Modern Love Series Premiere Review | Screen Rant

One look at the sizable, arguably star-studded, cast assembled for Amazon Prime Video’s latest anthology series, Modern Love, not to mention its earnest, almost saccharine approach to stories of — obviously — love and romance and relationships of all shapes and sizes, and you could be forgiven for thinking it the latest project from Love Actually and Notting Hill creator, Richard Curtis. Instead, the series hails from John Carney, the writer-director of such films as Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street. Impressively, Carney’s emotional storytelling ambitions are in no way stifled by the move to television, if anything, they’re given the chance to branch out and explore in ways he hasn’t been able to before. 

In making the move to television, Carney has surrounded himself with plenty of talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Though he writes and directs half of the series’ eight episodes, he’s joined by the likes of writer-director-actor Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Divorce), who delivers one of the biggest delights of the series, as well as actor-director Emmy Rossum (Shameless), and Tom Hall (Red Rock, Trivia). And though that will be of interest to some streaming the series when it drops on October 18, it’s the impressive cast that includes Academy Award-winner Anne Hathaway, as well as Tina Fey, John Slattery, Catherine Keener, Andy Garcia, Dev Patel, Olivia Cooke, Sofia Boutella, Gary Carr, Cristin Milioti, and recent Emmy winner Julia Garner that will likely be the big pull for most viewers. 

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Anthologies have been increasingly popular recently, particularly on streaming services. Not only do they allow for a wider array of stories to be told, they also attract the aforementioned big-name talent that helps get more eyeballs on a services’s content in an ever-crowded television marketplace. And Amazon has been pushing its first-class cast as the primary reason for subscribers to binge the television equivalent of a cozy sweater or bowl of comfort food that’s perfect for a quiet fall weekend indoors. 

Based on the New York Times column and podcast of the same name, the series is concerned with human connection — romantic and otherwise. And, true to its source, it functions much of the time like a second-hand account of other people’s attempts at making that sought-after human connection — romantic or otherwise. Each story is a self-contained, half-hour episode, which makes bingeing not only possible, but far more enjoyable than if each installment had clocked in at an hour or more, like Amazon’s recently canceled anthology from Matt Weiner, The Romanoffs. While Modern Love may not have the same scale as Weiner’s foray into the world of streaming TV, its storytelling ambitions are strikingly similar. 

The series takes several different swings — some big, some surprisingly small — early on, with the Hathaway-led ‘Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am’ offering a glimpse of A) Carney’s fondness for music in film and B) the series’ willingness to experiment with genre as a way of differentiating the episodes visually and thematically. For those watching in order — though that’s certainly not necessary — Hathaway’s episode comes in third, after the effective tear-jerker ‘When Your Doorman Is Your Main Man’ starring Cristin Milioti as a single mother to be and Laurentiu Possa as her doorman/surrogate father Guzmin. There’s also ‘When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,’ which stars Catherine Keener, Dev Patel, and Andy Garcia. That episode tells two stories of missed chances and the hope of reconnection, even after decades have passed. It’s perhaps the most conventional of the first three stories, and certainly the most saccharine, though it’s anchored by convincing performances from Keener, Patel, and especially Garcia, as a veteran journalist still pining for the woman who got away after all those years. 

Perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise is ‘Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,’ the installment from Sharon Horgan, starring Tina Fey and John Slattery as a couple on the verge of a divorce. It’s the flat-out funniest installment of the eight episodes, but’s also an interesting change of pace as Horgan’s sweet-but-cynical style of writing and comedy stands in stark contrast to Carney’s more sincere, arguably wholesome approach. The episode also serves as something of a palate cleanser (again, if you’re watching in order) after the expressionistic emotional roller coaster ride of Hathaway’s episode. And while Rossum and Hall’s episodes might not bring the same level of distinction, they do function well within the framework of the series as a whole. 

The secret to the series’ success lies in its casting, and the memorable pairings of actors that emerge as a result. Rossum gets terrific performances out of both Garner and Shae Whigham, while Carney finds compelling couples with Keener and Garcia, as well as Hathaway and Gary Carr (The Deuce, Downton Abbey). Most notably, though, it’s hard to beat the pairing of Fey and Slattery. They are so good together and so convincing as a couple that it should be considered a crime they haven’t played husband and wife in anything before.  

Modern Love can be judged on its parts or the sum of those parts. The former is uneven at times, but not enough to derail one’s enjoyment of the series as a whole. It is perhaps the most successful anthology Amazon’s put together so far, as its premise is simple yet broad enough to appeal to a wide variety of voices and styles, and still find distinct enough stories to please its intended audience. 

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Modern Love premieres Friday, October 18 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

2019-10-15 03:10:28

Kevin Yeoman

Living With Yourself Series Premiere Review | Screen Rant

Paul Rudd may be known these days as the seemingly ageless funnyman who also helps the Avengers save the world from time to time as Ant-Man. But in the new dark comedy Living With Yourself, Rudd takes on a more grounded persona, one of a disaffected middle-aged guy stuck in a professional and emotional rut, watching as his hopes and dreams slowly pass him by. 

That sort of workplace malaise and domestic ennui has been the source of many works of fiction, and in that sense, Living With Yourself is nothing new. But the series, from creator and writer Tim Greenberg and directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine, Battle of the Sexes), introduces a somewhat new angle to the story of a man who seemingly has everything and yet feels like he has nothing with a sci-fi twist, by cloning Rudd’s Miles and replacing him with a better version of himself. When the original Miles wakes up in the forest (an error on behalf of the company that cloned him), the series shifts into existential mode, wherein the original must compete with his better self if he wants to hold on to all he’s taken for granted. 

