Wednesday, August 24, 2022

TV: The more you watch, the more you question?

TV watching is a question generating occupation.  Like why doesn't comedian Matteo Lane already have his own NETFLIX special?  And, on NETFLIX's new INSTANT DREAM HOUSE is the audience supposed to be attracted to Danielle Brooks, Adair Curtis, Erik Curtis, Paige Mobley or Nick Cutsumpas?  Or when being undercover, how difficult is it to keep your stories straight?

That last one is generated by both EPIX and NETFLIX.  What follows, FYI, will be spoilers.
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CONDOR is an attempt to tell James Grady's SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR without using either a CIA asset behind the camera or in front of.  As a result, it contains a lot less CIA propaganda.  And doesn't try to fool you about some 'good apple' in the bunch.  The lead character Joe Turner (played by Max Irons) is better off -- in terms of ethics and sanity -- when he is out of the CIA.  As in the film, the lead character is an analyst for the CIA. He didn't want to join the CIA but he's 'recruited' in college.  Not like sometimes happens.  He's not set up on a lunch by a fairly famous 'leftwing' professor.  Instead, his uncle Bob (William Hurt) tries to recruit him.  Joe says no.  So Bob blackmails him by having Joe, his roommate and his girlfriend arrested.  It can all go away if Joe will only do what Bob wants.  

He creates ill will by not explaining to his roommate and his girlfriend why he's joining the CIA.  

His best friend Sam (Kristoffer Polaha) is in the CIA and can't tell his wife (Mae played by Kristen Hager) much more than that.  It's all secret in the secret spy biz and super secret about the corruption going on -- led by Brendan Fraser's Nathan, among others.  They torture, they lie, they blackmail.  It's pretty accurate portrayal of the CIA.  At one point, a group using the CIA for their own profit (a recurring them throughout the first two seasons) has a member who feels badly that they may have gone too far.  May?  When Sam and Nathan find out, it's time to kill the man.  

Sam can kill his friend but when it's his best friend, he struggles.  In the end, he gives his life to save Joe.  

Joe is framed for Sam's murder and for the murders that take place at the cut-off office the CIA is using.  All of this is in the first season, early in the first season.  Early on, our only quibble was Joubert.  In the 1973 film, Max von Sydow played the assassin.  In the series, Gabrielle Jourbert is played by Leem Lubarry.  The first episode, it seemed like miscasting.  But as the storyline settled in, Lubarry more than made the role her own.  

It's two strong seasons of twist and turns -- with a third on the way -- and highly entertaining.  

Also realistic.  Season one ends with Joe out of the CIA.  Like Al Pacino says in THE GODFATHER PART III, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."  And as he sinks deeper into the CIA, he becomes someone that he likes less and less.  He goes from someone with a clear line of what is right and what is wrong to someone willing to do whatever it takes to get the result he wants.  It's a story of corruption.

In season two, there's a mole within the CIA.  And the mole is very good about hiding and concealing.  As season two moves along, the mole finally is revealed by a slip up.  The mole is speaking to a boss about the boss' inside source (known only as "Phoenix") and the mole refers to the source as "she."  Accurate, but also a secret.  With that pronoun, the mole has slipped up and been revealed.  (You know the mole long before the slip up, by the way.)

Which prompts the question of how difficult is it to be a double agent?

That slip up exposes a great deal.  Prior to that, the mole was just trucking along with no one the wiser.

The only slip up and it exposes everything.

We bring that up because ECHOES on NETFLIX is all about secret identities.  Leni and Gina (both played by Michelle Monaghan) are twin sisters.  Early on, they begin switching.  Only their mother could tell them apart, she did by noticing that Gina was the more emotionally responsive while Leni tended to present a stony affect.  As adults, they continue this action at Leni's insistence.  

To be Leni, either twin pulls her hair to one side and speaks with a southern drawl.  To be Gina, the hair's parted in the middle and there's no drawl.  Leni's married to Jack (Matt Bomer) and they live on a farm with a lot of acres and horses.  Gina's married to her former counselor Charlie (Daniel Sunjata) and they live in LA where Gina is a best selling writer.  Every year, at Leni's insistence, they switch places on their birthday.

Jack has no idea.  Remember, we warned you about spoilers, Charlie keeps it hidden but he has caught on.  

And we're surprised by this.  Not Charlie catching on but Jack not catching on.  

Leni, pretending to be Gina, never wakes up by accident speaking in her own southern drawl?  Sure, you could pass that off as a joke once or twice, but they do this for decades.  And Gena never forgets to be Leni which she first wakes up in bed with Jack?

