True-crime buff Steve Martin made one key demand of ‘Only Murders in the Building’
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone readying themselves to reread Edgar Allan Poe before he comes to Netflix.
On Wednesday, the streamer announced an eight-episode limited series, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” based on the work by the master of the macabre — including, one presumes, the 1839 short story of the title, about a brother and sister living in an isolated country mansion. That shouldn’t be much of a stretch for creator Mike Flanagan, whose 2018 adaptation of another haunted-house classic, Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” made him one of Netflix’s go-to purveyors of horror. (As the man behind the film versions of “Gerald’s Game” and “The Shining” sequel, “Doctor Sleep,” he’s a Stephen King connoisseur too.)
Nothing he’s made since has generated a full-blown cultural moment quite like “Hill House,” but with “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and, recently, “Midnight Mass” — starring Hamish Linklater as a priest who moves to a remote island and convinces the residents to believe in miracles — Flanagan and his famed monologues have established something of a Halloween tradition at Netflix. And his fans won’t have to endure much of a drought while waiting for “Usher”: Flanagan’s next project, young-adult adaptation “The Midnight Club,” has reportedly already finished filming.
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Streaming recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
“Bergerac” (BritBox). This loose-limbed 1980s crime drama features a young, lithe, leather-jacketed John Nettles — familiar to many from “Midsomer Murders,” where his detective chief inspector Tom Barnaby busted crime from 1997 to 2011 — as detective sergeant Jim Bergerac, back on the job after a bad patch. Set on the island of Jersey, a self-governing “dependency” of the British crown, but with a Norman-French influence (it’s nearer to France than Catalina is to the L.A. mainland), a mild climate and a relatively laid-back air, it’s like a U.K. version of an American procedural set in Hawaii. The plots and dialogue and location shooting and whatever secret sauce the BBC applied back then give it an air of actuality present in relatively few American shows of the time — “The Rockford Files” and … maybe nothing else. And, yes, that’s Annette Badland, who plays cheeky publican Mae on “Ted Lasso,” as Charlotte, making things run at le Bureau des Étrangers, out of which Bergerac works. —Robert Lloyd
In its second season, “Star Trek: Lower Decks” (Paramount+) has moved beyond being just a fun and funny homage to the franchise. With the show’s Season 2 finale dropping next week, now is the perfect time to catch up on the adventures of Ensigns Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford and the rest of the USS Cerritos, especially if you’re seeking out a more lighthearted watch. An animated workplace comedy following a group of low-ranking crew members aboard a fairly unremarkable Starfleet ship, the show manages to capture the essence of what fans love about “Star Trek” — the excitement of intergalactic exploration, the aspirational ideals of a unified interplanetary organization, the close-knit camaraderie of those serving together — while also poking good-natured fun at the generally unmentioned tedium and absurdities that could be involved in such a life. Not every mission can be exciting, and not every job can be glamorous, even in Starfleet. There are plenty of deep-cut “Star Trek” references and jokes riffing on established tropes, but the core “Lower Decks” quartet and their dynamics are what drives the show’s comedy and heart. —Tracy Brown
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
Anyone who’s made the claim that Season 2 of “Ted Lasso” has been too kind or free of conflict should tune into Friday’s season finale, now streaming on Apple TV+. It cements how the story has been brimming with tension all along, thanks to the show’s perennially underestimated character Nathan Shelley, played by Nick Mohammed.
After winning audiences over with his slow-building confidence in Season 1, the newfound assistant coach enjoyed his first taste of fame with the whole “Wunderkid” debacle, when he made bold calls to secure the team’s victory but fumbled the press conference afterward. Despite all the public praise, Nate stayed laser-focused on the naysayers — his hard-to-please father, teasing teammates and anonymous social media commenters — and tried to make himself feel better by verbally abusing the new kit man and planting an unwanted kiss on Keeley. It all leads up to the final episode’s intense chat between Nate and Ted, which Mohammed calls “an absolute corker” of a scene. After watching the episode, read Mohammed’s interview with The Times about pulling off that heated chat and how the finale’s last frames — which lay out the stakes for Season 3 — came to be. —Ashley Lee
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
If you’ve been watching Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” you likely now consider yourself a proud member of the Arconiac fan club. Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez star in the 10-episode comedy about a trio of neighbors who share an obsession with a true-crime podcast and team up to launch their own after a murder rocks their Manhattan apartment complex. I spoke with showrunner John Hoffman about the addictively enjoyable series. Love, Yvonne Villarreal. (Extra credit for those who get the reference.)
This series sort of began with Steve Martin, who is a true-crime junkie. But you were brought on board by executive producers Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal largely because of a personal experience that mirrors some of what we see on the series.
It was basically something that I could not stop myself from investigating within my own life regarding a dear friend of mine, from childhood, who I had lost touch with — I hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t know what his life was like or anything like that. I found out that my friend had been in a sort of murder-suicide situation in Wisconsin. The injuries were such that it seemed that my friend had shot someone and then shot himself. I ended up spending the better part of the year going to Wisconsin, meeting his ex-wife — I never even knew they were married — and meeting his kids. It’s a crazy story. But I found myself compelled to know the truth. And by the end of the story, after a year the police report came out and determined my gut feeling about it all, which is that I couldn’t imagine my friend in that situation having shot anybody. It was the reverse. He was murdered, and the other person killed themselves.
To that point, the show and what it’s saying comes at an interesting time. The Gabby Petito case raised a lot of questions about citizen sleuths and how they can help or hurt an investigation. I’m curious what you’ve made of the conversations that have been happening.
People place themselves in these cases — they see, in the victim, their daughter, a friend or someone they know — and they feel passionately on the sides of the story. And I think it’s just a product of our world now, with technological advances that allow for those expressions to take more full flight. You can express yourself and be heard and make connections with others who are feeling the same thing, and it becomes this snowballing effect of validity that might not be all that valid. And yet, I think at the core of it, there is a purity to the compulsion. ... These three characters, they’re all struggling with their own pasts and lives and problems and the lies, the secrets they’re trying to hold and the stuff they still haven’t figured out. But it is very tricky territory now, with the advances we’ve had that make us all have a voice and all connect in the way we do.
What’s the most interesting note or suggestion you received from Steve?
He is a big true-crime aficionado. He really does listen to podcasts all the time. And he’s the king of one-sentence emails. I’ve been telling somebody I need to make a book of the emails I’ve gotten from Steve Martin in the last year and a half because they’re genius, or very funny. Just idea tossing. But the main thing — he had very few specific absolutes, but one of them was: We have to solve the case at the end of the season. He was like, “I don’t want to carry it over. I don’t want to be ambiguous. I want to have the satisfying ending.”
Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between
If you’re a fan of docuseries about scams, cults, frauds and dubious wellness schemes — and, really, who isn’t? — the last few years have been a bonanza. Every week, it seems, there’s a bonkers new series (or two!) about a sex-trafficking cult whose members branded their skin and starved themselves or a multilevel marketing company whose employees went broke trying to sell ugly leggings and pay for weight-loss surgery.
The latest entry in this flourishing subgenre is “The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin,” the first three episodes of which are available on HBO Max.
To anyone who’s watched “The Vow” or “LuLaRich,” certain aspects of the story will be eerily familiar — the emphasis on body image as a means of controlling followers (especially women), the distortion of “female empowerment” to enable alleged abuse, the bizarre cameos by C-list celebrities. But there are also plenty of jaw-droppingly weird and terrible twists that make “The Way Down,” directed by Marina Zenovich, a unique viewing experience. Read on to learn more.
So, who was Gwen Shamblin Lara?
She was the founder of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee and the Weigh Down Workshop, a faith-based weight loss program. She died in a plane crash this year.
A faith-based weight loss program?
Yes, that’s right. Shamblin Lara basically espoused an extreme form of portion control: Don’t eat unless your stomach is growling. The core idea of her program was that people eat because there’s something — or someone — missing in their life: God. And the program became extremely popular. But it’s safe to say Shamblin Lara had some pretty extreme ideas about diet. “When people were in prison camps and ate less food, they lost weight — all of them,” she once said.
So, other than endorsing starvation, what else is she accused of doing?
“The Way Down” includes many tales of woe from former church members — possibly too many, because it becomes hard to keep track of all the threads. But easily the most disturbing story is that involving Josef Smith, an 8-year-old whose parents were convicted of his murder. They were also members of Remnant Fellowship and had sought parenting advice from Shamblin Lara. Other members describe an atmosphere where children were disciplined with extreme corporal punishment.
How did her death affect the series?
Shamblin Lara, her husband, Joe Lara (an actor who once played Tarzan in a syndicated TV series), and five others died in May. The makers of “The Way Down” scrambled to update the story and include more testimony from churchgoers who felt more comfortable speaking out. Two additional episodes of “The Way Down” will debut in 2022.
What’s the deal with her hair?
No one is really sure, but it wasn’t always like that. In archival footage from the ’80s and ’90s, Shamblin Lara has a pretty unremarkable blond bob. As one former church member says, “It’s gotten taller every year she’s been there. No one’s gonna say anything to her. Everybody’s gonna tell her it looks wonderful.” —Meredith Blake
The TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on in the coming week
Fri., Oct. 8
“Acapulco” (Apple TV+), Bilingual, ’80s-set, semi-autobiographical comedy stars Eugenio Derbez as a resort cabana boy.
“Madame X” (Paramount+). Madonna as you’ve never seen her, which is every time you see Madonna. In concert from Lisbon.
“Muppets Haunted Mansion” (Disney+). Halloween special reminds you who owns the Muppets.
Sun., Oct. 10
“Buried” (Showtime). Docuseries with a repressed memory theme.
“Legends of the Hidden Temple” (The CW). “Raiders”-inspired adventure game revives 20th century Nick series with adult contestants.
Tues., Oct. 12
“Chucky” (Syfy/USA). Serial-killer doll gets a series, with two networks to show it and Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly back as of big-screen old.
“A Night in the Academy Museum” (ABC). Tom Hanks and Laura Dern are your docents on a spin through Hollywood’s new temple of Hollywood.
Wed., Oct. 13
“Dopesick” (Hulu). Opioid docudrama with Michael Keaton as a small-town doctor ensnared in a web of OxyContin.
“Just Beyond” (Disney+) R.L. Stine-inspired anthology set in a supernatural somewhere. Tim Heidecker, Riki Lindhome and Nasim Pedrad are in it, encouragingly.
Thurs., Oct. 14
“America’s Big Deal” (USA). New-product reality competition created by Joy “Miracle Mop” Mangano.
“The Kids Tonight Show” (Peacock). Literally what the title says. All shows should have a version that is only children.
“Phoebe Robinson: Sorry, Harriet Tubman” (HBO Max). Solo standup special from one of 2 Dope Queens. —Robert Lloyd
Your pop culture questions, answered
Is there absolutely nothing on Amazon Prime? It is exceedingly hard to find new good content unless one constantly scrolls and occasionally gets lucky. It is especially difficult to find great content that is included with Prime that does not ask for additional fees or ask you to watch ads. I can’t be the only one needing help optimizing my subscription. It would be appreciated if you could include guidance on what’s new and worthy on Prime.
— John Tomlinson
Senior editor Matt Brennan, who edits Screen Gab, has some suggestions:
While there’s nothing much to be done about Amazon Prime Video’s cluttered, confusing interface — except hope that executives at the company have signed up for this newsletter — there’s plenty on the platform that’s new and worthy (and available at no additional cost). Since you sound as though you’re open to most anything, I’ve combed through our archives from the last few months to find the Amazon original series and movies we’ve wholeheartedly recommended:
• “LuLaRich,” an addictive docuseries about the multilevel marketing company/women’s apparel purveyor LuLaRoe, from the directors of “Fyre Fraud.”
- And two wildly different movie musicals: “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a lighthearted, hopeful tale of a small-town teen’s drag debut, and “Annette,” the “entrancingly weird” Cannes opener in which Adam Driver alternately sings to and performs oral sex on Marion Cotillard.
Personally, I’ve been making my way through the L.A.-set, noir-inflected cop drama “Bosch,” whose final season dropped this summer — it’s compelling but not compulsive viewing and has enough artistry to it, especially in its richer-than-usual depiction of the city itself, to stand out from the procedural pack.
And while it is anything but new (or an Amazon original, for that matter), I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to re-recommend one of the TV series that helped me get through the worst of the pandemic: “The Durrells in Corfu,” a delightful period dramedy that follows a chaotic English family as they make a go of it in Greece before the Second World War. A visit to the Ionian Sea is getting your money’s worth, no?
Want to know more about one of the filmmakers we’ve interviewed? Need a new show to binge now that your fave is done for the season? If you have a question about TV or streaming movies for the pop culture obsessives at The Times, send it to us at email@example.com and you may find the answer in next week’s edition.
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