STREAMING REVIEW: Traversing the streaming mainstream

Published February 20, 2021, 7:19 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

It’s a known fact that more often, I’ve been reviewing the more prestige, high-brow streaming options; as honestly, they need more of a push – for example, films on Netflix like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Pieces of a Woman, and Malcolm & Marie, didn’t make much of a dent in the Most Watched list. And yet, they’re the ones picking up film awards nominations. But yes, for a change, I’m reviewing the more mainstream shows – new domestic dramas, YA fare, thrillers, and sit-com’s. Happy viewing!

Behind Her Eyes (Netflix UK) – Here’s a 6-episode Limited Series that tries its hardest to be different, mysterious, and a portent of trouble to come. The question is whether is it all intent and set-up; or does it actually deliver? We start off with Louise (Simona Brown), a British-African single mom who lives with her 7-year old son, and works as a secretary at a Psychiatry clinic. She meets David (Tom Bateman) at a bar and they hit it off but he abruptly leaves, apologizing. We discover the next day that’s he’s her new boss, and he’s married to Adele (Eve Hewson, who’s the daughter of Bono of U2).

As the episodes glide by, we see that one of the themes of the series is how the ordinary people we may encounter on the street, have deep, dark secrets haunting them. Things get complicated when the flirting between Louise and David continue, and Adele befriends Louise without David’s knowing – cue in sex scenes. Flashbacks abound, and malevolent dreams and characters occur. I’ll hand it to the series that it earnestly gives us complications, and keeps us guessing on who really are the villains of the piece. Involving; but in the end, it hinges on whether the well-loved psychological thriller of Sarah Pinborough has made a successful transition to Television.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Amazon Prime USA) – This is a YA adventure that gives an overt nod to the premise of films such as Groundhog Day and Time Bandits. One could even call it the teenage version of Palm Springs (the funny 2020 Andy Samberg film). We’re introduced to High School senior Mark (Kyle Allen) in the opening credits, going through his morning routine in Smalltown USA. The little trick crops up as we discover he goes through this routine on a daily basis, caught in a ‘temporal anomaly’, i.e. a time loop. And yes, this is a charming introduction to Mark.

It’s when he encounters Margaret (Kathryn Newton), who alone in Mark’s world, is conscious of experiencing the very same thing, that the plot ‘thickens’. There’s a lot of light, cutesy humorous moments, a lot of earnest pondering about what this all means. And I’ll concede that the two have chemistry together. Newton was great in Freaky (the mature, horror/comedy tribute to Freaky Friday that also starred Vince Vaughn), but here, she’s not asked to do much, when the screenplay might have been more interesting if done from Margaret’s perspective. She has the more interesting back story; but it’s Mark narrating. Entertaining, but could have been so much more.

Red Dot (Netflix Sweden) – Filmed in the forest wilds of Sweden where one can sleep under the Northern Lights, the title of this film refers to the red dot that appears when the telescopic sights of one’s rifle is aimed at its target. It’s ominous, it’s chilling (literally and metaphorically), and this is a visceral, grim adventure thriller that’s ready to take no prisoners. The main characters are David, a fresh Engineering graduate, and his mulatto girlfriend, then wife, Nadja. To try and rekindle their marriage, he suggests a ski trip, and it’s there that they discover she’s pregnant. 

The rising racism and xenophobia in Sweden gets its overt reference via Nadja’s skin color and the way some Swedish ‘rednecks’ refer to her, or refuse to acknowledge her presence. This is essentially a stalker film, and it is relentless the moment it really gets going. I also liked how it’s ready to keep us off-balance by refusing to meet our expectations vis-a-vis resolutions and endings. The fact that we’re dealing with a cast of relative unknowns may keep you from watching this, but if you’re looking for a hard-boiled thriller, this actually fits the bill.

The Crew (Netflix USA) – Here is one of the big reasons why I don’t watch mainstream on a regular basis. First off, this series should be subtitled ‘Product Placement’ – I’ve not seen such heavy-handed and overt product placement in a long time. Secondly, while Kevin James has had his moments in his comedy film career, you feel one has to evolve and subtly change to stay relevant. This series, both in terms of the character Kevin plays, and the script which relies too heavily on the old shtick that being female and a millennial is a threat, and can be mined for laughs, is too 1990’s. It’s like we’re operating in a time warp, asked to sympathize with characters who honestly, don’t deserve our sympathy.

To make things worse, the comedy series is set in the world of NASCAR. From what I know, NASCAR has been trying to become more relevant, and broaden its fan base. I don’t think this series is going to help any. James can still evoke belly laughs, but it’s more from his physical comedy than from any gem of a joke or repartee the script has produced. I know this series will find its own set of fans; but I’d stay far away if you’re looking for ‘woke’ comedy, or humor that’s based on the realities of today. I would like to see Kevin with a worthwhile project, but sadly, this isn’t the one.