TV Reviews

Lena Waithe’s "Them" Exploits Black Trauma for the White Gaze

The one-note tastelessness of the drama plays into the idea that Black people are defined by their pain.

Lena Waithe’s "Them"

via Amazon Prime

Lena Waithe's highly anticipated drama series Them premiered on Amazon Prime last week — and was immediately met with criticisms that its depictions of racism vicariously exploited Black trauma.

The limited series is an anthology which promises to be the next American Horror Story. This season, Covenant, follows a 1950s Black family who move to LA during the Great Migration and are subjected to racism and violence by their white neighbors. Judging by its early trailers and advertisements, the show promised to redefine domestic terrorism and give it a new face, exposing just how deep racism is entrenched even in cities like LA.

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TV Reviews

Is Hulu's "A Teacher" Too Hot For Its Own Good?

Hulu's new drama has viewers divided.

Nick Robinson and Kate Mara in "A Teacher"

via Hulu

**Content Warning: Mentions of sexual abuse, grooming, and predation.**

There is no shortage of cultural tropes involving a high school jock lusting over his hot teacher.

From Van Halen's iconic "Hot for Teacher" to countless plots in romance novels and adult movies, we've been conditioned to see an affair between a young male student and an older female teacher as a victory for the student, not as an exploitative act of predation on the teacher's part.

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TV Reviews

Snoke clones? Palpatine? "The Mandalorian" | Season 2, Episode 4

Carl Weathers directs Season 2's most revealing chapter yet

The Mandalorian | Season 2 Official Trailer | Disney+

"Chapter 12: The Siege" premiered Friday, November 20 on Disney+.

Before getting into spoilers, let's discuss the episode's set up. Din Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, and Baby Yoda are en route to the forest planet of Corvus to find Ahsoka Tano. Their ship remains badly damaged from the events of the previous two episodes, so they decide to take a detour for repairs. Okay, it's spoiler time!

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If you have a half-baked, tired idea for a movie or TV show of any kind, Netflix would probably be interested in making it and making it fast.

In 2018, the streaming giant released nearly 1500 hours of original content, and at the pace they're going, that number is only going to increase in 2019. Their original content strategy appears to revolve around one simple hierarchy: quantity over quality. With far and away the most options of any streaming platform, Netflix apparently thinks that the way to make a hit show is to make every show. Whatever you're looking to put on and ignore while you cook dinner or try to fall asleep, Netflix has it!

One of Netflix's newest original offerings, Trinkets, is thankfully about something other than superheroes. But that's not to say it isn't trying hard to engage in another one of today's hottest trends: the teen coming-of-age story. Between Big Mouth, PEN15, Eighth Grade, Sex Education, and Booksmart, the hormonal adolescent is having a moment on the big and small screens. Trinkets offers an age-old premise: 16-year-old Elodie (played by Brianna Hildebrand) is forced to move to a new town and a new school after the death of her mother, joining her previously-distant father and his new family in their idyllic American home. And she's, of course, pretty angsty about it all. The show diverges slightly from this familiar set-up when it's quickly revealed that Elodie is gay and a kleptomaniac. The show's action focuses primarily on the unlikely friends Elodie finds in her Shoplifters Anonymous group, two fellow high schoolers named Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell) and Moe (Kiana Madeira).

The idea of kleptomania as a psychological affliction and coping mechanism is relatively fresh territory for a show to explore, and while Tabitha and Moe are, for the most part, exhausting teenage stereotypes of the cool girl and the tough girl, their friendship with Elodie offers several sweet and genuine moments. Additionally, the inclusion of live performances from magnetic singer/songwriter Kat Cunning, who played Sabine, were definite highlights. Unfortunately, the show stumbles over itself at almost every other turn. The shoplifting that brought the girls together soon becomes a peripheral issue, with little of the story centering on it after the first few episodes. Additionally, the audience gets very little psychological exploration of what drives the girls to stealing, more often showing it as a cheeky form of recreation than an affliction. Instead, many of the show's most dramatic moments develop from Tabitha's abusive relationship with an almost laughably archetypal jock/bully named Brady (Brandon Butler).

