Category Archives: TV

TV Review – Space Force (2020)

Be a spaceman, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s new comedy series.

I avoided this series for awhile because I assumed it was going to be a dump on Trump fest. Now, don’t get me wrong, politicians have long been easy fodder for comedy, and our current president provides more than enough material, but at some point I feel comedians moved away from finding original jokes and just got lazy, creating a non-stop meme machine, i.e. “Trump is a bad orange man who is bad and orange!”

That’s not the case here. It’s a goofy comedy about all the antics you might imagine would happen in the creation of a brand new wing of the military.  Think F Troop, but in space.

Steve Carell plays General Mark Naird, a decorated war veteran who has long dreamed of leading a branch of the military. When he is promoted to 4-Star, he mistakenly believes that he is being groomed to replace his longtime nemesis General Kick Grabaston (Noah Emmerich) as leader of the Air Force, only to find that he’s actually going to become the founder of the Space Force.

The assignment, at first, seems like a bad joke, with the name Space Force conjuring images of science fiction flicks in which intrepid space explorers engage in tense laser battles with little green men.

But Naird takes the job seriously, seeing it as his opportunity to be remembered in history alongside great generals like Patton, Eisenhower and so on.

Naird’s foil is John Malkovich’s Dr. Adrian Mallory.  While Naird runs all things military at Space Force’s Colorado base, Mallory runs all things science. They’re basically an odd couple, where Mallory never wants to take a risk and Naird never meets a risk he doesn’t want to take.

Killer satellites designed to destroy other satellites, space chimps, space dogs, spies, moon colonies, and an ongoing rivalry with China’s version of the Space Force become inspiration for hilarity.

Various subplots ensue, including Naird’s wife (Lisa Kudrow as Maggie Naird) who is in prison for (SPOILER ALERT) a reason we are never told, and assumably we’ll have to wait until next season to find out, if we ever do.  We know she’s there for 40 years, so she did something serious, but Naird wasn’t required to step down so it couldn’t have had consequences that were that dire.  She’s free in the first few minutes of the series and clearly despises the idea of leaving Washington, D.C. to move to a remote location in Colorado, so my money is that she probably flipped out and tried to hijack the flight to Colorado or something.  We’ll have to keep watching to find out.

Naird’s daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers) ends up having to raise herself as her mom is in the slammer and dad is constantly dealing with one space catastrophe after another.

To the series’ credit, it isn’t that political at all, but when it is, it harangues both parties equally. In one scene, Naird is chewed out by an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez clone for wasting taxpayer dollars on spaceships with lasers and pulse cannons only for Naird to have to gently explain that these things only exist in Star Wars.  Meanwhile, he has to explain to a stereotypical Southern senator that the earth isn’t flat.  Trump is never official said to be the president, though Naird gets ribbed with texts from “POTUS” calling him a loser whenever Space Force suffers a setback.

The late Fred Willard plays Naird’s doddering father who suffers from a multitude of health problems but refuses to go into assisted living.  Poignant, because this was Willard’s last role.

Ben Schwartz plays Naird’s despised social media consultant F. Tony (nicknamed Fuck Tony), essentially reprising his ultra-trendy pop culture obsessed Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation.

Ironically, and I’m not sure if this was the series’ intention or not, but it actually convinced me that militarization of space isn’t that bad of an idea.  Put aside goofy sci-fi notions of space soldiers fighting with vile aliens and consider today’s issues, namely, we are more dependent on the Internet than ever, and if a foreign power has the ability to knock an Internet providing satellite out of the sky, then perhaps the military does need to be involved.  Meanwhile, if multiple countries have plans to eventually colonize the moon or Mars, then those colonies will need protection.

And in a funny way, it explores many of the issues that are bound to happen as earthlings keep navigating into the stars.  Will countries fight over astro-turf just as they fight over earth turf back home? Will experiments that could help humanity though medical breakthroughs be put to the wayside for finding new ways to carry out war? Who owns what is discovered in space and last, but not least, is the great taxpayer expense worth it? As Malkovich points out, the cost to launch a rocket is the equivalent of what thousands of Americans make in an entire life time. How many thousands of life-time salaries can be wasted without demonstrated benefits before taxpayers put a stop to space exploration altogether?