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Two times the Paul Rudd is probably great for an elevator pitch — and perhaps even a reason why this series was green-lighted in the first place — and it works here early on on a purely conceptual level. Much of that has to do with the inherent silliness of the premise and the degree to which the series is only tangentially interested in the science and, subsequently, the earth-shattering consequences of a rapid cloning procedure that somehow produces a copy with enhanced attributes. That Living With Yourself pays little attention to its science fiction elements — choosing to keep them secret from much of the world — strains the series’ credulity and hinders Miles’s story as he settles into a strained domestic routine with his better self, one that, not surprisingly, becomes competitive. 

While less abstract science and more committed genre world-building isn’t necessarily the point of the series, Greenberg’s premise relies on it enough that number of leaps in logic he makes in order to move from outlandish sci-fi hypothesis to existential dark comedy ultimately leaves the series wanting. Instead of treating it as a routine, almost banal part of modern society — a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — or offering so few details on how the procedure works that it becomes little more than an afterthought, Living With Yourself lingers too long in its theoretical world, opening itself up to greater scrutiny of its rules and conditions. The ideas presented here are too big and too new to this world for them not to have a greater impact on the characters, making the degree to which they are glossed over, in favor of getting closer to certain core existential questions the series would rather explore, an enormous missed opportunity that’s difficult to overlook. 

On the bright side, Rudd is as charming as ever, both as the disgruntled and disappointed Miles and as his new and improved (and increasingly smug) clone. Too often when an actor is asked to take on dual roles they either go to absurd extremes in differentiating the two, or they play them as so similar it requires a visual cheat (haircut, facial hair, etc.) in order tell them apart. While there is a visual component to the two Mileses — the original is sloppy and unshaven, while new Miles is, well, newer looking — Rudd also gives them two distinct personalities. Those personalities add a greater, albeit surprisingly bitter, dimension to the story, one that suggests life inevitably beats people down and one way (if not the only way) to find your happiness is to give yourself over to a manufactured kind of contentment and joy. 

This is most evident in the characters played by Aisling Bea (This Way Up) and Desmin Borges (You’re the Worst). Bea plays Kate, Miles’s wife, who is eager to have a child, but can’t because couple is in need of some medical help in order to conceive. Meanwhile, Borges’s Dan, is Miles’s co-worker who also underwent the cloning procedure, but didn’t have his old self wake up buried in a shallow grave in the forest. While again, the implications of there being a dead Dan decomposing somewhere is unnerving and requires more acknowledgement than the series is willing to give, the idea underlines the better-living-through-science theme that’s recurrent throughout the narrative.    

It’s unclear whether or not this was what Greenberg, Faris, and Dayton intended or if it’s simply an inadvertent byproduct of the story’s efforts to confront Miles’s discontent by pitting him against (and putting his potential offspring in the hands of) scientific progress run amok. The result, then, is a series that is anchored by a terrific lead performance from Rudd, but begins to fall apart too quickly around the seams of its ambitious, ultimately under-baked concept. While Bea and Borges, and an underused Alia Shawkat, are inviting additions to the series, their characters are underdeveloped to the point that they struggle to offer the additional emotional and character depth Living With Yourself could have benefited from. 

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Living With Yourself will stream exclusively on Netflix starting on Friday, October 18.

2019-10-13 02:10:40

Kevin Yeoman

Treadstone Series Premiere Review | Screen Rant

While the franchise built from Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity may have stalled (temporarily) after the Jeremy Renner-led spinoff, The Bourne Legacy, and Matt Damon’s most recent return to the character, in the imaginatively titled Jason Bourne, Universal is hard at work keeping the series alive by switching gears from theatrical blockbusters to — what else? — an ongoing television series with Treadstone. Though it may sound as though it hews too close to Renner’s Legacy, the new series is more than a mere continuation of the Bourne saga without Jason Bourne; it is instead a vast, generation-spanning narrative that explores the origins of the clandestine government program responsible for turning people into easily controlled (well, not so easily) killing machines, while also moving the story forward into the present day. 

It’s no small ask for audiences to buy into a story set in the Bourne Universe but without Jason Bourne — just ask Bourne Legacy writer and director Tony Gilroy. But Treadstone has an ace up its sleeve in that, rather than try and replace Damon’s admittedly irreplaceable Bourne with a single Bourne-like character, the series focuses its attention on expanding the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage and spycraft that not only makes the characters more exciting, but also — and this is important — interchangeable. Instead of operating in the margins of stories focused on Jason Bourne, Treadstone provides the audience with unfettered access to the “truth” of its titular program, one that, despite efforts quash it, continues apace today. 

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By shifting focus in that way, Treadstone is able to more easily operate as an ensemble, one that begins in the early ‘70s when a CIA agent, Randolf Bentley (Jeremy Irvine), unwittingly becomes one of the first successful “super spies,” albeit one created by the United States’ foe in the Cold War. In doing so, the series premiere delivers many of the familiar beats known to the Bourne franchise: superbly choreographed fight sequences, death-defying stunts, rooftop chases, international locales, government agents yelling at one another in high-tech control rooms, journalists uncovering massive conspiracies, etc. As such, the series is a successful mix of the old and the new, resulting in a story that will be comfortably familiar to audiences but will dangle enough tantalizing new elements that it feels as if the story is moving somewhere it hasn’t before. The fact that it does this with dual narratives — ostensibly moving forwards and backwards in time — is an added bonus that works in Treadstone’s favor. 

