Israeli mob ‘Queens,’ survivalist soccer stars and too-tasteful tales - what's on TV?

What's new to watch in Israel?

 A DIFFERENT kind of girl power in ‘Queens.’ (photo credit: HOT)
A DIFFERENT kind of girl power in ‘Queens.’
(photo credit: HOT)

The wait is nearly over for Sex and the City fans waiting to see how their favorite fictional girlfriends are navigating these troubled times – the reboot series, And Just Like That, billed as a new chapter of SATC, will have its premiere here the day it is released in the US, on Dec. 9 at 10:30 p.m. on Hot 3, and it will also be available on Hot VOD and Next TV.

A different kind of girl power is on display in Queens (aka Malkot), an Israeli series about a crime family run by merciless women, the second season of which will start running on Hot 3 on Thursdays on Dec. 16 at 8:15 p.m., and on Hot VOD and Next TV. It is over-the-top fun, with Rita perfectly credible as a scary gangster, alongside her henchwomen, Dana Ivgy, Mali Levi and Lihi Kornowski. This season adds a plot set in Moscow, where Kornowski does business. This could be the next big Israeli series.

Ruthless females are also front and center in Yellowjackets, a psychological thriller/horror series, which is now on Yes VOD, and which will start broadcasting on Yes Drama on Dec. 23 at 9:45 p.m.; it is definitely not for the squeamish. But it has a great cast, including Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Two and a Half Men), Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers) and Christina Ricci and is well done and suspenseful, albeit very, very violent. It’s set in the 1990s and in the present and is about a girls’ soccer team whose plane crashes in snowy woods, where they are stranded for 19 months – which seems an incredible amount of time for anyone to be lost in the US – and how they cope with memories and repercussions of how they survived. If you have ever heard stories of plane crashes in the snow, you’ll have an idea of how they survived, but there is a Lord of the Flies component to the story which provides most of the horror. It’s not for everyone, but some will become addicted to this series.

Two highly praised movies, which are being mentioned as contenders for major awards and which are available on Netflix and in theaters, The Power of the Dog and Passing, suffer from serious cases of ‘Bergmanitis.’ That’s my diagnosis when a movie is so tasteful and understated that its characters speak softly and carefully throughout, the way so many do in movies by Ingmar Bergman, while the pacing is so glacial you start to notice whether or not characters are left- or right-handed. While in Bergman’s movie universe, it makes sense for repressed, brooding Swedes to speak this way, movies with Bergmanitis put good intentions and seriousness first, plot and characters a distant second.

 JULIETTE WILSON in the a psychological thriller/horror series ‘Yellowjackets.’ (credit: Paul Sarkis/Showtime/Yes) JULIETTE WILSON in the a psychological thriller/horror series ‘Yellowjackets.’ (credit: Paul Sarkis/Showtime/Yes)

Jane Campion (The Piano), who directed The Power of the Dog, is practiced at creating a mournful atmosphere in isolated settings, and she made the tense crime drama Top of the Lake, a few years ago. In The Power of the Dog, she has adapted a Thomas Savage novel about two brothers who own a ranch in 1920s Montana (although the haunting landscapes were actually shot in New Zealand). One brother, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), is an angry, charismatic macho man who refuses to bathe and lashes out at everyone around him, while George (Jesse Plemons) is quieter, more thoughtful and comfortable wearing suits. When George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a widow who runs an inn and is raising a sensitive, artistic son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil gets even angrier. He is particularly nasty to Rose and her son, whom he mocks for being effeminate, but begins to bond with the young man.

However, this plot summary makes the movie sound livelier and more dramatic than it is. In spite of a complicated, tragic ending, it was a chore to watch, and the theme of repressed homosexuality did not help bring it to life. The actors are all very good and may well win many awards, but seeing them here made me miss them in other, more enjoyable movies and television shows: Cumberbatch in Sherlock, Dunst and Plemons in Fargo and Smit-McPhee in The Road and Gallipoli.

Passing, which was directed by actress Rebecca Hall, and set during the Harlem renaissance in the 1920s, is far more entertaining than The Power of the Dog, but still suffers from a muted tone that makes it slower going than it should be, given its intriguing plot. It is about the phenomenon of light-skinned African-Americans passing for white and is based on a novel by Nella Larsen, about Irene (Tessa Thompson), a seemingly content doctor’s wife in Harlem, whose life is shaken up when she runs into a schoolmate, Clare (Ruth Negga), who is now married to a white businessman, John (Alexander Skarsgard). Clare, hungry to drop her mask, starts spending time with Irene in her family home in Harlem, and becomes a fixture in their world of charity fundraisers and bohemian parties, while John, who thinks she is white, has no idea what she is really up to. The two leads are excellent, and Thompson is especially good in the less showy role, showing her pain quietly as it seems even her husband is mesmerized by Clare. But it all drags a little, as if the burden of portraying educated upper-class African Americans who suffer from racism was somehow incompatible with making the movie fun to watch. I also wished that Skarsgard’s character was not a rabid racist whom Clare merely tolerates. If she had started her ruse because she found him attractive or even loved him, it would have made the story so much more complex. And I felt sorry for Skarsgard for having to play another character who embodies all that can be bad about being a white male, as he did when he portrayed the evil wife beater in Big Little Lies.

While you may feel you know all you need to about the Third Reich, the English language, three-part documentary series, Living with Hitler, running on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Hot 8 and Hot VOD, gives a clear history of how the dictator was able to seize power and hold onto it, and you may learn something new. I had never heard, for example, that early in Hitler’s reign, his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, commissioned the manufacture of a very cheap radio so Nazi broadcasts would be accessible to all, and made sure these radios did not receive foreign broadcasts. It is details like this that make clear how sophisticated the Nazi propaganda machine was.

If you’re looking for a lighter documentary, try Mr. Saturday Night, a look at the career of Australian music impresario/movie producer Robert Stigwood, who helped popularize the disco craze and helped steer the Bee Gees into that style of music. It becomes available on Cellcom TV starting on December 12.