Why you should be watching ‘American Horror Story: Cult’

The main reason: Evan Peters.

Yes, he’s great — transforming himself every season with Ryan Murphy’s anthology horror T.V. series “American Horror Story.” But “AHS: Cult” takes it on a whole new level. Peters carries the whole show as the charismatic psychopathic cult leader and Donald Trump supporting Michigan common council leader Kai Anderson.

What’s more: Peters embodies a host of other historical cult leaders in flashbacks.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 10.31.51 PM

He’s scary good. We pinky power promise. But the season doesn’t get really good until about episode 9 or so.

giphy

Advertisements

Watch: The two best songs of ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ season two

Bo Burnham was right.

Like he sang in his song “Sad,” “Laughter, it’s the key to everything. It’s the way to solving all the sadness in the world.”

Which is why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is the perfect pick-me-up to a bad day.

Created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is at its best when its hope riding a wave of desperation.

Here’s two breakout performances from season two:

Even with bowel jokes, these songs are incredibly sad. Somehow, we manage to laugh anyway.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first and second seasons are available on Netflix. 

‘Girls’: the voice of a generation

In the first episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls,” Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, defines herself as “the voice of my generation” — the me-centric millennials still bankrolled by their parents, the anxious 20-somethings with crippling low self-esteem and the lost souls who dare to dream without knowing that they’d eventually settle before figuring out what they want.

As if to prove her point, Horvath backpedals a bit, clarifying her goal to be “a voice of a generation,” hoping to articulate what it’s like to be an age when the only thing you’re absolutely sure of is how unsure you are.

Written and directed by Dunham, “Girls” shows you what’s behind the Valencia-filtered Instagram photos: the minutes you’re questioning your entire existence and Googling “stuff that gets up on the side of condoms” in the middle of the night.

Dunham’s voice is full of disappointment that even though “Girls” is branded as a comedy, the show comes across as a series of awkward, emotional and sad events. While Horvath dreams of becoming a bohemian writer living in New York City, the reality is that she’s hardly living. She has no steady job and she can’t afford rent. To top it off, her ex-boyfriend (Andrew Rannells) tells her that he’s gay and that he gave her an S.T.D., her old boss (Richard Masur) gropes her at work and her undefined intimate partner (Adam Driver) treats her like her “heart is monkey meat.”

Her roommates Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) are equally lost in their own ways. Marnie has a boyfriend from college (Christopher Abbott) that she’s been dating forever but doesn’t love. Jessa’s never worked before being hired as a baby sitter. And Shoshanna’s a 22-year-old college student who’s biggest baggage is still being a virgin.

Unhappiness unites them as they desperately seek love and adventures through a series of study abroad experiences, unpaid internships and casual sex with men who don’t text back.

If “Girls” is “a voice of a generation,” it’s an uncomfortable one — like a modern day “Sex in the City” with Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar” as its narrator. It’s not very glamorous and Mr. Big hasn’t figured out how to adult either. But in 29-minute episodes, “Girls” captures the anxieties of being 24.

If we were to believe Dunham’s portrayal though, being 24 is one fear that you’d want to miss out on.

“Girls” was created by Lena Dunham. 

Why you should be binge-watching ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

Have you ever danced when no one’s watching? Really danced. You know, the kind of dancing where you’re blasting bad punk rock songs that somehow ends up in jumping on your bed doing ridiculous air guitar solos?

That’s what it kind of feels like binge-watching Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s TV musical rom-com “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s heroine Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is the kind of bad-ass that could give Emma Stone a run for her money in “Easy A” – the kind of fearless and impulsive heroine who quits her lucrative job at a big New York City law firm to move to middle-of-nowhere So-Cal to chase after an ex-boyfriend (Vincent Rodriguez III) that she had a brief two-month summer fling with at summer camp when she was 16.

Crazy and stupid? Yes. But on some level, it’s also absurdly amusing to watch. I mean, who hasn’t imagined that prince charming whose kiss wakes you up from your nightmares, that prince who rescues you from imprisonment, that prince who marries you out of poverty and generally makes your life more pleasant? And here’s a gal who’s taking charge of her life and actively trying to find him.

While we know real life doesn’t work this way and that a guy can’t fix our anxieties and depression, Bunch plays out these impossible fairy-tale fantasies — these fantasies that tells us that we can actually make it after quitting that miserable $95,000 job and moving to an island to scoop ice cream. That fantasy that we can be happy somehow and that we don’t have to medicate with pills or alcohol and that all your problems could magically disappear. To add to the fantastical and improbable, the cast at “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” occasionally break into original songs, singing about sexy French depressions, heavy boobs and urinary tract infections.

