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Patrick Harbron/Hulu

Lynskey (left) and Holland
Patrick Harbron/Hulu


Castle Rock

Castle Rock straddles the psychological-supernatural fence

Shawshank State Prison hides an unregistered inmate.

“Warden Lacy told me the devil was a boy, and Old Dale caught him and locked him in a box.” Thus retired sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) warns Shawshank’s new warden, who has replaced Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), recently dead by suicide.

Yes, it’s that Shawshank: Hulu’s popular new series Castle Rock (rated TV-MA for occasional foul language and scenes of violence) borrows many of horror-fiction master Stephen King’s settings and characters. Viewers have taken a shining to a complex mystery that, true to King, straddles the psychological-supernatural fence, even if it explores (as of Episode 5) no serious worldview questions. Executive producer J.J. Abrams sustains a good riddle through flashbacks, high-budget visuals, and a top-notch cast.

The story revolves around Henry Deaver (André Holland), an attorney for Texas death-row inmates who returns to his Maine hometown after receiving a cryptic call from someone inside Shawshank prison. Most Castle Rock residents aren’t happy to see Deaver, though, and that’s not because he’s an African-American in the “lily-white” town: They’ve long suspected him in the death of his adoptive father 25 years earlier. As a preteen, Deaver disappeared for 11 days in the dead of winter, but returned without a trace of hypothermia. At the same time, his adoptive father, a local pastor and Shawshank chaplain, suffered a serious injury and died.

Yet it seems everyone in town is hiding something. Each episode floats more information about increasingly puzzling characters. Realtor Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) has an unusual psychic connection to Deaver. Deaver’s adoptive mother (Sissy Spacek) is shacking up with Pangborn. And Lacy’s captive, now a young man (Bill Skarsgård), has spent years locked inside a bear cage in an unused wing of the prison.

Castle Rock portrays Christianity—including believers and Scripture—as quaint but apparently no match for evil. If the “boy” is the devil, then, what can be done?

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Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley


Anne with an agenda

Anne with an E hijacks a children’s classic as a vehicle for liberal values and 21st-century activism

Let’s get one thing straight: Extrapolating on and even profiting from a classic isn’t new. It isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. Michael Landon did it with Little House on the Prairie, and he’s practically a national hero.

Neither is including a gay character in a historical drama: Downton Abbey did it with the nuanced character of Thomas Barrow, and in the end, we were all rooting for him to rejoin the downstairs staff.

Season 1 of CBC and Netflix’s Anne with an E was gritty, in many ways departing big-time from the book, but it still made pretty good television. Season 2, though, feels as if it were written by a different team of writers, brought in mostly to drive buzz about the show.

It’s hard to list comprehensively every modern issue this season touches on. There’s school bullying, bullying of homosexuals, guns in the classroom, teenage suicide, racism (both overt and via microaggression), white fragility, and the definition of marriage. Two more topics top it off: consent for vaginal checks during birth, and prejudice against people who never marry.

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Jerry Lewis and Jerry Seinfeld


Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Mutual respect flows in Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee isn’t new, but it’s new to Netflix, and one of the more refreshing things available for streaming.

Rumor has it that Jerry Seinfeld is worth nearly $1 billion—making him the richest comedian in the world. And yet, this entertainment legend and car enthusiast in each episode hand-selects a vintage ride to match his guest comedian’s personality. He picks them up for a perfectly normal, sun-drenched brunch, heavily laced with shots of dripping espresso (courtesy of a coffee advertiser). Then he gets them talking about themselves.

Could anything be more simple or more sweet?

Of course, the result is goofy. On its face, the show has no real point, like the sitcom Seinfeld is best-known for, only this format is less laugh-track funny than it is thoughtful interview. But it also doesn’t have the air of a man desperate to stay relevant. In fact, his interest is so genuine, we almost get the feeling Seinfeld would be doing this even if there were no cameras around—driving around his oldest friends and mentoring young comedians, all in the very best cars.

Comedians in Cars is a truly lovely product. Four-letter words, rarely used, are bleeped out. The closest this show comes to raunchiness in this latest season is Seinfeld’s habit of joking about male anatomy with his lesbian guests, but even that can’t spoil the fun.

Seinfeld is meticulous, going so far as to find a 1960s Jaguar for his date with Jerry Lewis, in the exact model and color Lewis once owned. (Lewis died five months later.) The respect just flows in this show. Jerry respects the guest, the guest respects Jerry, and they sit in a haze of mutual admiration for 20 minutes, sipping coffee and sending each other into stitches.

It’s neither groundbreaking nor extraordinary, but we need more shows like this in the #MeToo age. In an industry that seems to get darker and darker, it’s a bright bit of chivalry.

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