In addition to Bentley, those narratives introduce Han Hyo-joo as SoYun Park, a North Korean piano teacher, and Doug McKenna (Brian J. Smith), a roughneck working in Alaska, who both happen to be Treadstone sleeper agents. Though it its essentially covering well-trod territory here, Treadstone introduces a new subset to the program called Cicada. Like Blackbriar, Cicada creates super spies, with the intent for them to be placed in unassuming public personas and activated as needed. 

Treadstone takes great pains in introducing SoYun and Doug, and showing their confusion after being activated. But it also revels in what the Cicadas can do, meaning Randolf, Doug, and SoYun are all involved in the same sort of close-quarters hand-to-hand combat that made the films so much fun to watch. Surely much to the relief of many, the show delivers on this front, as Irvine, Hyo-joo, and Smith (among others) deliver believable, kinetic, and satisfying fisticuffs on a regular basis in the hour-long premiere and beyond. 

But while the most important aspect of the series is undoubtedly its competence with regard to its action sequences, Treadstone still takes time to develop supporting characters, like Michelle Forbes and Michael Gaston as Ellen Becker and Dan Levine, respectively — think Joan Allen and Chris Cooper’s characters from the films — Omar Metwally as a CIA agent, and Tracy Ifeachor as Tara Coleman, a discredited journalist who is closer to the truth about Treadstone than the government would like. 

It all adds up to an attractive and engaging ensemble that lives up to the cinematic highs of the original films, while still regularly capitalizing on the breadth of storytelling that television allows. Case in point: both SoYung and Doug have established domestic lives — SoYung with a husband and son, and Doug with a wife — that will inevitably come into conflict with their duties as spies and assassins, especially as they become increasingly cognizant of who and what they really are. Meanwhile, Treadstone introduces a Russian agent named Petra (Emilia Schüle) who is a major player in both the ‘70s timeline and the present-day one. Petra not only helps bridge the two storylines, but hints at the degree to which audiences can expect Randolf to play a major part in both eras as well. 

The result, then, is an entertaining action romp that knows how to please its audience. But Treadstone isn’t content to be merely a rehash of the best Bourne movies, as its early efforts move the franchise forward (and backwards) in some fascinating ways that may well change the future of the Bourne Universe.

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Treadstone premieres Tuesday, October 15 @10pm on USA.

2019-10-13 02:10:12

Kevin Yeoman

Goliath Season 3 Review | Screen Rant

Though Amazon is more or less in the business of building blockbuster TV franchises, with the likes of the recently released Carnival Row, The Boys, Jack Ryan (and maybe even Jack Reacher) and, of course, the upcoming Lord of the Rings series, the streamer still has designs on some of its successful smaller shows, like the always entertaining cop show Bosch and its legal-themed equivalent, Goliath. 

Goliath was co-created by David E. Kelley, who after making a name for himself in the ‘90s with several broadcast network legal thrillers has lately spread himself across cable, satellite, and streaming platforms, delivering Big Little Lies, Mr. Mercedes, and Amazon’s unexpectedly quirky legal series. That the series stars Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton is almost beside the point, as its appeal stems less from the star power behind it, than from the attraction of watching an old-school legal thriller that’s somehow merged with a prestige show from just a few years ago. That is to say, there’s very little legal wheeling and dealing going on in the average episode of Goliath, as the show is, more often than not, concerned with Billy’s personal demons and the cadre of unusual, exaggerated characters he meets on his way to the truth. 

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So, not quite a character drama and not quite a true-and-blue courtroom drama, Goliath is something of an odd duck. As a result, it can feel like a mess sometimes, as it does in season 3, when the story kicks off with former Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn falling to her death in a sink hole on her drought-stricken California vineyard, in full view of her husband, played by Griffin Dunne. As it turns out, both are old friends of Thornton’s Billy McBride, and it’s not long after the death of Bobbi (Fenn) that Gene (Dunne) calls for help, believing illegal drilling for water by some wealthy corporate farmers is to blame for the sink hole that claimed his wife’s life. 

Sure, there are more convoluted plots floating around television right now, and some of them may even work better than what Goliath has cooked up. But what this series has that many don’t is an almost gleeful willingness to buy and lean into its own bewildering intricacies, sometimes with a flair that feels flagrantly lifted from Twin Peaks, only to come out the other side with an unusually entertaining and easy to watch legal thriller that’s only sort of interested in being a legal thriller. 

Season 3 welcomes back McBride’s partner Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda), but it also introduces an entirely new crop of supporting characters, almost all of whom exhibit some sort of eccentricity or another. This time around, the big guest stars are Dennis Quaid as Wade Blackwood, the wealthy corporate farmer at the center of Gene’s wrongful death lawsuit, as well as Amy Brenneman as Wade’s sister Diana. As is so often the case, there’s something not quite right with the siblings’ relationship, as they own a veritable empire and live together in a palatial mansion, and yet have no significant others to speak of. 

But Goliath doesn’t stop there. Instead, it plows forward full steam ahead with a seemingly endless parade of eccentrics, introducing Beau Bridges as Wheeler, a fellow corporate farmer whose wrapped up in Diana’s drilling scheme she cooked up with the head of security at a local casino, played by Graham Greene. On the lighter side, the show welcomes the always terrific Ileana Douglas as Rita, a casino barfly who takes a liking to Billy and offers up some of the third season’s biggest laughs. Then there’s Matthew Weiner — yes, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner — as Matthew Weiner who seems to have won the heart of Los Angeles Mayor Marisol Silva (Ana de la Reguera).