At times, the lyrics to the music sounds like the whimsical type of things a child would make up when narrating her whole life in song — not that that’s a bad thing. The “I have friends” song is extremely catchy and filled with cheerful optimism and self-denial.

At other times, the musical numbers parodies things we’re familiar with. It’s opening number “West Covina” (and its reprises) is a homage to those big, sweeping, Broadway musicals numbers where a character sings about those life-changing moments. In another number, a troupe of plaintiffs sing “Can you hear a trickling sound?” to the tune of “Les Miserables'” protest anthem “Do you hear the people sing?”

The music’s inspiration is wide and eclectic, though. The actors give a nod to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and old Hollywood in a song about settling for less.

A bartender (Fontana) plays a piano solo at an empty bar on Thanksgiving to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” a one-man boy band (Rodriguez) sings about kissing childhood dramas goodbye, and a pair of Jewish American Princesses perform a rap battle.

Even when “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems like it’s following fairy-tale conventions, it’s constantly breaking them. The show’s heroine (Bloom) sings about being the villain rather than the fairy-tale princess and a bird abruptly flies away when Bloom attempts to sing to it.

What’s more is that Bunch isn’t some silly, damsel in distress; she’s a smart, resourceful and successful lawyer with degrees at both Harvard and Yale. Her prince also isn’t a white John Smith who kidnaps Pocahontas; the leading man’s a really nice Filipino bro named Josh Chan with white sidekicks like White Josh (David Hull) and Greg Serrano (Fontana).

And while the show’s girl-chases-after-guy plot seems to throw feminism out the window, Bloom and McKenna also insert scenes girls wish would really happen in real life. A musical number showing a guy seeing the ritual a girl goes through when preparing to go on a date with him ends with the guy calling up all his past hookups and apologizing for taking how he took how they looked for granted.

Bloom and McKenna’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a guilty pleasure and binge-watching all 18 episodes of its first season feels eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food all by yourself, but even so, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a refreshing show with substance — featuring a diverse and multiracial cast; witty, self-deprecating commentary; and encouraging the healthy kind of belly laughs that almost tastes as good as gooey marshmallow and caramel swirls with fudge fish.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first season is available on Netflix. 

 

Why you should be binge-watching ‘Mr. Robot’

The first thing you learn about Eliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is that he’s an unreliable narrator.

He meets with psychiatrist Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben). He talks about the men in black that follow him. He’s a junkie addicted to morphine pills. And he’s a depressed and paranoid schitzophrenic.

(You’re a voice in his head.)

But despite all this, Malik’s voice is hypnotic and even if his story sounds like a grand conspiracy theory, “Mr Robot” hits upon a nerve (this one encouraged people to Occupy Wall Street).

The tale Alderson spins is a superhero fairy tale, a modern retelling of Robin Hood. Actually, it’s one part “American Psycho” and one part “Robin Hood” — and the good and bad guys are painted in black and white like the bianary system of ones and zeros.

In Alderson’s story, anarchists work to dismantale the system of wealth and capitalism, to get rid of crippling student debt and eliminate the amount of money in your banking account.

Alderson’s twenty-first century superhero doesn’t don a mask, cape or sword. He wears a dark hoodie which wraps around him like a cloak. Behind a computer, he can take down child porn dealers, rapists and drug dealers. He’s hacked everyone he knows and fed online police tip lines.

But first back to Eliot, our paranoid narrator. By day Alderson works at Allsafe Cybersecurity, an online security firm with his boss Gideon (Michel Gill), his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and her douchey boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport). The firm’s contracted to protect big multi-national banking conglomerates like E Corp and it’s suppose to guard against hackers like him.

You can probably begin to see the problem here. By principle, Eliot cannot stand everything that E Corp, which he nicknames Evil Corp, represents. Evil Corp’s empire of 1 percenters is run by guys like Senior Vice President of Technology Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) — guys with slicked back “American Psycho” haircuts who specializes in “murders and executions.” What’s more, Evil Corp, a symbolism for capitalism itself, supposedly owns 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry including a large portion of people’s debt.

