Squawk Box: High Fidelity/Mrs. America

High Fidelity: I wasn't entirely sure how to feel about High Fidelity as a mini-series/Hulu series/TV series at first. For one, the book is excellent. The movie is great. So...  how are you going to translate great source material and a great adaptation into the new era of streaming?

The answer is: really, really well.

The basic outline is still the same- only in this case, Rob (Zoe Kravitz) is a she and her two employees are Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and Simon (David H. Holmes.) She's kind of a mess: her ex-boyfriend Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) has moved to London for awhile and is now apparently back in New York and engaged and she's trying to process all that and move on- potentially with a relatively nice dude named Clyde (Jake Lacy) who genuinely likes her, but grows somewhat frustrated with her inability to commit and she also has this mild fling with a young Scottish musician named Liam Shawcross (Thomas Doherty.)

It's ten episodes, averaging about a half hour a pieace and by the end of it- Rob has somewhat figured her shit out and makes a sensible decision which doesn't exactly get her the answer she wants, but after some reflection, she realizes that it's an answer that she can live with. (This is as non-spoilery a plot summary as I can make- though if you've read the book or seen the movie, you should have some rough idea of where this is going to go-- but be warned: it's a fresh take. So it's not going to be a beat for beat remake of either the book or the movie, which is why I think I find it so refreshing.)

I'm going to be honest: while I'll always love the movie, I think this is actually a more faithful adaptation of the book. Which makes sense, because there's more space to squeeze in scenes from the book in a streaming series-- you're less restricted by time. But I also like it a bit more. One of my favorite scenes from the book is where Rob goes to check out a vinyl collection for sale and realizes that it's a gold mine of all the records he's ever wanted and the jilted wife is selling it for like 20 quid and he agonizes over it, but just can't do it. That scene-- I don't think-- makes it into the movie precisely (it's been awhile since I've seen it)-- but it does make it into the streaming version in a more satisfying way that involves Parker Posey, so it's fine.

I also love shows that actually get out a ways from the cultural depictions of any given place and really try and capture of a sense of what the place is actually like-- I think High Fidelity does an excellent job of capturing what is probably closer to the true essence of New York (I'll take their word for it, I haven't exactly been there) in a way that I probably haven't seen on screen since Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (a great movie I should rewatch at some point.) Also, bonus points for the excellent casting Zoe Kravitz- not only is she awesome in the role, but there's a nice tie-back to the movie, where her Mom, Lisa Bonet plays Marie DeSalle (the exotic and non-Scottish flirtation/love interest for John Cusack's Rob.). Also if you're a fan of Stargate: Atlantis it's nice to see Rainbow Sun Francks pop up as Cameron, Rob's brother- even if it took me a ridiculous amount of episodes to put figure that out.

Overall: Refreshing, smart. Music arranged by Questlove, so excellent music. I'd have to dig up the movie to compare for sure, but this felt like a better adaptation of the book and for that, I give it: My Grade **** out of **** and declare it definitely worth your time.

Mrs. America: Cate Blanchett is what brought me here- I'll be totally honest, but what made me stick around was the rest of the cast- and the story itself. Focusing on conservative activist/advocate for Barry Goldwater, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), it opens with her deciding not to run again for Congress thanks to a slew of harassment from male colleagues and a lack of support from her husband Fred (John Slattery)-- intsead, she sets her sight on a new target: fighting bipartisan support for the Equal Rights Amendment.

As Schlafly get organized and manages to stop ERA ratification in her home state of Illinois, the proponents of the ERA begin to notice: Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) is using her position as editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine and co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus to advocate for equal pay and abortion. Shirley Chisolm (a fantastic Uzo Aduba) runs for President and vows to stay in through the convention while Steinem lovvies for abortion rights on the floor. Schlafly meanwhile is working to tone down the racial overtones from southern states in her new Stop ERA campaign.

Now noticing the growing opposition to the ERA, pro-ERA forces attempt to engage Schlafly in debates on the issue- Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) doesn't fare so well, but Brenda Feigen (Ari Graynor) catches her making up a court case and undoes her argument. That victory is short lived and opposition is continuing to grow- which puts Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizbaeth Banks) - a pro-ERA and pro-Choice Republican- in a tough spot, as she tries to unite the party against growing anti-ERA and pro-life forces headed by Schlafly-- the Ruckelshauses are expecting Jill's husband, Bill (Josh Hamilton) to be named VP by Ford, but he goes with Bob Dole instead.

Meanwhile, Chisolm is pushing to tackle sexual harassment, which displeases Bella Abzug (an excellent Margo Martindale) who is trying to run for Senate- she loses the race, but agrees to run the National Women's Conference set for Houston in 1977-- many anti-ERA delegates are trying to get in and Schlafly attempts to organize a counter-rally to take place right after the Houston Conference. Eventually of course, we get to Reagan. The original deadline for the ERA has been extended, but it hasn't been ratified yet and proponents seem to realize that their window is closing. Schlafly is still working against it, but hoping for a cabinet position in Reagan's new administration, but after winning, Reagan calls and lets her know he can't put her in the cabinet because she's too polarizing.

To it's credit, the show admits that it's fictionalized up front, which I think is good. It's also more nuanced than I think I was expecting. While I don't think it portrays Schlalfly as a sympathetic figure, for sure it paints her as a complicated figure-- a trait shared with every other character we meet over the course of the nine-episode run. 

Overall: Incredible cast! (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sarah Paulson, Niecy Nash, James Marsden, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale all show up- and even the folks I don't recognize from stuff turn in excellent performances across the board.) Whether the oh so 70s subject matter/politics interests you or not, the cast alone makes this worth watching. My Grade: *** out of **** 


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