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Wednesday, 01 September 2021 11:43

‘Only Murders in the Building’ one killer show

Few pop culture phenomena have been as pervasive in recent years as true crime podcasts. Even if you don’t listen to them yourself, odds are that you know at least one person who listens obsessively to one or more. “Serial,” “My Favorite Murder,” “Dirty John, “Dr. Death” – the list goes on and on. Hell, the latter two pushed so fully into the zeitgeist that they got TV adaptations.

But while some of these programs have made the leap across media, a new Hulu show has a different idea about how to bring true crime podcasts to the small screen.

“Only Murders in the Building” is a 10-episode series on the streaming service; the first three episodes dropped on Aug. 31, with subsequent episodes landing every Tuesday from September 7 through October 5. The show was created by Steve Martin and Dan Fogelman; it stars Martin alongside Martin Short and Selena Gomez.

The fundamental question is simple – what if true crime enthusiasts were presented with an opportunity to go in-depth on a murder of their own? The result – thanks to great performances, strong writing and a genuine affection for the genre – is a show that is funny, smart and sincere, managing to parody this very specific world while also crafting a great example of that world.

(Note: Eight episodes of the show were made available for critics.)

Published in Style

Like so many people, I have a deep and abiding affection for “Jeopardy!” The venerable game show has been a part of our lives for decades, a warming syndicated presence that crossed all manner of boundaries. It is a generational show, one that grandparents and grandchildren can and do enjoy together.

The passing of longtime host Alex Trebek in November of last year left a void at the program’s venerable podium. Filling the shoes of an icon is a difficult task under any circumstances; studio executives were faced with a nigh-impossible conundrum – find a new face for a show that had the same face for 37 years. There were a lot of options, and yet we somehow wound up – at least initially – with one of the worst of the bunch.

Mike Richards was always the wrong man for the job.

Published in Style

Haven’t you ever thought that the self-help and wellness realm is just a little … sinister?

We live in a world where the notion of improving one’s health – physical, emotional or otherwise – has become a billion-dollar industry. Yet we ALSO live in a world where, if there’s a way to make money through duplicitous and/or unsavory means, someone will do so.

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of creative work that addresses that particular slice of the self-actualization pie.

The latest offering along those lines is “Nine Perfect Strangers,” the new limited series from Hulu. Created by John Henry Butterworth and television icon David E. Kelley and based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show offers a look at a secretive high-end wellness retreat that – surprise! – might be considerably more than it appears to be.

With an absolutely stacked cast – Nicole Kidman leads the way, but there are exceptional talents scattered all over the call sheet – and a setting that looks both bucolic and expensive, the show has a lot going for it. And when you toss some weird and mysterious narrative developments into the mix, well … you’ve got something.

I’ll put it this way: for the most part, “Nine Perfect Strangers” gets the dosage just right.

Published in Buzz

Fall TV season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of premieres hit the airwaves in the autumn.

And yes, I know that we’re still in mid-August, but the truth is that the “fall” schedule keeps getting pushed in this direction. Besides, this will give you a chance to prepare for the deluge of new material that’s coming your way.

It’s already started - the past couple of weeks have seen top-notch offerings like Disney+’s “What If…?” and FX’s “Reservation Dogs” and STARZ’s “Heels” hit screens. Heck, you can even see our review of Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” – which dropped Aug. 18 – right here.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and on and on we go. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say? And bear in mind – this is just a selection of what’s coming, a baker’s dozen of premieres heading your way over the next couple of months. There’s plenty more out there and even more to come, so get ready for the deluge.

Let’s have a look at a few of 2021’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story

Living as we do in a world where superhero movies have become the primary currency of the cinematic landscape, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the comic book world reflects the relatively clear nature of the MCU.

But Marvel Comics has a LONG history, and not all of it is nearly as straightforward as the movies make it seem. There’s a lot of obscure weirdness hiding in the various nooks and crannies that come from 60 years of building and expansion.

One of the odder characters in Marveldom is M.O.D.O.K. (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), created when a man named George Tarleton (born in Bangor, Maine – shout out!) undergoes experiments that turn him into a giant-headed computer-brained supervillain. M.O.D.O.K. would go on to do battle with all the names you know – Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk – as he led his superscience organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) toward his overarching goal of world domination.

And now he’s got his own animated TV show coming to Hulu.

“M.O.D.O.K.” – also known as “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” – hits the streaming service on May 21 with a 10-episode season. And it is an altogether different experience than any other Marvel property out there. Created by Patton Oswalt (who also voices the titular villain) and Jordan Blum, the show features a dynamite collection of comedic talent in the voice cast and perhaps the most advanced stop-motion animation we’ve seen yet from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, best known for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.”

