Welcome to The Culture Wrap! Our Friday feature edited by Jessie Tu, that shares her pick of things watch. Just in time for the long weekend.
What to watch
BINGE / HBO
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Two giant forces, separately, in any film or series they appear. Put them together and you get a strange couple, yes. But how can you deny the pull of their individual luminary power?
They appear together in The Undoing, a 6-part series whose pilot aired on Monday this past week, and people are going crazy over it. As they should. As I have. And as you should too.
The series has been genre-boxed as a psychological thriller, but the first 45 minutes of the pilot was unsettling in its tone and pacing. Hugh Grant was his usual, Hugh-Grant-ish self, providing the comic relief from Nicole Kidman’s serious, austere-posture.
The drawling close ups and ambient blurry cityscapes thrusts you into New York City pre-pandemic. It’s haunting, in a strange, alluring way.
Kidman plays Grace, a marriage councillor who consults on a very lush looking couch in an office in the upper east side of Manhattan. Her clients are embroiled in adultery and other relationship ruptures. She always has a wise word for them. She has it together. Her son is a star violinist at a posh private school. Her husband, that’s Hugh Grant, is a celebrated paediatric oncologist, and they are still in love. Well, they still have sex and Kidman’s character doesn’t refuse her husband when he suggests he join her while she’s in the shower.
In the first episode, we meet Grace’s posse of rich, fabulously glamorous women who are also mothers at her son’s school. Nothing screams ‘wealth’ like a group of pearl-clutching women with manicured hair around a table of tea and macaroons planning a school fundraiser.
At this first meeting, we meet the show’s most mysterious character Elena Alves, the “scholarship mum”, and of course, she’s not white. (Hollywood loves to weave in white supremacy wherever they can). She’s Latina, (though the actress who plays her is Italian) shouldering on the hyper-femme, hyper-sexualised ‘spicy-Latina’ stereotype prevalent in the US.
Elena is hot. No doubt about it. In fact, she looks like Jennifer Lawerence and Marilyn Monroe put together. But she’s hiding something (of course she is!). “There is never nothing beneath something that is covered,” Deborah Levy famously wrote in her 2016 novel “Hot Milk” (my favourite novel of all time). Concealment might be why Grace and her husband’s marriage has been working so well for so long.
By the end of the first episode, there’s been a gruesome murder, a kiss between two women (though this is hardly edgy), a betrayal, and a ludicrous scene of a woman auctioning off a glass of tap water for thousands of dollars.
The series is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel “You Should Have Known”. Hanff Korelitz’s other books have been adapted to screen, including Admission, which starred Paul Rugg and Tina Fey. The show is written and produced by David E. Kelley, who was behind shows like Big Little Lies, The Practice, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal. So you know you’re in good hands.
The pilot was directed by Susanne Bier, a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer who was earlier this week named co-chair of the Academy’s international feature film executive committee.
We’re not happy that we need to wait each week for another hour of this story. Maybe I should just buy the book and read it to know who the killer is. Or maybe I can learn to wait. Waiting is a skill many of us are losing these days.