YOUR WEEKLY BINGE: Lawmen: Bass Reeves

Whenever there is a hit show, there inevitably comes a flood of imitators and similarly themed shows trying to capitalize on the same success. For writer Taylor Sheridan, who already had established himself in 2016 for writing the screenplay for the Best Picture-nominated film Hell or High Water (which I LOVE), he exploded into another atmosphere with the success of Yellowstone, the Western soap opera starring Kevin Costner that proved to be alternative programming for those Americans longing for something on TV that felt more “traditional”, with a focus on the heartland and more relatable characters—mainly meaning white and rural. I’m totally not commenting on the political aspects of this, but Yellowstone proved to be a massive hit, so Sheridan followed it up with several other series cut from the same cloth (and targeting the same audience), including The Last Cowboy, Tulsa King, Mayor of Kingstown and two Yellowstone prequels, 1883 and 1923 (all available on Paramount+).

But Sheridan’s most recent creation, a series which premiered on Paramount+ in 2023, interestingly breaks from some of the familiar traditions of his previous series. Lawmen: Bass Reeves is an 8-part mini-series about the legendary frontier lawman Bass Reeves, starring David Oyelowo as the titular character. What makes Lawmen: Bass Reeves so good is it has all the great things about a Taylor Sheridan influence without too many of the negative ones. In this series, Sheridan only serves as an executive producer, as it is Chad Feehan who serves as series creator and writer. While the Sheridan themes are most definitely still there, Feehan expands the limitations of the traditional Sheridan universe to tell much deeper and more diverse stories. And, for the purposes of breaking from the cookie cutter Yellowstone imitators, Lawmen: Bass Reeves certainly stands apart.

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If ever there was such a thing as “prestige TV,” Ripley is it. Based on the novel that inspired Anthony Minghella’s luscious 1999 pulp masterpiece, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley can be easily written off as not more than a TV series capitalizing on a familiar and much-beloved movie, but that would be horribly unfair. The eight-part Netflix miniseries, starring Andrew Scott in the titular role, is a much deeper exploration of the character of Thomas Ripley, and I’m told a much closer adherence to the book it is based on.

I will admit, it was hard for me to get excited about this series, because I really wasn’t interested in seeing another version of the story that I thought had been done so well in Minghella’s film. But I quickly realized, once I did start watching, that the vision for Ripley, by writer/director Steven Zaillian, was so different from the film, that it truly does stand on its own, even though it does share major plot beats with the film and novel.

Zaillian, known more for his screenplays than for his directing, is as prestige as it gets in Hollywood, having won an Oscar for his screenplay for Schindler’s List in 1993 and been nominated four other times. Because of this, he was able to enlist Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won his Academy Award for There Will Be Blood, to be behind the camera for Ripley and boy does it show.

Here are just a few of the films that Elswit shot: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Good Night, and Good Luck, Michael Clayton, Nightcrawler, and Inherent Vice. But I dare say his work on Ripley will go down as his crowning achievement.

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It was only a matter of time. And timing.

Sofia Vergara shot to fame playing Gloria, the smarter-than-she-seems arm candy to Ed O’Neill’s Jay in the massively successful (and award-winning) sitcom Modern Family, which aired on ABC from 2009 to 2020, but struggled to carve out a serious acting career and has mainly parlayed her fame to a career as a host on shows such as America’s Got Talent and Germany’s Next Top Model. Being from Colombia, English is Vergara’s second language and her strong accent and stunning beauty made it hard for any casting director to take her seriously for roles.

Although it might have initially worked against her, it is to Vergara’s credit that she managed to establish herself fully in Hollywood, downplaying her Colombian roots. If there’s one thing Colombian actors have in common with German ones, it’s that you can’t avoid playing at least one stereotype role in your career. Surprisingly, Vergara had managed to avoid playing a Colombian drug dealer (or the wife/girlfriend of one) all this time, despite how good Hollywood is at typecasting.

Well, whether Vergara finally got sick of limiting herself to cheesy reality competition shows or she finally found a project that allowed her to embrace her heritage without lowering herself to being a cliché, it was worth the wait, as Vergara absolutely slays as notorious Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco in Netflix’s 6-part series, Griselda.

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YOUR WEEKLY BINGE: Everybody’s In L.A.

If you’re looking for a quick 6-episode investment in something weird, wonderful and actually unique, I highly recommend this pseudo talk-show that aired each of its episodes live on Netflix during one glorious week in May 2024. I watched each episode live and couldn’t believe what I was watching and had no idea what was going to happen next. It was certainly fun watching it live, but it would be just as worthwhile watching these shows even after the fact.

Hosted and created by comedian John Mulaney, Everybody’s in LA was inspired by the annual Netflix Is A Joke festival, for which seemingly every comedian in the world descends upon Los Angeles to film specials around town, so Netflix can have a cache of content to air year-round. Because of this, Mulaney—who was born and raised in Chicago, went to Georgetown and was the head writer for Saturday Night Live, during which he was an avowed New Yorker–was inspired to invite some of his closest New York and Los Angeles comedian friends to discuss, sometimes in great detail, aspects of Los Angeles that make it one of the weirdest, best, and most perplexing cities in the world.

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