June 15, 2019

Younger on Hulu and TV Land

My current guilty-pleasure tv jones is the comedy series, Younger, broadcast on TV Land but streaming now on Hulu.

The Broadway triple threat, Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40-year-old New Jersey mother who splits from her husband of two decades to create a new life for herself in Brooklyn. Trying to get a job in publishing as middle-aged mom, long out of the game, proves nigh impossible, so Miller creates a 26-year-old persona who promptly gets an entry level job at Empirical Publishing. Her demanding boss, Diana Trout played by the hilarious Miriam Shor has her schlepping coffee and dry-cleaning.

Her besties include Debi Mazar, an OWL (older wise lesbian) who lets her crash in her artsy loft apartment, and Kelsey Peters, a twenty-something co-worker at the publishing company played by Disney actress/singer Hilary Duff. The men in her life (besides the ex who just can’t let go), are the tall and handsome Peter Hermann cast as the middle-aged owner of the publishing house, Charles Brooks and Josh, a 26-year-old tattoo artist hipster played by the buff ink-decorated Nico Tortorella.

Her 40-year-old self frequently collides with her new mid-twenties life as she valiantly switches clothing, speech and demeanor to suit the situation. I learn something new about pop culture and slang with every episode. (What IS a meme?) Thanks to interesting side characters and a plot that keeps evolving, this is no one joke sit-com.

The episodes are 21 minutes long so binge-watching two or three episodes in a sitting is a little too easy. Season 6 was made available on Hulu June 12, 2019. You won’t always buy the improbable situations, but this is the perfect fluff when your brain cells don’t need too much of a work-out.

You might also get to see some theater-heavy guest stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Martha Plimpton, Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, Kathy Najimy, Camryn Manheim and Lois Smith.

Crazy Rich Asians Book and Movie

Book clubs have been caught up in Kevin Kwan fever with his trilogy of novels, Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times used the adjectives “snarky,,, wicked… funny” in her review. “Escapist” is the word I would use. Who doesn’t want to imagine what being a billionaire is like with private jet travel, unlimited shopping budgets and eye-poppingly lavish parties for one’s friends and family?

Rachel Chu unwittingly starts dating the fabulously wealthy heir to a Singapore fortune. She thought her boyfriend was merely a fellow middle class college professor in New York. A visit to his home country quickly makes it clear that his family and social set do not consider her “wealthy Asian” enough for their handsome financial prince.

After a successful run in theaters, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is currently streaming on several web platforms. The film does a decent job of capturing the humor and lightness of the first book making it the perfect weekend entertainment after a hard week at the salt mines. We get to see the Asian one percent frolic which gives another layer of escapist exoticism.

A literary devotee sniffed that the writing was not very good, but I say, that is not the point. A soap opera plot, interesting characters and a foreign setting are the selling points in both the three books and the one film. There will always be high demand for movies and novels that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Bring on the caramel corn and fizzy blush wine.

HBO – More than just Game of Thrones

Just when I was about to cancel my HBO subscription after the Game of Thrones final season, I discovered a few other worthy things to watch on this premium cable channel.

For those of you who have read one or more of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, HBO’s treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend may be your small cup of espresso. The eight episode season, in Italian with English subtitles, depicts the friendship between Lila Cerullo and Lenu Greco, two young girls living in 1950s Naples. We get a snapshot of the entire Italian neighborhood including parents, children, teachers and business owners.
Rivalries between families, romantic attachments and even gender discrimination are seen through the eyes of Lenu as she manages her relationship with her brilliant but troubled friend, Lila, in this literate mini-series.

Even darker is the five episode series, Chernobyl which gives an account of the infamous 1986 nuclear reactor accident that occurred in the former Soviet Union. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson give stellar performances as some of the professionals who try to discover what happened and what actions to take to limit damage to the area and its inhabitants.

The Soviet Union itself is the “bad guy” as officials try to cover up details, sacrifice workers knowing that radiation will kill them and search for the least politically damaging ways to contain the catastrophe.
This is a real life cautionary story that hardly seems 33 years old and has much to say about the current treatment of our environment today.

I give a guarded recommendation for Barry, a very dark comedy vehicle for the singular talents of Bill Hader (8 seasons on SNL) and Henry Winkler (the Fonz on Happy Days). Hader plays Barry Berkman, a contract killer who discovers a love of acting when he is tasked with murdering one of the acting students. Winkler is acting guru, Gene Cousineau who takes Barry under his wing. Stephen Root as Monroe Fuches, Barry’s murder pimp is outstanding, as is Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend. Anthony Carrigan, he of the bald head and no eyebrows is hilarious as a Chechen crime lord wanna-be.

