FX’s ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Does Ryan Murphy’s limited series live up to the catty hype?

When FX announced the Ryan Murphy production Feud: Bette and Joan, those familiar with his style instantly imagined the worst. The series focuses on the intense rivalry between Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). Potential cat fighting, old Hollywood glamour, and the backstory of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane all seem tailor-made for Murphy. Given that, many imagined the series would devolve into a high class trash-fest. Something perhaps akin to a limited series Mommie Dearest. Turns out, that’s not at all what Murphy intended.

Bette and Joan
FEUD — Pictured: (l-r) Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Feud: Bette and Joan immediately settles on the theme of tossed-aside actresses “of a certain age.” The first two episodes available for press featured less about the actual making of the classic horror film than Davis and Crawford’s pitied state in Hollywood. Crawford, desperate for cash, scoured female-centered novels for the right material, something Hollywood wouldn’t provide. Davis, a 2-time Oscar winner, found herself relegated to New York theater. Crawford’s discovery of Henry Farrell’s original Baby Jane novel spurred hit-starved director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to drive the production forward.

Ryan Murphy directs much of the series. Judging from the two episodes I’ve seen, that’s both a blessing and a curse. Murphy’s steady hand behind the camera helped set a respectful tone for The People v. O.J. Simpson, surprising many with his nuance. He tries to strike the same tone here as clearly the topic of aging Hollywood actresses carries the same gravitas as the O.J. Simpson case. He understands working with actors and framing them in exquisite set design. However, the material longs for a juicier touch. The pilot’s script by Ryan Murphy large eschews the bitch-camp factor we’d all expected. Kudos to him for continuing to defy expectations, but the material, while often very entertaining, runs the risk of becoming too dry, too stately to enjoy.

FEUD: BETTE & JOAN — Pictured: Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX.
Emmy-worthy Performances

This being a Ryan Murphy production, Feud: Bette and Joan‘s performances are uniformly very good. Neither Sarandon nor Lange try particularly hard to completely impersonate their famed actress counterparts. Lange gives a very “Ryan Murphy production” performance with echoes of American Horror Story: Coven‘s Fiona Goode sprinkled throughout. Still, she’s the weaker of the two here, miscast and instantly appearing much older than Crawford at the time of Baby Jane. She tries to explore the alcoholism and resentment that plagued Crawford’s personal life, but you watch the performance feeling you’ve seen it all before rendered through the now-patent Jessica Lange mannerisms.

Sarandon, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. I haven’t seen her give a performance this bold in a long time. While her voice isn’t quite right, she completely nails the overall aura of Bette Davis. She parades around the sets in Davis’s uniquely confident, fuck-you way. In public, she’s a bitch on wheels, but in private, she’s desperately lonely, unable to nurture healthy relationships. My favorite scene of the series thus far belongs to her – the construction and revelation of her Baby Jane costume and infamous makeup. Molina also registers a strong performance as the constantly “between a rock and a hard place” director, and Judy Davis’s Hedda Hopper performs Hedda Hopper exactly as you imagined she would.


FEUD: BETTE & JOAN — Pictured: Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX
Final Verdict

I have a hard time imagining exactly who Feud: Bette and Joan appeals to. It’s a very strong limited series with a lot to offer, but it doesn’t dig enough into Baby Jane to satisfy hard-core film enthusiasts. On the flip side, it doesn’t offer enough depth to engage more serious-minded viewers. The two leads feel relatively well written and fleshed out, but the Greek chorus of Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) annoyed me intensely. Also, the role of Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) has all the subtlety of a mustache-twirlling villain.

Feud promised the sauciness of a Hedda Hopper headline, but it feels watered down and vaguely neutered. That said, there’s still much to admire in the series. The set designs and costumes are literally perfect and seem destined for Emmy glory. Sarandon, too, appears to be the natural front-runner here, but it’s unlikely Lange will be campaigned in the Supporting category. But the theme of Hollywood throwing away women “of a certain age” already feels stretched very thin over the first two episodes. Feud is something the Television Academy will clearly embrace, just perhaps not as hard as they did O.J. Simpson.

pete holmes

HBO’s Crashing offers a new spin on an established TV genre, and the Pete Holmes series is as thoughtful as it is hilarious.

