THE BIG DOOR PRIZE (S1, E8-10)
We all want our lives to mean something.
Go on, admit it, of course you do; no one wants to just bumble through life and do the barely noticed minimum but everything from life circumstances over which we have no control to a necessary push for simple survival often derail any thoughts we might have of legacy or enduring memory.
To that list, courtesy of The Big Door Prize, and really any therapist worth their mental health evaluative salt you can add a fear of making mistakes, and the glaring abyss of uncertainty, all of which the final three episodes of season one reason – season two is on its way, so the story, based on the book of the same name by M. O. Walsh get to keep telling its beguiling tale for at least 10 ore episodes yet – are why everyone in the town is so besotted with the predictive tiny blue cards from the MORPHO machine which appeared mysteriously one night in the Deerfield general store run by Mr Johnson (Patrick Kerr).
They don’t want a life that’s messy or fundamentally unknowable and so when the machine graced (or bedevilled; your call) with luminously blue butterfly wings appears simply asking for a social security number and handprints in exchange for what everyone interprets as a sign of what they are supposed to unequivocally be, the townspeople, bar some resolute sceptics such as lead protagonist Dusty Hubbard (Chris O’Dowd) fall over themselves to get the card and live it out.
But as Dusty points out in his classroom one day, in the wildest lesson it must said ever where the word “f**k” is used, and a student is almost called, well, watch the episode to see, maybe it’s not your fate so much as a pointer to a turning point of where you might eventually end up.
It’s an interesting thought but not one universally embraced because Dusty, god bless his thinking-for-himself heart – though, to be fair, much of his argument likely stems from his own insecurities about where his life has gone, wife Cass (Gabrielle Dennis) and teenage daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara) who finally comes clean on her covert relationship with Jacob (Sammy Fourlas) – has dared to take away what everyone desperately wants which is that they are getting life RIGHT.
Sure, the small blue cards have caused havoc, bad and good, and in the final three episodes – “Izzy”, “Deerfest” and “Deerfest: Part Two” – they caused more upset and uproar as secrets and grievances or dysfunctional dynamics long held or suppressed messily or awkwardly or both, but they did offer one thing with some surety (well, perceived surety anyway) – that destiny can be known.
It’s a gloriously seductive idea but not something everyone is buying.
Take Jacob and his slightly unhinged but loving dad Beau (Aaron Roman Weiner) who —— SPOILER ALERT !!!!! —— decide, fates be damned and current life messiness be damned to move to a town where no one knows them and no one has expectations of them.
Or reticent bar owner Hana (Ally Maki) who happily kisses soon-to-be-ex-Father Reuben (Damon Gupton) simply because, for both of them, it feels right.
Do they have a card saying “kisser”? No, not they do not, and yet they go ahead and kiss anyway! What what?!
Others still are trying to fake their way to fate and destiny like troubled mayor and epic fail lesbian mother of the year, Izzy (Crystal R. Fox) who gets her estranged/not estranged daughter Cass to craft up a pretend blue card for her with a more palatable prophetic outcome or Dusty who keeps trying to reason his way to a more liveable explanation for the machine’s presence.
On a night where a lightning storm makes a mockery of town’s cheerfully bucolic annual festival, Deerfest, where the hay bales are not high enough (well, at first) and people discover that self determination can screw with even the surest of expected outcomes, The Big Door Prize rather winningly has a field day with fate vs. choice, with no clear sense of which of these great philosophical mainstays will be the winner.
But that’s the point I guess and one this show, which slides in and out of melodrama to something actually humourously affecting, has a huge amount of fun with – it’s impossible to know life and what’s right and what’s wrong and even when small blue cards claim to make the unknown deliciously and embracingly known, the truth is that people’s innate need to think for themselves always cruels even the most certain of things.
That’s the genius of this show – it’s am exploration of the human psyche poured into a dramedy that is equal parts serious contemplation of life, weird ass humour (chain saws in the living room, anyone?) and existential angst writ large, and loudly, and which works because who of us hasn’t at some point, dared to want to have things solidly and unwaveringly mapped out for us?
