Three very different series premiered this week, and the only returning show of the bunch (“UnReal”) may have waited a little too long to come back after a weak season 2…
UnReal, Season 3…The show had a terrible second season, but–to me–it doesn’t look like they fully understand what the problem is: stagnant, obnoxious characters with showy pseudo-Sorkin dialogue that thinks it’s revealing more truths than it really is. Sure, they’re back with a female “suitor” this time (the charming Caitlyn Fitzgerald, best known for her thankless “Masters of Sex” role, and it’s no surprise her scene with a sincere fireman involving none of the main characters is the best of the episode), and the show may be setting up a smart destruction of corporatized, lip-service-feminism, but considering how little Quinn and Rachel have really changed, I doubt it. “Evolved” Rachel is still fine covering up murders, manipulating the tall female suitor into kissing an ultra-short jockey she has no interest in, and enabling/idolizing her obnoxious boss Quinn (Constance Zimmer, as a cross between Cruella DeVille and Joe Francis). We keep hearing that Quinn is a bad-ass boss, but she mostly just runs around like a frat boy, shouting “boom, mic drop!” when contestants do embarassing things.
I guess I’m skeptical that the “new” UnReal is any different than the old UnReal or that the near-two year hiatus will make any real difference. And that’s partly because “UnReal” is really more a miniseries that’s been stretched into a series. If “The Bachelor” is a box of magic tricks, then “UnReal” is a realist that shows you how the tricks were done. But you can only expose a trick once. At what point are you no longer making fun of “The Bachelor” and really just making a season of “The Bachelor” with a paradoxical sense of cynicism? Grade: C
McMafia…A strong premise (inside the globalized crime syndicates of the Russian mob couldn’t be more timely) is hampered by a bland main cast and the bone-dry delivery too many AMC/BBC co-productions are afflicted with. There has not been a truly great AMC series since “Breaking Bad” went off the air, and after being fooled by “Hell on Wheels,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” “TURN,” “The Son,” and “Into the Badlands” (in order of most to least satisfying), I seriously doubt the series will get better. Still, David Straitharn has a nice scene towards the end as a Russian exile living in Israel. In this world of Russian boors, his pragmatic Meyer Lansky-vibe is the most intriguing thing on display. Grade: C+
Final Space…One of the weirdest, hardest-to-classify series in recent memory…and I was totally captivated. What’s advertised as something close to a more violent “Simpsons in Space” or a slightly more expensive Adult Swim cartoon, is a worthy space epic only masquerading as a comedy. Rather than try to explain the bizarro premise and touching central friendship—between a space prisoner and cute, goofy alien that’s really a powerful weapon—you might just have to see it. Grade: A (the first episode only, but excited to see where it goes).