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Thumping Trump with American Horror Story: Cult


Expect this a lot -- an awful lot -- from Sarah Paulson in new AHS. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 5th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Alison Pill, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Colton Haynes, Billy Eichner, Leslie Grossman, Adina Porter Emma Roberts, Lena Dunham, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, Chaz Bono
Produced by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Donald Trump’s election is the super-scary, aggressively unsubtle tipping point in FX’s seventh incarnation of American Horror Story.

One principal character is revisited by paralyzing anxieties while another is emboldened to use Trump’s impending presidency to his own grisly advantage against a backdrop of Charles Manson-esque murders in a smallish Michigan city.

Oh Hollywood, you’ve done it again with American Horror Story: Cult. Trump’s “base” is invited to take offense and the Tweeter-In-Chief might well lead the RSVPs. This is so even though a previous president’s famously timeless warning seems more to the point. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That cuts to the real core of AHS: Cult, of which the first three episodes have been made available for review. There will be 11 in all.

Two prominent AHS regulars, Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, are missing this time out. But Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters have gone the distance, and both are back again as antagonists who seem fated to form an unholy alliance at some point.

Paulson plays Ally Mayfair-Richards, who has an easily disturbed young son named Ozzy via her marriage to Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill). On election night, where AHS: Cult begins, the big Trump upset sends Ally cartwheeling back to her old phobias, which namely are constant visions of killer clowns. They had been held at bay during Barack Obama’s presidency, when it was “as if the universe righted itself” in Ally’s view. She’s also made to feel guilty about what turned about to be her basically wasted vote for Dr. Jill Stein.

Meanwhile, Kai Anderson (Peters) is celebrating Trump’s victory in solitude. While Ally weeps loudly, he shouts “USA!” in demonic fashion before creepily painting his face. Then come the opening credits, which include plastic masks of Trump and Hillary Clinton in addition to a lot of blood.

After being rebuked by the City Council -- Kai wants to leave all churches unprotected -- he warns there’s “nothing more dangerous in the world than a humiliated man.” Let the fear-mongering begin, with Hispanics serving as Kai’s first easy target before he runs for a suddenly vacant City Council seat.

Principal AHS maestro Ryan Murphy has shown restraint when depicting real-life events in two recent and exemplary FX miniseries, American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson and Feud: Bette and Joan. But as he’s demonstrated repeatedly, Murphy’s excesses can spill over in his mostly fictional projects, whether it’s Nip/Tuck, Scream Queens or the likes of AHS: Hotel, which was horrific in the worst sense of that word.

In AHS: Cult, Paulson’s Ally is constantly traumatized -- to the point where her frights become almost comedic. A borderline creepy shrink, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), keeps trying to calm her while spouse Ivy repeatedly wonders how much more she can take. In the midst of all this, they hire a spooky new babysitter named Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd), with whom Ally and Ivy almost immediately find fault. But whatever Winter’s transgressions -- which mostly involve putting little Ozzy in danger -- they keep bringing her back. Which is more than a little ridiculous.

During a recent AHS: Cult press conference held by FX, Murphy said he’s trying to “make a point, but not take it too seriously. And I think that’s evident in the first episode where Sarah Paulson chases clowns with (a bottle of) rose (wine).”

But the overall stakes during these first three episodes are otherwise deadly serious, with Peters’ Kai tightening the tension, panic and paranoia with a demonic master plan. By Episode 3, an ironically named TV newswoman ends her live report with, “Coming to you from a neighborhood gripped in fear, this is Beverly Hope reporting.”

It’s all reminiscent of The Twilight Zone at its best, save for the tonal missteps that keep kicking in after Ally’s latest freakout. “I think there might be something wrong with me,” she deduces in Episode 2 after a seemingly never-ending series of mental breakdowns. Ya think?

