The last 'Last of Us' of Season One
Plus, 'Swarm,' 'Lucky Hank,' and 'The Mandalorian' takes a detour
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as we play a round of Boggle…
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Love at the end of the world
I was out sick for a good chunk of this week, which means I covered fewer of the shows than I intended to. (More on one of them in a bit.) I’m very glad, then, that I was able to pay tribute to that fantastic The Last of Us finale with my last Season One recap for it. What a show that turned out to be. As a reminder, the comments are a place where it’s okay to talk about spoilers from the TV show, but not spoilers from the game, for those of us who are only watching the series.
Stan in the place where you live
The one new show I was able to review is Swarm, a limited series starring Dominique Fishback from The Deuce as a violently obsessive fan of a Beyoncé-esque pop star, now available to stream in its entirety on Amazon. I was very curious to see Donald Glover’s first series after Atlanta — in this case, one co-created and run by fellow Atlanta alum Janine Nabers. Swarm, though, feels like a case study in how the “each episode can feel like it belongs on a wildly different show from the one before it” Atlanta approach doesn’t always work. Fishback is wonderful, and there are some great moments and even episodes in here, but Swarm on the whole feels a lot messier than Nabers and Glover’s previous show, for reasons I get into further in that review.
I don’t want to say that this week’s The Mandalorian was Jon Favreau’s attempt to ape the success of Andor. First, what little we know of streaming ratings suggests that Andor’s audience is notably smaller than for the other Disney+ Star Wars shows. And second, these seasons are produced way in advance of airing, so Favreau may not have even seen Andor (which comes from an unrelated creative team) before co-writing “The Convert.” That said, it was hard not to feel some Andor vibes from this spotlight on Dr. Pershing, and on what life in the New Republic is like for reformed Imperials. I don’t know that it all worked, as I talked about in my recap, but I appreciated the effort to do something different. If anything, I might have dropped the Mando/Bo/Grogu stuff altogether to make this one a bit tighter, and then return to all the Way in the next episode.
Bob Odenkirk, funny straight man
Finally, the health stuff got in the way of a review of Lucky Hank, AMC’s series adaptation of Richard Russo’s Nineties comic novel Straight Man, about the midlife crisis of an English professor at a second-rate Pennsylvania college. Russo is one of my favorite authors, and Straight Man one of his best — and a significant departure from the more thematically unified likes of Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls. And Bob Odenkirk is an excellent choice to play the title character, William Henry Devereaux Jr.
But even if I had had time to write a full review, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Lucky Hank. So much of what makes the book work is Russo’s comic voice, where the incidents are much less funny than the language he uses to describe them. The show, adapted by Paul Lieberstein from The Office and TV drama vet Aaron Zelman, doesn’t really capture that; there are even periodic voiceovers by Odenkirk that try, but they don’t quite land. So it’s mostly a low-stakes dramedy about the petty beefs of faculty and students in academia, with some good performances — particularly by Odenkirk, by Mireille Enos as Hank’s wife Lily (an underwritten role that she makes extremely likable), and Shannon DeVido as a professor who is so over all the stupid drama in the English department — but that hasn’t quite coalesced overall. AMC was only able to give critics the first two episodes, so maybe I’ll write something longer later in the season after I’ve seen more.
That’s it for this week! Please subscribe, share, etc. And, as always, what did everybody else think?
Two things. First, Lieberstein was a disaster as the showrunner on The Office so I'm not surprised Lucky Hank doesn't work. Second, The Last of Us finale was just another zombie apocalypse "everyone is evil" trope. How the heck do the Firefly doctors know that the only way to generate the cure was to cut open Ellie's head? Maybe they could take some time and see if there were alternatives before ruthlessly killing her? It's not like there's a time crunch here.
Wow, I thought The Mandalorian this week was really bad. Neither Pershing nor Kane are inherently interesting characters and while I don't mind the idea of this show using its occasionally episodic structure to take digressions outside of Din's latest quest, showing how the New Republic was in fact bad just felt jarring and like a long tangent. Maybe if I were remotely invested in either character from their appearances in previous seasons, this would have worked. Instead it felt like a lot of time with the equivalent of Nikki and Paolo.