There’s no new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” this year, but “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) has us covered like a pawn wall protecting friendly pieces. The miniseries based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel takes us to the 1950s and 1960s in all their pastel and analog glory to tell a fictional story set against a real-world backdrop. Indeed, your only lament coming out of these seven episodes might be that there wasn’t a real Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) who took the chess world by storm.
With “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix) – his spiritual (pun intended) sequel to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” — Mike Flanagan continues to solidify his status as a horror auteur tapped into the tragic beauty afforded by the genre. A damp, dark-haired, white-dressed, hidden-faced woman in a Flanagan work is more than a scary ghost: She symbolizes the bittersweet tragedy of a forgotten past. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Not 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.
Who needs “Jurassic World: Dominion”? (Well, actually, I could use a little “Jurassic World: Dominion.” Or any big franchise movie. But that’s not to be in 2020. So the sixth “Jurassic Park” movie is now slated for 2022.) But helping tide us over rather nicely is the animated “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” (September, Netflix) (no, not “Camp Crustacean” … dumb autocorrect). This eight-episode season (with a second season already announced) is nominally aimed at children but will also appeal to some of us who got hooked on this franchise 30 years ago with Michael Crichton’s novel.
Nowadays, lots of things are remade that elicit groans from fans, but “Swamp Thing” is a property that was ripe for a remake – which DC Universe delivered in a 10-episode series in 2019. For those of us too cheap to subscribe to the streamer, it’s now airing Tuesdays on The CW as pandemic-era filler. The two “Swamp Thing” movies of the 1980s would make all lists of Worst Superhero Movies except that they’re relatively old and obscure. Simply by having modern production values and not being embarrassing, TV’s “Swamp Thing” could improve on that cinematic dreck.
Next” (Tuesdays, Fox) was originally scheduled for the 2019-20 midseason but was delayed till now because of the pandemic. That’s only a half-year delay, but it already seems so dated. For one thing, the notion of a dangerous artificial intelligence hasn’t been shocking in at least 50 years; even 30-some years ago, “Terminator’s” Skynet was a plot device. For another, a victim of the titular AI’s engineered car accident, a side character played by John Billingsley, uses a flip phone, making me wonder if “Next” wasn’t repurposed from the 2009-10 TV season.
Didn’t “Fargo” used to be kind of a comedy? I mean, I know it’s always had its dark and violent side, but damn. Season 4 (Sundays on FX), which premiered with two episodes totaling 2 hours and 40 minutes, is slow, grim and slathered in midcentury racism as it chronicles the budding war between the Italian and black crime syndicates in Kansas City. (Season 2 chronicled a modern version of the K.C. syndicate that emerges from the continual cycle of power grabs.)
With many shows releasing entire seasons at once nowadays, I haven’t had time to watch full seasons yet, but I have checked out some first episodes and wanted to weigh in on them. Even with the pandemic limiting the number of new fall shows, there are still more than any one TV geek can watch, so here are my first-episode impressions of four September launches:
If “The Third Day” (Mondays, HBO) was an open-ended series, I’d bow out after this first episode, cuz ain’t nobody got time fo’ a “Lost”-ian wait for answers. But since it’s a six-hour miniseries (rather than six seasons) there’s enough here to keep me coming back. The decidedly weird first hour is more good-weird than bad-weird. It’s not as creepy as I’d prefer, but it is mysterious, and an appealingly weathered, receding-hairlined Jude Law makes a fine lead as Sam.
It’s been said that Washington, D.C., is Hollywood for ugly people, but we mostly view politics and celebrity culture as two distinct categories. What’s smart and fun about Amazon Prime’s “The Boys” – which recently released the first three episodes of Season 2, with episodes 4-8 coming out on Fridays – is that it mashes politics and celebrity into one thing via The Seven.