Eliot’s occupation gives him insider access to Evil Corp and perhaps that’s why Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) contacts and recruits him to his fledgling vigilante hacker group fsociety. Their goal: to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot’s” a wonderfully mad story that you wouldn’t believe. But recent current events seem to give this story credence. I mean, would you have believed that a child sex trafficking ring was held in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint with the help of top democratic politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton? And if you did, would you have walked into this pizza joint with a loaded gun to investigate?

Or would you believed that a group of Russian hackers could sway a major U.S. election? And if you do believe in either of these things, whose to say there isn’t a small vigilante hacker group in Coney Island named fsociety who could topple world markets and eliminate all debt?

Clap your hands if you believe.

“Mr. Robot” was created by Sam Esmail. The first season is available on Amazon Prime. 

Checking into ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’

One of the scariest parts of “American Horror Story’s” fifth season, “Hotel,” isn’t when a monster rips apart the seams of the bed to pull you under with him. It happens at broad daylight on any ordinary day.

You take your son to the carnival and turn your back for just a second. When you look back, he’s gone. You and your wife file police reports and send out search parties, but even after a year, there’s no trace of him. The chances he’s alive are slim, yet the lack of a body fuels your hope, which wavers with each passing day until it’s tiny and dim.

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, “American Horror Story: Hotel” is filled with the pain of existing without a purpose. That’s what the Hotel Cortez feeds off of — the pain and despair of its guests and patrons. Most of them are stuck for eternity inside the Hotel Cortez, forever destined to haunt the art deco hotel’s endless hallways.

Our entry point inside these horrors is Homicide Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), whose working to catch a “Se7en”-style L.A. serial killer he nicknames the “Ten Commandment Killer.” After the killer calls Lowe’s cell phone from inside the Hotel Cortez, Lowe checks into the hotel to catch the killer. The hotel gives him answers, alright, but perhaps they’re more than he’s looking for.

While each season of “American Horror Story” can live solely on its own, this season of the anthology most closely resembles “Murder House.” Not only is the setting a character of its own, but the hotel’s also founded in the same city and era as the “Murder House.” Murphy and Falchuk bridge the “American Horror Story” universe further by featuring some cameos from the first season including Murder House owner Dr. Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and realtor Marcy (Christine Estabrook).

But while “Murder House” made you feel alive, “Hotel” makes you sad. Designed in the 1920s by nouveau riche oil baron James Patrick March (Evan Peters), the Hotel Cortez is a place of art deco grandeur that loses it’s luster and purpose with each passing year. Originally, it was built as “a perfectly designed torture chamber” by March, a man who killed for sport. (March is loosely based off of real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes, who built his own “Murder Castle” during the late 1800s in Chicago, Illinois.) Now, it’s fate is undetermined as designer Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) threatens to buy it.

While its future is debated, the hotel’s experienced a ghastly past. Loosely based off of Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel, which was the home of serial killer Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar), the Hotel Cortez is the type of place where you drown yourself in the tub, accidentally overdose on heroin or blow your brains out. If that’s not morose enough, all the ghosts who died there can’t leave.

“Hotel’s” haunting and scary in the way that depression is scary. You’re not exactly afraid of it, but you’re afraid all the same. You wake up one morning feeling sad or restless or angry or not feeling anything at all, going through the motions but wondering why. Meanwhile your mind’s checked into this dark place that you’re not sure you’ll ever check out of.

5 best skits of SNL’s 42nd season premiere

Just in time for presidential debate season, “Saturday Night Live” returned with its 42nd season premiere, starring host Margot Robbie of “Suicide Squad” and musical guest The Weeknd. If you didn’t stay up past 11:30 p.m., here were the five best sketches of the night:

5. Actress Round Table 

This sketch follows the same awkward formula of “So Ghetto,” but this time four women are in a panel discussing how gals are treated in the modern film industry. Hosted by a representative from Glamour.com (Aidy Bryant), panelists Marion Cotillard (Cecily Strong),  Keira Knightley (Margot Robbie), Lupita Nyong’o (Sasheer Zamata), and DeBette Goldry (Kate McKinnon) compare the trials of discrimination and wage disparity.

While Knightley, Nyong’o and Cotillard had similar experiences, McKinnon’s Goldry, a former Golden Age of Hollywood MGM star, boasts about shooting up opium and “flappin’ my toots for a bunch of krauts.”

McKinnon’s performance is as stunning as Baddie Winkle’s Instagram account, even causing Robbie to break character for a second.

