Larks & Recs: Mrs. Davis, Helldivers 2, American Fiction & The Zone of Interest

A solider in Helldivers 2 with a bug on fire in the background

Welcome back to Larks & Recs, where members of the TVObs staff assemble to provide you with weekly recommendations, or perhaps go on a bit of a lark. This week, Hawk Ripjaw decides to check out Mrs. Davis, Timothy Glaraton has been playing a lot of Helldivers 2, and Clay Dockery continues to preview the Oscars with looks at American Fiction and The Zone of Interest.

Mrs. Davis

Hawk: I have our very own Caemeron Crain to thank for getting me to watch Mrs. Davis, the latest project from Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez. I was pitched a “bonkers” show, and that’s certainly one way to describe it. It centers on an all-but-omniscient AI called “Mrs. Davis” by its followers and The Algorithm by those less favorable of it, and the nun, Sister Simone, determined to put an end to it.

Judas Priest, this is fun. The opening moments of the show put the pedal to the floor and it does not ever take its foot off the gas. This is one of the most refreshing shows in recent memory just in how gleefully unhinged it gets. It runs though plot threads as fast as it can pick them up, and sometimes leaves a couple behind to just be able to juggle the next wacky twist lurking just around the corner. Some fairly…liberal interpretations of religious texts and practices keep things even more unpredictable. I’m being deliberately cagey about the finer details here just because it’s such a treat to experience them for the first time without much primer.

Mrs. Davis S1E3 - Mathilde stands at the festival smoking a cigarette while Simone looks nervous standing a little behind her

Betty Gilpin is an incredible presence as Sister Simone, exuding fierceness and vulnerability in equal measure. She also enjoys an easy and engaging chemistry with co-star Jake McDorman (Wiley, leader of the resistance) and many of the best moments of the show occur when they’re sharing the scene. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of other actors worth watching for, because this cast is stacked with talent including Evil’s Katja Herbers and a very funny Chris Diamantopoulos. As Simone continues to press forward on a quest given to her by Mrs. Davis, she consistently meets new and weird characters and rarely surrenders her sense of irritation and bewilderment at how unbelievable this is all getting.

Again, it is well worth it to take a look at Mrs. Davis, especially going in blind. Nearly every episode has a pretty wild mic drop at the very end, and I had to more or less force myself to not consume most of the series in one sitting just so I could make it last a little bit longer. It’s hugely entertaining, and worth at least a brief Peacock subscription to check it out.

Helldivers 2

Tim: With Overwatch once again attempting to reinvent and reinvigorate its competitive experience, I’ve recently found myself in the market for a new game that I can devote all of my free time to (instead of writing articles). Thankfully, Helldivers 2 has come along at just the right time to fill the video game shaped hole in my heart—and my schedule.

Helldivers 2 is basically Starship Troopers: The Game—maybe even more so than the actual Starship Troopers video game. You play as a Helldiver, one of the elite members of Super Earth’s intergalactic fighting force, with the noble goal of spreading so-called “managed democracy” throughout the galaxy, usually by exterminating the sworn enemies of democracy: gigantic space bugs.

Helldivers 2 is the first game I’ve played that actually captures the sheer chaos of just being dropped into a warzone. Nine times out of ten you’re dropped right in the middle of a swarm of bugs and immediately find yourself scrambling for your life lest they rip you apart. Supplies get airdropped in at high speed, obliterating any insect (or Helldiver) unfortunate enough to be standing below. Other players will sometimes drop into your game, all the while your player character is shouting about “freedom” and “democracy.”

The best part? The game is refreshingly free of microtransactions and battle passes and whatever other matters of trying to bleed you for cash that AAA studios can think up. Just a $40 price tag for the base game or $60 if you want to spring for the Super Citizen edition. Helldivers 2 is out now on PS5 and Windows.

Previewing the Oscars: American Fiction and The Zone of Interest

Clay:  Here is the next Lark in my series on what I think of the Oscar-nominated films and how  I think the film’s nominations will affect the 96th Academy Awards as a television show.

This week: American Fiction

American Fiction has a lot of things going for it. Jeffrey Wright does phenomenal work at the center of the film as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison. Cord Jefferson’s script and direction are adept and compelling. And Sterling K. Brown puts on a scene stealing show as Monk’s brother Cliff. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, both performances, the screenplay, and for the score, which certainly feels like it should make the movie one of the big contenders at the ceremony. But with Oppenheimer still dominating the conversation in four of the five categories, and other films eating up huge amounts of space as well, American Fiction seems to be underappreciated.

The script, adapted by Jefferson from the novel Erasure by Percival Everett is where the movie may be able to break through. Up until now, Jefferson has spent his career in television, and has written some fantastic episodes of great shows. His are among the best episodes of both The Good Place and Watchmen. His TV scripts, and this screenplay, all have a common tendency to introduce really deep thematic concepts and important issues through funny bits with well developed characters. The adapted screenplay race is absolutely stacked, but with a BAFTA win, the weirdness over Barbie being shifted to the category, and some feeling that this is a weak spot for Oppenheimer, it would only be a mild, and welcome, surprise to see Cord Jefferson take the win.

Wright is fantastic and seems like the type of actor that will eventually get awarded (though I think it will be in the supporting category some day), but he seems unlikely to crack the race between Cillian Murphy and Paul Giamatti.

I think the biggest thing holding back Brown—other than the fact that it feels like the year of RDJ— is that Cliff is not only “supporting” in the movie, he is barely in it. While much shorter screen times have won, it isn’t usually in a year with iconic dramatic turns by critical and audience favorites also in the running. Monk and Cliff are a great addition to the family dynamic pantheon though; in fact the whole Ellison family is deeply moving in the movie and the primary emotional connective tissue.

American Fiction is probably not going to swing the viewership of the telecast, though the diversity it represents is an extremely welcome thing both for the sake of the show, and for the fact that being more diverse and inclusive is always the right thing.

Also this week: The Zone of Interest

Meanwhile, while Jonathan Glazer’s film The Zone of Interest isn’t really in contention in the Best Picture race either, it is a stone-cold favorite in several other categories—Best International Film and Best Sound. Glazer also picked up nominations for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film has been touted in some circles as a master-work, and the creative choices and sheer skill on display are unmistakable, even from just the trailers. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss what I think about the film itself as I have been unable to bring myself to watch it. It is harrowing, nightmarish, subject matter, and all the skill in the presentation has been unable to get me over my squeamishness about dealing with the themes the film is exploring. (I am still hoping to watch it before the ceremony though, we shall see.)

As for how the film affects the telecast, I don’t think it really will. The Academy has been striving for more international appeal and the high profile of both The Zone of Interest and Anatomy of a Fall may bring in some additional international viewers, but I don’t think it will move the needle. During the show, it may liven up the middle section to have Glazer accepting the International Feature award, but that won’t likely mean much for the telecast. The movie feels much more like a consensus critics choice for “best of the year” than an Oscar movie, and I love that it is in the running, but doubt that will matter all that much to the show itself.

Written by TV Obsessive

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