2022 TV Reviews: Euphoria / The Righteous Gemstones / Somebody Somewhere

The first HBO Sunday night line-up of the year has finally concluded and before we can pop the champagne and usher in the much awaited new seasons of Barry and Hacks, we must first assess sad-ass Zendaya doing drugs with her hot friends at Brazzers High and a Southern family full of comically absurd megachurch televangelists led by John Goodman and Danny McBride.

Euphoria (Season 2)

I think the appeal of Euphoria is that it shows the lives of teens through the lens of how they’d want to be seen or imagine themselves as, instead of what’s the actual T. While it is marred with tragedy, gritty drug abuse, violence and the occasional violent sex, it’s a soap opera/prestige drama presentation of something that is undoubtedly less flashy and sexy, and here’s the kicker, actually more poignant IRL. Numb is the only thing you feel after an episode of Euphoria (sort of like Zendaya in that one scene) because the show’s creator and characters keep us at arm’s length. The first season at least had the novelty of character introductions, and the fantastic in-between, mid-Covid specials really dove deep into Rue, Ali and Jules’ characters, but season two seemed to just be making lateral moves. First of all, they pretty much bench some of their most interesting characters like Jules, Kat and even Ali, to some extent, in favor of a Cassie/Maddie feud that is basically a Jerry Springer episode with gorgeous cinematography and actresses. It really doesn’t hold a candle to the foundational Rue story line, which is more or less the only compelling part of season two. There’s an insane, mid season episode that’s as good as anything the show has ever done but the rest of the seven can’t match it even marginally.

Fezco and his little brother gets more stuff to do but most of the time it’s just retreads of better stuck-in-a-life-of-crime storylines we’ve seen in countless other shit. They give Maude Apatow‘s Lexi character more air time which makes no sense to me, because while it’s refreshing to spend time with a character that doesn’t need a hug and decades of therapy, she’s pretty static. Her character is presented as this guiding light but she’s far too self-absorbed and delusional, as witnessed by her dog shit play, to act as the show’s conscious. Just the fact that she kept hanging with Fezco like nothing was wrong after witnessing him commit that arguably justified (but absolutely NOT justified, really) brutal assault on a certain character. There’s a 30-something MILF character (Minka Kelly, who was amazing as Lyla Garrity in Friday Night Lights) whom Maddie babysits for who seems to only exist on the show so the hornier audience members will salivate at the possibility of her and Maddie having sex in a pool. That’s the other thing, this show sexualizes teenagers in a way that teeters the line of unethical, hiding behind the guise of “art” or “realism”. The sex is so stylized it has an air of not only creepiness (for us adult viewers), but also one of artificiality, which ties into the show continuing to keep us at arm’s length with these characters. Either it’s an all-in, uncomfortable deep dive into the psyche of high schoolers or it’s a fun, satirical, overly-dramatic dramedy about the psyche of high schoolers. It has to go all in on one of the two and not just settle for being a half-assed, non-committal of sorta both.

That being said, Euphoria has remained a phenomenally well directed, edited and shot show, with some truly great performances. The Kissing Booth‘s Jacob Elordi is terrifyingly perfect as Nate and Sydney Sweeney is riveting as Cassie. Hunter Schaefer is really solid too, but the show’s crown jewel is undeniably Zendaya, who gives every part of herself into every scene she’s in. It’s a dynamite, go-for-broke performance the old guard of 70s indie dramas like DeNiro and Keitel would be envious of. It’s just a shame the show hardly ever rises to her level. Grade: C+ (HBOMax)

The Righteous Gemstones (Season 2)

With its near-flawless second season, The Righteous Gemstones has entered the realm of God-tier television, meaning it’s not only one of the best shows on TV right now but arguably the most unique and inventive. John Goodman is remarkable as a Southern Megachurch Televangelist who with his family, Danny McBride, Adam Levine and Edi Patterson, make billions off of the good word. However, as with every HBO show, they’re truly wounded and wounding people, real hypocrites as Carmela Soprano would say. It combines the absurdity of any McBride/Jody Hill comedy but adds in a level of gravitas and dramatic weight that somehow works. This is not only because the writing is top notch but because the cast is absolutely stellar, so at ease in selling a heartfelt moment and dick joke, sometimes in the same breath. Everyone is great in this show but if I had to pick the best of the best, I’d say besides Goodman, both Edi Patterson (maybe the funniest person on TV right now) and the incomparable Walton Goggins (ridiculous and heartbreaking) are the standouts. This season added a bunch of fascinating new characters from an uber pious, televangelist goofball, played to perfection by Eric Andre and a wrestling promoter/criminal in an Emmy-worthy, maybe career-best peformance by A Talking Cat?!? star, Eric Roberts. It dips and dives in unexpected and always rewarding directions and it’s a reminder that great shows don’t always have to take themselves so seriously. As Matt Damon would say in those shitty bitcoin commercials, “fortune favors the bold” and it’s hard to think of a bolder non-documentary show to come out in the last couple years as The Righteous Gemstones. Grade: A (HBOMax)

Somebody Somewhere (Season 1)

Providing a welcome sigh of relief in this past HBO Sunday night line-up, Somebody Somewhere doesn’t have the sometimes unbearable tension of Euphoria or the cranked-up-to-11 delirious insanity of The Righteous Gemstones. It’s a small, simple story about real people in Kansas. Bridgett Everett is a revelation as Sam, an odd duck trying to process the recent death of her sister, a seemingly gregarious lesbian that the family, most notably the other sister, couldn’t fully accept because of her sexual orientation. Struggling to fit in anywhere, Sam finds refuge with an old high school choir friend at her work, Joel (a phenomenal Jeff Hiller), and his merry band of delightfully queer and quirky “church” friends. Somebody Somewhere authentically captures the ins and outs of small town life in a way I haven’t seen since Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska. Over the course of seven episodes, we get to meet a real smorgasbord of lived-in people, all seen through the eyes of a nuanced, layered and overwhelmingly genuine central friendship between Everett and Hiller. Grade: A– (HBOMax)

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