Dealing with some health issues has again kept me out of the public sphere, unable to attend events and turning me into a hermit at home. I’ve been reading a lot (11 books since June), and thank heaven TV and streaming services have been so reliably good!
The Dark Side
TV: “Snowfall,” now in its second season, is a dark but compelling drama on FX that fictionalizes the origins of the actual crack cocaine epidemic in LA in the 1980s and its ongoing ramifications. African-Americans in South LA, Latinos in East LA, and an off-the-books CIA operation supporting foreign insurgents are all connected in schemes to get and distribute cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. It’s a complex look at a terrible time filled with tough characters to whom, nevertheless, we are drawn with some sympathy. It’s on Thursday nights at 10 pm on FX.
Cable: HBO also has a very dark series that will offer you a completely different perspective on the talents of actress, Amy Adams, who is scary terrific in “Sharp Objects.” Based on a book by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), she plays Camille, a St. Louis newspaper cub reporter sent back to her very small hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to investigate a recent series of murders of teenage girls. She’s terribly traumatized, as her own sister was murdered as she was growing up. Her dysfunctional relationship with her mother (the always perfect Patricia Clarkson), her bad-girl half-sister whom her mother worships, the small-town mentality circling the wagons, and Camille’s own drinking problems and body cutting habits make this a truly complicated story to follow. I made the mistake of reading a spoiler, but I’m still watching to see how it gets there. You’ll find it on video on demand and streaming online on HBO apps.
Cable: EPIX has a series I liked very much during its first season. Based on an Elmore Leonard story, it stars Chris O’Dowd as a guy who accidentally forces his way into Hollywood, finds himself in the midst of murder, mayhem and drug deals, and becomes a producer of a film that has very little going for it. This second season feels bleaker as his entire world is coming down around him. Ray Romano has a role that he plays so well, I’d forgotten it was Ray Romano. O’Dowd lashes out the only way he knows how: more drink, more pills, more violent behavior. But I can’t stop watching. EPIX is on cable, I record the shows so I can watch on my own schedule. Find out more here: https://www.epix.com
The Lighter Side
Netflix: I’ve really come to admire “Dear White People” on Netflix. It’s social satire; I’m glad there’s a second season to dig into now and a third season in the planning. This is the story of a group of black students at an Ivy League University, confronting racial, cultural, class, sexual and political issues, some of their own making, others forced on them. The characters are really fascinating and for the most part, each episode focuses on just one of them. Sometimes it’s a bit Rashomon-like, with different characters’ experiences of the same events. It’s based on the movie of the same name written by Justin Simien, who now has a podcast on KCRW called “Don’t @Me with Justin Simien.” Stream it on Netflix.
HBO: “Insecure” is another terrific black-centric show featuring the irresistible Issa Rae (as Issa) and a cast of larger than life ladies, and the men who challenge/love/bother them in the course of getting through all the ups and downs of their lives. Issa works for a non-profit that wants to make inner-city life better but basically is run by white people. She can’t do anything right. When her boyfriend of many years finds out she slept with a musician who’s a former lover, he moves out. This is the second season, and she’s homeless, in heaps of troubles at work, is driving for Lyft (with its attendant complications) for extra income. Her closest friend is navigating a professional career and her emotional life while having an affair with a married man (he and his wife have an open relationship) and all the confusion that raises. I really like this series; you can catch it now, as it unspools its second season on HBO, on video on demand or on their streaming apps.
Prime Video: And I don’t know how I missed it but I have just begun watching a 1990s BBC series called “The Aristocrats” on Amazon’s streaming service. Having just finished a book called “Life Mask” by Emma Donoghue, historical fiction based in the same time and featuring the same characters, I am fascinated to see them through a different lens. The Duke of Richmond, the (bastard) grandson of a King, and his daughters, Caroline and Emily, are the lead characters, and getting them properly married is his goal. Rebellious Caroline runs off with the notorious Henry Fox, an ambitious political schemer; without resisting, Emily manages always to get her own way and marries a rich Irish lord. I’m only on the third episode, but it’s fun to spend time in someone else’s century.
While I’m at it: I never watch a series or a movie twice, but I did just binge again on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon. You owe it to yourself…season 2 is on its way soon!
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.