The exploration of domestic abuse in high school relationships could be a poignant and important choice of subject matter, but Brady is so obviously evil and toxic that the portrayal of his abuse strikes a tired note of irredeemable movie monster. Rarely are abusers as overtly violent and manipulative as Brady is presented to be, and while cases of abuse like the one shown do decidedly exist in the real world, one can't help but think that Trinkets wasted an opportunity to portray the nuances, grey areas, and uncertainties that are so much more often part of toxic relationships.

In fact, Trinkets primarily deals in binaries and cliches throughout its first season. Elodie spins off cliche angsty teenager lines, like "I'm not hungry" and "I don't know. Out," to her well-meaning but largely clueless father. Moe (far and away the strongest actor in the series) is saddled with a tired storyline about a hard-working mother and deadbeat Dad, whose absence, of course, makes it hard for her to get close to anyone. Tabitha's father is present but a philanderer, and her mother is often too vapid to notice her daughter's unhappiness. We've seen it all a thousand times.

As the series rambles on mediocrely enough, there is a brief glimmer of well-crafted plot that almost makes up for the lackluster acting and lazy script writing: The girls, intending to retrieve something of Tabitha's from the glove box, impulsively take Brady's car for a joy ride, ultimately resulting in Elodie experiencing flashbacks to the car accident that killed her mother, causing her to wreck the car. Frantic, the trio push the car into a lake. As the girls are united by their escalating stealing problems, one thinks for a moment that the series could head somewhere interesting and even thrilling. But soon, the car is largely forgotten, only to be brought back in the final episode when Brady works out the laughably obvious string of clues pointing to Tabitha stealing the car. Faced with police intervention, the girls hardly react.

If all this wasn't disappointing enough, as Tabitha finally breaks free from Brady's grasp, she falls almost immediately into the arms of an absurdly handsome bartender from the girl's SA group. Obviously and boringly presented as the "good guy" to Brady's "bad guy," Luca (Henry Zaga) is a one-dimensional character robbed of what could be his most interesting trait: the fact that he is actively pursuing a teenager as a grown man. As a bartender, Luca has to be at least 21, and through the few brief mentions of his past, it's implied that he's not particularly new to adulthood, putting him somewhere in his mid-twenties. We see Tabitha turn 17 in the fourth episode, meaning that, legally speaking, Luca is a predator. But not only is this never a plot point, it's never even mentioned. In fact, age seems to be bizarrely besides the point throughout the series. The girls' frequent a dive bar, drink in public several times, and Elodie's eventual love interest, a chaotic but beautiful singer named Sabine, is quite obviously also a full blown adult. And once again, the age difference is never mentioned. It's as if the creators of Trinkets really wanted to make a show about young adulthood, but in order to pander to the trend of adolescent films and movies, they crammed a story about 20-somethings into the fluorescent halls of a public school, added a few parental conflicts, and shot it into the ether.

To be clear, the infuriating reason to harp so long about what Trinkets wasn't is because it almost lived up to its potential. Everything needed for a moving, poignant teen drama was part of the equation, but the creative team seemed to rush the math, ending up with a sum that just didn't add up. Trinkets' problem doesn't come across as one of talent or concept but of execution, making it feel likely that Netflix's quantity over quality MO is to blame for wasting what could have been an effective and moving look into the psychology of adolescent grief. But the show serves as serviceable background noise, offering familiar themes you can plug your attention in and out of without missing much while you fold laundry and scroll on social media. Maybe it doesn't matter that a clever concept was squandered by cliches and lazy choices—Netflix knows we're only half watching.

TV Reviews

"Russian Doll" is a Binge-Watching Phenomenon

The new Netflix show has millions of viewers glued to their screens.

via Russain Doll on Netflix

At a party thrown for her 36th birthday, Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne)—a wisecracking, two-packs-a-day smoking software engineer—emerges from the bathroom of her friend's apartment to Harry Nilsson's "Gotta Get Up."

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