It’s all sudden and unreal enough to have you wondering whether or not you missed an episode along way, and that’s before Billy is routinely drugged and knocked out, resulting in fractured memories and hallucinatory late-night commutes. But Billy’s not the only one operating under the influence. Wade, Wheeler, and a few other nameless but presumably prominent businessmen regularly embark on trips of their own via an unfortunately stereotypical representation of Native American mysticism that somehow results in Dennis Quaid singing a rendition of ‘The Rose’ to a packed theater audience comprised entirely of himself. 

That is all to say, Goliath season 3 is one strange trip. But it’s not not fun. In fact, in its third go-round, Goliath may have become one of Amazon’s most reliably entertaining original series. The show has an exceedingly watchable quality to it, one that extends beyond the nature of its more bizarre flourishes and its questionable dramatic intent, to offer up something that’s both familiar and unique. Or enough of both to merit a binge-watch. 

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Goliath season 3 streams exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, October 4.

2019-10-03 01:10:12

Kevin Yeoman

Peaky Blinders Season 5 Review | Screen Rant

Over the past few years, the BBC drama Peaky Blinders has seen its profile increase with each subsequent season, becoming a legitimate international hit, thanks in large part to its gritty storytelling, terrific cast headed up by Cillian Murphy, and its availability on Netflix shortly after its U.K. run concludes. There’s plenty more to like this time around, as the new season begins on Black Tuesday 1929, kicking off the Great Depression. It’s perhaps the most overt example of the stylish historical drama using a particular moment in time to distinguish its latest storyline and wreak havoc for Murphy’s Tommy Shelby and the plans for his family’s criminal dominance. 

As crime sagas go, Steven Knight’s vision of the post-WWI rise of a scrappy Irish crime family, from the hard-scrabble slums of Birmingham to a seat in the English government, has been one the most deliberate and satisfying in recent memory. With Knight confirming his desire to continue its run through at least season 7, he sees the series run headlong into a tumultuous time in European history, one where the wheels of time threaten to crush Tommy Shelby’s criminal, financial, and political ambitions. 

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The thought of the series progressing from one world war to another might have been a distant dream when Knight first launched Peaky Blinders back in 2013, but now it’s a very real possibility. That’s true in part because of the show’s penchant for jumping forward in time each season, but also as season 5 begins the footwork of charting the rise of fascism and nationalism that portends the rise of Nazi Germany and the devastation of World War II. 

It’s no small feat for a period drama like Blinders to have its eye on the future, while keeping its feet firmly planted in its characters’ present. That present is uncertain for Tommy and what’s left of his family, as their legitimate business holdings in the U.S. take a tremendous blow from the stock market crash, one that is facilitated in part by Michael (Finn Cole) failing to heed his cousin’s orders to sell off their holdings prior to the market’s collapse. This leaves the Shelby’s scrambling to raise some much-needed cash, facilitating a return to various less-than-legitimate enterprises. 

Knight, Murphy, and season 5 director Anthony Byrne structure the story around an increasingly vulnerable and emotionally isolated Tommy, who, as a veteran of the first World War has seen better days. That’s saying a lot about where things are headed this time around, particularly with regard to the various ups and downs the Shelby clan has experienced over the past four seasons. This time, though, Knight takes his torment of Tommy up a notch, giving him a growing and consuming addiction to opiates, which leaves the door of his psyche wide open for the ghosts of his past to come back to haunt him. 

It’s not merely the past that knocks Tommy off balance this time around, however. There’s a storm on the horizon, and, as usual, it’s almost as though Tommy’s the only one prescient enough to see it. Knight has a knack for introducing and building conflict from a number of different angles, and that’s readily apparent in season 5. The series has a well-established track record of familial dissent fueling some of Tommy’s biggest headaches, and it’s no different here, though the sources of Tommy’s vexation are somewhat changed. 

No longer is his older, emotionally volatile brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) a threat to Tommy’s role at the head of the Shelby family table. Instead, Arthur has become Tommy’s most trusted ally (in the family at least), passing the baton of familial friction to Finn, who returns to Birmingham from Detroit, tail tucked between his legs after losing a vast sum of the family’s fortune, and with a new bride, Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy). Gina’s ambitions are obvious and she sees her new husband as a means to an end, even if she has to play Lady Macbeth in order to see them come to fruition. Gina’s but one piece of a larger movement of spousal dissent, one that has Arthur’s wife Linda (Kate Phillips) pushing him to make moves he’s unwilling or unable to make, while Tommy’s latest, Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe), can’t seem to get through to him how much his family needs him more than the Family. 

At times it seems as though everyone is talking, but no one is listening, and Knight uses this to his advantage, as his characters and the world at large appear oblivious to the storm clouds on the horizon. Everyone except Tommy Shelby that is. As usual, Tommy’s running several schemes simultaneously, playing a Yojimbo-like game with and against friend, family, and foe alike. But it’s those foes that give Peaky Blinders season 5 a frightening present-day relevance as newcomer Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) cuts a disturbing far-right figure, one who’s aligned himself with a gang of Scottish fascists who want a slice of Tommy’s pie. 

Claflin is one of the best villains to come out of Peaky Blinders since Sam Neill’s Inspector Chester Campbell, largely because the Peaky Blinders’ usual methods of dealing with enemies  are unavailable in this case. And, like Campbell, Mosley is able to turn the Blinders’ strategies against them, all while he further insulates himself from reprisal. It’s not uncommon for the series to make it look as though Tommy’s met his match, only to reveal he’s been one step ahead of the competition the whole time. It is refreshing, however, to see that even in its fifth season, the series can still ratchet up the tension and put the squeeze on its unlawful family in such a confident and entertaining way.

