IR TV Review: DIRTY JOHN – THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY – EPISODE 1 & 2 – SEASON PREMIERE (“No Fault” & “The Turtle And The Alligator”) [USA]

The two part premiere of “Dear John: The Betty Broderick Story” is an interesting progression, specifically in context of the actors and how the story plays out. This story obviously could have the texture of a movie of the week and might have played in that stake 20 years ago. But with broadcast standards changed up and production also high, the inclusion of certain talent like Amanda Peet and Christian Slater as the would-be doomed couple in an interesting blend because of the move against expectation. Amanda Peet is in many ways remembered for comedy in “Whole Nine Yards” whereas Christian dates all the way back to “Heathers”. The reviewer is using these two films as reference points in specific because they show mindset in a relationship. This story follows Betty Broderick’s path to what becomes an untenable situation. While there is an understanding of her motives, the breakdown is an interesting psychological push, a maelstrom of expectation, child raising, sacrifice, upbringing and consequence. The first episode “No Fault” shows the unraveling of a marriage that was based on Betty giving up her thoughts and dreams to be traditional and help Dan (Slater) achieve his goals within the aspect of taking care of them forever.

What is interestingly done is the use of flashbacks including a younger actor that totally gets down the Slater playing Nicholson aspect while making it part of the character. The show runner explained in her message before the screener that when she remembered this real life event happening it was a bit of urban lore but as she grew up and had kids of her own and reached the age of Betty Broderick, the pain of the woman and how she kept trying to see the light or best until she couldn’t rang true. The series does come with a disclaimer that the events hve been dramatized and fictionalized to a point. Slater has an interesting line to play in a character that does give his soon-to-be ex wife chances to move on but also doesn’t give her the tools that she needs. In this specific situation, he has the chips stacked in his corner but won’t provide. It is a choking mechanism. Peet, for her part, has ever played a character like this before. It might also have to do with her becoming a mother in recent years as well to give  different perspective.

It is hard at times to understand why Broderick reacts but the key is to take it in the context of the 80s: the exit strategies were not in place (not that they fully are today) but the coldness of Betty’s parents to her plight and what they saw as traditional in an interesting conundrum. Now as the second episode (“The Turtle & The Alligator”) integrates, Peet’s Betty tries to connect back to Dan but then dives into an overt emotional space. She tries to put up a strong front but cannot take the ego destroyer of the tactics that her husband is using. She can’t understand how he can be so cold and still laugh at her jokes. The most painful and some of the best acting from Peet is when you see her smiling and yet the pain. I have talked to Peet many years ago and actually remember an interview when Matthew Perry snuck into her interview for “The Whole Nine Yards” while he was doing interviews for “Servicing Sara” with Liz Hurley upstairs. They enjoyed each other’s company and made jokes but again, like Betty and Dan, it is a moment in time.

Not that that is a reflection of the show. It just shows that every human has their own path to follow but one has to see the whole picture. With human beings are never like that in the moment. It is always upon refection when it is over. That is the structure that plays here. Either people don’t believe Betty could do something like this or maybe she didn’t know that she could do it. Or she is hiding. Or she had a break. It is a dynamic idea which in today’s TV landscape can be done. What this “Dear John” does in an interesting way is do it in a more sanitized way, showing the psychological breaks without being overtly graphic or crass per se. It is a human drama and is shown that way.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE GENETIC DETECTIVE – EPISODE 2 (“Hunt For The Runaway Killer”) [ABC]

The aspect of “The Genetic Detective” is fitting puzzle pieces but knowing how to decode. In Episode 2, “Hunt For The Runaway Killer”, the aspect of a cold case reflects through many aspects of a serial offender. A mother and her daughter were murdered in farmland Missouri while the father and son were working on their farm. The son returns to find them both in different positions shot in the head. His sister had been tied up with extension cord. His mother face down on the floor. While DNA was found (the murders took place in 1998), DNA tracking was nowhere near where it needed to be. The DNA broke down. About 10 years later they did connect it to another crime far away in South Carolina but not enough to make a match. The case sat cold for many years. CeCe Moore, known as The Genetic Detective was brought in when a organization/lab out of Memphis decided to connect cold cases with some backlogged rape kits which had been sitting in storage waiting for analysis but needing funding. The thinking being that certain markers could connect this offender/killer who apparently kept moving around with other criminal investigations. The breakdown of every case is interesting but it is seeing where the puzzle diverges. The eye opening aspect was when CeCe comes upon in the back trace which plateaus in the 1880s, she finds double cousins where two brothers of one family married two sisters of another. So the DNA pool was doubled which created a past parallel structure.

