*TV SERIES RECAP: ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING

First, I have to get something off my chest. I think that it should not be allowed for streaming platforms to release episodes of their shows on a week-to-week basis…… Okay, there I said it.

After watching the first two episodes, I really wanted to binge the fuck out of this series in one or two sittings, but I made the mistake of starting this series right smack in the middle of its initial week-to-week release back in September. As a result, I had to suffer and wait every week for a new episode to drop.

Anyhow, this is a charming murder-crime mystery type of show with lots of whimsical comedy. Two great comedy legends, Steve Martin and Martin Short reunite for some brilliant stuff here. The chemistry between Steve Martin and Martin Short has always been pure fire, case in point, the Father of the Bride series, Three Amigos, Broadway shows, and a few other things along the way.

The story takes place at the Arconia apartment building, an upscale NYC co-op in the Upper West Side. Steve Martin is Charles Haden-Savage, an actor best known for playing a TV detective in the 90s. Charles lives alone; he seems lonely and bored. Martin Short is Oliver Putnam, a washed-up broadway director, and producer— Oliver is struggling to keep up with his UWS lifestyle and is in desperate need of money. Also, Selena Gomez joins our legendary duo as Mabel Mora, a mysterious young girl living in the same building.

The central premise here surrounds the murder of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), a resident of the Arconia who is found dead in his apartment. The circumstances of his murder are highly suspicious. At the same time, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel share an interest and passion for true crime podcasts, and they decide to join forces to solve the murder of their fellow neighbor.

Armed with a handful of clues, the three of them start their own investigation and their own podcast chronicling their investigation. There are layers and layers of intrigue sprinkled throughout the entire 10 episodes of the first season.

Sometimes, the performances are a bit over the top — somewhat typical of Martin and Short, but it all works nicely. Surprisingly, Selena Gomez steps into this already established chemistry and holds her own. The generational gap between them is what drives things here. There is a sense of sadness and loneliness from these three characters — which pulls them towards each other.

The Arconia building is a crucial component of the series; it is a character by itself with many moving parts. The building residents are also important characters; they are all pretty weird and eccentric. Nathan Lane is outstanding here; his scenes with Martin and Short are remarkable. Sting playing a fictionalized version of himself is hilarious.

I liked how the show focused on the recent growth of true-crime podcast culture and made it part of the actual amateur crime-solving storyline. Even the Hardy Boys young adult mystery series is featured prominently in the show.

Only Murders in the Building is a delightful and entertaining show. It is a very New York-driven show, especially if you live in NYC. It is diverse, progressive, and although exaggerated at times, it still comes off as realistic enough. You can’t help rooting for these characters and their delusional detective skills. I cannot wait for season 2 — spoiler alert, the final episode sets up next season’s murder mystery. It is definitely one of the best and most satisfying shows of 2021.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

Only Murders in the Building (2021). Streaming on HULU.

*TV SERIES RECAP: RATCHED

I genuinely appreciate the type of shows Ryan Murphy puts together. He is at the forefront of a powerful movement happening right now in the creative fields of show business. I see him as a crucial part of this new creative force that seems fully committed to reinventing Hollywood as an industry—and reinventing how entertainment is being produced and presented to the world.

Ratchet is an origin story, told in a Ryan Murphy way, adding a modern sensibility to a period piece, along the same lines as Murphy’s Hollywood Netflix series. It is a highly stylized TV show with extensive uses of colors and fantastic location shots. It is a very visual show, with excellent production quality, set designs, costumes, and cinematography. There are many Hitchcock and David Lynch influences in it — Simply put, it is visually a beautiful show to watch.

The character of Nurse Mildred Ratchet (Sara Paulson) was Introduced to audiences in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. This nurse Ratched character was originally played by Louise Fletcher, a performance for which she won an Academy Award for best actress. Interestingly enough, I heard Louise Fletcher was never approached regarding the revival of her character.

Nurse Ratchet is portrayed as a mysterious and psychologically damaged person trying to save her adopted brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock) from execution after murdering a bunch of priests. She manipulates her way into a mental facility where Edmund is being held to determine his mental capacity. Once inside the hospital, nurse Ratched will devise a plan to free her stepbrother.

The mental facility is run by Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), an eccentric doctor who believes in unconventional mental rehabilitation methods. For example, he believes lesbianism is a mental disorder and can be cured by extreme methods like putting women in a boiling hot bath, followed by a freezing cold bath. He also puts patients under lobotomy procedures to cure them of whatever he perceives to be mental disorders.

There are many compelling and redeeming qualities to nurse Ratched, more so than in the 1975 film. I started viewing her as this monster in the making, and as I finished binge-watching the show, I unexpectantly began rooting for her. We explore things from her past that allow us to become more empathetic to her. We see how sexual abuse and mental illness can be linked together. The character Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) comes off as the most believable real-life character here; Gwendolyn allows nurse Ratched to appear a lot more relatable and human.

The supporting cast is incredible. Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis) delivers a magnetic performance. Lenore (Sharon Stone) is great as this bizarre, super-rich diva, hell-bent on revenge on Dr. Hanover. Corey Stoll plays a 1940s Humprey Bogart type of private detective, hired by Lenore to hunt down Dr. Hanover. Amanda Plummer is a scene-stealer as this weird and possibly deranged motel receptionist. Nurse Dolly (Alice Englert) delivers a seductive and captivating performance.

As I finished binge-watching this first 8 episode season, I realized that Paulson is exploring something psychologically profound with this role. It seems to me that she is approaching this character in a unique and sophisticated way.

All in all, Ratchet is an extravagant, outrageous, and at times ridiculously insane show to watch, but it is incredibly entertaining, and I could not get enough of it. I’m looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

RATCHED (2020). Streaming on NETFLIX.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA

The basic premise of The Plot Against America is to reimagine what would’ve happened if Charles Lindbergh and not FDR had won the 1940 US presidential election. It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth. The story is told through the eyes of the Levins family; A Jewish working-class family living in 1940s Newark, New Jersey.

The background of the story is that Charles Lindbergh (Ben Cole) is campaigning hard all over the country, where anxious crowds are waiting to hear him speak. Lindbergh flies a plane down to his campaign rally appearances while selling an isolationist agenda to the American public, and he is also opposed to joining the war effort against Nazi Germany; Lindbergh even has a campaign slogan consisting of repeating the same phrase over and over again at every single rally: “The choice is simple. It is not between Charles Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is between Charles Lindbergh and war.”

This show draws you in slowly; it takes the first two episodes to get a tangible sense of the characters and where the story is going. The tension grows in every episode; the plot moves slowly, but it works well. The world these characters inhabit feels authentic. And the clear depiction of this working-class neighborhood made up of mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants in 1940s Newark, New Jersey, was well crafted.

You get to know this Jewish family well; you get a good sense of this family and their suburban life. There are slow warnings of potential danger to their community through news reports on the radio and newsreels. The depiction of the slow and steady rise of fascism and the terror that it causes within the Jewish community is remarkable. All those things are put together brilliantly.

We get a closer look at the story through the eyes of young Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson), as he comes to terms with the reality of things. The audience also begins to come to terms with the high stakes at play alongside young Philip. We have to lean in and pay attention to each scene closely.

It is impossible not to avoid the obvious comparison between this show’s premise and the rise of Donald Trump. The idea that a celebrity with no political experience becomes a politician and turns out to be a populist and a right-wing nut job — appealing mostly to the lowest common denominator of voters is eerily similar — once elected, this right-wing hack turns the whole country into a fascist regime and The United States’ decline is set into motion.

It is chilling to see how Lindbergh uses a populist agenda and turns to members of the Jewish community to do his bidding. We have Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), an influential leader in the Jewish community, who becomes a strong supporter of Lindbergh, normalizing many of Lindbergh’s rhetoric and, in a sense becoming the “token” Jew of the campaign.

