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Netflix's Ozark follows the money while Jason Bateman's career takes a new path

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Ozark finds Laura Linney, Jason Bateman in deep sh*t. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, July 21st on Netflix
Starring: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Esai Morales, Jason Butler Harner, Peter Mullan, Jordana Spiro, Charlie Tahan, Lisa Emery, McKinley Belcher III, Michael Tourek, Kevin L. Johnson, Michael Mosley
Produced by: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams, Jason Bateman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Money laundering is at the root of most evil in Netflix’s Ozark, whose various spin cycles leave no one spotless.

Starring Jason Bateman in an uncommon dramatic role (spiked with dry wit), it’s an advertisement from hell for Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, also dubbed by some as the “Redneck Riviera.” Marty Byrde (Bateman), his wife and their two balky children flee there from Chicago after getting on the very bad side of a Mexican drug kingpin known as Del (Esai Morales).

Marty and his financial planning associates have been “washing” millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains and living high in return. In Breaking Bad terms, they cook books rather than meth. But the dangers are no less lethal after Del and his henchmen discover that someone’s been skimming. Only the wily survive, and Marty saves himself by selling the drug lord on a new laundering scheme in the Ozarks, where the pickings supposedly are easy. But to stay breathing, he’ll have to clean $8 million in dirty money by the end of the summer.

Despite their comfy setup in Chicago, the Byrdes otherwise are fractured. Wife Wendy (Laura Linney), who’s complicit in what her husband’s been doing, has been having an affair of which Marty becomes aware. Their marriage has lapsed into comatose, even though she doesn’t yet know that he knows.

Teen daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) is prototypically insolent while her sometimes strangely inquisitive younger brother, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), retains an air of innocence. Somewhat rare is the latter day TV series in which these sibling gender roles are reversed and it’s an older brother with the ‘tude while his little sis is still comparatively wide-eyed.

The Ozarks are anything but a healing balm, at least not initially. Suddenly strapped for cash but given some disposable income to get things rolling, the Byrdes make a decent but odd landing in a lakefront home whose 82-year-old owner is dying of cancer. In return for affordable rent, they’ll have to let him reside in downstairs quarters for the rest of his days.

Meanwhile, Marty looks for struggling businesses in which to “invest.” Which in money laundering terms means he’ll grossly overstate the cost of improvements and then launder the dough he never spent. His first bullseye is the Blue Cat Lodge, run by the attractive and hard-working Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro). Later in these proceedings, Marty also has eyes for the Lickety Splitz strip club, whose surly owner is immersed in his own illegalities. This type of venue, a staple of most mob-related dramas, affords Ozark and advertiser-free Netflix the “freedom” to serve up recurring topless shots.

Marty remains remarkably calm and low key while under constant duress. “What did you do today for our family?” his wife asks at one point. After a long pause for effect, he replies, “Bought a strip club.”

Bateman, now a seasoned 48 and also a co-executive producer and director of Ozark, is best known for his starring role as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, which Netflix recently green-lighted for a second season of all new post-Fox episodes. Although his deadpan demeanor remains intact, he’s never had a front-and-center serious role like Marty Byrne. Over the course of Season One’s 10 episodes (all duly viewed, pant-pant), he makes the character work for him while also enduring slaps and punches to the face, pistols to the head and something appreciably more cringe-worthy in a season-ender that provides both resolution and a wide open door for another 10 episodes.

A menagerie of other supporting characters also comes into play. The standout is young, conniving Julia Garner as Ruthie Langmore, part of a down-and-dirty Langmore clan that increasingly comes into play. Her no-good father is in prison while various other Langmores look for ways to improve their sorry lots, usually nefariously. Quiet Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) is a little different, though. He reads a lot, mostly sci-fi, and yearns to make a favorable impression on the hard-to-please Charlotte.

There’s also a very odd, on-the-prowl FBI agent named Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harrison), ad hoc preacher Mason Young (Michael Mosley), underfoot realtor Sam Dermody (Kevin L. Johnson) and the poppy-growing Snells, headed by philosophizing gangster Jacob (Peter Mullan) and his trigger-tempered wife, Darlene (Lisa Emery). Additionally, imdb.com bills two bit players as “Creepy Guy,” one as “Skinny Redneck” and another as “Big Redneck.” No, this isn’t Monte Carlo.

