Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too.
This week, we take a look at three women who were pushed to the brink of self destruction and the accomplished actresses who bring them to life on screen. From jilted gals who deserved better to grief-stricken mothers in the midst of a midlife crisis to housewives turned axe-murders, here we review the new shows (Fatal Attraction, Tiny Beautiful Things, Love & Death) that examine what happens when you push a person too fast, too far, and for too long.
In 1987, Fatal Attraction was released in theaters, giving straying husbands a reason to break out into a cold sweat. Starring Michael Douglas and the impeccable Glenn Close, the psychological thriller about an affair gone wrong became a box-office smash and set a pop culture template for the “crazy ex-girlfriend.”
Now almost four decades later, we get a new look at the sordid story, but this time, Dan’s (Joshua Jackson) point of view isn’t the only angle explored. This time around, everyone gets a chance at the pulpit, including Alex (Lizzy Caplan), Dan’s beguiled wife Beth (Amanda Peet), and even daughter Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels) as an adult years after the event.
The Paramount+ miniseries immediately sets itself apart from the ’80s thriller by reinventing itself as a whodunit told in several timelines. In one timeline, Dan is a family man with a future still in front of him. In another, Alex Forrest is long gone and Dan has just been released from jail. Each character has their recollection of events and each s an unreliable narrator of varying degrees, making the core mystery that much more enticing. We get insight from each of the key players this time with different points of view of the same moment, but with small tweaks that make us doubt our perception of events.
Jackson does an admirable job playing Dan from two sides of the coin, both as the cocky lawyer and as an ex-con looking for redemption. It’s a daunting task that Jackson impressively juggles, but like the film, the real star here is Alex. In the original film, Close became a chilling cautionary tale to men with a wandering eye. In the miniseries, Caplan is given more room to roam. Her depiction of a mental illness brings a new perspective to Alex that humanizes the former horror icon beyond boiling bunnies.
Unfortunately, just when the series hits a high, there are a few twists and “gotcha” moments that unravel any redemption arcs or deeper insights into the mental health narrative, subverting the story into Lifetime/Hallmark territory. The last-minute revelations meant to shock are overkill but Fatal Attraction is a unique adaptation for the way it jumps genres and adds new perspectives. Also, Caplan and Jackson’s performances are not be ignored.
Grief is a powerful, destructive emotion that can eradicate everything in its path if left unchecked. But if a person is already hanging in the balance, it can annihilate completely. In Hulu’s Tiny Beautiful Things, we are given a front row seat as grief obliterates a single human life.
Adapted from Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and created by Liz Tigelaar (Little Fires Everywhere), the miniseries follows the story of a frenzied woman who finds her niche as an advice columnist despite the fact that her own life is in complete turmoil.
In Things, Kathryn Hahn plays a dumpster fire named Clare, a middle-aged shitshow whose husband (Quentin Plair) kicks her to the curb after a series of terrible decisions left them without cash or trust in their relationship. But truth be told, Clare’s problems really started after the death of her mother Frances (Merrik Weaver) when she was a teen. Since then, she’s been spiraling out of control, as each setback kept her in a state of arrested development.
As columnist “Sugar,” she solves the issues of other people’s lives, but she also unravels the snares and tangles of her own. We discover her past issues with heroin, her impoverished childhood, and the guilt she carries through her adulthood about the truth of her mother’s passing.
Hahn has spent the better part of the last decade becoming a household name thanks to her comedy chops and ability to stand out even in a stacked cast. In Things, she shares time with Sarah Pidgeon and Marlow Barkley as two younger versions of Clare (the character often regresses back and forth to her younger selves during moments of stress). The trio create a poignant performance of an extremely emotionally crippled woman who has been selfishly caring for her own needs and admonishing others for so long she’s effectively destroyed her future.
Hahn puts in an award-worthy performance, but her character is far from endearing. Though exquisitely acted, Clare’s self-indulgence and eagerness to pin her difficulties on everyone but herself makes her an exhausting character, and it ultimately weighs down the show in not so tiny ways.
In June 1980, suburban housewife and pillar of the Wylie, TX, community Betty Gore was found hacked to death in her home while her toddler was in the next room. She was struck 41 times with an ax. Her body was discovered by neighbors after husband Allan begged friends to check on her while he was out of town. As the police began to investigate, Betty’s friend Candy emerged as the prime suspect.
HBO’s Love & Death isn’t the first time we’ve gotten the story of ax murderer Candy Montgomery –Jessica Biel offered her own take on the true crime saga in the five-part Hulu series Candy in 2022– but it doesn’t feel repetitive. HBO’s turn at the tawdry true crime tale offers Elizabeth Olsen in the role of ever-charming Candy and Jesse Plemons as her milquetoast lover Allan. Based on the Texas Monthly article “Love and Death in Silicon Prairie,” and helmed by David. E Kelley (Big Little Lies), this project takes a more lighthearted approach to the horrific crime story, leaning into the quirkier elements of the suburban murder set in the disco age.
The series does its best to try to paint Candy and Allan as likable main characters. Candy loves pop music and is constantly singing and dancing, while Allan is just a man doing his best. As their spouses, Lily Rabe plays Betty as a bit of a harpy, constantly dogging on her husband, while Patrick Fugit as Candy’s earnest but dorky better-half Pat is so socially awkward it almost physically hurts to watch him. Meanwhile, Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) is wasted in the role of Sherry, Candy’s bestie who is mostly used for exposition purposes.
Love & Death is a highly-amusing effort in the tradition of HBO’s established episodic excellence, but it feels flippant for the weight of the material. The depictions of Betty and Pat, both real-life victims, come off callous and uncaring. Less focused on the horror of the story, the show is still pretty dark and the writing crackles– but it’s only as good as its performances. Like the other shows reviewed this week, it’s worth a watch for the actors’ alchemy alone.
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