These newsletters... they're trying to murder me
'The Recruit,' 'The White Lotus' Season Two, 'Kindred,' another HBO Max implosion, and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I stare at you lustfully while crossing an isthmus…
What’s Alan Writing?
On Monday, I wrote about The White Lotus finale, which I felt was by far the high point of a mostly disappointing second season. (I expressed my overall and specific concerns back at the start of the season.) I was surprised to see so much pushback, not so much by people who enjoyed the whole thing (as there was still a lot to enjoy), but from those who said they preferred it to Season One (which I felt had a much better balance of tones, and also didn’t have a complete dud of a story like this one did with the Di Grasso men). But what fun would it be if we all had the same opinions about everything?
I also reviewed Kindred, the FX-on-Hulu adaptation of Octavia Butler’s beloved book about a young Black woman who keeps traveling back in time to a slave plantation in early 19th century Maryland. I liked relatively unknown lead Mallori Johnson a lot, but the execution of the plantation scenes is pretty bad; a show like this should not have me constantly wishing we could get back to the present-day framing sequence, you know?
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Odds and/or Ends
For the sixth year in a row, Joe Posnanski and Mike Schur made the mistake of inviting me to participate in the holiday draft on their baseball/ephemera podcast, The PosCast. Joe runs through the history of the draft here. This year’s theme was holiday lyrics, and you can listen to it here. All I will say is that there are years when I play things straight and years when I unleash my inner troll for the sake of the audience (if not for my fellow drafters). This was not a year where I played things straight.
David Zaslav’s reign of terror over the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery continued this week. First, HBO Max canceled Minx, a comedy I found charming (even if it still had a lot of room to grow). This was even more savage than most of the recent trend of un-renewals (RIP, GLOW), because the second season was almost completed when the axe fell. (On the plus side, because it was produced by Lionsgate rather than Warner, the outside studio is being allowed to shop both seasons elsewhere.) Then, word came out that Max would be dropping several more titles (following a purge earlier this year that included Vinyl). Most notable among those: Westworld, which once upon a time was a huge hit for HBO, and The Nevers, whose remaining six episodes will now debut on whatever outside service buys the streaming rights, I guess? The individual choices aren’t hugely troubling (though The Nevers’ midseason finale at least left me curious if the show could fix itself post-Whedon), but the larger moves are. They speak to the financial mess that has been this particular corporate merger — and the disastrous AT&T/Warner merger that led to it — and Zaslav not caring who he pisses off in the scripted TV and film community. My buddy Joe Adalian, as usual, took a more level-headed look at the reason behind these moves, and suggests that this is probably the last such bloodletting, since the financial benefit of memory-holing shows and films goes away after this year. It’s amazing, though, how quickly new management took HBO Max from “Wait, is this in fact the best streaming service by far?” to “What the hell is happening over there?” (Also, there are rumors that when the service merges with Discovery+, the name will be shortened to simply “Max,” which is a grave insult to HBO Max himself.) And the notion that streaming services can no longer be counted on to carry everything that particular corporation owns is yet another reminder of the value of physical media, kids.
Every now and then, I wind up watching an entire season of television and not writing about it. Sometimes, it’s because I simply have nothing to say; this happened a while back with the second season of The Politician, where my opinion did not appreciably shift from how I felt about the first. In other instances, though, I just don’t have the time.
Case in point: The Recruit, a new Netflix spy drama created by Alexi Hawley (The Recruit), starring Noah Centineo as a young CIA lawyer who gets pulled into a complicated and dangerous case involving a former intelligence asset (played by Laura Haddock) who is threatening to release Agency secrets if she’s not sprung from prison. I watched the whole thing, and knew more or less what I would say in a review, but then other work obligations cropped up unexpectedly and I had to move on.
So here is the one-paragraph version: The Recruit is very much a USA drama circa 2010 or so, but I happened to watch a lot of USA dramas circa 2010 or so — including Covert Affairs, another spy show produced, like this one, by Doug Liman. It’s lightweight, but executed pretty well, especially in the Liman-directed first two episodes. (Even on a smaller budget and a TV schedule, the guy who made Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow knows how to stage action.) As a performer, Centineo (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) is often at risk of just seeming smug; Hawley and Liman use that to their advantage by presenting his character as a cocky kid who keeps barreling into situations he doesn’t realize he’s not equipped to handle until it’s too late. It’s charming, it has a good supporting cast (including Vondie Curtis-Hall as Centineo’s disapproving boss, and Kristian Bruun from Orphan Black as a coworker who is perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown), and it moves briskly. (In addition to the overall pacing, most episodes clock in around 45 minutes.) It’s far from perfect, particularly in its attempts to integrate the espionage stories with material about Centineo being roommates with his ex-girlfriend (Fivel Stewart from Atypical), and in its attempts to go deeper into the psyche of its main character. But for the most part, it knows what it is and how to do what it wants to do. I had an inkling about the other work obligation after I’d only watched two of the eight episodes, and I could have just stopped then until I knew for sure that I couldn’t review it. But I was having a good enough time that I kept going — albeit usually while multitasking, which was the same way I watched Covert Affairs, Burn Notice, et al back in the day. Very much a case of “If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing.”
That’s it for this week!
I think most people like season 2 of White Lotus better because it was just more fun to watch. Season 1 was definitely more refined but the characters just weren't as interesting.
I also think the location had a lot to do with it as well - Hawaii is beautiful but there was something magical about Taormina and the Italian scenery. The cinematography of this season was fantastic.
Thanks for bringing these musings back in addition to Rolling Stone. (If one could only get Poznanski on Substance - Dayen and now Alan Sepinwall too - Dayernu - as someone used to say.) In addition to the headlines perhaps you'll bring back your photo array teasers. Those were fun. Also thanks for an occasional account of what I have heard referred to as "folding your socks" shows like the Recruit. (Being myself older I'm sorry to admit that I more often watch the older done in an episode with a sprinkling of serial arc shows. Old enough indeed to come back to Elementary episodes and find them fresh.) Have you kept up with Doctor Who at all. Interested in your thoughts one way or the other.