Tag Archives: HBO

TV Review: They Call Me Magic

Produced by Apple TV+, ‘They Call Me Magic‘ is a four-part documentary about one of basketball’s greatest legends, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. One of the most exciting stories on and off the basketball court, the show covers almost everything Magic stands for; his childhood, his family, and his relationships. The show also highlights a much-needed detailing about the making of his legacy in college basketball. This was very necessary due to his being arguably the greatest college basketball player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

The documentary features interviews of Magic, his wife, family, coaches, teammates, and his rivals. Speaking of rivals, I am glad Larry Bird was also part of this documentary and he had his own narrative about their rivalry and games. But Larry’s contribution to Magic’s documentary is an acknowledgment that one of the greatest sports rivalries that encompassed in the 1980s developed a respect for each other.

The icing on the cake is when the show also features Michael Jordan. You know it is a huge ask when the greatest basketball player of all time shows up in a documentary of another basketball legend. Although, there are other legends to talk about Magic like Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Michael is a different picture. And Michael Jordan already had a blast talking about his dynasty exactly two years ago. So this means a lot. And why not? Before the Bulls dynasty began, it was Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s that dominated. This is like MJ passes the torch of the dynasty to MJ, especially in the 1991 NBA Finals.

Besides his basketball career, there is quite an insider about a complex love story of Magic and his wife Cookie. The story has been stretched to, I feel, more than the screen length could have demanded. I felt Magic’s post-basketball career deserved more minutes than the affair. There was really a tremendous contribution he made as an investor when he started an investment company, Magic Johnson Enterprises.

One thing I would like to address about this documentary to the readers and the audience is not to compare it with HBO‘s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty due to many reasons. One, ‘Winning Time’ is about the entire Lakers dynasty while ‘They Call Me Magic’ is only about Magic. Two, the former is a television drama that is inspired by Jeff Pearlman‘s book, ‘Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s‘ while the latter features the players giving their input through interviews. The former is scripted and fictionalized for a dramatic touch to attract the audience while the latter doesn’t compromise on authenticity as the real people show up describing their stories and incidents.

Nothing to take away from ‘Winning Time’, I loved that show as a drama that came into existence through any network that was based on basketball but the tone of entertaining the audience shall be limited to enjoying the Lakers’ glory rather than digging facts about its being real or fictional. I wished that ‘Winning Time’ would have been 100% accurate but it is okay because now we have another source on the television format, and that is ‘They Call Me Magic’.

In my opinion, the biggest plus of watching this documentary is not only to understand the ‘magic’ he spelled that started a dynasty but more than that, the show heavily convinces the audience that it was Magic Johnson who stepped NBA up financially. Before him, NBA’s fame and state were different from each other. The fame was there but the state was economically awful. The television ratings were declining, and the spectators were diminishing. The shocking fact about NBA before the 1980s is that the show was not popular enough to be on prime time. One of the major reasons was too much violence and the NBA was considered too black to be termed as drug-infested. The racial standards were poor. So Magic’s arrival changed the fate and face of the NBA who established himself as a superstar in college basketball. His popularity gradually increased and became the most talking point when his becoming a pro was on the cards.

Therefore, ‘They Call Me Magic’ is a celebration and an honest tribute to a wonderful career.

TV Review: Mare of Easttown

Detective sergeant Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is a well-known heroic figure in her neighborhood of Easttown, a small town in Chester County of Pennsylvania. But she has faced a trembling year in quest of a missing girl that has raised many eyebrows over her detective skills. Also, she suffers the worst possible personal crisis due to a divorce, a custody battle, and a son lost in suicide. And during all this, the cops find a body in the forest park one morning. She is Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage mother, who was fighting a custody battle for her kid with her ex-boyfriend.

Looking at this magnificent miniseries and the continuity of the plot, I am surprised that Mare Of Easttown is neither adapted from a novel nor is based on a true incident. In fact, I am impressed by the quality of production that they came up with such a presentation that makes the audience believe that this may all be true. But to some extent, Mare of Easttown is somehow the story of everyday people which is why it makes you believe in the bullet detailing of the screenplay. It gives you a real feeling the way the whole show is dramatized like a cop who is sensitive to blood, an old man confessing an affair at his wife’s funeral, a priest alleged for raping a minor, a mentally disabled girl bullied in the school, the old couple who tries to figure how to set up a security camera, and many more.

