Another Week: January 15, 2023
Here are some other items of note from the past half-fortnight:
A shooting close to home
I made a grocery run late Sunday morning — and as I drove home, I saw a dazzle of police lights in the distance down the road toward Lake Michigan. Later we learned that some jilted kid had shot his girlfriend in the head four times or so:
She lost an eye as a result, but has been making an amazing recovery:
Of course, all we can do is shake our heads, because the Second Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution, which can never be altered or revised or changed or fixed or corrected or amended in any way. It’s permanently locked in.
So we just have to accept that living in the greatest country on earth includes shootings everywhere, all the time.
Aaron Rodgers loses to the Detroit Lions
After last week’s NFL anguish, it was gratifying to see the Detroit Lions’ defense go after the Packers’ doddering shaman like a woke mob — including an interception of what will hopefully be the last pass he ever throws. He shouldn’t have returned to play this season, so who would bet on an even older Aaron Rodgers next fall?
And sure, he “still owns” the Chicago Bears. Whatever.
Basically, he was just lucky that his 14 years as a starter coincided with their rebuilding period.
Monday night we finished Season 1 of The Outlaws on Amazon Prime. It’s a year-old crime-comedy series starring Christopher Walken and Stephen Merchant among others, centered on a group of small-time lawbreakers sentenced to Community Payback in Bristol, England — but what begins as menial tomfoolery quickly gets real.
The Outlaws is a solid, fairly entertaining show. Christopher Walken provokes a few laughs. Amy likes British content.
Since re-subscribing to Apple TV+ we have bailed on Severence, but 4 of 10 episodes in, we are loving Bad Sisters, a crime-comedy series set in and around Dublin, Ireland. Sharon Horgan — who we already love from Catastrophe and This Way Up — is one of the creators and stars. She plays Eva, one of the show’s five sisters.
Eva’s sister Grace has just become a widow. Her husband John Paul was a devious, domineering asshole — as we see whenever the show flashes back to the events leading up to his death. Meanwhile in the present, one of a pair of half-brothers is desperately investigating said death to save his failing insurance agency a big payout, and the other half-brother (Daryl McCormack, who we recognize from Good Luck to You, Leo Grande) is coincidentally getting involved with Becka, another of the five sisters.
Bad Sisters is engaging, funny stuff — and right now our only justification for Apple TV+.
We watched Season 1 of Physical during our first go-round with Apple TV+, and now we are two-tenths into Season 2, but still bewildered. Neither of us can figure out what this show is trying to do.
Physical stars Rose Byrne as Sheila Rubin, a woman in 1980s San Diego who inadvertently creates a hit exercise video.
In real life, this was done more intentionally by Jane Fonda, who created an entire industry, and Physical cribs a number of details from Fonda’s biography. Sheila’s husband Danny is a liberal activist/politician, as was Fonda’s husband Tom Hayden. Sheila has an eating disorder, as did Jane Fonda.
But Sheila is not a movie star or an activist. The story follows her as she tries to produce and market her workout video and arouses a rival named Bunny in the process. Meanwhile, Danny half-assedly pursues his political career and a wealthy mall owner takes notice of Sheila.
Technically, I guess Physical is a comedy because it happens in a farcical atmosphere, but it’s not actually funny. We hear Sheila’s inner voice from time to time, and it’s kind of dark and blunt. Her eating disorder seems sporadic. There are lots of musty 1980s costumes and wigs and artifacts. The plot moves in small or big steps now and then, but does not feel like it’s driving in a specific direction.
To be honest, I only return to Physical because Rose Byrne is captivating. Amy would probably not watch it on her own.
On Wednesday, we finally got around to streaming Elvis on HBO Max. I had seen the trailer and skimmed a review or two, but this movie looked like yet another Elvis biopic with yet another actor portraying The King and ticking off each milestone on the road from Tupelo to the Meditation Garden at Graceland.
And it is that — but it’s so much more than all the previous efforts. Elvis is a kaleidoscope of spectacular scenes and sounds blossoming in front of your eyes and ears for two hours and thirty-nine minutes. It’s a vivid, glossy, pulsing, sweeping Technicolor diorama of America in the 50s, 60s, and 70s — produced, of course, in Australia.
As history, Elvis is not precisely accurate. It’s more like a swirling fever dream where things are a little rearranged and greatly heightened. Austin Butler, who stars as Elvis across 22 years of his life, turns in an astonishing performance that sort of toggles back and forth. Sometimes, he is an actor doing a fine portrayal — but then a smile or a gesture locks in and he actually is Elvis Presley. It’s breathtaking, like momentary levitation or something, and it happens quite a few times.
Tom Hanks stars as Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, who comes off like a pathetic Batman villain, with his vaguely European accent and a secret backstory that warped him into a crook — and perhaps that’s intentional since director Baz Luhrmann has described Elvis as a superhero movie. But by the time he’s behind the scenes at Elvis’s 1968 comeback special in an ugly Christmas sweater demanding “Here Comes Santa Claus,” Colonel Tom is purely a cartoon.
What’s fascinating here is seeing how an ordinary person with a superhuman personality ultimately gets crushed by the way of the world — then distilled into a potent, mythical essence decades later by an admiring evangelist in another land.
I have read about Elvis’s mystical quest and his desert visions of Joseph Stalin and Jesus in If I Can Dream: Elvis’ Own Story, by Elvis’s hairstylist Larry Geller.
But those books just record facts. This movie tries to take the feeling that Elvis communicated in his own time and place and encapsulate it for posterity. Will it last longer than all the previous attempts? In two months, the Oscars may serve as an indicator.
