Monday, December 11, 2017

Squawk Box: An Oddly Mismatched Trio

I'm shaking off the cobwebs of the great and grand Star Trek Cycle and catching up on a lot of shows that I've missed and this month's Squawk Box is a kind of a good example of 'catch-up' featuring a oddly mis-matched trio of brilliant television: American Vandal, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and, of course, the second season of Stranger Things.

American Vandal I read about courtesy of NPR and gave it awhirl based solely on their enthusiastic review only to find it was as brilliant as advertised. A satirical take off of Netflix's Making A Murderer, American Vandal plunges into the depths of the social strata of Oceanside High as the school is reeling from an ambitious act of vandalism: 27 dicks were spray painted onto 27 cars in the faculty parking lot and class clown and school ne'er do well Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) has been expelled for the crime. A couple of members of the AV Club/Morning TV Show for the high school, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) are convinced that Dylan has been framed and start a documentary intending to answer the question that everyone is asking: Who did the dicks?

With a first season of eight episodes about thirty minutes a piece, American Vandal is an easy watch and goes quick, but what makes it worth watching is it's unflinching commitment to it's satire. This works and works brilliantly because the show plays it straight, tackling the mystery with a deadly seriousness that would fit right in to any True Crime show on television. The characters tackle theories, chase leads, get breaks in their 'case' and by the end of the show, the central question of American Vandal is answered, but it's not quite the answer you were expecting.

While Vandal provides pitch perfect satire, Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the latest offering from Gilmore Girls (and Bunheads) creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and the promise it showed in it's pilot, which debuted in the spring during Amazon's pilot season is more than fulfilled with the rest of the first season. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is a Jewish housewife living in New York City in 1958 with her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) and appears to have the perfect life. They've got two beautiful children, her husband has a good job and moonlights as a comedian at night- she's got it all, until it all falls apart. Turns out her husband has been having an affair with his secretary and leaves her and Midge gets drunk, goes down to his usual comedy club and delivers an impromptu stand up set that the audience loves.

The house manager, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) tells her that she has the talent to be really good at comedy and a post-arrest meeting with none other than Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) convinces Midge to go for it. The season mainly involves Midge figuring out how to do just that as her family and her in-laws push for her to reunite with her husband. Her husband Joel realizes that he's made a mistake and wants to come back. By the end of the season, Midge seems to be getting her life back together and the first season ends in a way that's going to leave you begging for more (thankfully, Amazon has picked up this show for a second season.)

Sherman-Palladino's talent for intelligent writing and razor sharp, lightning quick dialogue is once again given a beautiful platform on which to shine. This is the beautiful period piece you never knew you wanted and Rachel Brosnahan is incredible as Midge and with Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron as the parents of Midge (Shalhoub and Hinkle) and Joel (Pollak and Aaron), the cast is operating on all cylinders and it's a joy to watch and funny to boot.

Finally, Stranger Things is back for a second season and the return trip to the Upside Down is just as entertaining as the first go-round. A year after the disappearance and then reappearance of Will and the disappearance of Eleven, the kids are trying to move on, but it's difficult. Will is still traumatized by the events of the previous year. Nancy is still struggling with the fact that she knows the truth about what happened to Barb, but Barb's parents still think she's missing. Hawkins Lab is under new management with Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) and Will's Mom, Joyce Byers has a boyfriend, the local Radio Shack man, Bob (Sean Astin.) There's also a new girl in school, Max (Sadie Sink) whom both Dustin and Lucas develop a crush on.

As the one year anniversary of Will's disappearance approaches, his nightmares and flashbacks to the Upside Down start to increase, as does the reappearance of strange things happening. Eleven (who, as it turns out, escaped from the Upside Down almost immediately after vanquishing the monster in Season 1) has hidden away in a cabin and is being cared for Sheriff Hopper, but, when his overabundance of caution starts to feel more like keeping Eleven locked away and less like keeping her safe, she rebels and sets off looking for answers to her origin. (Which she finds.) In the meantime, strange creatures keep emerging, Will's condition starts to deteriorate at the Upside Down seems ready to break through into our world and it's up to Eleven and the gang to stop it.

Stranger Things still has it in Season 2 and then some... like every 80s movie you've ever loved, it's a perfect slice of exciting, paranormal, nostalgia and I can't wait to see where it goes in Season 3.

Overall, this was an interesting mix of shows to make my way through. I enjoyed them all, but I think by far, the Gold Medal has to go to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel...  yes, it's a period piece which may not be your thing, but the writing is intelligent, the performances amazing and the dialogue crackles. I'd probably but Stranger Things and American Vandal at about level- Stranger Things continues to take all the nostalgia buttons and just mashes them repeatedly with incredibly entertaining results. Either, all three shows in this trio are worth watching. You should check them out.

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