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  I binge-watched this in a day because it was that funny and I’m looking forward to season 2.

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TV Review – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend (Interactive Special)

3.5 readers, if you need a cure for the corona blues, this is it.

Note that I said a cure for the corona blues, not the corona itself.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty blue myself yesterday morning when I made my new normal commute from the bedroom to the couch, only to be instantly cheered up by the surprise of an interactive Kimmy Schmidt special.

I love this show because I feel like it was one of the last true examples of good comedy out there. Jokes that fly at you at a rapid clip, so much so you have the watch the series at least twice to catch them all.  They pull no punches and they aren’t afraid to poke fun at both sides of a topic, no easy feat in this day and age when the masses demand that comedians pick a side.

Naturally, I was bummed when the show ended rather abruptly. Though we were given an ending, it felt like everyone found love but Kimmy.  Indeed, Kimmy did find success as the author of a children’s book series, but love eluded her. I suppose there’s a larger debate about whether she needed love and while yes, anyone can achieve success on their own, finding that special relationship is, well special.

By the way, for those new to the show, it is about a woman who, as a teenager, was kidnapped (I forget the actual year but I want to say late 90s or early 2000s) by the insane Reverend Wayne Garywayne (Jon Hamm in a role that blows Don Draper out of the water) and forced to live in a bunker as one of Garywayne’s many sister wives.

Lied to by the Reverend and told that he has saved them because the apocalypse has broken out on the earth up above, Kimmy and friends are shocked when they are rescued decades later by the police and find that the world is still here.

This does not sound like fodder for a comedy at all but the crux of the humor surrounds Kimmy having a child like naivete, trying to make it big in New York City while learning thing we all take for granted. Her “teachers” on this journey are wannabe actor Titus and crazy landlady Lillian.

So, not to belabor the show’s history, in this special, Kimmy is three days away from marrying an actual prince played by Daniel Radcliffe when she discovers that the Reverend, now in prison, had been keeping a second bunker full of sister wives the entire time.  It’s up to Kimmy to save the day on a cross country trip and free the Reverend’s hostages while making it back to the wedding on time.

You, the viewer, get to make choices for Kimmy and friends, and often your choices have unexpected and hysterical results. They also do have consequences, as your decisions lead to happy, mediocre and or bad endings – just like life!

In fact, as I watched the show, I couldn’t help but wish that I had a remote control that would let me go back and make better decisions.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Look away for a spoiler – Making choices that are out of Kimmy’s character tend to be funnier, but making choices that Kimmy would make tend to keep her on the straight and narrow path.

PS: As a fan of the show, I think this does provide better closure as it ties up the loose end about whether Kimmy would find her soulmate, while leaving the door open if they want to ever make another special or more episodes. Further, it is amazing what tech can do with interactive storytelling and Netflix is leading the way on that.

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TV Review – Tiger King (2020)

3.5 readers, this will be short, but I have to recommend the new docu-series Tiger King on Netflix.

Heck, if you’re huddled inside, trying to stave off the corona, what better time than now to check out this little gem?

The long story short is that there is a crazy, wacky, world that you have likely never heard of before.  That world is the world of privately owned (as in by a person rather than by a professional company) tiger zoos.  Shoddily run by dudes with tremendous egos who act like their ownership of giant kitties is a super power, these joints are teaming with tabloid fodder and this series brings it all to your screen.

The most wacky of all tiger zoo owners is Joe Exotic, a gay country singing bigamist cowboy from Oklahoma who is addicted to social media and putting content on the web.  He loves the limelight, putting some of the silliest videos of himself imaginable out there, acting as though he is some sort of larger than life cartoon character.

