Maybe you’re thinking, right about now, that you could use a break from issue-driven drama, and just cuddle up with a twisty, mystery-thriller romp. You’re in luck. A seriously upmarket, nicely made whodunnit starts this weekend.
The Undoing (starts Sunday, HBO, 9 p.m.) is prestige-popcorn entertainment about well-off, spoiled people behaving badly and getting themselves into one big mess. It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, a therapist in Manhattan. She’s married to suave oncologist Jonathan (Hugh Grant), they share a luxury Manhattan pad with their teen son Henry (Noah Jupe). They live drenched in luxury. (Grace’s wardrobe is stunningly elegant, bohemian-chic dresses and coats.) Grace and Jonathan coo, cuddle and joke. They look immensely happy.
The first sign of trouble, but seemingly unrelated to the marriage, occurs when Grace is in a meeting about a fundraiser event for the exclusive school that Henry attends. Also in attendance is new member Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), a young mother with big, strangely staring eyes and an infant boy. While at the meeting Elena casually uncovers her breasts and begins feeding the child. In case you don’t suss that Elena is about to cause grave and carnal ructions, she turns up at Grace’s gym, and chats, while naked, with Grace about her troubles.
At the end of the first hour, someone is dead. By the end of the second hour, Grace’s world has fallen apart, the cops are being aggressive with her and then her wealthy, very patrician father (Donald Sutherland) is urging her to get top legal advice and get out of town. Thereafter, The Undoing becomes a tense courtroom drama in which flashback is used to flesh out the antics and motives of multiple characters. It’s no masterpiece, but terrifically loaded with twists.
The Undoing was written for TV by David E. Kelley (based on the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz), who also adapted Big Little Lies, about similarly privileged people in gorgeous California. Here, there is much less tricky and less slippery unveiling of secrets. It’s more conventional storytelling. The first season of Big Little Lies also benefited enormously from the panache of director Jean-Marc Vallée. In this one, director Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) concentrates much on giving the flavour of a grey, wintry Manhattan, and also on Kidman’s face, wherein we see both terrible doubt and, perhaps, the hoarding of truths she has learned to keep locked up.
It isn’t exactly empty-headed, this six-part drama. Elena, the pivotal character, is a stereotypical figure of Latin voluptuousness in a very uptight Anglo world and Grace’s most testy encounters are sometimes with the detective named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) who ensures he’s not being treated like a servant. There isn’t huge ambition for cultural relevance, though. This is about who killed someone, and why.
Year of the Goat (Saturday, CBC, 8 p.m. on CBC Docs POV) is a delight. It’s summarized as this: “Five dairy goat breeder families juggle their farms, work and an intensive show season while caring for all of their two – and four-legged – kids.” In fact, it’s all so jolly, charming and beguiling that this one program could start a trend – people departing Toronto to take up goat-breeding in the bucolic rural terrain of Southern Ontario. Honestly, you’ve rarely seen such charm.
Made by the team at Markham Street Films, who also made the wonderful Catwalk: Tales From the Cat Show Circuit, this one also follows competitors – the goat-obsessed through local fairs and all the way to the big goat show at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Along the way you meet a young boy who advises with certainty, “Goats are really smart but some are too smart for their own good.” The local fairs are, naturally, ideal fodder for visually enchanting antics and fun. You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed “Chicken Pooh Bingo.” (A cousin to Cow Patty Bingo.) Highly recommended for blissful distraction.
Also airing this weekend
60 Minutes (Sunday, CBS, Global, 7 p.m.) is notorious in advance. It seems Donald Trump stormed out of the interview with Lesley Stahl for the episode and has been furious for days. Inside Lehman Brothers (Sunday, documentary channel, 9 p.m.) is a cautionary tale, a doc made in 2018 about events of 2008. The focus is on a small group of former employees of Lehman Brothers who were ostracized or let go when they raised alarm bells about unsafe or shady financial practices. While seeming small-scale, it’s really about the financial crisis that caused a great recession, and how constraints on financial institutions are again being diminished.
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