AHS: Cult also will include upcoming appearances by previous participants Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham and Chaz Bono. There’s also first-timer Lena Dunham, whose name is dropped by babysitter Winter in the Sept. 5th premiere. Dunham otherwise won’t be factored in until a flash-backing Episode 7, in which she plays real-life radical feminist Valerie Solanas. Her “The SCUM Manifesto” called for eliminating the male sex and spurred Solanas’ failed 1968 assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.

This seventh edition of the series also marks the return of Twisty the Clown, a key and very sadistic component of AHS: Freak Show. And Billy Eichner (from Billy on the Street) makes his first AHS appearance as off-center Harrison Wilton, one of the Richards’ new next door neighbors.

Through it all, Peters again excels -- performance-wise, at least -- as a Trump acolyte whose fires burn white hot from election night on. His full investments in deranged characters remain a wonder to behold.

But as Kai’s manipulations thicken, so do AHS: Cult’s overall misfires and excesses. There’s no killer bulldozer yet, but that seems to be the basic thematic approach. Trump is a tough nut to tackle -- and you can take that literally if you’d like. Even so, this is a big, bloody hunk of red meat for his remaining defenders, many of whom already see Hollywood in the worst ways imaginable. In that respect, AHS: Sledgehammer might be a more fitting title. You want subtlety? Try Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix's Disjointed goes to pot without taking you higher


A cloudy forecast for Kathy Bates in Disjointed. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 20 episodes of Season One begin streaming Friday, Aug. 25th on Netflix
Starring: Kathy Bates, Aaron Moten, Elizabeth Alderfer, Dougie Baldwin, Tone Bell, Elizabeth Ho, Chris Redd, Betsy Sodaro, Nicole Sullivan, Michael Trucco
Produced by: Chuck Lorre, David Javerbaum

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Netflix is taking something of a Bill Clinton-esque approach to its first pot comedy, Disjointed.

Reviewers can’t inhale anything close to the entire first season due to the streaming giant’s unusual rollout of only Episodes 1, 3, 8 and 9 before all 20 half-hours of Season One are dealt to the public at large on Friday, Aug. 25th. “We are only sharing select episodes at this time,” a Netflix publicist confirmed.

Not that any TV critic, even in a highly altered state, would be game to endure the whole thing before rendering a verdict on this wobbly vehicle for the estimable Kathy Bates. She’s taking a break from the next cycle of FX’s American Horror Story to play the longtime proprietor of a Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary called Ruth’s Alternative Caring.

This is Bates’ inaugural starring role in a laugh track-spiked, studio audience-incubated sitcom, which aren’t all that uncommon on Netflix anymore. Revivals of One Day At A Time and Full House (as Fuller House) are likewise equipped, as is Ashton Kutcher’s The Ranch. And it’s the only form that co-executive producer Chuck Lorre has ever known -- at least until CBS’ Young Sheldon, a spinoff of Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory, arrives as an un-juiced “single-cam” comedy this fall.

(For the record, Lorre is still a “nervous wreck” without a studio audience net under him for Young Sheldon, he told TV critics earlier this month. “It’s an entirely different animal . . . a wholly different way to tell a story.”)

Lorre otherwise has deployed his old pal and multi-cam master James Burrows to direct the pilot episode of Disjointed. Burrows arguably could squeeze a guffaw out of George Will. But alas, he also is A-OK with dated audience whooping and applauding when Bates is first glimpsed as Ruth Whitefeather Feldman. Her hair is long and scraggly, and her outfits remain ‘60s earth motherly.

Ruth also is a prototypically rigid mom at odds with entrepreneurial son, Travis (Aaron Moten).

“You’re not old and out of touch. You’re just old and mean,” he tells her in Episode 3.

Travis sees the state’s impending legalization of marijuana as a great way to expand the family business beyond pharmaceutical grass and “heal-ping,” as she puts it. Absolutely, positively not, Ruth retorts. Which of course means she’ll gradually relent, with remedial hugs generating audience “awwwws.” Gag.