ERIN McMENAMIN

The character of Erin in the first episode is the most fitting epitome of bad social treatment. I have watched so many television characters develop well but have taken time to grow with more than one episode. But Erin whose character lived for just one episode has to be the fastest growth-developing character in recent years. It was phenomenal writing about a character that screamed louder the more she gets unsettled. Facing the hardship of becoming a mother as a teenager, she suffered rigidity from her father and her ex-boyfriend who should have emotionally backed her instead of being unsupportive. How heartbreaking it was to see Erin get beaten in the park and the ex-boyfriend doing nothing but watching and enjoying it.

All the major characters in Easttown are affected by Erin’s murder. They are socially distressed and contribute to the plot which is another impressive point of the drama.

MARE SHEEHAN

There have been many detective stories with the central character in the uniform always portrayed to suffer due to his/her line of work and in person. So there is nothing new about Mare but the reason why Mare’s typical character is picked and praised highly over others in recent times is because of touching the deepest aspects of her life very rightly, addressing her miseries peculiarly, giving enough screen length to suffocate between her roles as a mother of a dead son, ex-wife in a troubled marriage, irresolute to her line of work, and doubtful heroism that has faded since no trace of a missing child in an unsolved crime case. Mare is hanging loosely on the walls of many parallels with no success and optimism.

And the most impressive factor of all – Kate Winslet. How much do you have to influence a character to your body that the audience traces no sign of the actor’s stunning performance but feels the pain of Mare Sheehan? I am lost at how Meryl Streep a performance can be. This has to be Kate’s best performance since ‘The Reader‘. There was everything about the role, her body language, the Delco accent of the Phillys, the facial translation of emotional distress, rage, frustration, and God knows what else. The only scene in the entire series she laughed was so natural and visibly showed to the audience that her guffaw came out after all the bad things happening to that lady and was so necessary.

Unnecessary Developments

Yes, there are elements that looked pretty forced and time-consuming. Mare’s daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) had unnecessary sequences for her relationship with the radio jockey that had nothing to do with either plot or sub-plot. It clearly looked like this segment was dramatized to keep the LGBTQ+ community happy. The second is Mare’s love interest Richard Ryan, a writer and professor played by Guy Pearce. This character had absolutely no importance to the story and wasted quite heavy minutes in the development. In the beginning, I assumed that Richard’s character will be later linked to Erin’s murder somehow but he had no connection at all and was generally there for Mare. Giving so many minutes to his presence made no sense. The only theory that makes Richard in the story applicable is that his existence gave Mare’s unhappy life an opportunity to find positivity. She badly needed counseling so he was there. The same error in Detective Colin’s character, played by Evan Peters, who was brought to assist Mare in the crime case. First, he was awkward and I have never understood why the assistant or vice to a detective or a cop has to be a little dumb or less confident. And then, out of nowhere, Colin falls in love with Mare. Why would you do that?

But yes, the makers of the show deserve special praise for funny sequences that occurred in such a dark drama out of nowhere. Not a single time did the comedy look forced and fitted so well. Mare’s mother Helen was a source of bringing excitement many times.

CLOSING REMARKS

Mare Of Easttown is another masterpiece that propels me to advise the television audience to prefer HBO over any network if they are willing to try a miniseries. HBO looks like a dominant force for limited writing and has impressed with many quality contents in recent years like Watchmen, Chernobyl, The Night Of, and a few more. The winner of 4 Emmies, the show deserves every credit for being one of the best suspense and detective thrillers in recent years.

TV Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the new HBO romantic miniseries about Henry who has the unusual ability to time travel and meets Clare of different ages. With time, Henry’s tolerance of the power begins to irritate and Clare faces difficulties to manage him.

I neither happened to read Audrey Niffenegger‘s novel nor did I watch Eric Bana/Rachel McAdams starred film with the same title. The popularity of this HBO show was making rounds so I thought to check the trailer and found this strange plot pretty riveting.

A bigger impression about the show is that Steven Moffat has written and created it and one of the best TV directors, David Nutter, has directed all six episodes.

I found the first half compelling but the second half looked off. Perhaps the crafting of the plot was limited enough to stretch and lead it somewhere. Maybe I am wrong to judge that because the novel itself is around 550 pages. But to my thinking capacity, the story was neither progressing nor jumping to a conclusion. Henry kept traveling time and got naked which began to bore me as this plot was not engaging towards opening some other chapters or mysteries.

The nature of this plot is unsurprisingly very sexual and I think HBO was pretty sober for not crossing this line which I feel was important.