I cannot help but see similar and modern parallels within many leaders and influential Hispanic community members who supported and continue to support Trump and his right-wing anti-immigrant agenda.

The performances are excellent. Morgan Spector (Herman Levin) and Zoe Kazan (Bess Levin) are fantastic. Both characters sense the danger of Lindbergh’s rhetoric but cope and approach the imminent threat to their community differently. Winona Ryder (Evelyn Finkel) is outstanding as this naive and over-trusting follower of Rabbi Bengelsdorf. The kid that plays Seldon (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer.

Kudos to David Simon for this remarkable and thought-provoking adaptation. I must confess that I have never seen The Wire; I’ll get around to it eventually. However, I’m a massive fan of The Deuce, which is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the last 20 years. Both of those shows were David Simon creations.

At its core, The Plot Against America is speculative and alternative history. Notwithstanding, it is also a clear warning of a dystopian horror that might await us in the not-so-distant future if we allow populist, isolationists, and xenophobic demagogues to rise into political positions of power.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2020). Streaming now on HBO

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Happy to say, I was surprisingly captivated and highly entertained with this TV Series. The Flight Attendant is based on a 2018 novel of the same name by bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian. This adaptation is a frenetic dark comedy — a murder mystery that pushes the pace from beginning to end.

Our flight attendant slash heroine Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to a dead body and with no memory of what happened the night before. The dead body belongs to Alex (Michiel Huisman), a passenger on Cassie’s Bangkok flight with whom Cassie goes out on a wild night of partying and drinking.

After waking up next to her dead date, Cassie frantically runs out of the hotel to avoid the Thai authorities and rushes to rejoin her flight crew back to New York — Within a few hours of hotel staff discovering Alex’s dead body, the FBI gets involved in this international homicide investigation.

Upon the flight’s arrival in the US, the flight attendant crew is interviewed by FBI agents, at which point Cassie becomes their main suspect.

The frenetic pace of the show picks up immediately after Cassie returns to NYC. She goes on this quest to piece together the mystery surrounding Alex’s murder. She learns about Alex’s shady business dealings and dangerous partners. However, this show’s most notable and unique thing is how Alex keeps showing up in ghost-like visions throughout the plot’s critical moments. He seems to be embedded in Cassie’s conscience, where some of the most engaging and emotional scenes between Cassie and Alex take place.

Cassie is this out of control, functioning alcoholic, but in a fun and entertaining way. Kaley Cuoco is excellent here; Her comedic timing is flawless — her body language, facial gestures, and delivery come naturally. No doubt all those years in hit sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory has paid dividends. Her alcoholism and self-destructive behavior are crucial to the plot, and Cuoco rises to the dramatic occasion. In lesser hands, this character would have been annoying and not as likable.

The entire casting is solid, but the most notable performances come from the three supporting female stars; Cassie’s brutally sarcastic best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), a power attorney representing underworld types. Zosia Mamet is superb here, and her presence on screen is intense. Megan (Rosie Perez) is fantastic as Cassie’s flight crew supervisor. Megan is involved in a sub-plot of international corporate espionage, selling her husband’s company secrets to agents of the North Korean government. Also, the Mysterious femme fatale assassin Miranda (Michelle Gomez) is outstanding.

The plot and dialogue are all well put together, some things feel a bit preposterous, but it ends up working well. All in all, The Flight Attendant is an incredibly charming, fun show to watch. It is high-quality escapism and it is suspenseful enough to keep you invested in every single episode. I am looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Flight Attendant, (2020). Streaming now on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

You don’t have to care, like, or even understand chess to be fascinated by it and to admire those who have mastered it. There are only two chess-related movies that I have thoroughly enjoyed: Pawn Sacrifice (2014) and Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993). They are both based on real-life characters.

There is also an excellent book that I love; The Eight (1988), a beautifully written novel by Katherine Neville, about the quest to track down a chess-set that belonged to King Charlemagne — it remains one of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction.

And it is safe to say that I can now include The Queen’s Gambit as a new personal all-time favorite when it comes to chess-related works of historical fiction.

