“Hacks” (HBO Max)
I have loved Jean Smart forever; she is a brilliant, unpredictable, thoughtful actress. This season she’s been on the small screen twice: once as the cranky, difficult mom to “Mare of Easttown” and now here as Deborah Vance, an aging stand-up comic with a truly mercurial personality—funny, bitter, tender, cruel, self-centered and terrified of being “aged out” of her Las Vegas career and income. The first episode was a hoot, lots of witty one-liners galore, savage jokes, the set-up of the star and the new hire. That new hire is Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young comedy writer who lost her last job in LA and is desperate for work. The following episodes have, in my opinion, been trying to find their way, often successfully, but sometimes not. The character of Ava is hard to grasp and the actress simply doesn’t have the charisma or the chops to be an equal foil for Deborah. Mind you, there is some terrific writing … and some falls flat. A supporting cast of quirky characters, especially Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah’s majordomo, manager, all-around support system; Kaitlin Olson as Deborah’s neurotic daughter, DJ; and many others. Lucia Aniello created the show and wrote the first eight episodes. Kudos for a great idea and a mostly successful follow-through. Worth watching for sure. I mean, Jean Smart. Need I say more?
“Plan B” (Hulu) is a terrific little film about an often-controversial subject: birth control and abortion in a less-than-liberal area of a state. The setup: Two best friends in high school, Sunny (played by Kuhoo Verma), who’s been around with several guys, and Lupe (Victoria Moroles), who is straight-laced, very smart and is still a virgin. The plan: The two friends decide it’s time for Lupe to lose her chaste state. That night, she will (hopefully) let the guy she has a crush on, Hunter (Michael Provost), indoctrinate her into the world of finally becoming a woman. What happens? The wrong guy does the honors, almost by accident. The next morning is “uh-oh time,” and thus begins the 24-hour search for the morning-after pill, not available locally, and then a road trip. From beginning to end, “Plan B” is funny, moving, has extremely graphic language and is—I am told—a spot-on portrait of high school today (and my, has it changed over the past generation, and my, how it has not changed at all). Congratulations all around to writers Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy and director Natalie Morales, and to the two leading ladies—both are terrific.
“Black Spot” (Netflix)
I happened upon this import from France by accident when I was looking for another foreign language police procedural (I am hooked on all the ones from overseas and am so grateful to the streaming services for providing them). What I got was, yes, a police procedural, but one with a dark, supernatural twist that I was not looking for. I watched all of season one and am now midway into season two. In some ways, it’s simply too creepy for me, and yet… And yet. Yes, I’m hooked. You may be, too.
As I said, this is a very dark show, which has just enough lightness to it to make it bearable. But the personalities are not particularly upbeat, and the production—lots of night scenes, lots of shadows, flashlights the only illumination in huge barns and sheds—is more darkness. And then there’s the forest that surrounds the small town in rural France, a forest that goes back to the days of Roman legions and much earlier, to Celtic legends of antlered gods and monsters. As seems to be popular right now, we have a woman in charge, Detective Laurene Weiss (played by Suliane Brahimi), who is a single mother, a driven, mostly humorless woman with a trauma in her past that affects her every move both in her personal life and on the job. Her partner is a wonderful character nicknamed Teddy Bear (Hubert Delattre), who is large, bearded, hulking and gay—not closeted at all. The shows are all about grisly murders, terrifying sounds in the night, family conflicts, missing daughters. The town is run by a corrupt family and there is a suspicion of toxic waste in the water. Check it out, if you have the temperament for it. Apparently, I do.