TV Room: ‘The Plot Against America’

In Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, it’s 1940 and Hitler is rampaging across Europe. Only in America, Franklin Roosevelt is facing serious political competition: fascist sympathizer and popular hero Charles Lindbergh. A Jewish family in Newark, drawn in part from Roth’s childhood, starts realizing they may have to chose between fleeing to Canada or facing pogroms in New Jersey.

My review of HBO’s The Plot Against America, a six-part adaptation by David Simon (The Deuce, The Wire), ran at PopMatters:

in 1940, the idea of a white supremacist president in league with a fascist foreign power was hard for many to contemplate. Even a fully-fledged racist like Woodrow Wilson had not colluded with enemies abroad. And nobody truly imagined the likes of Donald Trump as president until The Simpsons Movie in 2007. It was a different time. The Wire was only in Season 3.

TV Room: ‘Watchmen’

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Regina King as Sister Knight in ‘Watchmen’ (HBO)

Damon Lindelof’s wonderfully strange and deeply political Watchmen series is more interested in exploring the further ramifications of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel than producing a faithful reenactment. It’s a high-risk move but one that appears so far to be paying off.

My article on Watchmen is at PopMatters:

The first episode, a direly ironic hour, kicks off in Tulsa during the 1921 massacre in which whites rampaged through the black neighborhood of Greenwood. Jumping to an alternate-historical 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the racially-mixed police wear masks to protect their identity from a murderous white-supremacist underground called the Seventh Kavalry (for Custer’s unit decimated at Little Big Horn), the episode uses the massacre less as plot point and more as ominous overture…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘Leaving Neverland’

The two-part, four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland premieres this weekend on HBO.

My review ran at Slant:

The only joy to be found in Leaving Neverland comes early, when director Dan Reed introduces Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck as children, before they met Michael Jackson, when the pop star was more dream than nightmare to them…

TV Room: Season 2 of ‘Ozark’

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in ‘Ozark’ (Netflix)

In the second season of Netflix’s Missouri noir Ozark, the Byrd family finds themselves being mired ever deeper in a cycle of moral compromise.

My review is at The Playlist:

Like almost every other show on Netflix, “Ozark” follows the “If Only BBC” rule. (Meaning things would have been a lot snappier if they’d lopped off two, three, even four episodes. Unless we’re talking about the new seasons of “Arrested Development,” in which case full cancellation is the only answer.) The first season started off with a hell of a setup. Early episodes were packed with grit and speed like some godsend of modern noir. Season 1 soon lost its way, not sure just how Southern Midwest gothic it wanted to go. That same schizoid attitude, a little from here and a little from there, prevails in Season 2…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘Fahrenheit 451’

Michael B. Jordan in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (HBO)

Indie director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, 99 Homes) takes a detour into the land of splashy classic literature adaptations with his take on the great Fahrenheit 451, which premieres on HBO this Saturday.

My review is at The Playlist:

There’s a lot left out in this noisy and luridly shot but thin adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel. A prescient fable about the death of the imagination and individuality in the postwar war, it imagines a world where the houses have all been fireproofed and firemen race through nighttime streets looking for books to burn..

Here’s the trailer:

Nota Bene: Margaret Atwood isn’t Getting Rich from ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Series

So even though Hulu is going into its second season of their adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, don’t assume that means piles of cash for Margaret Atwood.

In an essay about women, money, and power—and how rarely all three are allowed to align—Atwood points out that the hit series isn’t sending much money her way:

The Handmaid’s Tale television series was not my deal. I sold the rights to MGM in 1990 to make a movie – so when the TV rights were sold to Hulu, the money went to MGM. We did not have a negotiating position. I did get brought on as an executive consultant, but that wasn’t a lot of money. People think it’s been all Hollywood glamour since the TV show happened, but that’s not happening to me. But book sales have been brisk, so there’s that.

(h/t: Bookforum)

TV Room: ‘Altered Carbon’

Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk noir novels posited a future world where death is mostly a thing of the past. Everyone’s mind can be downloaded into a surgically implanted “stack” which at the point of death can then be “resleeved” into a new body of whatever gender or race one prefers. It’s a fascinating concept that Morgan mined for a hardboiled capitalist critique but is worked out for mostly action-junkie hijinks in the derivative 10-part streaming adaptation of Altered Carbon, the first novel in the series.

Altered Carbon premieres on Netflix February 2. My review is at The Playlist.

Here’s the trailer: