Where There’s Spark (Television Thoughts: The Spark, Little Fires Everywhere S01 E01, Hulu)

little-fires-everywhereCeleste Ng’s ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ has been on my to-be-read list since it came out in 2017.  But of course, I have been so behind on my reading that there is, now, a Hulu series adaptation of it. As much as I want to read the book, the series will do for now. I had also been meaning to watch this, but there is so much content out there that I just saw the first episode. And it’s riveting. I don’t know how it differs from the book, but the first episode has me hooked and I can’t wait to start watching the series.

Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington both produce and star in this show, and they are cast perfectly. Witherspoon is Elena, all type A suburban perfection and Washington as Mia her artistic urban counterpart. Of course, the two characters together would bring sparks. (The first episode is titled ‘Sparks.’) Their families start to weld together – Elena’s four kids and Mia’s one daughter.

The series starts showing Elena’s house in flames. There’s a question on what started it, and some point to Izzy, Elena’s daughter. But I know things are most probably not what they seem in the story, and I am now just too eager to find out.

Love Is Normal (Television Thoughts: Normal People, Hulu)

poster-780What brings to people together? I don’t think there’s a formula for it. Hulu’s ‘Normal People’ is a love story between Connor and Marianne. Based on Sally Rooney’s book, there are times when, while watching it, that I would think to myself, there is nothing happening here story wise. But so much happens in every scene, and every glance, every kiss forwards the story that I can’t remember the last time I watched two characters on screen and felt like I know them inside and out, I binge-watched this in a weekend, and felt so intimately involved with the characters that I felt like they were life-long friends by the end. And we follow their love story through a lot – starting from high school till when Conner gets an MFA offer in New York City.

Conner and Marianne are perfectly cast in Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. They start out as unlikely pairs in secondary school  – he is a football hero and she is an intellectual outcast. His friends make fun of her, she broods on her own. His mother works as a housekeeper in her house, and that’s when they begin a sort-of friendship that ultimately brings them together. And the clandestine relation ship is instantly sexual. You feel bad for her because she has to hide it, but he hides a lot – his one word answer on everything shows that he has his guards up all the time. Their relationship ends with him asking someone else at their final school dance. They meet up later at Trinity College in Dublin, and of course, there is rekindling,

What I love most about the show is the element of melancholy that permeates in every pore of these characters. They are damaged, for sure, but among all of us, who isn’t? And they do break up and get back together a number of times in the show which can make it exhaustive, but then again relationships are exhaustive, and for me, everything still made sense. there is an awful lot of sex scenes in the show (and flesh shown) but somehow it never felt gratuitous – through them we seen the inner bearings of both characters. I loved living in their world, and I remember sitting at the main square of trinity College in Dublin thinking how life might be for students there – this show gave me a nice glimpse.

And it ends wonderfully – it is not a happey-ever-after, nor a can-never-be-together, Just like real life and love, there are maybes, and even if the maybes turn to yes or nos,  there will always be somehows. With love, one never truly knows.

Jersey Muslin (Television Thoughts: Ramy)

12p16580502_b_v8_aaJust like most people, I have never heard of ‘Ramy’ until its star, Ramy Youssef won Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the recent Golden Globes. (he even makes a joek about it when he accepted his award)  But I found it on Hulu, and the premise seems interesting – a young man who is a Muslim in today’s America, torn between cultures and religion. I watched the first two episodes and they were a breeze – funny and kind of sad at the same time.

There are interesting aspects to the story. Ramy the character is torn. he is seeing Chloe, a Jewish girl, but has been lying to her about the extent of how religious he is – he pretends to be drinking, but really isn’t. They have premarital sex but you can see the guilt in Ramy’s face. When his friends implore him to get a Muslim girl, he asks his parents to find him a girl – their first date is hilarious and ends in a most unexpected. way. There’s a lot of things to take away from the series, and just when you think the set p is ideal – he works at a start up with his best friend, a paraplegic – we see that start up closing by the second episode and he starts working for his uncle selling diamonds at the Diamond District. One last interesting thing for me – the series is set in Jersey City, where I kind of grew up.

