But from there, the similarities begin to trail off as this limited series starts digging into the turf of motherhood, race, class and other serious stuff.
Elena and Bill Richardson (Witherspoon and Joshua Jackson) live a comfortable, highly ordered life in their Ohio mansion with their four teenage kids, of whom only young Izzy (terrific newcomer Megan Stott) is filled with angst and rebellion.
Elena is soon letting her rental property to itinerant artist and single mum Mia (Kerry Washington), but what ought to be a pleasantly inconsequential relationship is immediately freighted with tension, suspicion and resentment over things not immediately apparent.
All of this is rapidly exacerbated by the fact that Mia’s daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood), takes a shine to Elena, seeing in her the security and stability she yearns for, while the artistic Izzy quickly gravitates towards Mia – at least partly just to antagonise Elena.
Washington is electric, her character radiating a tightly contained hostility that bemuses the well-meaning Elena – and which only increases as each woman’s daughter keeps her lashed unhappily to the other. The kids are well-drawn characters, too, with a substantial world of their own that exists largely outside the awareness of their parents.
The teenage dramas are no less affecting for being familiar, and the adult world dials up the drama almost to melodrama level, beginning with the story of a Chinese illegal immigrant who has abandoned her baby.
With Mia’s experience and perspective as an African-American woman so central to everything, it’s clear that series creator Liz Tigelaar and her team of female writers are expanding significantly – and fruitfully – on the bestselling novel by Celeste Ng, in which Mia isn’t black.
At just eight episodes, it doesn’t demand a huge commitment, and while it’s highly bingeable, it has plenty of real substance, too. Each episode ends so enticingly poised that it’s hard not to let the next one play.
The appealing Bridie Connell (Tonightly with Tom Ballard) is a lot of fun in this surreal, snack-sized comedy series. Connell plays Sydneysider Liv, a diffident young thing who doesn’t pay enough attention to her gut instincts.
Oddly enough, a slight head trauma after a pub trivia night puts Liv in direct communication with her own gut (Connell again), who operates much more assertively from behind an antiquated control panel in a kind of meat-coloured womb. Series creator Hattie Archibald shows that trusting your gut can be a bit of a gamble.
Big Flower Fight
Floristry, horticulture and rudimentary engineering combine in this competition show. There’s a bit of a Great British Bake-Off vibe as two-person teams from both sides of the Atlantic assemble in a great big dome in the English countryside. Their first challenge: to create great big living garden sculptures in the shape of insects. It’s one thing to whack up a metal frame, stuff it with moss, wrap it in chicken wire and bung some plants in. It’s quite another to make it look absolutely amazing.
Dispatches From Elsewhere
Amazon Prime Video
Peter (Jason Segel) lives an oppressively dull life in Philadelphia – until one day he doesn’t. Responding on a whim to a strange ad, he becomes involved in an ostentatiously mysterious organisation with a suitably strange leader (Richard E. Grant). Suddenly, he’s racing all over town, caught up in a whirl of instructions, clues and warnings, with new friends including a young trans woman (Eve Lindley), a new widow (Sally Field) and an intense fellow played by Andre Benjamin.
Anna Kendrick is positively luminous in this anthology series about modern romance executive-produced by Transparent‘s Bridget Bedard and Bridesmaids‘ Paul Feig. A slightly David Attenborough kind of voice-over makes it feel a bit like we’re peering at a bug in a jar, though. A typical person, the narrator informs us, will go through seven relationships before finding the love of their life. Two of those relationships will be long-term, two will end in heartbreak, et cetera, et cetera.
Our typical person/bug in a jar is Darby (Kendrick), a bubbly but diffident young woman trying to make her way in the big city of New York. So who will her first relationship be with? One of her flatmates? Her boss at the museum walking-tour company (Scoot McNairy)? Or a handsome young political journalist (Devs‘ Jin Ha)?
Series creator Sam Boyd (In a Relationship) takes us into a world in which love is at once tentative, earnest, intoxicating and doomed, where the music department goes with synths for sex and soulful tearjerkers for break-ups. The target audience should dig it.
This riveting, Oscar-dominating documentary takes us inside the gruelling terror of the war in Syria in the most immediate and personal way. Journalist Waad Al-Kateab frames it as a letter to her baby daughter, Sama, explaining why she and her husband, Hamza, a doctor, decided to stay in the besieged city of Aleppo after she was born. The horror of life under merciless bombing from Syrian and Russian forces is shocking to see, and the courage of those who remain extraordinary. The effect on the children in the middle is tragic.
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