MAGGIE (2022-)

(Hulu) Within the first ten minutes of Hulu’s MAGGIE I thought: “Oh, the jokes are smart! And there’s SUPERSTORE’s Nichole Sakura! This feels pretty cozy and winsome, albeit a bit basic.”

As if in response, the show then started laying into folks named “Glenn with two N’s” which, if you haven’t read the About section of this site, is my first name. I did not react well:

“Well fuck you too, show. I didn’t want to like you in the first place.”

(I’ve had a hard past few months and had hoped this would be a slice of escapism, but apparently not!)

That said, I didn’t turn it off in anger, but let it wash over me and I’m glad I did because this rom-com has a quick wit and is far deeper than it may first appear to be.

MAGGIE, created by LIFE IN PIECES co-creator Justin Adler and alum Maggie Mull, centers around the titular Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse), a 30-something who has been psychic her entire life; she sees her visions via touch. It took a long time for her father, Jack (Chris Elliot) and mother Maria (Kerri Kenney) — those are some quality gets, folks — to believe that she truly could see the future, but they finally accept her, and she currently resides in half of the bungalow her parents own.

While her parents may have been skeptics during Maggie’s youth, her best friend Louise (the previously mentioned Nichole Sakura) was mostly there for her through high school, at least when she wasn’t studying night-and-day to get into med school.

In the first episode, Maggie is giving psychic readings at a party and one of the partygoers, Ben (David Del Rio), takes a shining to her, asks for a reading. Maggie obliges and sees a vision of herself marrying him, gets frightened and runs off.

The next night, while consoling Louise after a bad date, she runs into Ben, and Louise eggs her on to roll with it and Maggie does, right into bed with him.

The morning after, as Ben makes breakfast for her, Maggie sees another vision of him marrying someone else, and she rushes out.

Fast-forward a bit. Louise and Maggie are heading back to Maggie’s bungalow and they run into Ben. He explains that he and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Jessie (Chloe Bridges) are moving into the same bungalow as Maggie’s. Along the way, we meet Ben’s off-kilter sister Amy (UNDONE’s Angelique Cabral), who got married to people-pleasing partner Dave (WESTWORLD’s Leonardo Nam) at Burning Man.

The first half of the season is primarily concerned with Maggie and her love life in a way that recalls GILMORE GIRLS (Maggie :: Lorelai, Ben :: Luke) and, like GILMORE GIRLS, Maggie gets involved with bearded Daniel who is basically Max Medina in this situation, and it feels very formulaic, albeit with wildly vacillating tones; one ep in particular feels like a 90s three-camera sitcom.

Then the second half of the season kicks in and the show snaps into view. You realize that the psychic gimmick meant to individuate the show is essentially a stand-in for neurodivergent brains. The show fully leans into that and matters turns serious, without dialing down the jokes.

Without spoiling much, there is one moment where Maggie realizes that an important person in her life doesn’t believe that she is psychic, and she is absolutely crushed. It’s not just that she doesn’t feel seen, it’s not just that she feels this person doesn’t believe her, it’s not just that this person is utterly dismissive towards this foundational aspect of herself and her history, it’s also that she — an actual psychic — is blindsided by the news.

Anyone who lives with any kind of invisible issues can identify with the fear that you won’t be understood or believed. MAGGIE’s writers know it, and they are fully putting it on display.

One more example, although this has major spoilers for Episode 11 – ‘You Will Experience a Loss’:

Spoiler

Maggie is at a bachelorette party. She’s had an abnormal number of visions all day and immediately feels like she shouldn’t be there, feeling extra-sensitive. Nonetheless, she’s dragged onto the dance floor and bounced around like a pinball. As she pings off each tightly packed partygoer, every hit induces a vision until her world goes white, as if a flashbang has gone off in front of her. When her sight returns, she immediately grabs Louise and demands to ‘read’ her:

“What happened to no readings for friends?”

“NOW!”

Maggie drags her from the dance floor and presses Louise’s hands.

“What do you see?”

“…nothing.”

Yes, the classic ‘powerless’ trope. While this is a tried-and-true superhero trope — for the first half of the season I mused to myself: you could have saved yourself so much trouble if you’d learn from X-MEN’s Rogue and just wear a thick pair of long sleeve leather gloves — it’s surprising to see the device deployed in a rom-com.

The rest of the season deals with the fallout of her loss of her mystic foresight, of her grappling with being normal, of no longer being the one looked to for answers, to problem solve, to shoulder it all, while lamenting the perks of being psychic.

[collapse]

While the show tackles mental matters in a surprisingly far more interesting way than most, it does have a number of issues, such as the shifting tone, spotty ground rules of Maggie’s abilities, and the fact that Maggie’s voracious Black psychic mentor self-named Angel (DON’T TRUST THE B— IN APT. 23’s Ray Ford) seems to be the sole queer representation on the show.* While Ford knows how to calibrate his performance, this approach feels very dated, and hard to overlook.

If there’s a second season — and that’s a big if — I could see this show really coming together and become something special. The end of the first season raises more questions than it answers, and exploring the potentials of its mysticism could open up a whole new world.

  • It’s possible that there are passing mentions regarding other characters, but if so, I missed them or they weren’t prominent enough to count.

