First off, there’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” (Prime Video). Heidi Schreck wrote and stars in this filmed version of her award-winning play. I was lucky enough to see it in a theater and tuned in to see how they did with the always-problematic transfer of a one-set play to film. For me, the play itself is the star, no matter the medium, but in some ways I enjoyed it more on TV. Directors Oliver Butler and Marielle Heller’s use of close-ups is one of the reasons why: They make no attempt to “open up” the play; rather, they go smaller, more intimate, so you really listen to the words and see the emotions pulsing beneath the skin. I would love every young person from 18 up (there is too much mature content for anyone younger) to experience the subject matter. This is about our national heritage, but it is also Schreck’s personal story, interwoven between scenes from her past as a high school orator, her family’s history of women being treated badly and the current situation in our government that tests the strength of this venerable document today. Please don’t let the title be a turn-off because, yes, it is about the Constitution but only as a reference point to a whole variety of subjects, somber, heart-breaking, insightful and funny.
Next, we have “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix). For those of us who were eyewitnesses to the chaos surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, either in person or on TV, Aaron Sorkin’s excellent dramatization of the events that led to marches, police brutality and the arrests of several counterculture figures will bring it all back and add new insights into the behind-the-scenes legal maneuverings. For those born later on, this will not seem unfamiliar; one has only to look at the news as it reports on marches, protests, police brutality. It’s a sad lesson as to how far we have not come. Sorkin has written one of his crisp, brain-stimulating scripts, cast it brilliantly and directed the whole thing to flow smoothly, highlighting humor when needed and lingering on some profound truths that startle us. Mark Rylance’s signature underplaying has never served him better as defense counselor William Kuntsler, especially when there is a final eruption of rage at a judge who is so obviously biased as to be laughable. Sasha Baron Cohen perfectly captures the complex, charismatic Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne has the difficult job of playing Tom Hayden, a character torn between playing it safe and being daring. He does it well. Special kudos go to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in the small but significant role of the leader of the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale.
Then we come to the fluff, “Emily in Paris” (Netflix). I have no idea why I continued watching this new Darren Star show after the first two episodes. It is bland (scripts not great; story lines predictable); it is simplistic (naïve, spunky American vs. cynical, old-school Parisians); its characters are formulaic and not very interesting (even though the cast works their buns off punching up their dialogue). But I stayed through episode six out of 10. Why? Two words: Paris and clothes. Oh, my, how good to bask in that venerable, gorgeous, shining French city and its architecture, the sidewalk cafes, the interiors of landmarks like the Paris Opera, the sense of dramatic yet elegant style in the people walking along the gorgeous tree-lined boulevards. And yes, the clothes, all designed by Marylin Fitouss, with Patricia Field of “Sex and the City” as consultant, are eye-catching, for sure. For Emily (Lily Collins, another Brit with a spot-on American accent), offbeat hemlines, silly-yet-not-tacky patterns, soft layers and scarves; for the Frenchwomen, the tone is chic, sensual, tasteful, a feast for the eyes, all of it. Having written these words, I now know why I watched so much of this show and will go back for the last four episodes—it obliterated the current harsh reality of our existence so thoroughly that I got a good night’s sleep.