This is a show that embraces the comic book grotesquerie largely ignored by the MCU machine. It is a gross-out comedy that also takes great pleasure in fan service, tossing out deep cut after deep cut from Marvel’s back catalog. All that, plus a family element that allows for skewering of sitcom tropes as well. It is weird and ridiculous and an absolute delight, the sort of show that might not be for you, but if you dig it, well … you will DIG IT.

Published in Buzz

True crime has become a thriving subgenre of programming across all media. Podcasts, TV shows, books, articles – we as a people love engaging with the deconstruction of heinous acts. What that says about us, well … your mileage may vary.

One of the hallmarks of true crime content is the idea that what we think we know can be upended at any point. The supposed truth at one point in the story can easily veer in an entirely new direction. It’s all about the deeper surprises dredged up once we delve beneath the surface of a story.

And when you throw Bigfoot into the mix, then all bets are off.

“Sasquatch” is a new entry into the true crime oeuvre, a three-episode docuseries on Hulu. Directed by Joshua Rofe, the series begins as an effort by one man to uncover the truth behind a decades-old murder whose initial explanation defied belief. But as he digs into the bizarre-on-its-face story, he begins to learn far more than he ever expected.

You’d be forgiven for expecting that this series is about, well, Sasquatch. And for stretches, it is. But what it’s truly about is the shadowy and sinister reality of the world of cannabis farming in Northern California, as well as the fact that the most frightening monsters of all are the ones that look just like us.

Published in Adventure

Seen anything good lately?

If you’re among the millions of people out there who have turned to their old friend television to help pass the time during these past months (and yet-to-be-determined future months) of staying home due to the pandemic, you’ve likely churned through A LOT of content. You might have even watched everything new that has piqued your interest.

But wait – there’s more!

Broadcast, cable and streaming outlets haven’t let the current circumstances keep them from keeping the new programming a-flowing. Thus, we offer up our annual New to View – January Edition. Have a look at the list and see some of what’s coming over the next couple of months, listed in chronological order by premiere date.

(Note: As usual, we have steered clear of returning shows. It’s all about the new stuff here. Will all of these shows make it to a second season? No. Heck, some of them may not make it to the end of their first season. Still, it’s nice to see all these fresh starts.)

Published in Cover Story

Full disclosure: I f---ing LOVE swearing. I have a notorious potty mouth, using curse words as every conceivable part of speech in my coarse discourse. I swear in front of friends and strangers. I swear in front of kids. Hell, I even swear in front of my mom.

But while I love swear words, I’ll freely admit to not necessarily knowing that much about them. Their origins, their etymology … their history.

Happily, Nicolas Cage has got my back.

Cage is the host of the new Netflix series “History of Swearing,” currently streaming on the service. Over the course of six 20-minute episodes, Cage – along with a cavalcade of celebrities, historians and academics – walks us through the history of various swear words. Each of the six episodes is devoted wholly to one specific swear word.

(For the record, the six in question are: f—k, s—t, b—ch, d—k, p—y and damn.)

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 14 October 2020 12:03

New to view! A Fall 2020 TV preview

So … seen anything good lately?

For so many of us, the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have left us seeking entertainment from home, so the influx of new content from the various networks and streaming services this fall is of particular importance this year.

It’s an uneven slate, to be sure, with so many of the networks thrown off their production schedules due to the coronavirus-caused shutdown. That being said, there’s still a ton of new stuff out there; no matter what your interest, odds are that you’ll be able to find something that you like. We’ve got comedies and dramas and genre fare, animation and game shows – something for everyone.

Will all of it be good? Heaven’s no. But it never is. There will be some shows that look promising that turn out to be terrible and some that look terrible and turn out to be promising. Such is the joy of new TV.

Rather than break it down by date or by service or by some other randomly-chosen criteria, I figured this year, I’d just keep it simple. We’re going in alphabetical order by title and including the network or streamer on which the program airs. No fuss, no muss.

Check out this selection.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 09:16

‘High Score’ puts in its initials

While there may still be those out there who happily dismiss video games as kid stuff or somehow niche, the truth is that anyone in this country born in the last half-century likely has some connection to them.

Obviously, gaming is big business in 2020, a multibillion-dollar industry that economically outperforms the music industry and the movie industry – combined. But it was definitely a rollercoaster ride of booms and busts along the way.

“High Score,” the new six-episode docuseries from Netflix, is an exploration of that ride, a look back to the early days of the industry evolved from the domain of a few into a world occupied by billions. Along the way, we hear the stories of assorted successes (and a few failures) as told by the people responsible.

By necessity, the filmmakers must pick and choose the people and places on which to focus. With just a half-dozen episodes – most coming in at around 45 minutes, give or take – it’s all about snapshots; there just isn’t time for a deep dive into video game history. But these glimpses are what makes the series work, looks at with the people involved, whether as designers and developers or simply players. Seeing their passion for the medium is what really makes “High Score” soar.

Published in Tekk
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