Friends, I can’t possibly review all the things I watch. Less because I watch so many things (though I most certainly do) and more because my brain only works a fraction of the time and writing reviews is harder than it looks (this is only sometimes true, but don’t tell anyone). So, in an effort to cram more reviews (that absolutely no one asked for) into your faces, I’m instituting an occasional series called “Things I Watched Without You.”
For this week’s installment I’m talking about some American Murdery shows I’ve watched and enjoyed. Let’s dive in!
Big Little Lies
You will be shocked (SHOCKED!) to learn that a show focused on the lives of a group of mothers was initially written off by many male reviewers as fluff. I was skeptical of the show at first mostly because it was so jammed with A-list names and shining faces and architectural behemoths overlooking the ocean, but its willingness to explore the different contours of trauma and the intimacy of women’s shared experiences behind the posturing easily won me over. The first season (and the only season I’ve watched) slowly unravels the story of a murder at a fancy school fundraiser in the upper class community of Monterey, California. Interspersed with the story are police interviews with a kind of Greek chorus (or reality show confessional) of judgmental witnesses who spin half truths, rumors, and innuendo into absolutely useless information. Fairly quickly the murder mystery becomes secondary to the central characters, who are almost exclusively white (the singular exception being Bonnie who is played by Zoe Kravitz) and wealthy women, as they grapple with the toxic effects of keeping up appearances at all costs. The kind of cliches you would expect—spats over which children get an invite to lavish birthday parties—are really just the entry point to look at how poisonous the unrealistic expectations put on women can be. The show grapples with domestic abuse, rape, sex, and those societal expectations. The characters that at first seem one-dimensional slowly deepen and show the cracks in their facades, allowing the light to shine on their human flaws. Big Little Lies always has a heightened, slightly soap operatic feel—like it’s having to raise its voice to be heard over the waves constantly pounding against the rocks just outside everyone’s lavish beachside house—but where it really shines is in the smaller moments when it shows that women pitched as enemies could really be allies.
A modern-day Sherlock Holmes (the very attractive Johnny Lee Miller) has relocated to New York City where he consults for the NYPD at the direction of Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn, who I had a massive crush on when I watched Desperately Seeking Susan and my friend had a massive crush on when she watched Practical Magic. We’re both still sweet on him). Recently out of a rehab program, Holmes is accompanied on his investigations by Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Lui), his paid sober companion. In addtion to the murder (or two) that Sherlock and Watson deftly solve during each episode, the series also gradually delves into both their backstories. Points to the show for keeping the relationship between Sherlock and Watson platonic! (At least as far as I’ve watched in the series.) My friend who got me into the show would want me to tell you that you should mainline this series into your veins immediately. I don’t quite share her religious fervor for the show (or for Johnny Lee Miller’s bare chest), but I wholeheartedly agree it’s a fun watch!
Dead To Me
This right here is a very good binge watch, especially if you like women who curse, which you should because we are scientifically shown to be smarter. Those are the facts. Dead to Me is part coal black comedy, part mystery, part drama, and all kinds of television goodness. Jen (Christina Applegate) is a tightly wound, recently widowed woman who looks on the proffered casseroles and condolences from her neighbors with a scorn and disgust that is deeply appreciated by this particular viewer. She is haunted by the death of her husband in a hit-and-run accident and is obsessed with finding his killer. She meets Judy (Linda Cardellini), a more freewheeling, spiritual, and possibly widowed woman at a bereavement support group and the two become unlikely friends, bonded by perceived shared trauma. Soon after, Jen, who has two young sons, lets Judy move into her guest house. Obviously, nothing and no one is what it seems, and there are some very Dark Secrets that will come out. The show looks deeply at the horrors heaped on women by men and society. It explores grief and guilt and gaslighting and infertility and breast cancer. And it interrogates ideas around how women are pitted against each other and how they get squished into categories like uptight and hysterical. Some of my favorite parts, aside from Christina Applegate’s way with swear words, are the conversations between Judy and Jen. You can imagine, you know if you were bonded by some deeply, deeply, disturbing and dark shit, having a conversation that moved fluidly from murder to self image to gossip to teary-eyed support. Applegate and Cardellini are both amazing in this series, separately and together. Admittedly, I watched the series quite a while ago, so I’m digging deep into the pits of my (faulty) memory to bring you this information, so there may be errors, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s well worth watching. I know I’m anxiously looking forward to the next (and final) season.
Several months ago I rewatched Veronica Mars from the beginning, and it did not disappoint. It’s the story of outcast teenage detective Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) and her father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), the ousted Sheriff turned PI, unraveling the mystery of who killed her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), and many other lesser mysteries along the way. The show is deeply funny, though on this watching I also found it far darker than I remembered. I mean that in a good way, and is probably more about my shifting perspective over the years than anything else. The men I once pined for Veronica to date now felt more deeply problematic than romantic. (In much the same way I once yearned for her Sidekick phone.) And while I remembered seeing all of Veronica’s behaviors as entirely badass, I now saw them more as rooted in complex and unaddressed trauma. Growing older is definitely not all bad, my friends!! Perspective is good! The show addresses things like sexual assault, racism, sexism, classism, and trauma directly and in ways that weren’t always common in shows in the early 2000s, though it still leans heavily on using racist and sexist language to call out racism and misogyny, which feels uncomfortable today. But Keith Mars and Veronica’s sometimes friend Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra) being my very favorite characters is something that will never, ever change. It’s also always good to remember how strongly we felt about wide belts, boot cut jeans, earth-toned colorways, and choppy haircuts in the early aughts.
Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) gets bored in hell so he, along with his favorite demon and head torturer Mazikeen ( Lesley-Ann Brandt)—who is my favorite character—moves to Los Angeles and opens a nightclub. Lucifer is exactly as devilishly (sorry, not sorry) charming, self-centered, and debaucherous as you’d expect the lord of the underworld to be. He mostly spends his time drinking, having sex, and using his powers to get people to tell him their deepest desires. Then, after an acquaintance gets killed in a drive-by shooting, Lucifer meets LAPD detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), a former actress best known for her nude scene in a movie called Hot Tub High School. Much to her annoyance, he inserts himself into the investigation. Much to his confusion, neither his powers nor his charms work on her. It’s a match made in….well, you get the picture. So, Lucifer becomes a consultant for the LAPD, helping Chloe and others solve crimes. And, because it’s LA, Lucifer also gets himself a therapist (the always wonderful Rachael Harris). Obviously, things get more complicated and intertwined. My friend definitely thinks I should let you know that at least one season has about a zillion episodes, so if you’re binging it will take awhile. I think I should definitely let you know that Tom Ellis is shirtless a whole lot. I don’t know if that matters to you, but it likely will once you see Tom Ellis as Lucifer shirtless. I know it matters deeply to me. The show is campy and constantly winking at itself, which only adds to the fun.