The Queen’s Gambit is based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name. I have never read any of his books, but I’ve been searching for a mass market paperback copy of The Steps of the Sun by Walter Tevis for a while now. Original editions of Tevis’s books have become very popular and expensive as of late — even used and somewhat worn down paperback copies are selling at higher prices than average. But I’m not complaining; I’m glad they are in high demand — Still, I’m planning to hold off until prices come down a bit.

This Netflix 7 episode series is about a Kentucky orphan on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. We follow Beth (Anya Taylor-joy) from the moment her mother kills herself by driving straight into oncoming traffic with young Beth in the backseat. She is placed in an all-girls 1950s orphanage where the children are given a daily diet of tranquilizers until Beth develops a pill addiction, which she carries into adulthood.

She meets the school janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her chess and becomes an early mentor and father figure. Bill Camp is always great in everything he does, and he is great here also. Beth Eventually gets adopted by a childless couple, and her journey into chess competitions begins soon after.

There is an extremely high level of quality to the production of this show. The set designs, costumes are all well put together. The chess competitions and chess matches are smartly portrayed. The tension is palpable in just about every chess match. The speed-chess scenes were remarkable. There is engaging and precise world-building that will make you want to become part of the world that these characters inhabit. However, this show is much more than only chess competitions and the mental stress of chess. It is about addiction, childhood trauma, feminism, and communism. Plus, it tackles mental health issues and the thin line between genius and madness.

The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother, Alma (Marielle Heller), is crucial to the plot. Alma’s self-discovery journey late in life after her husband leaves her is parallel to Beth’s journey. Marielle Heller is outstanding here playing this functioning alcoholic, coping with 1950s housewife life, while at the same time abusing alcohol and cigarettes.

The casting of all the supporting characters is on point here. The young Russian chess prodigy is a scene-stealer played by Louis George Ashbourne Serkis (Andy Serkis’ son). Young Beth (Isla Johnston) is just about identical to older Beth — easily could be the same person. Jolene (Moses Ingram) is solid as a fellow orphan and Beth’s closest friend. The two chess-head brothers who travel from tournament to tournament are hilarious. Even all of the cold war era Russian chess champions that Beth plays against are well cast.

Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) is praiseworthy as Beth’s first tough tournament competitor and eventual friend/lover. Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is exceptional as this weird and eccentric US chess champion; he competes against Beth and later befriends her. Her platonic relationship with former chess competitor turned photojournalist Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is another critical component of Beth’s personality and psychology. There is plenty of symbolism in the type of relationships she has with all the men in her life.

Anya Taylor-Joy is unbelievably good here, in a captivating and soulful performance. This is a complex character with deep psychological issues. Beth has an amazing mind, but alcohol and pills fuel her strategic vision for chess. Her psychological dependence on pills and alcohol are an intricate part of her process of finding focus and finding clarity when envisioning chess techniques and strategies. But at the same time, they are also threatening to become her undoing. Beth can be sweet, charming, and messed up all at once, and Anya Taylor-Joy captures all the complexities of this character beautifully.

The Queen’s Gambit gets better and better with every single episode. The writing, acting, and directing are brilliantly brought together. I felt like it could have been two episodes longer. Nevertheless, Netflix has once again delivered another excellent limited series.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Queen’s Gambit (2020). Streaming on Netflix.

*TV SERIES RECAP: RUN

RUN was a guilty pleasure watch. The premise and concept of this limited HBO series are somewhat irresistible to me. We have two former lovers, Billy (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ruby (Merritt Wever). They made a pact to each other during their college years, that if either one of them ever texted the word “RUN” to the other, followed by a return text with the same word—then they will both drop whatever they are doing, and meet at Grand Central Station and be there for each other.

Now in their 30s, Ruby is married with kids. Billy is a successful motivational speaker and author. It seems like they have previously texted RUN to each other throughout the years, but this is the first time that the text was actually returned. The ex-lovers meet up and embark on a cross-country Amtrak train ride.

