Stuart’s here again. I think Buckler fled to Bermuda. That bum. Word on the street is he’ll be back next week.
I made the mistake of starting to watch Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu last week. Although the much-better-regarded White Lotus on HBO Max was also available (and deals with the same issues), I wasn’t fond of the cast of that one and opted not to start it. I’m regretting my decision.
Can you pretend to be prestige TV?
Nine Perfect Strangers seems to have the perfect setup to be considered “prestige television.” Top movie stars? Check. Vague promise of nudity? Check. Based on a book by a popular author? Directed by a well-regarded director? Artsy, confusing opening credits that make you think you’re on an acid trip? Check, check, check. Everything about this show screams “I AM IMPORTANT AND I WILL WIN EVERY EMMY AWARD.”
Except, once you get past the check boxes, there’s nothing there.
Look, folks, I know I’m not at the same level of the people who made the show. I’m barely at the level of other people who criticize the show. So maybe it’s not fair for me to needle it so severely. But I’m going to do it anyway and honestly, if David E. Kelley or Nicole Kidman want to savagely attack The Solid Signal Blog, I’ll just take that as punishment. Fair enough. So now that we’re past the disclaimers, let’s dig in.
The casting is…
…possibly the biggest problem with this show. Nicole Kidman, a very well-known Australian, is a very strange choice for Masha, the mysterious Russian at the heart of Tranquillum House. Perhaps you are meant to feel uneasy about her, but casting Ms. Kidman creates the wrong kind of unease. Whenever she appears, the viewer stops being immersed in the show. Instead, we think, “Does she know what a Russian accent really sounds like? Is that a wig? Doesn’t this woman ever eat?” and other rather irrelevant questions.
Similarly, Michael Shannon seems miscast as the perpetually optimistic Napoleon Marconi. You might know Mr. Shannon as General Zod from Man of Steel or from his award-nominated turn in Boardwalk Empire. Honestly I think he’s a great actor and he does pull off this role. But again, you’re not immersed in his performance. Whenever he talks, you think, “Wow, Michael Shannon is really pulling it off.”
Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale round out the prestige portion of the cast. Both give the performances their all and it’s a pleasure to see them work no matter what they do. But like Ms. Kidman and Mr. Shannon, they are “capital S” stars and they don’t disappear into their characters. When they talk, you hear the actor, not the character.
The writing is really the problem
You really want to believe this is another Big Little Lies or Little Fires Everywhere. After all it has all the trappings. But the writing just isn’t there. This is a very talented cast and they are stuck saying lines and doing things that make literally no sense.
When watching this show, I’m reminded of the disaster movies of the 1970s. I do actually like that genre, but I’m the first one to admit that our understanding of “good writing” has changed. Whether it’s Earthquake, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), or The Poseidon Adventure (1972), these movies have something in common. People from different walks of life are trapped somewhere. They have to work to get through the immediate struggle. Each person represents a whole group of people. The distinction could be based on class or wealth but is more often based on gender or race.
In Nine Perfect Strangers, there’s a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess…
It Is Now 7:06. You Have Exactly 8 Hours And 54 Minutes To Think About Why You Are Here – To Ponder The Error Of Your Ways.
Oh my gosh. I just realized that this isn’t a disaster movie. It’s The Breakfast Club. And Nicole Kidman is playing the Mr. Vernon role. Which, by the way, is a character I identify with more and more as I get older.
Now, as a young person I loved that movie. Thanks to a friend who had it on a near-endless loop on weekends, hardly a week went by that I didn’t see at least a bit of it. Sadly watching it now only brings up how much we’ve changed in our views on class, race, sexual harassment, and high school cliques. To say it hasn’t aged well… is a massive understatement.
And to be real honest, Nine Perfect Strangers is a pretty big leap backwards there. By assuming that these disparate people can’t get along, it perpetuates their stereotypes. You would like to think we could do better in 2021. Apparently, that’s not always true.
Of course the joke’s on me…
…because I’m 3 episodes in and I’ll probably watch the whole show. I’ll be hatewatching, yes, but I’ll be watching. I’m not the only one who thinks this show doesn’t deserve the term “prestige television” — other critics are similarly savage — but most reviewers seem to agree that although it’s not good, we’re still watching. And since that’s what Hulu is shooting for, I guess it just doesn’t matter.