It’s not always a blend-able mix, with some of the plot machinations more than a little hard to swallow. Still, Netflix has yet another unique player in its assembly line of original series. Ozark makes its bones via Bateman’s solid work, another reliably strong performance from Linney and an intriguing if sometimes over-populated immorality play that tantalizingly firms its grip.

Those who stay the course should be prepared for a detour in Episode 8. Entirely set in 2007, it fleshes out the back story of how Marty and Wendy were both seduced by the smooth-talking but entirely ruthless Del. Whether laundered or lawfully earned, money talks. And in Ozark, there’s an awful lot of it to go around.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

SNL and Westworld lead latest pack of Emmy nominees while Hulu also goes to the big dance with A Handmaid's Tale

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Baldwin as Trump and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Saturday Night Live makes Donald Trump grate -- again and again.

Thursday’s 69th annual Primetime Emmy Award nominations were further evidence that his presidency has been very good for shows and performers that lampoon it.

SNL tied HBO’s first-year series Westworld for the most overall nominations with 22. Paced by Alec Baldwin’s almost weekly sendups of Trump, SNL received a rather astonishing total of nine acting nominations, including in guest categories. Melissa McCarthy of course made the cut for her brawling guest impersonations of White House press secretary Sean Spicer. SNL regulars Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer also got Emmy nods.

The streaming network Hulu put itself on the map in a big way with 13 nominations for The Handmaid’s Tale, which will compete for both best drama series and in the lead actress category with former Mad Men co-star Elisabeth Moss trying to break through for her first win.

Hulu also notched five nominations for the Ron Howard-produced The Beatles: Eight Days A Week -- The Touring Years. Its total of 18 nominations were a quantum leap from just two last year -- and also good enough to beat rival streamer Amazon’s 16. But Netflix still reigns supreme in the streaming world, amassing 91 nods compared to 54 in 2016. Its big scorers this time around are the freshman drama series Stranger Things (16 nominations) and The Crown (13).

Besides the wealth of nominations for SNL, NBC also will be a strong contender in the best drama series category with its acclaimed first-year ratings hit This Is Us. It has 11 nominations and joins Westworld, Stranger Things, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, AMC’s Better Call Saul and Netflix’s House of Cards among the category’s seven finalists.

Emmy’s best comedy series nominees are FX’s freshman Atlanta and six repeat finalists from last year -- HBO’s reigning champ Veep, ABC’s black-ish, ABC’s Modern Family, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix’s Master of None and HBO’s Silicon Valley. Amazon’s Transparent is the only dropout from the 2016 field.

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Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange are both nominated for FX’s Feud.

HBO again led all networks and streamers with 110 nominations, up from 94 last year despite Game of Thrones being ineligible because it didn’t have a new season premiere episode during the eligibility period of June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017. Besides Westworld, HBO received double-digit nominations for Veep (17), Big Little Lies (16), The Night Of (13) and Silicon Valley (10).

FX slipped slightly from 56 to 54 nominations, but is likely to take home multiple trophies for Feud: Bette and Joan, which tied Stranger Things for the second most Emmy nominations with 18.

The third season of FX’s Fargo made another strong showing with 13 nominations. Feud and Fargo will square off as finalists in the “Outstanding Limited Series” category, where the other nominees are The Night Of, Big Little Lies and National Geographic’s Genius, which made a substantial impression on voters with a total of 10 nominations for its bio of Albert Einstein.

In the “Outstanding Television Movie” division, the nominees are PBS’ Sherlock: The Lying Detective, NBC’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, Netflix’s Black Mirror: San Junipero, HBO’s The Wizard of Lies and HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which surprisingly did not receive a nomination for Oprah Winfrey’s standout performance.

Two other notable Emmy snubs left HBO’s The Leftovers with just one nomination in a guest actor category and NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with a lone nod for best interactive program.

Fallon may have paid a price for the paucity of Trump jokes in his monologues and for a now infamously toothless interview in which he playfully ruffled the future president’s hair without asking anything close to a pointed question.

In contrast, CBS’ Late Show with Stephen Colbert, one of six nominees in the “Outstanding Variety Talk Series” category, has vaulted past Fallon in the late night total viewers ratings with opening monologues devoted almost exclusively to ridiculing Trump.

