April 29, 2022

Television

Temporal probe: ‘Shining Girls’

By Craig Mathieson
Image of Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls. Image © Apple TV+

Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls. Image © Apple TV+

Elisabeth Moss is exceptional in time-travelling drama ‘Shining Girls’, while absurd comedy ‘Killing It’ reveals Australian Claudia O’Doherty as a comic force

In Shining Girls, reality keeps shifting but nothing changes for the better. Adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by Lauren Beukes, the Apple TV+ drama from creator Silka Luisa is a lattice-like combination of science fiction, crime procedural and trauma-laden drama. To overly explain it would be not only to spoil it, but also to lessen the empathy and suspense with which this limited series unfolds. Mainly set in 1992 Chicago, the story circles Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss), a survivor of a vicious murder attempt whose world is no longer fixed. People and places change around her without warning, but no one will believe the newspaper archivist. “Everything is like always, then it’s not,” Kirby tries to explain, and the temporal leaps she experiences are a cruel, accurate mirror of how crimes against women wrench the victims out of place, leaving the damage to forever reverberate.

Kirby is somehow linked to her attacker, Harper (Jamie Bell), a sadist who likes to psychologically torment women over time so that his physical attack is the culmination of his intent. When a similar case to her own spurs Kirby to search for her attacker, she forges an uneasy alliance with a burnt-out reporter, Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura). The investigatory tropes of their quest are acutely felt – transgressions have a weight, victims are more than just bodies at crime scenes and the sense of uncertainty is wrenching. Moss is exceptional at embodying the weight of suffering and how it leaches into people, and she makes Kirby a compelling protagonist. Shining Girls has a hard, fair depiction of newspapers and reporters, and a structure that is both ingenious and wrenching. When Harper tells a target, “I’m always there”, it’s both a physical and emotional truth. For these women, the fear and pain never abate, but their resistance makes for taut viewing.

Killing It (Stan) is an absurd comedy that cheerfully skewers American individualism, leaving bare a system so distorted that the everyday appears dystopian. With his business ambitions denied at every turn, security guard Craig Foster (Craig Robinson) learns of a money-making opportunity from an Australian ride-share driver, Jillian (Claudia O’Doherty), with a propensity for over-sharing: the bounty the state of Florida pays for Burmese pythons, an invasive species running wild. Their mishaps extend from hunting trips to entrepreneurial seminars where the wealthy castigate them, as they hide from ambulances in order to avoid being billed. Revealing Jillian’s delusional optimism, O’Doherty is a comic force in a series where the silliest of gags always has a prickly truth.

Streaming services’ perpetual hunger to reuse intellectual property finds a new angle with The Offer (Paramount+), a fictionalised drama about the machinations that surrounded the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s epochal 1972 crime saga The Godfather. At every turn, producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) faces barriers, from the new corporate owners of Paramount Pictures and mutual mistrust of his creative team, to organised crime figures who did not want the best-selling story of the Corleone mafia family on cinema screens. The show’s creator, Michael Tolkin knows Hollywood intimately, having written the novel and screenplay of The Player, but the storytelling here essentially shills for The Godfather without capturing the film’s brilliance. My only sympathy is for the poor actors tasked with playing the likes of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.

In brief: Like all anthologies, Roar (Apple TV+) is an up-and-down experience, but the best of these tales about women wrestling with the perceptions society imposes – particularly the wild, incisive “The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck”, with Merritt Wever – make it a winning proposition. Outer Range (Amazon) is a metaphysical western, with Josh Brolin as a Wyoming rancher who discovers an inexplicable void on his property. It’s a patient, uneasy drama, with Lost echoes, about what we’re willing to believe. David E. Kelley’s Anatomy of a Scandal (Netflix) is a tawdry melodrama about the British establishment that could have been enjoyable trash but quickly flounders after adding rape accusations to the plotting. And don’t forget the final weekly episodes of the wonderful Slow Horses (Apple TV+), a mercurial espionage thriller that rightly deserves its own article.

Craig Mathieson

Craig Mathieson is a television critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, an author, and the creator of the Binge-r streaming newsletter.

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