Compelling Netflix drama tells the stories of asylum-seekers in Australia from different perspectives
by Bob Brown
In Stateless, the lives of four individuals converge at the Barton Immigration Detention Center, located on a barren parcel of terrain in South Australia. One is an immigrant seeking asylum, and the other three are white Australians. Such a formula seems ill-suited to a political statement on refugee welfare. So, while the new Netflix limited TV series (rated TV-MA for occasional strong language and isolated moments of sensuality) does project concern for displaced persons, the personal dramas command center stage.
Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) flees Afghanistan with his wife and two daughters to escape persecution. Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski) bolts from her overbearing family, becomes entangled with a cultlike group, and winds up detained at Barton under a false name. Cam (Jai Courtney), a doting father of three, takes a job as a guard at Barton for its good pay, although his sister works for an immigrants’ advocacy organization trying to shut the center down. And Clare (Asher Keddie), Barton’s new director, brings fresh ideas but finds herself on a short leash from the government’s immigration department.
Stateless details Ameer’s family’s hazardous journey, and several characters at Barton also convey the helplessness “unlawful noncitizens” feel while trapped in a chain-link-fenced no-man’s land. Their home country means danger, and their reluctant host country is slow—years, in some instances—to decide their cases. But some critics have fussed about all the distractions from the immigrants’ plights—such as the spotlight on Sofie, particularly her backstory interactions with a self-empowerment group run by a manipulative married couple (Dominic West and Cate Blanchett, one of the series’ creators).
The focus on Sofie, though, is not arbitrary. Her character is based on the case of Cornelia Rau, a German permanent resident of Australia. Fifteen years ago, Rau became a household name in that country after news broke of her long detention at an immigration center and psychiatric hospital.
Each of the four stories demands resolution. Will Sofie admit her true identity and confront her troubled past? Can Clare survive the pressures bearing down on her from her superior, a hostile reporter, the advocacy group’s shenanigans, and an overwhelming caseload? Ameer and Cam are strong father figures whose kindness spills over into the lives of others. Cam, to his colleagues’ derision, puts up swings and pumps up a soccer ball for Barton’s children. Will he play by rules he despises to keep his job? Has one past mistake destroyed Ameer’s chance for a new life?
Stateless is forceful and well-acted (Strahovski shines in a tough role), but it earns its TV-MA rating, at least through the first four episodes.
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Modern reboot, modern baggage
A modern reboot carries modern baggage
by Emily Whitten
Netflix’s new series The Baby-Sitters Club will entertain kids. But it disregards Biblical values, offering a progressive, pro-LGBTQ “update” on Ann M. Martin’s best-selling books from the ’80s.
Visually, it pops like an updated American Girl movie. At first, characters such as club founder Kristy (Sophia Grace) and budding artist Claudia (Momona Tamada) seem as sweet and American as apple pie. The five main characters’ entrepreneurial spirit shines as they develop a babysitting business. Episodes focus on friendship and tween-age anxieties.
But creator Rachel Shukert also “updates” the beloved characters. Several of their parents and clients live gay lifestyles. Claudia references Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, longs for a “life-partner” (not a husband), and paints nude models. Mary Anne (Malia Baker) earns hero status by browbeating adults into using a child’s transgender pronouns.
It’s not just sexuality. Babysitter Dawn (Xochitl Gomez) leads a Les Misérables–inspired protest against charging money for camp activities. From climate change to sexism to a wedding led by a self-proclaimed witch, it’s a whole new Stoneybrook.
By giving the babysitters’ parents bigger roles and casting them with big-name actors like Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, American Woman), Shukert hopes to pull in kids’ parents too.
One type of person doesn’t exist in the new Stoneybrook: those who stray from the new ideology. The exclusion of millions of Christian tween girls makes the series a “club” of a different sort.
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Survival of the most outfitted
Southern Survival is Consumer Reports meets Duck Dynasty
by Bob Brown
A kidnapper binds your wrists with a zip tie. How do you get free? The Battlbox crew of Netflix’s new reality TV series Southern Survival has the answer: Fasten your right and left shoelaces together through the zip tie. Then use your legs to tug the laces back and forth across the zip tie in a sawing motion, and—snap!—you’re free. Good to know.
Southern Survival is Consumer Reports meets Duck Dynasty without the faith element. Amid southern-Georgia-fried prattle and pranks, “redneck survivalist” Brandon Currin and three colleagues personally test safety gear to “prepare [their customers] for every survival situation imaginable”—fires, snakebites (“don’t suck out the venom”), drowning scenarios, criminal attacks, and so on. (Cancel my family vacation to Georgia!) Currin’s daughter Lyla Grace frees herself from a zip tie in 30 seconds. A key-fob-sized, spring-loaded glass punch used to crack a window and facilitate an escape from a submerged automobile may have been the most impressive device demonstrated.
Some episodes contain less valuable information, and some situations are too intense for younger viewers. Strong language and crudities that spoil the first episode are noticeably fewer in the next four. If nothing else, Southern Survival can spur conversations about safety.