Three of the other nominees in this category -- TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver -- also have made Trump the focal point of their barbs. The other finalists, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS’ Late Late Show with James Corden, have gone a bit softer on him.

NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, a reliable Trump antagonist, also failed to make the cut, leaving the Peacock starkly without major nominations for its two Monday through Friday after-hours shows. SNL oddly is a nominee in the lesser “Outstanding Variety Sketch Series” category, even though all nine of its acting nods are under the “Comedy Series” umbrella.

EMMY NUGGETS -- This year’s Emmy strikeout king is Kevin Spacey, who has received 10 previous nominations but still hasn’t won. Five of them have been for his portrayal of sinister Frank Underwood, who’s now president in House of Cards. Spacey’s House of Cards co-star, Robin Wright as Claire Underwood, likewise is still winless.

***Moss also is hoping to make a first-time acceptance speech. The star of The Handmaid’s Tale now has eight total nominations, with six of them for Mad Men and the other for Top of the Lake.

***Robert De Niro has his first ever Emmy nomination as Bernie Madoff in The Wizard of Lies. Other notable maiden Emmy voyagers are Wizard of Lies co-star Michelle Pfeiffer, Martha Stewart (Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party), Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies) and venerable Gerald McRaney, who finally and deservedly broke through for his guest appearances on This Is Us as wizened Dr. Nathan Katowski. First-timer Donald Glover of Atlanta made it a trifecta with nominations for acting, writing and directing.

***In contrast, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is up for what would be her sixth consecutive “Lead Actress in a Comedy Series” win as venal politician Selina Meyer in Veep. If this happens, she’ll tie Cloris Leachman for the most total Emmys (eight) won by a female performer. Louis-Dreyfus also took home one Emmy apiece for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine. She also could break her three-way tie with Candice Bergen and Don Knotts for the most Emmys won by a performer in the same role and same series. Each currently has five.

***The aforementioned Colbert will be this year’s Emmy host when the major awards ceremony is televised Sept. 17th on CBS. The Creative Arts trophies will be handed out the night before on FXX. For a complete list of all nominees, go here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Salvation: This time it's an asteroid attack in CBS' latest earth-shaking summertime "event"

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Hoping to save the world from an asteroid in Salvation. CBS photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 12th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jennifer Finnegan, Santiago Cabrera, Charlie Rowe, Ian Anthony Dale, Jacqueline Byers, Rachel Drance, Shazi Raja
Produced by: Liz Kruger, Greg Shapiro, Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Stuart Gillard, Peter Lenkov

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Summertime disaster-thons are still CBS’ game, even though Extant and the ongoing Zoo have been ratings wipeouts compared to the network’s first anxiety attack, Under the Dome.

Now comes Salvation, with poor old put-upon Earth facing an “extinction level event” in the words of drop-dead handsome deputy secretary of defense Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale). This requires certain members of the human race to race against time or be decimated in six months by the scheduled arrival of a giant asteroid. All but a handful of earthlings are still none the wiser, for fear of widespread panic.

Duplicity runs deep while the script tends to get thick-headed in the first two hours made available for review. A majority of the hooks, lines and stinkers come from renowned “tech pioneer” Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera), who’s first clued to this imminent apocalypse by brainy/cute MIT student Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe).

Tanz mostly warms up in Wednesday’s premiere episode before cutting loose next week.

“Laws were made to be broken,” so “we need to think bigger than the government -- and move a helluva lot faster,” he declares.

Then again, “If Superman caught the villain on page two, what fun would that be?” Tanz tells an impatient Liam. But in the end, “Nothing’s worth doing unless you’re willing to lose everything.”

TV vet Jennifer Finnegan plays the other principal character, divorced, resolute, Pentagon employee Grace Barrows. She’s secretly coupling with Edwards, who’s also her boss, while increasingly fretting about whether she can really trust him. Perhaps it would be wiser in the end to throw in with Tanz and what she initially dismisses as his “insane, narcissistic suicide mission.”

Salvation, which has a Season One order of 13 episodes, has some potential to be perhaps moderately involving. The initial two hours move along at a fairly crisp pace, complete with skulking and several close calls but next to nothing spent on special effects. Under the Dome, Extant and Zoo all have depended in part on their visual eye candy. But don’t expect any big wows here. The only money on the screen is talk of the $2 billion “for starters” that Tanz says he’ll need to have even a remote shot at saving the world.

