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Scandal, wolves and Reservation Dogs: Top TV picks for the week

NZ Herald

Watch, listen and be inspired by Calum Henderson's definitive list of what's hot right now and from the vault

American Rust. Photo / Supplied
American Rust. Photo / Supplied

American Rust (Sky Go and Neon, from Monday)

If you've ever wondered what a Bruce Springsteen song might look like as a TV drama, American Rust is probably as close as you're going to get to an answer. Likewise, if you wanted to see a version of Mare of Easttown where the main cop was a broken man suffering PTSD from the Iraq War instead of a vaping woman dealing with unresolved grief.

Like Easttown, American Rust is set among the hard-living, Carhartt-wearing community of Buell, a down-on-its-luck Pennsylvania town where the factories have shut down and the American dream now appears little more than a mirage.

Based on the novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer, it starts, as do a lot of these shows, with a dead body, before going back six months to introduce the tangled web of characters. Jeff Daniels is chief of police Del Harris, the archetypal damaged cop who lives alone in a house where the curtains seem always drawn.

The chief suspect responsible for the dead body at the mill is Billy, a washed-up former high school football prospect who's no stranger to the law. He's still "a good kid" according to his mum, who also has a "thing" going with Del, which certainly complicates things a bit. Billy's high school sweetheart has made it out of Buell and got married to a new guy in New York, leaving her brother Isaac to care for their invalid father, with whom the resentment appears mutual.

There's plenty more, of course, but these are the main characters we meet in the first episode, which sketches a bleak and engrossing, if familiar, portrait of small-town desperation before delivering the hook for the series in the final moments. Think of it as a companion to Mare of Easttown – a similar vibe, but on a different trajectory.

Scenes from a Marriage. Photo / Supplied
Scenes from a Marriage. Photo / Supplied

Scenes From a Marriage (Neon, from Tuesday)

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain went viral last week for a weirdly intense display of what can only be described as extreme sexual chemistry on the red carpet while promoting their new HBO limited series. Remember when we all thought Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were up to something? Like that but … more. It's probably the best promo possible for a series like Scenes From a Marriage, a deep, intimate, intellectually nourishing character study of a married couple. It's based on a 1973 Swedish mini-series directed by Ingmar Bergman, in case you had any doubts as to its highbrow credentials.

Reservation Dogs (Disney Plus, from Wednesday)

New Zealand's chance to see what Taika Waititi's been working on lately is almost here. Reservation Dogs, made with Native American film-maker Starlin Harjo, follows a quartet of teenagers growing up and getting up to no good on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma (where Harjo is from), saving up the proceeds of their small-time crimes in the hopes of one day making it out of there and going to live in California. It's an authentic, funny, gritty portrayal of small-town life, and the script is done justice by some superb performances from the young cast.

LulaRich. Photo / Supplied
LulaRich. Photo / Supplied

LuLaRich (Amazon Prime Video)

LuLaRoe is a notoriously cult-like American pyramid (or multi-level marketing) scheme that involves people paying a lot of money to sign up to sell snazzy leggings to each other on Facebook. LuLaRich is the four-part documentary from the makers of (one of) the Fyre Festival documentaries, charting the company's chaotic rise and the many subsequent scandals and lawsuits, featuring interviews with co-founders DeAnne and Mark Stidham, who seem like characters straight out of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. It's a wild, barely believable, "only in America" ride.

Movie of the Week: Misha and the Wolves (Netflix)

This week's must-see stranger-than-fiction documentary comes to us from Massachusetts, where a memoir written by a local Holocaust survivor claims she was raised by a pack of wolves after walking for miles through Nazi-occupied Germany in search of her parents. It was a heck of a story, and yes, Oprah absolutely wanted a piece of it – but was it true? Her publisher begins to suspect it may not have been, and the film picks it up from there, unravelling the truth and presenting an intriguing character study.

From the Vault: A Star is Born (1954) (Netflix)

Depending on who you listen to, either the best or second-best – after the 2018 Cooper/Gaga version, of course – of all the A Star is Borns. The Judy Garland/James Mason version is certainly the longest, the version now on Netflix clocking in at just under three hours, much of that made up of musical numbers. There's no jazzy old version of "Shallow", though – that's only in the latest one.

Podcast of the Week: Crime Show

It takes some audacity to launch a new crime podcast in 2021 and name it "Crime Show". Don't we already have about a thousand of those already? Not many, however, are as good as this.

Made by Gimlet, the studio behind a lot of other popular podcasts, it's an anthology series with a scope that extends far beyond the usual murder cases. One of the highlights so far, for example, has been the story of Martha Wash, whose voice almost everybody on earth will have heard belting out the famous "Everybody dance now!" in C & C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat". Wash, who was also one half The Weather Girls ("It's Raining Men"), took on the music industry after being screwed over several times by producers who'd get her in to sing on demos (and pay her demo rates), then having skinny 1980s models lip-sync her lines in the music videos.

Most episodes feature interviews with the people at the centre of the story, and their stories often include twists and surprises you don't see coming. Try the two-parter about the MMA fighter turned bank robber – like a real-life Guy Ritchie movie – for an example of the cracking yarns Crime Show has to offer.