Things get a bit odd at this time of year. Even with multiple streaming services, there’s a sense that the best of drama and comedy is being held back for fall. And odd choices are made in programming. This weekend, the W network is offering Christmas-themed romance TV movies. On Saturday, there’s Christmas in Toyland (W, 8 p.m.) about “a toy-store analyst who tries to save hundreds of jobs right before Christmas.” And on Sunday, 8 p.m., it’s Christmas in Tahoe. Whatever gets you through the heat and humidity.
Instead, I’m going to direct you to an underrated dark comedy. It’s about a haunted house, but so much more; sex, infidelity, ghosts, mid-life crisis and furious female rage.
Shining Vale (streams Crave) can also be very funny. Co-written by Irish writer Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Divorce) with Jeff Astrof, it has Horgan’s trademark bite and snap in writing about couples in trouble. Her ability to draw on the wrath of fortysomething women is unmatched.
At first it seems like a fractious dark comedy with haunted house shenanigans. Looking for a fresh start after her lurid affair with a handyman, Pat (Courtney Cox) moves with her family – husband Terry (Greg Kinnear) and teenage children Gaynor (Gus Birney) and Jake (Dylan Gage) – from New York City to a large house in Connecticut. The house is a steal, Pat can work on her books – she got famous years earlier for an erotic novel – Terry can work on his anger about the affair and the kids can, maybe, grow out of being urban weirdos. Gaynor is obsessed with sex and little Jake lives in a video-game universe.
There’s much sport with small-town life and Terry’s ostentatious attempts to make peace with Pat, and the dialogue is fast and funny. Pat is depressed, unwell physically and on edge. She has writer’s block. She starts seeing things, and especially clear to her is a housewife named Rosemary (Mira Sorvino) from the 1950s. The two bond. Rosemary says, “Good news, Patricia. You’re not crazy.” What happens from there isn’t the bonkers haunting you might expect. For a start, is Rosemary part of Pat’s fiction, or a guide to move forward? What’s certain is Pat is struggling with various versions of womanhood and motherhood offered to her by Rosemary, her own mother and, in a way, her own daughter. What is her true self?
That overlay of meaning doesn’t distract from the deadpan hilarity. This comedy-horror hybrid – one season of eight half-hour episodes – is dark, rich, brutally frank at times and corrosively funny. It’s an adult watch and, thankfully renewed for a second, upcoming season.
Also airing/streaming this weekend – Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays (Sunday, HBO, 6:40 p.m., streams Crave) is a repeat but a respite from darker material. An HBO special, it’s Crystal doing a one-man show based on his memoir. The title is drawn from the weekends he spent with his father, a record-store owner and jazz producer who died suddenly when Crystal was 15. It’s nostalgic and very personal and aimed at an audience equipped to remember the period Crystal is nostalgic about, but his personal investment in it all transcends nostalgia.
Sorry for Your Loss (streams CBC Gem) was originally made for Facebook Watch when the platform had ambitions to be a TV streamer. It is enigmatic, an oddly small-scale drama that reaches for profundity and often achieves it. It’s about grief and over two seasons – the first season of 10 30-minute episodes is on Gem – never lets go of its core mission.
Essentially, it’s about Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) who is trying, unsuccessfully, to move on from her husband’s death. When the series starts, it’s only been a few months since he died and Leigh is simultaneously mystified by how he died – it seems to be an accident – and her own inability to process that she is grieving.
The series was created by playwright Kit Steinkellner and often it feels like a stage-anchored drama. Some scenes are long, passive-aggressive conversations in a kitchen, and action is absent until somebody walks out of the room. Also, it’s set in sunny Southern California where the atmosphere is in stark contrast to feelings of loss. Olsen is excellent, as is Janet McTeer as her mother. Recommended, if you are able to dwell on grief.
Finally, 60 Minutes (Sunday, CBS, Global, 7 p.m.) interviews Reality Winner, the former NSA employee, on why she gave the media classified information about Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. election. And Anderson Cooper profiles artist Laurie Anderson.
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