They Should’ve Sent an Email — “Citadel” Continues

The show about every spy losing their memory returns. If you don’t remember what happened last time on “Citadel”, god you’re lucky. Richard Madden’s amnesiac Kyle had his spy memories as supersuave Mason destroyed, but Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ amnesiac Nadia was able to get hers back. Now they’re working together to stop the evil Manticore from procuring eight year old nuclear codes.

The first thing they do is retcon the nuclear codes into an A.I. that can track uranium globally. That no one’s been able to rewrite. In 8 years. While ChatGPT is over here going, “You need those paid writers? I’m free. You gonna need those paid programmers? I’m free.” Timely. Evil Manticore Lady doesn’t breathe a word about “nuclear codes” after repeating it every other scene in the first two episodes.

Robert Rodriguez literally recorded all the dialogue in the $7,000 movie “El Mariachi” in post-production. The makers of the $300 million “Citadel” just decided no one would notice if “nuclear codes” suddenly changed to “uranium detecting A.I.” I highlighted the staggering number of gaffes that could’ve easily been edited out in my review of the first two eps, why am I still surprised?

But forget that! We’re gonna have a flashback of how Kyle/Mason and Nadia first met! It’s basically an excuse for an action scene, but who understands how those work in spy movies? We better have a meeting about it first.

We don’t need any of this set-up. You could cut directly to the action sequence and we’d be fine. That’s how every Bond movie starts and we don’t lament that we missed the conference meeting. It doesn’t matter if Mason is retrieving an evil megavirus, the Ark of the Covenant, or second-hand Taylor Swift tickets. We get it, each is a source of unspeakable power and it has to be researched.

I still remember the joy of “Mission: Impossible 3” never telling you what the McGuffin they’re chasing is. Few spy films have so cleanly acknowledged it doesn’t matter. But “Citadel” is doing a 10-minute flashback. If 5 minutes of it isn’t a meeting describing a McGuffin that’ll never matter again, then why’d we pay for this secret base set? Stanley lost the receipt, it’s not like we can return it.

To be fair, there’s nowhere else for the dialogue to shine. Those meetings are important because they give the characters opportunities to quip with the energy of your CEO sharing a joke they saw on Reddit and expecting you to courtesy laugh before he tells you there’s no bonus this year, but the executives’ Aegean cruise was beautiful (true story).

This ensures that “Citadel” has officially joined “Halo” in that rare genre of shows about meetings that I like to call Could’ve Been an Email. Half-hour spy cartoons have already mastered the art of knowing the audience has seen this bit countless times before, and their audience is primarily children who have only had five minutes of cogent thought, mostly about Legos or Minecraft or whatever’s popular with kids right now. Tik Tok? The return of child labor? Have pogs cycled back around yet? The point is we don’t need an entire meeting to outline an action sequence that’s only going to be important for 5 minutes of flashback. If a 10 year-old treats it as a waste of limited free time before their McDonald’s night shift, why don’t we?

Slow-forward to Mason escaping an Iranian facility with a deadly Ebola-like plague in hand. Once they get to the action sequence, the ideas are mostly great. He improvises, adapts, and uses the tools he finds on hand. He’s chased by paratroopers, he pops out cheesy magic ski boots that remind me of that parasurfing scene from “Die Another Day”, there’s snowmobile vs. ski vs. jet fighter action, the bad guys can’t hit the broadside of a barn, Mason never misses a shot, it’s 90% amazeballs. If only we got to see it. In between every awesome action moment, we cut back to headquarters where a man we’ve never met before helpfully says things like, “Two guys from the last scene down, two guys for the next scene approaching”. Yes. That is the thing I just saw and am about to see. I could tell that by, you know, watching the action scene.

Cinematic history.

Mason shoots two guys, cut to Suddenly Important Dude at base staring at a screen. Two red dots disappear. “Two skis down”. Two more red dots appear. “Two ATVs approaching”. Cut to action scene. You’ll never guess. Two ATVs approach.

These cutaways happen in many series to afford the action larger transitions than would be comfortable if we just saw the sequence straight through. When you cut away for every single minor action for minutes straight, it just shows you have no idea how to cut the action itself together. Mason can’t get two shots off without going to Cutaway Dude telling his red dots, “You got two shots off, in the next scene it’s a dark and stormy night”.

It’s a Could’ve Been an Email inside another Could’ve Been an Email. It Could’ve Been an Email all the way down.

Mason is injured, Nadia shows up, badass choreography is intercut with, “Mason! Last scene just happened, next scene incoming”. Safe in the knowledge that the action sequence has been thoroughly sabotaged, we cut to Mason sitting around in bandages like he’s waiting for his cue. Mason and Nadia briefly officially meet after the mission, and insult each others’ mothers. The very next scene they’re sleeping together. Er, Mason and Nadia are. Not the moms. At this rate, that’ll be next episode.

I’d say there’s no way that anyone could possibly think this passes for romantic dialogue, but then again it’s like 90% of the Russos’ screenplay for “The Gray Man”. I’m beginning to think Your Mom jokes are what the Russos throw in as dialogue when they become panicked. It’s a survival mechanism, like a skunk spraying sulfur juice or a possum keeling over or a herd of buffalo forming a defensive circle around your mom.

“Hey, Russo Bro! Russbro. I’ve got these two characters who need to have sexy banter that convinces the audience that they spark immediately.”

“Have they insulted each others moms yet?”

“We can do better than that.”

“Agh, a spider!”

“One’s an orphan who never had a mom, hilarious!”

OK, I have to admit I’m actually kinda jealous of the Russos’ fame. My frustration first arises from my childhood. It was a gusty Autumn day when my third grade class first stood around before school and made Your Mom jokes to pass the time. Apparently we wrote a high quality screenplay every week just standing in line, but we didn’t think to write anything down. Sometimes the geese in the baseball field would attack a passing cyclist. Halcyon days. My point is, we had it in us to waste $300 million, too.

After all these scenes that could’ve been emails, the next scene is an email. What a twist! Well, it’s text messaging. Close enough. Thrillingly staccato violin music backs modern-day Nadia typing out brief texts in exciting codephrases like “How’s the weather?” and “How’s the package?” We could get a swift back-and-forth like in any spy thriller, but “Citadel” is grounded and realistic whenever it gets embarrassed about having Inspector Gadget ski boots in a previous scene. That means we get to see the messaging play out in real time, as Nadia waits at length for responses. We even take the time to see her look around the room with pained expressions as she racks her mind about what to write, which is something that would make sense if she weren’t writing clearly prescribed codephrases. Oh god, the emails are even worse. You know what, it could’ve been a sick day.

Luckily, half the episode is Stanley Tucci being tortured. Wait, that came out wrong. I mean, he’s the only one riding the line between this show’s cheesiness and faux gravitas. The one liners still don’t work because they’re variations on the same joke: characters telling each other to fuck themselves over and over again. OK, they’re not actually jokes with a punchline or a set-up or anything that makes a joke, but “Citadel” keeps acting like they are and after a certain amount of time you don’t want to be the odd one out even though you’re watching this alone because you wouldn’t dare inflict this show on loved ones. Here’s where they really need Cutaway Guy describing over comms, “That was one joke, another joke incoming”. Still, Tucci works because he read the script and recognized this is a job for Nic Cage, but I guess he wasn’t available. And Tucci can Cage it up enough to get the job done.

Lol and behold, the end of the episode features a twist. After Mason the spy lost his memory and became Kyle, he met another woman who’d lost her memory, married her, and had a daughter who thus far hasn’t lost her memory thank god for small favors. Weird that Mason-Kyle and his now-wife Abby lost their memories right around the same time, when all the other Citadel spies also lost their memories. I bet that doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a coincidence in this series about nothing being a coincidence when it could be badly written instead.

But the Manticore villain tagged to torture Tucci next was in love with Mason’s now-wife when she was a spy and maybe this villain was Citadel, too but also lost his memory. Makes no sense? Just looks like I mashed words together? Introduces massive plot holes? Basically assume that if someone on this show didn’t lose their memory, they did, and that also covers the writers and directors. If you want to have an action scene’s description described to you or see a real-time portrayal of texting “I’m bored, how bout u?”, you got yourself a show.

Literally nothing happens in this episode until the final 30 seconds. And just in case you don’t know what that means, remember you can always sign up to get this as an email.

You can watch “Citadel” on Amazon Prime, which is great because I don’t feel bad like I would if this happened to another streaming service.

Why do this to myself? Because you subscribe to my Patreon!

New Shows + Movies by Women — The Writers Strike and A.I.

The Writers Guild strike hits on a number of issues, even as streaming service numbers boom and those services are coming off years of record subscriptions and profits. One of the many issues on the table is the use of A.I. content generation. Writers want to ensure that they won’t be replaced by A.I. That may seem silly, but already we’ve seen Netflix test the waters by replacing animators with A.I.-generated art in “Dog & The Boy”. We’ve seen A.I. generated children’s books. We’ve seen magazines that have stopped accepting submissions from new writers because of the flood of A.I.-written content.

The legitimate fears here are multifold. Streaming services are already trying to push salaried writer positions into gig work. In other words, not being paid by the project, but simply by the day or the hour. Writers don’t fear immediate replacement, but by using A.I. to bash out scripts and writers to simply edit and polish, the industry would have an advantage in forcing screenwriting into a gig economy. This is less than a year, by the way, after Netflix was found to be systematically withholding residuals from 216 of its writers.

For viewers, A.I. generated writing would mean less creative scripts, more homogenized plot and dialogue, and iteration of what we’ve seen before. A.I. content generation doesn’t create, it combines and rehashes. Writing is about pushing boundaries and being the first to confront salient social themes. An A.I. spamming story concepts according to executive-directed prompts would do none of that.

I write about it here because we all know the first writers to face the chopping block – women, people of color, LGBTQ+ writers, the disabled. A.I. overwhelmingly coded by white, male teams to iterate on the work of the selections of white, male executives will severely narrow the stories we see and limit access and opportunity for anyone different to get their story across.

Take it from someone whose culture has been enormously erased through assimilation. The automated scraping of styles and influences in order to create a homogenized output is a cultural threat. To automate art or writing, to tell a program to create something in the style of a particular painter or cultural art form, negates the barrier to entry of talent, practice, training, and of the culturally unique experiences that inform artistic decisions. What’s unique to a lot of marginalized cultures and how that informs the artists within each is going to get drowned out by mountains of automated emulation. The norm for each style is going to be replaced by what people outside that culture use A.I. content generators to emulate. The decisions an A.I. content generator makes are going to be based not on experience, but on scraping, aggregating, and averaging out a set of commonalities that lack context and experience.

Art is one of the few things that manages to survive genocides, and in surviving helps cultures to endure. Do you trust an A.I. to amalgamate and average out a timely and salient story about abortion rights? Or do you trust a woman to do it?

For my part, I don’t trust an A.I. to scrape, aggregate, and emulate a story about what it’s like being Hispanic in a country playing footsie with fascism. The A.I. hasn’t experienced that. The A.I. has no earned context, no comprehension, no empathy. It’s just scraping, looking for commonalities, and outputting.

The labor concerns are underappreciated and under-reported. The cultural ones are barely being discussed. A.I. content generation requires regulation, and it must not replace the artistic jobs that help us maintain and progress our norms. You want to put all our stories in the hands of a few, all the experiences we’re asked to empathize with in the hands of an executive making profit judgments through a tool that has no ability to earn experience or comprehend context? Dictators have dreamed of that level of killing the arts and replacing it with control, and despite their greatest efforts that has remained a dream because they’ve only ever done so fleetingly and at great cost. Now we stare wide-eyed at handing it to them fully prepped for a low, low fee.

To my knowledge, the Writers Guild has not asked for any boycotts as of yet. During some similar strikes and threatened strikes in the past, watching has been encouraged as a way of showing support for the work and the artists who make it. Therefore, I’ll continue as normal unless and until I know differently. It is an exceptional time to support the work of marginalized writers, directors, crew, and actors.

This week, new series by women come from the U.K. and U.S. New films by women come from France and the U.S.


Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Netflix)
showrunner Shonda Rhimes

This spinoff of “Bridgerton” shows young Queen Charlotte growing up. India Amarteifio stars. Younger versions of some other familiar characters also show up.

Showrunner Shonda Rhimes is, of course, the showrunner behind “Scandal” and “Inventing Anna”.

“Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” is on Netflix. All 6 episodes are out.

Tom Jones (PBS)
showrunner Gwyneth Hughes
directed by Georgia Parris

PBS brings a new adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel. A romance at heart, it follows the adopted son of a wealthy squire as he grows up, goes through various love affairs, and discovers his biological parentage.

Showrunner and writer Gwyneth Hughes has written on a number of British series, including “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. Director Georgia Parris is relatively new, having started in art and casting departments before more recently directing her first feature in dance-drama “Mari”.

“Tom Jones” is on PBS. The premiere is out with a new episode every Sunday for a total of 4.

A Small Light (Hulu, Disney+)
co-showrunner Joan Rater
half-directed by women

“A Small Light” tells the story of Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family from Nazi genocide during World War II. The Frank family spent more than two years under her protection.

Joan Rater showruns with husband Tony Phelan. She wrote and produced on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Madam Secretary”. Susanna Fogel directs two episodes. She also co-wrote “Booksmart” and directed on “The Flight Attendant”. Leslie Hope directs two episodes. The onetime “24” actress has directed on series like “Lost in Space”, “Snowpiercer”, and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”.

“A Small Light” is on Hulu and Disney+. Two episodes arrive every Monday, with two out now and 8 in total.

Fatal Attraction (Paramount Plus)
showrunner Alexandra Cunningham
half-directed by women

Lizzy Caplan stars as Alex, who’s having an affair with the married Dan (Joshua Jackson). She refuses to let him end it, stalking him, his wife Beth (Amanda Peet), and their daughter. The series is based on the 1987 film, which starred Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.

Showrunner Alexandra Cunningham was a writer and producer on “Desperate Housewives”, and showran “Dirty John” and “Physical”. Directors include Cunningham, Stacy A. Littlejohn, Katherine B. McKenna, and Tandace Khorrami.

“Fatal Attraction” is on Paramount Plus. The three-episode premiere is out now. A new episode arrives every Sunday for a total of 8.


Soft & Quiet (Netflix)
directed by Beth de Araujo

An elementary school teacher organizes a mixer for women, but when one shows up from her past, chaos ensues. The horror mystery plays out in real time.

This is writer-director Beth de Araujo’s first feature.

“Soft & Quiet” is on Netflix.

Both Sides of the Blade (Hulu)
directed by Claire Denis

Juliette Binoche stars as Sara in this French film. She’s caught in a love triangle between her long-time partner and his best friend, her former lover. Vincent Lindon also stars.

Director and co-writer Claire Denis also helmed “Beau Travail”, “Trouble Every Day”, “White Material”, and “High Life”.

“Both Sides of the Blade” is on Hulu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

Subscribe to my Patreon! It helps with the time and resources to write more features like this one.

Peace and Longing — “Insomniacs After School”

Ganta is a student suffering insomnia. He can’t sleep at night and can barely function during class. One day, he sneaks into the school’s disused observatory. It looks like the perfect place to disappear and catch some shuteye. There’s only one problem – another insomniac has beat him to it. Isaki is in the same class, but they’ve never talked. Opening up about their condition allows them to find more in common than they thought.

They start spending time together, sneaking out to wander town at night and cleaning up the observatory to make it more comfortable. The plot is pretty low stakes. Will people question it if they’re suddenly friendly in class? Will they get caught by a teacher? It makes the series feel more experiential, but no less interesting. To students struggling to cope and find a way through, these everyday worries feel as intense as saving the world.

Whether Ganta and Isaki can keep using the observatory turns into some taut storytelling that feels weightier and more fraught than most action series this year. This tension shapes the series, but doesn’t define it. Instead, “Insomniacs After School” has a wonderful sense of peace and calm, punctuated with joy and undercut with just a hint of sadness. There’s a sense of each night being important because it’s fleeting, and of two people finally seeing in each other someone who shares and understands their burdens. It’s very sweet storytelling, and perfect to watch just before bed.

An alum named Shiromaru agrees to teach them about astrophotography. There’s a sequence where we follow her in the third episodes. She packs up her camera, cat, a tupperware of batter, and a skillet before heading to a shrine in the dead of night. She sets up her camera. She makes sure her cat is leashed and safe. Pictures of the night sky take time. She cooks a pancake with care, applies butter as if it’s a personal ritual. She savors it. She reads a little. The night is calm. Crickets chirp. The sky is beautiful. It’s a transcendent bit of magic, an utterly captivating scene where nothing much happens. Yet we see a glimpse into how much this moment means for one person, how at home she is doing what she loves, how much calm she can find in a moment so few others would think to experience.

The strength of “Insomniacs After School” rests in how much it appreciates the ordinary. Its low stakes and patience find worthwhile storytelling in realistic things, while its phenomenal sense of atmosphere allows us to slow down and bask in peaceful moments – the ones that shape us because they ask us to connect and be moved without defenses. It understands the thin line between peace and longing.

That scene with Shiromaru, her cat, the stars, it’s the first time we see her as she really is, and we understand how content she is when she can be exactly that. So too with Ganta and Isaki, who are still finding themselves, whose glimpses of who they really are vanish too quickly because of the guardedness of high school. You see them learn to find these better, to glimpse who they are a bit longer each time, and to find in each other someone who provides the safety and trust to be vulnerable. It’s one of the more realistic presentations of the psychology of coming-of-age I’ve seen.

(I was pleasantly surprised to find that Isaki’s voice actor is Mori Nana. She leads another captivatingly calm show this year, the live-action “The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House”.)

“Insomniacs After School” is superb. I wasn’t actually a fan of slice-of-life anime until recently. The series I’d seen in the genre 10 years back often seemed to incorporate a few less than savory elements that felt out of place at best and exploitative at worst. I know we pin that on cultural differences, but for a country that gobbles up shows like “Euphoria” it’s a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Now I don’t think this element has shifted any more in anime than it has in our productions, but streaming has made it much easier to find the ones that don’t sabotage their empathy with objectification set pieces.

It was “Komi Can’t Communicate” and its exceptional portrayal of social anxiety that drew me back in. “Komi” is really more of a satire that capably veers from soothing calm to rabid chaos goblin at the drop of a hat, but it targets and satirizes prior works’ exploitation in a way that’s protective of its characters. In other words, it feels like I can trust the show with them. That makes space for something more honest, in a way that asks us to understand both the characters and ourselves. The genre of more psychological, community-oriented, protective slice-of-life series didn’t start with “Komi”, but that’s what convinced me to give the genre another try.

I’m glad I did. This season’s “Insomniacs After School” and “Skip and Loafer” are easy contenders for best of the year lists, and not solely for animated series. They’ve both wowed me and – look, we live in interesting times to say the least. I need shows like this that are about kindness and people building supportive community. I need to know that even as these things are eroded in the real world, there are artists out there saying “Not here, not in the space we can control”. Art shapes norms, and norms decide whether we are kind, whether we choose to build community. I look around so many places and am grimly reminded who we seem to be. I need the spaces and the characters and the artists who remind me what we can be, and that other people out there do see a better way as well. I mentioned above that “Insomniacs After School” understands the thin line between peace and longing. It offers a place where I can understand it, too.

“Insomniacs After School” is on Hidive.

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I Watched “Citadel” and Now I Want My Memory Wiped, Too!

Quick, your spy organization’s just been compromised! You need to keep all your spies safe! Luckily, they’re the best in the world. Every agent has elite knowledge and skills that will help them blend in and disappear. Every one of them can take a thousand faces. They have the talent to disappear in any country, any time. So what’s your genius super-secret plan to protect them all? Wipe their memories. Give them all amnesia. When they’re hunted and in the sights of other top spies, what they need most is to forget all their knowledge and all those skills that can help them hide and defend themselves. Top stuff.

In a year that’s rife with spies deputizing their wives and boyfriends cause our collective fantasy for state security is how dreamy it would be if it was even more nepotistic, “Citadel” manages to come up with the most nonsense premise of the whole bunch.

Of course, who am I to judge? Wiping all your spies of their memories and knowledge seems to work perfectly in “Citadel”. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be a show.

We start with Mason Kane and Nadia Sinh, played by Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. They’re on one of those central European trains with such great set design that we long for the simple days when becoming a suspect in a transcontinental murder investigation was a realistic vacation goal. Mason and Nadia aren’t here for that; they’re too busy carrying out a super-secret mission. We know this because they talk about it openly in earshot of the other passengers, including their target. Their target gets up, presumably tired of pretending he can’t hear them. Nadia follows, but then the target’s bodyguard follows so Mason follows. First to fourth, they’re maybe 20 feet apart. They may as well be hugging. This does not encourage great confidence in our spies.

Things go wrong, we get a fistfight, a gunfight, and a fistfight with guns. Our spies are good at each, hey maybe this’ll work out. We’re introduced to Citadel, who Mason and Nadia work for, and the evil Manticore. It’s a trap! Explosions ensue, that wacky amnesia failsafe triggers, and we’ve got a plot with immediate stakes in the here and now.

Fast-forward eight years later. Mason only knows himself as ordinary guy Kyle now. When he takes a DNA test in the hopes of learning something about his past, he pings on intelligence agencies’ boards. Luckily, Citadel braintrust Bernard Orlick arrives in the form of Stanley Tucci. He abducts Mason and his family, convinces Mason he used to be a spy (rather easily), and that they need to go on a mission.

What’s the mission? Citadel’s eight year-old case of state secrets has been found by Manticore. Manticore wants the case because it has nuclear codes! It has nuclear codes. It…has nuclear codes? Have we not changed those in eight years? You know, it was on the list. I just got distracted cause that light bulb needed changing, I had to call the cable company, and then we were out of condensed milk so I had to run to the store. They didn’t have it, I had to go to a second place. I’ve had a lot on my plate. I promise I’ll change the nuclear codes next weekend. It’s the next thing on my list. Oh, but we’re supposed to go to your sister’s. Well, you know, it’s not like we ever use them, it’ll be fine – wait, Manticore did what?!?

Look, if we haven’t changed our nuclear codes in eight years, that starts to sound more like an us problem. Maybe Manticore should get them. They didn’t forget about the nuclear codes. You did. For 8 years, you’ve been telling me you listen to me. You’ve been telling me you would change them. No, it’s not just about the nuclear codes, Stanley, it’s about what they represent. They represent that you didn’t care enough to get it done then. Manticore seems to care. You call them evil, I call them attentive. Maybe you’re just projecting.

So, spies protected by brainwiping them of ways to hide and defend themselves, check. Your McGuffin is a case of 8-year-old nuclear codes, which in the real world are replaced daily. Cool beans. The case ultimately contains more that has to do with the actual plot, but Manticore’s big thing is “hey, sweet, classic nuclear code memorabilia”.

Also, on the brain wiping, amnesia, and spy/non-spy mind-states – your whole premise? “Carmen Sandiego” did it. A lot of people have, but recently. And more complexly. And with better fight choreo that often included a mime.

Despite all this, “Citadel” gets the job done if you want a globe-trotting, loosely cobbled together spy wotsit. It’s pretty enough, the leads are good enough, the aerial establishing shots of a dozen cities are aerial enough. S’ok. There are worse things than watching Madden and Chopra for forty minutes an ep.

Some very good ideas raise their heads momentarily. When Nadia has her memories wiped, it’s right after she’s killed someone in self-defense. Everything sets up for the kind of thrilling scene about shock, identity, and dissonance that a Bourne-again is built around. It’s a stunning opportunity for Chopra to sink her teeth into some humanizing acting that connects to the audience. The entire sequence has been leading up to this utterly intriguing moment of how a freshly blank-slated human reacts to something so inexplicable. It’s going to be the most interesting scene in the entire series. When that moment of reckoning so many stories hope to capture arrives…we cut away. Cause who wants to see that?

There are opportunities here for something more ambitious. “Citadel” just isn’t ambitious. Worse than that, it often feels disinterested. There are a ton of script supervision details that should’ve been worked out better. When we pick up with Mason and his family all these years later, they live in a very sizable house in the woods on some ideal acreage. Later, he complains to Bernard in New York City that he’s so bad off he couldn’t afford to park there. The two details don’t agree. That’s a small mistake, certainly excusable, but it sabotages who this character is in a moment that’s trying to describe him.

There’s a scene where one of the villains’ henchmen shoots into the air in a restaurant and orders everyone to leave. One of the next shots is a close-up of his face – but it’s noticeable behind him that no one’s rushing, the customers and wait staff are pretty leisurely about strolling out.

Even in the very first shot, we see Nadia pickpocket her mark so she can return his “dropped” wallet to him later. Look closely enough, though, and she’s carrying the wallet well before she bumps into him. This series cost $300 million to make; they couldn’t CGI it out?

The fight choreography – and there’s a lot of it – is both creative and impressive. Overall, it’s one of the show’s more successful aspects. Yet even here there are moments where you can see an impact doesn’t connect or how a stuntperson absorbs a fall. That’s not their fault, it’s what stunt actors do – that’s the stunt part of it. It’s the director’s job to cleverly hide these aspects. The fault lies in choosing a camera angle because it looks good instead of choosing one that can look good while also working for the choreo.

These kind of details pop up in everything. Every movie and series has a boom mic showing, a camera in a reflection if you look closely enough, a script contradiction that didn’t get caught, a hit that doesn’t connect. They’re fine, they’re part of storytelling. You just want to keep the rate of them below a certain level. Our suspension of disbelief allows a lot. “Citadel” overfloweth. The sheer rate of unforced errors suggests that the people making this didn’t care enough to sort out details that would’ve been easy to solve. If the people making “Citadel” don’t think their show warrants the most basic level of care, then why should I throw mine in? For a spy tale that wants to come off as clever and precise, it often communicates as smarmy and shoddy.

One more issue: Mason is still able to fight after having his memory erased. Nadia isn’t. They both had the same skills and both underwent the same process. What’s the difference, “Citadel”? Hmm? We should be past the trope in amnesia plots where dudes can still be elite fighters while women forget how to tie their shoelaces, but here we are. They’ve both undergone the same plot mechanic. They either keep practiced skills or they don’t. Choose one.

Yet another one more issue: I’m shocked by the visual quality. The opening on the train does look extremely good. Colors and design elements pop, the lighting transitions play with texture and depth. It promises at least something visually commanding. And then the rest of the series is color-graded in desaturated greens and yellows, often either too cheaply or in ways that don’t fuse to what we’re actually seeing.

Just one more one-more-thing: “Citadel” is the second-most expensive series ever produced. Almost none of that budget makes it on-screen. Its production was ruinous, with live-action “Cowboy Bebop” showrunner Andre Nemec (um) and his 2014 live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” co-writer Josh Appelbaum (oh no) being run out for “Avengers: Endgame” (fine, sure) and “The Gray Man” (uh-oh) directors Joe and Anthony Russo.

There are two completely different cuts of the show. This is supposed to be the better one. I do wonder if the other one is a campier, more colorful and fun version that Amazon kiboshed because this one plays more to expectations. The only thing that’s remotely saving it is that Madden, Chopra, Tucci, and the fight scenes seem to exist in that more fun version. All the dour color-grading and awkward editing in the world can’t hide that the actors clearly started out performing a different subgenre than the one we got.

There are a lot of places to wonder where the $300 million budget went. But maybe…just maybe Manticore’s using it to get us some new nuclear codes. My birthday’s coming up and I like to think they remembered.

“Citadel” is on Amazon Prime.

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New Shows + Movies by Women — The True Crime-Con Artist Hybrid

I’m always fascinated when multiple projects come out about the same real event. In this case, Elizabeth Olsen stars in “Love & Death” on Max (formerly HBO Max). She plays Candy Montgomery, who had an extramarital affair with the husband of her friend Betty. In 1980, Betty was found murdered, struck 41 times with an axe. Montgomery was accused and a high-profile trial followed.

Olsen and Lily Rabe take on the roles of Candy and Betty in Lesli Linka Glatter’s new series. Last year, Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey played the same two roles in Robin Veith’s “Candy” on Hulu. The two shows premiere 11 months apart.

As far as I can tell, there’s only been one narrative series before that’s directly depicted the case. 1990 TV movie “A Killing in a Small Town” was directed by Maggie and Jake’s father Stephen Gyllenhaal. It had a surprisingly good cast including Barbara Hershey, Brian Dennehy, and Hal Holbrook, and Hershey won an Emmy for it.

One adaptation in 40 years and then two in a year is unexpected. Why now? The true crime boom has been going on for years and years. If anything, you’d expect an adaptation of this case to arrive sooner. What’s different is the newer wave of true life con artist series – “The Dropout”, “Inventing Anna”, “Pam & Tommy”. This is also crime, but true crime as a genre usually revolves around murders. Con artist series cast a wider net.

What’s happened is you’ve seen the con artist narrative genre start to seep into true crime adaptations. These have become less about the investigation – the true crime portion – and more about the personality at the center of the case – more in line with the con artist genre. Renee Zellweger in “The Thing About Pam” and Elle Fanning in “The Girl from Plainville” are similar examples. They’re not primarily about the investigation, they’re about witnessing the person at the center of it all and how they attempt to ringmaster the circus around them.

We haven’t lost the true crime adaptations that focus on investigation, but the reinvigorated popularity of the Candy Montgomery trial doesn’t just speak to true crime obsession – it also evidences how the more recent popularity of con artist series have hybridized with true crime. It’s not as if we haven’t seen these projects before, but we are in a boom cycle for them. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ve got choice.