The whole idea of dropping everything in your life and making a wild run has crossed my mind multiple times, and perhaps this is why this show appealed to me from the get-go.

Episodes for the first season are roughly about a half-hour long with 7 episodes. Pretty easy to power through the whole thing in one sitting. It is a fun show, with lots of tension and slow revelations. Layers and layers of information about the characters are slowly revealed, so you have to be patient to see where the story is actually going. The tension keeps on building up with each episode.

The supporting characters are essentially the main obstacles in this love story. Billy’s assistant Fiona (Archie Panjabi), is stalking and blackmailing Billy — she is holding some dark and compromising secrets regarding Billy.

Ruby’s husband, Laurence (Rich Sommer), seems to be aware that his wife has run off to be with someone and is willing to forgive her if she returns home to her family. All the supporting characters added along the way add a very compelling dynamic that worked well for me. Most notably, the inclusion of the character Laurel (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), A taxidermist, who collects roadkill, and gets involved in the plot.

There is this exciting sub-plot between Laurel and police officer Babe Cloud (Tamara Podemski) that develops midway through the first season,

Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson have solid chemistry together. I was all-in on the idea that these two were once lovers. The sexual tension was believable. Wever’s performance is pretty intense and remarkable. She has this uncanny ability to deliver lines in a very deliberate manner. The character flaws between both characters are worth exploring further…. if there is a second season, which I hope there is.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

RUN (2020). Streaming on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2)

In the final months of a dreadful 2020, I got the chance to finish up the year watching the second season of one of the most enjoyable book adaptations in recent memory.

His Dark Materials is based on a series of books by Phillip Pullman, who also serves as showrunner for the series. Season 1 was mostly based on book 1 of the trilogy, The Golden Compass.

This second season is based on book 2, The Subtle Knife, and season 3 will be based on book 3, The Amber Spyglass.

In season 2, we continue to follow the adventures of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her Daemon Patalaimon (voiced by Kitt Connor) as they explored the alternate world that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened up after killing Roger (Lewin Lloyd) at the end of season 1.

Season 1 was excellent — there was a lot of exposition, lots of world-building, and many moving parts coming at you pretty fast. But it all worked well, and things came together nicely by the end of the season.

We catch up with Will (Amir Wilson), who is also exploring this new alternate world. Will and Lyra’s eventual encounter will put our two heroes on the path to fulfill the Witches Prophecy. They both need to rely each other, as they find themselves on a journey full of obstacles,

The Magisterium senses a dire threat to their control and power and dares to cross into this parallel reality to stop Lord Asriel and Lyra. The idea of witches and non-believers challenging the dogmatic and authoritarian ways of the Magisterium is dangerous for their hold on things and the power of The Authority. Here, at the intersection of politics, philosophy, witches, religion, and multiple worlds is where the series becomes more exciting and compelling.

Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is brilliant yet again — she is pure magic whenever she is onscreen, and she is way more manipulative and deceptive in this second season. Mrs. Coulter is by far one of the most outstanding villains on TV.

In a sense, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) becomes a more sympathetic and less villainous character in this season. The onscreen chemistry between Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter is exceptional.

Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is terrific again. I enjoyed how they have continued to develop this character from the first season. I was glad to see Lee’s Daemon, Hester (voice by Cristela Alonzo), getting a bit more involved in the plot than in the first season.

Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a physicist who studies dark matter, is crucial to the plot. Dr. Malone allows the audience to understand better what dust might be, and we get to go on this journey of discovery along with her.

But the young characters are the heart and soul of the story here. The loss of Roger haunts Lyra, and Will is obsessed with finding his father. The bond between Lyra and Will is a critical factor as both characters move forward.

According to the prophecy, Lyra is supposed to be the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” This is why everybody is supposed to protect Lyra — Will, Lee, and the Witches are supposed to protect Lyra at all costs.

