2022 TV Reviews: Atlanta & Better Call Saul

Just two of the best shows of this or any year. NBD.

Atlanta (Season 3)

After four long years, maybe longest hiatus out of any of these Covid-delayed shows, Atlanta returns even if its four main characters barely get breathing room this season. Completely abandoned is the Season 2 cliffhanger of Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) expressing his disappointment and doubts to Earn (Donald Glover) about him moving forward as his manager. Instead, we jump ahead four years to Earn, Alfred, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and even Van (Zazie Beetz) hanging out in Eastern Europe for Paper Boi’s European Tour. Those expecting a bunch of moments with these four playing off each other will surely be disappointed, as the season seems to only use them one at a time and every other episode. Basically, every other episode doesn’t even feature the show’s four “leads” and instead opts to tell a parabolic story with outside characters, whether loosely based on a real-life story (Devonte Hart, a black boy in Houston who was murdered alongside his adopted siblings by his foster parents) or just an insane science-fiction/A24 Horror riff on reparations from an upper-middle-class white perspective. One episode is shot like an old Universal classic monster movie where a biracial teen, erring more on the side of white, is put to a nerve-wracking test where he must prove his “blackness” to Kevin Samuels for a full-ride college scholarship to ASU. This conscious dismissal of characters we’ve grown to love and care about over the last two seasons, in favor of exploring other stories, proves to be a bit annoying at first. However, once you sit back and relax (and realize another full season of Atlanta is due to premiere in September, surely exploring our four main characters and their dynamic more than this) you realize that this show is taking bigger swings and hitting more home runs as a result, than any other show has in years. This is not to say the few episodes we get focusing on the main quartet aren’t up to par, because those are some of the strongest episodes this season. There are great character-focused episodes for Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz (in the finale) this season, even if Stanfield and especially Glover seem to be almost non-existent this season. One includes maybe the best and most surreal celebrity cameo I’ve ever seen in anything, ever. I hate to be hyperbolic, but once you see this cameo (in episode 8), I doubt you’ll disagree with me. Besides constantly re-inventing what a television “comedy” can be, Atlanta Season 3 also doesn’t skimp on humor or satire. Sure, it can be cruel and devastating this season, but it’s balanced with some real laugh-out-loud moments that serve to enrich the characters and storytelling around it. This is the television of the future, real innovative shit that isn’t tied down by any convention and manages to remain compelling even when it seems it’s completely gone off the rails. The saddest thing about this is that I’ve only met one person who actually watched this season. Seriously people, if you have Hulu and are at all interested in television as an art form, this needs to be at the top of your queue. Grade: A (Hulu)

Better Call Saul (Season 6, Part One)

Arguably the sharpest written one-hour drama currently on television returns for the first part of its sixth season and somehow manages to outdo itself. At this point, after more than a decade of collaborating together, Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan, and friends are so good at bouncing off each other and creating seamless television that it almost seems unfair. The fact it manages to be a spin-off of one of the most celebrated shows of all time without ever feeling like a 2.0 version of that show is truly remarkable. Even as we begin to really get at the start of the Breaking Bad timeline and the resulting Breaking Bad-esque violent cartel shit that comes along with that, the show always feels 100% like its own thing. Bob Odenkirk, fresh off his terrifying cardiac event, returns as Jimmy McGill turned Saul Goodman, nastier, pettier, and more conniving than he’s been since Breaking Bad, alongside the criminally underrated Rhea Seehorn as the now legit criminal Kim Wexler. They have some great moments this half-season, but they seem to be somewhat dramatically sidelined (besides pulling 60% of the show) in favor of actors and characters we didn’t follow as closely in previous seasons – Michael Mando‘s Nacho, Patrick Fabian‘s Howard and especially, the brilliant Tony Dalton‘s Lalo Salamanca. Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito are given the least to do in these episodes, but it’s a refreshing shake-up to focus on characters that at times seemed to be merely secondary characters to push certain plot elements. Given that most current television dramas about lawyers and drug cartels are go-for-broke insanity machines (Ozark, cough cough), it’s refreshing to see one with the confidence and patience to act as a slow burn. That’s because this show, and Breaking Bad to an extent, is all about the little meticulous details. If Sopranos taught us anything it’s that your big WTF yelling-at-your-tv event moments are so much more powerful if they are properly built up to with peaks and valleys throughout a season. Shows like Ozark and Narcos felt numbing after a while, but Better Call Saul, a spin-off show in its sixth season, cuts deeper than ever before. Ouch. Grade: A (AMC+)

NOTE – My friend, acting colleague, and mentor of sorts, John Ennis, is absolutely excellent in a two-episode guest star stint. I won’t reveal who he plays, but he has a scene with Bob Odenkirk outside of a Big Lots-type store that serves as a wonderful little Mr. Show reunion.

Also Streaming and In Theaters…

TV

Heartstopper (Season 1)Netflix

The Kids in the Hall (Season 6)Amazon Prime

Ozark (Season 4 Part Two)Netflix

Pachinko (Season 1)AppleTV+

Russian Doll (Season 2)Netflix

Severance (Season 1)AppleTV+

Euphoria (Season 2)HBOMax

Bad VeganNetflix

The Righteous Gemstones (Season 2)HBOMax

Tokyo Vice (Season 1)HBOMax

The SopranosHBOMax

The Tinder Swindler Netflix

The Gilded Age (Season 1)HBOMax

Somebody Somewhere (Season 1) HBOMax

Worst Roommate Ever (Season 1)Netflix

Movies

Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness In Theaters

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (C+) – In Theaters

Men (B)- In Theaters

Candyman (B)- Amazon Prime

The Matrix Resurrections (B) – HBOMax

Old (C-) – HBOMax

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A-) – In Theaters

X (B-) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

Licorice Pizza (A) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

Tall Girl 1 & 2 (F) – Netflix

Jackass Forever (B+) – Paramount+

Josh Greenbaum‘s Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar on Hulu

The Batman (C+) – HBOMax

Encanto (C+) – Disney+

CODA (C+) – AppleTV+

Scream 5 (C+) – Paramount+

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (B+) – Hulu

Emma Seligman‘s Shiva Baby on HBOMax

Drive My Car (A) – HBOMax

Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy (A-) – $3.99 rental on Amazon

The Worst Person in the World (B+) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

Shiva Baby (A-) – HBOMax

Benedetta (B+) – Hulu

Freddy’s Nightmares

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 1)Screambox

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 2)Screambox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: