When TV scholars look back years from now at trends in storytelling structure, I suspect “Unbelievable” (Netflix) will be seen as a pivotal show. The approach of releasing whole seasons at once was pioneered by Netflix several years ago, but most shows still operate as if they are airing weekly in hour-long segments. “Unbelievable” is a rare show that totally embraces the fact that all eight of its episodes will be immediately available.
Iwatched the trailers of some notable fall TV premieres so you don’t have to (but they are embedded here if you want to). Here are my thoughts on each, along with a “Go Bananas” Level (on a 10-point scale) of how excited I am for the series. All times Eastern:
The Netflix NYC neighborhood of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended too soon with “Jessica Jones” Season 3 (June), but I have to admit these series were starting to tread familiar ground. When watching these 13 episodes, I sensed that I was still watching prestige TV, yet I also understood where things were going long before they reached the finish line, thus enhancing the stereotype that Netflix MCU shows are slow-moving.
With the failed experiment of the “choose your own adventure” movie “Bandersnatch” in the rear view, I was happy to hear “Black Mirror” Season 5 (Netflix) was finally on the horizon. I was very disappointed, however, to learn it’s only three episodes. With only a little over three hours of new material, my expectations were high for some quality episodes. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get. This is by far the weakest season yet.
You know what kind of movie “Always Be My Maybe” (Netflix) is, and the people who made it know what kind of movie it is, but that shared knowledge works in its favor. In this tale of two childhood besties who are soul mates but don’t realize it, Ali Wong and especially Randall Park give the types of performances where they know they’re in a movie but they let it all flow over them, from the clichés to the plentiful moments of at least mild inspiration.
The Perfection” (Netflix) has one of those trailers that seems to give away the whole movie, so after making the mistake of watching the trailer, I let it fade from my mind a bit before watching the film. As it turns out, this horror thriller from director/co-writer Richard Shepard – who has a lot of credits but not many “wow” credits before this – is only partly like the trailer suggests. “The Perfection” so smoothly toys with and contradicts our narrative expectations that I wonder why more movies don’t use this tactic.
As “Harper’s Island,” “Dead of Summer,” “Scream” and other slasher TV series have found, this medium can’t escape the law of diminishing returns the way a brisk movie can. As the story goes forward, the cast of characters gets dwindled until the mystery has evaporated: The killer is whoever is left. Also, we might get to really liking a character only to see them killed off, thus lessening our interest from that point forward.
On the “Buffy” fan Facebook page I frequent, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Netflix) is often mentioned when someone asks “What’s a new show that’s sort of like ‘Buffy?’ ” It’s hard to resist the comparisons. After all, the nine episodes of Season 1, Part 2 end with (spoilers follow) …
The Punisher” Season 2 (January, Netflix) might be the most violent season of TV I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget listed fake blood and wound makeup as the biggest expense. Some episodes are bleak enough to affect my overall mood for the next day. Still, while the usual Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe problem of slow pacing is present in the middle episodes, this is overall solid serial storytelling.
Bodyguard” (2018, BBC and Netflix), the six-episode British suspense series, starts with police sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) trying to talk down a terrorist bomber on a train and mostly maintains that level of intensity throughout its run, but in a different way than its obvious point of comparison, “24.” The teeth-chattering suspense sequences are strong, but what makes “Bodyguard” stand out is its intricate plotting. Budd might not be in peril 24/7 like Jack Bauer, but there’s always something sinister going on that at least tangentially relates to him.