The set up to the eventual war between the multiple worlds is set in motion in this season’s final episode. We see Lord Asriel appealing to the Angels as he tries to raise enough support to wage war against The Authority. The post-credit scene with Roger in this season’s final episode is shocking and sets up season 3.

I really cannot recommend binging this series enough.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2). Streaming on HBO MAX

* TV SERIES RECAP: DEAD TO ME (Seasons 1 & 2)

It originally came out in May 2019 on Netflix, but it wasn’t until this past summer of 2020, during the confinement when I finally had the chance to sit down and binge on seasons 1 & 2. The show runs for roughly 30 minutes at 10 episodes per season, making it very easy to binge through the whole thing in a few sittings.

It’s essentially a dark comedy but with a lot more drama than comedy; the humor and comedic moments are hilarious, but when the drama arrives, the show gets dark pretty fast.

We have Jenn (Christina Applegate), a widower searching for her husband’s killer, who was the victim of a hit and run driver. She spends most of her time obsessively looking for speeding cars passing through the scene of her husband’s death, with the hopes of finding a lead to the hit and run driver who killed her husband. She theorizes that perhaps the killer might be living in her neighborhood. Christina Applegate was nominated for an EMMY for this performance, probably her most intense performance ever. She is remarkable here.

While attending a grief support group, Jennifer meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). Judy is an upbeat, positive-minded person but seems to be hiding a secret. Her interest in befriending Jenn is suspicious. Linda Cardellini made this character likable — at first, I was taken aback by her decision to get close to Jenn, but as the show progresses, you cannot help but root for Judy.

On a dual role, playing twin brothers Steve and Ben, James Marsden adds a unique dynamic to the plot. Katey Segal’s addition to the cast was an excellent choice; her character has a manipulative, sinister vibe to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in season 3, especially when she gets to interact with Jenn, which will feel like an unofficial Married with Children reunion of sorts.

The acting is what makes this type of material work. The entire ensemble cast is excellent—lots of drama, emotions, and heavy emotional content. The writing feels real and raw. The acting and the writing come together naturally and organically. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Once the two female leads are established as characters, their personality traits remain consistent. The rest of the female characters, like Detective Perez and Jenn’s mother-in-law, are well written — all the supporting characters are compelling and exciting.

There is this unique display of affluential, upper-class living portrayed by the luxury and flawless appearance of the houses inhabited by most of the central characters. They present this illusion of perfection, which is a mirage of the chaos, misery, and overall unhappiness in their personal lives. There is a particular scene when Jenn is crying her eyes out while an immaculate-looking kitchen surrounds her; A perfect example of the facade her character exhibits.

Season 1: It is mostly about Jenn’s grief and her family dynamics.

Season 2: We get to know more about Judy and explore her backstory further. There are many layers to Judy’s backstory, and season 2 gives you a more in-depth look at her life. 

Netflix announced in July 2020 that a 3rd and final season would be coming, but there have been rumors of a possible cancellation, which would be sad and unfortunate. This show deserves to come full circle and bring Judy and Jenn’s story to a conclusion.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Streaming on NETFLIX

*TV SERIES RECAP: HOLLYWOOD

The whole concept of this series is to essentially reimagine and reinvent Post-World War II Hollywood as an alternative history of the golden age of American cinema; Where real-life Hollywood figures are mixed in with a bunch of fictional characters.

At the center of the story, we have a group of aspiring actors, writers, and directors attempting to challenge the bigotry, sexism, and homophobia of the Hollywood studio system. Created by Ryan Murphy, Nip/tuck (2003-2010) Feud (2017), there are 7 episodes, each running roughly about one hour long.

There are many things that work well with this show, and there are a bunch of things that do not work well. To me, the real-life characters were much more complex and a lot more interesting than the fictional characters.

Jim Parsons sheds his Sheldon Cooper persona brilliantly playing real-life Hollywood agent Henry Wilson who was Rock Hudson’s real-life agent. Wilson was a highly controversial figure in Hollywood’s golden age, known for developing a unique and specific “look” from his young male clients. Henry Wilson comes across as this awful person, but he is probably the most compelling character in the whole show. I could not wait to see more of this character. Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) is excellent as a young version of Hudson, who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is signing on with this nasty piece of work, Henry Wilson as his talent agent.