In Episode 2, a certain Dallas billionaire’s name is dropped in this respect, with Tanz warning a potential financier, “I’m meeting Mark Cuban tomorrow, and you know he doesn’t like to share the wealth.” He’d probably like a royalty from CBS, though.

Depending on the ratings, all of this could get to be quite a string-along, as was Under the Dome during its journey from being a major Season One hit to a largely ridiculed ratings flop during its climactic third season. An opening crowd of 13.5 million viewers dwindled to 4.2 million for the 39th and final episode.

The guess here is that Salvation will end up being one and done, with viewers proceeding at their peril if CBS pulls the plug without either putting that asteroid in its place or letting it go ahead and whack Earth.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fancy-free Freeform feminism in The Bold Type

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Ready for their selfie: the freewheeling women of The Bold Type. Freeform photo

Premiering: Tuesday, July 11th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on Freeform
Starring: Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy, Melora Hardin, Sam Page, Matt Ward
Produced by: Sarah Watson, David Bernad, Joanna Coles, Ruben Fleischer

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The women -- and men -- of Freeform cable’s The Bold Type are uniformly equipped with sculpted bods, great looking wardrobes and gorgeous good looks.

Impervious to “fat-shaming” and other physical denigrations, they outwardly appear to be fully loaded with whatever qualifies as empowerment these days. Still, this series is intent on winning empathy points for the denizens of self-important Scarlet magazine, a stand-in for Cosmopolitan with three million subscribers and a reach of twice that many via various social media outlets.

Editor-in-chief Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin), modeled after former real-life Cosmopolitan head Joanna Coles, champions “self-feminism” as a means for women to please themselves first and foremost. Furthermore, “I expect you to unleash holy hell on anybody who tries to hold you back,” she pronounces at a posh heart-of-Manhattan party commemorating the magazine’s 60-year anniversary. “Because you don’t just work for Scarlet. You ARE Scarlet.” Carlyle preaches to this choir while standing next to an oversized Scarlet cover depicting a cleavage-brandishing Demi Lovato and her companion story on “How to Get Everything You Want.”

An intrusive blend of throbbing pop tunes -- “Make him whistle like a missile”, for one -- just can’t restrain itself during The Bold Type’s otherwise featured adventures of three young, ambition-pumped women staffers, who also are the best of friends.

Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens) has just been named a full-fledged staff writer, which affords her the chance to author first-person stories such as “How to Stalk Your Unstalkable Ex-.“ Or, in Tuesday night’s second hour, getting to reluctantly pinch-hit for Scarlet’s regular sex columnist with a treatise on why she, Jane, still hasn’t experienced an orgasm.

Kat Edison (Aisha Dee), the magazine’s social media maven, branches out in hopes of persuading openly gay Muslim photographer Adena El-Amin (the recurring Nikohl Boosheri) to reconsider a decision to withdraw her socially conscious pics from next month’s issue. But will the avowedly “hetero” Kat also consider something she’s never tried before?

The third wheel is Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy), a receptionist yearning to move up the ladder. She’s otherwise breaking bedsheets with an almost impossibly handsome Scarlet higher-up named Richard Hunter (Sam Page). He seems awfully nice, and so far he is through the first two episodes.

There’s also hunky Alex (Matt Ward), a thoroughly sensitive African-American heartthrob and staff writer. Even editor Carlyle, a stern taskmaster at first brush, quickly melts into a soft-at-the-core nurturer. Her heart-to-hearts with employees can’t even be cut short by a staffer interjecting, “I’ve got Beyonce for you.”

The Bold Type in fact seems to have one type in mind -- and it isn’t anyone with even a remotely plain face or a few extra pounds. Whatever points it labors to make are blunted by all its beautiful people. Their problems aren’t our problems. Instead they’re problems that most people would love to have within the sleek corporate offices of Scarlet magazine and all the attendant creature comforts both within and without.

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

TNT's Will find a way to make Shakespeare rock

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Good Will hunting/hunted in new Shakespearean series. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, July 10th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on TNT
Starring: Laurie Davidson, Olivia De Jonge, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell Bower, Colm Meaney, Ewen Bremner, Max Bennett, Deirdre Mullins
Produced by: Howard Braunstein, Vince Gerardis, Debra Hayward, Shekhar Kapur, Alison Owen, Craig Pearce

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
All these years later, the ploy’s the thing with William Shakespeare.

