by MIKE ORLOCK[email protected]
Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service, lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers in the first quarter of this year. Despite this recent news, I doubt he’s going anywhere or that his financial troubles signal the end of a phenomenon created in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Streaming entertainment online, as last month’s Oscars confirmed, is the new way Hollywood does business. There will always be movie theaters selling popcorn for the latest superhero extravaganza, but meat-and-potato dramas and comedies, thrillers and horror flicks are now the province of HBO Max. , Apple TV, Hulu, Amazon Prime and – yes – Netflix, especially when presented in a form that traditional theaters can’t match: the limited series.
This genre has become popular among major directors and actors because it gives them the flexibility of time to dive deep into stories and characters in a way that a two-hour runtime never could. Whether it comes in simulcast six- or eight-hour episodes or (more likely) over several weeks, the limited series’ success with viewers signals a profound change in the way we consume our entertainment.
Consider these four limited series that are available through subscription streamers on your smart TV and feature direction and performances that are just as good, if not better, than what’s playing at the local cineplex.
• HBO Max has two major ongoing series, Deputy Tokyo and Buying Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (both rated R), by two top Hollywood directors, Michael Mann and Adam McKay.
Deputy Tokyo features young Ansel Elgort, last seen as Tony in Steven Spielberg West Side Story, as a brash American journalist working for a Japanese newspaper who stumbles upon the criminal machinations of the Yakuza. He’s used by cops and mobsters to further their agendas, and they don’t mind putting his life in danger, mostly because he’s a gaijin: a stranger who is expendable.
Academy nominees Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi headline a talented cast of Japanese actors in a story as violent, sexy and cool as Mann’s American crime classic. Heat (1995).
• winning time stars John C. Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss, the visionary peddler who injected Hollywood glamor and stardom into professional basketball when he drafted a young phenom named Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the dropped on the NBA.
McKay dumped Reilly on close friend and (now former) business partner Will Ferrell, but it’s easy to see why. Reilly gives a career-best performance as an accomplished BS artist who bet the farm that he could fill the Forum with movie stars and hot women if he made his players marquee attractions.
Quincy Isaiah (as Magic), Solomon Hughes (as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Jason Clarke, Tracy Letts, Adrien Brody, Gaby Hoffmann and Sally Field form a dream team of supporting cast, fleshing out everything that went into do the Lakers. Inescapable “Showtime”.
• On Hulu, two actresses are giving career-best performances in two true-crime dramatizations that will likely pit them against each other when the Emmys are handed out later this year.
Renée Zellweger (barely recognizable under extensive makeup) stars as every small town’s worst nightmare: Pam Hupp, a busy serial killer in The thing about Pam (TV-14).
Based on a 2016 Deadline episode, the story told over six episodes is funny, scary and compelling, thanks in large part to a crackerjack cast that includes Judy Greer, Josh Duhamel, Glenn Fleshler, Sean Bridgers and Deadline the stalwart Keith Morrison delivering deadpan storytelling in his distinctive style. The antics that Pam Hupp pulled off in her one-woman crime spree inspires disbelief: How did she get away with it for as long as she has? The series does a masterful job of enticing you to find out.
• The stall (R) chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, an ambitious young woman whose Silicon Valley medical startup Theranos promised far more than it could ever deliver, leading to her recent federal court conviction for fraud and racketeering.
Holmes’ original idea was to streamline blood testing with a machine that could perform multiple tests on a single drop, but once the money started rolling in and TV coverage made her a celebrity , she sacrificed the principles of profit and truth for outright lies. His carnal partner in crime, venture capitalist Sunny Balwani, will go on trial later this year for his role in the Theranos scheme.
Holmes is played by Amanda Seyfried, and while I’ve always considered her an excellent supporting actress (you might remember her as Kristen Bell’s murdered best friend in the TV series Veronique Mars), nothing she’s done before comes close to the level of performance displayed here. She captures every nuance of Holmes, from the look to the voice, in one of the most impressive roles you’re likely to see this year.
Naveen Andrews (as Sunny), Sam Waterston, Anne Archer, Michaela Watkins, Elizabeth Marvel, Kurtwood Smith and William H. Macy headline a killer supporting cast.
In another life, Mike Orlock wrote movie reviews for the Journalist/Progress newspapers from the western suburbs of Chicago. He also taught high school English, coached basketball and is the author of three books of poetry. He is currently the Door County Poet Laureate.