From ‘Parks And Recreation,’ A Brief But Delightful Return To Pawnee

By Linda Holmes

It’s been five years since Parks and Recreation ended its run, after a final season that jumped forward into the future — specifically, to 2017. We haven’t got the nifty transparent touchscreens their 2017 showed. Instead, we have a pandemic, and we have social distancing, and we are doing without many of our comforts, large and small. But for a half-hour on Thursday night, we did not have to be without our friends from Pawnee.

The special, conceived, written and filmed during the weeks of isolation that have idled much of Hollywood, began — after an intro from Paul Rudd’s lovable rich dummy Bobby Newport, who’s living an oblivious life in Switzerland — with Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) checking in via video chat. He was at home with their kids; she was somewhere else. He’s in Congress; she works for the Department of the Interior. There are nods to the things he’s done to amuse himself during lonely moments in the past, from his Claymation experiment to his complicated board game, Cones of Dunshire. She’s worried about him.

But Leslie, being Leslie, is running a phone tree with all her former colleagues, because she checks in on everybody to make sure they’re all right. She calls up Ron (Nick Offerman), who’s out in his workshop in the woods — and he’s still doing battle with his second ex-wife, played by Offerman’s wife Megan Mullally. What makes that particularly funny is that Ron is with Tammy 2, but the show is otherwise stuck with the limitations of actors who can’t be in scenes together, even though the story would have them living together. This is sometimes solved with humor, as when April (Aubrey Plaza) is not with Andy (Chris Pratt) because he’s locked himself in the shed (classic Andy). It’s sometimes solved with simple logic, as with Ben and Leslie’s busy jobs, or when Ann (Rashida Jones) is quarantining separately from Chris (Rob Lowe) and their kids because she’s still working as a nurse. It is a pure quirk of casting and the intersection with reality, but it’s also very funny, that out of all these people, only Ron and Tammy 2 can be together.

The episode, written by show creator Michael Schur and a virtual room of the show’s former writers, finds some very clever ways to incorporate the oddities of video calling. Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Donna (Retta) are using the same tropical background on their call together, because they are always looking for ways to live well. To treat themselves, as it were. And Garry (or Jerry, or Terry, or whatever they’re calling him right now) (Jim O’Hehir) is unable to figure out how to turn off the camera filters that make him look like a dog or a baby.

But one of the reasons I tried — oh, I really tried — to keep my expectations low with this special is that Parks has always been, for me, a show about togetherness. At weddings, at funerals, at parties and weird public events, it’s typically been at the height of its powers when a group connects. And I’ve seen enough Zoom calls to know that groups of faces on a screen have their charms, but they can’t really get to the emotional place that a group hug wants to go.

I was wrong to doubt.

Because of course they found the perfect final moment; of course. It wasn’t just the “Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian” singalong (although it was that, obviously). It was that we got a little slice of what became my favorite story of love in all of Pawnee when Ron reminded Leslie to stop taking care of everybody else and let people take care of her. This group of writers found a true character beat, one that made sense for the moment and is absolutely what the Ron we know would need to tell the Leslie we know, that they could write into this special. Mostly, yes, it’s just a visit — with the whole gang, with Joan Calamezzo and Perd Hapley and Dennis Feinstein and Jean-Ralphio. And that was such a spirit-lifter that it would have been really fine.

But then there was that little bauble of a reminder that even though they’ve been separated for years, even before social distancing, these people still love each other, and they still know each other. It’s so funny now to look back at the great feature Vulture did in early April in which writers speculated about what their COVID-19 episodes would look like. Schur said a lot of things that didn’t come true in the special, quite. But he also said this: “Ron would be thrilled because now there’s a reason for him to be alone with no one bothering him. But he would worry about Leslie.” And that little bit of emotional realness in an entry that’s largely jokes, is the part that survived.

That, and the lighters, and the singing … well, I cried, of course. But it was the nice kind of crying. Maybe I even needed it. And hey, sometimes that’s all you can ask for from a visit with old friends.

‘Hollywood’ Serves Up A Progressive Alt-History Parable, Thinly Sliced

By Glen Weldon

“My time in Washington,” Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) says at one point in the Netflix miniseries Hollywood, “taught me a lot of things. I used to believe that good government could change the world. I don’t know if I believe that anymore. However, what you do — the three of you — can change the world.”