Do not lie, we all have but what happens when you agree to that pact? As the cliffhanger makes us painfully aware, what comes next could upset that apple cart of knowingness and toss everyone back into the vortex of chaos and what then, my friends, WHAT THEN?
TED LASSO (S3, E7-10)
It’s been obvious for some time, and in the best of all possible ways, that Ted Lasso is no longer just about the titular protagonist.
Over the course of three superlatively emotional and warmly funny seasons, Ted has given way to the family he engendered by prioritising people over just about everything else, and the result is a found family of people who prove again and again in the four episodes under review just much they care for each other, and how with Ted’s indirect help, they have gained a real sense of who they are.
You could call this glowing up of personal identity and communal togetherness heartwarming, and to an extent it is, but really that’s doing a little bit of disservice to it.
The truth is that there’s a whole lot of emotional weight to what’s been happening in season three overall, and in episodes seven to ten when some key people, again least of all Ted though he remains the glue holding it all together, finally coming winningly into their own.
—————————— SPOILER ALERT !!!!! ——————————
The one that really struck a chord with this queer reviewer, and for obvious reasons, is the coming out of Colin Hughes (Billy Harris) who ends up fessing up this teammates in the halftime break of a key match against Brighton in some unusual circumstances (episode 9, “La Locker Room Aux Folles”).
Not so much the setting because of the big announcement taking place in a sporting setting were all but guaranteed but the reasons why it happens at all.
After the captain of the team, and one of the people closest to Colin, Isaac McAdoo (Kola Kokinni), accidentally oversees Colin deleting what you can only presume are graphic pictures of men – for context, the mass delete-athon of pics takes place after Keeley Jones, played by Juno Temple, has a graphically sexual video hacked and released (resulting in considerable and understandable trauma for her), a warning to everyone to be careful with what’s on accessible media – he immediately shuts down and freezes out Colin.
Colin is bewildered and hurt by the actions of his friend, and when McAdoo’s inability to articulate why he’s behaving that way and why he’s so angry leads to a messy, on-field (or field-adjacent anyway) leads to an awkwardly tense mid-match standoff, Colin finally comes out to clear the air.
He’s unreservedly embraced by everyone, including by Ted who’s speech about acceptance is hilariously off-kilter though well-intentioned, and later, he and McAdoo talk it out, and it turns out the captain was simply hurt, deeply hurt, that Colin hadn’t confided in him.
As coming outs go, it was warm, real and honest, and emphasised just how beautifully Ted Lasso the person and the show, has allowed people, in an environment of love and unconditional acceptance, to be themselves.
While not quite as dramatic, Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham whose sparkle is a joy in so many ways) act of standing up to Ghanaian billionaire Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson) who wants to create a start-up elitist league that would take football from the masses, and the white club owners who almost back him, including ex Rupert (Anthony Head), is so deliciously empowering you want to embrace her on the spot.
She finally realises that she no longer wants Richmond to do well to shove the success in Rupert’s face but because she wants her found family to shine, and that she’s well past needing a man, especially one as odious as Rupert, to define her.
It’s liberating and it’s beautiful and it makes episode 10 “International Break” a glorious delight to watch.
Another character who comes into their own, and gets “unstuck” in the process is a good old Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) who’s a doting uncle and fierce coach but who seems desperately unhappy in life.
After he’s called on it by someone close to him, he realises that the confronting words are bang-on accurate, an epiphany that inspires the bravery needed to wear a lurid fashion item with severe sentimental value, and to apologise to Keeley which leads to a, yes, accurate in this instance, heartwarming reunion.
There are countless other moments big and small in these episodes, which also include some vibrantly offbeat moments of humour – watching how the team’s ray of avuncular sunshine, Danny Rojas (Cristo Fernández), changes when he’s announced to Mexico’s national team is creepy and funny all at once, and Coach Beard’s (Brendan Hunt) love of axes and axe-influenced shows is idiosyncratically a joy, as with anything this happily strange man does – that affirm again and again that Ted Lasso is a lovesong to family, love, connection and belonging, and that when that happens properly, it can be the absolute making of people.