Maybe Jack's supposed to be slow because he's from the south.  We're not saying people from the south are slower than non-southerners, we're just trying to figure out how they keep the act hidden. Especially when Gina is prone to nightmares.  It's hard not to picture Jack having to spend a great deal of time repeatedly comforting Gina (who he thinks is Leni) during any year she's posing as his wife.

A trained spy, in CONDOR, during the one year on the show.  But Leni and Gina are able to pose as one another their whole lives.

Gina doesn't want to do it.  And, she really turns on this practice once she learns that Leni's done several things that hurt her sister -- like running off an old boyfriend.

ECHOES is a melodrama -- the type that might star Bette Davis in an old WARNER BROTHERS film (which, if made today, would be immediately shelved by WARNER BROS DISCOVERY in an insurance scheme).  It's a solid melodrama.  They bill it as "a limited series."  As much as we enjoyed it, we hope that's what it is.  The Emmy a few years back for limited series went to BIG LITTLE LIES -- and a Big Little Lie was told on the voters because the show was renewed for a second season after the award was handed out.  A second season might have sounded like a good idea but it was not.  First off, the show needed Alexander Skarsgard's energy.  He dies in season one.  They needed an actor similar to him in energy.  Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and the rest still gave strong performances but there was a needed energy missing.  Worse, they made a move too many shows make: Create a new character and give the new character as much time as the returning cast.

If there's a season two, the point should have been giving Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) more to do.  (We like Zoe and know her, we also like and Know Nicole, Laura, Alex and Renee.  And we know and like creator David E. Kelley.)

Instead, every one was in a holding position with more or less the same amount of time in the story.  Bill's role was filled by Meryl Streep.

Meryl's been applauded for and accused of many things but "high energy" has never been one of those things.  She was a sink hole that destroyed season two.  She was a new character (playing Alex Skarsgard's mother) and it was like the final season of THAT 70'S SHOW bringing on Josh Meyers to play Randy -- no one wanted to see it.  The show didn't need Meryl and viewers didn't want her and she killed any thought of a third season.

ECHOES works as a self-contained series.  Yes, the ending is such that we could have a part two but, honestly, it's not needed and would probably tear apart all the grace notes the series rang.

Which brings us back to INSTANT DREAM HOUSE.  This is NETFLIX's best entry in the home remodel genre so far.  The twist here is that the remodel is done in 12 hours or less. And the home owners don't know that it's happening.  They entered -- or were entered by someone they know -- a contest for a home remodel.  And they are then informed that they didn't qualify.  Actually, they did and team (led by host Danielle Brooks) has an insider (another show with an undercover mole!) who is a friend or a family member.  That friend or family member is tasked with keeping them away from the home for 12 hours.  

Danielle then leads the team: Nick Cutsumpas (landscaping), Erik Curtis (construction), Adair Curtis (interior design) and Paige Mobley (special project; something to make the house pop) as they rush through a remodel of the yard, the outside of the house and the interior while the family is briefly away.  In one case, they assemble a kitchen in the warehouse -- with a floor and walls -- take down a wall from the house, and slide the remodel kitchen (new floor and walls and all) into the home.

Troubles can emerge.  The kitchen, for example, before it's slid in, they're not sure the house can withstand the weight.  Another time, they've opened up the attic by planning windows on the roof that open up but when trying to move the roof towards the home, they have not traction and have to instead use a helicopter to bring the windows in.  These are troubles specific to the project.  There are also routine troubles -- primarily, difficulty keeping the home owners (and dwellers) away long enough to do the remodel.

We've been rooting for the home owner who yells, "Blue! I hate blue! I never would have selected blue as a color!"  But so far, no one has been offended by the choices made in the surprise remodel.  We see no more than a few seconds of the people applying for the contest.  This may all be covered in the intake interview thereby avoiding the Rhoda (Valeria Harper) scene with Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) where Rhoda tells her, "Yes, Mary, you now have the car you love in the color you hate."  In THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW's "Mary and the Incredible Plant Lady" episode (written by Martin Cohan), Rhoda borrows money from Mary and, instead of paying her back, decides to buy her a new car -- a new yellow car, not knowing that Mary doesn't like the color yellow.

We liked the show.  So do a lot of people we spoke to.  Danielle Brooks has quite the following from this show -- the terms most often applied to her were "sexy" and "fun." And she is.  And we understand why Nick Cutsumpas has a following -- no one should be that good looking.  Adair Curtis and Paige Mobley also have their followings.  For us, we'd go with Erik Curtis as our pick.  Not as pretty as Nick, no, but few on this planet are.  But he's got a nice lived in quality that makes you root for him -- and he does have more disasters on this who than anyone except Hillary on LOVE IT OR LEASE IT -- that may be part of his appeal, watching him shift gears and overcome?  Again, TV watching prompts many questions. 

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