Over time, he gets into a public feud with Carol Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a preserve that gives a home to big cats once owned by zoos such as Exotic’s.  Baskin says Exotic is mistreating his kitties.  Exotic says she’s just trying to steal his cats for herself.

Ultimately, the feud takes a gruesome turn when Exotic moves from clown to criminal, getting arrested for his part in a hit for hire plot against Baskin.

Some of the things you’ll see in this series just defies belief.  Dudes who play with giant tigers without a care that they could easily become lunch.  Hangers on who work for next to nothing because they either have nowhere else to go or they just love the lifestyle.  Women turned big cat owner groupies.  Young men enamored by Joe’s money to the point they marry him even though they are straight.  Money thrown away on zoos that essentially become money pits and expired Walmart leftover meats that are fed to kitties.

This is one to watch, 3.5 readers.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

 

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I’m Enjoying The Masked Singer

I usually don’t like reality tv shows, singing contest shows, etc. but I think they have a winner here.

The judges are cheesy as they throw out guesses that seem like they are pre-rehearsed, just to push the audience in a direction but ultimately, its a lot of fun.

If you haven’t seen it yet, celebrities put on masks and elaborate costumes and sing away.  There is usually a pre-packaged bit where the masked celebrity in a squeaky altered voice drops a few clues, but the clues are often vague and hard to pin down.

Currently, I’m trying to figure out who The Skeleton is.  I’m thinking either Dan Akroyd or Paul Schaeffer.

Who do you think the masked singers are, 3.5?

 

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TV Review – Stranger Things Season 3 (1980)

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

It took me awhile but I finally got through Season 3 of Stranger Things.

These are probably bland observations but I’ll make them all the same.

#1 – The nostalgia factor for someone who grew up in the 80s is fun.  From the music choices to the overall feel, the Duffer brothers know that decade which is odd because I don’t think they spent a lot of time in it.

#2 – Often in movies about kids who save the day, the kids are usually presented as geniuses and the adults as bumbling idiots who get in the way  Here, not so much.  Hopper and Joyce are integral to the plot and aren’t treated like dummies getting in the kids’ way.  Also, the kids are kids.  They make kid mistakes and they need, or rather even seek out parental help because they know their limits whereas other films would show a kid genius who is just being slowed down by the adults.

#3 – Look away if you don’t want spoilers, but the final mall battle where the kids throw fireworks bombs at the monster is visually stunning and fun to watch.

#4 – Russians are the villains and kids and adults alike really dump on them throughout the season, calling them commies and deriding communism as evil and corrupt.  I didn’t think that was allowed anymore in today’s PC world, even in a period piece.

#5 – They do tend to work 80s era actors into the series.  Winona Ryder, aka Joyce was a popular kid actor in the 80s.  Sean Astin of Goonies fame has a brief role as her love interest in Season 2.  In Season 3, Cary Elwes of Princess Bride fame plays a villainous mayor.  Comedian Paul Reiser plays a scientist that experiments on the evil monsters.

#6 – I think the challenge for the show was trying to keep reinvent itself after an initial plotline that was cool at first but over time became somewhat limiting.  For example, after two seasons of battling evil monsters that inhabit the “upside-down” version of their town (basically, an evil parallel universe) one wonders why anyone still chooses to continue to live in Hawkins, Indiana.  Season 3 upped the game by bringing Russians conducting an evil experiment in the bowels of that 1980s staple, the shopping mall and it looks like (spoiler alert) Season 4 will likely involve a plot to rescue Hopper from the upside-down.

#7 – I’ve run out of observations but if you have any, leave them in the comments.  In the meantime, don’t click on the video below if you don’t want a spoiler.  Otherwise, enjoy the kids’ rendition of “The Neverending Story” theme song.

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TV Review – Team Foxcatcher (2016)

Have you ever looked the other way on a friend or loved one’s mental illness because they have money?

Maybe you rationalized taking an insult because they pay the rent.  Maybe you sucked it up and turned a blind eye to their abuse because you have nowhere else to go.

