FIRST LOOK AT THE NEW TV SEASON
Looking for a new fave on TV? Some thoughts on fall shows... Maniac, Murphy, The First and Magnum, PI.
Maniac (Netflix): This high-profile series starring Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Sally Field and Justin Theroux reminds me a lot of Legion, Fargo, Black Mirror, Westworld and other comedy-dramas set in a skewed alternate-reality, slightly futuristic world, where things are recognizable, but just a bit off. The premise of Maniac (which is a weird title) is that Hill and Stone's characters are part of a trial for a new psycho-active series of drugs that'll cure psychological problems without having to go through years of therapy.
And part of this experimental trial involves sending them into trippy dream worlds of their own making -- and that's where it gets pretty, pretty good. Emma Stone is fantastic in her many incarnations, though Jonah Hill has the same dumb look on his face throughout. He is totally out of his acting depth here. And I think it was a mistake to start with an episode dealing with his backstory instead of Emma's, who has a much more interesting emotional arc. Definitely worth a look though, as an out-there comedy. Grade: B
Murphy Brown (CBS): I was addicted to this show back in the day. Great cast, great chemistry and great writing -- though it never did well in syndication because it was too topical. The update didn't knock me out, unfortunately. Candice Bergen and cohorts are wonderful and still have awesome comic timing, and the addition of her grown son is fine. And ykw, I missed these guys! Especially Corky Sherwood-Forrest. But the real good stuff, as it is on most sitcoms, is the humor that comes out of the character conflict and interactions. The political climate is rich for satire, for sure, but the comedy is really hit or miss here. I'll give it another couple weeks before casting a final vote. Grade: Undetermined
The First (Hulu): Binged and enjoyed this eight-episode series set several years in the future about the first manned mission to Mars. Loved that it took us forward believably, technology and politics-wise, without going overboard. There are several strong female characters, including Natasha McElhone as Elon Musk (basically), Lisa Gay Hamilton as a tough-minded, though sympathetic lesbian officer with a strong marriage (spin-off please) and a breakthrough performance by Anna Jacoby-Heron as a drug-addicted teen.
And there's precious little space stuff. It's just a really good drama about relationships. Behind the scenes, it's about 50/50 male/female writers and directors as well. The stand-out episode for me was Episode 5 "Two Portraits," written by Francesca Sloan and directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven -- beautiful work, focusing on the complicated back story of Jacoby-Heron and her mother. Grade: A-
Magnum, PI (CBS): I was a total fan girl of this show back in the day. It was a much better series than people ever gave it credit for -- the stories were strong, Tom Selleck was amazing and the show could do both light comedy and heavy drama really well, including having its hero shoot a war criminal in cold blood (which was damn bold at the time).
So, despite high hopes, and the signature voice-over, this reboot gets it mostly wrong. I like turning Higgins into a strong female character, and the sidekicks Rick and TC are on point, but Jay Hernandez is way too bland. Selleck had the squeaky voice, and the bad saxophone playing and the banter with Higgins, plus he just never took it too seriously. He even broke the fourth wall to raise his eyebrows at the camera. Man, he was good. And those are some big shoes and a big mustache to fill, granted. But Hernandez is just too damn earnest and serious. No indication of comedy chops. So unless this makes like a Ferrari and gets better real fast, it'll just be another in a long line of reboot fails. Grade: D