Back to the Future: The Musical is nothing short of miraculous. It’s not that it took more than a decade to put together or that it was the movie’s original writer, director and composer who developed it. It’s not even that having found its lead cast in 2018, the show managed to keep them all for three years while we all waited out Covid. Because with this cast, you would want to hang on to them.
No, the miracle is that it’s just so good.
I tell a lie. Bad Nat. There are two miracles. The second is that they appear to not only have cloned Michael J Fox from 1986, they’ve improved him at the same time.
As usual, the gulf between my ambitions and the practical realities has been vast. I had a big list of things I wanted to review but my Monday and Tuesday work schedules told me something different, which is why it’s three weeks later and I’m only just about to write something. All the same, there has been viewing going.
First up, I went to the theatre. Yes! A theatre! A local production of Photograph 51, in fact. It wasn’t exactly the West End but it was theatre and I actually thought it was really good, in terms of both the writing and the production values, serving science, history and Rosalind Franklin well.
From the regulars pile, I’ve been watching Loki (Disney+), Evil (US: CBS), Superman & Lois (US: The CW) and Mythic Quest (Apple TV+). I’m a bit behind on Loki, so I’m two weeks behind, but I’m enjoying the new female Loki (or is she?) and will be sticking with it. Evil… has got a bit silly. The fun of Evil was that it was horror with smart humour; now it’s gone the way of The Good Fight and is downright implausible. That said, the arrival of an archangel in episode two was really very good. All the same, I might well abandon it because it’s not what I signed up for.
Superman & Lois is on hiatus right now but ended with a broke up with a doozy an episode, the cliffhanger of which is still haunting me, but in itself, was a lovely trip through Superman history while simultaneously giving us a dark mirror image version of it, as well as a two-fingered salute to John Cleese.
Meanwhile, Mythic Quest, which has arguably been a bit pedestrian this season, both went out on a high and managed to come up with an in-story reason for its own insipidness. Equally arguably, that wasn’t a real explanation since the show’s main problem this season is that it had little to say about games, much to say about the problems of having good ideas and writing well.
In terms of new things, it’s largely been about movies. Movies on streaming and at the cinema. Ooh! Remember those?
Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC)
But I did try the first episode of Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC), which stars Annie Murphy as a woman with the usual overgrown manchild husband you’d expect of a studio-filmed sitcom. Except Murphy is only in a studio-filmed sitcom when he’s around; whenever he leaves, she’s suddenly in a bleach out single-cam real-world of impoverished working-class Massachusetts life, having to deal with all the indignities of life without the safety net of comedy writing conventions.
However, that’s a very positive spin on what is basically just a miserable show about people with miserable lives. The high concept doesn’t really work – there’s no explanation for it, no real consistency in its use and it’s not even a good critique of bad sitcoms. Murphy is fine, but the other actors are having to deliberately mug for the imagined conventions of the sitcom, so she’s effectively the only one.
Black Widow (2020)
The highlight of the past three weeks’ movies has undoubtedly been the much-delayed Black Widow, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serving as a sequel to Captain America: Civil War and a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) on the run but brought back to the spy game she threw aside by her ‘sister’ and fellow Red Room graduate Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).
It’s an oddly standalone piece that is more background story for Natasha, taking in everything spyish from The Bourne Identity through to The Americans. Despite its plot arc and big bads somewhat mirroring Captain America: The Winter Soldier, without quite having that movie’s directorial power, and despite never really giving its heroine a chance to truly shine, it’s a really enjoyable affair that has a lot to say about the abuse of women. The Russian elements are a little Rocky and Bullwinkle at times, but the script manages to throw in some genuinely nasty moments, some drawn from the Black Widowcomics and you get a real context for Natasha’s character. The end-credits scene is genuinely moving and given both the movie’s dramatic and box office success, you do hope that somehow, we’ll still get to see more of the Black Widow.
A decent second place is Nobody, written by the guy who wrote John Wick and essentially John Wick again, just with Bob Odenkirk being funnier and doing fewer fights. Odenkirk is a nobody – and a Nobody (cf The Odyssey) – who breaks bad and returns to his former violent ways when his house is broken into and his daughter’s Hello Kitty bracelet is stolen. He then obviously has to go and fight some Russians, using the very special skills he’s built up.
It’s not in John Wick’s league by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s actually a lot of fun, Odenkirk is surprisingly plausible and an unstoppable death machine and the fights are decently executed.