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Peaky Blinders season 5 will stream on Netflix beginning Friday, October 4.

2019-10-01 03:10:09

Kevin Yeoman

Big Mouth Season 3 Review | Screen Rant

It’s no surprise that in season 3, Netflix’s Emmy-nominated adult animated comedy Big Mouth would seek to connect its characters’ often confounding and always hilarious push into young adulthood to current social movements intended to hold people accountable for their miserable actions. Though it usually likes to approach all things hormonal with an eye toward the ultra-raunchy, the series from creators Nick Kroll, Mark Levin, Andrew Goldberg, and Jennifer Flackett also has a knack for infusing its surface-level vulgarity with smart, honest, topical, and occasionally sweet storytelling. While that may belie the more outlandish nature of a series that features a pair of hormone monsters — one of whom has a seemingly endless array of pet penises (peni?) — it’s ultimately what makes the comedy a must-watch for reasons other than its mastery of prurient dialogue. 

Season 3, then, is a turning point for the series — which has already been renewed through season 6 — one that puts almost all of its core relationships to the test, as teens Nick (Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Missy (Jenny Slate), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), and Jessi (Jessi Glaser) find growing up even more of a challenge than previously thought. It’s a necessary step forward for a series that has relied on the friendships — solid and tenuous — to act as the foundational bedrock of the show’s primary narrative. The shift effectively shakes up the series’ status quo, opening the door for a new beginning of sorts in season 4, one that may well see the show irrevocably changed. 

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While that may sound as if Big Mouth has traded in penis jokes for the ham-fisted storytelling of an after-school special, rest assured, season 3 is as funny (and dirty) if not funnier (and dirtier) than anything the series has produced so far. The new season also leans into absurdity to a greater degree than seasons 1 or 2, which allows the show’s writers to approach their stories from a number of different angles, giving the series a fresh sheen, whether it needed it or not. 

That willingness to throw the audience a curveball probably shouldn’t be so surprising given the kinds of stories the series has decided to tell so far. But it’s nevertheless interesting to see Big Mouth lean into scenarios that actively accentuate some characters’ worst behavior, drawing attention to their actions, but neither condoning nor overly moralizing it. In other words, Big Mouth season 3 is focused on exploring the reasons behind all its characters mistakes – big and small – as they fumble their way through an already confusing adolescence, one made even more difficult by social movements that can seem particularly nebulous to teens — even bizarrely self-aware animated ones.  

What Big Mouth attempts to do in season 3, then, isn’t so much to have a series of very-special episodes, drawing from things like the #MeToo movement, but instead to demonstrate the ways in which having an awareness of such movements impacts how these kids interpret their own burgeoning adulthood and understanding of relationships and sexuality. It sounds heavier than it actually is. Big Mouth is nothing if not eager to turn each and every situation into an opportunity for someone like Andrew or Jay to misinterpret it completely and succeed in making everyone as uncomfortable as possible. 

Season 3, though, finds an unlikely pseudo-antagonist in Andrew, who had his own mini-Breaking Bad moment in season 2 after adopting a repugnant and aggressive identity (complete with a backwards Kangol cap) as he tried to woo his longtime love interest, Missy. Andrew’s descent into near-incel territory is maybe the finest line Big Mouth has attempted to walk so far, as the potential for the show to err in striking the right balance between underlining unacceptable behavior and still making it funny to watch. As it turns out, the series is up to the task as Andrew’s many failures snowball over the course of the season, putting an incredible strain on his relationships with Nick, Jessi, Jay, and Missy.   

But Big Mouth isn’t interested in pointing fingers so much as it is in showing its characters navigate unfamiliar territory, meaning Andrew may be on his way to becoming an unlikable character, but the show never lets him become completely unmoored. Instead, the new season delivers a handful of parallel storylines that take some of the pressure off Andrew, and, surprisingly, put some of the onus of bad behavior on an unlikely source: Nick. 

Meanwhile, the series again demonstrates its knack for inclusivity by introducing the pansexual Ali (Ali Wong) as a new student who kicks off a regrettably familiar story of middle school’s boys pulling a Social Network by ranking their female classmates against one another based on desirability. This all unfolds as Jay struggles to accept his bisexuality, Jessi develops feelings for a friend’s older brother, and Matthew (Andrew Rannells) finally finds a potential boyfriend. Oh, and there’s plenty more interference by Maury and Connie (Maya Rudolph), the hormone monsters who are consistently the source of the show’s biggest laughs and its characters’ worst mistakes. 

Big Mouth has proven time and again that it can tackle some very uncomfortable material and still find a way to make it funny and relatable. That sort of sweet-natured cringe-worthiness has become the show’s calling card, and why it was nominated (and should have won) an Emmy this year. But it also gives the comedy plenty of leeway with regard to the direction its story will take, as it sometimes unabashedly draws its characters as unlikeable teens who are nevertheless all the more likable for all their animated but still very real shortcomings. 

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Big Mouth season 3 streams Friday, October 4 exclusively on Netflix.

2019-09-30 02:09:08

Kevin Yeoman

The Good Place Season 4 Premiere Review | Screen Rant

NBC’s The Good Place has been something of a radical hit for the Peacock network. It helped revitalize the broadcaster’s comedy line-up and demonstrated that audiences will continue to support (in an almost rabid manner) unique, thoughtful, and funny sitcoms. The lighthearted, twist-filled afterlife saga of a group of not totally great, not totally bad people and the demon posing as an architect of the perfect place to spend eternity took on a reputation that nearly eclipsed the show itself. Over the course of three seasons, it has surreptitiously become akin to the new Lost networks have been clamoring for since Damon Lindelof’s TV phenomenon ended its six season run. It’s a strange position for the seemingly unassuming half-hour comedy to be in, one that comes with its very own obsessive fan culture that will no doubt be tested as the series embarks on its fourth and final season. 

That The Good Place is calling it quits with season 4 is a sign of the Peak TV times, in that more and more, inventive shows are being designed with an endpoint in mind, rather than made to continue on in perpetuity until they eventually fizzle out. It’s also a sign that what creator Mike Schur developed when he sent Kristin Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto to meet Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden in the afterlife was a chance for NBC to be on the cutting edge (or as close to it as possible) of single-camera comedies without resorting to a reboot or revival of a much-loved or much-streamed-by-millennials sitcom. As such, its end is both unfortunate and also sign that the future of broadcast network comedy isn’t as dire as it might seem. 

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The same can be said for Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell) and her afterlife cohort as they begin the show’s end run with what is perhaps the highest stakes story the series has yet to offer. After all, what began as a not-great young woman trying to con her way into staying in an afterlife she didn’t deserve has now become the story of that same not-great (but trying to be better) young woman as she and her friends become the last chance for humanity to once again gain entry into the real Good Place.

Though it might seem as though such a lofty premise will distract The Good Place from what’s, well, good about the series, it’s quite the opposite. Over the past three seasons, Schur and his writers have put Eleanor, Chidi (Harper), Tahani (Jamil), and Jason (Jacinto) through the ringer in order to demonstrate that people can not only change, but they can change for the better. Season 3 ended with one last great twist (though, if anyone’s thinking there won’t be another before the series ends, they’re forking crazy) that left Eleanor in charge of the new (fake) Good Place and Chidi’s memories wiped, all so the gang can prove to the Judge (Maya Rudolph) that the whole system of accounting good and bad deeds is messed up and needs to be completely overhauled. 

With that, ‘A Girl from Arizona, Part 1’ establishes what’s at stake for the gang, on both a personal and, well, far more grand scale. What’s different this time around is that the plot’s various moving parts are all out in the open. Sure, there’s the usual skullduggery being committed on a regular basis by Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) and the rest of the Bad Place goons, but even their shenanigans are set to be scrutinized by the Judge sooner rather than later. This frees up the show’s initial season 4 steps to not only move at a surprisingly brisk pace, but to focus more intently on the immense burden resting on Eleanor’s shoulders. 

The Good Place boasts one of the finest ensembles on TV at the moment, but as the title ‘A Girl From Arizona’ suggests, it’s also capable of zeroing in on a single character, without it feeling as though the other characters are getting short shrift. Michael, Tahani, Jason, and Janet are all fitted with plots that have them dealing primarily with the task at hand, though The Good Place still finds time for Jason and Janet’s romance to become an issue, while Michael’s nervous breakdown looms large over Eleanor’s new duties as architect. But, for the most part, season 4 kicks things off by getting inside Eleanor’s shrimp-loving headspace, in particular how she plans to deal with her feelings for Chidi now that he no longer knows who she is. 

It’s a bold move for a show that has earned a devoted audience by committing to a series of very bold strokes that could have ended in disaster. So far, The Good Place has proven itself capable in both the comedy and the big ideas department, which gives it an advantage heading into its final season. As one of the biggest shows in TV history recently proved, endings are hard. The Good Place seems determined to prove they don’t have to be. 

Next: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Season 14 Review: A Rom-Com Spoof With Meat Cubes

The Good Place season 4 premieres Thursday, September 26 @9pm on NBC.

2019-09-26 06:09:47

Kevin Yeoman

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 14 Premiere Review

Nothing says funny like the insensitive and morally bankrupt dinguses of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempting to recreate the prescribed magic of a Hollywood rom-com. The season 14 premiere of FXX’s long-running comedy shows that even though the series is well into its old age (in TV years), the gang still has what it takes to make some of the best cringe-worthy comedy on any platform. 

With ‘The Gang Gets Romantic,’ Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito, have their sights set on spoofing the structure of romantic comedies by trying to force one to happen as a way for Dennis (Howerton) to meet some ladies. In order to do this, Mac has devised an elaborate meet cute, in which he lists his and Dennis’s apartment on AirB&B and then pretends to have a scheduling mix-up, thereby putting Dennis and the unsuspecting woman/guest in the same room where, presumably, sparks will fly. It’s a trap — Dennis says as much — that’s not merely unethical, creepy, and totally misguided, but it also allows Mac (McElhenney) a chance to live out his meet cute/matchmaking dreams. However, when the guest, played by Brit Lower (Man Seeking Woman) books the place, she throws a wrench in the whole deal by bringing along her husband (Timm Sharp, Blunt Talk). 

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The premiere not only establishes that It’s Always Sunny still has plenty of ideas ready to go, it also demonstrates just how well versed the cast, writers, and directors are in creating a story for the quartet (and DeVito) that divides them up but still places them on a mostly parallel paths. Case in point: Charlie (Day) and Frank (DeVito) also plan to rent out their room in order to get a little romance going, though things are a little different. For starters, the two share a studio apartment and sleep together on a sofa bed. Those close quarters are essential to their plan, as Charlie and Frank post flyers at the bus station, hoping to attract a couple of European ladies who won’t mind sleeping four to a bed. 

