Sunday 28 August 2022

What I'm Watching: August 2022

A quick recap of my month in movies, media and streaming, featuring Pixar's Lightyear, season two of HBO's Industry, season eight of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, season three of Prime Video's The Boys and Nathan Fielder's new show, The Rehearsal.

Lightyear (Disney+)

Pixar's latest is a perplexing offshoot of their most precious property; Lightyear, as the opening titles clarify, is the fictional film that the fictional toy Buzz Lightyear was based off when he was first purchased by Andy, way back in 1995's Toy Story

So we're introduced to Buzz (here voiced by Chris Evans) as he voyages through the stars alongside fellow space ranger Hawthorne (voice of Uzo Aduba). When Buzz and Hawthorne find themselves marooned on a remote and hostile world, they must work together to craft a special crystal, that can propel their damaged vessel through hyperspace. 

Whether or not I think Lightyear is good or not is somewhat immaterial, since I'm neither the target audience or particularly interested in its story. I like Buzz, don't get me wrong, he's one of the best characters in Toy Story – but what this prequel sets out to do is appeal to kids and preteens, and shift toys off the Target shelves. I can't see this not being a hit with its demo, and there's enough here for adults and parents to enjoy too. But it's not Pixar at their most imaginative or their most inventive, that's for sure.

Industry season two (Binge)

Season one of Industry was good, but it was missing something; a clear focus, a strong unifying narrative thrust to tie its ensemble together. That's the biggest (and best) change as season two gets underway.

Immediately, it feels as though the show has sharpened itself up, and I don't just mean the characters look sharp in their crisp office suits. I mean it feels like the show has matured a little, wisened up a little, and set itself on a path that is narrower, clearer and less about the work, and more about the actual people.

That's just what we can gather from the first four episodes, which are fantastic – each of which end with a massive hold-your-breath, nerve-wracking crescendo. I almost wish I'd not started on this season until all the episodes had aired, because now I have to wait week-to-week to see what happens next.

The Rehearsal (Binge)

Hoo boy, where do you even start with The Rehearsal. It defies definition or description, and it's almost impossible to provide someone a with synopsis without sounding like a crazy person, and watching it is like a fever dream that you want to but somehow can't snap out of. 

It's also impossible to predict where this show is going to go from one episode to the next. If you'd told me after episode one that by episode six we'd have wormed our way through a surprisingly deep and thoughtful examination of parentage, religion, responsibility and a whole lot else, I wouldn't have believed you.

Does Nathan Fielder, the documentarian slash comedian behind the show, cross some emotional and ethical boundaries here? Sure. But does it make for compelling, thought-provoking television? Absolutely.

Black Bird (Apple TV+)

I love a good miniseries that you can zoom through in a week or a long weekend, and Apple's Black Bird is no exception. Featuring two stellar performances from Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser, it's easily one of the best TV shows I've seen all year.

In a nutshell, Black Bird is about a drug dealer (Egerton) who is sent to prison after being nabbed selling unlicensed firearms. 

It's here that he's tasked by the FBI with befriending and extracting information from a suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Hauser), in exchange for his a sentence waiver. Obviously, this means being transferred to a nasty maximum security prison, where he must stay out of trouble and runs the risk of being branded a narc and knifed in the showers at any moment. 

Six episodes, all clocking in at roughly an hour, Black Bird shrugs off a slow start – Egerton and Hauser don't properly share any scenes until episode three – to really hit its stride in the 'second act', so to speak. Travelling in tandem with the prison storyline is another about a pair of detectives (played by Greg Kinnear and Sepidah Moafi) who are trying to untangle the truth about some of Hall's victims, by retracing his steps through Illinois. 

I think what makes Black Bird really click, on top of the slick filmmaking and tense storytelling, are the two central performances. Egerton is better known for his work as slick spies (Kingsman) or the bumbling Eddie the Eagle, so to see him do something a little grittier was great. Hauser disappears completely into the role of Larry Hall, with a sinister squeaky voice and little body movements and inflections that send chills down your spine. For something you can watch in its entirely right now over a couple of nights, Black Bird comes highly recommended. 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine season eight (Netflix)

After months of waiting, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's eighth and final season hit Netflix earlier this month – and even though it's plain to see that the show's peak is firmly in the rearview mirror, there's still lots of like about this short ten-episode season.

Right off the bat, the mood and vibe of the show has shifted. It should come as no surprise that B99 would take up the challenge of capturing the conversation around of police corruption, violence and systemic racism.

After all, they've leaned into more serious topics before – and since this season was in production right after the murder of George Floyd by police, it makes sense they'd continue in that same vein. You've got to give credit where credit is due, because I think the show does a commendable job exploring the nuances of the issue, without sacrificing the show's sitcom format.

The Boys season three (Prime Video)

Season three of The Boys steers the show into darker, gorier and even more political territory – which makes it both harder to watch, and harder to look away.

Homelander (Antony Starr), after his courtship with Nazi superhero Stormfront last season, has spent the last 12 months somewhat neutered and stymied by negative public opinion. 

But in season three, he's mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more, so it falls to the Boys, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), to continue the fight and attempt to defeat the captain of The Seven. 

As always, this season of The Boys is eight episodes, each with their own memorable moments and shocking (and schlocky) scenes, that absolutely flies by. I devoured this whole season in a weekend. The episodes are long, but they don't feel it. I think that's because the writing continues to keep you hooked and engaged throughout. The show never loses pace or spins its wheels (aside from the odd hospital ward musical number, which wasn't for me). 

That said, I don't think this show can continue forever – I'd rather see it come to a head, than just plod along in perpetuity like The Walking Dead. Better to harness that momentum and bring it a triumphant close. 

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