It will desperately sad to bid Ted Lasso farewell in just two episodes but it’s safe to say that this is one show that’s going to go out on a high as it celebrates what’s possible when you are believed in and are given the space and love to truly come into your own.
Ted Lasso is currently streaming on AppleTV+
NOT DEAD YET (S1, E11-13)
Figuring your life out is no easy task.
Oh, there are self help books aplenty, therapists on speed dial and friends with listening ears but in the end, all the hard work on fixing you comes down to, well, you.
No one knows that better than the protagonist of Not Dead Yet, a charmingly mid-level workplace sitcom centred on Nell Serrano (Gina Rodriguez), a recently-dumped journalist who’s returned from London to her southern California to rebuild her life and her sense of self.
She’s having to start all over again at her old employer, the SoCal Independent, which means writing the obituaries, an entry level gig which Nell ends up acing thanks to her Sixth Sense-like ability to see dead people.
Thankfully there are no rotting corpses or demonically-eyes souls to be seen; this is a sweetly idiosyncratic US sitcom so the dead run to the likes of Rhea Perlman at Janice, a deceased postal worker who could’ve probably used a little more acerbic grunt (at which Perlman excels), who dispenses, like all the dead Nell sees, the kind of advice Nell needs to hear at that point.
Sticking resolutely to the sitcom rulebook which mandates all problems gets largely resolved in a shade over twenty minutes, Not Dead Yet isn’t going to reinvent the form any time soon, but what it does so is usher you into a found family of sorts who are there to help Nell get through the big stuff of life.
Including —– SPOILER ALERT!!!! —– the return of Nell’s ex, the handsome, sweet-talking chef Phillip (Ed Weeks) who sweeps into town, apologises for the way they broke up, inspiring Nell to make amends for her part in the dissolution of their relationship, and to convince her to start things all over again.
Sure, that breaks the premise of the show but hey, it’s the last three episodes of the first season and time for some sort of life-changing decision and deliciously possible cliffhanger.
But that’s not quite how things turn out.
Turns out that Phillip may not in fact be good for Nell or her sense of self, something her BFF Sam (Hannah Simone) suspects and vocally argues until her sense of friendship and camaraderie convinces her to support her bestie, and that maybe what Nell needs, apart from the love of amusingly weird rich boss Lexi (the gloriously good Lauren Ash), immediate manager Dennis (Joshua Banday), autistic roommate Edward (Rick Glassman) and wine bar-owning pal Cricket (Angela E. Gibbs), is to just be herself.
But who the hell is that?
Ah well, that’s where Not Dead Yet, which has happily been renewed for a second season, actually some fun; not complex fun, granted, but fun nonetheless with Nell finally realising that talking to dead people and falling in love almost instantly with one night stands is who she is.
That doesn’t mean she has to let those things define or rule her, and in fact, when a temporary colleague and her go from onetime lovers to almost in a relationship in one date, she’s savvy and self-aware enough to realise that she needs to say “no” to her natural inclination to commit, and fully commit, near instantly.
So the last three episodes of the debut season are all about Nell getting some sense of surety about herself, realising that while returning to Phillip, who wants her on his terms not hers, would be the easy option, it wouldn’t be the best and the final episode of the season, “Not Just Yet”, ends with Nell grabbing life on her terms, surrounded by her friends, and could that be a hesitant love interest from Edward maybe making its presence felt?
It’s faint but it’s there but if that’s where Not Dead Yet chooses to go in its sophomore season, it appears that Nell will be at least a little more ready to make some cleverly informed decisions.
Not too well-informed though because half her charm comes from the fact that she’s lovably and relatably fallible, making her one of those sitcom characters that we can identify wit and empathise with, and thus, laugh with because we’ve all been there, trying to figure out who we are, making some truly sh*t decisions and hoping that somewhere in the end we’ll make some better ones.
