Amazon Prime brings us a Pandemic show that has its ups and downs.
It’s an anthology of sci-fi stories with each episode being composed (mostly) of a single character. They range from a time-traveler talking to herself, an older woman venturing alone into the edges of space, a man meeting his double, a woman who doesn’t remember why she’s in a waiting room, to a woman who hasn’t left her home in twenty years because of a pandemic. The themes often involve death, time, or, weirdly, farting. The stars are: Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Nicole Beharie, Dan Stevens, and Morgan Freeman.
So, when this show started, I really liked the first episode. After all, it’s Anne Hathaway talking to herself and Anne Hathaway is just so darn fun and charming that adding more of her is still a great time. The jokes can be a bit hackneyed, but, again, when Anne Hathaway is being hackneyed, she does it with such sincerity that you really believe it and you’ll laugh even at jokes about 2019 pop culture. The second episode, though, blew me away. Not only is Anthony Mackie hilarious when talking to himself, when it comes time to do the dramatic moments, he makes you feel it. He feels like a man genuinely trying to convey how much he values his family and how much he regrets not doing it sooner. He’s trying to tell himself about what made his life great and that it wasn’t what he expected. It broke me a bit, to be honest.
Unfortunately, while the rest of the episodes continue to bring great performers out, it seems like the scripts started running dry after that. A lot of jokes are kind of repeated (So. Many. Fart. Jokes.), a lot of the themes get run into the ground, and, honestly, the show starts relying too much on the settings rather than just using them to explore human emotions. Uzo Aduba’s episode, which focuses on a woman who has been living in her house since a global pandemic mandated isolation, might have been funny but it really hit too close to home right now.
Overall, the show itself isn’t the best thing out there, but you really should watch the first two episodes. The second one for sure.
We get a full-on Covid-19 film and it’s… not great.
Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) are romantic partners for roughly a decade and they were starting to break up when Covid-19 causes London to lockdown. Paxton drives a delivery truck due to a criminal record from his youth and Linda works for a major fashion company whose chairman (Ben Stiller) forces her to lay off most of her co-workers at the beginning of lockdown. Having formerly worked at Harrods, she is put in charge of emptying the inventory of the department store during the first few weeks of the pandemic. At the same time, Paxton’s boss, Malcolm (Ben Kingsley), forges a new ID for Paxton so that he can do runs during lockdown, including Harrods. Realizing their schedules sync up, Linda hatches a plan for the two to steal a multimillion dollar diamond from a war-criminal and, in the process, their spark reignites.
This movie was, apparently, written on a dare in July of last year. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t make great work over a dare or a bet, nor that great work can’t happen over a short period, but it seems like doing a film about Covid while still dealing with Covid was always a recipe for disaster. Some of the situations in the film honestly make me bitter and angry at how optimistic we might have been about humanity at the beginning of this pandemic. Every mask-less person and prediction that lockdown will only be a few months made me want to scream. Also, and maybe it’s due to the way it had to be filmed, but this film seems wildly disjointed. It’s like it’s two movies crammed together badly, which, while a decent metaphor for the situation of the leads, does not work well as a narrative.
During the opening act, I was genuinely enjoying the movie, for the most part. The idea of being ready to break up with someone just as you are now literally forced to stay with them, and only them, for a long period is pretty great as a set-up for a romantic comedy. We get a ton of funny interactions between characters over Zoom, particularly involving Paxton’s brother David (Dule Hill) and his wife, Maria (Jazmyn Simon). Maria and Linda apparently had a sexual encounter a few months earlier and the way they talk is hilarious. The fact that both Paxton and Linda are kind of falling apart is, mostly, entertaining, and both Ejiofor and Hathaway are great performers that bring a lot of humor to the awkwardness. They have good chemistry when they’re together, but, weirdly, I don’t feel like they’re deeply attracted to each other. It’s just that the two clearly like to banter. When that’s what’s happening, I think the movie was pretty funny.
Unfortunately, the film had to have a plot, so we get the weirdest heist set-up ever. It’s completely a crime of opportunity that has to be literally given to the pair. They are, without their knowledge, both set-up to move a diamond that’s worth a fortune. The diamond will, and Linda is told this up-front, be put into a vault and kept locked for 50 years or so, completely unseen. No one will even inspect it before it’s locked away. It’s also revealed that the diamond is bought by a mass murdering dictator (or possibly a former US President) who literally had to use a third party anonymously because Harrods wasn’t going to sell to them. So, no moral quandary. The entire “heist” consists of switching the diamond for the fake display diamond which they were going to have to throw away. There’s no security, really, because Covid. It’s amazing how uninteresting this theft is and, honestly, it just feels like they kind of meander through it. It’s just not that interesting.