DEFINITELY, MAYBE (2008)

Programming note: I’m swamped this month balancing NaNoWriMo and work and life, so the few posts I’ll eke out will be brief and will often lean on others.

(peacock/VOD) DEFINITELY, MAYBE is one of my favorite modern rom-coms, and I was elated to see that Caroline Siede featured it in her fantastic WHEN ROMANCE MET COMEDY series (despite the fact that it took me several months to finally read it):

“Definitely, Maybe isn’t a “soulmate rom-com” about how there’s one perfect person for everyone. Instead, it looks at the realistic ways in which timing, circumstance, and miscommunication can impact and upend relationships. And it finds hope in the fact that good things can still come out of a romance that’s not meant to last. Definitely, Maybe is essentially the cinematic equivalent of the adage that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime—and that there’s value in all three.”

https://www.avclub.com/ryan-reynolds-traded-snark-for-sincerity-in-an-underrat-1847432954

I’M YOUR MAN (2021)

(Cinemas) Temporarily pausing the horror posts, because, well, because this was the second part of a self-inflicted double-feature with LAMB, and I loved it.

I’M YOUR MAN is a high-concept romantic drama from actor/director/writer Maria Schrader (perhaps best known in the U.S. for the Netflix series UNORTHODOX, but I know best for portraying Jaguar in the German historical docudrama AIMEE & JAGUAR), that features Dan Stevens as an ideal robotic romantic companion to middle-aged academic Alma (Maren Eggert). The film leans on a lot of rom-com tropes, notably those of a ‘perfect’ man who can fix one woman’s self-made woes, but then intentionally subverts them. (I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. See also: TIMER (2009))The end result is a very smart look at not just what folks want from partners, but how their romantic histories inform each other.

The trailer leans in a bit too much on the shock that Dan Stevens can actually speak German — I’ve forgotten almost all of the German I learned in college, so I can’t attest to whether his approach works, although I imagine the fact that he’s a robot works in his favor — but I applaud his effort.

Lastly, I’d like to note: while I do often enjoy watching empty rom-com trifles via Lifetime or Hallmark — I won’t deny it — I’M YOUR MAN is funny, sensitive, and substantial. If you have a heart, the closing will stick with you.

THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY (2020)

(Starz/VOD) A funny and surprisingly sweet quarter-century crisis film/rom-com that’s is well-calibrated for minds hungry for loads of smart quips.

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan, BLOCKERS, MIRACLE WORKERS), a mid-20s pack rat with the habit of hanging onto keepsakes of her exes, is working towards her dream job as a gallery owner with her attractive and responsible boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar, PITCH PERFECT) at a NYC museum run by her idol Eva Woolf (Bernadette Peters, who needs no introduction).

Within the span of one night, she loses both Max and her job and, in a drunk/depressed stupor, gets into what she thinks is her Lyft, but it’s just one dude who forgot to lock his passenger side door. The dude, Nick, takes pity on her and drives her home, and they start orbiting around each other. Lucy discovers that he’s trying to rehab an old YMCA into a hotel, and she takes the opportunity to set up a gallery inspired by her attempts to let go of her exes’ knickknacks, hence the title of the film.

This is writer/director Natalie Krinsky’s debut film, but she’s been writing for TV — including a long run on GOSSIP GIRL — for quite some time, and it shows. The heart of the film is the bluntly smart and rapid comedic patter of the dialogue, as opposed to flashy visuals or convoluted set pieces — although he film’s lighting is vibrantly under-lit, a rarity in rom-coms — and Krinsky couldn’t have hoped for a better lead for her script than Viswanathan. While Viswanathan has always stood out in every work she’s been involved in, her extremely expressive face and ability to turn on a dime pulls off a character that could come across as a bit too intense or creepy.

Viswanathan doesn’t have to solely carry the film on her shoulders either, as the supporting cast is ridiculously talented and fill out the film’s flavor: Lucy’s extremely supportive, but gloriously unique, roommates are HAMILTON’s Phillipa Soo (not a role I expected to see her in) and Molly Gordon (TNT’s ANIMAL KINGDOM and Hulu’s RAMY), and Arturo Castro (BROAD CITY, NARCOS) has a great rapport with Lucy as Nick’s friend. Even Nathan Dales (LETTERKENNY) pops up in a slightly gimmicky role!

While the breathless jokes, earnestness, and conventional story beats may turn some folks off, I couldn’t help but embrace it. In a genre full of paint-by-numbers comfort food mediocrity, it’s nice to see a rom-com add some verve and push the boundaries a bit, while remaining supremely entertaining.

PILLOW TALK (1959)

(VOD) I’ll always love the use of a party line as a complicating device, regardless of how foreign the concept may be nowadays, so of course I was pre-disposed to enjoy this Hudson/Day tête-à-tête. PILLOW TALK is also notable for spending so much time with the primary characters in ‘splintered’ and ‘internal’ spaces, and it has some interesting visual framing and reframing work. A lot of it hasn’t aged well, especially the last 15 minutes — hell, it was almost certainly considered problematic even in 1959 — but at its best, it’s a surprisingly experimental and satisfying rom-com.

Full disclosure: I once wrote an entire horror radio play around the use of a party line.