Ruth’s ex-husband and Travis’ father is a so far unseen former member of the Black Panther Party. This makes for a diverse cast of store employees. Jenny (Elizabeth Ho) describes herself as “your tokin’ Asian” while Carter (Tone Bell) is an African-American security guard struggling to recover from three tours in Iraq. Add Pete (Dougie Baldwin) as a blissed-out white kid in charge of perfecting new strains of marijuana and Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer) as a comparatively grounded Anglo woman with designs on Travis.

Disjointed occasionally throws off its sitcom-y shackles with some imaginative animation sequences and out-of-body musical interludes. Mostly less effective is a series of pop-up commercials for other marijuana companies. In the first episode, Coors beer voice-over spokesman Sam Elliott (who’s also a regular on The Ranch) narrates a forced spot for “Kush, the Banquet Weed.” And in Episode 3, a spot featuring a dancing grass container and pack of matches prompts an on-camera spokesman to add, “Gee, I’d like to f**k those two.” WTF?!

Bates’ Ruth occasionally is on much better footing. When Travis spots a photo of mom and a younger Jimmy Carter, she deadpans, “That guy loved three things -- weed, peanuts and failure.”

Disjointed also is clearly intent on making breakout characters of the recurring Dank and Dabby (Chris Redd, Betsy Sodaro), a super-stoner duo with a youtube show where Travis cuts a sponsorship deal in return for free weed for the hosts. A webcast spotlighting the best of Dank and Dabby’s coughing fits can be convulsively funny. But the show also errs in force-feeding the pair’s utter dysfunction.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the other hand is nothing to joke about -- and Disjointed certainly doesn’t do that. But security guard Carter’s laugh track-silencing inner demons -- “I feel guilty just being alive” -- tend to seem as though they’re from another show entirely. One minute he’s painfully morose, the next minute Dabby is lusting after Travis’ new girlfriend by proposing that their “tits” get together for a “little play date.”

Based on the limited evidence provided by Netflix, Disjointed is also discombobulated and too often dim-witted. There’s some cleverness amid its clutter. But Bates was better served as the bearded lady in American Horror Story: Freak Show. She’s out of sorts in this particular oddity, both as a nurturer and a taskmaster tossing off tart one-liners. Don’t expect much of a buzz.


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A Trump is a Trump -- then and now

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Trump & offspring at Jan. 2007 TV “press tour” session. NBC photos

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Anybody still waiting for The Pivot to a “presidential” version of Donald Trump?

As recent events again have shown, you’re more likely to see him with a crewcut.

Today’s Trump is pretty much a carbon copy of the guy who appeared before a hotel ballroom full of TV critics 10-and-a-half years ago during NBC’s portion of the annual winter network “press tour.” Not only that, but son Don Jr. and daughter Ivanka joined him onstage for what may have been the trio’s first and still only joint press conference.

The Television Critics Association, of which your friendly content provider is a longtime member, has transcripts dating to the winter 2005 tour. Sifting through them, I hoped to find a Trump appearance on behalf of The Apprentice. Eureka, it occurred in January 2007, with papa Trump holding forth with the show’s new “boardroom” advisors, Don Jr. and Ivanka.

This turned out to be a last-ditch effort to save the original, conventional version of The Apprentice by originating it from Los Angeles for the first time and also changing up the format. But this sixth edition flopped in the ratings, drawing the show’s smallest audiences to date. It prompted the emergence of The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008.

The future President (and no one on planet Earth envisioned that) exhibited all of the traits he’s since deployed in the Oval Office. He exaggerated, meandered, self-aggrandized, boorishly entertained and happily rekindled his latest feuds when asked. At the time his targets were Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Walters of ABC’s The View.

O’Donnell had ripped Trump for backing reigning Miss USA Tara Conner (he owned the pageant at the time) and giving her a second chance after she admitted to heavy drug and alcohol use while wearing the crown. O’Donnell slammed Trump as a hypocritical serial adulterer and “snake-oil salesman” who was anything but a “moral compass.” Walters sided with her, at least on the air. In private, Trump claimed she earlier had told him of her distaste for O’Donnell and plans to fire her soon.