My reservations in heartily recommending this program stem from the amount of violence seen in every episode. This is the Three Stooges with lots of guns and bloodshed. If that does not put you off, this may be your gallows humor show for the acting alone.

HBO is trying to keep us watching and for now, it just may be succeeding.

Schitts Creek, Canadian comedy series on Netflix

One of my sisters has been raving about the comedy series, Schitts Creek on Netflix, but the show title was enough to put it on the bottom of my list. That was a mistake.

Canadian Eugene Levy of Waiting For Guffman and Second City Toronto fame, has teamed up with son Daniel Levy to create a laugh-out-loud comedy series set in the fictional town of Schitts Creek. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), former video king magnate, bought this small town as a joke for his son’s birthday. The Roses lose all of their money and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, Schitts Creek.

Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son, plays the pan-sexual male progeny of this fish-out-of-water family. Mother Moira Rose is played by comedic actress Catherine O’Hara, a frequent collaborator of Eugene’s. Her parade of black and white designer duds and various wigs is almost worth the price of admission. The fourth in this comedic quartet is Annie Murphy playing self-absorbed, jet-setting daughter Alexis Rose.

As in most successful tv comedies, the supporting roles are equally engaging including Emily Hampshire playing deadpan hotel worker Stevie Budd, Chris Elliott as mullet-wearing Mayor Roland Schitt, along with his style-challenged wife Jocelyn portrayed by actress Jennifer Robertson. Other quirky side characters include the handsome local vet, a waitress at the only diner in town, the owner of Bob’s Garage and the only real estate agent in town.

At first, I thought the only joke was how cluelessly sophisticated the Rose family was in comparison to the seeming hillbillies of Schitts Creek. It becomes apparent that this new constellation of friends and acquaintances is a big improvement over their previous big city community in loyalty, generosity and heart.

For every biting bit of humor, there is a warm fuzzy realization that family and real friends help us get through any catastrophe, including losing our bank accounts, our possessions and our social standing. Laughs plus the occasional “Aw….” in Schitts Creek makes for the perfect end of day viewing.

The Kominsky Method on Netflix

More and more name actors and directors are taking the plunge to the small screen with streaming service Netflix being one of the primary contenders in attracting quality productions.

The Kominsky Method, created by the uber-successful Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mom) has cast Michael Douglas as struggling LA actor/teacher Sandy Kominsky along with Alan Arkin as his button-downed friend and agent, Norman.
The script goes for laughs but the deeper sub-text keeps the dialogue from being cheap. Getting older has never seemed so grim or hilarious.

Nancy Travis is delightful as his sort-of girlfriend and Sarah Baker spot-on as his ever-patient daughter.

Scenes at Sandy’s acting studio are particularly moving as we see people striving to find the sweet spot of theatrical artistry versus the crassness of paid acting work.

The show is chock full of familiar faces playing bit roles such as Danny DeVito as a sadistic proctologist and Lisa Edelstein as Alan Arkin’s spoiled druggie daughter. Even Ann-Margaret and Elliot Gould make cameo appearances.

Netflix has already ordered Season Two so we can look forward to more snappy dialogue about senior dating, parent-child relationships, tax bills and prostate problems. No, this really is a comedy.

May you joyfully binge-watch The Kominsky Method this holiday season.

Tootsie, the musical at the Cadillac Theater

You literally just have a couple of days left to see the musical, Tootsie at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago before it ends on October 14, 2018. The tag line states this is “a new comedy musical” and it fulfills that bill in spades.

Loosely based on the 1982 movie of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie the musical makes some savvy changes. The main character played by the amazing Santino Fontana gets cast in a Broadway musical versus the movie’s soap opera job in the movie. As in the film, he falls for the leading lady (played by a lovely Lilli Cooper) who thinks he is “a woman of a certain age,” but today’s more open attitudes about same sex couples and gender definition add more depth to the plot line.

The songs, with lyrics and music by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Band’s Visit), are tuneful and witty with a few stand-out numbers one will be hearing at auditions. Librettist Robert Horn has fashioned a very hilarious book that gracefully links the songs while giving full comedic play to the singing actors.

Tootsie is headed for Broadway in the spring of 2019, so you will still have the chance to see this delightful production. You will just have to go a lot further for it, and perhaps pay a premium for your seat. The trip to NYC will be well worth your time and effort if you don’t catch the show this weekend in Chicago.