'Beef.' It's what's for dinner.
'Succession' & 'Yellowjackets' return, a tribute to the late Lance Reddick, the 'Shrinking' finale, and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I explain why we can never eat together…
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Steven Yeun and Ali Wong have Beef
This week’s story that I spent the most time on is this making-of feature about Beef, an upcoming Netflix dramedy starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong as strangers who get into a road rage incident that spirals wildly out of control over the course of the season. It is a strange, funny, sad, often mesmerizing show, and I liked it so much that I of course had to speak with Yeun, Wong, and the show’s creator, Lee Sung Jin. (I tried not to let the latter interview get derailed by questions about his time as a mid-2000s TV blogger who wrote under the name Captain Oats, aka Seth Cohen’s plastic horse from The O.C.) The story’s good, and the show (which debuts April 6) is even better.
Fuck off! Succession is back
Next up: Succession returns for its fourth and final season on Sunday night, and I reviewed the first four episodes. Because I didn’t want to spoil an eventful stretch for the Roy family, I focused in part on the show’s chance to do something unusually rare for HBO: to be a classic HBO show that both ends well and ends before some or all of the audience get sick of it.
I will again be recapping each episode this season. If you’ve followed me for years, you know that I’ve been on a strange journey with this show. The first season did very little for me, to the point where I stopped watching it multiple times, was goaded into resuming by various critic pals who insisted that I would love it if I got to this episode or that episode, and it never clicked. I didn’t bother with Season Two at all as it aired, even though my Twitter feed at the time made me feel as if I’d seen the whole thing. And then during the early pandemic, I decided to give it one more chance, and at this point I could finally recognize it as one of the great HBO comedies. (And, yes, I would argue it is very much a comedy that has room for incredible pathos. It’s been category-frauding the Emmys for years, by virtue of being an hour-long show.)
Anyway, there is some remarkable stuff coming on the show over the next month, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there.
Does Yellowjackets still sting?
If you’re a fan of lots of current prestige TV, Sunday will create the dilemma of which you watch live and which you check out later: Succession or Yellowjackets, which begins its second season on Showtime. I’ve seen the latter show’s first six episodes, and wrote about how they continue most of the first season’s strengths (Melanie Lynskey unleashed, the unnerving atmosphere of the Nineties scenes in the woods), as well as its weaknesses (tonal whiplash, the adult characters largely being kept apart). It remains a terribly uneven show where the good parts are just so good that you have to accept the rest of it. Sometimes, series like that can refine themselves over time and get more in balance; if that’s happening with Yellowjackets, it’ll have to be in a later season.
RIP, Lance Reddick
As I was preparing to wrap up my work last Friday, we got the awful news that Lance Reddick had passed away. As an enormous fan of his work on The Wire, Bosch, Fringe, and more, I was shocked and saddened, and wrote a tribute to why he will go down as one of the great TV bosses, across multiple roles over 20 years. Just a terrible loss.
The mask of The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian got back to basics with this week’s episode, which I recapped here. Interestingly, it feels like Bo-Katan is becoming this season’s protagonist. As a longtime Katee Sackhoff supporter, I am not opposed to this, but I wonder if the focus will eventually return to what Mando wants — and, if not, whether the audience will grow frustrated.
Speaking of frustration, there was also a surprising development in the reaction to this one, at least from what I saw on my social media feeds. I’ve been complaining practically since the series debuted that the Watch’s rule about removing your helmet in front of other people is dumb, mainly because it deprives the show of access to Pedro Pascal’s greatest asset as an actor. I’ve gotten pushback on this over the years, with counter-arguments including, “Pascal wouldn’t be able to do the show at all if he had to be in the suit for every episode,” “I think it adds to Mando’s mystique,” and, simply, “Let it go. They’re not going to change it.”
But “The Foundling” was the first time I saw other people complaining about the rule. The breaking point seems to have been the scene where Mando explains to Bo that their people eat by finding an isolated spot where they can remove their helmets without being seen. The show quietly established this in Season One’s “Sanctuary,” when we got a glimpse of Mando’s helmet not on his head while he ate alone. It hasn’t come up since then, and the idea that the Watch has to go to such ridiculous lengths even with one another, struck a bunch of people as too contrived to continue justifying things. Or maybe it was the episode’s discussion of when
Baby Yoda Grogu will be old enough to wear his own helmet — thus depriving the show of arguably its own greatest asset. Regardless, I’ll be curious to see whether Bo and/or Mando push back against the rule by the end of the season. It’s been discussed so much that it feels like Favreau and Filoni have to be setting us up for that. That, or they’re pushing back against stubborn dopes like me.
Odds and/or ends
Worth noting that last week’s Party Down was the episode I was on set for to write my feature about the making of the revival. Tonight’s is the last one I’ve already seen, and the penultimate episode of what’s been a really wonderful season. Starz hasn’t yet announced plans to make another one, but I’m hopeful that they can keep going when everyone is available again. Because the show still has it.
We are now in the busiest stretch of the year in television, where every network and streamer loads up on Emmy-bait content before the eligibility period ends on May 31. This year, it’s worse than usual, because the rules changed to require seasons to have finished before the 31st, where in the past you could qualify so long as the majority of your episodes had aired/streamed before the window closed. So things are less spaced out than usual, which makes it especially tough for a one-man critical band like me to keep up with even half of the notable premieres. So I’ll be skipping a lot of stuff outright, or in some cases starting things but not having a chance to finish them. A latter example is a show that dropped today on Netflix: The Night Agent, a political thriller adapted by Shawn Ryan from a novel by Matthew Quirk. This is decidedly not an Emmy-bait show: it’s a televised beach or airplane read, akin to Netflix’s The Recruit, or half of Amazon’s drama lineup. It’s often silly and/or obvious, but it moves at a very good clip — Ryan knows how to make television, even in a serialized streaming format — Gabriel Basso (who I still remember as Laura Linney’s young son from The Big C) is solid in the lead role, and the pace and excitement really started to pick up around the time I had to stop watching with the sixth episode. Not great art, by any means, but good enough light entertainment that I want to find time to finish it, which probably won’t happen until after the Emmy window closes and the amount of new TV normalizes a bit.
A Shrinking cliffhanger?
Finally, we have to get into serious spoiler territory for the season finale of Shrinking because… well… yeah. If you’re watching the show but haven’t caught up with the latest episode, just close the tab now and come back later.
For the most part, I thought the finale was wonderful. Realy, the entire home stretch of the season was. As I alluded to in my review, the series gradually pulled a Cougar Town, drifting away from a premise that wasn’t really working (Jimmy as vigilante psychologist) in favor of going pure hangout comedy. The characters all popped against one another — I don’t buy that Gaby and Liz characters became instant best friends, but Jessica Williams and Christa Miller were so good together that it didn’t matter — and the show still managed to find plenty of pathos in showing both Jimmy and Paul struggle to reconnect with their daughters. (Give Harrison Ford all the Emmys, please.)
The bulk of the finale seemed to be a culmination of that. Jimmy’s speech at Brian and Charlie’s wedding doubled as a summation of his emotional journey over the course of this season, suggesting that he had finally emerged from the darkness that had trapped him since his wife’s death. Everyone is having a great time at the reception, and Paul even acknowledges relief that Jimmy’s earlier antics didn’t destroy their practice. All seems well, and the series has by this point established that it can be excellent with barely any stakes or plot at all. Problem solved, right?
Well, maybe not. We close back with Heidi Gardner’s Grace on a hiking trail with her garbage husband. He’s as emotionally abusive as ever, and even threatens to assault her. While he stands on the edge of a cliff admiring the view, she thinks on Jimmy’s advice to push back on this asshole and decides to take it literally, shoving him off the cliff and saying a playful “Boop!” just like Jimmy suggested.
Obviously, we have to see how this plays out in Season Two, and the show has a veteran creative team with a history of their shows getting better as they go along, rather than worse. For all we know, the guy will survive with some cuts and bruises, maybe a broken bone. But when I watched that final scene, all I could think was, Great. Now we’re right back to the part of the show that worked the least. Jimmy will be consumed by guilt over his work backfiring with tragic results, and/or the practice will be threatened and Paul will have a new reason to ice out Jimmy again. Just a very strange and concerning choice for a show that had been firing on all cylinders up until that scene.
That’s it for this week! Don’t forget to subscribe, share, and otherwise spread the word! What does everybody else think?
I have so very much enjoyed the Cougar Town hang aspect of Shrinking, and they'd set up plenty of reasonably sized personal issues to explore in a second season. But boy, you could see that ending coming after Jimmy's session with Grace, and as much as I hoped it wouldn't, there it was. *Sigh.* I trust you, Bill Lawrence, but don't blow it.
Lovely tribute to Lance Reddick. His loss leaves a big hole. I remember having to hunt for Fringe on the schedule because it was moved around so much. Keep sitting on my hands to keep from ordering the whole series for my very own.
His Irving Irvin was so much better than the cardboard character from the books.
So powerful and reluctantly giving us glimpses of his humanity on The Wire. Just a consummate professional indeed. Thank you.