Monday, July 3, 2017

TV Rampage! Netflix Originals: Gypsy, GLOW and Small Crimes

TV Rampage!

Let’s look at some recent Netflix originals, shall we?

What could be better than a psychosexual romp with such a great cast? Watching paint dry, actually. Naomi Watts, a fine actress, plays a therapist who is bored with her perfect life and loving husband (Billy Crudup), and decides to look up exciting people in her patient’s lives. I made it through three episodes of ten before slamming the door on this one. Firstly, her life is actually perfect. She is rich, beautiful, has a fulfilling job. Any material object she desires is at her fingertips. Her seven-year old daughter is going to be gay or transgender (telegraphed so obviously it devolves into camp—is being a boy REALLY the only thing a seven-year old would think about?), but other than that her life is trouble and stress free. Of course she’s bored, she has everything! The character violates all kinds of ethics has no moral compass or conscience. There is very little story here, this is someone’s vanity project with themselves as the audience.

From its laughable PG-rated sex scenes to the glacial pace, Gypsy is TV for rich housewives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s boring with an unlikable, morally challenged main character. I’d rather watch a slide show of my great uncle’s vacation to Bronson, Missouri.

Rating: ** stars out of 5

GLOW is a ½-hour comedy based on the great ‘70s organization, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The point-of-view character is Ruth Wilde, played by Alison Brie (Mad Men). Ruth is a down on her luck actress, tired of playing background characters with stunning lines such as, “Your wife is on line 1.”

Reluctantly, Ruth joins the fledgling wrestling group Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, intended to be a syndicated wrestling show. These first ten episodes tell the story of the formation of the league and making the pilot of the syndicated show.

This first season is incredibly well written and humorous. The characters, relationships and situations are a riot and constantly urged viewers to think “I wonder if this really happened?” One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how each lady finds her wrestling persona. From the offensive black woman known as “Welfare Queen” (“I eat like royalty on food stamps ... paid for by the American taxpayer!”) to the Party Girl and Wolf Girl, the organization capitalizes on the zeitgeist of 1970s America. Ruth’s struggle to find her wrestling alter ego is challenging, but when she finally discovers it, the character is perfect for Ruth, the actress playing her and the show.

I can’t wholly recommend the show because of Ruth’s character. She’s hideous. She sleeps with her best friend’s husband in the pilot (which sets up a season-long dramatic arc), and makes another choice midway through the season which portrays her as a horrible person, one whom I don’t want to support or watch. It’s not so much what she does, but how cavalierly she does it. There’s no regret or recrimination, her career and selfishness easily comes before anything else. This stops her from being a sympathetic or likable character.

While I can’t recommend the series, it was funny and entertaining, except for Ruth’s character.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Small Crimes
I enjoy crime movies, but there has to be more to the story than a sociopathic thug beyond redemption. Unfortunately that’s all there is to this Netflix misfire. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays Joe Denton, a cop sentenced to prison for attempted murder. He is released on parole and returns to his community, ostensibly to redeem himself. He doesn’t. He immediately gets involved with the bad people who put him there and continues his criminal career. At first he avoids causing any harm, more out of a sense of not wanting to go back to prison than any thoughts of humanity or doing the right thing. But eventually his actions damage his new nurse girlfriend (the great Molly Parker) and his supportive parents.

Denton is a one-man wrecking crew, steamrolling through the city and its inhabitants to get what he wants. He is evil and beyond redemption. The only thing that humanizes him is his wish to reconnect with his two daughters, a desire the courts and his parents intelligently deny him. At the end of 90 minutes, Small Crimes has added nothing to the world; no lessons, no hope, no insights into the human condition (other than scorpions sting people, big news), and no entertainment value. Avoid this one. Again, reprehensible characters are fine—but they have to be three-dimensional. Joe Denton is not, despite a fine performance by Coster-Waldau.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

It’s almost comforting to know Netflix isn’t perfect. With its excellent track record of continuing cancelled series (Longmire) and high-quality original content (Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black) they seemed bulletproof for a while. But the more original material they create, the more mistakes they will make. Welcome to real life, Netflix! 

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