How the ‘Sex and the City’ reboot made Che Diaz TV’s most inexplicable breakout star
This is the Los Angeles Times newsletter about all things TV and streaming movies. This week, we explore “And Just Like That’s” most talked-about character, catch up with the author of “Maid” and talk “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” Scroll down!
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who’s been moved by the tributes to Bob Saget.
The “Full House” actor, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” host and notoriously dirty stand-up comedian, who died Jan. 9 at age 65, received perhaps his most fitting eulogy of all from former co-star and longtime friend John Stamos, who graciously agreed to publish the speech he delivered at Saget’s memorial in The Times. It deserves — demands — to be read in full, but what may be most striking about it is its portrait of a 35-year friendship, with all the ups and downs that entails. “When we started ‘Full House,’ I was in my 20s and didn’t have a care in the world. Hell, my backyard was Disneyland,” Stamos writes.
But life does what it does, and when things came crashing down, the last person on Earth I ever imagined would be my rock became just that. When I lost my parents, Bob was there for me like no other. He told dirty jokes and talked about himself as he hosted my dad’s funeral. He was there through divorces, deaths, despair and dark days. He was there through love, marriage, a child and bright times. He was my lifeline.
In a year that has been marked by a relentless number of high-profile deaths — including, as recently as Friday morning, Saget’s fellow comedian and TV star Louie Anderson — Stamos’ memories are a poignant reminder to hold onto and appreciate those we love while they are here, because whenever they leave us, they will be gone too soon.
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Must-read stories you might have missed
Why ‘How I Met Your Father’ resurrects the original’s iconic apartment: The team behind Hulu’s reboot explains how those memorable swords came back to the sitcom’s set and why its watering hole is so different from MacLaren’s Pub.
‘Billions’ ‘had to change.’ How (and why) the series blew up its central relationship: The departure of Damian Lewis forced a major shift in Showtime’s drama about the battle between a shrewd U.S. attorney and a brilliant billionaire.
The flak against ‘And Just Like That’ ‘shocked’ Sarita Choudhury. But she welcomes it: The “Sex and the City” reboot’s closest kin to Samantha opens up about her varied career, her no-holds-barred audition and filling some big Manolos.
‘Parenthood’ told a flawed autism story. This time, Jason Katims vowed to ‘do better’: With “As We See It,” TV’s king of the family drama made certain that the perspectives of people on the spectrum were his “north star” from the start.
Streaming recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
“The Established Home” (Magnolia Network, Discovery+) is a lot more elegant and highbrow than your typical home-renovation porn, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hopelessly check your savings account and scroll through furniture websites only to realize you have the budget for a single ceramic dipping bowl. It’s part of the crop of shows launching Magnolia Network, the new TV empire from shiplap king and queen Chip and Joanna Gaines — but this one isn’t caught up in drama over complaints of shoddy work. (If you haven’t gone down the “Home Work” rabbit hole yet … Google it.) This show follows designer Jean Stoffer as she tackles projects around her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich. Three episodes in and I promise you’ll be thinking about what room in your home should get the Bradbury Green treatment. —Yvonne Villarreal
“This Time With Alan Partridge” (BritBox). Steve Coogan made his first major assault on comedy in the character of Alan Partridge, a chat show host of mostly declining, sometimes reviving fortunes, whom he has revisited across the years. “This Time,” his latest, finds Alan on what will no doubt prove to be a temporary upswing, realizing his fondest dream when he is brought in as a replacement co-host on a BBC newsmagazine. An aggressively passive-aggressive, pedantic personality, helpless to keep from saying whatever comes into his mind and ever determined to get in the last word, Alan’s desperation for attention is in inverse proportion to his talent — the conceptual leap one must take is to accept he gets work at all. (“Life, like cheap meat, can be tough; conversely, life can also, like good quality meat, be tender and succulent — with just a little bit of blood,” is a representative Alan-ism.) “This Time,” which mixes on- and off-air scenes with wayward roving-reporter segments, is both the closest thing Coogan’s done to “Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge,” his breakout series, and a kind of résumé of modes from later series — something for every fan. With Felicity Montagu as Alan’s now even longer-suffering assistant, Lynn. —Robert Lloyd
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
With “Sex and the City” revival “And Just Like That” nearing the end of its 10-episode run on HBO Max, a lot of questions remain unanswered: Will Carrie ever have sex again? How many apartments does one woman need? What does Michael Patrick King have against Peloton? Why is Steve so confused all the time? Isn’t he, like, 50-something?
But the most urgent question of all: What’s the deal with Che Diaz? Here, we attempt to explain one of contemporary television’s greatest mysteries.