The year is 1947. The “three of you” she’s addressing in this scene are a trio of movie studio executives. The studio in question is a fictional one — Ace Studios — and the three execs are played by Joe Mantello, Holland Taylor and Patti LuPone. (Yep, two female studio executives in 1947; put a pin in that.)

The question to ask yourself before diving into the latest Ryan Murphy/Ian Brennan co-creation (after Glee, Scream Queens and Netflix’s The Politician) is: Do you agree?

Do you agree that government can’t change centuries of systemic racism, misogyny and homophobia, but movies (or in the situation dramatized in this miniseries — one movie) can?

Because know this: Murphy and Brennan believe it. In their bones. Their show Hollywood, which premieres Friday, believes it — its entire narrative infrastructure is built upon that notion, in fact — and it will spend its seven-episode running time striving to convince you. It will do so by positing an alternate history in which a plucky, diverse handful of brave Hollywood writers, actors, directors and producers shatter entrenched social, racial and gender barriers — accomplishing this task at a time when, in the real world, those same barriers still proved forbiddingly inviolate, and would remain so for long decades.

The result is confounding. What begins as a critique of media’s tendency to cling to the same scrubbed, self-serving, cynical narratives that deny full humanity to women, people of color and queer folk becomes … a tone-deaf paean to the Magic! Of! Hollywood!

On a purely plot level, however, it’s tough to quibble with how deftly the series weaves its disparate threads together. Jack Castello (David Corenswet) is a good-looking wannabe actor in postwar Hollywood with a pregnant wife and no prospects. He falls in with slick lothario Ernie (Dylan McDermott), who runs a prostitution ring out of a Hollywood gas station. (Ernie is based on the true story of Scotty Bowers, chronicled in the documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.)

Jack’s fate will intertwine with that of the wealthy Avis (LuPone), black screenwriter Archie (Jeremy Pope) and his lunk of a boyfriend, Roy (Jake Picking). Roy, in turn, will fall into the clutches of scheming Henry Willson (Jim Parsons), who’s part talent agent, part carrion bird.

There’s also the idealistic wannabe director Raymond (Darren Criss) and his ingenue girlfriend, Camille (Laura Harrier), who’ll compete for a potential breakout role with the beautiful Claire (Samara Weaving).

Corenswet gets a lot more to do here than he did in last year’s The Politician, where he was mostly expected to smolder — there’s something agreeably doofy about his Jack. Parsons’ character is cartoonishly loathsome, but then Murphy and his writers do love painting with broad strokes, and anyway Parsons is having a ball. Mantello, as a wise, world-weary studio exec, is great at expressing both his character’s reluctant idealism and his tortured soul. LuPone gets to stretch her muscles, too, embodying her default regal hauteur in line readings full of consonants that slam shut like so many car doors, but she also finds moments of warm vulnerability.

Holland Taylor remains Holland Freaking Taylor, and that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.

Is it fun to see this ragtag gang of good-looking outsiders triumphing over cigar-chomping Old Hollywood via togetherness, moxie, gumption and a few well-acted, performatively woke monologues? Sure. But it’s tough to shake the feeling that in trafficking in tidy uplift, this progressive parable is erasing the lived experience of those who — through no fault or lack of their own — couldn’t and didn’t manage to accomplish what these idealized, thinly drawn characters do. And though the series goes out of its way to supply moments of vindication to real-world figures mistreated by Hollywood like Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) — moments that are clearly intended as catharsis — in execution, they feel at best opportunistic and at worst appropriative.

Rewriting history for a better outcome isn’t inherently a moral and narrative dead end. When deployed with intelligence, restraint and nuanced, fully realized emotion, it can force us to grapple with the choices we collectively made in the past. Or, when it’s less layered and more pulpy, it can instead supply a sense of visceral, fist-pumping, Tarantinoesque exultation, even triumph.

Hollywood may think itself the former, but the series’ approach is too lightly imagined; what it achieves is closer to the latter: Inglourious Acters.

From the days of Popular and Nip/Tuck, a sense of glibness has always marked Murphy’s output; his various co-creators seem either to channel it into something a bit more grounded (PoseAmerican Crime Story) or to shape it into full-on, guano-crazy genre archness (American Horror Story). The genre here is “Hollywood Tale,” so you’d be forgiven for expecting a touch of camp, but the tone keeps vacillating, scene to scene, between sober and swoony, as if the show can’t make up its mind.

