Today, we have two shows that lean on nostalgia to pique our initial interest. What’s satisfying is how one actually brings something fresh to the table beyond the nostalgia, while the other relies on casting that enthralls.
Only Murders in the Building (hulu) – Steve Martin and Martin Short, for those who have been following comedy since the late 1970’s, those two names are legendary. From Three Amigos, to Father of the Bride, and the stage revue they put together in 2019, the pair have worked together innumerable times, with undeniable chemistry. So what happens when you add a Selena Gomez to this duo of septuagenarians? Well, the jury may still be out as to whether she holds her own – some have praised the teaming up as it made younger audiences relate, while others feel she’s out of her depth. But one thing is certain, this 10-episode Limited Series is the surprise audience favorite of the Fall season. It’s a pocket of old school charm and comedy, wrapped up in a murder mystery.
The three all live in a New York apartment building, and while they aren’t technically friends when the series starts, their commonly shared fascination for true-crime shows make the three bond together when a neighbor commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. Their ‘inner sleuths’ emerge, and the back stories of the three genuinely help us invest in the characters. Steve is a washed-up, retired TV actor, while Martin is a Broadway director who’s past his prime, and Selena an interior designer who’s harboring a lot of secrets. In fact, as the backstories are unveiled, we realize just how much all three are keeping things from each other. Wonderful cameos abound, from Nathan Lane, to Sting. This much fun should be illegal; and we’ll all be sorry when the series comes to an end.
The Many Saints of Newark (HBO Max) – In the USA, much like Seinfeld is a religion when it comes to fans of TV comedy, The Sopranos is the Holy Grail for fans of Mob-related Crime shows on television. And when James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, passed away in 2013; for many, that was the end of the show. But as they say, Hollywood is a specialist in bringing dead horses to life, and what we have here is a prequel, a Sopranos movie that takes us back to when Tony Soprano was just a young boy – and moves on to Tony as a teenager, aching to embark on a life of crime with the ‘family’. And what’s interesting is how it’s James’ real-life son, Michael, playing the role of Tony in his teenage years.
Central to the film is Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who becomes something of a mentor to young Tony, and is the one character who’s in possession of his own energy, and isn’t tied down by having to be dictated by his older version in the TV series. Most everyone else seems to be trying too hard to be the predecessor of the by now familiar figure they become. And while the writers take pain in injecting elements of the rise of a militant Black America in the late 1960’s, it never feels organic. We don’t really see them as anything other than a rival gang or threat to the Mob rule in Newark. Even the casting of Michael Gandolfini comes much too late, we’re offered younger versions of Tony first, and when he does appear, he isn’t given that much to do – it likes they’re purposely planning that for the sequel to this prequel. Hollywood!