Of course these subjects came up anew, as Trump knew they would. He first gave O’Donnell the old wham-bam.

“I think I exposed her for what she is, and she’s terrible,” he said. “She’s a terrible, disgusting human being. Not very smart and she’s got a lot of problems, to put it mildly. And I believe you’ll see that whole thing (The View) blow up, and please give me a little bit of the credit when it does.”

He also termed O’Donnell a “bully” and a “slob.” Furthermore, “The one thing I have learned, I learned it in high school. I learned it before high school. When you’re attacked by a bully, you hit the bully right between the eyes. Hard and fast. And that’s what I did.”

Sound eerily familiar?

Also true to form, Trump claimed sole responsibility for keeping The View afloat by calling attention to the show.

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen,” he said. “In two weeks, you people won’t be asking this question anymore, and the ratings on The View will tank. Barbara Walters hates Rosie O’Donnell . . . Sadly, I’ve increased the ratings of The View. Because, you know, I watched it the other day for the first time in a long time. And I’ve been on The View many times, unfortunately. In fact, Barbara Walters chose me last year as one of her 10 most whatever-the-hell people.”

Holding a train of thought, then and now, is not one of Trump’s strong suits. His two kids were more succinct at this particular session, with Don Jr. in particular speaking volumes after I dared to ask what he and Ivanka thought of O’Donnell.

“She demurred -- “We’re not going to give a good ‘sound bite’ “ -- before Don Jr. chimed in.

“I think ultimately we’re always going to defend our father no matter what he does,” he said. “That’s what family is about. That’s the way we were brought up. And you know, in our eyes he can do no wrong, and I think he handled himself perfectly.”

Dad readily agreed with a son who hasn’t changed a speck on that score. Whatever dad says or does, provide cover for him and fire back.

There was this, too.

Trump’s gut-punching tactics throughout the crowded Republican presidential primary elections were crystallized in this otherwise typically less-than-focused but telling observation.

“I watched a politician this morning,” he began. “He’s announcing for President. And they were asking about somebody else that’s going to be running. And I said -- I just hate it -- I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I was a very, very good student, top student. And you know, so I understand like, life, and I understand also the academics. And I understand what I have to understand.

“But I watched this politician. They said, ‘Well, what about your opponent?’ ‘Oh, he’s a fine man. He’s this. He’s that.’ Everything was perfect. I’m saying, ‘What the hell you going to vote for this guy for? Let’s vote for the other guy.’ It was called being politically correct.

“The reason that this feud (with O’Donnell) became so big is that I was so unpolitically correct. I was non-political. I said it like it is. And I think people liked that, and that’s why it kept going.”

Less than a decade later, during Trump’s, name-calling, take-no-prisoners 2016 campaign, America was witness to Lying Ted. Little Marco. Low Energy Jeb. And finally, Crooked Hillary.

And they now call Trump “Mr. President.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Marlon brings on too much Marlon


Marlon Wayans very much dominates the throwback sitcom Marlon. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 16th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Notlim Taylor, Amir O’Neil, Bresha Webb, Diallo Riddle
Produced by: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez, Christopher Moynihan, Michael Rotenberg, Andy Ackerman

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The rest of the cast oftentimes might just as well be cardboard cutouts.

NBC’s Marlon, getting a belated late summer launch, is very much a vehicle for star and co-executive producer Marlon Wayans. So much so that the theme song has just one word -- his first name repeated rapid-fire. That’s before all those new vistas in scenery-inhaling, with Wayans holding forth with loud, animated man child riffs on whatever sets him off.

An accompanying and very cooperative laugh track, sprinkled with occasional awwwws or unwarranted applause, gives the entire enterprise a decidedly yesteryear vibe. NBC is burning off the 10-episode order at the rate of two per Wednesday, although that’s not necessarily a death knell. Two Augusts ago, The Carmichael Show got the same treatment by NBC after an even smaller order of six episodes. It ended up running for three seasons before star Jerrod Carmichael decided to cut bait and pursue other projects.

