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Binge alert: Sacha Baron Cohen in a whole new light

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September is upon us and with it comes a slew of new TV series making their fall debut. From ABC’s mysterious drama “Emergence” to CBS’s creeper “Evil” and The CW’s DC Universe expansion of “Batwoman,” the month promises to always present viewers with a range of new offerings in hopes that it may be the next breakout show.

Conversely, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have never taken a calendric approach to their programming and instead refresh their shows more often throughout the year. As subscription-based services that depend upon new offerings launched more often to keep viewer interest, this has only helped fuel their growth and spawned more of them like Walt Disney Company’s upcoming Disney+, which just announced Monday that its now available for preorder with an expected launch date of Nov. 12.

And the original programming we’re seeing on these streaming services is top-notch, especially when compared their network brethren. In fact, several walked away with multiple awards at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards this past Sunday. And with Disney’s entrance into the market, the streaming disruption will only continue.

Fall is great time to see the new stuff or catch up on some of these award-winning shows you may have missed, plus there’s something to be said for binging on older shows that continue to live on in the streaming world.

“The Spy” – Streaming via Netflix

There’s no other way to say this: You haven’t seen Sacha Baron Cohen until you’ve seen him in this.

The limited drama series produced by Netflix tells the true story of supermarket clerk-turned-Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who in 1961 infiltrated the political and military hierarchy of the Syrian government until he was finally exposed four years later in 1965.

For many who have only known the sketch-comedy genius of Sacha Baron Cohen through his outlandish characters like Borat and Ali G., stand ready to be floored. Here, Cohen plays it straight up – a man who is deeply undercover in a lethal country living an outlandish lifestyle with Syrian’s elite while his real self is constantly conflicted about the family he left behind. Keeping the persona of his legend Kamel Amin Thaabet separated from his own begins to wear on him, and soon he finds his behavior overlapping to the point of putting his life at risk.

What’s remarkable about Cohen’s performance is that it’s not outlandish by any means. As a spy, he must infiltrate the upper echelons of Syrian society in a way that doesn’t bring attention to himself. As instructed by his handler, played by Noah Emmerich (“The Americans”), “Noticeable spies end up dead.” And Cohen ably plays a subtle, yet lethal-when-needed character who puts all on the line for duty and love of country.

The show, which premiered Sept. 6, also stars Hadar Ratzon Rotem (“Homeland”) as the spy’s wife, Nadia, Waleed Zuaiter (“London Has Fallen”) as Syrian President Amin Al-Hafez, and Alexander Siddig (TV’s “Gotham”) as Al-Hafez’s security chief who suspects Cohen from the beginning.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Streaming via Amazon Prime

Sometimes a show you are not inclined to see will pique your curiosity so much that you just cave in to take a peek. Such is the case with Amazon Prime’s show that chronicles the story of a Jewish housewife in 1950s New York who decides one day to embark on a career as a stand-up comic. The show has garnered critical acclaim and an array of awards to match.

Starring Rachel Brosnahan (“Patriots Day”) as the titular character, the period comedy-drama has led viewers on her journey as she suffers her husband leaving her for his secretary (yes, so cliché-ish), her realization that she has a hidden talent for comedy that leads her to befriend a barkeep who becomes her manager, and the struggles of an aspiring comedian who must make the choice of reestablishing a family or going on tour for what may be a big break for her career.

The series has racked up Emmys for the streaming service, including Brosnahan’s win last year for best actress (along with a Golden Globe and four others). She was nominated for an Emmy this year but lost on Sunday to Phoebe Waller-Bridge for her role in “Fleabag.”

Still, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had an impressive 20 Emmy nominations in total this year and walked away with eight, including Alex Borstein’s award for Best Supporting Actress and Tony Shaloub’s for Best Supporting Actor.

The show’s third season returns to Prime Video Dec. 6, so now is a great time to catch up on the first two. Sometimes, you just never know what you’ve missed.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” – Streaming via Hulu

I could not see myself watching this show at all. I’ve heard the accolades and seen the show rack up awards over the past two years, but knowing the subject matter was based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futuristic novel of the same name made it seem a little too heavy.

And, I could not be more wrong.

In her 1985 novel, Atwood skillfully illustrates a future world that is plagued by infertility, pollution and disease, and an America that is ultimately overthrown by religious fanatics in the name of righteousness and human survival. While the world looks on, the new country, Gilead, oppresses women by stripping them of all rights to property and prosperity and sadistically enslaves them as a subservient class. Women’s only role in this new world is to service the needs of their male counterparts, and those select few who can bear children (known as “handmaids”) are forced into service as surrogates for the country’s leaders. Those who resist are executed.

The show stars Elisabeth Moss (“The Kitchen”) as June Osborne, the lead character and narrator who knew what life was like before the revolution and has since been separated from her husband and daughter and forced into surrogacy. Moss ably portrays a character who has lost all hope and yet still finds the strength she needs to carry forward.

The show deviates from the novel in several key aspects. Atwood’s was a helpless, hopeless character with no chance to change the fundamental outcome of her life, resigned to her fate. Showrunner Bruce Miller (TV’s “The 100”) took the character in a completely different direction, with Moss portraying an inner strength that offers at least the potential of altering her trajectory.

Hulu has said that the fourth season is already underway and will likely air next summer. Meanwhile, Atwood’s Sept. 9 release of her sequel novel, “The Testaments,” has already led to MGM and Hulu planning an adaptation for the small screen.

Praise be.

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 September 2019 05:10

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