Have you seen anything good lately? Mr. Magpie and I always talk about how we’re living in the golden age of television thanks to the content scramble amongst various streaming services. We’ve come a long way from the set of Central Perk. The production value on so many of these series is unbelievable — it almost feels like an embarrassment of riches! I’m thinking specifically of that Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman murder mystery miniseries on HBO, “The Undoing.” It watched like a proper Hollywood studio movie — glossy, gorgeous, with high caliber actors and incredibly written and produced plot twists. Shows like that have been coming hard and heavy for the past few years and thank God for them, as we’ve needed the distraction during the pandemic. Recently, Mr. Magpie and I watched “Sex Education,” which I want to be very careful about caveating (see next paragraph). It is a show ostensibly about the sex lives of teens in a rural part of England and yet it is really about building empathy, healthy relationships with yourself and others, and self-awareness. The writing — especially the design of the characters — is unbelievable. There were many bits that I paused and re-watched in wonder. These are the roundest characters I have ever encountered in a film or TV show. They are dynamic; they breathe; they surprise; they disappoint; they are complex and weird and human and at the end of the day they remind me that we are all striving for affection, and how tender-hearted and love-deserving that makes us. The only other texts that have left me feeling so deeply for its characters were Ann Patchett’s novels. She is a (the?) master of character study, and I still feel a pang when I think about Maeve and Danny from The Dutch House (more on that here) and Franny from Commonwealth (more on that here). “Sex Education” forges similar allegiances between the viewer and its characters — even ones we initially dislike! I still think of them and worry over them and have to remind myself that this is just a show. But what a tremendous feat, to inspire such loyalty and love in an audience. I also must note the acting is exquisite, especially Gillian Anderson (yes, Gillian Anderson!), who is a revelation in her role as a therapist and mother.
All that said, let me flag that there are many parts of the show that viewers will find explicit, challenging, and/or triggering, as it grapples — head on! — with sexual assault, abortion, mental health, LGBTQ+ struggles, infertility, fetishes, and more. There are also parts of the show that feel gratuitous and over-the-top, designed for shock value rather than substance (I think). Please proceed at your own caution!
Over the past year, I also enjoyed the second season of “Emily in Paris,” “Only Murders in the Building,” the Stanley Tucci food show, “Lupin,” “Mare of Easttown,” “White Lotus.” (These shows are not for everyone, so you might do some recon before launching in, especially the last two listed.) On my list to check out: “Dickinson” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” (did not care for the book but still game to try the show). We watched but were less impressed by the second season of “Ted Lasso” (so sad, as Season 1 was easily the best thing I watched earlier in the pandemic; the second season seemed to become too aware of its own Ted Lasso-ness and felt mawkish) and “Succession” has more or less run its course for us. We have not yet been able to get through all of the current-season episodes of “Succession” because it also has become too self-aware (especially in Kendall’s strange and stilted corporate speak) and too repetitive of the same family dynamic. We tried to watch “Squid Games” but weren’t into it? We are the outliers there, I know. And season three of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” was beautifully shot and artful but lacked the warmth and levity of previous seasons and just left us feeling depleted. (The first two seasons are among my absolute favorite things I’ve ever watched on TV!)
I feel less rosy on the movie front. I think the best film I watched last year (and we watched a lot!) was “Dune,” which took me by surprise, as I’m not normally into the fantasy/sci-fi genre. We had friends decry the movie as “preamble” — “nothing happened!” — but I felt the acting, the set design, the music, the pace, the suspense, the drama were all incredible. I can’t wait for the sequel. Otherwise, once I got beyond the hair in “The Last Duel” (no, really — Landon and I kept breaking into laughter about Ben Affleck’s horrific bleached blond hair, which reminded me of 1990s Sisqo?, and Matt Damon’s strange matted mullet-mutton chops pairing), I thought that was excellent, too. The narrative design was brilliant and well-positioned within the context of recent-year gender politics and the “me too” movement. The film is set in Medieval times and traces an apparently true story in which a knight challenged a squire (and former friend) to a duel after the squire was accused of raping the knight’s wife. The interesting thing about the movie is that it presents the same story from three different perspectives: the knight, the knight’s wife, and the squire. Perhaps most telling is that there is no disagreement in these stories that the knight’s wife was, in fact, raped. But the details and the embellishments and omissions are stirring and the movie unfolds brilliantly despite the fact that we are more or less watching the same story three times in a row. Jodie Cormer (the wife) was a breath of fresh air — I could not take my eyes from her! Trigger warning about the rape scene, which was difficult to watch once but even worse three times in a row.