As the story of “Team Foxcatcher” unfolds, you realize that there were numerous early warning signs that multi-millionaire John du Pont, heir to the vast chemical company fortune, was one hair’s breadth away from snapping like a twig.

And while in hindsight, it’s easy to blame the wrestlers, the estate employees, the coaches, the local police, the Wrestling Association and so on, one has to remember that financial security is the end all/be all of life and few will be willing to bite the hand that feeds them until the abuse just can’t be ignored anymore.

The boiling point came when du Pont shot and killed Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestler and family man who he’d invited to train on his property.  Once the gun was fired, everyone surrounding the murderous madman realized they should have seen it coming and yet, in the years leading up to it, no one did.

This documentary does a great job of telling the story of du Pont’s long descent into madness, and how so many people who depended upon him were willing to look the other way on his mental illness because he was their goose who laid the golden egg.  (And in many respects, while money initially got them into his life, love for the man got them to stay.)

We learn that Du Pont has been socially isolated and sheltered his entire life.  He grew up in posh wealth with his mother, but never had any friends and never met a sticky situation that he couldn’t buy his way out of.  Although a man of great wealth, it was his father and others before him that built the company and so, he has spent his life as an eccentric, awkward weirdo, desperately wanting to do something that would leave his own mark, earn him respect independent of his family name and money, and so on.

Ironically, he almost got there.  A sports fan who didn’t make it as an athlete himself, he builds an athletic complex on his large, sprawling PA estate and invites America’s greatest Olympians to come and train.  He is quickly hailed as a hero, especially to wrestlers, who are typically dominated by the Russians.  We are told that wrestling is a rather complicated sport, taking years to master, and by the time a wrestler really gets the hang of it, he has to quit and find a paying job to support his family.  Russia pays its wrestlers and du Pont solves the problem by paying the wrestlers a salary out of his own pocket and even given them homes on his property.

Though truly a loon, he might have gone down in history as a great benefactor for American sports.  But alas, as the documentary unfolds, he gets crazier and crazier until tragedy strikes.

The documentary tells the tale of a man coddled by everyone, for he has coddled them with his money and so they are essentially returning the favor.  Not happy to sit back and take praise the way so many other pro sports team owners do after a major win, Du Pont wants to get involved and train with the wrestlers, though he has zero skill to offer and is an old man.

He says weird things.  He does weird things.  He has guns.  A lot of guns.

The warning signs were there.  Perhaps not so much that he would kill someone, but there were situations where had it been a poor person doing what he did, people wouldn’t stand for it.

For example, du Pont develops a strange fear of anything colored black, and demands that anything black be removed from his estate.  No black clothes.  No black cars.  No black paint on buildings.  He even fires all the black wrestlers.  Du Pont argues it is nothing personal or racist, he just can’t stomach the color black anymore.  As a high ranking wrestling official (I forget the name of the organization) explains, that moment should have been the point where his group should have cut ties with du Pont but alas, there just wasn’t another way for wrestlers to train and afford a decent living.

Local law enforcement is aware that du Pont is a loon too but du Pont has helped them with his money over the years.

Du Pont becomes paranoid and hires serious, big time security agents.  He’s convinced there are secret tunnels on his estate and spies hiding in his walls and though they agents realize these beliefs are crazy, they investigate his strange claims anyway…and the viewer is left to debate whether or not they should have just told him he’s an idiot or if they were just doing a job they were hired to do.

It all comes to a head when du Pont becomes increasingly jealous of Dave Schultz, the wrestler that everyone on the team rallies around and views as their leader.  Du Pont wants to be loved just as much, but no matter how much dough he doles out, he just can’t get as much love…and eventually breaks down and sadly, shoots Schultz, killing him.

The Foxcatcher movie with Steve Carrell was great, but I think the documentary did a better job of showing how people around Du Pont realized he was nuts and should have removed themselves from him….but its one of those things where you support your crazy uncle figure until his craziness consumes him.