4. Weekend Update

The Weeknd gave Colin Jost and Michael Che another opportunity to give another “Weeknd Update.” 

https://vine.co/v/56AiJOEibbe/embed/simple

But that’s not all to look forward to. Jost compares our presidential candidates to the latest unwanted smart phones: Clinton’s the iPhone 7 because its forced upon us and Trump’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 because he might explode.

While most of Jost and Che’s jokes were lukewarm, they had strong guest stars with Kenan Thompson reprising his role as “Big Papi” David Ortiz and Cecily Strong reprising her role as  Cathy Ann, now one of America’s “undecided voters.”

https://vine.co/v/56A1VV5FKXe/embed/simple

3. Presidential Debate Cold Open

Last Monday’s bizarre presidential debate was comedy gold and “Saturday Night Live” didn’t disappoint us. The almost 10-minute skit opened with McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton limping onto the stage with pneumonia and leaving us with a somersault and shimmy.

Meanwhile Alec Baldwin nailed Donald Trump’s accent and mannerisms, repeating many of Trump’s debate (and after debate) lines verbatim. After two minute’s on the stage Trump gets ready to leave, yet moderator Lester Holt (Che) reminds him that he still has 88 minutes to go.

To this, Trump responds: “My microphone is broken.”

Clinton’s gleefully response: “I think I’m going to be president.”

2. Mr. Robot Parody feat. Leslie Jones

You gotta give Leslie Jones credit for this hilarious and self-aware sketch. After Jones’ very public website hack this summer after she starred in the “Ghostbusters” reboot, this “Mr. Robot” parody attempts to explain the culprit behind these hacks: Leslie Jones herself.

Pete Davidson stars as hacker Elliot Alderson, who’s confronted by Jones computer ineptitude (Her computer’s password is password on her Window’s 95).

https://vine.co/v/56AwU1I3dg9/embed/simple

1. Celebrity Family Feud: Trump vs. Clinton edition

SNL celebrity game shows have been a wonderful way to showcase its talented cast of impressionists, but this episode of “Family Feud” is just too real.

The feud, of course, is between the Republican and Democratic candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Their teams seem to reflect the speakers at their respective party’s conventions.

In the Trump camp is campaign manager Kellyanne Conway (McKinnon), daughter Ivanka Trump (Robbie), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Bobby Moynihan) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Beck Bennett).

Meanwhile, the Clinton camp is filled with its cool celebrity stars: former President Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond), former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Larry David), comedian Sarah Silverman (Melissa Villasenor) and “Hamilton” star Lin-Manuel Miranda (Strong).

All these characters have good lines, but Larry David’s Sen. Sanders offer the best reason Clinton should be elected: “Sen. Clinton is the prune juice of this election. She might not seem that appetizing, but if you don’t take her now, you’re going to be clogged with crap for a long time.”

The Trumps reenact this creepy “Children of the Corn” campaign ad.

G.B.B.: ‘Gotham’ before Batman

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1939, it wouldn’t be a spoiler to tell you that Martha (Brette Taylor) and Thomas Wayne (Grayson McCouch) die and their son, Bruce (David Mazouz), grows up to be Batman.

The story, first penned by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, has been so heavily reimagined over the years through various comic books, video games and movies — including Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy — that you already know what happens.

But Bruno Heller’s “Gotham” promises more.

Not only does it attempt to tackle Bruce Wayne’s rise as Batman, but the FOX television drama is a gritty film noir that also covers the rise of Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) — the villains that eventually become Catwoman, Riddler and Penguin.

The lens in which we come to understand them is through a young idealistic detective named James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), years before he’s Gotham’s chief police commissioner. Here, Gordon’s partnered with the cynical Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), whose age and humor balances the rash Gordon.

A later episode (“Spirit of the Goat”) reveals that Bullock, too, was like Gordon 10 years ago, impulsively rushing headfirst into danger; however, years policing in the corrupt city of Gotham has tempered Bullock’s impatience and resolve for justice.

Nowadays, Bullock’s more likely to setup someone for murder than chase after the real killers.

But Bullock’s not the only cop who occasionally barters in bribes. Heller’s Gotham shows us the revolving door between elected officials and career criminals. Most of those holding political office have done Faustian favors for one of the city’s two leading crime bosses, Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas).

Yet our protagonist, Gordon, insists on surviving Gotham with his integrity intact.

