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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: Kaley Cuoco returns in HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant,  Netflix reboots the Selena story, and the second seasons of The Mandalorian on Disney+ and His Dark Materials on HBO soar into exciting new realms.
The Flight Attendant / HBO Max

HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant follows flight attendant Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco), a party girl with dependency issues and a loose hold on reality. Her carefree life is destroyed after a one-night stand with a passenger turns into murder mystery, one which she struggles to solve via conversations with his ghost. Unraveling the evening with now-dead Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) aka seat 3C, Cassie delivers play-by-play memories of events to the viewer while casting doubt on her own mental well being and innocence.

The success of the show hinges on the talent of its lead, and luckily, Cuoco (who also executive produced) is there to guide the thriller down the runway. After spending over a decade as Penny NoLastName on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, The Flight Attendant plays to her strengths with enough biting sarcasm to keep fans happy, while proving her range with a more fascinating role. She’s still pretty amusing, but these giggles come from a dark place.

But the show isn’t just about a hot dumpster fire who was pinned with murder. As the thriller falls deeper down the rabbit hole of Cassie’s many issues, her childhood trauma begins to surface. Soon, it isn’t a question about what happened that one fateful night, but that happened over the course of several decades to get to where Cassie is today.

This classic whodunit plays with familiar mystery tropes but it is completely distinct in its delivery thanks to Cuoco, who is pretty stellar with the material. So, put your seats in their full upright position, make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened, and get ready for the descent and one hell of a ride.

SELENA THE SERIES  (Michael Lavine/NETFLIX © 2020)

Selena / Netflix

The real story of Selena Quintanilla is one in which most Americans are familiar. It is a sad tale of a beautiful and talented Mexican-American singer whose life was cut short just as it was getting started. Her story resonated with so many not just because of the tragedy of how it ended, but because of what her success represented to millions of Americans who find themselves marginalized. She represented her community and she did it beautifully. So, it should only be fair that any story about her life represents her beautifully as well.

In 1997, Jennifer Lopez delighted audiences with her upbeat and charming portrayal of the Tejano singer. The movie was a bittersweet remembrance of the young woman and helped her achieve the crossover success she desperately desired. But Netflix’s Selena: The Series, produced by members of Selena’s own family, is different. It seeks to be a more in-depth look at the Latina singer, but sadly, it does not succeed.

It’s an overly-romanticized version of a story we already know. It paints everybody involved in the best possible light, thus giving viewers no real sense of the truth. Like a bedtime story or a fairytale, it’s akin to Cinderella and Snow White in its lack of realism. This is the story of a self-made princess with a beautiful singing voice whose life was cut down in its prime by an evil entity hiding behind a fan club newsletter.

This sugary sweet version of Selena is clearly aimed at a YA audience. Free of teen angst, anger or individuality, there is little regard to the characters in the script. For example, father figure Abraham (Ricardo Chavira) lacks the warmth and love we have seen in other portrayals. He might have loved his family, but holy hell, here the man is depicted as a monster, using his kids to reach the dreams he could never achieve, with little regard to their wants or needs.

The cast almost holds this series together, even with the bad writing. Christian Serratos shines bright as the pop star and brings a lightness and joy to her portrayal. If Netflix is aiming for a young adult audience, Serratos was a wise choice to herald in a new generation of Selena fans (or possibly confused Walking Dead fans). She makes the most out of this opportunity and because of her, the material is elevated, but unfortunately, not enough to reflect what made its subject so special.

THE MANDALORIAN (Disney+)

The Mandalorian – Season 2 /  Disney+

After watching the second season in full, it is fair to say that Disney+’s The Mandalorian has done more for the Star Wars universe than two decades of film franchises. The first season of the space Western had quite a challenge: making Star Wars fans happy with a new series. Of course aficionados would tune in, so the true test was conjuring a story that might please notoriously fickle fans and re-establish what some saw as a sullied cinematic universe.

The Mandalorian fed the lore and the fan base thanks to an old school serial sensibility mixed with endless references, Easter eggs, and shout-outs to the original series. The second season continues the narrative while introducing established characters from other branches of the franchise. In doing so, it effortlessly weaves in characters from all walks of the Extended Universe as part of a grand scheme.

In short, the second season of The Mandalorian is a triumph. The show builds upon the Lone Wolf and Cub tone set by the first season while bringing in fan favorites, all without seeming forced. Is it fan service? Sure, but of the highest order. It is a fan service created by fans, carefully delivered on an X-wing.

HIS DARK MATERIALS (HBO Max)

His Dark Materials – Season 2 / HBO Max

The second season of HBO’s His Dark Materials continues the epic tale of flying witches, battle bears, and talking animals, but the real magic is in the vast improvement in storytelling since its first season. The adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy has been tried and failed before. 2007’s The Golden Compass created a fascinating mess that rushed its story in an effort to get to sequels that were never made. And it seemed that the first season of the HBO series was on track to follow in its missteps, but it seems the course was correct.

When we last saw Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), she was on the run from her maniacal mother Mrs. Coulter. As she crossed over into new worlds, she met Will Parry (Amir Wilson), a teen who is also on the run. Together, they formed a union and pledged to help each other find their way. The first season’s hurried attempt at world building has been slowed this time, giving the viewer a chance to catch their breath from the constant action. In addition to the new pacing, the focus has shifted from Lyra and her quest to her relationship with Will, thus creating a compelling narrative that the first season was lacking. And Will serves an important function that was all but missing from the first season- as a newcomer to these lands, his curiosity helps project the story forward while offering much-needed exposition. He needs answers, we need answers. Everything works out.

Season two not only takes its time to explore, but offers a charming kiddo duo to lead the way. All in all, it seems HBO’s adaptation for His Dark Materials has found the footing it needed to lead audiences into a new realm.

LA Weekly