Hard Knocks In Season: The Arizona Cardinals
We’re on our fourth season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, having previously watched the Cowboys, Colts, and Lions. This Arizona Cardinals set has been a little substandard. The team suffered a 4-13 season — only one more win than our miserable Chicago Bears. Its headquarters in Tempe is not nearly as visually impressive as, say, The Star in Frisco.
But this is how a career ends for NFL superstar T. J. Watt, and the Wisconsin native has picked up one serious fan on his way out — my wife Amy. She had maybe heard Watt’s name before this series but had zero awareness beyond that. Now after nine episodes, she’s in awe.
The Established Home
So I found this series — The Established Home — for her on HBO Max and of course, she loves it. It’s produced by Magnolia Network, part of the Chip and Joanna Gaines lifestyle empire, and HBO Max has added a lot of Magnolia content in recent months. The Established Home is a makeover show that documents the remodeling and decorating of existing homes in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Its star, Jean Stoffer, is an interior designer infatuated with the British kitchen/English cottage aesthetic. Originally from Chicago with an accent that checks out, Jean and her husband followed their adult children after they moved, one by one, to western Michigan.
In Grand Rapids, she runs Jean Stoffer Design along with her daughter Grace. Other kids do photography, construction, and so on. There’s also a Stoffer Home store selling kitchen items, furniture, textiles, lighting, hardware, cabinetry, etc., and The Bradbury Cafe, run by her son Dan. Several of the homes Jean and Grace make over in the first season are those of her children — including Grace’s own home.
This is clearly already a lifestyle empire in its own right, and all of this familial cooperation creates a certain … let’s call it a “close-knit” vibe. Also, this show is even more White than Donald Glover’s Atlanta is Black. You start listening for silver spoons clinking in teacups.
But the home transformations are very well-done, and it’s inspiring to see a local small business succeed in a big way — with a visionary mom creating a thriving heritage for her kids.
The Lost Kitchen
On Thursday, we started Season 2 of a foodie-reality show we started streaming on HBO Max last November: The Lost Kitchen. The Lost Kitchen is a restaurant in Freedom, Maine run by chef Erin French, and it’s one of the hardest places in the United States to get a reservation. You have to mail them a postcard and be chosen in their lottery.
Erin French is self-taught and has an inspiring backstory that includes divorce, financial struggles, and addiction. Her comeback began with pop-up dinners cooked in a renovated 1965 Airstream trailer. She moved indoors to her town’s old mill building in 2017 and became a phenomenon.
Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That’s the struggle of Season 1 — figuring out how to still serve meals of some kind. Season 2 begins with a return to semi-normalcy, and I see that Season 3 has recently appeared on our HBO Max menu.
Erin French’s talents as a reality TV personality are as strong as her cooking apparently is. Light bulbs are constantly going on in her head, and she verbalizes these ideas fluently. She has a homestyle sense of humor, and when disaster does break her, she has a quick cry — then quickly starts mapping out detours.
French’s food balances sophistication and comfort, with many ingredients of course sourced locally and the standard TV visits to area farmers and artisans. The restaurant’s decor is Instagram perfection, with plenty of salvaged wood, antiques, and fresh flowers. Like The Established Home (above), The Lost Kitchen is more content from Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network set in the world of White people — although there was a Black diner on episode 2.1 who flew in from New York City.
Now that we know the story and we’ve been through COVID, will there be enough to sustain 17 more 43-minute episodes? We’ll see.
Dr. Seuss teaches Critical Race Theory
Also on Thursday, I read this Wonkette post from the day before:
Long story short though, Dr. Seuss’s beloved tale The Sneetches, about a group of yellow creatures, some having green stars on their bellies, was being used to teach economics to a class of third-graders in Ohio — until the authorities decided that the book was teaching about discrimination. At that point, the lesson came to a screeching halt.
A teacher should show the kids Idiocracy, because that future is already dawning.
Welcome to Chippendales
It was a bit of a slog.
Much like Physical (above), this series features plenty of 1980s kitsch in terms of costumes, wigs, sets, and props. Most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and the plot ticks off its chronological milestones like any mechanical biopic — here’s Dorothy Stratten, here’s Phil Donahue, here’s the Chippendales calendar.
The story is not particularly remarkable. Success and cocaine spoil the principals. Jealousy and paranoia emerge. Crimes are committed. The decade is icky.
Kumail Nanjiani plays the unhip immigrant really flat for the first seven episodes. He’s just a suit and tie and glasses trying to become James Bond. This joke is driven home to us over and over again. Murray Bartlett, as Banerjee’s eventual creative partner Nick De Noia, is fine, but nowhere near as complex as he was in the first season of The White Lotus.
If you want to know the story, watch the December 16, 2022 episode of 20/20 (also available on Hulu) instead. It’s much shorter at an hour and 20 minutes.
The Flagmakers (2022)
On Friday, I tuned in a little early for Hallie Jackson NOW and caught the last minutes of Chuck Todd interviewing Cynthia Wade and Sharon Liese, co-directors of The Flagmakers, a documentary short executive-produced by Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The film profiles employees at Eder Flag, a flag manufacturer just up the road from me in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that I had never heard of before.
These workers are a very diverse group — immigrants from various countries, a Black man, a conservative White woman — and the documentary juxtaposes their sewing and packing of American flags with their personal experiences of America.
The Flagmakers is 35 minutes long and streaming on Hulu, so we watched it. It’s uplifting to see people working together. It’s depressing to hear how they have been disrespected and even attacked. Unlike Chuck Todd, I did not cry, but it was worthwhile viewing.