Dystopia, 'Annihilation,' and 'Americans'

Watching television (Illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Watching television (Illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
 Dystopia is the new black these days, and the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, a preview of which was not yet available at press time, is now airing on HOT VOD and on HOT HBO on Thursdays at 10 p.m.
The trend in future shock will continue with the new version of the classic Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451, which is coming up on HOT VOD, Next TV and YES VOD on May 20, YES 3 starting May 22 at 10 p.m. and on HOT HBO on May 26 at 10 p.m. This story of a dystopian future where books are banned and burned was first made into a film by bibliophile Francois Truffaut in 1966. In a certain way, the premise made more sense then, when books were a more central part of life. Now it’s hard to imagine people getting worked up enough about books to burn them. But the TV series features a great cast, led by Michael B. Jordan (The Wire), Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) and Martin Donovan (Weeds).
As controversy swirls around Natalie Portman and her lastminute decision not to accept the Genesis Prize in Jerusalem later this month, you might (or might not) want to check out her latest movie, Annihilation, which is on Netflix. Directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina), it’s is a trippy, special effects-laden story of a scientist (Portman) who leads an all-female mission to a lovely wooded area on the beachfront where something called The Shimmer has been detected after the crash landing of a UFO there. This area has claimed the lives of all those who have investigated it before, including Portman’s husband (Oscar Isaac), who is presumed dead. When he turns up alive but in bad shape, she volunteers to lead a mission to find out what happened. I don’t remember why it’s an all-female group, but the actresses with her include Jennifer Jason Leigh (Weeds), Tess Thompson (Westworld) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin).
The action continues along a tried-and-true sci-fi path — the area of The Shimmer is filled with animals whose carbon has been altered, with flowers popping out of deer antlers and that kind of thing — until it reaches a climax that vaguely recalls the David Bowie movie The Man Who Fell to Earth. Portman looks elegant and pained throughout and in the opening scene, when she tells an investigator debriefing her after her return that she doesn’t remember eating throughout the journey, the waif-like actress delivers the line with real conviction.
As The Americans, which airs on YES Edge on Thursdays at 5 a.m. and 10:50 p.m. and on YES VOD, gets closer to its inevitable conclusion, in which its Russian KGB agent protagonists in Washington will be forced to deal with the imminent break-up of the Soviet Union, it’s worth noting that this is one of the most compelling television shows ever. As its final season progresses, there are no wrong notes or superfluous twists. If you haven’t watched this show from the beginning, it’s worth it to start watching the early seasons however you can, whether it’s on HOT VOD or YES VOD, iTunes, Amazon Prime or even on DVD.
Now that the Russians are back in the news for their UK poisonings and their bolstering of the Assad regime, this show seems more timely and fascinating than ever.
While Homeland has gone from must-see TV to something of a weekly chore, in recent weeks Carrie’s custody battle with her sister, who wants to adopt the little girl she often abandons to save the US government, has become by far the most engrossing storyline. After Carrie (Claire Danes) crashes and burns once again when she goes off her medication, her doctor sister steps in to take care of her daughter, whose father was US marine turned Islamic terrorist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). The raw emotion on display as the sisters battle over this child is more moving than any of the skulduggery surrounding it. Showtime has announced that this show will continue for another season.