“Your Honor”–Judge Me Not

Unconditional love–are there limits?  In Your Honor, a ShowTime mini-series,  a highly respected recently widowed New Orleans judge, Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad”) is known for his fair and impartial sentencing of young criminals. But the judge  gets personal   to protect his teenage son, Adam (newcomer Hunter Doohan)   from the consequences of his reckless actions. At first, the  judge advises his son to turn himself in to the police, and explain how he panicked after hitting another teen. But then he discovers that the boy his son ran over was the son of a notorious mafia don, Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg of “Call Me By My Name” and “The Shape of Water”). The judge knows that the mafia will wreak vengeance. Time after time the judge tries to use some moral principle to justify bad acts, and it all goes horribly wrong.

Adam is a total screw up, a clueless teenager who can’t think straight and is painfully annoying, causing the viewer to lose patience. Who doesn’t know a teenager who acts that way–reckless driving, too much alcohol or drugs, and unintended consequences for bad judgment?

There’s a certain tone reminiscent of “Breaking Bad” because the viewer is  put in the position of sympathizing with a scofflaw, albeit with a higher motive to protect as only a parent can. When it comes to your family, what would you do to save them? Where would you draw the line? And what effect would that have upon your moral code, your relationships with others and your honor?

Kudos to the director for crafting an ending that was totally unexpected. What would I do in similar circumstances?    Judge me not until you’re there.

Availability:  ShowTime streaming.

The Spanish Princess–An Imperial Royal Highness

The Spanish Princess is a ShowTime limited series based on the novels The Constant Princess (2005) and The King’s Curse (2014) by Philippa Gregory.  This is a  drama about the teenage Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope who played Ramsay Boulton’s lover Myranda in “Game of Thrones”). She becomes  the first queen of England betrothed to King Henry VIII  (Ruairi O’Connor).

Teenage princess Catherine of Aragon, daughter of  the Spanish Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, travels to England  in 1501, to meet her husband by arranged marriage to  Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to Henry VII of England.  Smitten with the love letters she had been receiving, Catherine assumes that Prince Arthur is the man of her dreams.   Betrothed since she was a young child, the marriage is also an economic negotiation for wealth from Spain to a sorely needed English court desperate for funds. Unwelcomed by some as a foreigner and by others as too headstrong for a future queen, Catherine of Aragon and her diverse court retainers struggle to fit in. Soon Arthur’s younger brother, the magnetic Henry, Duke of York, reveals he is  the author of the romantic letters she has cherished. When Arthur dies suddenly, her fate becomes perilous.  She longs to marry Henry but– as she had been married to his brother– Catherine is confronted by  the Old Testament ban on  marriage to a brother’s widow.   Only a papal dispensation can allow the marriage to take place.  Furthermore, Catherine maintains that she is still a virgin because her marriage to Arthur was never consummated (a lie).

With court intrigue mounting between Henry’s diabolical mother, Lady Margaret (Harriet Walter) , who severely disapproves of Catherine, and Catherine’s fighting for the status and security of a queen, the viewer is treated to several subplots.  One  is a lady-in-waiting deeply involved with a Muslim knight who is accused of being a “heathen”. Another is  the burden on the royal family to broker marriages which will provide male heirs.   To ensure continuity of the regime, their hegemony, and their exorbitant property holdings,  court intrigue was not for the faint of heart.  And the draining of court coffers due to the high cost of continual war  ensured that marriage was a business negotiation for national interests and power struggles.  Catherine of Aragon is merely an asset from Spain to add to the British court’s  wealth through her dowry and her family’s alliances. But Catherine of Aragon  won’t be dismissed easily.  She is imperious, manipulative, and scheming–everything that makes The Spanish Princess so entertaining!

Note: The first eight episodes premiered on May 5, 2019. The remaining eight episodes– Season 2– premiered on October 11, 2020. The series finale aired on November 29, 2020.

