Alias 'Smith' & 'Smith'
'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' spoilers, plus 'One Day,' Super Bowl TV, the return of 'Abbott Elementary,' and more
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Odds and/or ends
I haven’t read David Nicholls’ novel One Day, which checks in on a pair of friends — and perhaps more — on the same day for 20 years in a row, nor have I seen the 2011 movie version with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. But where I really enjoyed the first episode of the new Netflix version, starring Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall, the show quickly ran out of steam. Fourteen episodes, even at around a half hour apiece, is just way too much to devote to a relationship where the external details may change, but the fundamental dynamic between the characters never really does.
True Detective: Night Country began the second half of its story with some dramatic developments for Navarro, a creepy chase through an abandoned dredge, and a dryly amusing running gag involving the movie Elf. Here’s my recap. (Meanwhile, as is usually the case on Super Bowl weekend, HBO will be premiering this week’s episode tonight at 9 Eastern. So look for my recap here at 10.)
I’ve more or less stopped posting anything on Twitter other than links to my work, and other self-promotion, and have been much more active both on Threads and, especially, on BlueSky. The latter finally came out of beta this week, which means anyone who wants to can now sign up. I’m especially proud of this joke from earlier in the week.
I have yet to cut the cable cord, for reasons even I can’t entirely understand. My wife likes to watch TV news and talk shows, but we could get those with YouTubeTV or the live Hulu offering. And now comes word that Disney, Warner Bros., and what’s left of Fox will be teaming up for a direct-to-consumer service that will offer a whole lot of national sports content, when live sports has been one of the few things keeping people from ditching their cable bundle. I’ll be fascinated to see how badly this hurts the traditional cable suppliers, and I feel like I’m getting close to exploring an alternative to my current set-up.
I already said my piece regarding the final Curb Your Enthusiasm season, including my feeling that the premiere was easily the episode I enjoyed most, even if it felt sub-par by overall Curb standards. Curious how people felt about it, and I’ll be even more curious to see how opinion goes as we get deeper into a batch of episodes that I think mostly don’t work.
All in the game
The Super Bowl is on Sunday. When I was growing up, there was a long stretch where the games were non-competitive and boring, and the narrative became that the main reason to watch was for the ads, and sometimes for the shows that would air after the game. That ceased to be a thing a long time ago, for a variety of reasons. One, the games have been much better over the last few decades. Two, most of the commercials debut online ahead of the game. And three, it’s been a very long time since there have been even a couple of inspired ads in a given Super Bowl, and some years not even one.
It’s also been a while since we had a really notable episode of TV after the game, either the 2018 This Is Us that showed how an evil crock pot murdered Jack, or else the 2014 New Girl episode with Prince. This year’s post-Super Bowl slot goes to Tracker, a generic procedural starring Justin Hartley (who never did get revenge on that crock pot that killed his dad, did he?) as a “rewardist” who helps find missing people (usually kidnapping victims) and other objects in exchange for money. To paraphrase the late Dennis Green, it is what you think it is.
For Rolling Stone, I decided to look back at the more glorious years of the post-Super Bowl episode — including my picks for the 10 best. But that’s not running until tomorrow, so keep an eye on my author page.
Abbott Elementary came back on Wednesday night with an hour-long season premiere. Like every other broadcast show, Abbott is going to have an extremely shortened season due to how long the networks/studios/streamers let the strikes drag on. The show didn’t have to address this, since other than in Jacob’s class, the kids tend to be interchangeable, and Abbott could in theory spend multiple seasons chronicling the same school year. But in this case, the writers found an amusing way to do so, by explaining that we missed the first five months of school because the documentary crew got their equipment stolen after a night out with Janine and friends, and they needed a long time to save up to buy new gear.
The premiere offered up two significant changes, with Janine going to work for the school district, and Ava returning from summer break determined to do her job correctly. The latter idea was funny enough that I wish it hadn’t been walked back by the end of the episode. We all knew Good Ava wasn’t going to last, but it felt like there was more mileage in that joke.
As for Janine’s temporary new job, in many ways it feels like another case of Abbott taking a page from The Office and/or Parks and Rec, this time evoking the stretch where Jim moved to Dunder Mifflin’s Stamford branch for half a season to deal with being rejected by Pam. The key difference is that Janine makes clear that she took the fellowship because it was an exciting professional opportunity, and not because Gregory told her that he had emotionally moved on. Janine and Gregory’s will-they-or-won’t-they arc tends to be the most formulaic, and least satisfying, aspect of the show, so I was glad that this season’s major, if temporary, status quo change, wasn’t primarily driven by that.
