The HBO version of "Westworld" - based, loosely, on a 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton - has been frustrating and maddening. The first season, which adhered to some degree to the original concept (albeit with superior special effects), was strong, but seasons two and three devolved into what I felt was a narrative morass - ambitious, but inaccessible. And yet, I couldn't stop watching - the world/worlds being created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who have developed and enlarged Crichton's vision, just fascinated me. Even though, to be fair, I sometimes couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. (Credit some terrific performances for this, especially by the likes of Evan Rachel Wood, Thandiwe Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, and especially Ed Harris (who brings malevolence to all-new levels).
(To those unfamiliar with the concept: "Westworld" is the name of an adult amusement park in the not-too-distant future, where rich patrons are able to indulge all their desires by engaging with sophisticated robots. Where things go wrong - both in the movie and the TV series, though to varying degrees - is when the robots start to achieve sentience and realize that they are, in essence, slaves.)
Season four, however, has seen the show regain its traction and get hold of its narrative. I don't want to go much further than that, because to explain much more would spoil the twists and turns of the plots and performances. But let me just say that "Westworld" on HBO strikes me as an example of great science fiction - there is a cold calculation about it, but an energy and level of aspiration that makes it, at least to me, irresistible.
"Only Murders In The Building," on Hulu, isn't particularly ambitious, and rather than working in a maximalist mode, it works in miniature, as it follows three unlikely amateur sleuths as the they investigate murders in their ancient apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
But it works. Really well. In part because of excellent performances by leads Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, but also because of a gallery of supporting actors who etch compelling portraits in just moments. Think Nathan Lane. Tina Fey. Da'Vine Joy Randolph. Amy Ryan. Michael Rapaport. Jane Lynch. And even Shirley MacLaine, who has shown up in a recurring role in season two, which will have its final episode next Tuesday.
"Only Murders In The Building" is like a New Yorker article come to life - arch, funny, tightly observed, and using minute details to illustrate both plot and character. If you haven't watched it, catch up with season one and now, season two … and wait, like me, expectantly for season three next year.
That's it for this week ...have a great weekend...and I'll see you Monday.