New series by women this week come from South Korea and the U.S., and a new movie from the U.S.


Love & Death (Max)
directed by Lesli Linka Glatter

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Candy, a woman who has an affair prior to the axe murder of her friend Betty (Lily Rabe). Jesse Plemons and Krysten Ritter co-star. The series is based on a real case that took place in 1980.

Lesli Linka Glatter has directed on a huge number of shows, including “Homeland”, “The West Wing”, “The Newsroom”, “The Morning Show”, “Mad Men”, “Masters of Sex”, and “Ray Donovan”. She got her start as a dancer and choreographer. She’s the current president of the Directors Guild of America.

“Love and Death” is on Max, the recently renamed platform formerly called HBO Max. The first three episodes premiered this week, with a new one arriving every Thursday for a total of 7.

The Good Bad Mother (Netflix)
directed by Shim Na Yeon

Young Soon is a single mother and pig farmer who raises her son with strict rules. As an adult, Kang Ho resents her. He’s become a prosecutor and kept her at arm’s length. An accident means he has to return home, connecting with old friends, a former crush, and trying to patch things up with his mother.

Director Shim Na Yeon also helmed “Beyond Evil”, named best series at the Baeksang Arts Awards (South Korea’s largest TV awards ceremony) for 2021.

“The Good Bad Mother” is on Netflix. The first two episodes premiered this week. The series will follow a two-a-week release strategy with new episodes arriving Wednesday and Thursday every week for a total of 14.

Saint X (Hulu)
showrunner Leila Gerstein

A woman investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding her sister’s death. Ruled an accident, she’s determined to uncover the truth years later.

Showrunner Leila Gerstein has written and produced on “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Looking for Alaska”.

“Saint X” is on Hulu. Three episodes are out day one, with a new one every Wednesday for a total of 8.


Clock (Hulu)
directed by Alexis Jacknow

In this horror movie, a woman takes more and more desperate measures attempting to “fix” a biological clock everyone keeps telling her is broken. Dianna Agron stars.

This is writer-director Alexis Jacknow’s first feature film.

“Clock” is on Hulu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

Subscribe to my Patreon! It helps with the time and resources to write more features like this one.

No Myths, No Heroes — “The Diplomat” and Accountability

“The Diplomat” is one of the most interesting things on TV right now. I’ve reviewed a lot lately that has an aggressive storytelling approach or that plumbs absurd comedy, and unique does often equal interesting. What makes “The Diplomat” interesting is much simpler: remarkable writing. You’ve seen shows like it before, but rarely done this well.

Keri Russell stars as U.S. Ambassador Kate Wyler. She’s planning to become the new ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan but is redirected after a major explosion on a British aircraft carrier. It seems she’ll be the new ambassador in the U.K. instead – a post often given to major campaign donors instead of Foreign Service experts like herself.

Secretly, the current vice president is on her way out, and the president wants someone effective who won’t be a threat to campaign down the road. Kate doesn’t know it, but she’s being vetted for the position.

Of course, the more pressing matter is who attacked the aircraft carrier. Despite evidence of an Iranian gunboat, Kate doesn’t think the facts add up. The British prime minister desperately needs shows of aggression and escalated tensions to help his poll numbers, and this risks drawing the U.S. into conflict with Iran, a country of 88 million people and the seventh largest military in the world.

(This is me interjecting my own thoughts, but let’s not forget Trump tried to escalate into military conflict with Iran his last year in office. If we struggled with the much smaller Iraq and Afghanistan, a war with Iran would devastate our economy to an unprecedented degree.)

To make matters worse, Kate’s husband Hal (Rufus Sewell) is a former ambassador. He has a reputation that’s a shining example of either heroism or manipulation, depending on who you ask. He tries to manage Kate and manipulate the details of her job, but as smart and influential as he is, she’s usually smarter. He goes off-book as a habit, whereas she has a sense for when and how diplomatic norms are useful. This allows her to ferret out his gambits, though often after they’ve come into play.

As much as Hal may support her at times, it all invariably comes with a cost – and she’s sick of managing his undermining and sabotage. It’s on Kate to maneuver her way through an international crisis, a war hawk prime minister, handlers who want to shape her image, and her gaslighting husband.

The writing is politically astute and often funnier than a diplomatic thriller tends to be. If you’re reminded of “The West Wing”, that’s no mistake. “The Diplomat” creator and showrunner Debora Cahn wrote and produced on more than 30 episodes of that show. The two are comparable for their intelligence and ability to capture the impact of governing as something truly compelling.

“The Diplomat” is more reliably acerbic. Russell and Sewell evoke something genuinely classic in their scenes, dare I say on the level of Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy interplay. For a political drama, I’m surprised how comedic it goes in certain moments, but it sells even its widest swings perfectly.

The plot moves fast and captures a lot of backdoor politics, but Cahn and story editor Mia Chung do an exceptional job of keeping everything fluid and easy to understand. Nearly every detail comes with a consequence, but the show never loses track of them. When that consequence comes, you know exactly how and why. I can’t overstate how well written this is.

Russell is superb. If she’s not up for end-of-year-awards for this, then I don’t know what we’re doing. Kate isn’t a charmer like her husband, she’s a hard-nosed, do-your-job, call-their-bluff diplomat with a drive to ensure corners don’t get cut, fools are identified early, and information is accurate. It’s a stunning role, creating a character who quickly feels real – and who, as an audience, we want to believe still can be real even in the disastrous, polarized, Overton window-wrestling politics of today.

Kate’s an aspirational character not because of some heroic mythology – in fact, her husband’s heroic mythology is largely built on throwing others to the wolves. Instead, she’s aspirational because she’s blunt, honest, and accountable. “The Diplomat” revolves around the conflict between warmongering and diplomatic de-escalation, and underneath this it paints a theme of what we should value in politics instead of charm and hero myths. It depicts a core group of officials who do the riskiest thing in politics: they’re accountable to each other.

“The Diplomat” is a return to form of a certain kind of storytelling that people may find reassuring – it’s the reason many still watch “West Wing” reruns. That’s the selling point for a lot of people and it is an accurate one. But don’t stop there. “The Diplomat” isn’t just a show about reminding us of a format that gave us hope 20 years ago. It’s a show about the substance of what should give us hope and who we should aspire toward today, about the work of carving out space for hope where there was previously only paranoia and threat. That hope isn’t created by heroes and their charm, it’s created by people doing the daily work of making the world more accountable.

“The Diplomat” is on Netflix.

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Schrodinger’s Nesting Mystery Box — “Mrs. Davis”

I have no clue what this is about, but it sure looks zany. That’s what I thought after seeing the trailer for “Mrs. Davis”. Also what I think after spending three hours with it. I mean, I know what the plot is now, unless that’s not really the plot, or that plot is a metaphor for another plot…both of which are possibilities so far. But it sure is zany.

We open in the 1300s, where Templars are being burned at the stake for hiding the Holy Grail. Soldiers raid a nunnery, but the nuns are Templars, too. A sword fight ensues. We got blood, guts, impaled aerial nuns using their impaledness to group impale their enemies, it’s wacky fun for all. The dying Mother Superior tells the lone surviving Tempnun to take the Grail to their friends across the ocean, which is weird because practically everyone knew about the Americas by that point EXCEPT for mainland Europe, but whatevs, we’re here for flying nuns.

