Are we having fun yet?
'Party Down' returns, 'Picard' reunites the 'Next Generation' cast, and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I’m your seventh priority…
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Party Down parties on!
Nearly a year ago, I stood on a cliff in Malibu watching an episode of the improbable-bordering-on-miraculous return of Party Down being filmed. With the new episodes debuting on Feb. 24, I finally got to publish my story based on that visit and a number of followup interviews I did by phone and Zoom.
What an incredible show this was (first two seasons are on Hulu), and the new episodes (I’ve seen 5 of 6) very much live up to the original run. As I talk about in the feature, this is a rare show that seems tailor-made for a revival season, because the notion of professional disappointment is baked into the premise. So it’s depressing on some level that so many of these people are still working at Party Down, or have returned to the job, but it also feels very true to the spirit and themes of the earlier seasons, which always built its silliness atop a pretty bleak foundation. Oh, and it’s still very funny, with the newcomers (including Jennifer Garner) fitting in vey well. So glad it’s back, and if you don’t want to wait until next week’s newsletter, look at my Rolling Stone author page in the coming days for links to expanded Q&As with Adam Scott and Paul Rudd.
Picard panders, and that’s okay
Meanwhile, I reviewed the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, which premiered yesterday on Paramount+ Having tried and failed twice to get viewers interested in Jean-Luc’s late-in-life new crew, the show finally goes into full Give The People What They Want mode, with a season bringing back the entire main Star Trek: The Next Generation cast. (Well, the final season cast. No Wesley, and obviously no Tasha Yar or Dr. Pulaski.) As I say in the column, on the one hand, the level of fan service is pretty shameless. On the other, I am a fan being serviced, and the chemistry between the old crew works wonders in papering over the many continuing problems of the Picard storytelling approach. Boy, I hope that going forward, the new Trek Powers That Be will look to Strange New Worlds as their model — not even that we have to see old characters, but that Star Trek is usually (Deep Space Nine excepted) at its best when it focuses almost entirely on Mission of the Week.
But watching the old gang interact, I was, unlike Mr. Worf, a merry man.
Last of Us and the adventures of Super Sam
While the Bill and Frank-focused “Long, Long Time” is the creative high-water mark for the first season of The Last of Us, in some ways I find the latest installment, “Endure and Survive” (which I recapped here), a more impressive achievement. I’m not saying that telling a post-apocalyptic love story that spans 20 years in the space of an hour-plus of television, and making it feel as emotional as it does, is easy. But there’s a compact structure to it, which means Mazin and Druckmann could basically let it all hang out emotionally, rather than having to parse things out over a season.
“Endure and Survive” is the conclusion to the Kansas City two-parter, and features a bunch of characters who will not be returning to the show. But it’s also a Joel and Ellie story, about their relationship and about how each of them responds to the horrors this new world constantly throws at them. It is, in other words, a regular episode of The Last of Us, even if the scope of the final sequence is as big as anything the show’s done so far. And it’s a damned good — if ultimately devastating — one. Feel free to discuss at length in the comments.
(Also, I assume gifs of the giant infected man climbing out of the pit will become an easy meme, if they haven’t already.)
Poker Face recaplet: “The Future of the Sport”
Finally, we’ve got Poker Face, which Peacock unsurprisingly renewed earlier this week. Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne told me they’d like to do this show for a long, long time, and everything they’ve given us so far suggests I’ll be happy to see that.
"The Future of the Sport" is another episode that plays around within the formula. We assume Tim Blake Nelson is going to be the villain that Charlie busts, and he is. But it turns out he's just a secondary bad guy, and Charles Melton's character is the truly despicable one. He's also another antagonist who knows about Charlie's powers going in, and does his best to not only work around them, but to exploit them in his plot against Nelson and his family. It's also one where Charlie largely fails at her usual assignment. Yes, Melton will receive a degree of karmic justice, as we see his hand shaking upon learning that Nelson's daughter is out of her coma(*) and planning to return to racing, but Charlie's only role in that is telling the girl the truth about what happened. And as we'd seen from the pre-Charlie sequence, she already was planning to become the dirt track champ. And there doesn't seem to be any criminal justice in our saboteur's future.
(*) The hospital flashbacks are also strangely shot and/or edited in a way that made me assume Charlie was lying as a way to trick him into confessing.
The show continues to have fun inserting Charlie into various subcultures, here with the world of dirt track racing. I might have watched an entire hour of Natasha Lyonne playing video games. And the night driving sequence where all we can really see are her eyes was wonderfully atmospheric. I imagine on a weekly schedule/budget, there was no way to do a serious car chase, so that was a good example of how to turn limitations to a scene's advantage, making it so atmospheric that the lack of Fast and the Furious maneuvering doesn't matter.
Another winner. I'm trying not to get too far ahead, but I couldn't resist checking out next week's, which Lyonne directed. It is wonderful. But we'll talk about that in seven days.
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