In California the idea of “average annual rainfall” is complete garbage. We either have way too much rain or a drought. In that situation the average is like the guy with his feet in the oven and his head in the freezer: On the average he is the right temperature.
This year was a rainy year. The initial floods have subsided for now, but the snow pack up in the mountains will soon be melting and the next round of flooding will begin. We’re on a patch of high ground, so we’re safe, but others will be in trouble when the rivers rise and the levees break.
All of which has nothing to do with this post, but sometimes I feel like adding some color to the opening of these. I suppose I could just jump in with “Here are some mini-reviews of shows we’re watched so far this year.”
A Spy Among Friends – MGM+
I am probably alone in being tired of the Cambridge Five, but not only have I read all about them, my great uncle was friends with Kim Philby and used to pal around with him in Beirut when we wasn’t helping overthrow local governments. (My uncle, that is, not Philby.) I even have a letter from Moscow from Philby to my uncle. But my wife wanted to watch it, which also meant we had to subscribe to MGM+, yet another streaming service, in order to watch it.
It covers the details of Philby’s defection in 1963 and the subsequent investigations and events. It was okay, but not exactly action packed. I was, however, able to pause the show when my wife had questions and give brief bios of most of the main characters, which at least made me feel engaged. The acting is fine, it looks good, and I’ll take any indictment of the the old boys network I can get, but overall it felt like style over substance. Also, I was a bit salty about having to subscribe to MGM+ for this.
War of the Worlds – MGM+
What if they had an end of the world apocalypse show that was set in Europe for once and half the cast spoke French?
Given the past versions of H.G. Well’s 1898 story, I was pretty sure I could guess how it was going to go. But I was wrong. I will give the series that. It starts off as expected, though the aliens are more like Daleks in robo-dog suits. Then you think it is going Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And then it veers of into time travel and paradoxes and parallel timelines. It wraps up and feels done after three seasons, and it did keep me guessing most of the way… though I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t all mapped out that way in advance. The whole thing was a bit of a slow burn, so if you’re expecting giant three legged machines striding over the earth and destroying cities, be advised.
The Last of Us – HBO Max
What if The Madalorian met The Walking Dead, but everybody he and Grogu ran into ended up dead? What if we had plant based soy zombies that were really scary… and as scarce as zombies in later seasons of The Walking Dead? What if they made a TV series based on a video game you never played?
It was okay. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey work well together. But I was not invested in the story, its message (hint: people are the real bad guys again], or its fidelity to the video game, and I got to the end of the season and wasn’t really sure where they could take the story from there or if I really cared.
The Night Agent – Netflix
On the rocks FBI agent, who is the son of a disgraced FBI agent, is relegated to answering the night phone in the basement of the White House, a phone that “night agents,” who are off the book operatives, has the phone ring finally, only to get a message from an agent being attacked. For not good reason they send him out to take custody of a survivor of the attack and it turns into a thing and there is a conspiracy to kill them and a plot within the White House including an attempt to kill the president and it all works out, leading to promotions and a new career and a new love.
Also, every plot twist is telegraphed well in advance and the whole thing ends like it is the prequel for a completely different show. I don’t know. It was okay, but my wife and I had fun shouting out what will happen next at the TV, but it isn’t like The Wire or anything. I couldn’t see myself re-watching it.
The Recruit – Netflix
A young, smart ass CIA lawyer gets mixed up in affairs outside of his usual scope, ends up in the field chasing down a lead while goes hilariously bad on multiple occasions. Funny, wry, silly, it is one of those stories where a simple goal is presented to the main character who finds himself constantly thwarted by complications, office politics, and unreliable rental cars. It is just eight episodes and a lot lighter and more enjoyable than The Night Agent.
The Diplomat – Netflix
And unlikely premise and an absolutely ridiculous series of events as Kate Wyler is appointed to be the US ambassador to the UK because the president wants to try her out as a possible replacement vice president, but she is a Middle-east expert and doesn’t really want that job and her husband is a former ambassador who put her up for the job and their marriage is strained in part because he can’t take a back seat in any of this and Alfredo from Elementary is her deputy chief of mission trying to get her up to speed for a job she doesn’t want and he is sleeping with the CIA head of station and the UK Prime Minister is a egocentric half-wit, so at least they got something true to life in the whole thing. Rory Kinnear plays the prime minister, something he has done in the past, in that Black Mirror episode where he has to fuck a pig.
