Today, I focus on an episodic TV show, a foreign film and a documentary, none of which have received much attention but all of which deserve some.
“Manifest” (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix, Season 3 on Hulu) had escaped my notice until a friend told me she happened on it and binged the first three episodes. I mentioned that to my daughter, who then binged the first 12 episodes. At that point, I had to check it out, right? I’m so glad I did. It’s a mystery/thriller with a little sci-fi thrown in, and from the moment it starts, it has us by the throat. The setup is this: In 2013, a plane flying from Madagascar to New York was lost at sea and never recovered. Five years later, the plane lands. Everyone on board—including the pilot—is not aware that any time has passed at all. They touch down in a world that has moved ahead five years without them. What follows is a whole lot of personal chaos—deaths, marriages, and so on—plus mysterious disappearances, scientific experimentation, the possibility of dark governmental misdeeds. The show focuses on a few of the passengers and their attempts to uncover just what the hell happened. The cast is great (especially Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas as a brother and sister), the plotting terrific and, while the script and some scenes tend to skew overly teary and sentimental, it all works just fine. Kudos to creator Jeff Rake. I’m about to get into season two and I hope the quality keeps up. You will, too.
There is a 2017 film from Georgia (the country) named “My Happy Family” (on Netflix), a title that could win an award for irony. Three generations live under one roof, there is constant pandemonium and noise and quarrels—the first 20 minutes show us just how much and I swore I was watching reality TV, it was so seamlessly naturalistic. Then the middle-aged daughter of the older generation decides to leave her husband, her parents and her grown children and take an apartment of her own, and that sets off all kinds of chain reactions. This is a film that takes its time, that explores the characters in depth, that casts none as villains or saints, but simply people struggling to get by, day after day. I drank it in, the superb, underplayed acting, the perceptive script, stunning visuals of a woman who has, at last, discovered who she is by watching the wind rustle in the trees and soaking up the quiet. It’s a film for grown-ups, for sure, and it’s so very good, I hope you’ll check it out.
Finally, there is “Kid Candidate” (On Digital and Demand July 2), a documentary that is short (at a little over an hour), interesting and somewhat amateurish, just like its subject, the “kid” in the title. Meet Hayden Pedigo, a gifted musician who, at age 24, has decided to run for the city council of Amarillo, Texas. “Amarillo,” says one of the talking heads, “is not just unique and not just different, it is very beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the United States physically, with some of the ugliest people who happen to be in it.” We are presented with a city, population 200,000, run by a closed group of five, plus the mayor, who are all wealthy, church-going and deeply entrenched in shoring up their power… while doing very little for the lower class, mostly Black, neighborhoods. Hayden, who seems like a good guy, is bright and dedicated. He’s also given to depression and self-doubt and has also decided not to accept any donations and has no real money of his own. Idealism, anyone? Bravery or foolishness? The film goes back and forth between interviews with him, his friends, the mayor, the newspaper editor, and a Black minister, interspersed with short films Hayden made for social media that will appeal to the young but be a turn-off, I imagine, to the average Texas voter. I can’t say this is more than an excellent example of potentially professional filmmakers who haven’t gotten there yet. Kind of like Hayden himself, a David facing a whole bunch of Goliaths.