Heller’s “Gotham” could have easily been just a detective drama, but one of the real strengths of the series is the amount of canonical material in which there is to draw from. Batman, after all, isn’t just about the Dark Knight. It’s about the Two Faces, Scarecrows and Jokers.

And this kind of retelling allows the viewer to also be a detective, uncovering clues for how our favorite heroes or villains came to be.

Returning to ‘Orange is the New Black’

At one point in the fourth season of Netflix drama “Orange is the New Black,” Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) differentiates the meaning behind pain and suffering. “Pain is always there because life is freaking painful, okay,” she says, “but suffering is a choice.”

Even though pain has always been a part of “Orange is the New Black,” the suffering’s more prominent in its fourth season. In this season, several characters are noticeably absent in solitary confinement, maximum security prison and the psychiatric ward.

What’s left of Litchfield Penitentiary feels like a different place, privatized by MCC and run by harder and fiercer correction officers including new captain of the guards Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke) and also a host of sadistic and inexperienced recruits including Thomas Humphrey (Michael Torpey), B. Stratman (Evan Hall), Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) and Charlie Coates (James McMenamin).

Under their command, racial tensions and human injustice burn hotly in the tight and dangerously overcrowded corridors of Litchfield. Women are bullied, groped, humiliated and tortured. Male guards stalk female inmates in the showers and strip search women in the halls.

The only strength now comes in numbers and numbers gather and disseminate into different gangs: Dominican Republicans, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

These ingredients make the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” its most dangerous season yet.

“Orange Is the New Black” was written and created by Jenji Kohan.

‘House of Cards’ season 4 returns with more political show business

Amidst an election season where a reality TV star is literally alluding to his penis size on national television, the fourth season of “House of Cards” couldn’t have come at a better time.

Beau Willimon’s popular Netflix drama, which was released earlier this month, is a brilliant satire of the election cycle.

“Politics isn’t just theatre, it’s show business,” says its star Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

Like Sen. Ted Cruz, President Underwood wasn’t “born wealthy, or handsome, or charismatic, or nice, or likable, or even fine.” He’s the type of guy who would suggest that an opponent was dropping out the election if he would get more votes.

Despite how much you wanted to punch him in the face after the third season, President Underwood is a masterful chess player and writers Willimon, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs, Bill Kennedy, Laura Eason, John Mankiewicz, Melissa James Gibson, Frank Pugliese and Kenneth Lin manipulate his image so that even though we don’t quite like him, we’re curious to see what Underwood would do when faced with ghosts from his past.

And there are plenty of spurned ghosts — Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), Democratic Whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), The Washington Herald journalists Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), to name a few. (Some of them even make cameos in Underwood’s spooky hell dreams.)

But that’s not all that haunts Underwood. There’s plenty of former presidents who roam the hall of the White House. There’s Bill and Hillary Clinton, who aren’t mentioned directly, but it’s hard not to see the parallels between the Clintons and the Underwoods. Frank is a man who’s still haunted by an affair with a younger woman and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) is a woman with her own political aspirations.

Then there’s the ghost of a young JFK. He comes in the form of New York Gov. Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), a tall, young and charismatic republican presidential nominee. He and his wife, Hannah (Dominique McElligott), look like the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — donning the covers of glossy magazine spreads and sharing their fairytale marriage in viral online home videos.

Opposite Kennedy, of course, is a Nixon, and this Nixon has been orchestrating an unorthodox and illegal game of political dominoes since even before he was a democratic whip in Congress.

In one telling scene, Underwood and Conway even acknowledge how their story lines appear. “If you were a democrat, you’d be unstoppable. You’d be the new JFK,” says Underwood.

“And if you were a republican, who’d you be? Nixon?” Conway counters.

Willimon and crew bludgeon you with analogies, splicing in with as many current event parallels you can possibly think of — the threat of a powerful and tech-savvy Islamic group of terrorists invading from home, what might happen if there was a brokered convention to select a presidential or vice presidential nominee, search engines predicting elections, politicians releasing their emails to the public, a candidate’s connection with a member of the KKK, how impossible it is to pass legislation through congress, how even more impossible it would be to approve a Supreme Court nominee through Congress, and you get the idea.

It’s as if Willimon and crew threw everything into a blender and mixed it together. The result’s awful and outlandish, one step removed from a melodramatic episode of “Glee.” But it doesn’t matter that the plot doesn’t make much sense or that raw eggs doesn’t sit well with pickle juice. We’ll drink it anyway.

Season 4 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs.