Television Roundup 2/20 – 3/5

It was as diverse a week as ever in the world of television—from a tough look at the poverty in Flint, Michigan to a mediocre animated space opera, here are our thoughts on the latest batch of TV premieres for our television roundup.

television roundup Absentia

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ABSENTIA (Amazon)

As my track record for Crossfader will show, most recently with my doomed recommendation of FEARLESS, I root for Amazon. I think that they put more time and care into curating their roster of original shows than any other streaming service out there, and still get up to the plate with a positive hit ratio, something Netflix abandoned hope of long ago. Unfortunately, while still “good,” ABSENTIA is the first time my dear, sweet dark horse has felt boilerplate. In a series of very slight permutations on the amnesia and police thrillers you know and don’t really love, Special Agent Emily Byrne (Stana Katic) reappears suddenly after six years have passed from the day she vanished while investigating Boston’s most notorious serial killer. Her husband, Special Agent Nick Durand (Patrick Heusinger), has a new beau, and her son, Flynn (Patrick McAuley), couldn’t care to give her the time of day. Of course, as she’s trying to piece back together the shards of her former life, a new string of murders pops up, one mysteriously linked to her, and it gets thrown into question just what happened all those years ago. Like I said, it’s “good.” There’s crooked cops, a Lecter-adjacent criminal insisting he’s wrongly accused, the mob, and enough of an unreliable narrator to keep it all playing on the screen in front of you, even if you’re checking your phone for the majority of the runtime. We’ve long decried Netflix shows as test tube babies, and the sort of calculated functionality that has washed out the exciting edges of most modern television rears its perfectly competent head here. The scenes between Emily and Flynn are the strongest, as we can feel her quiet desperation to connect with a child who doesn’t know her from Adam, and Nick’s increasingly angry confrontations with his new wife over his rekindled association with Emily offer a roiling underbelly of relationship-related tension, but the main thrust is nothing other than tired. I’ll defend the contentious OZARK over this in a pinch. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Sh**

television roundup Final Space

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FINAL SPACE (TBS)

While I’m happy to see animation squashing and stretching its way into the mainstream, FINAL SPACE just isn’t quite there. TBS’s latest foray into animation seems primed for success: a voice cast with Tom Kenny in a starring role; directors hailing from BOJACK HORSEMAN, TRIP TANK, and RICK AND MORTY; Conan O’Brien’s giant pile of money; and two co-creators, one a fresh-faced up-and-comer and the other an animation vet hailing from THE SIMPSONS. Yet this space opera never rises to the level of its cosmically-minded peers, RICK AND MORTY and FUTURAMA. The gory cartoon violence present in the premiere episodes skews heavily adult, but the writing feels solidly #random in a way that your 13-year-old cousin would love. Not that there’s anything wrong with appealing to both kids and adults—indeed, this is one of the strong suits of animation—but FINAL SPACE feels caught between two worlds rather than existing seamlessly between them. The artists really stretched their imaginations to capture the wackiness of space, but its visual appeal never outweighs the clunky storytelling and fall-flat humor. I applaud TBS for throwing its hat in the ring, but RICK AND MORTY is already here. [Kate Brogden]

Verdict: Sh**

television roundup flint town

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FLINT TOWN (Netflix)

FLINT TOWN is an eight-part documentary series currently on Netflix that follows the police department of Flint, Michigan, between November 2015 and early 2017. While the town garnered national attention only recently for their prolonged water crisis, in truth, the city of Flint suffers from numerous problems. Increased poverty levels, some of the highest violent crime rates in the country, and an underfunded police force all take center stage in the documentary. FLINT TOWN is told not only from the perspectives of the officers but also the citizens who don’t trust them, as well as a newly elected mayor and a police academy trainee. The story is enthralling and timely, dealing with race relations at a time when our country has been forced to examine its own racial politics in every aspect of society. It’s beautifully shot, capturing the emotions of its subjects perfectly (especially the divided police station on Election Night 2016). While the pacing can be slow at times, you won’t have to wait long before a sighting of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump hooks you right back in. If you’re looking for a quick, powerful, and relevant documentary series to watch, look no further than FLINT TOWN. [Derek Daniels]

Verdict: Hit

television roundup Frankenstein

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THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES (Netflix)

If GAME OF THRONES and SHERLOCK had their parts dismantled and reassembled into a new monster—cough—I mean . . . television show, this would be that show. THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES is a newly released Netflix Original that isn’t as original as it sounds. In fact, the show’s first two seasons were released in the United Kingdom on ITV’s Encore Station before Netflix finally brought it to life in the US. But thank goodness they did, because fans of crime, period pieces, and British accents will find it to-die-for. It features Sean Bean and Vanessa Kirby in a story about a river cop hired to uncover the identity of the anonymous ‘thought-to-be surgeon’ who has been stitching bits of different children into new corpses. The first episode jumps right into the action, outlining the issues of the medical field at that time and providing allusions to Mary Shelley’s original novel. It is not what one might expect, but instead a refreshing new branch growing off the classic tale, one that’s definitely worth looking into. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Hit

television roundup Here and Now

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HERE AND NOW (HBO)

