Milieu is everything in Only Murders In The Building (Disney+), a half-hour cosy mystery set in a gorgeous, sprawling, classic Manhattan apartment building. Steve Martin and Martin Short continue their forty year or so on-again off-again collaboration as two mature show-biz types whose prime days are way past; true-crime podcast obsessives, they hook up with a third, a young woman played by Selena Gomez, to solve a murder in the building. It’s warm, charming and sweet: total lockdown comfort food. It’s also underwritten, at times rather casually directed, and features a very weird, even off-putting, performance by Gomez. But watching Martin and Short together is a treat, and the milieu is delicious.
Sometimes the right actor just gets the right TV role, and hits the jackpot. That’s an intentional, albeit lame, pun, as Jean Smart’s role in Hacks (STAN), as Deborah Vance, a Joan Rivers-like stand-up comedian, sees her revelling in all things Las Vegas. Vance, as Rivers was, is a star of the Vegas Strip, performing a hundred shows a year, and making unimaginable amounts of money. But the guy who owns the casino she works in wants to slowly decrease her workload, so to give the appearance of sharpening up her act, she agrees to her agent’s request to hire a young joke-writer, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), who is at least 45 years younger than her and light years away in all sensibilities.
Their culture clash forms the spine of this feted half-hour comedy, but the depiction of a ludicrously lavish Las Vegas lifestyle is more than half the fun. Rivers was famously loaded, as is Vance, and the wealth porn on display is magnificent and eye-opening. Why would you ever work Vegas? Well, this house is why, and this lifestyle. Much like Rivers herself was, Vance is simultaneously a fan of Vegas and a woman of some taste, and seeing that culture clash – how to be tastefully obscenely wealthy in an obscenely tasteless place – is fun indeed. Smart won the Emmy recently, and she’s the reason to watch: she’s fantastic, making the most of every single moment.
On Apple TV+, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation gets a very expensive outing. One of the first vehicles we see in the first episode is extremely close to Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder from Star Wars, and myriad other references – especially to ‘Empire’ – make it clear that Asimov’s novel was indeed, for George Lucas, a foundational text. But Star Wars is fantasy, and this is ‘hard’ sci-fi, so everyone is giving a stoic performance, and solemnity is the key tone. Sometimes the mood is deliberately lightened, clearly to aid accessibility, and when it is, the tone clashes jarringly. I’ve not read the Asimov, but I doubt there was such importance played to a shipboard romance as there is here. Thankfully, there’s an awful lot of science, or pseudo-science, and mathematics going on as well, which is, I gather, what the Asimov heads will want, along with spectacular VFX world-building (and there are a lot of worlds). It feels mostly respectful to Asimov’s tone and story, which may make it good for the fans and incomprehensible to the rest of us.