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Mrs Davis ★★★★
A puzzle-box story need not be austere or wrenching; intricacy does not prescribe sternness. A wildly inventive and giddily enjoyable action-adventure, Mrs Davis is a hall of mirrors that debates faith and artificial intelligence, explores the sharp end of familial love, and revels in absurdist coincidence. It has many targets, the most unlikely of which are magicians, which is a wilful move since acts of deception and entertaining illusions are the show’s stock in trade. Anything can get pulled out of this hat.
Betty Gilpin as Sister Simone in Mrs Davis.Credit: Sophie Kohler/PEACOCK
Arriving by horseback or motorbike, but always with an orchestral fanfare worthy of Ennio Morricone, Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin) is an American nun who refuses to accept the soft autonomy of Mrs Davis, the algorithm that has made itself indispensable to the majority of the present-day world. A force of good that may be robbing people of their free will, the program pursues Simone with persuasive zeal until they strike an existential bargain.
The series was created by Tara Hernandez (The Big Bang Theory) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, HBO’s Watchmen), and it runs the knotty twists and subterranean conspiracies the latter favours through a distortion field: a Dan Brown Holy Grail quest starts to echo Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical Russian classic The Master and Margarita, while fateful childhood encounters set up ticklish adult dynamics. Recapping the narrative doesn’t do justice to the unexpected confluence of character and circumstance, and frankly it wouldn’t make sense.
It’s not a throw-everything-at-the-wall show. Even the most tangential storyline ties into Simone’s mission, even if they tend to also reveal a new layer of intrigue. The fifth episode has a long flashback narrated by a modern-day Robinson Crusoe (Ben Chaplin), but the grand European melodrama is offset by the drily hilarious responses of Simone and her co-conspirator, former boyfriend turned resistance fighter Wiley (Jake McDorman), who – like the show’s audience – can’t help but interject with their own theories.
Jake McDorman as Wiley and Betty Gilpin as Simone in Mrs Davis.Credit: Colleen Hayes/Peacock
Gilpin is the superglue that holds this ambitious – occasionally too ambitious – series together. Fresh from Glow and Gaslit, her warrior nun supplies the idiosyncratic grounding that the Mrs Davis needs. Her ecstatic visions make Simone part of vast theological debate – hello to the Pope! – as her Bride of Christ makes a deal with two Gods and tries to get them to swap places. If you prefer a straightforward series this is not what a streaming algorithm would recommend, but meet it halfway and there’s rich possibilities. My advice? Take it slowly and savour each maverick episode.
The Diplomat ★★★½
Nuanced and then a little nutty, this halls-of-power thriller is about the people trying to hold the world together only to risk personally falling apart. Keri Russell, who literally killed in The Americans, is Kate Wyler, a “front-line” American career diplomat given the job of ambassador to the United Kingdom when a missile hit on a Royal Navy ship off the coast of Iran sets off a global crisis.
Created by Debra Cahn (Homeland), The Diplomat has a touch of Veep’s cynicism but – the odd world leader aside – the players are smart and dedicated. Its take on diplomacy is committed and feels plausible. “They’ll appreciate it’s non-nothingness,” Kate says of a public statement, but her formidable skills are no match for a Vogue photo shoot that does her head in.
Ato Essandoh and Keri Russell in The Diplomat.Credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix
With high-speed horse-trading to the fore, there are multiple agendas at work here, not the least of which is Kate being promoted by her husband and fellow diplomat, Hal (Rufus Sewell), whose help she has learnt comes at a risky cost. Kate’s displeasure is eventually primal, and of all the angles here the most salient is that this impressive show is about the cost every career woman has to pay when balancing her work and relationship.
The Last Thing He Told Me
Jennifer Garner and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in The Last Thing He Told Me.Credit: Apple TV+
Already great value in the Party Down revival, Jennifer Garner’s committed and emotionally complicated lead performance is the best thing in this workmanlike mystery where her character’s foundations get metaphorically dynamited. Garner’s Hannah Michaels has to figure just who her beloved husband, Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), really is after he goes missing with the authorities in hot pursuit. Her only help is her suspicious teenage step-daughter, Bailey (Angourie Rice). The storytelling is too clean, the relationships carefully mapped out, the plot revelations neatly segmented. Nothing leaps off the screen.
Lizzy Hoo: Hoo Cares!?
Lizzy Hoo is in Lizzy Hoo: Who Cares!?Credit:
Starting with a portrayal of COVID as a sketchy hook-up artist – “he’s in your DMs” – this stand-up special from the late blooming Sydney comic Lizzy Hoo has a timely, easy-going rhythm where personal updates slide into punchlines that have a sarcastic snap. Hoo has a knack for making life’s painful transitions, such as parents ageing into uncertain health, into a shared observation. Still perfecting her craft, Hoo is an endearingly imperfect comedian as she occasionally giggles at her own lines and sharply segues from one topic to the next. There’s no distance between her and the audience.
Architecture is the vehicle for this fascinating documentary, which examines tender obsession, artistic legacy, and the implacable will of women in telling the story of how American artist and filmmaker Jill Majid sought access to the archive of renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragan, which for the last 30 years have been zealously possessed by Italian art historian Federica Zanco – who received them as a gift from her then fiancé. Told with a dreamy tone that contrasts with the underlying power dynamic of ownership and responsibility, the feature works on multiple levels.
Grogu and Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) in The Mandalorian.Credit: LucasFilm
What has happened to this show? The original Lone Wolf & Cub meets Star Wars concept has been supplanted by the need for Din Djarin and Grogu to be the connective tissue for half a dozen different storylines, whether it’s upcoming series like Ahsoka, or movies that have already been made such as The Force Awakens. The unpredictability from episode to episode – sometimes scene to scene – is amusing, but the shortcuts in the storytelling are wildly noticeable. Also: it appears that in large numbers Mandalorians are both brave and stupid.
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