And ultimately, it is a sad story.  Schultz could have gone one last victory before retirement and being with his family.  Du Pont could have maybe seen a shrink and gotten some help and gone down as a respected sports philanthropist but…sadly, mental illness took its toll.

STATUS: Shelfworthy.

 

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Game of Thrones Recap – Season 8, Episode 1

Well, 3.5 readers, the final episodes are here.

I’ve been blogging about this show since this fine blog began.  Come to think of it, HBO probably owes all their success to me, since I sent my 3.5 readers their way.

So now, the end begins and we begin to watch the end.

Spoiler alert.

Jon Snow and Khaleesi are in Winterfell and the Northerners don’t like all the new people.  Jon learns that his bae is also his aunt so now he is an auntie fucker.

The dragons aren’t eating enough, the White Walkers are at the door, Cersei’s still a bitch.  I don’t know.  That’s about it.

My, how fast the past decade has flown.  This show has always been a welcome favorite, something riveting enough that I was always able to turn it on Sunday nights and for a brief hour, get lost in another world.

Six episodes doesn’t seem long enough to tie up the loose ends, but here’s hoping they will be.

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A Look at the First Episode of The Umbrella Academy

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

I just watched the first episode of Umbrella Academy.  If you’ve watched more, I’d thank you to not give away any spoilers.  I will eventually return to this fine blog to discuss the first season.

My initial impression is its great.  Before I saw it, I scoffed for a number of reasons.

  1. Anything with too many characters tends to be a mess.  There’s like 7 main characters here plus supporting characters.  Seems destined to be a pot of gumbo where everyone gets lost in the steam, but somehow, everyone gets their moment to shine.
  2. Movies about long established heroes are great.  Movies about new superheroes tend to stink.  I’ll give this show credit though.  It is based on a Dark Horse Comic so perhaps if newer heroes have a chance to percolate in comics first, then they’ll shine on the screen.
  3. It reminded me of Watchmen, which everyone said was genius but I thought stunk.  Again, a bunch of heroes you hadn’t heard of before, all thrown at us at once, each getting less than five minutes to show their power.  Somehow that was lame but this looks good.

The plot thus far is that in 1989, 40 (I think that’s the number) children were born immaculately on one day.  The mothers had not been pregnant previously.  The kids just popped out unexpectedly.

An eccentric, reclusive billionaire with a penchant for collecting exotic things adopts 7 of these kids.  He starts a school for superheroes in his house, training his new wards to use their powers.

His methods turn the kids into (mostly) powerful grownups.  Some have gone on to do great things.  Others flounder and fail.  All blame their problems on their father’s cold, uncaring aloofness.  The only source of love the children ever had was their father’s robot wife and monkey butler.

By the way, is there something wrong with me that I think it would be awesome to have a robot wife and monkey butler?  Thus far, there has been little explanation as to how the robot wife and monkey butler came to be but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for more on that in future episodes.  Ironically, in a series with 7 heroes, the robot wife and monkey butler pique my interest the most.

Not that the heroes are slouches.  Overall, the first episode was cinematic.  Lots of cool fights and special effects.  Cinematic quality.  Had this been laid out in a movie that I paid money to see, I would have walked away happy.

Netflix really upped their game here.  I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve watched the first season but so far, I am impressed and willing to watch more.

STATUS; Shelf-worthy.

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SNL Skit – Millennial Millions

It’s been awhile since SNL had me doubled over laughing, but Aidy’s song had me in hysterics.  “Who are the boomers?  Oh, they had all the sex and they made all the music and they got all the jobs and they made all the money and they bought all the houses and now they’ll never die!”

They nailed each generation perfectly.  Like Keenan, I’m Gen X, so I’ve already given up and now I’m just sitting on the sidelines and watching the world burn:

 

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TV Review – Escape at Dannemora (2018)

We’re all living in our own personal prison, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora.”

FYI – This TV show was based on real life events that were all over the news in the summer of 2015.  To that end, it’s hard to say there are SPOILERS ahead but there are, because even if you watched the stories, there’s still a lot in the show you may never heard of.

At any rate, if you haven’t watched this show yet and want to, I’d recommend looking away and coming back after you’ve seen it.  Otherwise, come on in.

Yes, 3.5 readers.  We’re all stuck in our own personal prison.  We all have our hopes, our dreams, our wants and our desires and yet, we also carry around with us our only personal set of bars comprised of our own circumstances and our own preconceived notions that keep us from attaining what we want.

That’s what I took away from this show and I must say, while I assumed it was going to be a piece of slapped together “ripped from the headlines” trash going into it, it really is a great work of storytelling and I hope it gets many awards.

The hard part of writing a story is that to retain the audience’s attention, the main characters must be presented as likable or at the very least, sympathetic.  Otherwise, it’s too easy for a viewer to say, “I hope that piece of shit rots” and change the channel.

How does one make these characters sympathetic?  After all, you’ve got two heinous killers who deserve every second of their sentence and then some and their illicit lover/accomplice, i.e. someone who was trusted to work with prison inmates and teach them how to sew in a tailor shop only to betray that trust by having sex with them and smuggling in their escape tools. Throw the book at them and call it a day.

Ironically, Ben Stiller, long known for his wacky, zany comedies, breaks out of his own comedy prison to provide a serious crime drama and excels, perhaps letting us know that his “Simple Jack” days are behind him and he now has his eyes on Oscar gold.

In a masterful use of “show don’t tell,” Stiller manages to find a little kernel of in this gruesome trio and ultimately the show becomes a morality tale about how dangerous and destructive it is to hope for outcomes that are far beyond your abilities to achieve them.

The best example comes early in the series when prison seamstress Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell (Patricia Arquette), a 51-year old wife and mother, gets dragged by her dopey husband and co-worker, Lyle (Eric Lange) on the worst date ever, a small town history museum in upstate New York.  As Tilly heads outside, she looks across to a bar, where a man with a flashy car is getting doted on by two hot, young babes.  Stiller doesn’t spell anything out.  The expression on Tilly’s face tells us everything.  She smiles.  She gets lost in her mind.  She wishes she was one of those hot young babes getting squired around town by a man with a lot of money.

Alas, Tilly’s frown turns upside down.  Darn it.  She remembers.  She’s not a hot young babe.  She never will be.  She’s a chubby 51-year old woman with a closet full of novelty sweatshirts and a small house and two dogs and a dumb husband and a set of bad teeth and bad hair and she has no money and well, the list goes on and on and on.

Ironic, isn’t it?  We constantly hear in the news about the struggles of men who believe that they are women or vice versa.  What about people who, on the inside, believe they are awesome despite an exterior that looks anything but?  Where’s the civil rights march for dumpy old ladies who truly believe they are worthy of being treated as a rich man’s latest conquest?

It’s a great scene and anyone interested in TV writing should study it.  Arquette’s facial expressions tell us more than any narrator could.  By the way, speaking of breaking out of our personal prisons, this is a role that is totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen Patricia Arquette in.

I’ve always thought Arquette was a decent enough actress but I’ve never been a huge fan because she tends to be one of those celebrities that gets extra political and also she tends to play school marmish characters.  To her credit, she’s long been a strong woman who plays strong women, but she breaks the mold here by playing a woman who is the very definition of weak, if not stupid and naïve.

Arquette gets uglied up and then some for the camera.  Make-up artists worked their magic to crap up her hair, skin and teeth but Arquette brings it home.  As Tilly, she has a look on her face of constant confusion, torn every which way.  You’ve heard of the man child that never grows up?  Tilly is the woman child, unable to accept her limits, her circumstances, her inability to realize that being arm candy for a rich stud is not in the cards for her and that perhaps she should try to make the best of it with her husband who may be a complete doofus but at least he’s a loyal and loving doofus.