The biggest plus of the show is the onscreen chemistry of Theo James as Henry and Rose Leslie as Clare. They were committed to melting our emotions. Their meetings, their fights, and their romantic fluctuations were beautifully picturized. I am not going to declare that the show was disappointing, not at all. It was interesting, the show had its moments where the audience can burn in the sequences like the second episode about the fate of Henry’s mother.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Theo James, Rose Leslie
Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO

Such romantic time-traveling may have its breaking points but I believe Moffat-Nutter could have pressed this art more critically and showed us what else could Henry and Clare have possibly done in that limited space before Henry starts coughing.

Personally, I loved this show but on the scale of judgment, I’ll say the show with this plot could have been a lot better.

TV Review: Bel-Air

When the news about the reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air broke out, I was not okay with it. Then the first trailer was released; and I felt that the show looks like reimagining the whole plot of the sitcom in a new direction, giving a dramatic approach with a better address. Switching a massive hit sitcom into a comedy-drama needs a lot of courage, commitment with the scriptwriting, and a solemn promise that the show will not disappoint the viewers. After watching the 10-episode first season, I can convincingly inform the readers that Bel-Air, the reboot, absolutely did not disappoint at all.

The reboot became possible after Morgan Cooper released a short fan film on Youtube and Will Smith happened to watch it. It was so compelling that Will personally met Morgan to discuss expanding the film’s vision into a reboot. Both of them became executive producers along with the original line of producers including Benny Medina (the real Will Smith), Quincy Jones (the man who gave birth to Will Smith’s acting career in this sitcom), and Borowitz couple (Andy and Susan, the show creators). Peacock won the bid in competition with Netflix and HBO Max and gave a two-season order.

The new show focuses on the serious elements of all the sub-plots, the characterization of the main characters, and the continuity of the original sitcom. The writers left no space to give a better understanding. One of the best aspects of the show is that the show brilliantly gives a broader detail about all the characters, a decent capacity of screen time to give the characters and story some breathing. The heavy issues get pressing and more push.

Bel-Air visually dramatized most of the lyrics of the sitcom’s popular theme song ‘Yo Home to Bel-Air‘ in the first episode. Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes) has a stronger personality and is visibly an important figure as a husband, a father, and a lawyer. Will (Jabari Banks)’s daddy issue has been well-taken care of throughout the season. Carlton (Olly Sholotan)’s character without a doubt has the best characterizing, and the behavioral attitudes and personal traits an annoying Carlton should have is all smartly portrayed here. More than half of the season has Will on Carlton’s nerve with an excellent screenplay raising valid questions about the family being more concerned for Will than Carlton all of a sudden. British butler Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) is a definite upgrade from the sitcom who not only manages the domestic affairs of the Bankses but also consults Philips for his DA campaign and holds strong connections with powerful people.

I am thoroughly impressed how Bel-Air does not falter in its continuity. There are so many scenes that address and make the audience spare a thought. There is a scene where Will is shocked and furious watching Carlton enjoying himself with his White friends despite saying the N-word. Then there are a few of Will’s sittings with any of the Banks that are touching. In the middle of the show, there is an entire episode about Will’s best friend Tray (SteVonté Hart) coming to meet with him in the mansion and overexcited with the belief that Will will return and resume his old life. Then sisters Ashley (Akira Akbar) and Hillary (Coco Jones) exchanging a conversation about the former’s love interest was supportive. Although Ashley at 12 having feelings for the same gender looked very forced and even if Bel-Air wanted to address their position about same-sex interests amongst the teenagers, the writers failed to develop the growth of Ashley’s character.

Then there is a surprise for all the sitcom fans when Vivian (Cassandra Freeman) goes for the interview in the Art Council where the interviewers are none other than Daphne Maxwell Reid and Vernee Watson-Johnson, the ladies who played the character of Vivian Banks in the original television show. This scene not only brought three Vivians together but also gives the audience a better vision of understanding the character. Vivian opened her heart while discussing with other Vivians about her life, her importance, and her career choices that looked visually more clever as Vivians of previous existence were all ears listening to the existing Vivian.

Bel-Air holds a strong commitment to the audience especially The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s loyalists as the first season progresses with extraordinary writing that develops a lot of faith that the continuity will have a lot of potential to run in the next season. The viewers who are expecting Bel-Air to be as funny as the predecessor will be upset because the vision of Bel-Air is different. The approach is smart and the execution is bold. I liked the sitcom and I appreciate how the makers of this show came up with the idea to reimagine the story with the very same characters with more realism. Try yourself.