But that is for other day and another season, and for now it’s enough that Nell is sipping wine on the roof of an apartment building with friends, no, really family, and a gathering sense of self and hope that the future might not be so bad after all …
Not Dead Yet is currently streaming on Disney+
SCHMIGADOON! (SCHMICAGO – S2, E6)
Are happy ending even possible in the darkness of the grittier musicals from the 1960s and 1970s where life is far from more real and far less candy-coated possible than it is in the earlier musical outings of the ’30s and ’40s?
You may have had cause to wonder when Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) found themselves —– SPOILER ALERT!!!! —– in rather dire straits at the end of episode five of Schimigadoon! season 2, rather winningly subtitled Schmicago!
If you recall, and how could you not because the stakes were high and the emotions even higher, the Big Bad of this magically musical world, Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page), whose slick nefarious and dulcetly raspy skullduggery recalls “Judge Turpin from Sweeney Todd, Caiaphus in Jesus Christ Superstar and Page’s previous villain roles, such as Hades in Hadestown (season 2)”, is forcing Melissa to marry him under threat of Josh losing his life at the hands of Sergeant Rivera (Jaime Camill).
To be fair, Sergeant Rivera, Octavious’s nephew and a man with musical theatre stars, long denied, dancing in his impossibly handsome and melancholic eyes, doesn’t want to kill anyone – he just wants to star on stage at his uncle’s club, a hope borne by 36 years of promises by his uncle who we all know has no intention of honouring his hollow guarantees – but finds he might have to when Octavius phones him and tells him to despatch Josh so Melissa won’t pine for her true love for too long.
Dark times, my friends, dark times!
But hark, can something good in times as dark and terrible as this when it seems all hope is lost and no one can save Josh and Melissa from some rather terrible fates?
Why, this is musical theatre, and even in the darkest times, good things can happen!
In short, deliriously happy and musically enriched order, Rivera has a change of heart, driven by being put upon by far too long and by butcher Dooley Bright (Alan Cumming) and his lady love Miss Codwell (Kristin Chenoweth) threatening him with revenge-soaked bodily harm and the hippie trippy followers of Topher (Aaron Tveit) and his lady love Jenny Banks (Dove Cameron), who is, of course, Dooley’s long-lost daughter, all of whom finally find their consciences and decide to do the right thing!
With Josh freed – hurrah!! – everyone rushes to stop the wedding facilitated by lawyer Bobby Flanagan (Jane Krakowski) which —– SPOILER ALERT!!!! —– they do with singing, threats and ultimatums and the judicious cutting of a particular rope holding a body-crushing chandelier in place.
See, a happy ending is arrived at! An honest to goodness happy ending which means, naturally that Josh and Melissa, unhappy in the real world, must stay as everyone gets their happy ever afters!
And I mean, everyone including the Narrator (Tituss Burgess) who decides he has had quite enough of helping everyone to figure out their next step and wants to start making some happiness of his own with … Sergeant Rivera who finally gets a man and his moment on stage as Frankfurter!
So much happiness, love and musical wonderment – stay John and Melissa stay!
But they don’t, knowing they need to go back and deal with life in the real world because something wonderful awaits them there, the exact nature of which will not be spoiler alerted in this post, but trust me, it’s all rather lovely.
Once again, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have crafted a beautifully realised love letter to musicals with an ending that has it all – characters getting the kind of endings they deserve, wonderful musical numbers rich in harmony and lyrical potency, some delightfully daffy moments of humour – Josh trying to forestall Rivera with made-up parables is gloriously loopy good fun – and an escapism weighted with some rather salient observations about life and lessons contained within.
In other words, a classic musical that also functions as an affectionate parody of them which is not easy to pull off with one aspect often overshadowing the other; but not here in Schmigadoon! which gets it expertly, perfectly and heartwarmingly right once again ending in a nod to Godspell, and which wraps things up rather neatly.
Could there be a third season? Possibly, though Paul Cinco isn’t indicating so at this point, but while that would be a joy of all almost every kind, you could argue things have ended quite perfectly at the end of two seasons which, again, is just like the musicals the creators of Schmigadoon! love so much, echoing everything we love about them including definitive endings where things come to a sure close and we are left basking in the glow of life done right.