How can the fabled bard’s life and times be cleverly exploited anew in hopes of luring a new generation of younger viewers? TNT’s Will does a surprisingly entertaining and sometimes even thoughtful job of this in presenting Shakespeare as a wide-eyed, young gun writer hoping to make his mark in order to feed his wife and their three children.

Extreme liberties are taken in “re-imagining” his exploits. But after all, we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a dirt nap, er, sleep. So why not take a wild ride?

This much is basically true. As depicted in Will, the title character actually was a humble glove-maker, a profession that didn’t at all fit him. Strapped for cash, he left the little town of Stratford, England for raucous London, promising to make his fortune as a playwright. Wife Anne (a briefly seen Deirdre Mullins in the first four episodes made available for review), stayed behind and hoped against hope for the best.

TNT otherwise wings it. Will (Laurie Davidson) is first fleeced by a beggar boy who leaves him with a nasty cut on his hand. The kid also loudly brands Will a Catholic after seeing a secret letter that he’s agreed to deliver to his cousin, Robert Southwell (Max Bennett), a priest in hiding.

Catholics are not at all welcome in the dictatorial Protestant London of the late 16th century. And Will remains haunted by the beyond brutal execution of his uncle -- via removal of his intestines. Will doesn’t spare the gore in this particular case. And there’s more torture to come, courtesy of despotic lawman Richard Topcliffe (Ewen Bremner). Those believed to have information on the whereabouts of prominent Catholics had better come forth with it. Otherwise it will get very painful, with Will in constant peril while he’s also trying to hook up with a theater group run by the ornery and demanding James Burbage (fine work by the ever reliable Colm Meaney).

James of course has a comely daughter. Her name is Alice (Olivia De Jonge), and she’s brainy, too. Alice sees talent and persistence in Will, who has the added appeal of being a hunk. But first there’s a ye olde rapper duel to be won at a local tavern where a braggart twits Will as a dunderhead. Initially slow on the draw, the newcomer emerges triumphant with a climactic “ Thy wit is so stale, worms would not eat it. It cannot be spoken, only excreted.” Will adds a little flatulence sound effect for good measure before later drunkenly proclaiming, “I will write the greatest plays the world has seen!” Indubitably.

But he has more downs and ups in the early going of this 10-episode Season One. The openly gay and more prominent playwright Christopher Marlowe (standout work by Jamie Campbell Bower) occasionally intercedes on Will’s behalf, initially just in the nick of time. But he also has other motives, some of them purely physical.

Heavy metal rock -- and occasionally a pop ballad -- are deployed to keep things humming while Will struggles to put pen to paper and write a play that will please old man Burbage and his troupe. Meanwhile, he lives in a dumpy room within the tavern, partially paying the rent by emptying chamber pots. “The glory of my words shall save me from the turds,” Will vows in Episode 3. That’s a groaner, but not quite in league with Alice exclaiming, “Let’s get shit-faced!” near the outset of Episode 4. As noted earlier, liberties are taken.

The plots thicken engagingly, though, with Will finally scoring with “The Two Gentlemen From Verona” with no small help from an existing work. His platonic/romantic relationship with Alice burns hot and cold while the sinister Topcliffe imperils Will’s very existence. By the end of Episode 4, there’s quite a predicament at hand for our hero.

Will so far is almost infinitely more engaging than ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, a hackneyed post-Romeo and Juliet period piece that premiered in late May and already has been exiled to Saturday nights to die ignominiously.

Precious little, beyond his storied and enduring plays, is known about Shakespeare’s personal life or even his sexuality. So TNT is making him up as he goes along in a rousing, colorful drama that signifies more than nothing and indeed can often be quite something.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Snowfall is a tough sell, even if its crack cocaine is not

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Damson Idris stars as a budding coke pusher in Snowfall. FX photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 5th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Damson Idris, Carter Hudson, Sergio Peres-Mancheta, Emily Rios, Michael Hyatt, Amin Joseph, Angela Lewis, Juan Javier Cardenas, Filipe Valle Costa, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Malcolm Mays, Isaiah John
Produced by: John Singleton, Dave Andron, Thomas Schlamme, Eric Amadio, Michael London, Trevor Engelson

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Using “How Crack Began” as the principal promotional tease is really pushing it. Might too many viewers be very much inclined to just say no?

Liberally spiked with n-words and f-bombs, FX’s Snowfall violently cooks up a tale of highs and lows in South Central L.A. and points north, circa 1983. The network made all 10 Season One episodes available for review, but the last four materialized on the cusp of the extended Fourth of July weekend. Powering through all of them, which I did, yielded flash points of gripping storytelling en route to an extended season finale that mostly took predictable turns in setting up a planned Season 2. Don’t look for any instantly recognizable stars. There are none, which may compound the problem.

Snowfall’s principal executive producer is John Singleton, who first dissected South Central in the breakthrough 1991 feature film Boyz N the Hood. His subsequent big-screen efforts have included 2 Fast 2 Furious, Hustle and Flow, Higher Learning and a remake of Shaft.

As portfolios go, Singleton lately has lagged behind fellow veteran African-American filmmaker John Ridley, whose recent efforts include 12 Years A Slave, Guerrilla and three seasons of ABC’s American Crime, which was critically acclaimed but also had criminally low ratings.

Singleton took his behind-the-camera skills to television last year, calling the directorial shots for “The Race Card” episode of FX’s multi-award winning The People v O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. For Snowfall, which looks like a much tougher sell, he co-writes Episodes 1 and 2, and directs the closer.

FX has affixed its usual TV-MA advisory, which connotes “graphic violence, explicit sexual activity” and/or “crude/indecent language.” Each episode generally qualifies on all three fronts, with the opener including a glimpse of a woman blowing coke up a man’s rectum via a straw shortly before he begins convulsing, foaming at the mouth -- and dying. Even FX’s Sons of Anarchy never got quite to this level.

Young Franklin Saint (Damson Idris) initially is out of this particular loop. Living in South Central with his put upon single mom Cissy (Michael Hyatt), he’s secretly helping his Uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph) peddle marijuana to the community. Neither aspires to go beyond this until one of Franklin’s white playboy customers asks him if he can score some coke for his girlfriend, who’s increasingly hooked. At the end of this particular road, for starters at least, is brutal drug kingpin Avi Drexler (Alon Moni Aboutboul). He has no interest in small-time sales but will give Franklin a kilo in return for $12 grand on the following day. And so it begins.

The cocaine trade also flourishes on two other fronts. A Mexican cartel family includes distributors Lucia Villanueva (Emily Rios) and her amoral boyfriend, Pedro Nava (Filipe Valle Costa). Their “muscle” is beaten down wrestler Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mancheta), a lug with a good heart who only wants to feel appreciated. This makes him something of a hero, even though he’s also a hit man.

Snowfall also has what amounts to a token white main character. He’s disenfranchised CIA operative Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), who’s trying to get back in the good graces of the agency by buying arms for the Nicaraguan Contras via clandestine cocaine deals. His unpredictable partner in this dangerous enterprise is Contra soldier/pilot Alejandro Usteves (Juan Javier Cardenas). Teddy’s personal life is paying a price for this. He’s lately been separated from a fellow CIA operative who’s also the mother of his toddler son.

Snowfall doesn’t always flow easily among these three major story lines. But they’re tied together by the overall grim and dirty nature of the business. Beatings, killings, graphic language and gyrating bare behinds are never more than a few scenes away, with young Franklin gradually steeling himself before stumbling upon the joys of cooking coke during a trip to Oakland and a chance meeting with a thoroughly dazed free baser in a contorted Episode 7. “Our future” is at hand, he confidently tells his two young bro’ running mates, Malcolm Mays and Leon Simmons (Kevin Hamilton, Isaiah John).

The portrayals of African-Americans and Mexicans are anything but life-affirming. But is all of this permissible merely because Snowfall’s two co-creators are both African-American? Could a white person captain what basically is Breaking Bad for people of color?

From this view, the end product is still troubling. And Snowfall isn’t of a high enough caliber to overcome its overall perception problems -- particularly in these thoroughly polarizing times. What’s the purpose of telling this story? Are we supposed to be cheered by the burgeoning bull market for crack, with most of the African-Americans depicted in Snowfall aspiring to little more than new and cheaper ways to get thoroughly wasted?

In the end, I’m just not willing to buy it, no matter who has creative control. Snowfall is competently made and acted. But its images are just too destructive all around.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net