2022 TV Reviews: The Staircase / Under the Banner of Heaven / Top Chef: Houston

True Crime and Good Eats.

The Staircase

Colin Firth delivers an absolutely incredible, multi-layered performance as Michael Peterson, a man accused of killing his wife, but maybe an owl did it? Based on the popular French docuseries about the famously bizarre case but really more about the supremely dysfunctional family dynamics involved, this dramatized version does more than just regurgitate facts from the doc. It highlights the potential ethics violation of the French film crew, including one filmmaker who ended up dating Michael Peterson while he was in prison, as well as build a case against Michael Peterson, not necessarily as a murderer, but as a master manipulator and sociopathic opportunist who viewed the closest people in his life as mere chess pieces. For a true crime dramatization, something this character-driven and non-determined to pin down exactly what happened that night is refreshing. It really sets it apart from other fictionalized true-crime limited series that add nothing to the proceedings other than A-list Hollywood actors playing the leading nutbags. The supporting cast is spectacular across the boards with the always amazing Toni Collette adding loads of texture to the story as Michael’s murdered wife, Kathleen, and the equally amazing character actor Michael Stuhlbarg as Michael’s smarmy lawyer. Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche plays Michael’s documentarian/girlfriend while Parker Posey is equal parts hilarious and sad as the assistant DA in Michael’s case. Michael and Kathleen’s shared pool of emotionally-stunted kids are also fantastically drawn, played quite well by young actors including Dane DeHann, Sophie Turner, and Patrick Schwarzenegger, among others. It twists and turns in ways you’ll never see coming, even if you’ve seen the original docuseries. More true crime like this, please! Grade: A- (HBOMax)

Under the Banner of Heaven

Another exception to the true-crime dramatization rule, Under the Banner of Heaven is a thrilling and ultimately infuriating miniseries about a double murder that shook rural Utah in the mid-1980s. I’ve never been a big Andrew Garfield fan, but I’ve never seen him deliver a better performance than he does here as a fresh-faced, Mormon police detective forced to reckon with his firmly held religious beliefs. Much like The Staircase, this show is about far bigger concepts than the crime itself. In the case of Under the Banner of Heaven, it’s about how suppression of knowledge and the don’t-you-dare-ask-questions indoctrination of any overly oppressive religion, can lead to a violent crisis of faith. The cast is pretty solid with Hell or High Water‘s Gil Birmingham playing Garfield‘s cunning partner, the only non-LDS character on the show. Rory Culkin, Avatar‘s Sam Worthington, Billy Howle, and most notably Wyatt Russell are fantastic as a brotherly quartet of modern LDS dudes turned-fundamentalist, tax-hatin’, polygamists. It’s a thrilling eight-episode miniseries that asks big and important questions about the importance and/or detriment of having faith. Grade: B+ (Hulu)

Top Chef: Houston

TOP CHEF — “Primal Instincts” Episode 1901 — Pictured: (l-r) Stephanie Wallace, Leia Gaccione, Jae Jung, Damarr Brown, Luke Kolpin, Nick Wallace, Monique Feybesse, Ashleigh Shanti, Evelyn Garcia, Sam Kang, Jo Chan, Buddha Lo, Sarah Welch, Jackson Kalb — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

The blue-label Johnny Walker of reality cooking shows is back with a brand new string of seriously talented young chefs from across the country. From a relationship dynamics perspective (but really, a trashy reality TV perspective) this is one of the weaker seasons, with nobody getting angry and threatening each other. Nobody destroys property or tells anyone to fuck themselves, no one is anything less than super polite and dandy at all times. From a cooking perspective, there are some seriously talented chefs this time around, who produce some delicious-looking food. In terms of who finishes first, this is an unpredictable season with challenges that range from pretty cool to Jurassic World: Dominion-Only-In-Theaters-June-10th sponsored garbage. My favorites were Evelyn, Sarah, Damarr, Buddha, and Nick, based solely on their cooking. Much like this most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this doesn’t represent the reality series at its finest but it’s far from its worst. Grade: B (Peacock)

Now Streaming or In Theaters…

TV

Stranger Things on Netflix

Stranger Things (Season 4, Part One)Netflix

Better Call Saul (Season 6, Part One)AMC+

Atlanta (Season 3)Hulu

We Own This CityHBOMax

The Flight Attendant (Season 2)HBOMax

Severance on AppleTV+

Heartstopper (Season 1)Netflix

The Kids in the Hall (Season 6)Amazon Prime

Ozark (Season 4, Part Two)Netflix

Pachinko (Season 1)AppleTV+

Severance (Season 1)AppleTV+

FILM

Top Gun: Maverick In Theaters

Top Gun: Maverick (B+) – In Theaters

Men (B-) – In Theaters

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A-) – In Theaters & $19.99 rental on Amazon

F9 (C-) – HBOMax

The Batman (C+) – HBOMax

Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios’ THE LAST DUEL. Photo credit: Patrick Redmond. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Duel (B) – HBOMax

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (B) – HBOMax

Dune (B+) – HBOMax

The French Dispatch (C+) – HBOMax

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (C+) – HBOMax

The Card Counter on HBOMax

Malignant (?) – HBOMax

The Card Counter (B) – HBOMax

Antlers (C) – HBOMax

Those Who Wish Me Dead (D+) – HBOMax

Nobody (B-) – HBOMax

It’s “8-inches or lose my number” according to Stephanie Stifler in American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules (Netflix)

American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules (F) – Netflix

Tall Girl 2 (F) – Netflix

Showgirls (B) – PlutoTV

Step Up Franchise (D+) – Various Platforms

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (A-) – Disney+

Freddy’s Nightmares

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 1)Screambox

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 2)Screambox

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