Overall, it’s not a great film, but it has a number of good bits and the Zoom parts do kind of capture how fucked up the world is during the pandemic. Still, maybe just rewatch Point Break if you want a heist involving two people with great sexual chemistry.
Amazon gives us a series of interesting portraits of love in the modern world.
It’s an anthology, people. I can’t summarize every episode without kind of ruining the surprise. Just know that each of the stories focuses on something about love between people. Mostly romantic, but not always.
Eh, fine, here’s a 1 sentence summary of each episode:
WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN
A woman (Cristin Miloti) has a doorman (Laurentiu Possa) who’s a gatekeeper for more than just her building.
WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST
A woman (Catherine Keener) interviewing a tech billionaire (Dev Patel) about his lost love (Caitlin McGee) reveals her own (Andy Garcia).
TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM
A bipolar (Anne Hathaway) woman tries to have a relationship with a guy (Gary Carr), despite her condition getting in the way.
RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE
A married couple (Tina Fey and John Slattery) start to realize that they might not be meant to last, but don’t want to quit.
AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY
Two people on their second date (Sofia Boutella and John Gallagher, Jr.) get a crash course in each other after an injury derails their evening.
SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?
A young woman (Julia Garner) tries to replace her father with an older co-worker (Shea Wigham), but he misunderstands her attention.
HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE
A couple (Andrew Scott and Brandon Kyle Goodman) tries to adopt a baby from a homeless woman (Olivia Cooke).
THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP
A woman (Jane Alexander) who found a new love (James Saito) late in life takes a run around the rest of the series in his memory.
The upside of the show is that it’s an anthology, so if you don’t like an episode, you can still try the next one and it’ll be different. The downside is that it’s an anthology and if you really like the way an episode is done, the next one is probably going to go a different way. The episodes, though they all focus on love, are varied in style and also in their focal interpretation of love. Since love comes in all different colors, flavors, shapes, sizes, sexes, Tex-Mexes, and Shrekses (guess what I’m drinking? Hint: Whisky), that also means that a creator is pretty much allowed to justify whatever interpretation they want to put into their story. Apparently, each of these stories were taken from a column published in The New York Times every week, but I have to confess that I don’t think I ever read it, even when I read the paper. Not that I don’t enjoy a good love story, I just never did.
The quality of the episodes also varies a lot, although, on balance, I thought the series was pretty good. I do admit the finale montage is weird to me. Since there were only eight episodes, it seems kind of unnecessary to spend a bunch of time recapping the series, particularly since the clips don’t really interact, so they don’t give us a ton more perspective on the characters. They could just as easily have added the post-credits epilogues to the actual episodes and maybe spent ten more minutes on the narrative of the last story.
So, since I don’t want to spoil the show too badly, I’m going to do a 1-2 sentence review of each episode, in ascending order of quality.
8) SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?
This story is super creepy and includes a girl trying to force herself to sexually fantasize about her fake father figure, which is double creepy. Emmy Rossum directed this, and it’s only a slight step up from Dragonball Evolution.
7) AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY
Two good actors are absolutely ruined by stilted dialogue and pacing taken from a silent film. The ending feels forced, as do a lot of the moments of supposed clarity.
6) THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP
The story of finding a second love late in life is adorable, but too much is wasted on the series recap. Still, it was cute.
5) RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE
Tina Fey and John Slattery are great, but honestly it has a melancholy that never feels either closed or cemented as unending to me.
4) WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST
A cute story, but even with the epilogue, the story just doesn’t feel like it’s that significant.
3) TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM
By far the most artistic episode, the representation of Bipolar may not be accurate, but it does make the condition more relatable. Also, Anne Hathaway’s breakdown is just damned heartbreaking.
2) HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE
This one is the most complex story in terms of characterization and Andrew Scott’s performance is just damned perfect.
1) WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN
The person who requested I review this series said that if I don’t end my review of this episode with “I cried like a tiny child,” then I have no soul. Well, I may have no soul, but I definitely cried like a tiny child.
I hope they keep this show going. Even though some of the episodes weren’t great, I think they’ve got a lot of stuff left that they could cover.