How did Arquette master Tilly’s face and mannerisms?  Beats me.  She has this look like she just smelled a fart while sucking on a lemon.  She can go from utterly befuddled loser to cunning duplicitous backstabber and back again.  Occasionally throughout the series, she is confronted by her co-workers and husband who see reasons to be suspicious and she reacts in the classic mode of a child throwing a temper tantrum after being caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  It’s not my fault that I did something bad.  It’s your fault for catching me doing something bad.

Honestly, I can’t praise Arquette enough here.  She deserves an Emmy.  In fact, all of her co-stars do because they all seem to be breaking out of their traditional roles.

Benicio del Toro has built a career on playing strong, swarthy, stoic Hispanic men of little words.  At first, it seems like he’s cast to type as Richard Matt, the convicted killer who bosses and bullies her fellow prisoners around and turns them into his subordinate underlings with little more than an angry glare.

Like Tilly, Matt has a dream that is beyond his means.  He wants to be free.  He keeps closing his eyes and envisions himself riding on a horse on the countryside.  He keeps hoping this despite the fact that he’s stuck in a cell that’s a glorified closet.

SPOILER ALERT:  Does hope get these characters anywhere?  Nope.  Del Toro retains his stoic, ultra-macho façade for most of the series until the last episode, where the reality of being on the run from the law doesn’t match up with his dreams. He dreamed of being a cowboy on a horse.  He got walking all day and night through the forest, sleeping in ditches, drinking germ infested stream water that makes him puke and it all culminates in him cracking under pressure, drinking himself into a stupor until he chases away his accomplice who was practically carrying him.  The emotion and weakness is unusual for a del Toro character, but he does it well.

Even Paul Dano as convicted cop killer David Sweat goes against type.  He’s usually plays youthful, baby faced dimwits but here he plays well, a youthful, baby faced young man who is getting run through the ringer of prison’s school of hard knocks.  No doubt he deserves to be there, but each knock makes him tougher and harder, much more so than any previous Dano character.

Long story short, Matt is the con man that secures the illicit escape tools.  Dano is the brawn that stays up into the wee hours sneaking into a catwalk and cutting and breaking through various barriers until an outside manhole in a suburban neighborhood is found.  Meanwhile, Tilly is the dope who somehow believes that a life where she becomes the plaything of two dangerous criminals on the run in a lavish lifestyle on a Mexican beach is actually attainable and/or something that would work out and be fun to do.

Stiller plays with us throughout.  There’s a scene where Tilly brings a twenty dollar bill to a hardware store purchase cutting tools for her boy toys.  She looks at the receipt, sees the total is 21-something, looks at the impulse bag of chips that she’s already begun stuffing her face with, then shrugs her shoulders and uses a traceable credit car to buy the illegal contraband, showing us that a master criminal she is not.

He also pays attention to details in the setting.  The area surrounding the prison is presented as a real life Hoth, any icy American Siberia where it is bone chillingly cold throughout the year and people have to bundle up well into the summer.  Prisoners freeze their asses off.  Residents are stuck in their houses because it is oppressively cold to go out and do anything else.

On top of that, the soundtrack is a playlist of 2015’s top songs.  Tilly constantly listens to pop songs – Nicki Minaj, Meghan Trainor, Bruno Mars et. al, another sign she has a childish brain in an aging body.

Well, if I say much more I’ll give away the whole story but one more credit to Stiller.  He focuses most of the show on the planning of the escape itself, giving us the details of all the evil doings that happened, followed by an episode that begins with a long shot where Dano does a trial run through the long path he has cleared through the bowels of the prison.

Then, just in case you had a little bit in you that said, “Wow!  Amazing that they managed to escape!” Stiller gives us the second to last episode where he reviews in detail the heinous crimes these men did, the lives they destroyed and ultimately reminds us that as remarkable as it is that these men managed to escape, they still deserve to rot in jail for they are examples of true evil.  I won’t get too far into it, but it is made clear that both men did despicable crimes that can’t be forgiven or explained away or written off as the byproduct of a bad upbringing or something.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  Awards deserved for the cast and director all around.

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