Quick TV Reviews: 'Unorthodox', 'The Queen's Gambit', ‘Mrs. America' | Miniseries, Drama
This is a star-making role for Shira Haas who plays Esther, a young woman who decides to leave her strictly Orthodox Jewish community to find her own path in life. A miniseries tightly packaged into four episodes that absolutely fly by in the best way possible, it features incredible acting from scene to scene. Haas’ eyes alone speak louder than thunder and it all pays off in the biggest way in the final episode which features a tender musical moment. Supporting cast (including Amit Rahav as Esther’s husband) is solid as well. Captivating stories are treated like rare diamonds and Unorthodox certainly has one but it’s also supported by smart writing which isn’t afraid to test the actors. Scripts don’t have an edge when it comes to the chasing and hunting down parts of it but the show doesn’t really need that since it already hits the dramatic moments perfectly.
Smileys: Shira Haas, story, screenplay, pacing, Amit Rahav
Frowneys: Nothing too disappointing
THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (miniseries)
2020 has overall been a much quieter year for television so something like The Queen’s Gambit was a much welcomed surprise to brighten up the gloomy fall season. One of the better outings when it comes to technical and artistic grandeur as the miniseries looks pretty much flawless from the outside. Its production design is tasteful, cinematography classically stylish and costume work pops out colourfully from black and white framework of a chessboard. Speaking of, the series' chess sequences are absolutely riveting front to back. It’s just astounding how cleanly the actors—notably the leading woman Anya Taylor-Joy (as Beth) —play the matches because I get a headache just thinking about how blocking those scenes work. Editor Michelle Tesoro also has a big hand on executing those scenes to the finished product as they are cut to perfection.
A few things keep the show somewhat flawed though as the character of Jolene (Moses Ingram) being the only black person and also not having an arc is quite troublesome, also the episode count could’ve been a couple episodes shorter or longer. A shorter run would’ve shown more focus on Beth but the longer one would’ve built the chess world better. That’s however a small thing because the exquisite artistry present carries the show to check mate.
Smileys: Production design, editing, Anya Taylor-Joy, cinematography, costume design
Frowneys: Minor issues with characterisation
MRS. AMERICA (miniseries)
Undoubtedly a technical marvel which is an obvious vehicle for award season. Each episode in this miniseries focuses on a different person and while it creates some imbalance, it’s never because of the acting behind that person. Mrs. America's cast led by Cate Blanchett (Phyllis Schlafly), Rose Byrne (Gloria Steinem), Uzo Aduba (Shirley Chisholm) and Margo Martindale (Bella Apzug) is extraordinary from top to bottom. Acting alone stands up for itself but it doesn’t hurt when there’s beautiful work done by makeup, hair and costume departments which builds the characters into even bigger forces. All five credited directors also deserve some praise as every single movement, line and word’s inflection seems purposeful.
As said, the series is technically high-quality content from front to back but it did leave me emotionally rather distant. We don’t get quite enough time with the characters considering there are several years passing by from episode one to nine, on top of that the music (score and soundtrack combined) felt equally empty and it kept going in and out very awkwardly.
Smileys: Performance by a cast, hairstyling, costume design
Frowneys: Score, soundtrack