TV Review: The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is a significant period in American history that began in the 1870s and lasted until the 1890s. This period is considered the golden age of industrialization and rapid growth in the American economy. This era witnessed the birth of many business giants, important inventions, and the rise of many wealthiest families. This was also the period of the shifting of wealthy generations where the old and new families were struggling to join the rank of elites and high societies. Julian Fellowes‘ latest creation is based on that struggle.

The HBO drama focuses on two rich families. The old money van Rhijn-Brook family and the new money Russell family. The latter is inspired by the real-life Vanderbilts who once were the-then wealthiest family in the United States. A sense of rivalry exists when the race of joining the elite ignites within the society and during all this hullabaloo, young Marian Brook became a lively figure between the two families when she moves from Pennsylvania to New York to live with her estranged aunts.

As true to the aristocratic nature and Julian Fellowes accurately admitting, The Gilded Age is the American Downton Abbey or shall I say, the American answer to Downton Abbey that was also created by Fellowes. Not sure if I must suggest that the dramas written by Fellowes are for rich people but there is no harm in developing an interest in dramas about the noble or upper-class lifestyle that proudly displays a fine exhibition of the aristocracy.

The show has taken good care of small accuracies and being a period drama, the costume and the production design are just marvelous. There is a scene, I think in the pilot or the second episode when the party host announces that she will organize a card game of Cinch. I found the name interesting so I googled it and I discovered that Cinch, which is also known as High Five, was the game that developed in Denver, Colorado in the same timeline where this drama is shot.

Downton Abbey fans are in for a treat as the music score, powerful dialogues and direction reminds you of the Downton Abbey show. Not only that, many characters of The Gilded Age will make the audience recall some Downton Abbey characters. The biggest one is Lady Agnes van Rhijn whose quick-witted one-liners will make you remember Lady Violet in Downton Abbey. Then there is Mr. Bannister, the butler who holds the same commands as Mr. Carson. The young chemistry of Jack and Bridget in the servant class is similar to Daisy and Alfred in Downton Abbey.

But one aspect where The Gilded Age edges over Downton Abbey is the representation of the Blacks. Downton Abbey have extremely shorter and limited roles but The Gilded Age has quite a take on the lives of African Americans. And their representation is the most different from most of the shows that are doing a favor to diversity. The show is giving its audience a sharp look at the certain existence of ‘elite’ African Americans which is quite disappearing from the script pages when we watch a historical drama where the Black Americans are mostly portrayed as slaves. One guarantee of trusting the Black representation is accurate is hiring Erica Armstrong Dunbar who is a Rutgers University history professor who specializes in Black American women of the 18th and 19th centuries, as a historical consultant.

The audience must also remember that this show is taking place in New York in 1882 which is around 17 years after Lincoln‘s historic Emancipation Proclamation, the ratification of the US constitution’s 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. So yes, the presentation is accurate, and more than that, the show still threw the shades of racial segregation and portrayed them as some second-grade citizens. Because this was still a fresh struggle for recognition.

Lady Agnes’ son Oscar is shown as bisexual and the flow of the characterization clearly proved that making him bisexual looked terribly forced. His being in relation to John has nothing to do with the story but just wanted the audience to recognize that LGBTQ+ existed in those times. And forced portrayals have this very problem in the films and tv shows that the writing and the direction of such chemistries do not come up with some genuine addressing.

Many of the cast have given fair performances but I will pick both the leading ladies Christine Baranski and Carrie Coon as Lady Agnes and Bertha Russell who gave top performances. Stage actress Louisa Jacobson, Meryl Streep‘s daughter, was first-rate and will take time to learn a lot since this is the beginning of her career. She made a television debut in such a bigger project.

Just like Downton Abbey, the show will be covering a lot of historical events and present portrayals of famous American people like the first season managed to do on a few occasions. For example, Linda Emond as Clara Barton who was the founder of the American Red Cross, and Ashlie Atkinson as Mamie Fish who was a lavish party-throwing socialite. There is a scene where Thomas Edison lights up the New York Times building, a historic moment in New York city’s history that is a real incident with few
changes for the dramatic effect. It was a mesmerizing shot to end one of the episodes and give the real incident its due respect to define the best moments of the Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age is a spectacular portrayal of elite American history. Those who are enthusiastic about period dramas will surely love watching this. I am believing that The Gilded Age is definitely increasing its fanbase, especially amongst the Downton Abbey loyalists. The story has a lot of potential to stretch the drama to at least five seasons.