The CDC dropped the surprise “Masks while vaccinated? LOL no way!” guidance on us about a month back leaving state and local officials scrambling to come up with a coherent plan to transition into what we all hope will be the post-pandemic era. My state this week then said, “whatever” and masks and the pandemic were ruled over I guess. But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped watching way too much TV.
Archer Season 11 – Hulu
I thought I had read a couple years back that Archer was going to end with season 10. I certainly had that in my brain somewhere, so dismissed the thought even when Hulu kept putting it up in front of me on login. Then I went to go watch an old episode and discovered there was a whole season I had missed and that season 12 was coming at the end of this summer.
We left off at the end of season 10 with Archer waking up from his coma, there having been three seasons of coma induced dreams that puts Dallas to shame, so season 11 starts with Archer returning to work to find it running like a well oiled machine. Competence abounds and nobody is using “phrasing” any more, all seemingly due to Archer not being there to drive everybody crazy. So the season is essentially Archer returning to form and getting the agency back to its old levels of dysfunction.
The problem is that it feels kind of flat. A return to form after three outrageous, yet unsatisfying, dream sequence seasons should be a cure but instead seems to remind me why we got the triple season experiment in the first place. I watched it all, and will no doubt watch season 12 too, based on H. Jon Benjamin delivery of the character… I watched most of Archer while mixing in episodes of Bob’s Burgers, where HJB is also the main voice, which was an oddly satisfying pairing… but it feels like the show isn’t really stretching… though, neither does Bob’s Burgers of late, so maybe you can only ride on delivery for so long. Or maybe I just miss that “phrasing” is no longer a thing.
Black Summer – Netflix
We’re not really zombie aficionados, but in looking for something to watch we do end up finding more and more entries in the genre. Black Summer is the anti-Walking Dead. To start with, the dead are truly terrifying as they run, full speed, after people all the time. It also isn’t clear if the whole “kill the brain” tactic works on them, mostly because they don’t shamble slowly and let you hack them with whatever object you have to hand. They aren’t exactly the ninja-zombies of Army of the Dead, but they will go straight for you.
Also, the storytelling is very much a break from The Walking Dead. You can go for episodes and learn almost nothing about the people that have been thrown together to face the apocalypse. The series starts with a retelling of the same day from multiple perspectives… a burning Jaguar became an anchor point for me… and then goes on following several people as they move from place to place just trying to survive. It cannot maintain tension and action constantly, but it tries to make every moment an experience in a way that The Walking Dead never did. That said, as a viewer, I do kind of want a “what the hell is going on?” answer at some point. I don’t need a flashback, backstory episode for every primary and secondary character, but seriously, what is going on?
Atlanta – Hulu
Atlanta follows Earnest “Earn” Marks, who is from a poorer, African American part of the city, and his struggles with both the system being stacked against black men and his own community’s seeming acceptance of the way things are. Earn is smart, got good grades, and got into Princeton, but then dropped out and ended up back in Atlanta and a cycle low pay, dead end jobs and trying to make ends meet.
He becomes the manager for his rapper cousin “Paper Boi” and they navigate the Atlanta rap scene where, as with the life in general, Earn is endlessly frustrated with how things are. He knows they should be better, but cannot change the system or the people around him who also buy into and support the system that also hold them back. Early on in the series Earn and his cousin are arrested and Earn is punished for being outside the system. His cousin, having been arrested before, is released almost right away, but Earn has never been arrested so he has to stay over night in a limbo-like waiting room, neither in jail nor free, while he is added to that particular aspect of the system. Played as comedy at times, and tragically hilarious at times, it is very much social commentary.
Jupiter’s Legacy – Netflix
As we’re noticing that the zombie genre just keeps going, the same goes for the superhero graphic novel adaptions. And so it is with Jupiter’s Legacy. Superhero shows and movies tend to be either origin stories… how many times must I witness the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents… or into the action and central issue, allowing a bit of back story to creep in when needed. JL tries to have it both ways, with each episode split between the modern day, when the Union of Justice faces problems with a new generation of super heroes coming into the fold… or rejecting it… and 1929, when the events around the stock market crash set a group of people on a journey that ends up with them obtaining super powers and forming the Union of Justice.
The problem is that neither story really grabbed me. The origin story, since it needs to be told in parallel with the current tale, drags along unnecessarily, waiting for the modern times side of things to get somewhere. Meanwhile, the current timeline stuff is mostly The Utopian, head of the Union of Justice, being disappointed with kids these days and their not being down with the “no killing, no politics” rules of the union, though even he wonders whether sitting out WWII to catch bank robbers and such was the right call. Basically, some times a slow burn isn’t a burn at all. Sometimes it is just slow, so slow that when you get to the big reveal in the final episode of the season you don’t even care.
Friends: The Reunion – HBO Max
My wife wanted to watch this, though I was less than enthusiastic. My wife and I watched Friends and Seinfeld pretty regularly when we moved in together, but I didn’t watch either before that, mostly because I didn’t have live TV or cable for a chunk of the mid 90s. So I am good for the last 6 or so season of Friends, and I’ve never had the urge to go watch it in re-runs.
The special itself tries to find something for everybody, which meant that there were bits I liked… mostly about the history of the show, how casting decisions were made, and the sort of behind the scenes trivia I generally like to read about… and bits that I could have skipped. The obviously staged and rehearsed opening felt… obviously staged and rehearsed I guess.
But it was less than two hours and it had some heft to it at points. I didn’t complain while watching it though, as with the series, I have no urge to go back and watch it again either.
Mare of Easttown – HBO Max
The show follows Mare Sheehan, played by Kate Winslet, a police detective in the city of Easttown Pennsylvania. It is a smallish place and she has lived there her whole life so nearly everybody she runs into who isn’t a friend of colleague is a friend of a friend or somebody’s cousin. It is run down and the sort of town you get away from if you have any grand aspirations in life.
Mare, in her 40s, divorced, with a daughter at home, a son who killed himself, her mother living with her, and still in the town where she grew up, starts investigating the murder of a young woman. In a way, the show reminds me a bit of Broadchurch, in that various suspects get thrown in her path and we have to dig through everybody’s story to get to where we need to go. Fortunately, it does this better than Broadchurch, which felt like it had been jerking me around for seven episodes before suddenly saying, “Hah, the killer was right here the whole time!” Mare of Easttown keeps you going, “Ah, it must be him/her!” only to find that flimsy theories don’t stand up to the facts, but then never letting go of those suspects because their tales help build to the final outcome. I enjoyed the whole thing.