What it remains consistently throughout, however, is self-consciously well-intentioned to a fault, and absolutely certain of Hollywood’s power to set a world full of benighted yokels on the right path, through the sheer power of showing us all how selfless and brave and — heck, let’s face it — noble creative people are.

If there’s a second season of Hollywood — and given Netflix’s deal with Murphy, this seems likely — there’s evidence it will only double down on season one’s What If Courageous Filmmakers And Studio Suits Challenged The Status Quo dynamic. Along the way it will likely make a lot of the same very good points this season makes about the importance of representation and the idiocy of intolerance. And it will likely include some very good actors delivering on-the-nose speeches while wearing very good clothes.

And, as in season one, if you listen very closely, you will likely be able to discern a soft sound, a noise like a whisper, like a contented sigh that makes up this series’ insistent, omnipresent subtext: Yes, AmericaYou’re welcome.

‘Mrs. America’: A Star-Studded Cast Puts The ERA In The Spotlight

By Linda Holmes

“With everything else going on in the world, now I gotta spend almost nine hours of my life thinking about Phyllis Schlafly?”

It only seems honest to admit to this reaction to the approach of Mrs. America, a nine-part miniseries created by Dahvi Waller. It was made under the FX Networks umbrella, but it’s available only on Hulu, which drops the first three episodes on April 15. The series is not exclusively interested in Schlafly, but she is its point of greatest fascination, as it tells the story of the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

What has set Mrs. America apart since it was announced is its large and impressive cast: Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, the conservative woman who railed against feminists as immoral opponents of decent housewives everywhere and successfully generated a large backlash against the ERA. Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, the creator of Ms. magazine and a representative of the movement whose prominence would remain controversial both inside and outside it. Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, the presidential candidate who found much of second-wave feminism to be, at best, condescending to her candidacy. Margo Martindale as New York congresswoman Bella Abzug, Tracey Ullman as influential author Betty Friedan, and on and on and on.

At the center is Blanchett’s deployment of her most patrician affect (which is saying something) to portray Schlafly as an ambitious woman eager to gather power, who originally tries to obtain it as a foreign policy commentator. Finding that door largely closed to her — in part because of sexism — she realizes that while they don’t want her opinions on foreign policy, she is very much welcomed by the male politicians in her circle when she is fighting and deriding other women. Feminists, specifically. Blanchett’s version of Schlafly adopts her antifeminist positions more because they are her path to power than because they are her greatest passion, although there’s plenty to indicate she believes in them at least enough to support their imposition on other women. (As other characters repeatedly point out, Schlafly herself is hardly living the life she advocates as the one most noble for women: Far from a housewife, she is essentially a professional full-time lobbyist.)

It’s curious. The performances in Mrs. America are, as you’d expect, uniformly excellent. But there is something that feels not quite complete about it. Perhaps it’s that the series’ reach exceeded its grasp. Because about half of the narrative energy is spent on Schlafly and about half on all the women in the feminist movement put together, they all, despite the marvelous and nuanced portrayals, struggle to be fully realized. Martindale has a couple of very moving scenes as Abzug, whose moment is passing between the beginning of the 1970s and the end, and whose carefully crafted political skill becomes disappointing for the women who want her to stand firmer on matters like gay rights and racism. Byrne shines in the moments when Steinem proves young enough and progressive enough to be more aware than some of her colleagues of the racism inherent in the movement she’s helping to lead, but not quite able — or is it willing? — to make eradicating it a priority.

Still, it’s almost inevitable in a historical sweep like this that some stories will seem to get short shrift. Chisholm’s presidential campaign is a big part of a single episode and Aduba drives it brilliantly, creating a Chisholm who’s wise in general as well as wisely skeptical of figures like Steinem and Abzug. But she’s absent from long stretches of the story. Similarly, it would have been great to see more of Niecy Nash as Flo Kennedy, a character who shoots off sparks in every scene in which she appears. It’s refreshing, and it’s essential, that Mrs. America is transparently cognizant of the lack of commitment the women’s movement has often shown to black women, poor women, lesbians, and other constituencies not well-represented in its leadership. But it perhaps needed more of this part of the story, told through the lens of these characters — more, more. More of Aduba and Nash and of Bria Henderson as the editor and activist Margaret Sloan-Hunter. More of Annie Parisse and Anna Douglas, who play Midge Costanza and Jean O’Leary, who want nothing to do with a movement that still welcomes Friedan, whose opposition to embracing lesbians as part of the women’s movement lasted years.

