The Lavender Tube is not OK with this

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday February 25, 2020
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The Lavender Tube is not OK with this

"Everybody feels like a freak sometimes," Dina tells her friend Sydney to calm her. Amen to that. If you are looking for the next best "Why weren't there TV shows like this when I was a teenager so I wouldn't have suffered alone for X number of years?" series, it drops on Netflix, Feb. 26. "I Am Not Okay with This" is just what we need in this dystopian hellscape Trump has created for us.

Based on Charles Forsman's graphic novel of the same name, the eight-episode series is a weekend binge-watch. Sydney is a queer girl whose dad died, collapsing hers and her mother's worlds. Her rage is intense, and in venting it, she discovers she has some superpowers. Who doesn't want that?

Sydney Novak is a terrific lead character. We know her, we were her, she is so very us. Sophia Lillis, who starred in "It" and "It: Chapter Two," and HBO's "Sharp Objects," is the perfect gender non-conforming teen looking for love and a better life in all the wrong places. Sydney is a self-described "boring 17-year-old white girl" living in Pittsburgh and trying hard to cope. Her mother Maggie (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is an overworked and deeply depressed waitress. Her bestie Dina (Sofia Bryant) is dating Brad (Richard Ellis), a dull-witted white-boy jock who keeps telling Sydney to smile more.

Sydney is suffering. A lot. She epitomizes teenage angst: full of rage and sad over her dad's recent death, she's protective and loving of her adorable and precocious younger brother Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong). Most of all, she's trying to figure out why she has zero interest in boys, including Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the nerdy hipster who is seriously in crush with her. Enter superpowers.

Do we need them in this tight little dramedy about love and loss in the high school lane? Probably not. The least intriguing part of "I Am Not Okay with This" is the superpowers part, but the rest of it is solid. Sydney confiding in Stanley about Dina is more John Hughes than "Euphoria," but like another little queer teen Netflix gem, "Trinkets," the characters and the acting make this all work. Check out the trailer, you'll want to watch.

Nazi hunters

Oscar winner Jordan Peele is everywhere right now, which is great because the percentage of black people in TV is pathetically minuscule. Peele ("Get Out") is executive producer of David Weil's new Amazon Prime series "Hunters." This is a series for now. We might not be living in Weimar Germany, but we dare you to turn on C-SPAN of an evening and watch an entire Trump rally, live and unexpurgated. All that's missing is Leni Riefenstahl filming it to an Alban Berg score. That said, "Hunters" is a mishegas of graphic novel meets over-the-top declamation about killing Nazis.

In the lead-in and aftermath of the Charlottesville horror, the debate over whether it's morally cool to punch a Nazi raged. "Hunters" is predicated on a similar theme. Just change "punch" to "kill," as violently and repulsively as if Dr. Josef Mengele wrote the script. Amazon describes the series as depicting "a diverse band of Nazi hunters living in 1977 New York City. The hunters, as they're known, have discovered that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living among us and conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. The eclectic team of hunters will set out on a bloody quest to bring the Nazis to justice and thwart their new genocidal plans." You can almost hear the Bernard Hermann score swelling, right?

"Hunters" is a bit of a mess, but wow is it watchable. Reviewers were given a list of verboten spoilers. Al Pacino stars as the Nazi-hunter-in-chief, Meyer Offerman. Lena Olin, who seems to have been in every Holocaust film or TV show ever made, is the Colonel. Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane play Murray and Mindy Markowitz, two other Nazi killer consiglieres. But in keeping with the current Zeitgeist, the story is told via the central teen character, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman). Jonah lives with his grandmother, Ruth (Jeannie Berlin). Life is not easy for him. He is regularly set upon by bullies, leading him to talk about his desires to be a superhero (who doesn't want these powers?), which he discusses ad nauseam with his two besties.

One grim Kristallnacht of the soul, Ruth is murdered right in front of Jonah in her own living room. Enter Offerman, who was in the camps with Ruth, a Holocaust survivor. Ruth was also a Nazi killer, one of the hunters, as Offerman reveals. He hands a grieving Jonah his card, and we see the numbers tattooed on the underside of his wrist. As he leaves Jonah mourning on Ruth's stoop, her empty lawn chair a metaphor behind them, Offerman says, "You know what the best revenge is? Revenge."

Offerman, Ruth, the Colonel, the Markowitzes, some others who look like they walked out of "The Pawnbroker" are all working to rout and kill a group of Nazis in America who are plotting to revive the Reich. "There is a right way and a wrong way to get justice. You do this and you become the evil you are fighting," Agent Malone (Jerrika Hinton) tells Jonah at one point. Eh, maybe, or maybe you just need to kill the people who deserve it.

"Hunters" is not for everyone, and it asks questions about morality that may or may not be answered. As Nietzsche said, "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Streaming on Amazon. Rated by us as EEV for extremely and excessively violent.

Simon says

David Simon is a TV god. "The Wire" will, in perpetuity, be the litmus for all other TV drama series, including others by Simon himself. The peril of having created arguably the best TV series ever is that you may always be reaching to replicate that and never quite achieve it.