“The Reagans”–Truth At Last

A four-part Showtime documentary series, The Reagans excoriates the epic failure of journalism to reveal the Reagan White House as it really was, not the fairy tale of near-sainthood of Ronald Reagan.   Ronald Reagan, Jr., the only son of the Reagans, is the primary source for details about his parents’ most private moments and their secrets behind closed doors.  One of his more frankly understated comments: “My father was a strange fellow to be president of this country.”

How the carefully curated story becomes the reality is the emphatic warning of The Reagans.  Beginning in  the 1950’s, when Reagan first testified in front of Senator McCarthy to support investigating and expelling film industry professionals as communists, we see the former Screen Actor Guild  president rewrite the facts of his own life.   From being a World War II combat veteran (which he wasn’t) to fighting for corporate interests (while the young Reagan was pro-union), Reagan and his uncannily astute  wife Nancy construct a confabulist’s story of a dream they both had for him to be president of a country that never was.  Scanning the political landscape with her bird-of-prey eyes and instincts, Nancy was a force to be ignored at a politician’s own peril.  Nancy’s stagecraft is in play when announcing her husband’s presidency in Philadelphia, Mississippi –the notorious site of a Ku Klux Klan massacre.  The viewer sees Reagan’s dog whistle raise the attention of those who will be his first believers.

Sometimes jaw-droppingly shocking–based on rarely seen footage–we witness the previously unexamined tactics and strategy that laid the groundwork for the Tea Party, trickle-down economics and the Trump administration.  What was planned sixty years ago foreshadows what is going on now. The insightful  analysis of the parallel between the cult of the telegenic personality  and political campaigning since the rise of television is particularly unnerving.  Does it take a seasoned performer to be the most probable candidate for the highest office in government? 

Watch this and draw your own conclusions.

People who worship Ronald Reagan will hate The Reagans. They will see more of the man behind the curtain  than they would prefer. For those comfortably used to seeing Reagan canonized as a patron saint of moderate Republicanism, exposing  the veneer of a highly polished television image should be unsettling. For those who want to better understand how the current conservative movement was primed for performers to become POTUS, this is a disturbing documentary indeed.

“Time of Death”—Not for the Faint-Hearted

Time of Death

Not since Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying” with its study of the five stages of grief or Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death”, has there been such a tour-de-force depiction of the process of dying and the way that death impacts  those who are left behind.  This groundbreaking documentary series reminds me that many of us still have forgotten how to say goodbye and how to die. But some of us have figured out how.  “Time of Death”, a six-part miniseries produced by Showtime,   follows three  men and five women ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-seven years.  In six emotionally jarring episodes we are introduced to the final weeks, days and private last moments  in a remarkably unflinching, intimate, and brutally honest  way. These remarkable people face their own mortality with as much drama as a novel.

“Time of Death” also focuses on the caregivers—family, friends, hospice and other medical personnel—who understand and give of their hearts. At the end of this series many viewers will wish that they could have these supportive, brave friends and family at their deathbed.  To have them be there to give a needed hug. While some viewers may be too depressed to watch the inevitability of death, and the finite nature of our lives, to me it was a hopeful and insightful portrait of the natural as well as the inevitable process of the end of life. Some of the dying are sweet and eccentric, others closed and struggling to come to terms with their end.   Nicolle, a 19-year-old dying of melanoma, perhaps is the most gut-wrenching: a teenager who cannot believe—like anyone so young—that she is at the end of an all-too-brief life.  Her parents and little sisters, especially the six-year old, are heroic in their understanding of what Nicolle is going through.

The series, most of all,  reveals how aware children and teens can be when it comes to death.  Witnessing these vulnerable moments, we watch as the dying learn to keep on loving when they are afraid, to keep on making it through another day,  to forgive themselves and others as they surrender to the inevitable, and to let go.  The miniseries is compelling and haunting, even harrowing at times,  especially since we know each of these eight people’s lives are coming to an end.  Yet “Time of Death”  is also surprising.  It made me feel like a privileged guest with something to learn from each scene.  A gift.

 

[“Time of Death” will be available soon on Netflix and is downloadable from the Showtime website.]