Moreover, because there are so many of them and there’s so much stage-setting to do and so much updating about what’s actually going on in the decade or so that’s covered here, the women on the ERA YES side spend a lot of their time explicitly explaining and expositing on matters of feminism, feminist strategy, and internal movement politics. Where Schlafly gets at least some scenes with her children and husband that don’t revolve around her explaining her beliefs about the ERA, the women working with Abzug and Steinem rarely do anything except tell you what they’re going to do next and why, and who’s fighting with whom. Rifts like the long-standing (and well-known) one between Steinem and Friedan are more documented than illuminated, simply because of the limitations of time. Nevertheless, the time spent with these characters is never boring, simply because the acting is so good.

What doesn’t work as well is a composite character named Alice, played by Sarah Paulson — also a tremendous actress, here given a disappointing role. One of Schafly’s early acolytes and a close friend, Alice’s growing doubts are the least satisfying subplot on offer in all nine episodes.That’s partly because Alice seems like precisely what she is: a made-up person among icons, cooked up to make a specific point. But it’s also because by the time we spend most of an episode watching Alice contemplate whether she wants to remain on Team Schlafly, the question of whether this comfortable, well-off woman will finally push back after ignoring years of clear signals that Schlafly’s movement contains elements that trouble her morally, her plight seems exceedingly low-stakes, compared to everything else that’s happening. Cognitive dissonance is a distraction when it’s framed against, say, civil rights.

But back to Schlafly, where we began.

If it is meant to be inherently perplexing, and thus fascinating, that a woman who has experienced sexism herself would take up the cause of antifeminism, or that anyone from any other group would assume a position of hostility against what seem to be their own interests, we are surely past that now. If the central question of the series is what made Schlafly choose this cause, the answer it provides is simple: because it was there. Because this was the place in which powerful men found her most useful, and therefore it was the place in which she was able to gain a toehold to eventually accumulate power of her own, which she could flex independently.

The Schlafly you see here is as much an opportunist as a believer, although she is surely both. There are suggestions that she bristles at the arrogance of her lawyer husband Fred (John Slattery) and privately enjoys the moments in which her stardom eclipses him. But the answer that the series provides about Schlafly’s fundamental (so to speak) qualities goes like this: she wants power, she lacks empathy, and she’s very effective at creating baseless fears in people that she can then exploit. It’s profoundly depressing to watch, and it’s very plausible. But does it enlighten? Is this something different from what you might expect to learn?

Mrs. America doesn’t ask you to sympathize with Phyllis Schlafly, exactly; it is unsparing in drawing her as a tremendously unkind and destructive person — and, increasingly as it goes on, a dishonest one. But it does seek to explain something about her. It seeks to use the story of her as a way to explain how power works and how politics works, as well as how the ERA came to fail after looking like it was on a clear path to ratification. But perhaps we are past needing all of this explained. Perhaps that is why the story of Schlafly feels wearying.

To be clear, Mrs. America is made well; in particular, it’s directed and edited well and acted very well. There are some playful and clever juxtapositions in the editing, as when you jump from a very sexy scene to one in which Schlafly is dutifully rubbing her husband’s tired calves. The re-creation of the aesthetic of the period is gorgeous and feels truthful, looking like the 1970s rather than a send-up of the 1970s. Across nine episodes, it never feels dull, even though it does sometimes feel a bit speechy. It doesn’t give in to too many of those moments in historical pieces in which names are dropped in a wink-wink kind of way, as when Schlafly meets two young men late in the series who seem unimportant and then introduce themselves as Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. Or when a young woman helping with the legal work is told, at the close of her one significant scene that perhaps she should assume a higher-profile role — and then she is addressed as “Mrs. Ginsburg.” Winkety-wink.

But something seems amiss, separate from the filmmaking, separate from the artistry. Maybe it’s just that it can be hard to separate Mrs. America‘s utter bleakness from its quality. Its conviction that determined public figures can persuade people to turn on their neighbors in response to invented threats is hard to argue with, but hardly a proposition for which one needs to turn to fiction — even historical fiction. As the old Palmolive ad of this era would have said: we’re soaking in it.

