As far as fiction writing goes, I’ve been largely stalled, going over and over the first few chapters of my next book while weeping piteously and rocking in the corner like a war-traumatized orphan. Why no, that’s not an exaggeration at all.
When it comes to watching TV, though. In that I have succeeded wildly. And so in an effort to do some sort of writing other than what I do at my day job, here are a few reviews of TV shows I’ve binged on lately.
The Sinner (Netflix)
Super hot Jessica Biel, who spends most of her time looking disheveled and depressed, stars in season 1 of this 8-episode why-did-she-do-it (as opposed to who-done-it). When she visits a crowded beach with her small son and husband, she proceeds to murderize some young guy trying to get it on with his girlfriend. Here’s the kicker: she doesn’t know why she did it. A perverted detective played by Bill Pullman digs deep to try to discover just what was going on in the head of the murderous beauty.
This moody, addictive drama peels away the layers of the murderesses’ past with patience and a sense of looming disaster. Her psychology, revealed in snatches about her family life growing up, involves a fair amount of dysfunction, especially when it comes to religion (thus the series’ title). One of my personal pet peeves is that 98 percent of the time when religious characters are shown in modern media, these characters are evil insanoids. It’s become a cliche, even. Is there no one who goes to church, a la The Andy Griffith Show, who is a decent human being? Not if modern media is to be believed.
The culmination of the mystery is a bit of a letdown but despite this every episode was strong enough that I watched the whole season within a period of 5 days.
I give this series 4 out of 5 stars, for an interesting premise, great acting, and fascinating execution. I will definitely watch the 2nd season, which has recently been announced. It will feature different characters than the 1st season.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon)
Hunky Jack Ryan, portrayed by John Krasinski, is not just a rehashing of Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan of days gone by. He’s taller, more muscly, and scarred from past traumas. He’s still super smart and not too thrilled to be cast in the action hero roll, though. Unlike in the films, he has a rocky relationship with his mentor and boss James Greer, who is as scowly and grumpy as they come. Cathy Mueller is an infectious disease specialist who becomes Ryan’s love interest. The antagonist is Mousa Bin Suleiman, a coldly intelligent Islamic terrorist who he loves his brother and his kids. He’s less fond of his doe-eyed wife Hanin, who is instantly sympathetic as a character.
The show gives equal screen time to the bad guys and the good guys, which I liked. It relies on fast-moving military action, a number of explosions, murders here and there, and various and sundry other types of violence. Tension is skillfully maintained over the first season’s 8 episodes to an emotionally satisfying, if abrupt, ending.
This gets 3 and a half stars out of 5, for great characterization and plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. If there’s a second season I will probably watch it.
On the lighter side of things is this comedy about a high-functioning autistic boy, his family, and their friends and love interests. Sam, a senior in high school with autism, is obsessed with Antarctica and its penguins. He has at least one major freakout per show, and also regularly says and does inappropriate but hilarious things. His sister Casey is perhaps the show’s strongest character as Sam’s younger sister, a track star who dresses (and wears her hair) like a 12-year-old boy from 1975, complete with striped socks. Elsa, the overprotective mother, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who at 56 years of age, does not have saggy skin or wrinkles, but does have that weird look of not entirely successful plastic surgeries. The temptation she faces by a sexy Latin bartender is a major plot point. Doug, an EMT, is Sam and Casey’s good dad and Elsa’s lackluster husband. He has as much charisma as a soggy bowl of oatmeal.
Sam’s attempts to deal with the “neurotypical” world is showed through interactions with his cute-as-a-button therapist Julia, his quirky support group filled with fellow students with autism, and his job at Techtropolis where his best friend Zahid dispenses hilariously bad advice. Girlfriend Paige is energetic, endearing, and amusing. Each character has their own distinct personality and struggles within and outside of the family during the show’s 8-episode first season and 10-episode second season.
The show gave me plenty of laughs, and an escape from the drudgery of life, so I give it 4 stars out of 5. I’ll definitely watch a third season if it continues.