Spring Into Television

So much to watch! The TV series just keep coming and many of them are quite good. My viewpoint may be skewed because I don’t watch reality TV and sometimes you just know that something holds no promise because the premise is hackneyed or deliberately horrifying for no other reason than to shock. I’ll also admit that there are shows that are awful that I quit watching after an episode or two. Those come under the category of LTS (life’s too short). In no particular order, and many have already premiered, I give you the ones that shouldn’t be missed.

“Ripley,” based on the first novel of the series by the queen of noir, Patricia Highsmith, has been done twice, both times quite well. The first was titled “Purple Noon” and starred a young, preternaturally beautiful Alain Delon as Tom Ripley and the second, more recent incarnation, was Matt Damon. But neither actor was born to play the working-class grifter with high-class entitlement issues like Andrew Scott who has redefined the role of this ethically challenged young man. Filmed in nuanced black and white, achieving an on-the-nose film noir effect that makes the enclosed spaces claustrophobic, Ripley is a scam artist always one step away from capture and two steps away from the big score that will set everything right. When, serendipitously, wealthy Herbert Greenleaf mistakenly latches on to Tom as a friend of his slacker son Dickie, now living in Italy on his trust fund, he proposes a mutually beneficial arrangement. He wants Tom to convince Dickie to return home. To that end, he will pay Tom’s expenses and a stipend as he cajoles Dickie to give up Italy and come back to help run the family business.


Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf and Dakota Fanning as Marge
Photos courtesy of Netflix

Scott’s Tom is well defined. Early on, lounging in his cramped, ill-kempt bedroom, he stretches and slides his arm over the dirty wall. The very movement is louche and the smirk on his drawn features marks someone trying to avoid a rough end. This is a man who always checks the coin return on a pay phone. Even his misstep at a tailor where he chooses “the maroon” dressing gown and is corrected, it’s burgundy, says the haberdasher; the first in a constant road of lessons that he will follow, never making the same mistake twice. He knows the general strokes but needs to finesse the details.

Off he goes, new wardrobe in hand, to ingratiate himself with Dickie. Dickie’s noblesse oblige only heightens the class difference between them, but Tom is a very fast study as he silently observes, adapts and improves his demeanor. He’s not fooling Dickie’s girlfriend Marge, but Dickie takes a condescending liking to him. And all the time, Tom is watching, changing, adjusting and measuring Dickie, the man he aspires to be; the man he will become as he inserts himself further and further into this new, luxurious environment, cannibalizing everything around him. Adapter/director Steven Zallian has done the supremely difficult—he has made a villain the rooting interest of the story, helped enormously by Andrew Scott as the incredibly dark, slithering manipulator, aided immensely by Johnny Flynn as Dickie and Dakota Fanning as Marge. Now streaming on Netflix.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in “Ripley”

“Red Queen” is a thrilling Spanish series centered on the most brilliant woman in the world, the reticent Antonia Scott. Originally recruited by a member of a secret European police force to lead the organization as the “Red Queen,” she has stopped responding after an assignment goes very wrong and the collateral damage is her family. But “Mentor,” the man who found her, will not give up on his best asset and sends a disgraced police officer to bring her back into the fold. Jon Gutiérrez, recently transferred to the Madrid police force, is assigned that task. She is beautiful, a loner and supremely analytical. He wears his emotions openly, left his previous job under a cloud and is gay. Being gay itself is an unforgivable sin to his colleagues on the force. But Mentor is convinced that this pairing will work.

The son of one of the city’s most important politicians has been snatched. The kidnapper doesn’t want money and the politician won’t say what it is that he does want. When she doesn’t comply, her son is murdered ritualistically and planted on a couch to look like a damaged Ken doll.

It will be up to Antonia and Jon to try to understand what the kidnapper wants and why because a new victim has been abducted, the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur. And again, the perpetrator doesn’t want money, he wants a confession or the daughter will die, horrifically.

The crimes themselves are fascinating but it is the characters that carry this series. Antonia and Jon are unwrapped gradually. Antonia’s reticence is character trait number one, but it is her brilliance, shown subtly as observational strength, that defines her and intrigues the audience. Jon and his teddy bear appearance lull you into believing he is not her equal, but he is. His mother is his secret weapon because nothing, after all, works better than her Spanish tortilla when there is a problem to be solved. Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

“Boat Story” has a great, convoluted plot that starts when Janet and Samuel, two complete strangers, walking their dogs on a beach, happen upon a shipwreck. And lo and behold, what do they find? Two dead bodies and bags and bags and bags of cocaine. Eureka! The answer to all their problems. Janet wants custody of her son and Samuel has a major gambling debt. They’ll split it 50/50 and go their separate ways. But how do you cash in on millions in cocaine? Why, you look for local drug dealers for a start. And lucky for them, the locals are hoping to expand their territory.