The Carmichael Show dared to be current in addressing hot-button issues of particular concern to many African-Americans. Marlon has no such intentions, based on the first four episodes.

Marlon Wayne (Wayans) is mostly intent on hanging out at his amazingly tolerant ex-wife’s house, where their two kids also reside. They divorced after the freewheeling Marlon demonstrated a strong proclivity for skirt-chasing. But Ashley Wayne (Essence Atkins) mostly laughs all of this off, allowing Marlon to come and go as he pleases -- which seems to be 24/7.

This allows Marlon to freak out at length when Ashley allows herself to re-enter the dating pool by going to dinner with a hunky dude. Or when daughter Marley (Notlim Taylor) dares to have her first crush on a boy she invites over to the house. Or when Marlon is forced to clear out a storage unit that’s been untouched since 1997 because he wants to hold onto past memories. Or when Marlon frets at length over joining a “38 percent club” of exes who have had sex again.

Also in this mix is Ashley’s typically tarty best friend, Yvette (Bresha Webb), and Marlon’s roommate Stevie (Diallo Riddle), a more intellectual sort but basically a freeloader. The Waynes’ son, Zack (Amir O’Neil), is pretty much lost in this shuffle. But in reality, the entire cast is extraneous whenever Marlon goes off. Furthermore, each episode begins with the star very much in the camera’s face with a snippet from his “The Marlon Way” webcast.

The closing minutes of Marlon are also strictly rinse and repeat. After much bombast -- “I ain’t sayin’ you a ‘ho’, but that’s on the spectrum” -- Marlon melts down into puddles of sensitivity, a l a Jackie Gleason’s volatile Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners.

“I’m just afraid to lose you,” he tells Ashley at the end of the premiere episode. Marlon says this even though he’s immensely proud of being on “hundreds of dates” since their divorce.

Atkins, as his ex-, logs a lot of time reacting to whatever pours out of Marlon’s mouth. On cue, she smiles, laughs and occasionally takes mild offense. It’s a notably mechanical performance in deference to the star’s numerous star turns.

Wayans certainly doesn’t lack for energy, and some of his discourses are lightly amusing in fits and spurts. There’s an overall staleness, though, to both the format and the humor.

“I’m just going to make a perfect divorce ‘perfecter,’ “ by having sex with his ex-, Marlon proclaims to Stevie in Episode 4 before very predictably getting cold feet when Ashley comes on stronger than he expected. Worried that this is suddenly a case of “tap it and trap it” rather than “Lube her and Uber,” Marlon hides out in the bathroom and then makes another excuse: “I didn’t get to wash in there. I just took a ‘ho’ bath.”

Don’t expect to take any ha-ha showers. Marlon isn’t up to that task either. Instead it over-blows everything in service to a star who doesn’t know how or when to stop.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Epix deserves to come up big with Get Shorty


Get Shorty again goes Hollywood, but with its very own unholy trio. Epix photo

Premiering: Sunday, August 13th at 9 p.m. (central) on Epix
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Ray Romano, Lidia Porto, Sean Bridgers, Megan Stevenson, Lucy Walters, Goya Robles, Carolyn Dodd, Sarah Stiles, Antwon Tanner
Produced by: Davey Holmes, Adam Arkin, Allen Coulter

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Epix’s spanking new Get Shorty series comes from good bloodlines and has ample bloodletting amid its hard and soft toss one-liners.

It’s otherwise “re-imagined” in what turns out to be the best sense of that lately over-used word. The barest of basics are retained from the late Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel and a well-played 1995 feature film. Otherwise all of the characters’ names are changed except “Shorty,” which is used in a completely different context.

Premiering Sunday, August 13th on Epix, Get Shorty is intended to be the premium cable network’s bold effort to stamp itself with a signature show after less than optimum results with Graves and Berlin Station. The first six hours from Season 1’s 10-episode order were made available for review. And they’re really quite something, with Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) breaking through in a big way as enforcer/hitman/body disposer Miles Daly after John Travolta headed the film cast as loan shark Chili Palmer.

