CASTLE ROCK Blew The Ending

I need to learn the most valuable lesson about writing TV criticism: don’t do it until the season is over. Maybe wait until the whole darn show is over. Again and again I’ve gotten really excited about a show and recommended it, only to see the show sink into a morass as soon as I’ve pledged allegiance. My timing is bad.

The latest show to fit into this pattern? Hulu’s Castle Rockwhich had an extraordinary first actI was really smitten with the show, and at the beginning it seemed to be setting up an exciting world and great characters, tying lightly into the Stephen King megaverse but mostly getting the King flavor absolutely right. So what the hell happened?

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CASTLE ROCK Truly Shines

The only way Castle Rock could be more Stephen King-y would be if the lead character were a novelist. In fact, there are no novelists yet introduced on the show, a huge oversight if you ask me. Maine, as I understand from King’s work, is thick with novelists. You can’t run into an ancient curse or a terrifying entity without finding a novelist somehow tied up in the whole thing.

I don’t love writing about TV shows while they’re still airing – they could shit the bed at any moment! – but it feels important for me to tell you that Castle Rock is, three episodes in, quite good. And it’s quite good in a way that feels unique to the King ouvre; this is a show that gets what the experience of reading King is, and unlike almost ALL the adaptations ever attempted of the Master, it captures that experience. Again, Castle Rock could absolutely fall apart this week, but the first three episodes lay such a solid foundation that I could believe the show might be able to recover from a serious episode four stumble.

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DEAR WHITE PEOPLE VOL 2: The Best Since M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H has to be the greatest TV show based on a movie. I know there’s likely a big contingent who will go to bat for Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which I love love love – but the difference there is that Buffy the movie didn’t quite work, and Buffy the TV show got to improve on the original. But M*A*S*H? The movie is a classic, yet the show somehow manages to be better and more iconic than the movie (I fully expect some pushback on that from Altman diehards. Fair enough!).

Dear White People on Netflix is closer to M*A*S*H than Buffy; it’s based on a 2014 movie that’s quite great, but the TV version manages to take everything worked in the movie and make it even better. Season one was sort of the Evil Dead 2 of Dear White People – a retelling of the events of the movie with included aftermath – and it was a phenomenal achievement. Creator Justin Simien, who wrote and directed the movie, inherently understood the Netflix binge model, and the show’s format follows one character per episode, with all the stories colliding in the finale. He did this better than Arrested Development season 4’s much-heralded experiment, which I think fundamentally failed. Dear White People focuses on one character at a time, but it doesn’t eliminate the others; it’s sort of the Marvel Cinematic Universe model of TV storytelling, where characters can and will cross over in their individual stories but the focus is always on the episode’s lead.

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Deep Space Recovery

Spoilers for the latest episodes of Star Trek: Discovery ahead.

The back half of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season has been a mixed bag for me. The Mirror Universe stuff has been okay, but has also often been a bust. Making Lorca an MU doppelganger is too cheap and easy, in my opinion – the show was traveling down an interesting path in examining a man coping with trauma and possibly processing it poorly. Saying “he’s just from the goatee-verse!” cheapens what the show had been previously doing with the character, and makes him sort of lame in the process. I hold out hope that the season finale will find Prime Universe Lorca showing up.
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