Tuesday, May 02, 2017

TV: An Unworthy TV Tale

"Forget it," Michelle Pfeiffer says in WHAT LIES BENEATH.  "This whole thing is insane."

She's right.

And we're gripped and carried along for the ride as Claire (Pfeiffer) learns her problems are not an abusive neighbor next door but a woman her husband killed.  It's a bumpy ride and, early on, we're aware that Claire may be losing her sanity and imagining everything.

It's a movie we love -- one many people love as evidenced by the $291 million worldwide gross.

Last weekend, it was playing on SYFY and so much easier to turn on then HULU's THE HANDMAID'S TALE.


Both revolve around women in jeopardy.

People in jeopardy are at the heart of most films, TV shows and books.

Tom Cruise is in jeopardy in THE FIRM, Macaulay Culkin in HOME ALONE, Joan Crawford throughout the bulk of her film career and the would-be-Crawford Michael Douglas throughout his films.

But jeopardy is a tricky thing.

Before becoming the box office smash, HOME ALONE was an iffy project.

The promos weren't well received.

The problem: Would be audiences weren't embracing a child being left alone.

So the promos were recut to feature Catherine O'Hara's scenes where she panics and attempts to return home.

With a few seconds of tweeking, 20TH CENTURY FOX had a film millions wanted to see.


It's debuted to great reviews.

And that might mean something to us if The Water Cooler Set ever valued women.

But they don't.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE started out as a novel, a classic by Margaret Atwood.  In the future, actions humans have taken have led to a climate where (a) few women can get pregnant and (b) where religious fundamentalists have taken over via martial law and use portions of THE BIBLE to suppress the rights of the majority.

Offred is the main character in the novel.

She's also the main character in the 1990 film starring Natasha Richardson (as Offred) and Faye Dunaway (as Serena Joy, the wife unable to get pregnant).

And nothing stopped us from reading the novel or seeing the film.

But a TV series?

Not a mini-series, but a TV series?

Along with the anti-women Water Cooler Set applauding the series there's the fact that a series goes on and on.

When does it end?

Are we masochists?

Eager each week to see another chapter in the subjugation and demonization of women (those who can get pregnant are seen as "sluts" and "whores" by those women who can't)?

 With a novel, a film or a mini-series, you know an ending arrives at some point.

With a series?

Offred's no Buffy Summers or Olivia Pope.

Hell, she's not even Pepper Potts.

But she does yammer on endlessly.

In the novel, she's the narrator.

It works very well.

But film and TV are visual mediums and show-don't-tell exists for a reason.

The HULU series relies way too much on voice over.

It's not enough that we have to suffer through Offred's interior monologues, we also have to hear what she wants to reply to comments before we hear what she's forced to say.

Why is that?

Because viewers aren't smart enough to grasp facial expressions?

Elizabeth Moss is not doing a great job.

She's not even doing a good job.

When she filmed THE HANDMAID'S TALE, Natasha Richardson was 26.  She looked about that age (and looked the epitome of health).  By contrast, Moss is 34 and looks about 38.  In a story about fertility, that does matter.  The show runners realize it enough to make it appear that the character is younger.

The only one giving a performance worth praising currently is Yvonne Strahovski.

The CHUCK actress isn't allowed to reveal too many more emotions than Moss' Offred but Strahovski has enough talent to add weight and meaning in gestures and reactions.

Max Mingehella is a blank slate.

Sadly, that's not a compliment.  His Nick is supposed to have chemistry with Offred -- he will eventually impregnate her (if the series stays true to the novel).

The two make eyes at one another repeatedly in the first episodes.

But these aren't smoldering looks, they're more confused and apathetic.

Also lacking fire is Joseph Finnes.

Here, the problem's mainly the material.

His Commander Fred should luxuriate in his own power and role, like a happy pig wallowing in the mud.

He has everything he supposedly wants.

So why is he so mopey -- or worse, timid, when playing Scrabble with Offred?

If he is the manifestation of danger and oppression in the story, his character should amount to something more than Matthew Broderick in 2004's THE STEPFORD WIVES.

Instead, it's left to a woman, Ann Dowd, to represent true evil on the show in her portrayal of Aunt Lydia.

In a male dominated society, Aunt Lydia goes along with the flow.

But while we've yet to see any redeeming aspect to her, she's still the Eichmann to the various commanders' Hilter.

Or would be if the series lived up to the vision Atwood set out in the novel.

The novel's the only real winner here.  Hopefully, HULU's show will steer some new readers to the book.  That's about the only thing that can qualify as a winner from this project.

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