The Best Witchy Media of 2017, Part 2: TV

And now, some TV!

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale ~ Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s groundbreaking 1984 dystopian novel was very timely. In an America (now called Gilead) where fertile women (now rare due to environmental toxins lowering birth rates) are enslaved to make babies for the ruling classes, based on a tyrannical religious leadership that takes over by violent coup, we see parallels to our own nation’s descent into authoritarianism. Even for those unfamiliar with Atwood’s novel or the first film based on it, this show was an artful and sobering experience. Elisabeth Moss plays Offred, a young woman forcibly separated from her husband and daughter when they try to escape capture by government thugs. Her life is regimented and controlled: she must dress, speak and behave according to the bizarre rules of Gilead, a right wing evangelical community that rules with guns, rape and torture. Survival for the women enslaved means being clever, secretive and very patient. The show’s radical visuals inspired a resistance movement where women dress in the iconic red and white garb of handmaids to protest legislation limiting women’s reproductive freedom. The centrality of women’s power within culture is a constant topic here; and one that modern pagans and witches, who ushered in the goddess worship movement, will find to be necessary viewing. (My longer review from the Orlando Weekly is here.)

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    Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale

  2. Twin Peaks: The Return ~ This much-anticipated continuation of David Lynch’s groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks (which premiered on ABC in 1990) did not disappointed attracted many new viewers to this weird and wonderful world. Kyle MacLachlan gave the performance of the year as whipsmart, compassionate FBI detective Dale Cooper, who, as Twin Peaks ended more then two decades ago, found himself possessed by the psyche of a sadistic killer. Showtime produced this new series, although somehow missed having it debut on the 25th anniversary of the show, despite having a clearly defined moment when Cooper dreams himself twenty-five years into the future. We find out (well, more or less) what happened and how other well-loved characters have fared over the years as new mysteries descend on the tiny Northwestern town of Twin Peaks. The cast, including many new characters, is excellent, and the musical performances ending each episode are brilliant (my brother was a couple of episodes ahead of me. I certainly recommend seeing the first two seasons, and maybe the prequel film Fire Walk with Me, before you dig into this sublime, beautiful, mystical oddity. Coffee and cherry pie optional.

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    Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return

  3. American Horror Story: Cult ~ I’ve been a big fan of this anthology show from the beginning, despite my frequent complaints about how uneven the writing can be. The only season I have not yet watched is AHS: Hotel, and I still think the first two seasons (Murder House and Asylum) are the best ones. AHS: Coven was promising but ultimately so disappointing. Two recent seasons, AHS: Freakshow and AHS:Roanoke, were very good, but borrowed rather shamelessly (and not in a “cool homage” kind of way, which of course this series is also known for) from other texts like The Blair Witch Project, HBO’s Carnivale, and The Witch. Still, I was excited to see this season that was framed by our recent presidential election and that referenced a number of cult figures like Andy Warhol, Charles Manson and Jim Jones, all played superbly by AHS regular Evan Peters, whose main character, Kai, is a blue-haired (the opposite or orange, get it?) right wing ideologue who runs for local office, emboldened by Trump’s victory. For me, it was rather traumatizing reliving Election Night 2016; and Sarah Paulson is excellent as a liberal voter whose stress causes her to have a near breakdown. The entire cast is superb as always, with regulars in cool cameos like Frances Conroy, Adina Porter and Dennis O’Hare, and some new cast members I enjoyed (especially Billie Lourd, Alison Pill and Leslie Grossman). The trajectory of the show did what it always does: opens up multiple story arcs and themes and then seems to juggle them willy-nilly as some stay in the air and some tumble down and fall away (although the creepy killer clown motif remains throughout, referencing IT and The Strangers, as well as AHS: Freakshow). Because this was was based so strongly in current reality and actual history, it resonated a bit more than usual with me.~~~~~~~Also recommended, some short takes:harlots-hulu-itv-canceled-renewed-590x279Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville in Harlots.

    Harlots ~ A brilliantly produced (women wrote and directed every episode) historic drama on Hulu about two rival brothels in 18th century London. First rate, white-hot cast (including Lesley Manville, Samantha Morton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Fenella Woolgar, oh, just a who’s who from all your favorite British films and TV), stunning costumes, authentic (and very saucy!) dialogue, plenty of sex and intrigue. Renewed for a second season and I. Cannot. Wait. (Orlando Weekly review here)

    The Keepers ~ Documentary series from Netflix exploring the orders of two young women in 1969 in Baltimore. One was a nun and teacher whose former students keep her memory alive as they search for clues to solve her murder. To say the church was implicated in this crime is an understatement. Beautifully filmed, suspenseful and fascinating.

    3% ~ A Brazilian series on Netflix that’s sort of like The Hunger Games meets The Cool Dharma Initiative Sequences of Lost. In a post-apocalyptic world beset by poverty and environmental decay, a group of young people chosen at random must pass a series of tests to be able to live in a land of beauty and plenty. Netflix automatically sets their foreign series to dubbing mode these days; be sure to switch to subtitles!

  4. Black Mirror (Season 4) ~ I am still processing these six episodes, but I have to say this show seems to get better with each season. There seems to be slightly less emphasis on social media this season, and more on the intimate, personal toll taken by technology in our lives. There’s a Star Trek-inspired episode (USS Callister) that wins a prize for sheer ingenuity and dark humor. One with terrifying robotic dogs (Metalhead) is a tour de force of special effects. Crocodile is a harrowing tale of a young woman caught up in a violent crime that tries to keep it secret for decades. Hang the DJ is a clever take on computerized dating apps, and it was my personal favorite (also one of my favorite songs from the 1980s). Arkangel, directed by Jodie Foster (and can you believe this is the FIRST episode of this show directed by a woman?), follows a single mom and the computer system she uses to protect her daughter from infancy through adolescence. The finale, Black Museum, is a complex, horrifying story of a doctor who invents a device allowing him to feel the physical sensation of others, and the chaos this creates in the hands of an unscrupulous sales rep.
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    Aniya Hodge and Rosemarie Dewitt in Arkangel

    Stranger Things ~ Of course you’ve already watched this! And I love it so much I need a whole lot more space to even begin talking about it, so watch for that over the next few weeks…

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    Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

     

     

    Some other cool pagan and/or occult, fantasy, horror, thriller, historical, dystopian, nerdy shows I have watched and love but am generally behind on: Riverdale, Turn, Peaky Blinders, Halt and Catch Fire, The Exorcist, Lucifer, The Americans, The Santa Clarita Diet, Atypical, Fargo, Better Things. Some shows that are on my list to watch ASAP: American Gods, Dark, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Legion.

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