Television Man | Aidan Morgan | March 10, 2022
“March comes in like cathode ray tube with a busted antenna and out like an OLED Smart TV that communicates with your Roomba for some reason” — old folksy saying overheard in the 23rd century
Spoilers for Euphoria and The Endgame
No Endgame In Sight
Do you feel like watching an episode of Killing Eve with no homoerotic subtext? How about a version of The Blacklist with a mystery box element? How about a show starring a cop who’s so dedicated to stopping bad guys they’ll drive backwards down a Manhattan street to arrive first at a crime scene? Then hoo boy, do I have the show for you.
The Endgame (NBC), starring Morena Baccarin (Firefly, Homeland) and Ryan Michelle Bathé (First Wives Club), is only two episodes in and it seems to have run out of ideas already. Oh sure, there will be revelations and twists, but it’s a show with one idea — put Morena Baccarin in a box and have her smirk at her captors as an incredibly complicated plan involving bank heists and uncovering corruption unfolds around her. Add in Bathé as a nemesis who will certainly end up as an ally, and you have a show.
But what is the show? It’s hard to say. Baccarin plays Elena Federova, a Ukrainian mercenary mastermind who’s been nabbed by the U.S. government. It becomes clear within moments of her introduction that being captured and imprisoned is part of her grand plan, which also involves a series of bank heists across Manhattan. Meanwhile, semi-disgraced FBI agent Val Turner (Bathé) is drawn into Federova’s web of something-or-other. By the time the series is done, we’ll probably know what Federova’s endgame is. But it’s more likely that the network will draw down its own endgame on this misbegotten but still enjoyable thing. At the very least, it feels good to know network television can deliver television shows as bad as whatever Netflix feels like injecting into its stream every other Friday.
If The Endgame is a terrible show that’s a hell of a lot of fun, Euphoria (Crave) is a good (and occasionally great) show that’s incredibly frustrating. For all its operatic violence, drug use and nudity, the real draw of Euphoria in season one was its intimate focus on a group of teenagers trying to figure out their place in dead-end 21st century America. Creator and writer Sam Levinson pulled heavily from his own experiences with drugs and risky behaviour, but he collaborated heavily with his actors to produce stories that better reflected their experience.
The result was a show that felt unbearably true, even as it lurched between cartoonish violence and pornographic sex. Two post-season Christmas episodes scaled back on Levinson’s hyperbole, focusing instead on the inner lives of Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer), the couple whose relationship defined most of the first season. The talky, therapeutic framework of these episodes suggested a less flashy but more emotionally rewarding path for the next batch of episodes.
Lol, as the kids text. Season two is messier than the meatball sub you drunkenly ordered at two in the morning after the bar. Several characters seem like completely different people (particularly Barbie Ferreira’s Kat, who pivots from a journey of self-acceptance to petty narcissism), uninteresting new characters show up and refuse to leave, and emotional development is shrugged aside to make room for a baffling relationship between cartoon villain Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) and Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney). Plus some guy sings an emo song for four minutes. Four minutes, people.
Despite the frustrations, there are flashes of what made the show so much fun in its early days. A brutal episode of Rue suffering from withdrawal provides some of the show’s most terrifying moments, and the high school play that caps off the season is immensely entertaining. HBO must like what Levinson is delivering; season three will be along at some point.