I don’t think I’ve ever legitimately used this acronym in real life before, and will endeavor to never do it again in my writing, but HERE AND NOW can only be described with: lmao. I watch unrepentant garbage time and time again, but this might be the worst show of recent memory. HERE AND NOW doesn’t really tell a story so much as it throws everything it can think of at the wall and hope some of it forms into a relatively shapely mass. Quite honestly it’d be much less offensive if it was just a straight-faced look into the multi-cultural Bayer-Boatwright clan, but the narrative thread its running out for itself is laughably stupid: Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) begins to see the number 11:11 everywhere and suffers hallucinations of a Syrian woman and child on the beach telling him something mysterious, causing his family to freak out and believe he may have schizophrenia. And . . . that’s it. Incongruously padded around that are ham-fisted bombshells of racism and a middling marriage (Jerrika Hinton’s Ashley), sex addiction and recovery (Raymond Lee’s Duc), and a teenage girl stressing out about losing her virginity and her subsequent STD (Sosie Bacon’s Kristen). Not to mention the failing relationship between Greg (Tim Robbins) and Audrey (Holly Hunter), topped off with lots of Greg’s whiny nihilist philosophy. It gets points for diversity, sure, and seeing such characters as a gender-fluid, religiously practicing Muslim treated with respect on-screen is nice, but I am firmly convinced none of the writers have ever heard a human being converse with another before, 80% of the dialogue inspiring the viewer to hang their mouth in disbelief. The nicest thing I can say about HERE AND NOW is that there are some tender portrayals of gay sex. But the sounds of the fat vape rips from the Woque White Writers’ Room drowns out whatever tinny, desperate signal the show’s trying to broadcast. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Sh**

television roundup Living Biblically

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LIVING BIBLICALLY (CBS)

LIVING BIBLICALLY feels like watching a well-organized powerpoint carried out by a nervous student who tried too hard to get an A; that is, it feels like they studied sitcoms for years and this is their valiant attempt at making one. Granted, sitcoms are difficult, however that’s what makes the good ones withstand the test of time—and this one probably won’t last longer than a season. LIVING BIBLICALLY has a nice set-up, as it is loosely based on the bestselling book The Year of Living Biblically. The story follows Chip, a man whose best friend recently passed, reminding him that life is short and that his current lifestyle is not exactly preparing him for a positive afterlife. Through this epiphany, Chip decides that he must go all-in and live 100% by the Bible in order to make up for his sins and prepare for his soon-to-be child. The base of the story and the acting are both C-level, acceptable but just barely believable. The key difference and main flaw in both the book and the show lies in mockery; the book mocks religion too much while the latter doesn’t at all. The show’s painting of religion is admirable, but there are ways to respectfully represent controversial topics without playing it boringly safe. A good example of this is Hollywood’s baby: The Oscars. Oscar speeches are frequently comical and make fun of the bad parts of the industry while still highlighting what it does well and how it plans to improve. Religion can be a source of motivation and community for many people, which LIVING BIBLICALLY stressed, but it is also plays a role in the division and alienation of certain parties, which they seemed afraid to mention. The relationship between Chip and his wife, an atheist, is a sweet progressive dynamic not frequently portrayed and the closest thing they had to authentic representation of both sides. If they get a season two it would be smart to toss some of the cheesy one-liners out to save room for longer, riskier, and more thoughtful jokes that paint the true picture of society in a playful way. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Sh**

television roundup Seven

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SEVEN SECONDS (Netflix)

SEVEN SECONDS drags on so much, it feels more like seven years. The show follows a hit-and-run crime in which a white officer, Pete Jablonski, runs over over Brenton Butler, a black teenager riding his bike to school. Though slow, the show highlights important messages of systematic corruption and privilege. The first episode is suspenseful, quickly moving through its unraveling of complex characters and their intertwined stories. Most characters are presented with motivations and intent that are very authentic to real-life people; that is, everyone negatively involved has simply been misled or misunderstood. However, Michael DiAngelo, the head of the narcotics department, falls into the “classic” villain structure which makes him, and the story as a whole, lack depth. As the series progresses, the other characters’ original wants and flaws start to blur together into classic crime tropes, succumbing to repetition and predictability. The pilot is well-rounded in every aspect disregarding its slow pace, but with each passing episode the dynamic falls apart until viewers feel as though they’ve made no emotional progress through the series at all. That being said, the message remains important and the show has made a valiant attempt at conveying a neglected message that many who are not directly affected by inequality often forget. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Sh**

television roundup Biggie and Pac

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UNSOLVED: THE MURDERS OF TUPAC AND NOTORIOUS B.I.G (USA)

UNSOLVED: THE MURDERS OF TUPAC AND NOTORIOUS B.I.G. is USA’s feeble attempt to match FX’s hit anthology crime series AMERICAN CRIME STORY. The show attempts to tell the stories of the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls through a dual timeline investigation conducted by Detectives Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) and Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson). Unlike THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON, however, the UNSOLVED pilot is packed to the brim with mediocre writing, ROYAL PAINS-caliber acting, and cinematography that totally distracts from the plot. Dizzying drone establishing shots and a countless amount of pointless dolly moves make you feel like you’re on a moving sidewalk inside your television. Meanwhile, Duhamel is nearly invisible in the show, his scenes overshadowed in both quantity and quality by Simpson’s, who himself is not an incredible actor. If it weren’t for the names involved in the case, UNSOLVED would look just like every other cop show on TV these days—heck, it already looks like every other show on USA thanks to its production value. Should you consider yourself a fan of such shows, or a fan of the featured murder cases, UNSOLVED might be for you. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time. [Derek Daniels]

Verdict: Sh**

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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