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Nate the not-so-Great
'Ted Lasso' fumbles a subplot, plus 'Love & Death,' 'Citadel,' 'Perry Mason' & more
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HBO Max’s Love & Death is the second miniseries in less than a year (after Hulu’s Candy) to dramatize the true crime story of Texas housewife Candy Montgomery (played here by Elizabeth Olsen, and Jessica Biel last time) killing her friend Betty Gore (Lily Rabe now, Melanie Lynskey then) by hitting her 41 times with an axe. Though both miniseries feature some good performances — Olsen is especially good here, just as Lynskey was in Candy — I wrote about how neither project seems to have figured out what it wants to say about this colorful but complicated crime.
My other review is of Amazon’s Citadel, a wildly presumptuous, even more wildly expensive (with a reported budget of $300 million for a six-episode season where all the episodes clock in under 40 minutes) attempt to instantly build a franchise from scratch. The end result is far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it is shocking how forgettable and, especially, cheap-looking the whole thing is.
I’ve been loving the darker turn Barry has taken in its later seasons, but my goodness, what a relief it was to get to laugh a bunch at this week’s episode, even as it did not shy away from the damage being done to and by Barry and friends.
Odds and/or ends
Perry Mason dropped its Season Two finale earlier this week. I more or less said what I wanted to about this season in my initial review. But now that everyone has had a chance to see it, I want to once again commend the new showrunners for fixing the series through some minor tweaks (inserting a bit more humor, doing more with the supporting cast, putting Perry in court more often, seeming less embarrassed that they are making a show about Perry freaking Mason) rather than starting over from scratch. I am still waiting for this incarnation of the character to have a great courtroom moment, but Della’s cross-examination of the politician a few episodes back was fantastic, and the season as a whole felt very satisfying. Fire away in the comments if you kept watching.
My family decided to make Abbott Elementary our new nightly binge for a while, which meant that I stopped watching new episodes midway through this season so I could wait to see them for the first time with everyone else. So I only got to the Season Two finale a few days ago. On the whole, I remain incredibly satisfied by what’s become one of the last broadcast network shows I still watch regularly. (The others at the moment are old favorites Bob’s Burgers and The Simpsons, and even those I don’t see every week.) For the most part, Season Two was firing on all cylinders: keeping the charter school arc moving without letting it take over the show, trusting in the ensemble enough to do episodes where Janine was mainly in the B-story, balancing the ridiculousness with the sweetness, etc. Still not sure how to feel about Janine and Gregory, and/or how they left things at the end of this season. These slow-burning romantic subplots are more or less required for this kind of show, going back at least to the original Gervais/Merchant The Office, if not even further back to multi-cam comedies like Cheers, Frasier, and Friends. I like Quinta Brunson a lot. I like Tyler James Williams a lot. Both of them are very funny. I absolutely believe that these two would like each other as friends, and have no problem with the idea that they could see each other as more than that. But the way it’s played out feels more formulaic and obligatory than the other parts of the show that echo Parks and Rec, et al. And the two of them not getting together in the finale means we’ll have to go through some more of the familiar beats before the inevitable happens. Keep in mind I’m usually a grouch on this subject — in the Parks and Rec writers room, the phrase, “Yeah, but you’re not a typical viewer” was once said to me when I complained about the pace at which Leslie and Ben’s romance was moving — but it’s basically the only part of the show that ever leaves me saying, “Oh, right. We’re back to this.”
Ted Lasso leaves me spitting mad
Finally, while I imagine I’ll have a lot more to say about Ted Lasso Season Three after the finale drops, I have to offer an objection to where things are going with Nate.
In Season Two, I remember complaining that his heel turn seemed to be happening abruptly. More recently, I rewatched most of the first season with my wife, and could see the seeds being laid for it there, notably in the Liverpool episode, where his approach to his first big speech to the team is to viciously roast all of the players. The guys eventually start laughing at it, but it’s just meanness for its own sake, and there are other hints beyond that scene that Nate isn’t quite the cuddly underdog he appeared to be when Ted met him.
On the other hand, I have no idea what Sudeikis and the rest of the creative team are trying to do with the character this year. In Season Two, he was so repeatedly awful, to so many different people, that a redemption arc seemed difficult, and would require both the character and the show to put in a whole lot of work to make it feel earned. And that just hasn’t happened at all. Instead, much of his screen time has been devoted to his pursuit of Jade, the standoffish hostess at his family’s favorite restaurant. If you were to watch his scenes in this week’s episode without having seen any of the show from the last season and a half, you would assume he was still the same lovable guy he seemed to be when the show began. And it sure feels as if the writers are expecting Nate’s romantic adventures to make us sympathize with him again — rather than, you know, having him actually make significant amends for all the people he treated like garbage before he quit Richmond to coach West Ham. It’s possible that some of this is coming in the home stretch. But if so, it’s going to feel awfully rushed, and make you wonder why a season where many of the episodes are coming in at an hour long couldn’t find the time to properly work up to this, rather than assuming that if Nate can win the heart of the girl who initially didn’t like him, then he obviously deserves to win back our hearts, too.
I have issues with a lot of other parts of this season, mostly notably that Keeley has been stranded on her own show, but the Nate arc feels by far the most miscalculated.
That’s it for this week! What does everybody else think?