The Tomorrow War (2021)
Coming unquestionably in third place is Amazon exclusive The Tomorrow War, a sort of horrendous mismash between Starship Troopers and The Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers from the future arrive in our time to draft the current generation as soldiers against a nasty species of aliens that have invaded the Earth. For some reason, only 40somethings are suitable for drafting – something to do with paradoxes – and former special forces soldier turned science teacher Chris Pratt gets enlisted. In the future, he then has to team up with Yvonne Strahovski to take on the nasty things and maybe find a way of defeating them once and for all.
And it’s daft. Very, very daft. Pratt struggles, unable to do anything but his usual routine, but he doesn’t struggle anywhere as much as the script does as it tries to convince us that a 16 year old volcano obsessed nerd is our best hope for saving the human race. The third act weirdly is more like The Thing (From Another World) that what went before it, and actually better than the non-stop CGI firefights that preceded it. But it’s very far from engaging or exciting, even when emptying an entire magazine into your face.
TMINE has been busy/stuck under something heavy for the past few weeks, which means it’s hideously behind on its viewing. A whole bunch of new shows arrived last week, and I’ve not had a chance to watch any of them: Republic of Sarah (US: The CW), Whitstable Pearl (US: Acorn), Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC), The Unusual Suspects (Australia: SBS) are all looking at me, shiftily, waiting for me to grace them with my attention. I’ve not even caught the first episode of the new season of Evil (US: CBS).
But that’s okay. I’m going to put the effort in this week. And I really, really, really hope to review them as well. Ooh.
Instead, my viewing has mainly consisted of Mythic Quest (Apple TV+), La Haine (1995), Fleabag, Superman & Lois (US: The CW), Loki (Disney+) and the whole of part two of Lupin (Netflix) – I could actually review a whole boxset on a Monday like I used to! If I had the time. Sorry. Things will settle down again soon, I promise.
Mythic Quest has been pretty decent, but none of the subsequent episodes have quite lived up to the delights of the 70s flashback episode, even the two-hander between William Hurt and F Murray Abraham a couple of weeks ago (although that was pretty great).
Superman & Lois, meanwhile, has been nothing but magnificent. I am now going to officially declare this the best superhero show I’ve ever watched (although there are some very close runners-up to that title, to be fair). Everything is just so well done and it’s great that they can really mess around with the Superman mythos as much as they like since it’s so far along in the character’s story now.
Loki is the latest spin-off Disney+ Marvel spin-off from the MCU, explaining what happened to Loki after Avengers: Endgame when he gets hold of the Tesseract thanks to some bad time travelling cock-ups by the Avengers. He’s soon intercepted by an agency dedicated to keeping the timelines intact who want to recruit him to stop… him. Yes, another Loki is going around messing with the the timelines.
If I hadn’t already seen Legion (US: FX), I’d probably be blown away by Loki since it is visually magnificent in more or less the exact same way Legion was. The visuals – and the timey-wimey plot, particularly the arrival of (spoiler) (spoiler alert) Lady Loki or is it the Enchantress? in episode two – are what make the show, since it’s really quite a talky affair that largely relies on Tom Hiddleston’s massive charisma to get by otherwise. It could do with more than that, for sure, but that’s enough to keep me going and I’ll happily watch the rest of it, since it’s certainly better than Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
La Haine (1995) wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. A French classic set on a Paris banlieue, where a few youthful inhabitants get hold of a policeman’s gun after it’s dropped in a riot and events unfold from there. But despite that premise and the film’s name (‘The Hate’), it’s actually a pretty funny, hopeful affair about people finding a way through life, even in a crappy environment like a banlieue, while it simultaneously dissects racism, police brutality and more. Equally, it’s amazing to see the likes of Vincent Cassel and Saïd Taghmaoui back when they were young unknowns.
That’s on the BFI Player, at least, and probably elsewhere, too.
Fleabag, which is currently on Amazon Prime, as part of a National Theatre collection of plays – the National Theatre now has its own app, BTW – is a pretty dark affair. The source of the TV show, it’s a really interesting, not especially funny look at lack of intimacy leads to lack of self-worth and ultimately self-destruction, particularly for women.
The second set of episodes of the first season of Lupin were solidly decent. After a slightly shaky start, the show started to pick up again reverting to our gentleman thief doing more hijinks and capers in a very well executed way. There are some very clever reveals, too, and I did enjoy the various references to Lupin stories – and the fact that copyright being laxer then, Lupid could meet Sherlock Holmes…
I have to admit, those are very good impressions of both Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd by the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical for this trailer. And so nice to see Christopher Lloyd himself joining in for the ride.
Yes, we’ve already bought our tickets. Live theatre again. That’ll be good!