Both scenarios spring from a mutually absurd premise, but they play out very differently from one another. In a not unexpected development, Charlie and Frank find their houseguests are a pair of Austrian gentlemen, one of whom is into yodeling and the other persists in digging at his toe with some sort of strange spoon that inevitably beguiles Frank. Though the  international foursome hits it off, the Austrians are out in the cold as soon as a pair of freewheeling women ask to rent the room, allowing Frank and Charlie the chance to live out their rom-com (okay, pornographic) dreams. Their success on the romantic (okay, orgy) front irks Dennis and Mac, who are getting nowhere with their planned meet cute, as Mac continually misreads the many signals the couple is giving off as they are apparently dealing with some pretty heavy personal circumstances. 

‘The Gang Gets Romantic’ succeeds in part because of its self-aware deconstruction of the typical rom-com formula, but also because of how the episode filters that formula through the oblivious lens of It’s Always Sunny’s lead characters. In less than half an hour, the series manages to spoof Jerry Maguire (twice), Before Sunrise, Pretty Woman, and more. Moreover, the premiere also succeeds in having its comedy both ways by delivering a pair of cutting rom-com spoofs, while also allowing one of them to become surprisingly earnest, albeit in the most unorthodox manner possible. 

Both Lower and Sharp bring a necessary counterbalance to the inanity of Mac and Dennis’s plan, and once Dee (Olson) gets involved, things go predictably off the rails. In other words, everyone here is playing to his or her strengths, and while ‘The Gang Gets Romantic’ doesn’t have the urgency of, say, last year’s ‘The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again,’ which sought not only to skewer a certain red-hat political machine but also answer the question of what would happen to Dennis after Howerton “left” the series due to his commitments on NBC’s canceled and then renewed-but-destinted-for-Peacock high school comedy A.P. Bio, but it nevertheless succeeds by delivering a somewhat familiar yet welcome back-to-basics season opener. 

Most shows that are this long in the tooth have long since lost their edge, and while It’s Always Sunny may no longer be at the peak of its comedic potential, it still offers a winning comedy for anyone who can find FXX on their cable subscription. 

Next: Creepshow Interview: Greg Nicotero On Shudder’s Ability To Cater To True Horror Fans

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues next Wednesday with ‘Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool’ @10pm on FXX.

2019-09-25 06:09:18

Kevin Yeoman

Netflix’s Unbelievable Review | Screen Rant

It’s easy to predict that many responses to Netflix’s limited series Unbelievable will make a comparison between this true-crime tale and the exaggerated noir of HBO’s True Detective. That’s not only too obvious, it does the former the ultimate disservice. Based on the real-life case of a young woman’s victimization at the hands of both a serial rapist and the police who refused to believe her story, as well as the subsequent Pulitzer Prize-winning article from The Marshall Project and ProPublica, ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape,’ by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, the limited series offers a grounded, thoughtful, and thought-provoking account of two police detectives’ dogged pursuit of justice and one young woman’s efforts to heal and be heard after suffering a horrendous assault. 

Unbelievable also features an embarrassment of riches both in front of and behind the camera. Co-created by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, 28 Days), along with acclaimed writer Ayelet Waldman and Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and Picard showrunner) Michael Chabon, the series’ eight episodes are directed by Grant, Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right, Laurel Canyon) and Michael Dinner (Justified). It also features up-and-comer Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) as Marie, the young woman whose assault and subsequent mistreatment by the police kicks the story off. Then there’s the stellar pairing of Merritt Wever and Toni Collette as two Colorado detectives investigating a string of sexual assaults they believe to be committed by a single individual. 

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Such a collection of talent is enough to garner even a passing interest in the series, and given that curious viewers will be reward with a compelling (though sometimes difficult) and fast-paced eight-hour viewing commitment, Unbelievable is likely set to be one of Netflix’s most memorable offerings in 2019. Much of that is in fact due to the aforementioned talent involved, but it’s also due to the measured approach the series takes in telling its story, so that it is not only a a captivating procedural, but it’s also mindful of the women who were victimized by a sexual predator. 

Like ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’ and the This American Life radio episode, ‘Anatomy of Doubt,’ Unbelievable takes a unique approach to its narrative, which is essentially two narratives taking place at different times but unfolding in conjunction with one another. The series begins in the immediate aftermath of Marie’s assault, and her confusion and discomfort stemming not only from the trauma she suffered, but also the lack of empathy she receives from a pair of Lynwood, Washington detectives played by Eric Lange (The Bridge) and Bill Fagerbakke (Coach). The first hour details Marie’s troubled background, her experiences in the foster care system, and her attempts to make a go of things in a closely monitored group home, which is where her assault occurred. 

By taking the audience through Marie’s background with a pair of foster parents, one played by Elizabeth Marvel (Homeland) and another by Brent Sexton (The Killing) and Bridget Everett (Camping), and illustrating the way in which her background essentially (and unfairly) works against her credibility, Cholodenko sets the stage and the stakes for the series as a whole, making the transition in the second episode to a split narrative featuring Marie in the past and also Colorado detectives Karen Duvall (Wever) and Grace Rassmussen (Collette), a few years later, feel like a comprehensive step toward making sure the series’ facts are straight.

