Bel Air is a television show that, by all accounts, shouldn’t exist. It seems to take place is some dark timeline where The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is an hour-long family soap opera instead of a light family sitcom. The odd thing is it kind of works.
Some of that may be due to the influence of the original Fresh Prince Will Smith who lends his considerable star power to producing the new series. He knows the original material inside and out allowing him to give his blessing and put his mark on the new Bel Air.
The concept itself began life as a short film produced by Morgan Cooper. Once Will Smith saw it he immediately saw the potential of the series and brought it to life. The results are a mixed bag. For instance, it’s nice that the pilot spends most of its run time establishing who the new Will Smith (played with tons of charisma by Jabari Banks) is and what his life was like before he moved to Los Angeles. That’s a whole chapter the sitcom glossed over in the 90s.
It also adds a whole lot more depth to the rest of the family. In this universe Hillary (CoCo Jones) is a struggling social media influencer focused on creating her own culinary business. She’s very independent which is a nice change from the original. Carlton (Olly Sholotan) on the other hand is played as a villain right away. Any naïve swarm that the original character had in the 90s is now amped up right away.
The only one really left in the shadows is the new Ashley (Akira Akbar). It’s a shame too because the original Will Smith and Ashley Banks had a ton of chemistry and it seems like that’s been swapped out for a Will/Hilary relationship instead. Let’s hope she gets some attention and doesn’t become the cousin Oliver of the series.
If nothing else the show is gutsy as hell. The whole concept is crazy but it’s being done in the best possible way with the best possible people behind it. With clear story arcs and character development expect Bel Air to create a whole new generation of fans. Let’s hope they seek out the original show to see the origin of the series because the original Fresh Prince of Bel Air is still a classic.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.
Platonic On Apple TV
“Platonic,” the comedy series on Apple TV, is a refreshing addition to the comedy genre, blending humor and heart in a way that resonates with a diverse audience. Developed with a keen understanding of human relationships, the show explores the complexities of friendship and the blurred lines between romance and platonic connections.
At the core of “Platonic” is a stellar cast, whose chemistry elevates the material to new heights. The performances are nuanced and authentic, with each actor bringing a unique energy to their role. The lead duo’s dynamic is particularly commendable, effortlessly navigating the intricate balance between comedic banter and moments of genuine emotional depth.
The writing is sharp and clever, delivering witty dialogue that keeps the audience engaged throughout. The humor is not only situational but also rooted in the well-developed personalities of the characters. The series intelligently tackles contemporary issues, offering a relevant and insightful commentary on modern friendships and the evolving nature of human connections.
One of the standout features of “Platonic” is its ability to evoke laughter while also exploring deeper themes. The series doesn’t shy away from addressing the challenges and vulnerabilities that come with navigating adult friendships. This blend of humor and introspection adds a layer of authenticity that distinguishes it from typical sitcoms.
Visually, the show is well-crafted, with polished production values and a vibrant aesthetic. The use of cinematography complements the storytelling, enhancing the comedic timing and emotional beats. The pacing is brisk, keeping the audience engaged without sacrificing the narrative’s depth.
While “Platonic” primarily falls under the comedy genre, it successfully transcends the limitations often associated with sitcoms. It manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, making it a standout entry in the realm of contemporary television. Whether you’re seeking a good laugh or a more profound exploration of human connections, “Platonic” on Apple TV delivers on multiple fronts, making it a commendable addition to your watchlist.