Mindy Kaling Brings A New Nerd To TV, And Finds She ‘Was Not Alone’ As A Teen

When nerds are depicted on screen, they are often bookworms and wallflowers who struggle to stand up for themselves. That’s not the type of nerd Mindy Kaling wanted to focus on in Never Have I Ever, the Netflix series she co-created with Lang Fisher.

“There’s also the belligerent, confident nerd, and they want big things for themselves,” Kaling says. “We wanted to show an ambitious nerd … [who] wanted to lose her virginity, wanted to be cool, go to concerts.”

Kaling first became known for her role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. She was also a writer and producer of the series, and she was the showrunner and star of the series The Mindy Project.

Never Have I Ever draws on Kaling’s experiences when she was in high school. The main character, Devi, is the 15-year-old daughter of immigrants from India and one the school’s top students. She’s nerdy and unpopular — but she’s also outgoing, opinionated and on the hunt for a boyfriend.

Kaling was initially hesitant to revisit her teen years for the project: “Like a lot of comedy writers, I think of my adolescence and childhood as incredibly embarrassing,” she says. “I thought it would honestly be too painful and embarrassing to relive those experiences.”

But Kaling filled the writers room with a staff of young Indian women, and once they began sharing stories, her outlook changed. “It ended up being very cathartic, actually,” she says. “It made me feel that all the stuff I was going through as a teenager, I was not alone.”

Interview Highlights

On where the idea came from to give Devi a temporary paralysis brought on by her father’s sudden death

It happened to the brother of my co-creator, Lang Fisher. … When we were talking about the series — there are so many teenage series … about love and sex and all of that — and we were both really interested, because we had parents that died unexpectedly, in talking about grief and how grief manifests itself. And [Lang’s] brother, after her parents got divorced, had about four months when his legs were paralyzed. And then, all of a sudden, they started working again. And they went to every doctor. They went to every psychologist. And it was this mysterious thing. …

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) becomes temporarily paralyzed after the sudden death of her father in Never Have I Ever.Netflix

In researching it, this is something that happens to people, particularly young people, sometimes after trauma. So that was hard to resist as something to talk about. And after she spoke to her brother and got permission, we felt we wanted to use it in the series, because we thought it was a really fascinating physical manifestation of a teenager’s grief.

On how her experience of being a diversity hire for the writers room of The Office informed her movie, Late Night

[I’m a] proud diversity hire. … I think the [NBC diversity hiring] program was invaluable, and I think that NBC was, at that time, the only one of the major networks that was doing something like that.

At the time, I didn’t think so. At the time, I thought it was really humiliating, actually, because the way that that works is a diversity hire is no cost to the show. So when you get hired and you’re a minority and through that NBC diversity hiring program, you know that NBC is paying the cost of your salary, not the show. So that’s why the show is incentivized to hire minorities. …

There’s this phenomenon that … a writer gets hired for a year and then they only pay your salary the first year. So if you are going to continue on for a second year, they won’t pay your salary anymore. So you’d have this phenomenon on these shows — because other networks started doing the same thing — where you’d have a minority writer who is a staff writer, which is the entry-level writing job, and then the next year there’d be a different staff writer, because to promote them, the show would have to take on the cost of the staff. …

Who’d Have Thought We’d Be Watching The ‘Homeland’ Finale To ‘De-Stress’?

By Mary Louise Kelly

For eight seasons, Homeland has closely tracked real-life events and anxieties. Claire Danes played CIA officer Carrie Mathison — chasing down traitors and terrorists, al-Qaida plots and Russian bad guys. Showrunner Alex Gansa says the show has held a “funhouse mirror” to events in Washington and overseas.

But now, the show drops its finale in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — a terrifying real world plot twist.

“For the first time in the history of the show, we’re being watched as a de-stresser — as something that can lower anxiety,” Gansa says. “And that’s a novel place for us to be.”

Interview Highlights

On Carrie being an unreliable narrator, especially in an era of so-called “fake news”

One of the things that we always treasure on the show as writers is the ability to get at the truth by dramatizing conflicting opinions about the same event or a same idea — with the idea that there was some truth in the middle somewhere … And obviously that idea has gone out the window in the last four years. It’s just very difficult to find your way to what is real. …

So that became difficult to write about on our show when we when we’re trying to present something that feels real and it feels truthful. And I think the character of Carrie Mathison actually helped in that way because … she is bipolar, and just her ability to hold contradictions in her head is profound — and so she actually was an asset in that mission.

