Tuesday, March 28, 2023

TV: We spy something good and something sad

For months  now, we've waited with anticipation for RABBIT HOLE to debut on PARAMOUNT+ but then it did.  

This weekend also saw THE NIGHT AGENT released on NETFLIX.  We thought it might make a good comparison/contrast.  So Friday, we sat down to watch the first episode.  We are not bingers.  We are too busy to spend that kind of time or to deal with the next day where we're lagging because we watched eight episodes of a NETFLIX show.


Not eight, ten.  That's how many THE NIGHT AGENT stars.  We know that because we watched them.

One right after the other with no break.

We do not like binge viewing; however, the series is so involving that we had no choice.

THE NIGHT AGENT series is based upon the book of the same name by Matthew Quirk.  Shawn Ryan created the series and his previous work includes THE UNIT, THE SHIELD -- indicating that he has a long history with titles where the first word is an article.  The show has a slew of other producers but we'll just note Seth Gordon who also directed the ten episodes.   

The first episode opens with FBI agent Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso) on a subway train with a bomb about to go off.  He manages to get people off the train but is knocked down in the explosion.  Moments later, he sees the man who left the bomb and chases after him.  As the two fight, the man's hoodie slips up to his pecs and Peter sees he has a tattoo of a snake along his the right side of his upper torso.

It's a year later in a jump cut and Peter's got a job at the White House where he answers a phone that should never ring.  It's his shot at redemption.  Meanwhile Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan) has just lost everything -- including her computer tech company -- and goes to her aunt and uncle's home to rethink her life.  Not much time for thought, let alone lengthy contemplation.  No sooner does she try to sleep then noise pulls her downstairs.  Her aunt and uncle are in a panic.  There's a threat.  Someone in the White House is involved.  She hears all of this standing on the stairs.  When she joins them, she tries to ask questions but her aunt tells her to stop and listen, there are people outside, there isn't a lot of time.  They give her a number and a list of words to say.  Her uncle tells her to go out the back but her aunt says that they may be watching the back, go out the side door on the bedroom.  

As she does this, her aunt and her uncle are killed and she is seen.  She runs and breaks into a home to use the phone.  The number?

Peter's the one answering.  And he almost hangs up because she clearly does not know anything about the number she called.  But he stays on the phone with her and sends help to her.  

That is the first minutes of the episode.

It pulls you in.  And it does so quickly.  There is no flab, every moment is needed and used well.

By contrast, RABBIT HOLE opens with a lot of nonsense.  Even if it later pays off, it wasn't worth it.  

Glenn Ficarra has written, directed and/or produced a lot of failures -- including WHISKY TANGO FOXTROT.  Why is that?

The answers very clear in the first 30 minutes of RABBIT HOLE: Glenn doesn't know what decade it is.

For example, it's not the 1980s.  No middle aged man is watching the screen with one eye while he uses the other to make sure the wife's not about to walk in.  Nor is any middle-aged man in 2023 going to be excited by the nothing sex scene -- actually before and after sex scene -- just because a blond woman is in it.  She's not sexy in the scenes.  She's not given much to do so don't blame the actress.

But this is a paint-by-number script that would've have aired in 1983.  And it only gets worse after.  He fights with her accusing her of spying on him.  Then he argues with this person.  Then with that.  35 minutes into the program the scene that probably should have opened the episode takes place.  For the first time, we finally feel a sense of danger.  

But did most people stick around that long?  

We don't blame them if they didn't.

A spy thriller can't afford indulgence.  It needs to move and, in fact, it needs to hit the ground running.  That's why REACHER worked.  It's why THE NIGHT AGENT works.  And it's why -- thus far (we've seen three episodes) RABBIT HOLE doesn't.  

Again, this is the show we were expecting to like.  We were expecting thrills and surprises, twist and great acting.  Instead, it only delivered boredom.  

THE NIGHT AGENT is the one that offered thrills and surprise and, yes, great acting.  Hong Chau is President Travers' chief of staff Diane Farr and she's spellbinding.  Basso and Buchanan deliver strong performances as does Fola Evans-Akingbola.  Phoenix Rael and Eve Harlow are so good in their roles -- as ruthless assassins -- that you even feel some sympathy for them.  With RABBIT HOLE, you just feel sorry for Kiefer.  Yeah, he slept with stripper Celeste (who had bad eczema all over her shoulders) on the eve of his wedding to Julia Roberts.  But even that doesn't warrant getting stuck in this bad show.

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