Who is Che Diaz? Played with swagger by Sara Ramirez, Che is a strangely ubiquitous nonbinary comedian who also hosts a podcast called “X, Y and Me,” co-starring Carrie Bradshaw. Che’s stand-up show — or, as characters in “AJLT” insist on calling it, “comedy concert” — seems very clearly modeled on the work of Hannah Gadbsy, in that it’s less jokey and more like a raw personal essay about their gender and sexual identity performed onstage. Their podcast, in contrast, is a bawdy forum for sharing bedroom escapades that feels like it would be the most popular morning drive show in the greater Tampa Bay area.
How popular is Che Diaz within the universe of “AJLT”? Extremely, to a degree that is frankly inexplicable. Che has a way of popping up with such regularity that it seems as if they are the only comedian — and possibly the only famous person — in all of New York City. Che is so popular they are even invited to perform at a fundraiser for the fancy private school Charlotte’s children attend, where they are swarmed by uptown moms who are, apparently, huge fans of their edgy comedy. And when Che isn’t hosting a podcast, appearing at an LGBTQ rally, performing for wealthy Manhattanites or turning up uninvited on Carrie’s doorstep or in her hospital room, they’re flying off to Cleveland to perform.
What is happening with Miranda and Che Diaz? Once the most deeply sane character in “Sex and the City,” Miranda has hit middle age and gone through a doozy of an identity crisis — quitting her job, going back to school and traveling with a few mini bottles of vodka stuffed in her bag. Bored in her marriage to the prematurely aging Steve, Miranda develops a crush on Che after attending their “comedy concert.” After a tequila-fueled tryst in Carrie’s kitchen — long story — and a run-in at Charlotte’s fundraiser, the two embark on an affair. Che is apparently gifted with sexual prowess that Steve simply cannot match, despite his best efforts. In the most recent episode of “AJLT,” Miranda asked her befuddled husband for a divorce, then headed to the airport with the intent of surprising Che in Cleveland. Whether her rom-com gesture will work — or simply scare off Che — remains to be seen.
Why does everyone on Twitter have such strong feelings about Che Diaz? For better or worse, Che Diaz has become “AJLT’s” breakout character. Each week when a new episode drops, their name inevitably trends on Twitter, thanks to a slew of memes and think pieces both positive and negative. For people who are on Twitter but not watching “AJLT,” this can be as confusing as a trip to the farmers market is for Steve. Why is everyone suddenly talking about this Che person? Are they related to Cameron? Wait, they’re not even a real person?
Some have argued that Che is the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks or Poochie from the “Itchy & Scratchy Show”: a misbegotten character meant to breathe new life into an aging franchise and appeal to a younger audience who instead becomes a glaring symbol of its creative decline. They are likely to find Che’s comedy — as well as lines of dialogue like “I’ve done a ton of weed” — clumsy and cringeworthy rather than groundbreaking or cool. Others are baffled that Miranda would dump Blair Underwood to get back together with Steve in the original “SATC,” only to leave him years later for an obnoxious podcast host who does not seem especially interested in a long-term monogamous relationship. They wonder: Why introduce a new queer character only to make them the most insufferable person on the entire show? Still others have defended the enthusiastic pot smoker as a necessary addition to a show that, in its original run, provided an unforgivably narrow (white, wealthy, heterosexual, cisgender) perspective on dating in New York City. If nothing else, Che, who dresses like someone who shopped at Hot Topic in 1998 — wallet chain and all — brings some much-need sartorial diversity to a show known for its super-femme styles. And that is something we can all celebrate. —Meredith Blake
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
“Maid,” Netflix’s limited-series adaptation of Stephanie Land’s 2019 memoir, premiered on the platform last fall to relatively little fanfare. Within weeks, though, its wrenching tale of a woman (Margaret Qualley) who leaves an abusive relationship and becomes a housecleaner to provide for her daughter had surpassed Emmy winner “The Queen’s Gambit” as the platform’s most-watched limited series — and an awards contender itself. Before her L.A. Times Book Club appearance next week, Screen Gab caught up with Land to find out what she’s learned from the experience. And, of course, what she’s watching. —Matt Brennan
What movie or TV show have you been recommending to friends lately?
“Yellowjackets” for the Gen X nostalgia, “Station Eleven” because it’s just so beautiful, and “The Lost Daughter” for validation.
What have you wanted to catch up on but haven’t gotten a chance?
Reading and writing for pleasure. Ha. My husband just had major surgery, so we’ve had a lot of downtime to watch shows while he recovers.
What movie or TV show do you revisit frequently?
“Parenthood,” the television series. I used to watch the entire thing during the holidays every year, because being estranged from your family stings a bit more during those months. It was nice to feel like I was a Braverman for a little while.