On Carrie not being a traditional hero and whether it was hard for viewers to sympathize with her

I think there are plenty of people that did stop watching because of that. But for us, that was the thrill of writing the show. And Claire is such a compelling actress that, whether or not you find her likable, it’s hard to turn away from her. She is electric on screen and she lived inside this person in a way that you just don’t often see on television.

On the symmetry between the beginning of the series — when Marine Corps sergeant Nicholas Brody is suspected of being a traitor — and the end of the series, when Carrie is suspected of betraying her country

We were certainly not headed there. I’ll tell you, when the idea came to me and that was at the end of Season 7, we were filming a scene on a bridge in which Carrie was being returned from captivity. She’d been in Russian custody and deprived of her medications. So she’d actually gone into a psychotic state and she was being ushered across this bridge back to the Americans and back to Saul … her mentor and boss. And she’s being returned to Saul on the bridge, and she’s so far gone that she doesn’t even recognize him.

And it hit me like a thunderbolt standing there in that cold, Budapest night, that, my God, she’s in exactly the same position that Brody was in — Season 1 being returned after captivity. And it just felt poetic, in that moment, to put her in Brody’s shoes for the last season. So that was really the first big idea for Season 8.

On whether the show — which, when it began, was really a mirror of the moment — will still feel relevant a decade from now

I hope so. But it’s unknowable. You know, it really is. I mean, one thing that we tried to do in the finale is leave the story open-ended in a way that it could live in the imagination of our fans — and I think that’s where it’s going to live most strongly.

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ Finds Families Ready To Collide

by Linda Holmes

The great frustration of Little Fires Everywhere, the Hulu adaptation of Celeste Ng’s popular novel, is that of the eight episodes, they only made seven available for review.

It matters because Little Fires Everywhere is a story of collision. Mia (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), temporarily living in their car, come to Shaker Heights, Ohio. They collide with the wealthy Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), who has a house to rent. Mia and Pearl become entangled with Elena and her husband and four children, and eventually, even their friends can’t avoid each other.

Those who have seen Big Little Lies will recognize Elena as a more malevolent version of the wealthy, driven, status-obsessed mother Witherspoon she plays there. Ohio and not Monterey, and yet recognizably similar. Those who have seen Scandal may even recognize Mia as a much less well-connected version of the driven survivor Washington plays there. Putting the very different energies of these actresses in conversation with each other is a good, promising idea.

Much of the story also takes place in the complex emotional lives of Elena and Mia’s children. In particular, Mia worries over the attachment Pearl quickly forms to the Richardsons, and to their nice big house and their leisure time and their stability. Elena is baffled by her youngest, a budding artist and raw nerve named Izzy (Megan Stott), who gravitates toward Mia, both because she’s an artist and because she’s almost as skeptical of Elena as Izzy is.

The series doesn’t quite feel solid, in part because as it progresses, Elena becomes more unambiguously awful. It’s a better show when it feels like two very different mothers with very different cards to play, trying in their own ways to offer the parenting they think is needed. But a plot development involving a co-worker of Mia’s and a friend of Elena’s winds up unbalancing their relationship. While this creates a certain tension, it’s hard to know whether that tension will find any resolution. 

But again, this is the frustration: The point is that the first seven episodes build and build the pressure on and among all these characters and the worlds they inhabit. Pearl and Izzy feel rejected by their mothers; Elena and Mia feel pushed away by their daughters. Elena’s other daughter Lexi is pushed to confront her own privilege, while her brothers Trip and Moody have different attachments to Pearl and different ways of treating her well and poorly. It builds and builds, and either the series sticks the landing in that last episode and it feels worth the ride, or it doesn’t, and it doesn’t.

With some series, this feels less important. In some cases, the pleasures of a show are such that there’s less of a nagging concern over whether it will successfully tie itself together. But this one feels just unsteady enough that if it doesn’t land on a coherent final chord, it won’t hold together as a whole. The caliber of performers and the strength of the source material makes me optimistic. But in a series about collision, not getting to see what happens when everything collides makes it hard to feel like you’ve seen it at all.