There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, “UnBinged” is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate. In pandemic times, we need it more than ever. This week: the adolescents of Netflix’s Big Mouth kids are growing up, HBO’s sex cult series The Vow doesn’t seduce; Fargo is (too) chock full on FX; and Hulu’s Animaniacs inspires a ditty.
Big Mouth / Netflix
Netflix’s Big Mouth returns for a fourth season of raunchy laughs, poking fun at the horrors of puberty. But this time around the hormonal half-hour laffer goes someplace new- the heart. Created by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg and voiced by Kroll, John Malaney, Jason Matnzoukas, Jordan Peele, Thandie Newton, and Maya Rudolph (who won an Emmy for her turn as Connie the Hormone Monster), the animated comedy is more about the feels this season, but it’s as inappropriate as ever. How inappropriate? Think gags about Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, child endangerment, and Lena Dunham and her sister.
Big Mouth is not for the faint of heart or for parents who want to actually think about their adolescents are really going through right now. Dark, twisted, and perverted on every level, Big Mouth takes aim at our own memories and the shared experience of puberty and mixing it with pitch black humor of the darkest nature.
What saves it from trying too hard is an emotional intelligence behind every twisted joke and jab. The show uses its bawdy and foul-mouthed wit to shine a light on the certain truths of humanity. Everyone was a warped degenerate pre-teen pervert at some point (or friends with one), but underneath the jokes and preoccupation with naughty stuff, was the the harsh reality of growing up and dealing with sexual identity, race and so much more. Though it’s crude and completely graceless at times, Big Mouth is also surprisingly heartwarming even when it’s featuring sentient penises, talking vaginas, and the ghost of Marlon Brando as he 69s Richard Pryor.
The first season of Big Mouth was all about firsts (crushes, menstruation, erections, self pleasure), while the second season was about dealing with the shame and humiliation of adolescence and the third season dealt with a crisis of faith and friendship. The new season is about the discovery of self. From Matthew (Andrew Rannells) coming out to his family to Missy’s (Jenny Slate/Ayo Edebiri) struggle with racial identity, each character is given an arc to follow that allows emotional growth beyond their hormones. In previous seasons, Big Mouth concentrated on universal prepubescent anxieties but with season four, it’s evolved into a still raunchy but very real look at hard choices and life decisions in cartoon form.
The Vow / HBO
There has been a recent surge of docuseries’ following the rise and fall of NXIVM- the alleged sex cult/pyramid scheme that was involved in human traffiking. And no wonder. All you have to do is say the words “sex cult” at any gathering and everyone’s ears perk up. “Sex cult, you say? Tell me more.” It’s an instant attention grabber.
Part MLM scheme, part religious order that includes blackmail, branding, and the recruitment of young women for the enjoyment of the group’s CEO, NXIVM is a fascinating study into the type of psyche that would allow this cancer to fester. And while HBO’s The Vow goes deep into the everyday workings and structure of the order, it is a still problematic.
Featuring former members (who dedicated decades of their lives to the teachings of Keith Raniere) telling their stories, The Vow is like a master class in gaslighting. With the mind of Manson inside the body of Bob Denver, Raniere manipulated thousands of people into running away from home and joining his three-ring circus, including Smallville star Allison Mack. But it is only as one gets deeper into the infrastructure of NXIVM, spending more money on classes and completely embracing the doctrine, that it begins to get terrifying.
While the story is compelling, it takes nine episodes to tell the tale which is too drawn out. The show takes its time to focus on individual members and their complex relationship with NXIVM, and the pacing is off, pulling from the effectiveness of the story. The sordid series places attention on too many individuals and puts too much faith in the average American’s ability to stay focused. While The Vow taps directly into the psyche of current events and cult mentality, the storytelling method would have benefited from a heavier hand in the editing room. By the time it reaches its climax, it ends abruptly with little satisfaction for the viewer.
Fargo / FX
The fourth season of FX’s Fargo is another lively period piece that follows gang activity in the Midwest in the 1950s. The series easily fits into the Coen brother repertoire of idiosyncratic crime stories, but it is not without its issues. Set in Missouri back when Warriors-style gangs ruled the streets of St. Louis, the show centers on a bitter battle brewing between crime families. The groups have a fragile truce that can shatter at a moment’s notice. Possible dangers include an internal struggle between the head of the Italian family (Jason Schwartzman) and his newly-arrived brother (Salvatore Esposito), a Mormon lawman from Utah (Timothy Olyphant), and an “angel of mercy” serial killer in a nurse’s uniform (Jessie Buckley), just to name a few. All threaten to throw a wrench into the machine that keeps peace between the rival gangs.
This season follows a template laid out by previous Coen brothers efforts, where everyday oddities and friendly strangers mask potential bloodshed around every corner. The fourth season of the AMC crime show follows this template well, providing rich character development with numerous twists and turns. Entertaining? Sure. But is this “must see TV”? Sadly, no.
While the look of the show and the cast is outstanding (especially Chris Rock in his role as the head of an African-American crime family), the story is somewhat forgettable. With so many moving pieces on this chessboard, it is difficult to connect or invest emotion into the story. If the season had fewer characters, it would have been near perfect. As it is, the viewer’s attention is pulled away every few minutes by a new development, making it hard to care about a particular story arc or character.
(Set to the tune of the theme song. Google if you don’t know it.)
Hulu has our backs to prove they are not hacks.
It’s Animaniacs! Come and join the Warner trio
As they join the modern age.
Making fun of current trends of which we all engage.
There’s nothing that’s off limits
For all the world’s a stage,
So they run amok and say we suck,
And it’s a culture gauge.They’re Animaniacs!
We’re happy that they’re back!
They have a certain knack
For giving culture a smack.
They’re Animaniacs.Meet Pinky and the Brain who came along as well,
And once again you’ll fall under their quirky little spell.
They turn our trends against us and this modern living hell,
But their amusing antics feed a thirst of which we cannot quell.They’re Animaniacs!
Tell all the Gen-Xers that they are back!
They are giving us flack,
And a few much needed smacks!
They’re top notch-y!
Better than Ed Koch-y!
Be sure to watch-y!