Color me interested – this show takes a lot of unexpected turns that keep me guessing. I am in.

The Great Perhaps (Television Thoughts: Pilot, Looking for Alaska, Hulu)

de237b2b-f39a-437a-ab5c-610c50298c20I didn’t realize until I already started watching Hulu’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ that it stars Charlie Plummer. Plummer was excellent in last year’s ‘Lean On Pete’ and I have had my eye on him ever since. So it was great pleasure to see him land in this series. And based on the first episode which I watched, he is just one of the assets of the show.

Created by Josh Schwartz and Jessica Savage (they did ‘O.C’) this looks like it’s not just another teen drama. Plummer stars as Miles, a teen who asks to go away to boarding school to look for the ‘great perhaps.’ The term is coined from poet Francois Rabelais’ last words – Miles is a collector of them – he voraciously reads biographies to learn the last words famous people say before they die. (Rabelais’ was ‘I go to see a great perhaps’) Once he arrives at his school, he connects with his roommate Colonel and Alaska, a young girl he instantly falls for. So goodie, we get a coming of age story with unrequited love – my favorite genre of young people’s stories. By the end of the first episode, we see him trying to be Switzerland in class war, at the same time starting to nurse his newfound feelings. It’s going to be a bumpy but (I suspect) meaningful ride.

Popular (Film Thoughts: Jawline/Merely Marvelous)

p16946634_v_v8_aaI roll my eyes at the idea of someone wanting to be a successful social influencer but here I am watching Liz Mandelup’s fine documentary ‘Jawline’ (now streaming on Hulu) which is about Austyn tester, a sixteen year old, who dreams of being the next new hot thing on the internet. My eyes were firmly on my head when the film started following him, but I swear by the end of the film I liked this kid so much, and confession time, I followed him on Instagram. Really, we go through his (small) journey here – from a tween doing live broadcasts on YouNow, to him being plucked by a Management agency, and then being invited to tour with other social influencers, to him being dropped by said management. He ends up being dejected and depressed – at sixteen years old, wouldn’t you be?. But I wanna tell Austyn, by Gosh you are still young there are still going to be a lot of opportunities to come your way. Mandelup does a good job of making you care for the him, and the film. Don’t pooh-pooh ‘Jawline,’ like I almost did, because like me, you probably will come out very much enlightened.

MV5BMWUxMDA2ODUtMTU1MC00ZmE2LWEzMDEtNTg2MjU5ODAwZjZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzgxNTU4MjU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_I hark back on the days when one becomes famous because of their talent, and what better way to see that than in ‘Merely Marvelous: the Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon.’ People may have only gone deep with her through the F/X series ‘Fosse/Verdon,’ but this fine fine documentary digs even deeper. We get to know her life story and even better, her work through clips and interviews of people she worked with. It was fantastic to see all the footage from her most celebrated Broadway performances like her famous can can scene from ‘Can Can’ (which prompted a seven minute ovation on Opening Night) to ‘I’m A Brass Band’ from ‘Sweet Charity.  There is even a poignant one from her teaching her nephew Jack Cole’s tap dancing routine five months before she passed. This film is a celebration of Gwen Verdon and is a cause for celebration.

The Touch (Movie Thoughts: Untouchable)

0204d474-dcce-44f3-af25-d1cca05aba3bThere’s a lot of things in Ursula Macfarlane’s ‘Untouchable’ that you did not know, but I bet, essentially, you already knew them.  As I watch these women narrate their stories here on how they were sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, I couldn’t help but think some of them could be unavoidable. But I shouldn’t judge, as Weinstein yielded so much power that anyone could be blinded by it – there is always going to be that ‘what if’ gnawing at the back of your head somewhere.

