Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too.
‘Tis the season for name recognition, fa la la la la….While some streaming services, cable providers, and primetime channels are offering original programming, others have opted to cash in on familiar faves, turning big screen franchises and classic movies such as The Santa Clauses, Dangerous Liaisons and Pitch Perfect into potential small screen episodic hits. But will these potential plays pay off?
The Santa Clauses (Disney+)
‘Twas the month before Christmas, when all through the house,
Disney had a new series, straight from the Mouse;
It cashed in on nostalgia with hopes to ensnare,
Viewers whose love for Tim Allen’s St. Nick was still there;
As parents, kids, and adults living with parents were all snug in their beds;
Visions of broken Santas and child labour now danced in their heads;
As masses of people went looking for holiday shows to binge;
They turned to Disney+ where all their hopes would hinge.
But after three decades, is the magic still there?
Can The Santa Clauses be jolly, or do we chuck the whole affair?
Disney’s The Santa Clause is a Christmas franchise fueled by dad jokes and light-hearted fun that hides a surprisingly dark premise: a regular schmoe must take over for Santa after accidentally abiding in his demise, as stated in the rules of an ancient legal contract. Despite the dark premise, it was strangely upbeat if a bit bland.
The Santa Clause and its predecessors were harmless, non-offensive films that were perfect holiday noise for kids or animals left alone in the house so they don’t get lonely. This is exactly where we are with The Santa Clauses: an amusingly simple romp for people who enjoyed constant The Santa Clause reruns on The Disney Channel when they were eight. Possibly nine.
In the series, Scott Calvin/Santa (Tim Allen) discovers he is losing his Santa magic due to modern skepticism. This puts both him and his family in a bit of tizzy, as they have been calling the North Pole their home for the better part of three decades. Things are not so jolly at home anyway: his wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) has completely lost her identity in her role as Mrs. Claus and their now-adult kids Cal and Sandra (Austin Kane and Elizabeth Allen-Dick) are hanging on by thread. Growing up in the North Pole is fun for kids, but bad for sane adults. When Scott decides to retire, he has to find a new Santa, make his family whole, deal with some adversaries and still maintain holiday cheer.
Aimed squarely at kids who grew up on the Disney Channel and Home Improvement fans from the ’90s, the tone of the series feels like a perfect continuation of the Clause, but newcomers might find the writing uneven. In the storied tradition of early ’90s Disney offerings, 70% of the film is made up of puns with the occasional meta-humor zinger. For those who didn’t grow up on Mickey Mouse Club programming or dead Santa humor, the series isn’t going to land. The Santa Clauses might conjure joy for viewers with fond memories of the original franchise or those who happen to have a morbid curiosity about the effects of the North Pole on child rearing, marriage, and aging. It probably won’t make any new fans, but old ones will find it as comforting as a cup of warm cocoa.
Dangerous Liaisons (Starz)
Before there were pretty little liars of Pennsylvania or the gossiping girls of Madison Avenue, there were the Dangerous Liaisons of the French royal court. It was a life filled with intrigue and deception, brimming with scandalous tales of sex, lies, and powdered wigs. If the book, the numerous film adaptations, and the many stage plays have taught us anything, it’s that there’s power in other people’s secrets. But is there enough interest for yet another version?
The story, based on the classic page turner Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, was made famous by Glenn Close and John Malkovich in the 1988 theatrical version, and later, reinvented as a campy teen romp in 1999’s Cruel Intentions. In this small screen take, the story is yet again set in the double-edged world of the French nobility, but this time focused on early events from the book and prior, taking a few liberties along the way.
Set in 1783 Paris, Camille (Alice Englert) and Pascal (Nicholas Denton) are two lovers destined for greatness, but living in squalor, forced to sell their bodies to survive. Alas, the two schemers are in love, which is bad business for both. Life is hard for the duo and both have debts. Pascal is cut off from his family fortune by his stepmother. So he extorts his clients, leveraging their love letters to him. Camille turns her against him when she finds out, and the romance becomes a rivalry.
Much like the movie, the show centers on a close relationship that grows contentious due to the immoral nature of the French court. At the time it was published, Les Liaisons Dangereuses was a scathing look at high society, but in this day and age, it plays as yet another Starz bodice ripper with one hell of a production budget. Fans of bawdy sudsers and historical dramas will be thrilled to add this to their schedules as the cable network’s long-running Outlander slowly makes its exit. If you don’t have Starz, just wait until it comes around on Netflix for a proper binge.
Pitch Perfect: Bumper In Berlin (Peacock)
Hard to imagine, but somewhere, at some time, there was a pitch meeting in which a straight-faced studio exec suggested a Pitch Perfect TV series without any of the main characters. It’d be focused on the second-tier bad guys and set it in… Germany? Indeed, the premise of Pitch Perfect: Bumper In Berlin feels like it was conceived in the midst of a fever dream consuming the entire franchise in one go. Somehow it all seems to work. Centering on Bumper Allen (Adam Devine), the show takes place a decade after the events of the franchise, following the former popped-collar mean boy who now works security at Barden University. Bumper’s stagnant life gets shook when former rival Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg) reaches out after his TikTok becomes a hit in Germany. Soon, Allen heads to Berlin to rekindle the spark he lost.
This show is an oddball addition to the Pitch Perfect universe that no one expected, but it worked out for the most part and it’s a bit of a delight. The earnestness here, along with the meta nature of the material elevates it beyond a simple cash grab. Of course there’s the music to enjoy, too. Acapella is an acquired taste, but if you enjoy it, this is a banner month for you.
Pitch Perfect: Bumper In Berlin owns the lunacy of its premise, which completely sells the show. Both Devine and Borg are fully committed (and should be committed) to their roles. Devine’s portrayal of the former bad boy of acapella whose dreams were subverted by some crushing reality cradles the crackpot concept further. His wide-eyed, unhinged portrayal allows the comedy to shine through the cringe.
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