There was also a police sketch that was vague from a person the assailant attacked not long after the original Missouri murders. It was through news articles at that point that CeCe was able to verify through a photo of the offender connecting him with his daughter. What is interesting in the reveal is that CeCe admits that the killer moved around a lot but his life path was complicated. He eventually committed suicide when he was cornered in a hotel in Missouri (it is not clear if he was alone or not). The body is exhumed and the DNA matched. The disappointing aspect is not knowing motivation,if any, behind the Missouri murders or some of the ones after it since the MOs seemed to change. CeCe visits the daughter, not to confront but just to talk (likely primarily just to create closure). The lady worries and reflects about genetic predisposition whereas when CeCe visits the son whose mother and sister were killed, he is living in the same farm house. He says that even though the mystery was solved, the thoughts and trauma will never go away. This kind of balanced approach brings a texture to the show that CeCe relates in saying that data only means so much. It is important to see that consequence and reflection on the ground

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE BAKER AND THE BEAUTY – EPISODE 8 & 9 – SEASON FINALE (“May I Have This Dance” & “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) [ABC]

The progression of “The Baker & The Beuaty” is one of the modern dance: where is the balance between tradition and modern thinking. In the Latino community seen in this series, it is an ever evolving tendency, especially in the age of social media, what is considered traditionally acceptable versus long held ideas of what a family or a romance is supposed to look like. Having spoke to Victor Rasuk at the beginning of the season, his character has actually become more conservative. The story has taken a more diametric turn as the season comes to conclusion in his brother’s perception. The idea of familiarity breeding contempt or even interestingly enough acceptance in the same breathe is an interesting diatribe. Vanessa, whom Victor’s character left earlier in the season before he met Noa who is on her own trajectory creates an interesting dichotomy. Of course this is a romance so there is a distinct texture of wanting to provide a positive happy ending. But one knows that in real life, things aren’t that clean. Granted as the two part finale moves on, it gets slightly messy but nothing that can’t be remedied. It revolves around to that possibility of love lost which is that ideal of what can be gained. Or what the better outcome is or can be.

The idea of what is healthy and the psychology of success is actually an interesting subplot, that, although subtly addressed, is a very real defense mechanism for Noa. Nathalie Kelly plays this character bilaterally, whom you could see exist in both worlds but is not necessarily truly a part of either. She has to exist in between and find balance. Victor’s character by comparison , and maybe in a macho way, only see the black and white, even though it is a socially acceptable balance he is working in of preserving family. His brother though makes the leap in certain ways that he doesn’t. And their sister is the bridge of emotions. That is why that Quincidera aspect actually works very well. It is apprarent specifically in the quiet moments with the parents which ranks among the series’ best because it shows a slowed down balance that expands and shows time. While the lightness of the show is maintained, there are moments of depth without losing some of the bubble gum texture of the romance it is trying to show.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: PENNY DREADFUL – CITY OF ANGELS – EPISODE 6 (“How It Is With Brothers”) [Showtime]

With “Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels” the balance between reality and what is being altered by the Goddess of Darkness, switches from episode to episode. It is a very good approach to pace. One episode involves chess moves while the next one shows the consequence and how it is dealt with. The pendulum of ying and yang teeters back and forth between the potency of human good and the need of opportunism and gluttony. This is the battle that is waged. Here in Episode 5 “How It Is With Brothers”, it is a balance within trust, loyalty and the greater good. Tiago (as played by Daniel Zuvatto) has to ride between the two worlds, and while Zuvatto sometimes overplays it (in the Robert Sean Leonard style of acting), his point is true. However it is the subtlety of an older pro like Nathan Lane, which might be a metaphor and a directorial choice, that can bring the grounded darkness within the light. The decisions are very gray in this episode, not just for the brother but for his mother.

A very telling scene also involves a mother’s intent to save her son from the dark side. It is that struggle of identity that permeates the episode through and through. Mateo, whom Tiago is protecting as his brother, is acting out of rage and not logic, acceptance, and not compassion. But the same can be said of Sister Molly. Is her mother trying to protect her or exploit her, see her happiness or search for her own. One specific revelation that this reviewer had not noticed is the German wife that has been slighted by the German doctor who has himself been seduced by the Goddess Of Darkness is none other than Piper Perabo from “Covert Affairs”. It is a smaller role for her to take but the disappearance is undeniable. Whereas her accent and blonde looks were always on display before, this is an inherent and textured reveal especially as her husband seeks to send her to detox. As with other aspects, motivations and choices are not what they seem whether to protect, serve or to subjugate,

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 5 (“Contract”) [Showtime-S5]

“Billions” as it progresses through the 5th season, tries to tick off certain emotional levels of human consumption whether it be desire, regret, anticipation, reflection, etc. In Episode 5, “Contract”, the idea becomes how do people in power positions react when threatened from an angle they can’t control. What this episode examines are those personal moments that can hurt more than any dagger filled with money. This is true of all the characters but the plot focal point that sets it off is through Wendy Malick, so Blanche in many ways in “Hot In Cleveland” who can play icy with a dash of vulnerability here very well. It is a small problem she has that Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rodes knows how to approach. In a battle with Axelrod. Rhodes has the slight edge as his humanity starts to show…which might be his saving grace. Axelrod (as played by Damian Lewis) only knows how to strike out hard and then only sees a regret later though it might be too late. He then usually writes it off as a loss that has to be fixed without understanding that the fix changes the outcome.

The issue is that elements from Axe’s childhood, he can never redo despite how much he would really like to. One of the more interesting images is him peaking from behind his old h house in Yonkers whom he bought out underneath a kid he was helping while his second in command, Wendy Rhodes, Chuck’s ex-wife looks on. It is one of many diametric images. Another one occurs when a health scare affects Chuck’s father whom he recently started reconnecting with. A small interlude in a hospital with significant others is an interesting pivot, especially when those two (in Frank Grillo and Julianne Marguiles – who is exceptional in this role) are moving in tandem with their own subplots. This way it is not just about the alphas at the top but the sub alphas and the betas wanting to move into an alpha spot. This chess game is interesting in dynamics since in all considerations it is not about the end game but who can live with the spoils that they eventually will concede to.

B+

By Tim Wassberg