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Mark Mainz/STV Productions/PBS


Mark Mainz/STV Productions/PBS

Television

Lost in memories

Psychological thriller Elizabeth Is Missing intertwines mystery with the ravaging effects of dementia

In PBS’ Elizabeth Is Missing, Maud Horsham (Glenda Jackson) is a dementia-­ridden woman who litters her home with reminders to lock her door, visit a friend, and make coffee. When her friend Elizabeth fails to show for a rendezvous, no one else seems to care. But Maud investigates the disappearance and, in the process, the unsolved disappearance of Maud’s sister from 70 years prior. 

The unexpected psychological thriller delves into Maud’s experience of Alzheimer’s. “I don’t like it,” she says. “All the blanks.” The drama throws viewers between present and past. Like Maud, we can’t fill in the blanks until the end. Rather than presenting a quaint old lady with memory lapses, the film shows the ravaging effects of the disease: confusion, anger, and heartbreak for both her and her kin. In one scene, Maud lashes out at her granddaughter, whom she doesn’t recognize. “Get rid of her. She’s lazy,” Maud barks. Her daughter yells, “Don’t you ever, ever talk to my daughter like that again! … Go to the loo and get into bed and don’t say another word!”

Jackson’s superb performance reminds us of the fragile nature of memory, the gift of friendship, and the longing for justice. 

—Ivan Mesa is a graduate of the WJI mid-­career course and an editor for The Gospel Coalition

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Brendan George Ko


Brendan George Ko

Television

Wild solitude on reality TV

Harsh elements don’t pose the biggest challenges in History series Alone

The goal of History’s Alone is simple: Ten trained survivalists live solo in the wilderness. The last person standing receives $500,000. Miles apart from one another, the survivalists really are on their own. Camera crews don’t even stick around—each contestant does his or her own filming. Season 1 contestant Alan Kay summed it up this way: “It’s just you, the Creator, and creation.” Nature reveals the glory of God. That’s good. But prolonged isolation highlights another truth God spoke eons ago: It is not good for man to be alone. 

That’s the real challenge: learning to live without a companion. 

The wilderness Rule of Three says an individual can survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Those physical needs take precedence at first. Contestants can bring 10 items from a preselected list (for example, a sleeping bag, a knife, a ferro rod to help start a fire). They also have clothes and a few emergency supplies, including a GPS beacon to call for help if they decide to tap out. No novices here. These are bushmen and wilderness guides. Field biologists and big game hunters. 

By Season 7, which aired in 2020, the rules have changed. Any contestant who survives 100 days in the Arctic earns $1 million. Every season offers likable contestants with creative skills. One even crafted a bowling alley—perfect for not having a teammate.

The show has no overarching tie into faith, but some survivalists are believers. Season 2’s David McIntyre, a former missionary, uses his time in the woods to rethink his vocation. Others thank God for providing berries or fish, cry to the Lord for help, or praise Him for a rainbow. Being outdoors means the contestants are in the right place to consider the birds of the air or watch the diligence of ants (before eating them).

Rated TV-14, the series includes scenes that may frighten younger viewers. Season 3 contestant Carleigh Fairchild spots the gleaming eyes of a puma in the dark. Contestants seem to continually fall in icy water while fishing. In those moments, the show bleeps out the most offensive language.

The slaughtering of animals might tempt the squeamish to turn away. But everyone who shops at grocery stores should think about what contestant Kielyn Marrone points out after she traps a bunny in a snare. “Not everybody gets the chance to look in the eye of the animal you’re about to eat,” she says through tears. “When you have to kill your food, you don’t take it for granted.”

As loneliness takes its toll, the contestants find a renewed appreciation for the family and friends they left behind. “I want to keep going,” says Randy Champagne, a two-time contestant. “I just don’t want to do it without anybody else.” 

—This story appears in the March 13, 2021, issue under the headline “Wild solitude.”

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Netflix


Netflix

Television

Netflix shifts tones with new comedy

In The Crew, the streaming giant finally hits the brakes on over-the-top content

Netflix has broken a lot of ground in the entertainment business since it launched the streaming revolution back in 2013 with its first original series, House of Cards. That show was famously dark, subversive, and crammed with R-rated content. 

Since then, pushing the envelope has seemed the go-to move for the platform. Educators, parents, and psychologists alike slammed its original teen drama 13 Reasons Why for glorifying suicide. Kids animated series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power regularly features transgender characters. The company even added lesbian aunts to its adaptation of the classic 19th-century novel Anne of Green Gables. Then, in September, it went too far, angering American audiences and attracting the attention of lawmakers with Cuties, a film that featured 10-year-olds twerking. A January report said 1 in 10 Netflix cancellations last quarter was a result of that debacle. 

Perhaps that’s why the streaming giant has now decided to go in the one direction it hasn’t really tried before—traditional.

“The jokes get better and the cast chemistry stronger as the series goes on.”

The most shocking thing about Kevin James’ new workplace sitcom The Crew is how at home it would be on good, old-fashioned broadcast television. James, the onetime King of Queens, stars as a NASCAR crew chief with an eccentric team working under him. There’s the handsome but dopey driver. The neurotic, insecure marketing man. And the are-they-really-just-friends female office manager. The series even has a live studio audience.

Given the red-state setting, perhaps it’s no surprise that the show begins with a joke about the team’s Pavlovian response to the national anthem—as soon as that “Star-Spangled Banner” starts, hats come off and conversations halt midsentence till it’s over. It’s a cute moment, especially refreshing because it’s clearly laughing with the characters, not at them. Given that the anthem has become such a lightning rod in professional sports, there’s something a bit brave for the pilot to court underserved conservative audiences by faithfully depicting racing culture.

None of this is to suggest the show is political in any pointed sense. When the boss retires and his Ivy League–educated, millennial daughter takes over the team, Southern and Silicon Valley values clash plenty. But it rarely seems intended to target a whole class of people.

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