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OPINION | KAREN MARTIN: What’s worth watching, and why

by Karen Martin | May 15, 2022 at 2:16 a.m.
Karen Martin

So what if the weather is pleasant enough to spend time outside? That's no excuse for abandoning the wealth of streaming programming that will make you appear to be in the know when your friends ask, "What's worth watching?"

Here are some suggestions:

"Gilded Age" (HBO) I once had a friend who, when invited over for drinks or dinner or whatever, would always ask me, "Who else is coming?" That pretty much describes most of the beautifully dressed characters in the nine episodes (46-80 minutes each) of "The Gilded Age." This lavishly photographed series opens with young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) moving from rural Pennsylvania to New York City after the death of her father in 1882 to live with her pretentious old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). Through her naivete and ignorance of New York's strict social structure, Marian becomes entangled in a social war between arrogant aunt Agnes and her indsanely rich neighbors: ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell (Morgan Spector) ) and his climbing, opportunist wife Bertha Russell (played with imperious grace by Carrie Coon). Everybody's elegant and well-mannered, but as we used to say at the Arkansas Gazette, "Don't leave the room."

"Slow Horses" (AppleTV) Based on the books by British novelist Mick Herron, this cruelly comic and alarmingly fast-moving series (six episodes, each 41-53 minutes in length) chronicles the going-nowhere souls who mope around in Slough House, a decaying building that's the end of the line for members of British intelligence service MI5 who've screwed up, resulting in loss of property, insider info, and others' lives. Some are resigned to seeing their futures going up in smoke; others, like River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), are determined to redeem themselves, especially in the eyes of their witheringly sarcastic and condescending supervisor Jackson Lamb (a gloriously seedy and unkempt Gary Oldman), who's just as done for as the rest of his charges. You won't be bored. With Olivia Cooke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Chung, and Saskia Reeves.

"Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" (HBO) Although I provided color commentary for my college radio broadcasts of varsity basketball, my interest in the game isn't notable. But somehow, watching seven episodes (54-59 minutes each) of the Los Angeles Lakers' glory days in the '80s after the team drafted Earvin "Magic" Johnson definitely holds my attention. It helps that Quincy Isaiah, who plays Johnson with a mix of innocence, chutzpah and ever-growing confidence, is charismatic, as is John C. Reilly as cocky, resourceful team owner Jerry Buss. With Gaby Hoffman, Hadley Robinson, Jason Clarke.

"State of the Union" (Sundance Now) Although the original season of this 10-minute romantic drama/comedy--with Rosamund Pike as Louise and Chris O'Dowd as Tom--has its quietly scathing moments, this second round (10 episodes), with Brendan Gleeson and Patricia Clarkson as a couple considering divorce (at least she is) is more incisive, descending into downright acidity as they pause at a coffee shop--run with ruthless allure by asexual trans barista Jay (Esco Jouley)--before meeting with their marriage counselor. Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears.

"Russian Doll" (Netflix) The nine episodes (running time: 24-33 minutes) in season 2 of this remarkably offbeat series, with surly star and co-creator Natasha Lyonne taking over the job of showrunner, no longer focus on the first season's "Groundhog Day" plotline in which Nadia Vulvokov has rowdy adventures at her 36th birthday party, then dies, then starts over again at the party, with no memory of losing her life (in various ways). This time, New York's 6 train is employed to fling her into the past, which involves her mother Nora (Chloe Sevigny), her godmother Ruth, missing Krugerrands, and bad parenting. Don't let your attention wander; you'll need it.

"1883" (Amazon Prime, Paramount Plus) This is a disaster-laden 10-episode prequel (each with a running time of a little over an hour) to "Yellowstone" that accompanies the Dutton family and a sorry aggregation of unprepared European immigrants--only one speaks English--as they leave Texas to undertake a perilous (that's putting it mildly) if beautifully photographed journey across the Great Plains for a new life in Montana. If it can go wrong, it does, often spectacularly. The likable characters keep you engaged, but don't get too involved with any of them. Created by Taylor Sheridan; with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, Isabel May, and LaMonica Garrett, with guest appearances by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Hanks.

More series worth watching: "Inventing Anna (Netflix)," "The Flight Attendant (season 2, HBO Max)," "WeCrashed (AppleTV)," "Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Hulu)," "The North Water (BBC America)," "The Great (Hulu)."

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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