A lot of TV shows about comedians follow established acts (Seinfeld, Louie), those trying to adapt to changing times (The Comedians), and then those who really don’t give a F*** anymore (Curb Your Enthusiasm). HBO’s Crashing, starring Pete Holmes and from executive producer Judd Apatow, is none of the above, and ultimately a refreshing take on a familiar genre.

Holmes, on the show, is not an established comic. Instead he’s a former pastor who relies on his wife (lovely Lauren Lapkus) to support him as he tries his hand in comedy, something, from the sound of it, he’s been trying his hand at for a while now.

“It’s like a wife supporting her husband through medical school,” he insists throughout the pilot episode.

Only the outcome of medical school is a job with $900,000 salary, says comic Artie Lange, who plays himself in the series and HAS to be what SNL‘s Bobby Moynahan models “Drunk Uncle” after.

The first episode titled “Artie Lange” is written by Holmes and directed by Apatow, and is reminiscent of Apatow’s film Funny People with its candid take on stand-up comedy. But Crashing doesn’t follow standard formula.

After he finds out his wife is cheating on him, Pete heads to a comedy club in Manhattan to get his mind off of it, but soon finds himself on stage when an act doesn’t show. In most TV series, this is the point in the episode where Pete takes the stage and floors everyone with his frank comedy based on actual events in his life. But this is not the case. He flops and does not pull a Tig Notaro (who notably took the stage after a cancer diagnosis), where he’s able to make comedy out of tragedy.

Final Verdict

What makes this show interesting is that in addition to making commentary on the culture surrounding stand-up comedy and what it takes to make it big, it also has a thoughtful plot about a man being forced to start a new life on his own, especially after he confesses that his wife does everything for him and has been the only woman he’s ever really been with.

Sounds like there’s a lot of material for future acts—and episodes.

Bates Motel Season 5

Bates Motel Season 5 premieres Monday night with Freddie Highmore delivering career-best work as the troubled Norman Bates.

Bates Motel closed its fourth season by delivering the highly anticipated death of Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga).  Over time, this moment evolved into one I’d personally both dreaded and hotly anticipated. It did not disappoint. Instead of Norma falling to a violent end (as originally imagined in Psycho IV: The Beginning), Norman (Freddie Highmore) treated her to a swift and painless gassing. Ultimately, Norman put Norma to sleep as best he could. He offered her a way to live in an idyllic state in which she could never leave him. Bates Motel Season 5 returns us to the Bates Motel two years after Norma’s death, and she lingers still. We’ve had time to grieve, but now it’s time for closure. Judging from the pilot, an excellent closure it will be. 

Bates Motel reigns as one of the most underrated television series of all time. With Season 5, the stakes appear as high for the series as they’ve ever been. The modern-set story finally evolves into Psycho-familiar territory. Norman Bates lives alone, managing the motel and catering to the needs of his deceased mother. Most hauntingly, the episode immediately shows Norman living between two worlds. The idyllic world where Norma cooks and cleans for her son dominates his fantasy world, yet we see the sad squalor in which Norman truly resides. Over the two episodes provided for review, Norman interacts fairly well with the residents of White Pine Bay, even if nearby lakes seem to be filling up with bodies.

Bates Motel Season 5
(Photo: Cate Cameron/A&E)
We’re moving closer to the events of the original film. But now we have the special spin brilliantly re-imagined by producer/writer Kerry Ehrin and team. The Season 5 premiere introduces the iconic character of Sam Loomis, played by Austin Nichols. However, this take somewhat serves as the flip side to the original iconic material. Sam comes across as a bit of a cad, and we meet his wife, Madeline (Isabelle McNally), of course a dead ringer for Norma Bates. You may know Psycho, but you don’t know this side of it.

