Binge TV Reviews: THE NIGHT GRANTCHESTER and HAPPY THORNE-y KIMMY SCHMIDT
For the last two months, I’ve been binge-watching several shows and they all happened to be British series…until Kimmy Schmidt returned for her second season last Friday on Netflix. Here are some overall thoughts on these shows’ entire seasons.
The Night Manager (starts April 19 on AMC)
Based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name, this 6-episode thriller stars Tom Hiddleston as the titular hotel manager and Hugh Laurie as arms dealer Richard Roper, whom the manager is determined to take down with the help of a spy played by Broadchurch‘s Olivia Coleman.
The pilot is very good, and sets up the reason for Jonathan Pine, the manager, wanting revenge. The second ep lags a bit when Angela the spy is convincing Jonathan to work with her, then he spends time creating his legend to go undercover and gain Roper’s trust. Once he’s in, the suspense ratchets back up.
As expected, the acting is top-notch. It’s entertaining to see Laurie play a full-on villain so effortlessly, but maybe Roper’s just an extreme version of Dr. House, who was not a nice guy, either. Coleman is always welcome on my TV screen, and here she’s as tough as ever despite her character being pregnant (the pregnancy was real).
Hiddleston deftly handles Jonathan’s arc from regular guy to hesitant spy to someone who shouldn’t be messed with. And his fans should have lots to discuss when they get an eyeful of him. I’ll just leave it at that.
One of the most commendable aspects of the series is that there are no bimbos, even when showcasing rich businessmen and their arm candy. The women are more substantial than how they first appear.
I’d never seen Elizabeth Debicki before her performance as Roper’s lover Jed, but standing at almost six foot three, she’s a towering presence. Jed and Jonathan were responsible for Mr. PCN and me screaming at the TV because they do some dumb things, but for the most part, the story and direction are solid.
Nerd verdict: Tense Night
Grantchester season 2 (PBS, Sunday nights)
This series, based on the novels by James Runcie, is as cozy as a warm blanket on a rainy day. Most of its charm comes from James Norton’s portrayal of vicar Sidney Chambers, a charismatic do-gooder who reveals rougher edges this season. His friendship with DI Geordie (Robson Green) is strained due to a disagreement on a case that serves as the seasonal arc, though the two also solve standalone mysteries each episode.
Sidney becomes more interesting as more colors are shown, but I found some of Geordie’s actions troubling, especially in the second ep when he allows torture of a suspect. I thought the friendship should’ve been more strained, because I couldn’t imagine Sidney continuing to hang out with a man he saw being cruel.
Al Weaver as Leonard and Tessa Peake-Jones as the housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire, continue to delight as they get their own personal arcs. Morven Christie, however, has less to do this season as Sidney’s childhood friend Amanda.
Though now married, Amanda continues to visit Sidney but she isn’t well integrated into the storylines. It’s as if the producers were contractually obligated to include the actress in a minimum number of scenes per episode, but they weren’t required to give her anything to do. The season finale will probably make most fans cheer, but I didn’t think it was a good idea.
Nerd verdict: Bucolic Grantchester
Happy Valley season 2 (Netflix)
As much as I adore James Norton in Grantchester, I loathe his character in Happy Valley, and that’s a testament to the actor’s talent. He sports a closed-shaved head this season as rapist/murderer Tommy Lee Royce, the polar opposite of Sidney Chambers. Tommy seduces/brainwashes a vulnerable woman to help him get back at police sergeant Catherine Cawood for what she did to him last season.
The woman, Frances, is played by Shirley Henderson, perhaps best known as Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter movies. She may look harmless but she insidiously causes emotional damage in Catherine’s relationship with her grandson.
What makes Catherine a riveting character is that she’s surprising. There were moments when I expected her to explode in anger—heck, I probably would have—but she instead proceeds with kindness or uses an approach that’s more effective with a suspect than intimidation tactics. She’s very good at her job, and so is Sarah Lancashire, who plays her.
Also returning is Charlie Murphy as Ann Gallagher, now a rookie cop while still dealing with the aftermath of last season’s events. Ann is smart and more resilient than people expect, and Murphy is wonderful to watch, but when Ann develops an interest in a much older man with no clear redeeming qualities, my heart sank. Ann could do so much better.
Nerd verdict: Gripping Valley
Downton Abbey‘s Julian Fellowes adapted Anthony Trollope’s novel into this series starring Tom Hollander as a 19th-century country doctor raising his niece Mary alone after her father—Thorne’s brother—dies. (Mary was conceived during an affair and her mother, married to a man other than Thorne’s brother, was forced to abandon her.)
Mary and her childhood friend Frank are in love, but Mary is destitute and Frank’s mother forbids him to marry her. His family desperately needs money to save their estate, so Frank’s mother wants him to hook up with an older American heiress instead. Complications ensue, but since there are only 3 episodes, plotlines are resolved quickly. The story is predictable, but the journey is entertaining and the ending is satisfying.
Just like how James Norton makes me adore him in one series and detest him in another, Tom Hollander is nasty in The Night Manager but sympathetic here as the wise doctor. You won’t find guys like Norton and Hollander (and Hiddleston) always playing the same character the way some actors do.
I was surprised to discover Stefani Martini has only one prior credit on IMDb before playing Mary. She has talent and a graceful screen presence; I bet she’ll rack up more credits soon.
It’s dismaying to see Alison Brie play American heiress Miss Dunstable, a woman considered a homely spinster. The actress is 33 but looks like someone in her late 20s and she’s attractive. At least Miss Dunstable is confident and sharp witted, and Brie seems to have enjoyed playing the character quite a bit.
Nerd verdict: Predictable but enjoyable Thorne
Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt season 2 (Netflix)
Instead of being all stressed about taxes last Friday, I was squealing with joy because new episodes of Kimmy Schmidt became available. Of course I watched all 13 eps in one day.
Season 2 is even quirkier, with non-sequitur jokes coming fast and furious. You might have to do much rewinding to catch them all. Not all the jokes landed, but when they did, I laughed loud and long.
The good things:
Kimmy is finally dealing with her bunker experience. The process is very funny, but her breakthroughs do have emotional truths.
Titus has a new boyfriend named Mikey and the two are really sweet together, despite Titus’s efforts to sabotage the relationship because he fears happiness.
Tina Fey has a prominent role as a drunk lady who meets Kimmy and ends up making a difference in Kimmy’s life. This role is much funnier than Fey’s Marcia Clark-like character from last season.
One episode features several songs that sound like popular songs but aren’t, so that producers can avoid pesky copyright issues. So we get Dusk Mountie singing “Brother Baptist” instead of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” and “I’m Convinced I Can Swim” in place of “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Titus sings more this season, and his voice is astounding.
Dong is back, and still not speaking in anything close to a Vietnamese accent. It just sounds like some generic Asian accent. Imagine someone using a vague European accent to play an Italian character. Hey, as long as the accent comes from somewhere on the continent, that’s good enough. Don’t bother getting specific or anything. And when Dong speaks Vietnamese? Forget about it. I couldn’t understand a word and had to read the subtitles. Why is it so hard to do some research and represent Vietnamese people accurately?
At one point, Titus does a one-man show in yellow face. I might have to write a whole other post to address that and Scarlett Johansson playing Japanese in Ghost in the Shell.
Carol Kane’s subplot involving Lilian fighting gentrification of her neighborhood is not funny. i can’t get behind her rejecting recycling and thinking graffiti is good. I guess that makes me one of the hipsters Lillian dislikes.
Nerd verdict: Still funny, still flawed