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Posts Tagged ‘"Shrinking"’

Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X, Forest Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson, Giancarlo Esposito as Rep. Adam Clayton Powell

“GODFATHER OF HARLEM” (Hulu): The great thing about our current streaming situation is that if you’re willing to wait, just about everything you want to see eventually pops up on one of your subscription sites.

So it is with “Godfather of Harlem,” which debuted in 2019 on Epix (I wasn’t going to subscribe for just one show). Now the first two seasons have migrated to Hulu.

Based on the career of real-life gangster Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, the show’s title deliberately  references that greatest of American crime movies, “The Godfather.”

Like that Francis Ford Coppola landmark this is a sprawling saga that contrasts its protagonist’s bloody profession against the shifting currents of his family situation. What makes “Godfather of Harlem” special is its setting — the early 1960s — and its emphasis on Civil Rights and the black experience.

Bumpy is portrayed by Forest Whitaker, whose onscreen charisma helps sell a character who, let’s face it, is getting rich off the suffering of his own people. Bumpy used the notorious French Connection to funnel heroin into the inner city; he seems to have had no qualms about this, even when his own daughter became an addict.

Indeed, my biggest beef with Season 1 is that it totally blows off the moral implications of its hero’s choices.  I’m happy to report that Season 2 finally digs into Bumpy’s moral ambivalence.

What makes the show noteworthy is not its gangster cliches but its rich depiction of an era.  

Bumpy’s main nemesis is Mafia crime boss and dyed-in-the-womb racist Chin Gigante (a marvelously loathsome Vincent D’Onofrio). His two greatest allies are a U.S. Congressman, the womanizing, heavy-drinking Rev. Adam Clayton Powell (portrayed with palpable glee by Giancarlo Esposito) and the Nation of Islam maverick Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), perhaps the most ethically grounded character in sight.

Season One also features a Romeo & Juliet love affair beetween Gigante’s daughter (Lucy Fry) and a black r&b singer (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Race relations being what they were, the description “star-crossed” is wholly appropriate.

The performances are top notch.  Especially loved Chaz Palminteri as mob bigewig Joe Bonanno and the late Paul Sorvino as boss of bosses Frank Costello. Look also for Deric Augustine’s turn as young Cassius Clay.

Jason Segel, Harrison Ford

“SHRINKING” (Apple TV):  How’s this for a pedigree?  

“Shrinking” was created by actor Jason Segel, screenwriter/actor Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”) and veteran TV producer Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs,” “Cougartown,” “Ted Lasso”)…and as you might guess from that lineup, it is wickedly funny with a big ol’ heart.

Segel stars as Jimmy, a recently widowed psychiatrist struggling to serve his patients (among them KC’s Heidi Gardner) while bringing up a teenage daughter (Lukita Maxwell) who sees through his every pathetic ruse.

Sadsack Jimmy shares the mental health suite with his mentor Paul (Harrison Ford…way funnier than I thought possible) and the adorably chatty Gaby (Jessica Williams). Those who maintain you have to be a bit crazy to succeed in the psychology racket will find ample confirmation.

(Just occurred to me…”Shrinking” is the old Bob Newhart-as-psychologist show on steroids…with a Viagra chaser.)

Jimmy’s circle also includes his sardonically-inclined neighbors (Christa Miller, Ted McGinley),  a War on Terror veteran with anger issues (Luke Tennie) and Jimmy’s enthusiastically out attorney (Michael Urie).

As was the case with both “Scrubs” and “Ted Lasso,” I’ve fallen in love with the show’s characters — not to mention its vaguely stressed-out  humanism and its intriguing look into the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of psychiatry.

Mark Addy (center)

“THE MURDERS AT WHITE HOUSE FARM” (HBO Max): The 1985 murders of five members of an Essex farm family are the basis for this six-episode series featuring the great Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon for you “GoT” geeks) as a rumpled police detective who bucks his superiors and public opinion to dig into the case.

In real life things were resolved with the conviction of a family member, but the series has just enough flexibility to leave us wondering if, in the end, they got the right guy.  

In any case, the show offers a pantry full of interesting characters and a whole slew of good perfs.

| Robert W. Butler

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