By BRUCE DENNILL
All of the below content is available to stream on Netflix.
Another product of Tina Fey’s remarkable comedy mind, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a fish-out-of-water (or in this case, girl-out-of-cult) comedy anchored – hugely impressively – by Ellie Kemper. Season One begins with Schmidt and a few other women being freed after 15 years in an underground bunker, where they have been at the mercy of charlatan “pastor” Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm, living up to his surname). It’s an incredibly dark premise, but what viewers might imagine could’ve happened in such a scenario is skirted around, with the characters’ flashbacks to their time as prisoners largely focusing on actions they were made to perform for daft reasons.
Kimmy emerges to find a world that is far more cynical and sophisticated than the one she left behind, but her considerable naivety remains resolutely in place, and this tension is at the core of the bulk of the series’ comedy. As in all Fey’s work, the jokes are intelligent, layered and numerous – if a scenario allows for 18 jokes, why only put in five?
Kemper is supported by an excellent cast with Tituss Burgess as her uber-camp roommate Titus and regular Fey collaborator Jane Krakowski as sometime employer Jaqueline Voorhees both expected to do extraordinarily silly things and both wholeheartedly committing to do so.
Occasionally, the complex but contained plot does pall, with some threads being more interesting than others and the pacing and guffaw value of the rare dead end rather stunting the flow of the action overall (Season Three is a particular speed bump in this regard). Also, perhaps because the characters are so outlandishly exaggerated, relating to them over extended periods can require more effort than you might be willing to give. But as sweet jar worth dipping into regularly, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is lovely.
Binge value: 3 / Family friendliness: 3 / Writing: 4 / Production values: 4 / Humour: 4 / Drama: 3 / Violence: 1 / Sex: 1 / Visuals: 3
6 Underground / Directed by Michael Bay / 16VLS
Helmed by Michael Bay and with Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, there is no way that 6 Underground is ever going to be close to sensible. There are two options left, then. Hover in some unappealing middle ground where there is an overload of hubris and a shortage of everything else, or go mildly mental and rely on budget and charm to paper over a complete absence of subtlety. Happily, everyone involved chose the second option, putting this high-action caper in the same wheelhouse, genre- and swagger-wise, as the Mission Impossible films, with the relative seriousness of that series replaced by the dark humour and louche charisma that are Reynolds’ stock in trade.
The action sequences are massive and utterly bonkers, even by Bay’s standards, and though the team of mercenaries at the centre of the piece – all declared officially dead, for various reasons, and thus able to operate more easily off the radar – recall the polished crews from the various Fast & Furious films, the characters (all named by number, hence the project’s title) all do thrilling, watchable things that help maintain the breakneck pacing and the suspension of disbelief. That they’re all what polite society would regard as “bad people”, trying to do good, if flawed things, makes the over-arching story more compelling. Brash, bright and loud, 6 Underground is hugely entertaining. Restraint be damned.
Binge value: N/A / Family friendliness: 1 / Writing: 3 / Production values: 5 / Humour: 4 / Drama: 3 / Violence: 4 / Sex: 3 / Visuals: 4
The Laundromat / Directed by Steven Soderbergh / 16LS
A novel interpretation of the Panama Papers scandal, in which a whistle-blower revealed the dealings of a Panama-based law firm called Mossack Fonseca, who created shell companies that enabled untold rich clients to avoid paying tax on their fortunes, as well as helping career criminals launder their money, The Laundromat promises much but delivers relatively little. It has a fabulous cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, David Schwimmer, James Cromwell and Sharon Stone, but the work of most of these and their co-stars is undermined by a story structure that seems a little dubious up front and gets ever more unwieldy as the film continues.
To begin with, the mechanism of having Oldman and Banderas – always dressed to the nines and sipping cocktails – appear in links between the other threads that make up the film feels like a homage to the sort of suave silliness of which Blake Edwards was a master in the Sixties. Half an hour later, it’s annoying. By the end of the film, it’s made you grumpy. Streep does a typically solid job of carrying the real point of the piece – that rich powerful people have tools in place to make themselves more rich and powerful, and the fallout is often despair, financial worry and stress for those relying on services supplied by corrupt corporations. In parts, the story hits hard – Schwimmer’s character’s worry as he discovers that the cheap insurance deal he found may cost him his livelihood, for instance – but the sick feeling or realisation as you absorb these perspectives along with what you remember from the news reports is undermined by the wonkiness of the film’s construction. It’s a pity – it’s a theme, and a cast, that deserved better.
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Binge value: N/A / Family friendliness: 2 / Writing: 3 / Production values: 3 / Humour: 2 / Drama: 3 / Violence: 2 / Sex: 2 / Visuals: 3