Published June 1, 2021, 1:54 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

What qualities do we possess to justify our being called human beings, or people with the right values? Questions raised by two of the shows reviewed here. And a blue collar detective series that truly shines.

Sweet Tooth (Netflix USA) – Based on DC source material written by Jeff Lemire, this 8-episode Limited Series drops on Netflix on June 4th, and it’s an imaginative, involving adaptation, punctuated by impressive acting from our young protagonist, Gus. Christian Convery plays Gus, a deer-boy, one of the hybrids that sprouted out of nowhere during a global viral pandemic. It’s how the series opens, and as can be expected, the parallels to what is going on now in terms of COVID, stares us in the face. But what this fantasy narrative does quite excellently, is turn this medical crisis on its head, to become a story of trenchant social commentary. At its heart, it’s about our fear of the unique and/or different; and how our knee jerk reaction is to demonize these beings.

Are they human, or are they animal? That will be the crux of what is examined as these hybrids face the challenge of being deemed atrocities, and better off incarcerated or even exterminated. Susan Downey & her relatively unknown husband Robert Jr. are Executive Producers for this series. Nonso Anozie (who you may remember from GOT) plays the bounty hunter of said hybrids, who grudgingly befriends Gus – and has his own back story for doing so. Will Forte plays Gus’ father and James Brolin narrates. You’ll like how other characters are given their own stories, and how these different strands converge as we follow Gus on his journey to the outside world. Be forewarned that there isn’t some fairy tale ending, as the series stays true to the tone of the graphic novel.

Mare of Easttown (HBO Go) – Finally, an acting project worthy of the talents of one Kate Winslett. Too often, she’s asked to do acting that doesn’t measure up to her abilities. Here, in small town Pennsylvania of all places, she’s put in the center of a blue collar detective series that gives her the room to create her own character, and make it feel so real. As Mare, Winslett takes on a limp, vapes constantly, and has a bad hair dye-job with the roots all showing. In a working class town, the local detective is someone who’s grown up right there, and who everyone knows. It’s against this backdrop of familiarity that Mare has to do her investigating. A missing girl case and a murder report take up this first season, but those would only be the crimes, as the series is more about people and interaction.

Method actor that she is, Winslett knows that a real life detective such as Mare would never crowd a scene, or try to be the center of attention – so while being the title character of the series and knowing that she’s center stage, it’s impressive to note how willingly she shares the spotlight, and makes the other characters come to vivid life. It’s an intelligently written series that speaks volumes about life in a small working class town in the USA – how crimes that are committed would inevitably mean your friend or acquaintance could be responsible, and how disruptive and intimidating the simplest question can become. I loved how when I posted about this series, so many reacted saying they were looking forward to the last episode and how they had loved the series.

Mainstream (Video on Demand) – If you were wondering what Andrew Garfield’s movie career has been like post-Spiderman, here is still another opportunity to see him making daring choices in terms of film projects and material. Directed and co-written by Gia Coppola, this film is a savage and heavy-hitting take on social media culture, and what drives our world today. If you got stuck on the family name of the Director, know that Gia is in fact the granddaughter of Francis Ford – that’s how old we are, those who did a second take on the illustrious surname. Starring Andrew Garfield & Maya Hawke, Garfield plays a layabout who’s stalled life consists of working as a mascot in mall shows, and feeding off the weirdness of his personality. Maya Hawke is a waitress waiting for her break, as she harbors dreams of going into TV production and being a social media maven.

It’s when the paths of these two cross that a very obnoxious but clickbait-able persona emerges, and Garfield’s character is well on his way to being the cynical darling of social media, even courted as an influencer thanks to the views of the video content he churns out. Biting the hand that feeds him; at one point in this film, you’ll have to make a choice whether this is the most objectionable person who has gained popularity, or is it actually a reflection of us, who need our fix of such personalities on our social media feeds. I love one sequence where there’s an online show hosted by a has-been, and he brings together on a panel all these social influencers. The irony put out there is that these so-called celebrities don’t really have any special gift or talent, and yet they’re idolized and emulated. Coppola’s screenplay does have ambition, but I wonder if she’s biting off more than she can chew.