What did you learn about the filmmaking process from Netflix’s adaptation of “Maid” that surprised you?
I didn’t realize they write as they film for a limited series! That must make it exceptionally hard for the writers and actors and the crew. And for Margaret especially, who was in every single scene of every episode. So much to memorize! She deserves all the awards.
Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between
Though it doesn’t premiere until September, Amazon Prime Video’s previously untitled “Lord of the Rings” series received a name with much fanfare this week, including a video of molten metal being poured in the shape of the title: “The Rings of Power.” Times editors Matt Brennan and Dawn M. Burkes caught up to talk about where things stand.
Matt Brennan: Though I remember the experience of going to the movie theater to see Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy as an annual tradition at the turn of the millennium, I’m not enough of a diehard to have many expectations for Amazon’s series — especially since it’s set thousands of years before the action of the films. What I do know is that “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is a pretty uninteresting mouthful for a show with this much might behind it. Were you as underwhelmed as I was?
Dawn M. Burkes: Haha. Yes. They might as well have named it “The Lord of the Rings: The Lord of the Rings.” I am a lifelong fan of the books, and sometimes I use Peter Jackson’s movies as ambient noise. But I have kept my expectations low for the series; it seems like the further back they go in the saga, the less interested people become: Are they actually clamoring for Tom Bombadil? Even admitting that, the teaser trailer stoked some embers of anticipation. And then the title entered the party, and doused them.
Brennan: One thing that I have always said about “The Return of the King” — which I am sure plenty of fans will tell me I am wrong about — is that it really does have too many endings, in the service of trying to tie up a bunch of disparate plotlines. But “a bunch of disparate plot lines” is what TV was made for, so I am intrigued by the possibilities of serialized storytelling in this universe. What I think you are driving at with your comment about doused anticipation is the inescapable tension between J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material and its franchisification: How do you translate what has the feeling of an ancient fable passed down through generations into a Hollywood entertainment without making it feel so … corporate? Jackson managed it. It’s unclear from what we’ve seen so far whether Amazon will. They certainly should be worried about how many Sméagol/Gollum jokes were set up by that photo of Jeff Bezos posing with a “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” placard.
Burkes: Ah, “Returns of the King.” ... All low expectations aside, though, a series does become intriguing because Tolkien left not only volumes on volumes of written material but also maps and other minutiae about Middle-earth. One can only hope that faced with that much source material, the show doesn’t try to take too much on in one season, even with the ability to expand upon — gestures widely — with “serialized storytelling.” Still, it all goes back to that title, which was a swing — and a miss. Why not have a title that tilts at the plotlines beyond what any ancillary fan already knows from the flashbacks and stories told in Jackson’s big hit of a trilogy? “The Rise of Sauron” isn’t a great title but at least it gives me something to look forward to, you know, evil machinations and whatnot. When “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” title formed during the teaser, I just wanted to yell — and maybe I did, I’ll never tell — “But we know that! Is this your king?” With an estimated $465 million dropped on the first season alone, it looks as if it might prove my grandmother right: Money can’t buy you sense.
The TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on in the coming week
Fri., Jan. 21
“Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock” (Apple TV+): A lavishly produced, beautiful, funny and profound revival of Jim Henson’s ’80s original, per TV critic Robert Lloyd.
“A Hero” (Amazon Prime Video): Asghar Farhadi’s ninth feature, this year’s Iranian Oscar entry for international feature, is “characteristically complex, humane and absorbing,” writes film critic Justin Chang.
“Ozark” (Netflix): The drama that redefined dark — as in, hard to see — returns for the first part of its fourth and final season, with stalwarts Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner along for another wild ride. Part II is due later this year.
Mon., Jan. 24
“The Gilded Age” (HBO): “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes transports the costume drama across the pond and back in time in this old-money (Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon) v. new-money (Carrie Coon) potboiler set in 1880s New York. With Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson as a country bumpkin in the big city.
“Promised Land” (ABC): A Latino family drama set on a Sonoma Country vineyard? Bottoms up!
Wed., Jan. 26
“Astrid and Lilly Save the World” (Syfy): A plus-size version of the ol’ high-school demon hunters story. High schools may want to look at this monster problem!
“Resident Alien” (Syfy): The premise of this Alan Tudyk showcase is familiar — extraterrestrial stranded on and/or infiltrating Earth hides its identity — but its execution is expert, and amusing. Season 2 comes in two parts, the latter coming later this year.
Thurs., Jan. 27
“Take Out With Lisa Ling” (HBO Max): The former “View” host brings a fresh POV to the food/travel docuseries, focusing on some of the best places for Asian food in America.
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