CultureJew: Anything Good to Watch on TV? Yes!

I can barely keep up with all the new shows that are streaming or offered on cable and network TV these days. If you feel as overwhelmed as I do, you can comfortably eliminate the new Woody Allen series, “Crisis in Six Scenes,” from your must-see list. Streaming on Amazon Prime, this show is the least successful project Allen has created in the sunset of his career. For me, Woody Allen is one of the greatest American filmmakers, so it was hard to watch something so lame. Allen himself and Elaine May star in this story set in the 1960s, which lightly satirizes the revolutionary fervor of the time. Miley Cyrus — the best thing in the show — plays the bomb thrower who hides out in their suburban home. May is a friend of her parents, and she feels a responsibility to help the girl escape. Another great talent, Elaine May totters about here, seemingly bewildered by the lines she has to deliver. You won’t blame her when you hear them. Feh.

So now we can move on to all the good stuff there is to watch. I haven’t even had a chance to watch the latest season of “Transparent,” also on Amazon, but I did see “Fleabag” and “One Mississippi.” The first is brilliant and the other warmly funny and touching. “Fleabag” introduces one of those deeply flawed characters the British do so well. The young woman (Phoebe Waller Bridge) at the center of the show (she is never named) lies, cheats, sleeps around, and is generally awful, but we root for her anyway because she’s so human. Eventually, “Fleabag” reveals itself to be an investigation of guilt and grief, but it offers loads of laughs along the way. You also have a chance to enjoy that marvelous character actress, Olivia Colman. She plays Fleabag’s insufferable godmother, an artist who presents casts of genitalia in a “sex”hibition. To make matters worse, she has married Fleabag’s father.

Comedian Tig Notaro is the creator of “One Mississippi,” a comedy based on a catastrophic time in her life. Notaro was diagnosed with breast cancer, developed a dangerous intestinal disease, and lost her mother, all in the space of a year or so. The show is ruefully funny, as she navigates dealing with her rigid stepfather, emotionally stunted brother, and zany girlfriend, all in her deep South hometown.

I’ve been watching “Marvel Luke Cage” on Netflix–not as good as “Jessica Jones” but Mike Colter makes an appealing superhero–while simultaneously catching up with Season 3 of “Spiral,” the fantastic French police procedural. Netflix deleted this season before I could get to it so I had to go on to Season 4. Now it’s back and I can fill in the blanks. “Spiral” is so cynical and gritty, it makes even the darkest American detective shows seem like “Murder She Wrote.” You have to get past the mystifying intricacies of the French judicial system though. That’s a challenge, but “Spiral” is so worth it.

Luke Cage is the superhero with bullet-proof skin and amazing strength. We met him in “Jessica Jones” as her romantic interest, but now he’s on his own and has moved to Harlem where he comes up against the local corrupt councilwoman (Alfre Woodard) and her gangster cousin (Mahershala Ali).  There’s plenty of action and some complicated racial politics, as well as an attempt to deal with gentrification, but the show is too comic-bookish for my taste. Of course, “Jessica Jones” had that great villain in David Tennant. Ali is too soulful to fill that part, and these comic-book adaptations depend on super villains.

In addition to “Transparent,” the most deeply Jewish show on television, I’m looking forward to the next season of “The Fall” on Netflix and to “Goliath” on Amazon. Gillian Anderson is excellent as the driven detective on “The Fall,” and Jamie Dornan is even better as the serial killer she’s chasing. I have high hopes for “Goliath” mostly because of the cast: Billy Bob Thornton is always fun to watch and Nina Arianda, who plays Patty, is one of the best actresses working. Why isn’t she a household name?

Now to the Movies

An animation technique I first saw used in “Waltz with Bashir,” the great Israeli film about the Lebanon War, is now on display in a documentary  about the first modern-era mass shooting, which took place at the University of Texas in 1966. “Tower” combines realistic animation with news footage, and the effect is as powerful as it was in the Israeli film.

On a hot summer morning, Charles Whitman climbed the tower on the university’s Austin campus and began indiscriminately shooting students on the quad below. For 96 minutes, he held the campus hostage before he was killed by police; the siege resulted in 16 dead and three dozen wounded. No one had ever experienced anything like it before. Now, as unbelievable as it seems, such shootings are commonplace.

Director Keith Maitland conducted interviews with many of the people affected that day, including students, bystanders, police officers, university staff, and others, and the film presents a compelling minute-by-minute history of those 96 minutes. The voiceovers by actors recount what happened from different perspectives. Rather than trivializing the events, the use of animation and the actors’ voices makes it possible to imagine those people as the young folks they were then. The contrast is underlined when we see them in the present at the end of the film. Maitland captures the incredulity of the people involved. How could such a thing be happening? Now, many of us feel little surprise when another mass shooting is reported, and the film reflects on that as well. Unusual and highly effective.

About the Author
Miriam Rinn is currently a freelance writer based in NJ, where she has lived for several decades. She worked as a children's book editor, a freelance writer and editor, and a communications manager for a nonprofit organization. She is the author of the children's novel "The Saturday Secret," which was recently selected by PJ Our Way. She has two married sons and four granddaughters.
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