If you’re looking for something to watch, here are mini-reviews of some streaming shows I’ve seen recently…
“Money Heist” is a Spanish Netflix series about a group of thieves who rob the Royal Mint of Spain. They are led by The Professor, an ultra-clever schemer who recruits the crew and plans the theft down to the most minute detail. He anticipates how the police and government will react while he remains on the outside monitoring everything and switching strategies as the situation changes. It’s the sort of idea that might have been squeezed into a two-hour movie, but plays out instead over two seasons of eight episodes each — without ever feeling too long. That’s because the storyline delves deeper into the interpersonal relationships among the thieves as well as the Mint personnel who are held hostage inside. There’s also some intriguing back-and-forth communication between The Professor and hostage negotiator Raquel Murillo and her police colleagues. Then there are two more seasons with another grand theft pulled off by the same crew and some newcomers. Netflix promises a fifth season still to come, probably because “Money Heist” is its biggest hit internationally. If you’re going to watch it — which I recommend — opt out of the dubbed version and watch it with subtitles instead.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve written about how I don’t understand art, but have been fascinated with the way it’s seemingly overvalued by collectors who pay tens of millions of dollars for individual pieces. The Netflix documentary “Made You Look” undercuts those ridiculous valuations by exposing a fake art scandal that played out at a major gallery in the New York in the 1990s. The woman who ran the gallery, a supposed expert, bought several pieces by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and dozens of other big abstract art names, then sold them (with huge markups) at auction. Because she worked for the oldest art gallery in the city, and supposedly had a great eye for paintings and a reputation for honesty, suckers lined up to buy the pieces. When all was said and done, some $80 million had been paid for the worthless canvasses, which were revealed to be forgeries. Remarkably, director Barry Avrich managed to get all the principles to tell their stories on camera, which he then weaved into a really compelling story.
Brian Regan has been one of the top touring comedians of the last quarter-century. I’ve been thrilled to watch his continuing success, not just because he’s so good, but because Brian used to be a money-in-the-bank guest on my radio shows, and even appeared at one of the charity comedy concerts I produced in the mid-1990s in Washington, DC, for that city’s Children’s Hospital. His latest Netflix special, “On The Rocks,” has Brian prowling the stage as always, moving in and out of characters who illustrate the comic concepts he discusses, and getting the big laughs he deserves. I think it’s one of his best standup specials.
“Call My Agent” is a French Netflix series about the people who work at a talent agency in Paris and the stars they represent. Along with ongoing storylines involving internal intrigue, each episode features a star of French cinema (e.g. Isabelle Huppert, Jean Reno, Juliette Binoche) playing an exaggerated version of themself. Sigourney Weaver even shows up in the penultimate episode of the final season. Meanwhile, the agents lie, manipulate, negotiate, and do whatever it takes to keep the clients happy and employed while trying to keep their agency alive. As with “Money Heist,” you’ll need the subtitles for the 24 episodes over four seasons of “Call My Agent.”
I am a big fan of Stephen Frears’ movie “High Fidelity” (2000), based on Nick Hornby’s novel, which starred John Cusack as Rob, the owner of a record store who recaps his relationships to figure out what’s gone wrong. The movie has been adapted for a TV version, in which the lead character’s gender has been swapped so that Zoë Kravitz stars as Rob (short for Robyn). The rest of the concept is intact, including Rob’s romantic issues and the ongoing discussions about top five lists, music history, and mix tapes. Co-starring as the two other employees of the record store originally played by Todd Louiso and Jack Black are David H. Holmes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph (who had a breakout performance in Eddie Murphy’s “Dolemite Is My Name“). The latter matches Black’s aggressive intensity very nicely and has some funny moments. They and the rest of the cast (including Kingsley Ben-Adir, so good as Malcolm X in “One Night In Miami“) are all very good — especially Kravitz, who the camera simply loves. Unfortunately, the material fails them. Too much of the series takes plot lines directly from the movie, while others just become a bore. It’s a shame, because I had high hopes for this version “High Fidelity,” which were met by the first few episodes. Unfortunately, the second half of the ten-episode season kept getting weaker and more disappointing after the writers ran out of plots ripped off from the movie. It has not been renewed by Hulu.