Despite its dual narrative, Unbelievable unfolds much like a typical police procedural, albeit one that’s made distinctive by the often colorful interplay between Wever and Collette as they at initially bristle at one another before settling into a more comfortable rhythm that suits both personalities. The series has only a passing interest in the usual bureaucratic red tape that keeps such dogged investigators from doing their job. As such, Unbelievable can at times feel as though it’s riding on rails and that the Grant, Waldman, Chabon, and the other writers are synopsizing rather than excavating a more substantive account of what was an intensive and methodical police investigation. 

Nevertheless, the series is bolstered by superb performances all around, particularly the three leads, though supporting cast like Marvel, Everett, Sexton, and Danielle Macdonald, as the Colorado victims who gets Duvall involved on the case, round out the cast nicely. For her part, Dever is heartbreaking as Marie, establishing the series’ emotional core, though her experience does become increasingly difficult to watch over time. Wever and Collette ultimately steal the show, however, as a pair of ultra-competent police detectives who essentially work an impossible case until it breaks wide open. 

Though viewers could and should read ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’ and listen to ‘Anatomy of Doubt,’ Unbelievable still manages to make this harrowing real-life story into a compelling fictionalized account, one that will make for a fulfilling binge-watch and will perhaps see its stars on awards lists as the year progresses. 

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Unbelievable will stream exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, September 13.

2019-09-12 02:09:37

Kevin Yeoman

Mr. Inbetween Season 2 Review | Screen Rant

Like the ornament hanging from Ray Shoesmith’s rearview mirror in the posters for season 2, Mr. Inbetween is a bit of a unicorn. The FX Australian import shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, much less breathe new life into the seemingly played-out hitman subgenre. And yet, creator, writer, and star Scott Ryan delivers a captivating contradiction is his all-too human tale set in the seedy antipodean underworld, one that puts him and the series in league with some of the best TV antiheroes of all time.

With his shaved head and Mephistophelian smile, Ryan cuts an intimidating figure, one that vacillates credibly between a man who hurts people (and worse) for money (and a not insignificant amount of personal pleasure) and a guy doing his best to raise his young daughter, Brittany (Chika Yasumura), care for his ailing older brother, Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), and carry on a functional relationship with his girlfriend, Ally (Brooke Satchwell). Season 1 of Mr. Inbetween was funny, violent, and at times surprisingly sincere. It was one of the best new shows of the year and a welcome addition to FX’s lineup, offering an ideal blend of dark humor and drama, with some trenchant observations on violence and aggression (i.e., toxic male behavior) without becoming a reductive, surface-level moralistic diatribe. 

More: Mr. Mercedes Season 3 Review: The Series’ Best Season Yet Moves Beyond Its Namesake

Season 2 elevates the series on nearly every level, from Ryan’s writing and acting to the performances of the supporting cast and the directing of Nash Edgerton. The appealing contradictions inherent in both characters and tone are amplified as episodes segue seamlessly from banal conversations wherein characters rank their favorite actors who have played James Bond to moments of quiet domesticity to brutal homicides paid for by Freddy, a mid-level crime lord played by Damon Herriman, the talented Australian character actor who appeared as Charles Manson in both Mindhunter and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. 

The premiere, ‘Shoulda Tapped,’ finds Ray tasked with eliminating a pair of drug-addled dollar store versions of himself, after they botch a hit on a guy Freddy wanted dead. Ryan and Edgerton display a deft understanding of the essential tension Ray brings to nearly every scene. Here, Ray calmly assess the situation and even engages in polite conversation with his marks, all while driving the unwitting pair to their doom. There’s little question of what’s going to happen when all is said and done, but that only adds to the scene’s already palpable sense of unease, which makes the release all the more satisfying (and unnerving) when it finally occurs. 

What’s striking is that Ryan and Edgerton manage to fit all that and more into an episode that runs at a brisk 30 (TV) minutes. The premiere also finds time to see Ray put into a submission hold by a teenage girl at his boxing gym, begin a bullying subplot focused on Brittany’s experiences at school, and reveal a little more about Ray’s personal life with Ally. But as the season moves on, Ryan allows the viewer to gain a more comprehensive understanding or Ray’s worldview. This comes partly through a variety of day-to-day interactions — sometimes with friends, like his porn-addicted buddy Gary (Justin Rosniak), or in his anger support group that’s headed up by filmmaker David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The King) — and partly through Ryan’s own understanding of the deep, unsettling, interior forces at play inside Ray’s head. Mr. Inbetween draws a line between understanding and excusing Ray’s behavior, a distinction that comes in handy when the show necessarily uses its protagonist’s unpleasant profession as a source of entertainment.  

And it is entertaining. That’s partly because every episode feels like an ultra-lean version of an hour-long broadcast. Without the bloat, Mr. Inbetween finds clever ways to keep the audience fixated, without laboring over details. As such, season 2 switches effortlessly among a variety of situations and ongoing storylines, often eschewing the need to signal any turns it makes beforehand. This often leaves the viewer guessing as to the intentions of various characters in any given scene. In a later episode, Ray pays a visit to a guy who owes Freddy some money. The encounter become expectedly violent, but the lack of anticipation or introduction is enough to catch the viewers off guard, which, when added to the humorous flourishes throughout, makes what is otherwise a disposable encounter between Ray and some poor schlub another memorable moment from an extraordinary show. 

Second seasons have a tendency to get bigger in an attempt to outdo what came before. While Mr. Inbetween season 2 is certainly that (it’s the rare show that has earned an increased episode count from one season to the next), it’s also more deeply felt in nearly every moment, from the darkly comedic to the brutally violent to the unexpectedly sincere. 

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Mr. Inbetween season 2 premieres Thursday @10pm on FX.

2019-09-12 01:09:57

Kevin Yeoman