downturn (or three) in mood before the season ends.  (At this point, things almost have to take a negative turn for the sake of narrative momentum over the next three episodes.  My guess is that Schumer's doctor, David Byrne, will have some devastating diagnosis to deliver any minute now).

None of which is to pass judgement on L&B, pro or con really; my impressions of it are colored more by my own mood at the moment.  Lately I've been watching a lot of TV involving pointedly unreal situations with dramatically ultra-heightened stakes -- Severance, Barry, Russian Doll -- so the gentler emotional pull of Schumer's show comes as something of a relief.  Actually, I also watched the Princess Di movie Spencer last night, and binged Only Murders in the Building over two days last week.  So, a pretty wide range of styles and moods overall; but if there's a common thread, it's a certain hectic quality from which Life & Beth -- or at least its first seven episodes -- makes a welcome change of pace.

Ed.:  I slightly misread the show's tone ...spoiler alert: 
Spoiler: ShowHide
Far from any lurking trauma -- other than some blessedly un-shocking parental and peer issues as a teen, and a mild present-day romantic dust-up or two, all conscientiously prepared-for in the previous episodes -- there happily turn out not to be any soap-operatic ordeals in the final three.  (If Beth's MRI is going to yield any upsetting results, they'll have to wait for Season 2).  The soothingly low-key vibe is sustained throughout, and, to a greater extent than I'd thought, it really could be thought of as a Millennial Long Island sister to Somebody, Somewhere's Gen X Midwestern family/coming-of-middle-age/bereavement dramedy.  (The NYT situates One Mississippi and Better Things in this same general mini-genre, and by a slight stretch, one might add Lady Dynamite and the stage musical The Bedwetter, now in previews, to this list).  Still, I don't want to dwell on the similarities among these shows, which are by nature highly personal and specific to their respective creator/stars, and which do each succeed in fashioning their semi-autobiographical, regionally and generationally distinct stories into affecting entertainment.


scenicdesign71

#6
I've enjoyed the first two episodes of Hulu's The Patient, but they're so short (~20min/episode) and so fond of ending on cliffhangers that I might just wait a couple of months and binge the whole thing in November.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/29/arts/television/the-patient-review.html

I can't remember whether The Americans, by the same creators, was as pointed as (at least the first two episodes of) the new series in its determination to leave viewers twisting every week. It may well have been; both shows are, in part, genre pieces operating on principles of heightened narrative suspense.

For that reason -- and also because the great Linda Emond will likely be introduced in the third episode, answering the who else is in the house?? smash-cut-to-black that ended the second -- it may be hard to resist watching next week.

But the era of binge-streaming has atrophied my patience for weekly serialization -- this is how I began losing the thread of Only Murders over the course of S2: my overall impression of it had softened into a generalized sense of charming but lazily uneventful hijinx, such that, by the time narrative strands began braiding together in the penultimate episode, some seemed like hazily distant memories while others I'd lost entirely.  (I still haven't gone back to binge the entire series, but will get to it one of these days; given the long wait for Season 3, there's no huge rush).


scenicdesign71

#7
Schmicago (aka Schmigadoon! Season 2) wrapped in Vancouver at the end of July, though it hasn't yet set a premiere date on Apple TV+.  I hate to imagine what its writers will make of Kander & Ebb, much less Sondheim -- mincemeat, I'm guessing -- but I probably won't be able to resist finding out, in spite of myself, whenever it finally airs.  Sigh.

https://playbill.com/article/apples-schmigadoon-to-return-for-second-season-re-christened-schmicago

Disappointing that a writer for Playbill, of all things, could so egregiously misidentify the first season's tambourine-driven, kumbaya-earnest finale -- plainly styled after Godspell/Pippin-era Stephen Schwartz -- as "pointing to the musicals of Stephen Sondheim", but never mind.  The larger point stands, that the song is meant as "a nod to the forthcoming season that will parody the post-R&H era", and that the final shot of the protagonists stepping back onto Schmigadoon's magical footbridge will likely lead them, and us, seamlessly into the mythical city of Schmicago, where people still burst into song, but perhaps more self-consciously -- as diegetic entertainment, didactic commentary, or subjective fantasy.

Looking ahead even further, by the current template I'm assuming that any eventual S3 would deposit our hapless heroes (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) into a sung-through, 1980s British-megamusical hellscape, scored to ALW/Boublil/Schonberg-style bombast, where a kind of clammy atmospheric hysteria rules mercilessly over basic coherence.  This will require some kind of signature Hamfistedly-Spectacular Scenic Coup (e.g. the Chandelier, the Barricade, the Helicopter) -- but what, in the context of Strong & Key's characters' story, would that be?  Or would it just be a lame running gag, with people at various points in the season narrowly escaping (or not) mortal injury in the wake of a renegade chandelier, barricade and helicopter?  (I guess this latter solution at least has the Rule of Three going for it, if not much else).

I don't even want to contemplate what this hypothetical third season might be called...


scenicdesign71

#8
[contemplates, for entirely too long, what this hypothetical third season might be called; messes about in Photoshop]

... but I can't help myself:

You cannot view this attachment.

I shouldn't be so harsh on the show.  Or perhaps I should: my low expectations for Schmigadoon! made the reality, when it arrived, a mildly pleasant surprise: consistently low-key entertaining, with occasional glints of actual charm, even if it never ventures anywhere near greatness.  The creators' geeky devotion may outstrip their actual abilities in the Broadway-musical arena; but they are self-evidently skilled TV craftspeople whose smooth professionalism, along with that of an impeccable cast and crew, in an atmosphere of palpable love for the subject -- not to mention a budget that would likely leave most B'way producers blinking with envy -- adequately patches most of the gaps most of the time.  And who knows?  Perhaps, after the first season's pandemic-scrambled learning curve, S2 will be where the Schmusicals team makes a surprise launch into stratospheric brilliance.  I wouldn't hold my breath or anything, but I suppose weirder things have probably happened, even if I can't think of any offhand.