HBO Max's "Harley Quinn" is this week's recommendation.
"Dune" is here.
Readers with great memories will remember that I wrote about starting the book version of "Dune" back in April in anticipation of this film. I'm still not done with it — it's really long and complex, and I took a break for a while, OK? — but I'm through enough of it to tell nonreaders that this trailer looks both faithful to the book and, more importantly, friggin' amAZING LOOK AT THE SUITS. LOOK AT THE SKY. LOOK AT THE BLUE EYES. LOOK AT THE SAND WORM. LOOK AT IT ALL AND FEEL ALIVE.
You should get to know "Dune" now. It's going to be a thing, in the same way "Game of Thrones" or "Lord of the Rings" is a thing. So let's break it down, spoiler-free style, to give you at least some idea of what awaits you.
Timothée Chalamet's character, the guy in the trailer's teaser image? That's Paul Atreides. He's the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). If I'm being honest, he can be a little shit sometimes. But he's the son of a political leader, and he's still young. He's got plenty of room to grow, especially now that his family is moving to a new planet, Arrakis, at the behest of the emperor. The Atreides' goal is to watch over the planet's spice production.
(Gonna stop here for a second: This "spice," melange, is kind of hard to explain. Think of it as a substance used to make things like paper and plastic and also a hardcore drug that gives some people the ability to see into the future, among other abilities. It's highly addictive, and if you go through withdrawals, you die. It's both extremely valuable and extremely dangerous.)
Bad news: This assignment is a trap designed to cripple the family's power! The family knows it's a trap, though, so they're prepared. We're kind of getting to the point where I can't talk about anything without spoiling a big plot point, so let's speed round some quick notes: Lady Jessica is part of a religious order of women who have mind powers, Paul may or may not be a prophesied leader, the Harkonnen family are the Atreides' rivals, and the outskirts of Arrakis are filled with gigantic sand worms that will devour anything that rattles the planet's surface, be it people or vehicles or anything else.
I think that's enough to get you started. I highly recommend reading the book. It's dense, and the first 100 pages or so will probably make your head spin because of all the new terminology at play, but after that it'll stick, and it becomes a dazzling story.
You have some time. "Dune" won't release until Dec. 18. (And there's some rumors that it might get pushed back into 2021 because of pandemic-related scrambling by Warner Bros.)
- Also, because this is technically a round-up: I guess Sacha Baron Cohen secretly filmed a "Borat" sequel, and it's already been screened for people? OK. The world is pretty different than it was in 2006 when the controversial comedy was dropped. I'm curious to see what adjustments Cohen does or doesn't make this time.
- Rest in peace, Diana Rigg. I came along too late to watch most of her performances, but she is incredible in "Game of Thrones" as Lady Olenna Tyrell. It seems like she's been just as good in her other roles as well. A real loss.
Only one recommendation this week because it's all I've been watching lately and also because I talked about "Dune" too much. (Not sorry.)
"Harley Quinn" (2019-present)
HBO Max, rated TV-MA, 26 episodes, 10 hours of content
I'm skeptical about any show or movie that I hear described as "edgy."
Usually, that designation translates as "something that thinks shock is the same thing as humor." Those shows don't offend me as a human with morals. They offend me as a human who happens to believe he's pretty funny when he tries to be. They don't make me cover my mouth; they make me roll my eyes.
When I heard good things about "Harley Quinn," the animated show that recently landed on HBO Max, I was excited. That excitement faded when I saw its rating.
"Ah, jeez," I thought. "Another property that takes all the wrong lessons from 'Deadpool'?"
I'm happy to report my initial thoughts were wrong and everyone else is right. "Harley Quinn" is great. In fact, it might be the best take on the iconic supervillain/antihero (depending on your view) that I've seen. No offense, Margot Robbie.
Here, Quinn is voiced by Kaley Cuoco, who nails the character's signature brattiness while also making her sympathetic and relatable. The show starts with her, as usual, in a relationship with the Joker (Alan Tudyk). That quickly comes to an end when the Joker strands her in prison after promising to break her out. When Quinn finally does get out, she decides to room with her friend Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) while getting revenge on "Mr. J," who the show positions as a toxic ex-boyfriend. Eventually, she forms a crew around her that includes Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (also Alan Tudyk) and King Shark (Ron Funches) among other part-time allies. The group makes taking down Joker and joining the Legion of Doom its mission.
"Harley Quinn" is a comic book version of a show like "Archer." There's some occasional gross-out stuff, like the excessive amount of blood that pours out of henchmen's heads when Quinn beats them to a pulp with her baseball bat. Mostly though, the show is a mix of clever wordplay and meta jokes, like when one character explicitly asks for a deus ex machina to save him — then immediately gets one. Each bad guy gets bits tailored to them: Everyone immediately figures out the Riddler's (Jim Rash) riddles, the Joker is worried about being the funniest guy in the room, Bane (a hilariously on-point James Adomian) has rage issues that pop up at the mildest inconveniences, etc. It all works. What is there to dislike about watching Jim Gordon (Christopher Meloni) become a mad drunk who is borderline in love with Batman?
But it's the dynamic between Quinn and Poison Ivy that won me over the quickest. Their friendship is genuinely sweet, with Ivy acting as a type of wise older sister to the rambunctious reactionary that is Quinn. Ivy's dry sense of humor — all she wants to do is stay at home and take care of her plants — is the perfect compliment to the rest of the show, and Bell gives her a voice that is equal parts biting and weary. The pair bicker about what to eat for dinner as often as they hatch plans to take over the world.
It's ironic that it comes within an animated show, but never have these characters felt more human.