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Disregard the brand; look for the right stuff inside | MARK HUGHES COBB

By Mark Hughes Cobb, The Tuscaloosa News,

2023-03-14

Opus the penguin/critic, transcribed by Berkeley Breathed in "Bloom County," writing the ultimate review:

"Bad acting. Bad effects. Bad everything. This bad film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene … simply bad beyond beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness.”

Opus catches a breath, and types on:

“Well, maybe not that bad, but lord, it wasn’t good.”

Sub Amazon Prime's "Daisy Jones and the Six" for "Benji Saves the Universe."

XL bad. Cliche-leaden. Instantly forgettable music, married to limp, tragically embarrassing lyrics.

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It's as if they'd only heard about the '70s third-hand from a recovering youth pastor, or through a vintage Sears ad for Dad 'N' Lad Sansabelt slacks. Whoever stapled a scabies-ridden wooly mammoth pelt to Timothy Olyphant's noggin must really loathe "Deadwood" and "Justified." That mop stank of cruel revenge. The design crew should be force-assigned to Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused."

Sam Claflin (Aqua-dude from "Hunger Games") improves the material, but you can't help noticing he appears 25 years older than his late 'teen/early 20s bandmates. Dude looks younger in the "present" — 1997 for no reason, other than that 20 YEARS MUST PASS -- than in his "youth." His '97 facial hair — spot-on for Laurel Canyon '70s, whereas his earlier look murmurs Michael Stipe mid-80s, before the REM singer shaved his head — smooths out zero-bodyfat concavities.

Riley Keough gets crammed into a paint-by-numbers misunderstood rich kid with zip to say, yet sadly, many chances to blurt, "But I WANT to be a star!" And Elvis have mercy, Daisy awkwardly scrawls lyrics in a chunky, colorful diary, then leaves the bloated thing unlocked in plain view, where parents, boys and inexplicable older disco-queen friends can read and snark, or steal.

You know, just like every tweener diarist does with their innermost secrets.

Ooh, and it's a massive mistake splicing in real '70s rock, making the show's originals sound even more like a toddler's pablum-babbling, fighting off sleep. Good as Keough's voice may be — And the King's grandkid shows fine command over melody, with a promising lining of grit — they really shouldn't have faded her, or anyone, in over Linda Ronstadt. That's just mean.

So many egregious errors in producer/show runner/script judgment: Oh wow, you say songwriters create things that mean something? Hold on; let me take notes.

Lord, it wasn't good.

This story worked best in real life, when it was called Fleetwood Mac.

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There was a stretch when diving into Amazon Prime was rewarding, due to its expansion of "The Expanse," and for "The Kids in the Hall" reunion, married with originals such as "The Boys" (ultra-violent, witty and dark; not for kids, despite the innocuous-seeming name), "Fleabag" (also not for kids, nor anyone squeamish about how modern folks think, talk and act), the "A League of Their Own" series (which, like HBO/Damon Lindelof's "Watchmen," improves on source material), "Vikings" (not dusty historical recreation, but a fantastically detailed and dimensional visit into long-misunderstood folks); "Paper Girls" (Spielberg-esque time-travel/mystery), and "Reacher" (beating Tom Cruise's attempt in large part by casting the right XL actor).

But "Expanse," "Fleabag" and "Vikings" are done. "Paper Girls" was canceled even though it had the potential to become their "Stranger Things," and Amazon has yet to commit to a second season of "A League of Their Own." Of course the gory, male-led "Reacher" and "The Boys" will return. Nuance, schmuance.

Strangely-thing-enough, my focus has shifted to Apple TV., whose exceptional shows include, but are not limited to:

  • "For All Mankind" — From folks who crafted the "Battlestar Galactica" remake, an alternate history of the space race, if Russia beat the U.S., driving extensive competition/exploration. Women get accepted as astronauts far sooner; we colonize the moon and head for Mars. And that's just the first three seasons. It's like a wilder, more fantastic (yet based in reality) "The Right Stuff" (Kaufman's), if we hadn't screwed the pooch.
  • "Slow Horses" — Gary Oldman farting up the time of his life as Jackson Lamb, a nasty slouch of a spy (who, it turns out, was something of a legend, James Bond/Smiley until … trauma yet unspecified) who runs a MI5 offshoot/halfway house of jerks, has-been and screwups.

