Spring Television – With a Bit Less Spring

I apologize for these late entries, many of which have been on for a while, but they were new when I watched them. There was definitely a lack of urgency to them either because of a lack of originality or a lack of originality. Some are worth a sample, others are also-rans, and in some cases, they are “run away as fast as you can.”

“Haven of Grace” is an almost ran. Set in present day Le Havre in Northern France, it follows a long-time longshoreman and union organizer, Pierre Leprieur, whose mission has been to curb drug trafficking on the docks. It has been a losing proposition and one with no winners, only losers. Workers are pitted against workers, everyone is a suspect and time will show that no one is innocent. Pierre’s oldest son is a self-made businessman whose success is ignored by the family. He has a wife and children but because his past life involved drugs, his parents disdain his efforts. They are much more accommodating to their youngest son Jean who is a petty drug dealer still living with them. When the cops inevitably come calling, his mother, who has always known his every move, finds his stash and flushes it. Saved from the police, he is less than happy because now he has nothing to repay his supplier.

“Haven of Grace” is an old fashioned pot boiler and melodrama jazzed up with drugs, adultery, human trafficking and complex characters. A very conflicted Pierre is at the center of it all. Even after he is murdered he continues to be the voiceover narration. Although there are many loose ends and, spoiler alert, no one comes out for the better, it is engaging and worth a try. Now streaming on MHz Choice.


Riley Keough andLily Gladstone (Under the Bridge)
Photo by Darko Sikman courtesy of Hulu

“Under the Bridge” is a limited true crime series based on the book by Rebecca Godfrey, telling the story about the murder of 14 year old Reena Virk in Victoria, Canada. Showing the seamy side of this idyllic seaside town, the power politics exercised by the juvie queen bees who run the high school are examined as the crime is dissected by Rebecca Godfrey who grew up in this environment. She’s returned to write a book about living in a backwater as a teen. She gets caught up in the affairs of Josephine, a bad girl in foster care with a fixation on John Gotti. Josephine has an entourage including Kelly, a girl with questionable values from the “right side of the tracks” and Briana, locked up in care when she held a knife to the throat of one of her young cousins. In other words, these are bad players. The murder victim, Reena, was miserable in every imaginable way. Of South Asian origin, raised by Jehovah’s Witness parents (the family converted years ago) who are clueless to her difficulties, Reena has never fit in and desperately wants to. She longs to be a bad girl but every step is wrong. She is the quintessential outsider who is willing to go to enormous lengths to fit in with Josephine’s group.

This is all fodder for Godfrey whose return to town has stirred up emotions on another front. Her high school bestie, Cam Bentland, is now a local cop itching for Vancouver, the big city. She followed her adopted father into the force and he has been quietly trying to guide her. There is history between Rebecca and Cam that is not being addressed.

As you can see, there is definitely a story here between the past history, the murder, the adolescent psychopathology and the mystery. Not only are two very good actors wasted, Riley Keough as Rebecca Godfrey and Lily Gladstone as Cam Bentland, but the writer’s insistence on going backwards and forwards in time, telling the stories of Reena and her family only muddies an already muddled story. This is a tale that could have been told effectively and well in a maximum of three or four episodes (we didn’t need to know how Reena’s parents met), instead it was told in a confusing and bloated eight episodes. Here, in essence, is what might have worked: Reena is a lonely teen with no common sense who hooks up with the wrong crowd, betrays them and is murdered. The cops, following a trail alive with clues and wrong doers who weren’t silent about their complicity, solve the case after many missteps and bring it to trial where everyone turns on everyone else. An arrogant Rebecca gets swept up in the case and takes the wrong side, making it more difficult for Cam. I hope Rebecca’s book was better than the series. Streaming on Hulu.

“Sight Unseen” should remain as such. It would appear that the “C” in CW now stands for Canada because “Sight Unseen” is yet another import. Det. Tess Avery (Dolly Lewis) is a Vancouver detective who slowly realizes that she is losing her vision. It becomes crystal clear (I really can’t help using those obvious allusions) when she was too unsure of her target to take a shot at a bad guy, endangering her partner. Unknown to him, he’d have been in danger either way. She continues on the police force trying to hide her affliction until she no longer can. Who knew that there was actually an app that could help; in essence, a seeing eye guide, Sunny, with whom she connects over the internet. Using the camera on her phone to show Sunny the environment, Sunny leads her to safety every time and helps her solve crimes even after Tess has resigned her position as an active duty cop. Preposterous? Absolutely. Amazingly this isn’t the first time such a scenario has been tried.