The performances are good, the whole thing is a setup for a second season, and it has been popular enough to spawn a bunch of “that’s not how any of this works” articles in the press, save for the deputy chief of mission, whose role was apparently portrayed somewhat accurately. Fun, if you like that sort of thing.
Beef – Netflix
The lesson here is to be judicious in the use of your car horn. A road rage incident entangles the lives of two people who just can’t fucking let it go, and tracks their obsession and how it impacts the rest of their lives and relationships. Also, it is something of a comedy I think. I don’t know. It comes across to me as the gold/blue dress sort of situation, where you’re either going to become invested in the two main characters and hope they get their acts together or you’re going to be like me and spend 10 episodes wondering at the time and dedication the two main characters invest in self-sabotage.
The Mandalorian Season 3 – Disney+
After 2.5 seasons of The Mandalorian… because we got about a half of season of it in the middle of The Book of Boba Fett… this season felt mostly like an unsuccessful attempt to recapture some of the early magic. It has some “problem of the week” episodes about pirates and helping Jack Black and Lizzo maintain their droid oppressing regime. It had some “I don’t really care” episodes about New Republic re-education camps for Imperials. And then there was a whole “retaking our home planet” thing with the different Mandalorian factions coming together after bickering about helmet etiquette for an episode.
There were some good points, but the through line of the season was kind of choppy. I will say that the last scene of the last episode was about perfect and that they can just leave it right there and call it done. But they won’t. Disney will need to beat the life out of this. Maybe that will slow them down in their desire to do a remake of the original trilogy.
Perry Mason Season 2 – HBO Max
I was reading the Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe series when this dropped, and it was kind of nice in that this too was set in 1930s LA. Perry, having won last season’s big case tries to stay with just civil rather than criminal law… but a new case and a need to see justice done drags him back in. Racial tensions, immigration issues, blackmail, prosecutorial misconduct, and baseball all pile up to make Perry’s job impossible. But do you think he loses the case in the end? Overall it was okay. It looks a lot better than it plays.
Shrinking – Apple TV
Harrison Ford plays himself as a grumpy old therapist of some sort… they never really go into details… at a practice where he is something of a mentor to his two younger colleagues, one of whom lost his wife in a car accident a while back and has never recovered and his life is spinning out of control, but in entirely humorous ways appropriate to a sitcom. Well, maybe a sitcom on streaming, since blow and hookers enter into it. Anyway, that guy is the center of the story. For all the absurdities, it is solid, well written, and funny with a solid cast that turns in good performances. What else are you going to ask for?
1923 – Paramount+
Harrison Ford plays himself as a grumpy old rancher in this Yellowstone prequel. If you watched Yellowstone, then you know the drill. Good, honest cattle ranchers are beset by land speculators, city slickers, and sheep herders and have to defend themselves by gunning them down or stringing them up from the nearest tree. Everything that makes the show what it is, but it is in 1923, so they have to ride horses into town rather than big pickups.
There are also side stories about the abuse that Native American children received at the hands of Catholic missionaries sent to teach them the ways of the modern world (when your boarding school has a graveyard for students, it might be a sign you’re not doing this right), the unlawfulness of marriage between the races at that time, and the difficulties of international travel in the age of steam.
Succession Season Whatever – HBO Max
I am not even sure this is done yet. There might be once more episode or horrible rich people being horrible to each other and those around them. It was a bit of a spectacle in the first season, and kept me interested in the second, but I am not sure I even finished last season, and this season I am done with. I mean, which character in this whole show would you want to pal around with?
The strange thing is that this is the show that people keep talking about on Twitter, but Yellowstone gets something like 5x the viewers per episode. Facebook is where the Yellowstone memes are to be found. Maybe the last episode will be a cross-over and the Roys will try to buy Montana then Kevin Costner and the Duttons will ride up into New York City and string the lot of them up on Wall Street. A man can dream, can’t he?