This Week in TV: Sep.4-10

What happens when we start to see more diversity both on and off-screen? We get a whole lot of fabulous, fresh, and exciting TV, that’s what. Can we all just finally agree that art needs and thrives on diversity? That if we want TV to keep getting better, keep pushing the limits of what’s possible, it means we need people of all genders, races, classes, etc., etc., to be given an equal and fair chance at producing it? If nothing else, this past week in new TV is surely evidence of that fact.

First Impressions

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all this new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. There will be very little focus on story or plot points, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely.  

*At the time of writing, I had only seen the first two episodes of both Atlanta and Queen Sugar, and the first episodes of Better Things and One Mississippi.

Atlanta (FX) 9/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

With the hope that this confession may help persuade others to think twice about this show, I think it’s important I say this right up front: I don’t totally “get” Atlanta. There are some aspects of the show that just miss me, but that’s ok. Not everything on TV has to be made for me, or made for white people in general. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch it, or at the very least give it a shot. That would be similar to ignoring all British television because you can’t appreciate every cultural reference, and sometimes have to use closed captions to understand the dialogue. You’d be missing out on a lot of great TV, and the same is true about Atlanta.

It’s worth checking out just to see Donald Glover flex his acting chops by portraying someone other than Troy – he’s got range! It’s worth coming back to, however, for myriad reasons. The incredible balance struck between narrative complexity and levity, the music, the consistently thought-provoking character that is Darius, the understated yet often laugh-out-loud humour, and, arguably most importantly, because there hasn’t really ever been anything like this on TV before. It’s a chance for TV fanatics to experience something new. Sure, we’ve seen similar characters, but I highly doubt they were written from the perspective of men of colour.

The one glaring issue in Atlanta is the lack of fully developed female characters. Basically all we have, so far, is Earn’s girlfriend, and her dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. It’s hard to separate my knowledge of Glover’s attitudes toward women in the past, with what’s happening in Atlanta. I’m hoping one of two things will happen: the female characters get better as the season progresses, or Glover gets enough pushback about the issue and corrects the problem in future seasons.

Queen Sugar (OWN) 10/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis, but I wish I could watch this everyday.

This show has been on my must-see list since I found out that women of colour were creating it, and that every single episode’s director would be a woman. I mean, how could I say no to that? I couldn’t it, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Right out of the gate, Queen Sugar has the potential to be the best new series of the year. With the way I feel about it right now, after seeing only two episodes, it might even make my list of top 10 shows ever. Yep, it was really that good. I mean, when you hear the words “Oprah Winfrey and Ava Duvernay are creating a TV show together” it’s obvious that greatness will follow. But, honestly, I didn’t expect that it would be so, SO great – shame on me.

I cannot remember another premiere episode of television that got me so thoroughly invested in each and every character, and the story itself so damn quickly. By the end of the first episode I was a crying mess, and it was because I cared so deeply for these people, despite having only spent an hour with them. Duvernay and her team were able to inform so much about Queen Sugar’s world and its characters, and not just through dialogue and acting – though ALL of that was on point.

It was in the way each shot was so thoughtfully framed, giving you the feeling that there’s a purpose to everything in focus and everything that remains subtly in the background. It was the songs and score that matched so perfectly with what was happening at every second. It was the overall tone, which they wasted no time in establishing with pure precision in the very first scene. All of these factors worked in beautiful harmony to paint a very clear picture of not only who these people are, but of exactly what kind of world they are living in. And I’m hooked. Of course, the characters and the show will likely change and evolve as the season continues, but the foundations already laid are so strong that it can only get better from here. How lucky are we?!

Better Things (FX) 6.5/10 – I’ll be back for at least two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

I really want to love this show. It’s created by a woman, its lead character is a woman, the cast is largely female, and the trailer suggested this was going to offer a different, more authentic take on single motherhood – likely because it’s coming from a female’s perspective. (The one thing it seemingly, and disappointingly, lacks is racial diversity, though that could change, fingers crossed, as the season continues.) Unfortunately, as far as premieres go, this one was just OK.

The narrative wasn’t exactly cohesive, several jokes just didn’t hit their landing, and, regrettably, I found myself checking the clock to see how much longer it would be on. While the episode served as a decent enough introduction to Sam and her three kids, it all felt very basic, and a bit hollow; nothing about what I’ve seen has me the least bit invested in the story or characters. Overall, I feel pretty indifferent right now about Better Things.

On the other hand…

There was an immediate and enjoyable chemistry between Sam and her daughters. I liked the subtle way in which possible future storylines were hinted at – I’m hoping both the mystery text relationship, and the flashback to Sam’s father are explored further. And, though it was but a minor part of the episode near the end, I found Sam’s struggle between the need to take acting gigs in order to pay the bills, while simultaneously only wanting to accept parts that help maintain her good-mom-role-model status, fairly intriguing. These few aspects are enough to make me give the show a second chance.

One Mississippi (Amazon) 8.5/10

Wow. This was not at all what I expected. To be fair, I knew very little about One Mississippi prior to watching the first episode, aside from the fact that it was created by and stars Tig Notaro. And all I really know about Notaro is that she’s a comedian. So, naturally, though quite naïvely in retrospect, I went into the first episode expecting a comedy; I assumed I would be laughing. Now, the show does have a few funny moments. Those moments aren’t necessarily laugh-out-loud ones, and they’re certainly nothing to slap your knee over. But, there is definitely a subdued and, for lack of a better word, dark sense of humor present throughout the half-hour premiere.

Regardless of what I thought One Mississippi was going to be, I’m pleasantly surprised with what it is. In just one 30-minute episode, I already feel a strong connection to Tig, and want to see where this next journey in life takes her. The one true problem I had with the premiere was the lack of character development for the people in Tig’s life – the one exception being her stepfather. Considering how small the main cast actually is I think this problem could correct itself fairly quickly. I’ll definitely be giving this a couple more episodes worth of my time.

All episodes of One Mississippi are currently available on Amazon, so I won’t be checking in on a week-to-week basis. Instead, I’ll report back on this when I’ve seen the entire season, or I’ll let you know why I’ve given up.


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