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.
It has been said that the medium through which we choose to communicate might hold as much value as the message itself. So where does that leave streaming content hoping to make a statement? The hottest new shows seem to be driven by an important message, but will folks stick around to learn something or gain insight if they’re indifferent to the story or characters? This month, we set out to unravel the intent and content worth watching via Prime Video’s Swarm and The Power and Apple TV+’s Extrapolations.
Swarm (Prime Video)
What happens when a fan becomes a fanatic? When “crave” becomes “craze”? What happens when a social media hive mind hurls the wants and needs of thousands onto an already fractured mind? For those who are unable to corral their emotions, that is where the real horror begins, as they become a real danger both to themselves and others. And in Prime Video‘s Swarm, we find out exactly where this might lead.
A modern take on Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, sans much of the aforementioned comedy, Swarm is a disturbing look at the dark side of fandom and social media. Created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the psychological thriller follows Andrea “Dre” Greene (Dominique Fishback), a young woman who lives her life through extremes, particularly her love for pop diva Ni’Jah.
Dre lives and breathes Ni’Jah. It consumes her every waking thought. When she is not listening to Ni’Jah, she is running her fan account, and targeting anyone who besmirches her name. The series uses an anthology format to follow Dre through the years, as she meets new and interesting people…and kills them.
Joe Goldberg in You might have made stalking and unhinged behavior cute and cool, but Swarm is a more sinister look at infatuation. There is little about Dre that makes her appealing. Unlike other recent TV psychopaths who try to justify their deadly deeds, she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a code like Dexter or charm like Dr. Lecter. She’s a serial killer, and a vicious one at that. Fishback plays Dre with a sad depravity that sends her spiraling at the slightest affront. Driven completely by her Id, the character simply removes everything – and everyone – that makes her unhappy. Swarm stands out among the many shows that try to offer up villains as anti-heroes, crafting a malefactor based on menace and manipulation.
Pointing out the dangers of group intelligence and how easy it is for broken people to turn to the internet hugbox for love and approval, the show challenges us to follow a lead that is abhorrent in every facet of her life. Television has a way of canonizing psychopaths and turning sociopaths into swoon-worthy hunks. But not with Dre, and thanks to Fishback’s natural charisma and the depth of the material, we can’t look away.
At this point, most rational folks understand that climate change is very real, very destructive, and very scary. There is no doubt that there will be repercussions if we don’t change our ways. But do you want a front seat to watch the end of humanity? AppleTV+ certainly thinks you do. From writer, director and exec producer Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, An Inconvenient Truth),
Extrapolations features several stories connected by a theme of climate change and the dark future that humans will have to face if we don’t change our habits.
In 2037, a major forest fire affects every corner of the Earth and people are struggling to find water, while industrialists smirk their way through protests to make money on the back of Mother Nature. By 2046, elephants, whales and tigers are kaput, and little ones need to stay out of the sun. In 2046, major cities are combatting daily flooding. With each episode, the world and the future gets more dismal as humanity races towards self destruction.
Extrapolations wants to be essential viewing with a significant statement, but is it entertaining? Barely. Filled with A-list actors (including Meryl Streep, Diane Lane, Kit Harington, Ed Norton and Daveed Diggs, to name a few), it also offers real facts and an unflinching look at potential grim realities, and that may be the problem. The show’s truth is a difficult pill to swallow. There isn’t much humor here and it’s not very relatable. The brief attempts at satire fall flat – Matthew Rhys’s Junior, whose contempt for Mother Earth comes off more cartoonish than a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash.
No one wants to say, “Hey, your global warming series with an invaluable message is a bummer,” but audiences need the ability to relate to the material and some moments of levity, otherwise the experience becomes a lecture. This is a series built on good intentions, but it lacks engaging characters, clever dialogue and approachable situations. It will probably largely be ignored – just like most climate issues.
The Power (Prime Video)
From every corner of the Earth, women are discovering their inner strength as they develop the ability to release powerful electric bursts at will. Thanks to this new mutation, the one-time “weaker sex” becomes the dominant gender on Earth, and Amazon Prime’s The Power is eager to show, power might be able to balance the occasion scale, but it can also corrupt.
Based on the sci-fi novel by Naomi Alderman, The Power examines what happens when the powerless are given the ability to counterbalance hundreds of years of injustice. All young women everywhere develop superhuman abilities, and as they become more omnipotent, men become more afraid (and more justified in sinister actions as they attempt to regain control).
But for some it’s a blessing, like when Allie’s (Halle Bush) foster father learns an important lesson about preying upon the vulnerable. Or for Roxy (Ria Zmitrowicz), whose power gives her the opportunity to prove herself to her dad. For former gymnast Tatiana (Zrinka Cvitesic), it’s a chance to finally have some authority over her own life. Meanwhile, as Seattle’s Mayor Margot Cleary-Lopez (Toni Collette) attempts to rationalize and understand the new evolutionary step to a terrified nation, her daughter Jos (Auli’i Cravalho) discovers her own potential.
The story takes center stage here, often overshadowing the performances, which are considerable (especially the always-fantastic Collette). Unfortunately, The Power might have an uphill battle with viewers thanks to superhero fatigue, even with its strong commentary on women’s rights. Moreover, character insights that might add a fresh dimension to the show take a backseat to the overall message. This cautionary tale of “what if” for misogynists around the globe is good enough to overcome these flaws with the right audience.
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