Finally, I had high hopes for “The Power of the Dog,” which won Best Picture at the Golden Globes and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, but I found it disappointing and confusing. The movie is set in 1925 Montana, when two ranchers meet a widow and her son during a cattle drive. One brother marries the widow and the other develops a strange, fraught relationship with the son. (Spoiler alert — if you intend to watch, please skip the rest of this paragraph.) Most of the praise I’ve seen of this movie seems to stem from its shocking ending, where the movie transforms from a psychological drama to a suspense/thriller. We spend 7/8ths of the movie wondering about the intense, homoerotic relationship between Phil and Peter, and then the rug is pulled from beneath us and the entire dynamic (both of the film and of the relationship between Phil and Peter) changes in an instant. From a technical standpoint, I agree that this is impressive sleight of hand. I was surprised. But, like, so what?! Is the point simply to defy genre and dazzle us with a surprise ending? If so, it feels like the first 7/8ths of the movie is an elaborate mis-direct with a lot of dangling loose ends. Why, for example, did we spend time during that strange scene where Kirsten Dunst and her new husband are dancing in a wheat field? I cannot for the life of me guess at the intent of that scene within the context of the ending, and almost feel that my time and empathy were wasted in the name of a shock finale? I also feel that the “twist” relies on the leanest, most improbably thin sequence of events. It almost felt like someone had read that anthrax came from diseased meat hide and then loosely thrown together an absurd chain of events that might enable a vindictive person to use that fact as a means to murder. So many strange circumstances had to happen for that outcome to be achieved (i.e., Peter had to be interested in animal dissection and then happen to come across the dead cattle, then Kirsten Dunst had to drunkenly give away hides by a random and unannounced visit — the only of its kind in the movie –, then Cumberbatch had to have an obsession with making rope AND had to have an open wound on his hand…). Ah! It felt clumsy and deliberate, as if we could see the strenuousness of the creative arc. Finally, there was a mismatch I felt, or a misfire, on the subject of masculinity and sexual orientation in this movie. The film seemed to suggest it would interrogate the myths and problems of the cowboy figure, and yet? We are left to assume that the motivation for Phil’s murder can be found in the film’s opening lines: “For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?” It felt like something was off when asking “what kind of man would I be” and dabbling with themes of masculinity and sexual orientation and then not taking that question anywhere at all and in fact reifying the classic “man protects woman” trope. I know I’m coming down hard on this movie and perhaps it’s a testament to the film’s unusual and genre-defying twists. But I left the movie feeling like I’d been taken for a ride, and not a fun one. I’d been asked to exercise the full gamut of my emotions to empathize with the characters and look for meaning, and then felt like someone yelled: “GOTCHA!” at the end.
Anyhow, that movie elicited some strong reactions from me and I’m anxious to watch something else. What’s on your list? What are you watching?
+Loved your responses to this post on movies I can re-watch ad-finitum.
+Books that were helping me out of my reading slump, but have still not hoisted me all the way out…any new suggestions?
+This dress is right up my alley for everyday wear, with a pair of furlanes — love the fit and interesting pattern.
+Right now, all I want to wear is a simple tortoise headband.
+If you are looking for an inexpensive pillow insert, I have to encourage you to check out Pillowflex. I’ve actually had occasion to buy several different brands in euro sham size pillow inserts (FYI, buy a 28 x 28 pillow for a 26 x 26 sham — always size up so you get a fuller look) because we’ve moved our queen bed from the primary bedroom to the guest room and are setting up a makeshift extra bedroom in the basement level for guests at Mr. Magpie’s 40th Birthday Dinner this weekend. Anyhow, I have been a flurry of activity trying to get things sorted and ironed so our guests will be comfortable. This brand is the best for decorative pillow inserts — much fuller and better at holding shape than other brands of similar or lesser price. I wouldn’t recommend these for sleeping pillows (for that, we have been loving these for an inexpensive option for guest bedrooms and these and these for a more expensive, better quality option for every night use.). But for the decorative euro shams?! They are perfect! They look full, dramatic, plush. Love.
+On a related note, I have some of these hemmed shams for the Euro size pillows and they look fabulous though are a bit of a bear to iron because of that hem, which ends up wrinkling/flopping over quickly anyhow. But, I wanted some extra to complete the set-ups of the guest bedrooms and noticed that they were sold out in white! In a pinch, I ordered these super inexpensive, similar-style shams — $17 for a set of 2 (!) — and they truly look the same! They are probably not as soft or high quality and may not hold up as well, but again, I use the Euro shams more to style the bed than to sleep on, so this was an inexpensive, overnight fix and I was thrilled with results.
+I have such a soft spot for white blouses like this — adore the interesting details.
+Just added one of these monogrammed LS polos to my cart for Hill. Perfect transition-to-spring find.
+This gingham rug would be perfect in a nursery.
+This popular striped half-zip is on sale!
+S&L inspired lamp for $60!
+I know a lot of you loved this seagrass sorting basket — perfect for recycling paper or also organizing toys! When I saw this smaller divided basket, I thought of you, too. Good for even smaller toys/organization in a bathroom.
+PSA for my fellow moms with traditional clothing tastes for their LOs: Lil Cactus is currently available at Zulily (a flash deal site — free to join), and they have a great, unfussy gingham romper for a little boy. Hill had these in a few colors. Only $17! I found these were great if I knew he was going to get into something messy, like eating a popsicle or crawling through dirt/sand. If they get stained, less heartache! They also have a sweet bishop-style dress on offer for little ladies for $21 — a sweet and not-too-expensive option for Easter/spring affairs! I like the bigger scale ginghams in pink and blue!
+This ticking stripe quilt would be adorable in a little boy’s room and only $30! Could also double as beach/picnic blanket! Finish with these cute rope lamps! Would be so cute if you have boys sharing a room: to twin beds with one of these lamps for each boy! Maybe use these as side tables?!
+I can’t stop thinking about this wall art. It is SO good. I am seriously contemplating it for my office. I’ve always thought I’d want one of these by Paule Marrot…both would work well together actually. Ahh!
+Fresh kicks for your little man.
+Love the color and cut of these pants.
+This Moses baby basket is spendy but a thing of art. Doubles as room decor. Gorgeous!