Meanwhile, back in France, an exquisitely dressed gangster kingpin called “The Tailor,” who is, coincidentally, a bespoke tailor, has heard nothing about his shipment of cocaine. Where’s the product? Where’s the money? Where’s the sailor who was guiding the transport? It’s a major inconvenience but he needs to investigate on his own; so off he goes, collecting henchman Guy in the British coastal town where the ship was supposed to land.

Okay, so you’ve seen this one before but not with this cast and these twists. It’s a cross between Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino with laugh-out-loud moments mixed in with some graphic violence. Everything that can go wrong does, many times over, but somehow our out-of-her-depth heroine and not so heroic gambler always seem to pull through. Adding absurdity into the mix, the Tailor falls in love with Pat, an overweight chef who has a mobile pasty coach near the boat landing. Meanwhile, Guy is on the hunt for the cocaine and anyone getting in his way meets an unpleasant end. Janet and Samuel begin to understand that they are in mortal danger.

Yes, it’s convoluted and occasionally hard to follow, but it’s a roller coaster ride of guilty pleasure with its cartoon violence and fish-out-of-water protagonists. Janet is played by Daisy Haggard, and a finer lead actress you won’t find. She will make you gasp and laugh at the same time. Paterson Joseph as Samuel has an everyman look that is seasoned with guilt and guile. Joanna Scanlan (Pat), most recently seen in “Wicked Little Letters,” is sympathetic and incredulous with an undercoating of hilarity. Craig Fairbrass as the Tailor’s henchman Guy, steals everything but the tires from the getaway car. But it is Tchéky Karyo as the Tailor who astounds. An international star, he carries off the most absurd character with panache. Frightening, deadly and starry-eyed, he whisks you away on this journey into criminality as though he were whipping up a soufflé. Streaming now on Freevee.


Joel Edgerton in “Dark Matter”
Photos courtesy of Apple TV+

“Dark Matter” is a deep dive into alternative universes. Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) is a physics professor at a local college in Chicago, living with his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and son. It’s a pleasant life, but one full of compromises for both Jason and Daniela. She gave up being an artist and he gave up experimental lab work. A “chance” encounter with an old friend, Ryan, leads to a job offer that would bring him back to the lab in a lucrative position. It’s tempting, but not what his family needs. He returns to meet Ryan and give him his answer when he is abducted. When Jason awakens, he’s in a world that has changed dramatically. He is now the much-lauded winner of an international prize for his invention of “the box.” Still mentally in his old life, there is no Daniella and he’s surrounded by unknowns, or unknown to him. Jason doesn’t want this new, better life; he wants his old one back and strives to find it. The original players are there but all in different states. The more he learns about this new state, the more he wants the old one. His scientific colleagues, many of whom know what is happening, cannot let this happen.

This is just the beginning. An invention the original Jason toyed with, “the box,” that could transcend time is a reality in this world and may lead to his possible return or, as he comes to find, it may lead to other worlds and other Jasons. And still he just wants to return to Daniela and their son.


Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly

Production values are outstanding with lighting often dictating mood and place. Even as the plot veers constantly into sinister black holes, the actors effectively take you there, keeping you tense and locked into Jason’s troubles. Although it’s a bloated nine episodes, there are an infinity of directions for it to go. Not a fan of the genre myself, “Dark Matter” successfully kept my interest. Now streaming weekly on Apple+. 

Neely Swanson spent most of her professional career in the television industry, almost all of it working for David E. Kelley. In her last full-time position as Executive Vice President of Development, she reviewed writer submissions and targeted content for adaptation. As she has often said, she did book reports for a living. For several years she was a freelance writer for “Written By,” the magazine of the WGA West, and was adjunct faculty at USC in the writing division of the School of Cinematic Arts. Neely has been writing film and television reviews for the “Easy Reader” for more than 10 years. Her past reviews can be read on Rotten Tomatoes where she is a tomato-approved critic.

Share Post