That was some cast, by the way. Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, James Gandolfini, Delroy Lindo and Dennis Farina also were included while Harvey Keitel and Penny Marshall had cameos as themselves. DeVito, who played actor Martin Weir, is the Shorty of the 1995 film. In the Epix version, it’s an off-hand reference to Miles’ 12-year-old daughter, Emma (Carolyn Dodd), who still loves her daddy but mostly lives with his estranged wife, Katie (Lucy Walters).

Beholden to a bad mama mobster named Amara (Lidia Porto), Miles and his sardonic sidekick, Louis Darnell (a very good Sean Bridgers), are based in nondescript Pahrump, Nevada. It’s home turf for Amara’s Silver Dust casino and her very ruthless drug-running operation. Unpaid debts or tardy protection payments are not tolerated, as is demonstrated early on. But the opening minutes are devoted to Miles and Emma, who emerge from an action movie that she enjoyed and he didn’t.

“Dad, it’s in 3D. It’s not supposed to mean anything,” she tells him off-handedly. Right then and there, the sharp writing establishes its first foothold.

Miles and Louis are soon sent to Hollywood to collect on a $50,000 debt run up by a struggling screenwriter. This results in a purloined script, among other things, with film connoisseur Miles fated to hook up with producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano continuing to expand his drama portfolio).

Rick, who once had grand aspirations, has backslid into an unkempt hack whose B-movies invariably go straight to video while also making small profits via overseas sales. Miles is thinking much bigger than that with the stolen and now blood-spattered script for The Admiral’s Mistress, a period piece requiring a substantial budget to meet his grand expectations. Complications kick in when Amara is persuaded to sign on as a minimal investor at first. Miles persuades her that a profit he guarantees can easily be laundered abroad. The grisly fun has only just begun.

Get Shorty toggles between Nevada and Tinseltown, with a brief flashback, in Episode 3, to Amara’s traumatic early transition from Guatemala to the States back in 1969. The action otherwise is in the here and now, as The Admiral’s Mistress gains traction via deceit, the blackmailing of a studio executive (Megan Stevenson as April Adams) and other forms of strong-arming when necessary.

Miles, who’s not quite as nonchalantly brutal as the oft-dense Louis, has his eyes on the prize of becoming respectable in hopes of winning back his wife and daughter. But Amara’s jealous, cutthroat nephew Yago (Goya Robles) would much rather see him dead.

Although the violence is recurring and particularly considerable in Episode 5, Get Shorty is never too far from a brisk one-liner, As when Rick’s tart receptionist, Gladys (Sarah Stiles) orders, “Put the plant over by the window. It’ll die slower.”

Mobster Amara also has a very strong affection for the work of John Stamos, with Episode 4 subtitled “From Stamos with Love” for reasons that prove critical to Miles’ survival.

There’s no obvious weak link among the featured cast members, although Romano’s recurring use of the word “Yeah” to begin or end sentences is a familiar remnant from both his standup act and his signature sitcom role as Ray Barone. In a manner of speaking, he should be aware of this by now and strive to act accordingly. Then again, perhaps that’s too much of a nitpick.

The star-making turn in Get Shorty clearly is from Chris O’Dowd, whose efforts to curb his violent tendencies are akin to a heavy smoker trying to quit. He also flexes a high-appeal softer side in a performance that registers both physically and comedically. This is a guy who definitely shouldn’t be crossed, but also a man of taste and hardscrabble refinement. Porto’s Amara, her forelock resembling a prime surfing wave, is also a force throughout, but with rougher edges.

In short, a lot is very right with Get Shorty, which may well come calling again during next year’s awards season.

Hulu finally landed its first signature series this year with an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which likewise spent years in waiting following a decades ago feature film. Epix very much hopes that this lightning will strike again. And purely on the merits, it should.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net