Oldman/Lamb's idea of a pep talk, held at William Blake's grave: "I don't normally do these kind of speeches, but this feels like a big moment, and if it all turns to (expletive), I might not see any of you again. You're (expletive) useless. The lot of you. Working with you has been the lowest point in a disappointing career."

Roll Tide.

Lamb admonishes them to sit still and do nothing, or sleep with a suspect, if that's what it takes; he frequently reminds they're all probably going to die in Slough House, that they're a waste of a pair of kidneys ….

But then "Look, right now I am going out of my way to avenge the death of (character we barely know), a man I didn't even like," Lamb says. "So you can imagine what I'm going to do to the person who murdered (character we know well), a man who I at least tolerated."

The M figure asks, incredulously, if he cares. "No, I think they're a bunch of (expletive) losers," he says. "But they're my losers." Bonus Kristin Scott Thomas playing the icy/deadly M figure, and Jonathan Pryce as a genteel legend, grandfather of one of the Slow Horses, and smarter than all, even in puttering-about-the-garden retirement.

If you only pick one good Apple, "Slow Horses" has been renewed for at least two more seasons, based on Mick Herron's novels.

  • "Shrinking" — Harrison Ford is drily hilarious. Everything else is equally terrific. Light and dark in smart balance.
  • "Severance" — Weird, claustrophobic, edgy. Don't wanna spoiler; just watch..
  • "Mythic Quest" — "Silicon Valley"-ish. Knowledge of videogames or uber-nerds not required.
  • "Hello Tomorrow!" — Like a 1950s/Jetsons-future offshot of "Severance," with desperate flop-sweat underpinning. As if the American Dream died decades before Raygun's voodoo economics.
  • "Echo 3" — Realistic look at special forces rescuing one of their own, and the ripples after they do.
  • "Black Bird" — Busted drug dealer (Taron Egerton) works to get his sentence reduced by befriending a serial killer (ever-surprising Paul Walter Hauser, as if Hannibal Lecter and Forrest Gump birthed a baby) to find bodies of his victims. Some of the last work of Ray Liotta. Six-part limited series/miniseries, so it wraps.
  • "Dickinson" — Trippy/pop-culture look at the poet and her times, starring Hailee Steinfeld, who should have won the Oscar for "True Grit." She's excellent with light comedy and action, also; see this, or Disney's "Hawkeye."
  • "Invasion" — By unnerving, largely unseen forces, told through the eyes of survivors spaced around the world.
  • "Shining Girls" — Elisabeth Moss seems to be slipping in and out of alternate realities, as fallout from a brutal attack.
  • "Schmigadoon/Schmicago" is returning in April, and the yes-it's-good-as-everyone-says "Ted Lasso" begins its third and final season this week. Season one of "Schmigadoon" was a gem for theater-lovers, not just due to inverted tropes, but because they hired Broadway superstars — Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, and the dynamo Ariana DeBose among them — to pair with Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, a pair of the most creative sketch/character comedy actors of this century. The upcoming "Silo," with Rebecca Ferguson, and "The Big Door Prize," with Chris O'Dowd, both look intriguing.

Apple TV is not only walloping its streaming competitors, but is so far stronger than Apple's over-hyped, over-priced hardware, it's like the gulf between the old Cracked magazine (weak-sauce version of Mad) and the old Cracked.com, before it purged its best writers, like Seanbaby and David Wong.

Modern cautionary tale: Overlook the brand.

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Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at mark.cobb@tuscaloosanews.com, or call 205-722-0201.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Disregard the brand; look for the right stuff inside | MARK HUGHES COBB

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