The following YouTube video covers (in order) Unorthodox (Netflix), Hollywood (Netflix), Upload (Amazon Prime), Waco (Paramount Network), and Middleditch and Schwartz (Netflix). Two of these are covered in my last post. I'll cover the other three in more detail below along with "Never Have I Ever" which is a gem.
Hollywood (Netflix)-Ryan Murphy's umpteenth flashy TV show tells the story of the Golden Age of Hollywood through the memoir of (for lack of a better word) Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Bowers opened a gas station in Los Angeles after the war where he arranged for discrete sexual liaisons for a number of men and women including many closeted celebrities. He wrote about it in a tell-all book that's a loose guide here. Key word is "loose" here. Bowers story is flattened in the service of the story that Ryan Murphy and crew really want to tell which is an intersectionalist revisionist story about how great inclusion is.
The series has been unfavorably compared to Tarantino's revisionist yarns because he's not as strong of a storyteller to pull off the difficult tightrope. Aside from bad storytelling, another charge is that his often-sensationalist bents have proved offensive here as he's dishonoring Rock Hudson by completely making up his backstory. Personally, I'm more shocked by Scotty Bowers who's pimping industry was more like sex slavery: His sex workers don't have the option of refusing down jobs that make them uncomfortable. When the Scotty Bowers figure (Dylan McDermott) makes the case to one of his straight workers that he should service gay people because they have to live in the shadows and this will make them happy (yes that really happens), it's a pretty egregious conflation between the kind of sex positivity and a progressive work space.
But the series suffers more from not having a deep focus. I can push aside the blatant progressive messaging but if it's not trying to say the kinds of things that have been said a hundred times in better ways ("Glow", "Orange is the New Black," etc.), this is a show that glides on the belief that just showing people in Hollywood of yore is enough of a story. It's borderline watchable but not highly memorable.
Upload (Netflix)-I've never particularly found the idea of human consciousness particularly appealing. "Transcendence" and "Ghost in the Shell" are among my least favorite films (you'd think I would have learned my mistake the first time) out and I found the gobbledy gook about how the mind works in "Lucy" to be dull. But if the mind isn't the sole focus of the show, then we're onto something.
The basic gist is a guy dies in a version of the future where people’s consciousnesses can get uploaded into a sort-of virtual retirement community.
Waco (Paramount)-Like "People vs OJ Simpson" (one of Ryan Murphy's best projects), this story is written in history and the series is about revisiting something we already remember in the news from a distanced lens. Think prestige TV's version of I Love the 90s with better actors. And damn, this is a fine ensemble with Andrea Riseborough ("Birdman"), Paul Sparks ("Greatest Showman"), John Leguazimo, Melissa Benoist ("Glee", "Whiplash"), Keiran Culkin ("Succession") and the great Michael Shannon. At the center of it is Taylor Kitsch (Taylor who? Yeah, not sure who he is either) who plays cult leader David Koresh.
As for portraying who's the good and bad guy, the show plays it relatively even-handedly. The show makes it pretty clear that David Koresh is a non-violent person. He and his followers horde guns which serves as a relevant commentary on how many Americans west of the Mississippi view gun rights. Michael Shannon's stand-out performance as an FBI agent in charge of the negotiation is also distanced from moral judgments because he's not the person who screwed up the situation in the first place. The central question with him is whether he'll be able to defuse the situation and that's a good ingredient to a thriller.
The show also attempts to ask what made Koresh so charismatic and I didn't leave with a clear answer. On the one hand, he unilaterally makes decisions for the group and he is the only person in the compound who gets to have sex AND that includes with all the other parishioner's wives. On the flipside, he's an ace at leading bible study. So who knows? At the end of the day, I felt that there was an answer that made sense to the characters but I didn't feel like I could actually live in those characters' shoes. That might have been the difference between a good and great show.