First episode impressions: ‘Emily in Paris,’ ‘Monsterland,’ ‘Helstrom’ (TV reviews)


ot all October premieres have to be scary – although a lot of them are (see later in this post) – so let’s start off this look at first episodes of new streaming shows with “Emily in Paris” (Netflix). Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not at all scary. The story of Chicagoan Emily’s relocation to Paris for her job emphasizes her outsider status and loneliness even though she always puts on her delightfully Lily Collins face.

“Emily” is what you think it is, if you’ve ever seen a Darren Star series. The showrunner puts perky actresses – like Alicia Silverstone in “Miss Match,” Sutton Foster in “Younger” and the quartet of “Sex and the City” – against the backdrop of their exciting job that features quirky office mates and office politics. The wrinkle here is that Emily – and the production itself – is in the City of Lights. Playing out a similar plot to last season’s Big Apple-touting “Katy Keene,” Emily leaves her boyfriend back home for a one-year stint as a social-media expert for a Paris-based perfume company.

Collins (daughter of Phil) is adorable, reminding me of Marin Hinkle’s Judy in “Once and Again” if we subtract the melancholy. Granted, there are cloudy moments in the first 30-minute episode. A boss flat-out states that it’s unlikely his branch of the company has anything to learn from Emily – even after he greets her with the cheek-kisses in the French fashion. A colleague tells her she’s arrogant to come to France without knowing the language.

Many people would crack, but we know Emily will gradually find her footing, and success. The broad strokes are easy to predict, but that’s the pleasure of these types of shows, and TV definitely has room for “Emily in Paris” right now.

While there is a glut of downbeat series at the moment, if one is good, I can’t begrudge its existence. The first episode of “Monsterland” (Hulu) has enough moments that make me think “Well, this is a little different.” Written by series creator Mary Laws, the episode brings us to a scummy Louisiana bayou town and waitress Toni’s nightmare life with a psychotic toddler daughter. She can’t afford a C-grade babysitter, let alone professional help. Toni basically exists on the fringe of “True Detective” Season 1.

Kaitlyn Dever, a streaming star a year ago in “Unbelievable,” again proves her hype is warranted as she adopts a dimwitted Southern accent. Dever’s fresh-scrubbed look doesn’t quite match Toni’s trying life, but that’s part of the point, as Toni regularly flashes back to her hopeful, recent youth.

The hour takes us through various brands of fascinating psychological horror, from the kid’s Michael Myers-type behavior to the baby daddy who is even more of a burned-out shell than Toni, to an “X-Files”-ian twist that might lose some viewers. Then it hits us with Toni’s shocking decision to close the episode.

Weirdly, “Monsterland” looks to mostly be an anthology (Dever is credited in three of the eight Season 1 episodes) that crisscrosses the USA. The thread that ties it together follows supernatural monsters – one evil, one less evil (hey, like a presidential election!). I can’t say the supernatural thread (and its heavy-handed metaphor about how people are monsters) totally hooks me, but I’ll come back for another episode.

While “Monsterland” stands out from the horror pack just a bit, “Helstrom” (Hulu) is more typical. The series is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Marvel Studios barely admits it, eschewing “Marvel’s” in the name and the opening comic-page-flipping logo; a Roxxon gas station is the only in-universe nod I noticed in the pilot episode. Instead, creator Paul Zbyszewski’s series calls to mind … well, every show ever made about demons encroaching on modern times … but especially last year’s “Prodigal Son.”

The offspring of a serial killer father and a possessed mother, estranged brother and sister Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana (Sydney Lemmon) Helstrom both hunt demons – Daimon (barely) within church purview, Ana on her own. Austen seems to have stepped out of a failed audition as The Deep on “The Boys” and Selma Blair-lookalike Lemmon does community-theater-level work. I couldn’t care less about the grand mythology because it’s so similar to other shows in this subgenre.

Admittedly, I love “Evil,” which treads this same ground; but it has warmer characters and grounds itself in the real world, thus giving more heft to the demonic stuff. “Helstrom” (probably by accident) copies “Evil” in Daimon’s cold-open case wherein he outs a Goth kid who is faking possession by sprinkling him with “holy water” that’s actually tap water. But as the episode goes on, demons abound.

I can’t quibble with the Vancouver-filmed production values, including a frame where two people talk under umbrellas with a large stone building rising to the gray sky behind them.

If you’re hungry for a demon-hunter series, you have better options. But if you’re hungry for an MCU series, well, this is the only new one in 2020, and you might want to give it a chance. But there’s a reason why Marvel Studios is shunting it to the side and emphasizing its standalone nature.

“Emily in Paris”:



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