Reviews & More: Cold and Robotic

“Philly D.A.” on PBS Passport

When the documentarians who created this series began filming the long shot election and tumultuous first term of Larry Krasner as Philadelphia’s newly elected district attorney in 2018, there’s no way they could have known how prescient this series would turn out to be three years down the road. But, oh my, is it perfect for right now. In this post-Trump era we are dealing even more with white nationalism versus Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the seemingly unjust killings of minorities, not to mention unequal racial incarceration, crooked politicians, and distortions of the truth. None of this is new, but all of it is more firmly entrenched and more urgent to address than ever. The D.A.’s office in Philly was always run by hard line prosecutors who managed to ignore racial injustice in the courts and kowtowed to the city’s police union, FOP (Friends of Police). Enter Krasner, a former public defender turned defense lawyer specializing in representing minorities and “the little guy.” Never before has this kind of lawyer been in charge, and he is determined to turn the institution on its head, reforming all former practices from top to bottom. Cameras allow us to attend staff meetings, there are interviews with those who are thrilled that something is finally being done and those who are either suspicious or just plain opposed to changing the status quo. There are interviews with experts and commoners; there are showdowns and court battles. The show is riveting television and it’s all way too real. 

 

“Made for Love” on HBO Max

Adapted from a book by Alissa Nutting, this eight-episode series is a quirky, dark satire about taking the power of the internet and robotics and a populace way too hungry for the next cool thing just that one step too far, all in the service of “perfect love.” It stars Cristin Milioti who was so good in last year’s “Palm Springs.” She is a gifted comedian, but Hazel, the character she plays, is difficult to get a bead on. Married for 10 years to billionaire tech magnate Byron Gogol (a play on Google, get it?) who has a distorted vision of what happiness should be, Hazel has tolerated a cloistered, subservient role in their marriage. She is not by nature subservient and, suddenly, she has had enough. Ten years? It’s an awful long time to suppress a nature that is strong and eccentric, but that’s the show’s conceit. We want to sympathize more than we do because the script doesn’t offer much. The cast is peopled with other reliable comic actors—Billy Magnusson, Ray Romano—but again, it’s all great comic timing with not a lot of depth. There is a coldness at the core to “Made for Love” that keeps us at arm’s length.

 

“The Mitchells vs the Machines” on HBO Max

Here is a loud, lively, clever animated film that I highly recommend for the whole family; three generations of ours enjoyed it enormously. It has a similar theme as “Made for Love”—too much addiction to texting, too much power invested in those who bring us all our social media toys—but has a completely different take on it. The tech mogul here is Mark Bowman, who has decided his Siri/Alexa-like invention is no longer required as he’s come up with robots who do everything she does and lots more. This race of robots proceeds to take over, reducing humans to unnecessary blips that are transferred to individual, transparent boxes in the Cloud…. except for The Mitchells. Mom, Dad, teenage daughter, pre-teen son. Not only do we get to witness the ups and downs in the battle of robots versus humans, we also get some lovely interactions and lessons learned between generations. Excellent voice work is provided by Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, John Legend and too many more to name. Let yourself settle in for this send up of social media, action-packed chases and explosions, and small quiet moments in the divide between a well-meaning father and his rebellious but equally well-meaning daughter. It’s all about family, and worth every moment. 

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