Simon comes close with "The Plot Against America," a miniseries based on Philip Roth's novel of the same name that premieres on HBO March 16. Powerful, provocative, chilling, it is Simon at his politic best. This is astonishingly good work about how Fascism takes root in society. The setting is early 1940s suburban Newark and Union, NJ. Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg are Jewish kids in NYC, Joe Biden is an Irish Catholic kid in Delaware, each about to grow up under FDR's Hitler-fighting U.S.A. that also put Japanese-Americans in camps and where being Jewish was oh-so-different from being Irish Catholic without an Mc in front of one's name.

It's a time that is ripe for its own Ubermenschen. And the character of Charles Lindbergh — the blond, Aryan fighter pilot and icon — is that guy. "The Plot Against America" envisions an alternative America history as told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in NJ as they watch the political rise of Lindbergh, the aviator hero and xenophobic populist who becomes president and turns the country toward Fascism.

More even than "Hunters," "The Plot Against America" replicates our current milieu. While there is no 24-hour news cycle nor the staccato Morse code of social media punctuating every thought and exacerbating the hate in every Trumpian tweet, there is a welter of fear-mongering that still manages to seep through every aspect of American life. And then as now, there is a huge swath of America that confuses Fascism and anti-Semitic Jew-baiting for patriotism.

It is in this political maelstrom that Herman (Morgan Spector) and Bess Finkel (Zoe Kazan) are trying to make a better life for themselves and their kids. Bess' older sister Evelyn (a fervid Winona Ryder) is captivated by the charismatic Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro). As HBO explains, Evelyn is unmarried, her plans arrested by 10 years of caring for her infirm mother, and is hungry to find her own place in life. The sudden attentions of Bengelsdorf, a Lindbergh supporter, are exhilarating and transformational for her.

Bengelsdorf is that essential figure, the token who doesn't understand his tokenization. A conservative rabbi and a transplant from Charleston, SC, Bengelsdorf seizes the reins of history to become a key figure in the emergent Lindbergh administration. The rise of Lindbergh is slow, but not that slow. It is the frog boil writ large. And when the flint of Lindbergh's anti-Semitism and xenophobia sparks, there is no containing the conflagration.

At one point Sandy (Caleb Malis) and Phillip (Azhy Robertson) have the following exchange: "What's a Fascist?" "The Fascists don't like Jews." "Why?" "Because we're Jews." The simplicity of this exchange is its own foreboding. What comes next is both totally expected and utterly shocking. This is brilliant TV and must-see for stand-out performances, great writing and a chilling narrative that is very much a cautionary tale.

Vegas action

One of the most volatile couple of hours on TV came on NBC during the Las Vegas Democratic debate. Though badly moderated by Chuck Todd, Lester Holt and Hallie Jackson, eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, it was nevertheless a standout performance by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in perhaps the best debate performance we've seen in years. The task was to undermine the carefully constructed image former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg has built with near-perfect ads, replete with Pres. Obama praising him along with a raft of black entrepreneurs and others singing Bloomberg's praises.

Warren didn't undermine that image, she decimated it. Her opening salvo was nuclear: "I'd like to talk about who we're running against: a billionaire who refers to women as fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm taking about Mayor Bloomberg."

The crowd gasped, then cheered. It never got better for Bloomberg, but it did get better for Warren, who has spent a year running as the nicest campaigner in the Democratic line-up. Warren has long epitomized Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" mantra. It knocked her down to fourth place in New Hampshire.

Channeling her inner snap-queen, Warren decimated everyone on stage, emerging after two hours as the indisputable winner. In her Feb. 20 town hall on CNN, Warren previewed her next chapter, arriving with a contract for Bloomberg that he could proffer to women (or men) with whom his company has non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to allow them to break the agreement with neither harm nor fowl to either party. Whoo-boy.

The revolution will be televised, and this was it. Forever, women candidates have been tasked with being nice, smiling more, keeping their voices well-modulated and making sure they were likable. Warren has perfected the peripatetic schoolmarm in sensible shoes and pull-on black slacks with her bright no-iron jackets the only hat-tip to fashion. A dozen years ago women all over America winced as Barack Obama told Hillary Clinton "You're likable enough" in a voice dripping with condescension. For her part, Hillary was forced to make a joke of it, saying, "That hurts my feelings" while pretend-pouting. Obama apologized years later, but in 2016 Trump was stalking Hillary onstage during a debate with no comment from the moderators, and she was supposed to just roll with it. In the Las Vegas debate, much-vaunted hair-sniffer Joe Biden said he wouldn't allow Trump to do that to him, missing the misogynist point.

Warren broke through a glass ceiling when she did her lightsaber routine in the Las Vegas debate. She didn't play nice: she did what men get away with all the time. Warren tore up the rules about female outrage the way Speaker Pelosi tore up Trump's SOTU speech. Warren says in her rallies that she is doing this for all the little girls in America who want to be president. All the big girls in America got a preview of what she would do to Trump on a stage (put it on pay-per-view!). As the pundits talked about her performance on MSNBC and CNN post-debate, it was with awe, not opprobrium. In the end she raised a record-breaking amount in campaign donations and won a Twitter trend of #PresidentElizabethWarren.

So for tales of strong women who persisted, the neverending story of Trump and his quisling cohort, and a plethora of new and cautionary tales, you know you must stay tuned.