Final Verdict

I’m hesitant to delve too far into the details of the pilot. Given we know (theoretically) how this ends, any surprises should be nurtured. It’s no surprise, however, that Freddie Highmore continues to deliver an astonishingly frank portrayal of Norman Bates. His performance echoes the nebbish subtleties of Anthony Perkins’s original work. Yet, he layers the take with the frank sexuality that torments Norman. Highmore provides fearless moments throughout both episodes, unafraid to commit to the role. Farmiga remains as great as ever, even if we no longer have her wonderful real-world Norma Bates. I do love, though, the amazing moments of pitch black humor she sprinkles in her line readings. Wait for the moment they open the freezer in the basement. Yup, you know what’s in it. It’s not like they haven’t been here before. 

When Bates Motel Season 5 finally closes its doors, it will be a bittersweet moment. But, until then, the show walks a tightrope act as it winds its way through the Psycho lore. We’ve yet to see what Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) will do once he gets out of prison where he’s been working out with rage for two years. Or Rihanna’s take on Janet Leigh’s iconic Marion Crane. Or that infamous moment she steps in the Bates Motel shower. We’ll all be holding our breath until that happens, but the fun lies in the surprise and anticipation until that moment. Welcome back, Bates Motel. You have been and will be sorely missed. 

Big Little Lies

Jean-Marc Vallée directs an all-star cast in HBO’s take on Liane Moriarity’s Big Little Lies. Is there substance to the style of this Monterey-set drama?

Parents of troubled children will tell you that they often hold their breath. A lot. Waiting for “the call.” Waiting for the looks from daycare/school employees. Waiting for a parent to accost you in the parking lot. I know it all too well. I’ve been there with my son, formerly a biter. He grew out of it fairly quickly. Different story for his parents. That connection propelled me through Liane Moriarity’s 2014 breezy novel Big Little Lies and, now, the HBO-pedigreed limited series adaptation from Jean-Marc Vallée. I liked the novel, flaws and all, but I loved the adaptation, a textbook example of how to expand and deepen the world of a beach-read novel without compromising its integrity.

Big Little Lies
(Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO)
Big Little Lies stars Reese Witherspoon as Madeline, an opinionated firecracker of a mother who never backs down from a fight. Nicole Kidman plays Celeste, her impossibly rich and beautiful best friend with (naturally) a dark secret. Shailene Woodley rounds out the main trio as Jane. She’s a single mother new to Monterey whose son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) may or may not have strangled Amabella, the daughter of power mom Renata (Laura Dern, an Emmy-worthy scene stealer for sure). The central story gradually reveals itself over the course of the series through the gossipy voices of other parents, a Greek chorus of sorts. There’s a Desperate Housewives-y murder at an “Audrey and Elvis” school fundraiser, but the series smartly focuses on relationships over the whodunnit. Think True Detective for the soccer mom set.

Throwing stones in glass houses

Swift pacing and entertaining set pieces elevated Moriarity’s novel above its occasionally one-note characterizations, my major issue with it. In the series, writer David E. Kelley (Picket FencesAlly McBeal) takes the novel’s events and smartly creates subtext. Working extraordinarily well with Vallée, Kelley gives the actresses meaty material on which to feast. Witherspoon’s Madeline rages both beneath the surface and openly, publicly – raging against her growing children, her ex-husband, and her sense that life is moving too quickly. Woodley’s Jane fears the world thanks to a bad one-night stand which resulted in her biggest joy, her son. She’s a brittle, isolated woman unable to trust.

Big Little Lies
(Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO)
The most intriguing evolution from page to screen centers around Kidman’s Celeste. Married to the good looking, wealthy Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), Celeste finds herself attracted to and repulsed by their toxic, abusive marriage. Perry’s unconfined anger results in bruises and in hot, dirty sex. Celeste’s shame in both deepens the material in fascinating ways. The book’s Celeste was defined by her abusive marriage, but, in the series, Celeste feels torn between the idyllic family and real danger. Kidman’s scenes in marital counseling provide some of the best acting she’s ever done with Skarsgard going toe-to-toe.

Vallée frames his actresses in and around as much glass as possible. Glass houses on the beach. Glass windows in cars and glass iPhone surfaces. You have the sense that, if anyone breathed too hard, everything would shatter. These characters fight against the seemingly perfect trappings of their high class surroundings. That theme is a bit of a cliche, of course, but it still works incredibly well here. You simply have to understand the environment – one where a birthday party omission is akin to a horse’s head in the bed. Yes, these are white, privileged families, but they still have stories to tell. Their kitchens may be better than ours, but, at the end of the day, we all face the same central issues with life, love, families, and the safety of our children.

Final Verdict

Big Little Lies ultimately feels like an incredibly well made, thematically rich throwback to old ABC miniseries. You could ignore it or dismiss it as too white bread for your time. Doing so would mean you’re missing some of the best acting on television this year. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are revelations in their roles, digging into the nuances like the great actresses they are. And I will never ignore a Laura Dern performance after HBO’s great Enlightened. The men turn in strong performances as well with Skarsgard shading the abusive Perry to shockingly good effect and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) makes Madeline’s doormat husband Ed a soulfully supportive presence, haunted by the insecurity he feels against his wild wife.

I love Big Little Lies because it balances the bitchy, big moments with gentle moments of real contemplation. Thank Vallée and Kelley for breathing much needed nuance into Moriarity’s robust story. There may be better limited series this year, but there likely won’t be as grand an entertainment that literally delivers on all fronts. It’s a dark little gem that digs much farther beneath its glassy surface than you’d ever imagine it would.

Big Little Lies premieres Sunday, February 19, at 9pm ET.

Big Little Lies
(Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO)


HBO’s Girls returns for its sixth and final season on Sunday night, quickly setting aside any nerves for waning quality in this quietly great series.

Fear not lovers of Season 5 of Girls.

It’s been widely acknowledged that the quality of the fifth season of Girls was a surprise. The show has always had its devoted fans. After the first season, it felt like Lena Dunham’s comedy struggled to find its identity as much as its central female foursome. The writing and performances of the latest season of Girls allowed us to watch these women mature before our eyes. It became insanely watchable and a great swan song.

I admit that I was nervous for the season premiere of the sixth and final season. Would it be a letdown since its previous season was so strong? Fear not. These ladies seem to be on a steady and solid track, so we can hope that the quality sustains until we say goodbye.

(Photo: HBO)
Some of the best episodes of the entire series occur when the main cast isolate themselves from one another. People took notice when Dunham had a dalliance with Patrick Wilson, and, more recently, when Allison Williams’ Marnie reconnected with her ex-boyfriend in Season 5. While Girls doesn’t solely focus on Hannah (we do meet up with the other ladies), her story line with Riz Ahmed highlights the premiere.

After Hannah finally gets an article published in The New York Times, she takes an assignments in The Hamptons to observe a surf camp. They want her to sort of be a fish out of water and make (presumably) mean commentary on the women who go to the beach and trade yoga for surfing with younger men. In true Hannah fashion, she gives up mid-way through her first lesson but attracts instructor Paul-Louis. They drink a lot (“I can without becoming an alcoholic,” he tells her) and spending the night together. He seems happy with his life, but Hannah has always been looking to move–or at least appear that she’s ambitious.

While the premiere succeeds with providing great chemistry for Dunham and Ahmed (there’s also a great sight gag with Jemima Kirke naked on a couch in front of a horrified Alex Karpovsky), the second episode sort of settles melodramatic hipster hysterics. The marriage of Desi and Marnie rears its ugly head when Hannah accompanies the pair on an inevitably disastrous trip. I mean, come on, who ever thought that’d be a good idea. As Desi, Ebon Moss-Bachrach looks like the result of a Shia LaBeouf performance piece. There’s enough to love in these first two episodes. Andrew Rannells (my personal MVP from last season) is somehow bitchier and more aggressive.

Final Verdict

It appears that the drama surrounding this broken foursome might be on the rise. These characters always create good drama before the eventual healing. It’s reassuring that we’re able to so smoothly slip into the final season. This initial taste of Season 6, minor quibbles aside, feels comfortingly assured. I suspect we may not realize how much we’ll miss the show until it’s gone. Life often works that way, doesn’t it?

Girls Season 6 premieres Sunday at 10pm ET at HBO.


Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame excels in Legion, FX’s first Marvel adaptation. Does the series itself have the X-factor?

Noah Hawley attempted the inconceivable with FX’s Emmy-winning limited series Fargo. How could he attempt to orchestrate a spin-off series within the seemingly hermetically sealed Coen Brothers universe? To a very few Coen devotees, the verdict remains a negative one on Fargo‘s two seasons. But the finished product, while casually referring to the Coen’s classic film, remains uniquely a Hawley vision. With Legion, Hawley returns to FX in a series spinning off from the X-Men comic lore. Here, Hawley works his mad-genius direction to great effect with a lesser-known product. Viewers most assuredly get the feeling that Hawley and his cast are cracking their knuckles, warming up for the big show.

Legion hails from the X-Men universe, yes, but the connections to the original material or to the feature films remain tentative. The property stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as David Haller, a schizophrenic mutant with incredibly powerful psychic abilities. In the comics, Haller is the son of Professor Charles Xavier, but the connection remains unspoken thus far in the series. Haller spends much of the pilot in a mental institution where he meets Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller) who also possesses mutant abilities – physical touch allows her to switch bodies with whomever she comes in contact. A single kiss provides the catalyst for much of the action within the pilot. Let’s just say things go poorly.

Don’t worry if the plot fails to resonate with you. You don’t have to be a comic book devotee to appreciate this material. Hawley directs the pilot with confidence and an exciting sense of visual flair. He renders David’s tenuous grasp on sanity and reality through extravagant camerawork, garish colors, jump-cut edits, and unsettling music by Jeff Russo. If the split screens of Fargo Season 2 felt superfluous to you, wait ’till you get a load of Legion‘s kinetic marvels.

Final Verdict

Hawley’s direction is integral to the material, but Legion would suffer from the “all style and little substance” syndrome without a tremendous central performance. Keeping off the 30 pounds he lost post-Abbey, Stevens’s gaunt, angular face and ice-blue eyes serve him well here. He dives into the character with a focused, yet manic, energy, giving the audience a properly sympathetic protagonist. Stevens’s performance recalls the tremendous work of Mr. Robot‘s Emmy-winning Rami Malek. Both actors hail from modest beginnings but are able to illustrate mental illness in new and intriguing ways. Stevens’s ability to surprise here seems endless, and here’s hoping the Television Academy considers this brave and unique performance.

Legion (along with Taboo) proves that FX isn’t afraid to take chances with pulpy material. Unlike TabooLegion pays off in spaces based on the evidence available in the pilot. Here’s hoping Hawley and Stevens sustain the momentum for the 8-episode series run.

Santa Clarita Diet

Netflix’s gross-out comedy ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ pulls absolutely no punches with the gore.

Drew Barrymore stars in Netflix’s newest comedy Santa Clarita Diet. Here, she plays half of a middle class real estate agent couple. Cautious and rather wan, Barrymore plays Sheila as the kind of woman either proud of or ignorant of her “mom jeans” status. While showing a coveted house to prospective buyers, she falls violently ill, eventually vomiting an internal organ and dying. Husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) discovers what he presumes to be her corpse. He’s pleasantly surprised to discover she’s not really dead after all. Or is she dead? Or is he pleasantly surprised?

Given what develops, he may end up wishing for the alternative.

Sheila demonstrates many of the hallmarks of a zombie: the insatiable appetite, the uncontrollable ID, and the sudden love of human flesh. She remains, however, cogent and, on the surface, as normal as she ever was. Santa Clarita Diet feels and looks like a Showtime comedy in the Weeds era. It’s the kind of show where, yes the lead is now a talking zombie, but she learns to embrace life, dammit! As if Oprah produced The Walking Dead. As a zombie, Barrymore learns to embrace her authentic self.

Final Verdict

Santa Clarita Diet offers fairly standard takes on suburbia spiced up with a few twists here and there. And then there’s the gore. When people tell you “Don’t watch that while eating,” listen. They’re not joking. The gore, all handled with as light a comic touch as possible, is super gross. Vomit. Organs. Blood. Hewed limbs. More blood. More organs. Even the scenes of Barrymore eating raw meat made me long for a vegetarian lifestyle. I’ve only seen the pilot, but it would be interesting if the show explored the “meat” (animal or human) topic farther.

I suspect it won’t. It’s a fairly breezy show that blends the gore with toothless suburbia satire. Exactly what you’d expect from series creator Victor Fresco, a writer whose freelance script spawned ALF. I’m not exactly sure what attracted Barrymore and Olyphant to the show. She’s fine in the role in that true Drew Barrymore “being a zombie is so magical!” way, but it’s not an Emmy role. He gives a standard sitcom dad performance, pointing more toward the sitcom satiric nature of the series.

Nonetheless, Santa Clarita Diet is a fairly inoffensive and amusing show if you can stomach the gore.

Or maybe you can’t. It may just prove to be the perfect weight-loss diet.

Just point that vomit away from me please.



Beware the Slenderman touches with its all-too-real human story overlaid with some creepy imagery of its title character

As a parent, let me tell you that you cannot police your children 24/7. Open doors. Closed doors. Monitored computer access. No computer access. iPhones. iPads. Flip phones. No phones. It doesn’t matter. Children will find a way to do what they want, no matter how much you threaten them. As a parent, you really just hope you’ve instilled in them a sense of right or wrong that is greater than their need to break rules. Or their need to repeatedly stab their best friend. Beware the Slenderman, on the surface, seems preoccupied with exploring the internet-based urban legend of the Slenderman, and, for a while, it does just that. However, the heart of the documentary lies in a touching exploration of modern childhood and mental illness. Beware the Slenderman seems like something that could only happen to someone else, but the facts behind the story are all too universal.

In 2014, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier took their best friend, Peyton Leutner, into the woods of Waukesha, Wisconsin. There, Morgan stabbed Peyton 19 times with a 5-inch knife. Why? She and Anissa wanted to appease the fictitious internet-based creature, Slenderman, bringing Peyton within a millimeter of certain death. Once apprehended, Morgan and Anissa received branding as adults in the court and penal system due to the nature of their crime. That judgment might feel apt until you learn the facts of the case and at least one of the girls’ illness. Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, Beware the Slenderman explores the myth of the title figure, the events of the crime, and the nature of mental illness.

Final Verdict

Slenderman generates a nearly insurmountable sense of outrage as the court system treats these two girls as adults. The documentary illustrates, through available interrogation footage, both girls’ crystal-clear disassociation with reality. Their mental illnesses require treatment, not a prison sentence. You can’t really blame the parents either. Much of the documentary also explores the parents’ complete bewilderment and second-guessing. iPads are vilified significantly, but the most telling reveal falls to Morgan’s father who sobs as he reveals his struggle with schizophrenia.

Beware the Slenderman offers an elegant exploration into the nature of urban legends, and the examples of “found footage” and faked photographs terrify if you’re game. It spends perhaps a little too much time on the phenomenon of Slenderman and the internet rage around it. That’s to be expected, I suppose, given the title of the film. But the scenes detailing the girls’ reaction to the crime – particularly Morgan’s nearly apathetic reaction – coupled with the parents’ grief are the true heart and soul of the film. There’s a chillingly real interview near the close of the film where a father vents. He details the frustrations of a modern parent, trying to keep up in a modern world that’s moving too fast.

The scene reads as heartbreaking and real as anything I’ve seen on television all year. It’s one we, as parents, know all too well but dare not speak its truth. Beware the Slenderman excels on moments like that.

Beware the Slenderman premieres on HBO Monday, January 23, at 10PM ET.


Lifetime’s Beaches remake is a bland trip down memory lane

Nostalgia is all the rage right now. Fuller House is on its second season, and Will & Grace has announced its return to television. Remakes feel inevitable, but not all of them are welcome. When Lifetime announced a re-telling of the 1988 weepy classic, Beaches, it was met with screams and gay gasps. Trust me, not very many people are going to take this bland remake under its wing.

CC (originally played by Bette Midler, here by Idina Menzel) is a dramatic extrovert, and Hillary (originally played by Barbara Hershey, here by an underused Nia Long) is a quiet lawyer. They meet as kids at Venice Beach, become pen pals, and continue their friendship into adulthood. Do they ever meet each other? I’m not sure. Friend each other on Facebook…Twitter…eh, who cares! They are friends because they are different! CC is over-the-top while Hillary is a bit rigid–that’s all you need to know. Apparently, you only need to be a ying to someone else’s yang.

After a ridiculous montage with generic voice over letters passes by, CC and Hillary’s friendship ebbs and flows. They live together for a while, fight over a man, and try to keep in touch as they go through relationships and deal with their every day lives. The problem is that it’s not very interesting or well-written despite some dialogue lift from the original film. Obviously Hillary is a good person because she does pro bono work. Of course CC is a free spirit because she licks her fingers before shaking someone’s hand!

Final Verdict

It’s not all bad. We could all use more movies about female friendship (even if stunted fighting over a man makes you cringe). Menzel finally gets to play a part that doesn’t rely on Disney mechanics, and her Bette Midler-blessed version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” is sure to make people weep–even if it’s only nostalgic crying. Thank God she gets to sing because she has to wear a pair of unfortunate hairclips and have bad purple streaks in one scene. At least Long gets to die with dignity and leave this crap behind.

I leave you with this plea. Please stop remaking nostalgic drivel for television. It’s as if you are relying on the announcement to carry you through to good ratings. Beaches is a beloved film classic with two formidable stars. This is as memorable as the last drunken beach party you attended. It’s as enjoyable as finding sand in your bathing suit on the drive home. Create new content!

The Young Pope

Joey Moser looks jauntily at HBO’s The Young Pope. No Catholic guilt here!

Disclaimer: I’m not a Catholic. The closest I’ve come to studying any type of religion was when I performed in productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and several productions of Godspell. I bring up my own theatrical background because I’ve always thought that religion can be a very personal and emotional thing. Luckily for HBO’s new limited series, The Young Pope, I can appreciate the visual and technical achievements even though some of the Catholic mumbo jumbo goes a bit over my head.

There’s a fox in the hen house, or, in this case, Vatican City. Jude Law headlines the series as Pope Pius XIII, the first American Holy Father, and he looks like he’s having a great time. Through the pilot, he grimaces as if he’s tricked everyone, and, in the opening scenes, he seems to glide throughout the hallways as onlookers smile graciously at him.

There is a lot of talk about the image of the church, and Law’s Pope spends most of the pilot pronouncing power plays with some of the cardinals. “We have not only forgot to play but forgot to be happy,” he says all the while chain smoking and detailing how he only drinks a Cherry Coke Zero for breakfast. Product placement in the Vatican!

The most interesting relationship His Hottie Holiness shares is with Sister Mary, played by Diane Keaton. Sister Mary has been looking after him since he was seven years old and he was known as Lenny Belardo, but she might be the only person he would consider getting advice from. When they are alone, she quietly tells him that he needs to be a good leader—“You are the father and mother of the entire Catholic Church.”

The Young Pope was created by Academy Award-winning director Paolo Sorrentino, so we know one thing is for sure: the entire thing is going to be gorgeous. The one thing atheists and nonbelievers can get into is the pageantry and opulence of Vatican City, and the cinematography is designed to keep you hooked. The opening shot of the first episode is a newborn crawling over a bunch of other sleeping babies. It’s like an Anne Geddes photoshoot gone horribly wrong.

Will devout religious folks tune into this? I have such doubts! It feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be scandalous in some scenes. The Pope is smoking! The Pope said masturbate! I saw the Pope’s ass! Twice! Worshiping Law’s behind might be an easier sell. If you want stylish drama, this new show might draw you in, but you might be better off kneeling and praying for something less over-the-top.

HBO’s The Young Pope premieres Sunday night at 9pm ET.

Sign In

Reset Your Password

Email Newsletter