There’s a stop-off vignette for a shipwrecked guy, who hasn’t come back into the series at all and might not ever. I honestly don’t know what he was doing except to namedrop that he’ss Schrodinger and he has a cat, which could’ve been done with a line of dialogue instead of a 10-minute aside, but I don’t want to fixate. No nuns fly in this segment.

We’re in modern day, where Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”) plays Sister Simone. She opposes an A.I. that rules the world through social media and spam calls but has allegedly stopped all famine and wars. Still weighing whether that’s a net positive. The A.I. refers to itself as Mrs. Davis and desperately wants to talk to Simone. She refuses, so the A.I. ruins the lives of her entire convent to force Simone’s hand. You see, it wants to send her on a quest to find the Holy Grail. Simone agrees in the hopes of getting closer to the A.I. and shutting it off. A nun flies, if stuntbikes count.

See, it’s actually not that complicated of a plot when I just write it ou– but after Simone’s jam is blown up by a giant magnifying glass, a gang of Germans kidnap her and give chase in motorcycles and sidecars like a scene cut from “The Big Lebowski”. And there’s a resistance group run by Simone’s former lover Wiley, who shares a liver with her, but he gave up his inheritance before proving himself a coward, which explains why the resistance group is made of dudebros dressing like 80s and 90s action heroes and getting swole.

OK, that’s getting messy but it’s still pretty easy to underst– then there’s Simone’s other boss, who gives her missions to expose swindling magicians, which she does because her magician parents accidentally shot her with a crossbow as a child, but the A.I. killed her dad unless it didn’t which is why her mom is stalking her on her way to stalk a gang of bankers at a cosplay fest.

This may all seem outlandish happening to one person, but most of it takes place in Reno so, you know, just another day. Before long, we’re globe-trotting to multi-stalk a plot thick with double-crosses and surprise reveals.

There’s also the suggestion that the Grail quest is fake despite the Grail being real, that anyone at any point might be working for the A.I., that the whole thing might be fake or a coma dream or a simulation, or that it’s real but religious visions may be a coping mechanism, or the religious visions are the only thing that are real, or maybe those are just red herrings or real herrings mixed in with red herrings, which probably raises some FDA concerns. It’s a mystery box where you don’t get to look inside before the mystery box is packed inside another mystery box where the original mystery box may or may not still exist. Schrodinger, everyone. Prepare for me to beat this metaphor into the ground.

Mystery box shows became popular after “Lost” debuted an amount of time ago that I don’t want to talk about. The point is, they lend well to binge watching and that means streaming has embraced them. But mystery box shows are so mid-2000s. What if we put the mystery box inside of another mystery box like that grade school experiment where you have to keep an egg intact for three days that’s supposed to teach students something about child rearing but really only makes them skilled egg assassins?

At times, “Mrs. Davis” feels like a spiritual successor to one of the most underrated comedies of all time, “Hudson Hawk”. It’s underrated because everyone reviles it, but I love it. And it wouldn’t work without Bruce Willis, just as “Mrs. Davis” wouldn’t work without Betty Gilpin.

Gilpin’s the ideal lead for this, the kind of actor who has the self-serious presence to be a steady anchor point amidst rogue waves of absurdist comedy combined with the winking charm to shrug and just sort of surf away on them with such ease you wonder what you’re still doing on the boat. She can overshadow everything else with nonchalance, which is desperately needed when you want to ignore 73 nesting mystery boxes rotating around your head. The dramatic ability to cry in the middle of something ridiculous and make you believe it is rare. There’s a fine line of acting so hard you hit every note, while still delivering it in a way that doesn’t take itself seriously. She nails a role that is oxymoronic in what it asks, which is worth the price of admission then and there.

That’s good, since I still don’t know what “Mrs. Davis” is really doing three hours in, or even if it particularly cares what the answer eventually is. There are so many layers of who’s lying to whom, of coincidences (or are they), of not-coincidences (or aren’t they?) – and while they’re not difficult to follow, following them hasn’t thus far led to any conclusions.

A series like this is usually willing to serve up one answer in a way that opens up more questions. That way, you get some satisfaction but you’re still hooked and curious. If the early answers are done well and new questions are opened in intriguing ways, this signals that we can have confidence the storytellers know what they’re doing and have a plan. When those answers are withheld and questions are just piled on, it’s hard to tell if the storytellers are being clever or panicked. Are they genius writers or just throwing so much at you they hope you forget about the countless story threads they’ve left dangling?

Convenient time to mention that while “Mrs. Davis” is showrun by Tara Hernandez, it’s co-created, co-written, and co-produced by Damon Lindelof. How do we know that name? He showran “Lost” for a good, long time, and “Mrs. Davis” is one of the Lostiest shows you’ll have seen since Sawyer, Tauriel, and a bunch of impending DUIs crash-landed on Lostopia.

Hernandez’s involvement is hard to judge since the shows she’s been involved in before this are extremely different – “Young Sheldon” and “The Big Bang Theory”. That doesn’t tell us anything for someone getting their start in the industry. Lindelof has already proven he can drop dozens of interesting story threads in our lap with no idea how to tie them all together in a satisfying or sensible way. When your show doesn’t tell me if you’re ever going to answer a ratking of mystery boxes, I have to look at whether you’ve done so in past stories, and if the answer to that is “Uh-oh”, then I’m gonna do an uh-oh.

I want this to work. The absurd comedy is good and often great, Gilpin is phenomenal, and “Mrs. Davis” handles its themes of A.I. and social media very well. On this last front, the series takes aim at how algorithms paint our reality by exposing us to limited and narrow bands of information. It has a keen eye for how the gamification of online experiences dictates our perceived value to each other, and how artificial reward systems encourage us to compete for meaningless acclaim. It streamlines these themes without oversimplifying them and I’d love to see the eventual stack of reveals hammer this home in a resounding way.

That said, too many mystery box layers frustrate. Frustrate too much and whatever we’re left with, even good comedy and potent themes, can start to have the same impact as filler because we’re impatient to have any one answer to a mountain of questions. Load up too many questions on a viewer, and we start to care less and less what happens.

It doesn’t help that the supporting cast is a mix of not-as-strong and not-well-written. Simone’s ex Wiley is played by Jake McDorman, who has a certain charm but is reductively written as “wait, we couldn’t get Matthew McConaughey?” A number of actors pass through briefly, about half of whom are proxy-ing for the A.I., which just means flatly DJ’ing to an audience of Simone. One or two pass through just to deliver some kind of wacky, largely tangential scene. Some work. Some fall flat.

Katja Herbers has just popped in as another mystery box character, and she’s chewed this kind of meta-heavy material up for breakfast in the more effective and intentional “Evil”. I’m hoping that Gilpin will finally have someone at her level there. Might’ve worked better if Herbers had just played her ex to start.

At this point, I’d normally give you some idea of whether I intend to keep watching the series and why I find it worth pursuing. Then I’d use that as an anchor point to consider different types of viewers and what about the series would or wouldn’t appeal to them. This is who it’s for, this is who wouldn’t get as much out of it, that sort of thing. Because “Mrs. Davis” is still a massive pile of unopened mystery boxes, I still don’t know. I’ll watch it because it could turn out to be genius, but I worry that it could turn out to be a dud, or even worse – something that semi-works but keeps artificially stringing things out for a season 2 renewal.

You can’t tell someone if they’ll like a themed set of mystery boxes when you still haven’t gotten to open one or two yet to establish what the theme is. You can’t even tell someone you got them a themed set of mystery boxes in the first place if all the mystery boxes arrive in a larger mystery box with the theme of “Did we pack anything inside?”

If you like Betty Gilpin, it’s a watch. If you like absurd comedy, it’s a watch. If you want to see a spiritual successor to “Hudson Hawk” or a live-action cartoon complete with things in cartoons that don’t work in live action, it’s a watch. If you want to see something that could be tied together only by Jane Kaczmarek bursting in and yelling at everyone to clean their room, it’s a watch. If you’ve had that dream where the Coen Brothers, “Homeboys in Outer Space”, “Lupin the Third”, and “Warrior Nun” get scrambled together in a transporter accident and you’re Captain Janeway, what’s wrong with you and also it’s a watch.

If you have little patience for mystery box nonsense – even in the slightest – the entire last paragraph is negated but that probably doesn’t matter because you had no patience for it anyway.

I’m enjoying “Mrs. Davis” and I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to enjoy “Mrs. Davis”, but there’s a significant risk that by the end of it I’ll be unsatisfied with the time I’ve spent with it. There are promising signs of it being brilliant that don’t quite cover up the red flags that it may not know what it’s doing. If they have a satisfying, thoughtful answer to their core mystery box, answer most of the large number of additional mystery box layers, and don’t just leave everything unanswered for a renewal bait cliffhanger, “Mrs. Davis” will be one of the best series this year. That’s an enormous amount of ‘ifs’ by this point, with no clear demonstration yet of whether they can stick a landing, let alone a dozen. You’ll laugh at the show’s comedy, but it could be all eight hours before you know whether or not that’s enough.

I’m sticking by Sister Simone for Gilpin and the absurd comedy elements, but doing so is very much a leap of faith.

You can watch “Mrs. Davis” on Peacock.

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New Shows + Movies by Women — Diplomats, Doctors, Nuns & Sacrifices

It’s a packed week. Several high-profile, high concept series are premiering. Betty Gilpin, Rachel Weisz, Keri Russell, Zoe Lister-Jones, and Olivia Colman all have leading roles in projects this week. Why delay? Let’s get right into it:

New series by women come from France, Japan, and the U.S. New films by women are from Ireland and Nigeria.


Mrs. Davis (Peacock)
showrunner Tara Hernandez

Betty Gilpin stars as nun Sister Simone. Her ex-boyfriend joins her on a globetrotting journey to find the Holy Grail and destroy an A.I. known only as Mrs. Davis.

Tara Hernandez previously wrote and produced on “The Big Bang Theory” and “Young Sheldon”.

“Mrs. Davis” is on Peacock. The first four episodes are out, with new ones dropping every Thursday for a total of 10.

CW: sexual assault, sexual abuse of patient

Dead Ringers (Amazon)
showrunner Alice Birch
mostly directed by women

“Dead Ringers” stars Rachel Weisz as identical twin gynecologists. It’s based on the 1988 David Cronenberg film, where the role was originally played by Jeremy Irons. In the film, the doctors pressure their patients into relationships. The more outspoken sibling passes the women on to his shy twin when tired of them, with the women being unaware of the substitution.

Alice Birch showruns. She’s co-written the BAFTA-nominated “The Wonder” and “Lady Macbeth”, was the lead writer on “Normal People”, and story edited “Succession”.

Of the six episodes, Karena Evans (“Snowfall”), Lauren Wolkstein (“Queen Sugar”), and Karyn Kusama (“Jennifer’s Body”) each direct one, with Wolkstein directing another with Sean Durkin.

“Dead Ringers” is on Amazon Prime. All 6 episodes arrive tomorrow, Friday April 21.

The Diplomat (Netflix)
showrunner Debora Cahn

Keri Russell plays Kate Wyler, a diplomat who’s assigned a high-profile job in the middle of a crisis. Her husband, a former diplomat, also can’t seem to stay out of her way. Rufus Sewell and David Gyasi co-star.

Showrunner Debora Cahn has been a producer and writer on “The West Wing”, “Homeland”, and “Fosse/Verdon”.

You can watch “The Diplomat” on Netflix.

Slip (Roku)
showrunner Zoe Lister-Jones

Zoe Lister-Jones stars as Mae. She loves Elijah, but the romance has been disappearing from their relationship. He also wants a child, while she’s unsure. She slips and has a one night stand with Eric, waking up the next morning in a universe where she’s married to him and no trace of Elijah remains to be found. Mae realizes she slips into a different universe every time she orgasms, which raises a whole new set of questions.

Zoe Lister-Jones writes, directs, and stars, as she did on “How it Ends” and “Band Aid”.

“Slip” is on Roku. The premiere arrives tomorrow, Friday April 21.

Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts (Crunchyroll)
directed by Kon Chiaki

A girl offered as sacrifice to the King of Beasts and Demons shows no fear of him. She has no home, and accepts her death readily. The King instead spares her and takes her as his queen.

I discussed director Kon Chiaki last week. She’s one of the most prolific women in anime, helming classics like “Higurashi: When They Cry” and averaging two series and movies a year.

You can watch “Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts” on Crunchyroll. The first episode is out, with new ones arriving every Wednesday.

Drops of God (Apple TV+)
co-showrunner Yuko Kibayashi

Camille receives word that her estranged father has died. Her father was a famous wine critic, and she learns she must identify and describe thirteen wines for her inheritance. Her competitor for her father’s legacy is his adopted son, a young wine critic who must face the same test.

The showrunner is Tadashi Agi, the pseudonym used by brother-and-sister team Yuko and Shin Kibayashi. The series is based on their manga series of the same name.

You can watch “Drops of God” on Apple TV+. The first episode premieres tomorrow, Friday April 21.


Joyride (Hulu)
directed by Emer Reynolds

Olivia Colman stars as Joy, who plans to dump her new baby onto her sister. Her plans go awry when a teen steals their taxi, but the pair quickly find themselves in cahoots.

The Irish film is directed by Emer Reynolds, who started in production assistant and sound editor roles in the 80s before becoming an editor throughout the 90s.

You can watch “Joyride” on Hulu.

CW: sexual assault

The Wildflower (Netflix)
directed by Biodun Stephen

Three women live in the same apartment complex, each experiencing a man’s assault. One starts a revolt, and finds how extensively the system protects her rapist.

The Nigerian film is directed by Biodun Stephen.

You can watch “The Wildflower” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

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Surviving a Regency Romance — “Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion”

This one’s my jam. The ideas in it are phenomenal. A woman named Rinko is murdered in our world. She wakes up as Raeliana McMillan, a side character in a regency romance she’s read. Why only a side character? Because Raeliana’s death is what prompts the novel’s entire plot. She’s due to be married to a man she knows will soon poison her in an attempt to seize her family’s business.

Raeliana’s only hope of survival is getting ahead of the plot. She can’t expose that plot because, as a woman in this time period, she would simply be disbelieved in a way that would remove what little agency she has. Instead, she goes to Duke Noah Wynknight and proposes a deal. He’s higher in station than her fiance, so an engagement to him will allow her to cut off her prior one. Wynknight might be even more dangerous, but she knows his secrets – or at least the ones in the novel. She’ll keep those secrets if he helps her.

Wynknight assigns his most trusted guard to Raeliana, ostensibly as a show of how valuable she is to him, but really a reminder he can cut her down if she tries anything. This knight is Adam Taylor, once a child soldier, now silent and stoic. Raeliana shows him a kindness and consideration no one else has. So far, we’re promised courtly intrigue, shady plots, and a classic regency romance love triangle.