A strong return overall (including Mr. Johnson shamelessly stealing the plots of movies like The Godfather and The Distinguished Gentleman for his career day speeches) for one of the few remaining broadcast shows worth watching every week.
Finally, let’s get a little deeper into Mr. & Mrs. Smith, now that many of you have had a chance to watch the full season, which I raved about last week.
It can be tricky to try to cover a whole binge release in one go, so let’s start with some superlatives:
Favorite episode: Since I’ll be talking more about the finale later, let’s go with the fifth episode, “Do You Want Kids?” That’s the one where John and Jane have to protect Ron Perlman from a seemingly endless army of assassins in Lake Como. Among the things I really like about this show is how it juggles a lot of styles and tones from one installment to the next, much like how Donald Glover, Francesca Sloane, and others did on Atlanta. There are episodes here that are fairly talky, and others like this that are action-packed. Throughout the season, we see that these two are very good at the violence part of the job, even if they keep falling down in other areas. And it was a lot of fun to see just how capable they continued to be against overwhelming odds, even as they were having yet another familiar couples fight.
Favorite guest star(s): This is a tough one, because everybody was excellent. But it’s hard to beat the duo of Wagner Moura and Parker Posey as the fellow Smiths, both in “Double Date” and the finale. They’re cheerful in a really unnerving way, such that you can’t tell at first if they’re actually rival spies tricking these two rookies into revealing their secrets, actually friendly veteran co-workers, or, as we confirm in the finale, killers who mean them genuine harm.
Favorite scene: I can’t choose between two very different ones. The first is from the end of “Double Date,” when our John and Jane get stuck on that horrific mission in the jungle. We only see it in impressionistic bursts, but that works incredibly well at conveying how bad things are, coupled with the state of shock the two are in when we see them back on the helicopter. It is the darkest of dark comedy and, again, the kind of thing Glover has deployed really well in the past.
The other comes late in “Couples Therapy,” where we see the argument the two have in the woods, about how John never actually read The Prophet, Jane complains about his sexual performance, he accuses her of not caring about anybody, etc. The premise of the show is heightened and absurd, but throughout the season, Glover and Maya Erskine get to show how the fake marriage quickly begins to feel like a real one. And this raw, incredibly ugly fight is the most potent example of that.
Best fits: This is a tough one, simply because Glover — whether by his own choice as executive producer, or the approach of costume designer Madeline Weeks — has the best male wardrobe on TV since maybe Matt Bomer on White Collar. Every outfit looks fantastic. Erskine isn’t exactly dressed in potato sacks, but the show uses John’s prioritizing of fashion as one of the many key differences between the phony spouses. Still, I have to go with a couples outfit of a sort, in the finale, when Jane is dressed all in loose black clothing, and John in a tight white sweater and pants. The contrast between the two of them is really striking, especially because they’re trying to kill each other at that point.
And speaking of which, let’s talk about that finale. It’s the one episode that really overlaps with the movie, since Pitt and Jolie spend a stretch of the film also trying to murder one another. Here, though, it feels different for a few reasons. First, Donald Glover’s approach to action is very different from Doug Liman’s. He favors setpieces that play out in a very weird and messy style. The longer this sequence goes on, the more injured and desperate John and Jane become, until it’s hard to understand how either one is even still alive, let alone capable of fighting the other. Second, we’ve already spent seven hours with these two idiots, seen their feelings turn real, seen the many ways they are wildly incompatible, felt the chemistry between Glover and Erskine, and just feel more deeply invested. And third, it ends up in much more desperate and poignant circumstances, with the two of them barricaded inside the safe room, John bleeding to death from a gunshot wound, Jane willing to risk a shootout with Parker Posey in order to save him.
The season ends ambiguously, with the shootout between the two Janes being presented from outside the brownstone. We don’t know who survives out of the two of them and our John, assuming any of them do. It could be a dark conclusion for a one-and-done show, though Sloane has said she plans to do more. I suppose we could also pivot into another couple, just as the season opened with Alexander Skarsgard and Eiza Gonzalez as a pair of Smiths being terminated by, presumably, Posey and Maura. But my preference would be to see it return with Glover and Erskine. They were terrific, and so was this season.
That’s it for this week! What did everybody else think?