This documentary, now streaming on Hulu, felt familiar at times that it bored me. Macfarlane employed a journalistic touch with the reporting, and that is a wise dignified choice for a subject that in itself is already titillating. But its blandness make it a tough watch for me. The stories can be similar, and I at times had a hard time distinguishing one from the other, and perhaps that is also because Weinstein basically had the same modus operandi. But make no mistake, though, these stories are important and should be heard. I just wish they had a little more flash.

Grandma Sex (Movie Thoughts: Ask Dr Ruth)

large_ruth-posterI bet most people who lived in New York in the 80s has a Dr. Ruth story. She was everywhere – on the radio, on the television both day and night, and you went out the streets and I bet you saw here. I remember watching the Broadway musical ‘Crazy For You’ and she sat right in front of me. During intermission, everyone was going to her to have her sign their Playbills. She was in a lot of ways a super star.

This documentary shows the woman before and after that period. I did not know she was a Holocaust survivor – she was sent to a Swiss orphanage alogn with other children so they would be safe from the war, and the documentary shows how years later she finds out her father was killed at Auschwitz, and details of her mother’s death still unknown. She somehow ends up in Washington Heights and on a radio show in New York City becomes ‘Dr Ruth.’ (Westheimer)  Sure, she was a cultural phenomenon, but she also opened he doors for sexual communication. As a gay teenager I remember listening to her I have to admit I got some information on safe sex from her. I loved her warmth and openness, and trusted the information she gave. This film captures her personality vividly, and her legacy as well.

Shrill Elegance (Television Thoughts: Shrill, Pilot)

shrill-hulu-aidy-bryant-release-dateThere’s so much television content out there you really do not know what to watch and I have to be honest, most times I give up easily on these shows. I have only heard good things about the new Hulu original, ‘Shrill,’ and after watching the first episode, I wish I could say that I loved it, but honestly, I just like it a lot. These days that may not be good enough, but I am making a commitment to stick to it and watch more episodes.

First, this is perfect as my ‘last thing to watch before I go to sleep.’ It’s less than half an hour, and it is an amiable and easy watch. Aidy Bryant stars as Annie. She’s fuller figured (let’s not sugarcoat that) and she is dealign with a lot of things on the pilot episode. She’s trying to find her way at work (John Cameron Mitchell plays her boss – always a plus)  And midway through, she finds out she is pregnant, by a guy who really just uses her for sex. There has been a lot of chatter since the character gets an abortion, and it raises an issue – did you now that the morning after pill does not on women weighing more than 175 lbs? Yes, Annie has responsibility issues, but Bryant is charming and can get away with it – she reminds me of Roseanne Barr before she went all Trumpster. So yeah , there is a lto for me to go back to here, and I will

Fighting Fyre with Fyre (Film Thoughts: Fyre Fraud/Fyre)

fyre-fyre-fraud-posters

We have two competing documentaries on the failed Fyre Music Festival from 2017, and I have seen them both. So which one did I like better. I will give it to Hulu’s ‘Fyre Fraud’ by a small margin. It’s also a little lighter, and has a broader thing to say than Netflix’s ‘Fyre,’ which I thought was a little drier. I also saw ‘Fyre Fraud’ first and perhaos the Netflix one suffered because of that?

‘Fyre Fraud’ has an edge by having Billy McFarland interviewed – their competitors say that Hulu paid $250,000 for that, and if that’s is true, that would be disgusting. ‘Fyre,’ on the other hand has its own demons – it was produced by the media people who worked on the festival, and of course, it made the media company look good and less culapble for what happened. But for me, who cares? These rich people got scammed – boo hoo – and the social influencers got scammed boo hoo again. It’s not the end of the world for them, but how about the Bahamanian workers who shelled out money and never got repaid back. Why can’t Netflix or Hulu shell out some money for these people? In the end, I didn’t really have a lot of sympathy for some of these white entitled privileged people who got scammed.