The foundational idea behind the show isn’t new – last year’s “I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss” did this with a video game, though it took the premise in a different direction. South Korean series love using this premise with different historical periods. While the series is Japanese, it is based on a South Korean web novel. The premise carries a lot of potential, and if you don’t mind that “Raeliana” isn’t as flashy as some bigger anime, it’s absolutely a hit.

Raeliana’s inner monologue conveys what she knows of the novel and her strategy. This fuses well to regency romance’s focus on women’s rich, private, inner life. Her inner life here is literally a whole other previous life she can’t share. She often feels like an impostor as this character – it’s a smart way to fold the reincarnation premise that’s fundamental to isekai into regency romance themes. The series clearly understands the regency setting – etiquette defines blocking, which visually describes social relationships and who possesses power in different settings. The aesthetic is dominated by sun-dappled backgrounds, flowering gardens, and symmetrical period architecture.

A lot of this subgenre of isekai is about whether a show picks up the cross-genre you want to see. It’s a bonus if the show is good enough to really grasp and utilize the detailed elements of that genre. In the first two episodes, “Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion” displays an exceptional grasp of and appreciation for regency romance.

Of course, the isekai trope of a convenient bookshop with anachronistic how-to books makes an appearance, but as in so many isekais it’s treated as a quick and effective comic bit that avoids impacting the story otherwise.

There are drawbacks. The animation quality appears somewhat budgeted. That’ll matter more for some than others. I like how it’s used because there’s such a solid cross-genre foundation, but you won’t get the visual texture, movement, and level of detail you get in bigger anime like this season’s “Heavenly Delusion” or “Hell’s Paradise”.

To me, a still shot can be just as exciting if the shot choice is telling you something, and mise en scene is where “Raeliana” excels. The arrangement of actors within its design shorthands power dynamics, and that is the single most important visual element of a regency romance. Character introductions are brief yet thorough, and foreshadowing future elements is done well. There’s a command of how story structure can be framed through simple visual metaphor – the first two episodes end with carriage rides across a bridge, for instance, each telling us something very different. In other words, the animation budget is certainly lacking around the edges, but the filmmaking choices more than make up for it.

Supposedly, there’s a bit more action later. (Adam Taylor’s a soldier, and they make sure we know Raeliana’s a crack shot.) Anime Feminist and some other reviewers are concerned about the animation quality and its ability to match the scope of the story, but plenty of action can stay close to the ground and close to its characters and still be compelling. I hope those behind “Raeliana” have confidence in that approach because the filmmaking, storytelling, and structure of the first two episodes are spot-on.

If you’re at all a fan of Jane Austen, regency romances, time travel themes, or story-focused isekais, “Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion” is highly recommended.

You can watch “Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion” on Crunchyroll.

Or read opinions on 6 more Spring 2023 anime series!

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I Am Being Unreasonable — “Am I Being Unreasonable?”

I begin by hating everyone in “Am I Being Unreasonable?” Why? They’re too unreasonable. I mean, it’s right there in the title. But somewhere along the line, the people who seem normal become horrific, and the people who are horrific become the only humane ones left. Few shows highlight just how deeply inaccurate our first impressions and assumptions are. It’s not because any character even changes. They all remain incredibly consistent. By running through a seemingly endless supply of left turns, genre switch-ups, and tonal shifts, the British series keeps switching our perspective as well. Across its six episodes, it’s not the characters who change, it’s the viewer.

“Am I Being Unreasonable?” starts with Nic, who self-medicates an old trauma with too much alcohol and reality TV. She’s unsatisfied with her husband and insults everyone around her to her son Ollie, who seems more of an adult than she is. One day, Nic meets Jen.

Jen’s a new parent at Ollie’s school, and immediately the only other person Nic can stand. In turn, Jen admires Nic, something that raises our suspicions in part because even Nic herself can’t fathom it. Is Jen who she says she is? Does she have something to do with Nic’s past trauma? Why is she recording Nic in secret?

“Am I Being Unreasonable?” will tell you right after an extended fart joke, or a disastrous stand-up routine, or a mystery about where Nic’s cat is, or subplots about Ollie not liking birthday gifts, or a gossip interlude about the local salesclerks’ love lives.

There’s one big red herring, but aside from that everything is honest. It’s just…you haven’t shifted to the perspective needed yet to understand how. You’d think some of it is just for tone, to be weird, to add atmosphere, to inject more comedy. There are a dozen threads you figure will fizzle out. As a veteran of watching shows that are more obsessed with being clever than picking up half their plotlines, I was sure oodles of subplots and asides in “Am I Being Unreasonable?” would come to nought. So many submerge for episodes before popping up casual as can be to drop a bombshell realization on you. What’s more, they all make sense and – for every subgenre it morphs through – it all comes off with a sense of realistic consequence.

Is “Am I Being Unreasonable?” a comedy looking down on an alcoholic woman, a sappy tragedy about love and loss, a buddy comedy with toxic and bathroom humor, a stalker thriller? It’s each of these things…until you move to the next genre and the next perspective and realize it was never any of those things.

Daisy May Cooper and Selin Hizli wrote the series, as well as co-starring as Nic and Jen. They want you judging them. They want you judging their writing, their characters, the quality of the show, they want you jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, leaning on what you’ve seen before, and opening up the toxic parts of us that revel in schadenfreude. They want our worst viewing habits, our worst cultural habits, our most toxic assumptions about how to judge the trustworthiness of people.

Those judgments become the storytelling. Cooper and Hizli shape gaps in the story because they know exactly what assumptions we make as viewers to keep it all connected and to keep ourselves comfortable. “Am I Being Unreasonable?” constantly appears simpler, sillier, and more predictable than it is, before turning our perspective 90 degrees. And since those gaps – our judgments – are the storytelling, what we have a new perspective on now are all the prior assumptions we just made. In this way, Cooper and Hizli demonstrate how awful those assumptions are and lures us into practicing how they’re used to pigeonhole people to dismiss them, use them, belittle them, or string them along.

“Am I Being Unreasonable?” is messy by design, but exceptionally precise in its messes. It’s tempting to say it manipulates our gaze, but I think that would be a deflection of what it’s really doing. It highlights our gaze as manipulative to begin with. It calls out viewers’ willing participation in building narratives, and the places in our real lives where the very same behavior is socially foundational. It understands how gaze lies to us, and our comfort in letting it, because doing so creates imbalanced relationships and favorable power dynamics.

Our assumptions are poisons that are coaxed out of us and injected into the story. What’s brilliant about Cooper and Hizli’s writing is that the story doesn’t function without us. The story has no shape without our assumptions. For all its presenting its characters as unlikable and unreasonable, what’s truly revealed by the connections we make is how very much we can be unlikable and unreasonable. There’s no way to get far in “Am I Being Unreasonable?” without judging someone and distrusting them, but as we keep seeing those 90-degree changes in genre and perspective, we realize how honest some characters are…. We realize what’s on-screen and in the acting always presented this way. The toxicity introduced to it was supplied by how we’re trained to view and listen to others.

I haven’t offered any specific spoilers, but describing my change of heart about some characters won’t spoil anything either. The writing’s too good to let it. I could describe half the show in detail, and the writing would still trip you up and lure you judgment in a way you’ll later regret.

I began by hating everyone in “Am I Being Unreasonable?” But that question was never about them. It’s about the viewer. So “Am I Being Unreasonable?” I mean, I just told you I started out by hating every character. Obviously, I was. How unique it is to have a show that highlights our assumptions as the entertainment, and leaves us thinking, “Yeah, I better work on that.”

You can watch “Am I Being Unreasonable?” on Hulu.

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Movies and how they change you.