There are plenty of well-written scenes, and the costumes are excellent. The show is beautifully shot, capturing the glitz and glamour of the era. But on top of all that, my other favorite thing from this show was Dylan McDermott (Ernie), based on real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Ernie operates a male gigolo prostitution racket out of a gas station, where rich men and women would pick up young men from the station to have sexual encounters with. It was also well-known that closeted older rich gay men will often use this system to meet young men.

Many legendary and infamous Hollywood real-life stories are depicted throughout the show, like the notorious “Hollywood Orgy” parties organized by George Cukor. The show explores the predatory and abusive level of exploitation of young stars by people in positions of power and influence, which resonates deeply with the current MeToo movement.

And, of all the fictional characters, Mira Sorvino (Jeanne Crandall) has some of the best scenes, mostly relating to the abuse of power and the level of exploitation by powerful men. Her character is super compelling, considering Sorvino went through similar issues with Harvey Weinstein.

Queen Latifah (Hattie McDaniel) is terrific here, completely owning her scenes. Noel Coward (Billy Boyd), making a brief appearance, was a nice addition. Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), Vivien Leigh (Katie McGuinness), Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster): All of them portraying real-life figures are exceptional.

However, to me, the show became less and less interesting as the fantasy and alternate history element took over. Discerning what was real and what was not became murky and confusing at times. I sense that the main point here was to expose the level of prejudice, racism, and sexism that existed in Hollywood in that era — and how complicit Hollywood studios were in elevating certain stereotypes. Still, this show would have been much more effective in delivering their intended message by minimizing this parallel reality within the real-life storylines and remaining a lot closer to the truth. Nevertheless, HOLLYWOOD is a hyper surreal and compelling show to watch.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

HOLLYWOOD (2020). Streaming on Netflix

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE OUTSIDER

The legend of El Cucu finally gets a spot on mainstream TV — Based on a Stephen King novel and adapted for TV by best-selling crime novelist Richard Price — The Outsider is not a straightforward murder mystery like I initially imagined; it is a detective crime drama with a huge supernatural component.

The premise is not as simple as it seems: A kid has been murdered in a small town, and all of the forensic evidence points to the local little league coach Terry (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But coach Terry seems to be well-liked by all the town locals. However, plenty of evidence points to him being miles away from town at a conference when the murder happened.

Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is a grief-stricken cop who has tragically lost his kid recently. Ralph is hell-bent on solving this crime and is convinced coach Terry is guilty.

The paradox of being in two places at the same time becomes, at first, the main obstacle our protagonist must solve. This is a dark but slow and steady show. It can be a bit frustrating if you are not into slow-moving plots. Nevertheless, there are some solid elements to The Outsider that merits watching it.

There are some weird but pretty cool camera shots and angles. We have different and exciting characters that feel real; they seem like regular people confronted all of a sudden with the supernatural, and we get to see how they attempt to rationalize things that they cannot explain rationally. The entire ensemble cast of supporting characters is excellent.

The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is the best thing about this show; she adds a particular dynamic and energy to the plot. Stephen King fans will immediately recognize this character from the novel Mr. Mercedes (2014). This show introduces her as this quirky, weird private investigator who has this extraordinary ability to see things from a unique perspective.

El Cuco (The Coco) is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, primarily known in Hispanic cultures, but there are versions of this entity in just about every culture worldwide. It is also known as El Cucuy, El Cucui, and Coca. However, the lore of El Cuco was mildly presented and loosely explored in the show. Nonetheless, they explained that this entity feeds on the suffering, grief, and sorrow people feel after a tragedy and how it copies the identity of people it has come into contact with by scratching them.

If there is a second season, I would love to see them tackle more of the folklore of El Cuco and expand on this entity and its connection to similar cases all over the world.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE OUTSIDER (2020). Streaming on HBO

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