No less than Steven Bochco, in “Blind Justice” (2005) explored how an NYPD cop, blinded in the line of duty, could solve crimes and remain an ace detective. Even with an accomplished star like Ron Eldard, he never got beyond incredulity. Better yet, and still not effective, was an early series starring Clive Owen called “Second Sight.” His detective was losing his sight but covering it up so he could maintain his status as the head of an elite Murder squad. Of course he uses all his other senses to solve the seemingly insoluble, but it was still too much of a stretch. More realistic were the characters Dana Elcar played (as a series regular on “MacGuyver” and a guest appearance on “Law & Order”) as he was going blind from glaucoma. In his case, his affliction was written realistically into the script.

I never thought I would long for the days of the superhero shows on the old CW, but series like “Sight Unseen” are pushing me there. Episodes play on Wednesdays.

“Dinner with the Parents” is a throwback to the sitcoms that Network television produced (and still does). It’s a launch pad for Amazon and their new ad-based model. Even with known quantities in the cast, Michaela Watkins (“SNL”), Dan Bakkedahl (“Veep”) and Carol Kane (“Taxi”), this ship was sunk before it left the harbor. Two grown men, brothers, have dinner at their parents’ house on a weekly basis where they never fail to embarrass themselves, although it is the older, David, who continues to be the butt of his younger brother Gregg’s jokes. Their sibling rivalry is juvenile, but then that is the point.

Like all situation comedies, there is a situation and the act of trying to escape it is where the comedy lies (or should); hence, situation comedy. This is definitely not Lucy at the chocolate factory or even Jed Clampett at a formal dinner party. Would that they were. If you are in need of mindless entertainment, then by all means tune in to “Dinner with the Parents.” I watched two episodes and, alas, I’m never getting that hour back. Streaming now on Amazon Prime.


Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

“Palm Royale” is the coup de grace of bad shows. The premise is pretty good. Former small-time beauty queen Maxine (played by Kristen Wiig), who married one of the judges, arrives in Palm Beach, where her husband, Douglas Dellacorte Simmons, grew up as part of the royal Dellacorte family. Her life’s ambition? A ringside seat at the circus that was the apex of society, or at least it was in 1969. Maxine, heart on her sleeve, crashes the country club by climbing over the wall and attempts to insert herself into the inner circle. When her ploy is discovered by the bartender (a very stiff Ricky Martin), she is escorted out, figuratively beaten but unbowed. Returning to their tiny apartment in West Palm Beach, she plots anew. Somewhere along the line she lands a daytime gig looking after Douglas’s comatose aunt Norma Dellacorte, the still acknowledged leader in that society and founder of the “Beach Ball,” the event that caps off the summer season. Nothing will stand in Maxine’s good old girl wrong side of the tracks way and it’s off to the club again. Learning the secrets of the inner circle, she is able to use them to gain membership in the club; the money she can pilfer from her barely living charge Norma. Each episode brings with it more shenanigans, affairs, cheating, lying and schemes.

The cast is unbelievably stellar including Allison Janney as Evelyn Rollings, the queen bee of this society and Maxine’s leading nemesis; Laura Dern as Linda Shaw, Rollings hippy step daughter (in a nice bit of guest casting, Bruce Dern plays her father); Julia Duffy and Leslie Bibb play members of the inner circle; Mindy Cohn is the gossip rag’s lead writer with a nose for dirt; Josh Lucas as Douglas and Carol Burnett as the comatose Norma. A truly dream cast all of whom have great comedic chops, all of whom are wasted here.

Writer/creator Abe Sylvia (“Eyes of Tammy Faye”) was intent on making a satire, not just of society but of all the tropes of the late 60s, including feminism, consciousness raising and politics. He forgot one thing, though—humor. Every character is played so over the top and stereotypic that the funny was left behind. Wiig’s Maxine is the proverbial dumb blonde except that she really is dumb. It’s not that the various actions by each of the characters doesn’t have the potential to be funny, it’s just that every effort is like a hammer to the head, just in case you missed the joke in the first place. It’s hard to pinpoint where this failed because the elements were all there for humor and some of the actors are able to transcend the poor writing and overly frenetic pace. Allison Janney almost pulls off the hauteur of her character and Carol Burnett, comatose almost throughout, hits the right somnolent notes as she allegedly lies on her deathbed. Unfortunately Kristen Wiig plays Maxine like an overly broad Saturday Night Live character in a loud sketch without nuance. Streaming now 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.

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