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World Productions/Netflix

Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes
World Productions/Netflix


Security job

BBC series Bodyguard offers thrills and intrigue, but with objectionable content

Terrorist bombings, political intrigue, an affair, and assassination attempts: Bodyguard serves up all these ingredients and more. The British drama spiced up with American action scenes has earned high ratings in the U.K. and on Netflix. But be warned this BBC series has earned its TV-MA rating.

Sgt. David Budd (Richard Madden) served with British forces in Afghanistan, and the experience scarred him emotionally and physically. Harrowing memories and flashbacks drive him to drink, and his temper often flares, leading to the end of his marriage. Budd loves his family, but his wife refuses to live with him in his current state. “You need help, David!” she and David’s colleagues say.

On duty, Budd is a model police officer. His time in combat soured him on politics and politicians, but one would never know it from his diligence and prowess as a bodyguard. After foiling a terrorist train-bombing plot, Budd is assigned to protect Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the Conservative MP serving as home secretary (responsible for U.K. internal affairs and security). Montague is a rising political star, a powerful woman whose speeches echo the firm resolve and tough talk of the original Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.

Montague has proposed controversial anti-terrorism legislation that would increase the government’s ability to snoop on private citizens’ phone calls and internet use. The legislation, along with Montague’s rising star status, make her a prime target for terrorists, political opponents, and privacy advocates.

When a sniper attacks Montague’s vehicle convoy, we wonder: Is the prime minister jealous enough to have ordered her killing? Are the attempted train bombers determined to take out this powerful new leader? The plot gives viewers just enough clues for enjoyable speculation.

Given the intriguing storyline, it’s disappointing this show is weighed down by objectionable elements. Characters occasionally swear and blaspheme, and the relationship between Budd and Montague turns quickly into a passionate physical affair, complete with sexual scenes. Too bad: The two had plenty of chemistry and tension that could have developed without that.

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Nate Bargatze
FilmMagic/Getty Images


Crossover comedy

Nate Bargatze’s laid-back humor appeals to audiences on both sides of America’s religious and political divides

The Netflix series The Standups is officially rated TV-MA, for “mature audiences.” For those unfamiliar with the TV and streaming rating system, that’s essentially like an R rating for movies. So it’s ironic there’s nothing in the show’s first episode, featuring comedian Nate Bargatze, that would warrant so much as a PG-13. In fact, without a single instance of even mild profanity, and only one joke that trades on potty humor, his set would likely struggle to rate a PG.

An act as clean as Bargatze’s is certainly unusual in the world of mainstream comedy clubs and tours, but it’s not surprising that Netflix picked the Tennessee native to kick off its stand-up series. After back-to-back wins at the New York and Boston comedy festivals led to appearances on Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show, industry taste-makers like Esquire and Rolling Stone started dubbing him the hottest new thing in stand-up.

As a lifelong stand-up fan who started curating my favorites list with more discernment once I became a Christian, I still remember the thrill of discovering Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan back in the early 2000s. But the acts I could unequivocally embrace since then have been few and far between. So, notwithstanding a joke or two about embarrassing antics while overimbibing, my discovery of Bargatze a few months ago felt like a gift from heaven. His appeal, though, took on a hometown hero dimension after a deep dive into Google revealed he also happens to be a fellow traveler to the Celestial City.

Though it doesn’t feature much in his jokes, Bargatze has referenced his Christianity from the stage. He’s also given several interviews where he talks about how fortunate he feels in his Southern Baptist upbringing and how bereft he was when his friend and fellow comic Pete Holmes abandoned the faith of their youth. In contrast to Holmes, Bargatze says success and exposure to a more agnostic urban culture led him to deeper conviction that the Bible is true. In a strange way, the relative innocence of his subject matter seems to have played a role in his success with big-city, raunch-hardened crowds. As an arms race to edgier and edgier material rages on, Bargatze’s soft-spoken, Bible Belt restraint is so rare it’s become downright radical.

Something about Bargatze’s laid-back style is universally appealing. On the one hand, his approach is far from the slightly corny style a lot of Christian headliners who play at churches tend to have. On the other, his countercultural approach to a topic like Donald Trump subtly challenges the outlook of coastal audiences who are now conditioned to expect presidential-bashing screeds posing as comedy. Bargatze’s punch lines take everyone a little by surprise, allowing him to achieve the minor miracle of giving everyone—right, left, believer, nonbeliever—something to laugh at.

TV viewers may get to enjoy more of Bargatze in the future as ABC recently picked up a sitcom pilot based on his life with his wife, daughter, and extended family in Tennessee. Until then, you can catch his Standups episode on Netflix, his Comedy Central special on Amazon, and his new live act on his current tour at clubs across the country. Bargatze’s brand of dry, low-key humor may be just the thing a frazzled-out family could use to decompress from the holiday stress this Christmas.

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Hilary B Gayle/Amazon via AP

Julia Roberts
Hilary B Gayle/Amazon via AP



Bad language and depictions of adultery mar an otherwise compelling series

If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you’ve seen a lot of hype for Homecoming, a new series of 10 half-hour episodes released in early November. Critics love the show. Should you watch too?

Julia Roberts stars as Heidi Bergman, the head of a transition center, helping veterans whose combat memories make normal life difficult. Despite thin credentials, Heidi runs the isolated campus as its primary counselor. One patient, Walter Cruz (Stephan James), recalls every detail of the death of one of his men and blames himself for his friend’s demise.

Heidi’s cell phone is a constant connection to her off-site boss Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), a controlling, malevolent force with a surface charm. Heidi drops everything, including connections to family and friends, whenever he calls, mostly to berate or chastise her about what a poor job she is doing.

The Homecoming facility is a private venture, run by a mysterious corporation named Geist. Are the patients truly volunteers, or are they prisoners undergoing experimental treatments? Walter’s mother does not trust this strange program, and she sleuths her way to the undisclosed location. Her maternal instincts tell her something is not right, but she can’t convince her son to leave.

The storyline bounces back and forth between events at the Homecoming center and four years later. Future Heidi is a waitress back in her hometown, and she has almost no memory of her years at Homecoming, except a vague feeling that things ended poorly. When Thomas Carrasco from the Department of Defense (Shea Whigham) begins investigating what happened to Heidi and her patients, her unease heightens.

Bumbling and endearing, Carrasco doggedly pursues the case. He wins the trust of Walter’s mother, and the pieces start to fall into place.

Slow buildup, beautiful cinematography, and enough mystery to keep patient viewers interested all add up to an intriguing viewing package. Regrettably, frequent profanity, some depictions of adultery, and blasphemous language mar the experience, making Homecoming a difficult series to recommend.

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