How ‘Yellowjackets’ became the buzziest show on TV
This is the Los Angeles Times newsletter about all things TV and streaming movies. This week, we recommend Netflix’s latest Korean sensation, catch up with the star of “Naomi” and tell you all you need to know about “Peacemaker.” Scroll down!
Welcome the Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who knows exactly which Yellowjacket they are.
When a Buzzfeed quiz promising to suss out just that ping-ponged around the internet this week, joining the legion of fan theories, dream casting choices, obsessive text threads and soundtrack-listening sessions, it reaffirmed that “Yellowjackets” has captured the zeitgeist — and managed to do so the old-fashioned way. Without the streaming might of a Netflix or HBO Max behind it, and excluded from broadcast appeal by enough factors — see: incandescent bloodletting, haywire hormones — to field a high-school girls’ soccer team, Showtime’s survival epic clawed its way into the culture week by week through sheer force of will.
In this, it’s hard not to root for its season finale, which airs Sunday, to stick the landing, or least to earn the already green-lit Season 2. Amid the ongoing seesaw battle between the episodic and the binge, it has the air of a bona fide word-of-mouth hit, independent of algorithm; it took shape through friends telling friends that the series is pure gumption and demands to be watched. The quizzes are, after all, just an emblem of identification, as a group of cannibalistic teenage soccer players and their traumatized future selves, through the magic of television, become people like us.
The final hurdle is audience expectations: Will “Yellowjackets” crash back to Earth as swiftly Laura Lee or continue soaring against the forces of gravity? There’s no telling. But in the meantime, break out the berry moonshine and the magic mushrooms and rejoice in a TV show you can recommended in the offseason.
Oh, and full disclosure: We took the quiz too. Let’s just say we’re a Jackie Sun, Natalie Rising.
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Streaming recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
“The Silent Sea” (Netflix). This Korean-language sci-fi series dropped quietly on Christmas Eve, and it really is a gift. Its eight episodes span a 24-hour mission in which space explorers are tasked with retrieving samples from an abandoned research facility on the moon, without being informed of what the samples are or why the place was deserted in the first place. As more was revealed about the destination and the characters who find themselves there, I spent my holiday season gasping about its surprising twists and reveling in its poetic examination of what it means to be an imperfect human, living on an imperfect Earth. I hope Santa heard my plea for a second-season renewal. —Ashley Lee
“The PJs” (Hulu). It’s extraordinary that this turn-of-the-century stop-motion series, created by Eddie Murphy with Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins, spent three years on network television — two seasons on Fox and one the WB — so biting and yet casually delivered is its humor on the subjects of racism, urban decay, institutional fecklessness, drug addiction and poverty. Or maybe things were more direct then. Set in a housing project (ergo “The PJs”) in an unnamed big city, it stars Murphy (channeling Redd Foxx, with a hint of Sherman Hemsley) as irascible building superintendent Thurgood Stubbs, with the divine Loretta Devine as his wife Muriel, along with a host of oddball tenants. The characters, though instruments of social, cultural and political satire — it’s the only comedy I can think of that numbers a crack addict among its main characters or makes the Department of Housing and Urban Development a running gag — have depth and relationships. They wind each other up and rein each other in and create a community. Realized in three dimensions, the animation, from Will Vinton Studios (of California Raisins fame), puts you in a real place, while the hand-crafted sets draw your eye to detail. —Robert Lloyd
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
“Peacemaker,” which hit HBO Max on Thursday, is a spinoff of James Gunn’s 2021 movie “The Suicide Squad,” and the first show set within the shared superhero film universe unofficially known as the DC Extended Universe. Created by Gunn, the series follows Peacemaker, who had been recruited by Amanda Waller into Task Force X — a secret team of criminals who take on deadly missions to shorten their prison sentences — after the events of the film. Here’s a brief rundown of the main cast for those who need a “Suicide Squad” refresher. —Tracy Brown
Peacemaker/Christopher Smith (John Cena): A self-righteous, self-proclaimed superhero who believes peace is worth whatever cost it takes to achieve it. A deadly meathead and wearer of tighty-whities who has been trained to kill since he was a child by his father. In “The Suicide Squad,” he was recruited into Task Force X for his blind patriotism — he’d rather follow his secret orders to make sure the U.S. government can’t be implicated in any wrongdoings than do the right thing. Although presumed dead after coming to blows with his teammates, the movie’s post-credits scene reveals he (barely) survived.
Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland): A government agent who works for Amanda Waller, the leader of a government organization that also oversees Task Force X. In “The Suicide Squad,” she’s among the agents who take the lead in helping Task Force X defy Waller’s orders to save the world. Seen in the film’s post-credits scene checking in on an unconscious Peacemaker in the hospital.
John Economos (Steve Agee): A tech-oriented government agent who works for Waller introduced in “The Suicide Squad.” Bets on which members of Task Force X will die during their mission but is troubled when Waller threatens a criminal’s child to get him to follow orders. Mentions in the film’s post-credits scene that he and Harcourt are assigned to work with Peacemaker as punishment for defying Waller.
Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks): A new recruit handpicked by Waller to be a part of the mission involving Peacemaker. First introduced in the series.
Vigilante/Adrian Chase (Freddie Stroma): A costumed crimefighter based on a character from DC comic books who makes his debut in the series.
Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji): Tasked by Waller to lead the team of Adebayo, Harcourt, Economos and Peacemaker on a certain mission. Introduced in the series.
Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick): Peacemaker’s father. First seen in the series.
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
“Naomi” star Kaci Walfall opened her email and found a dream of an audition. There it was, easy as 1-2-3: Ava DuVernay, the CW and DC. Then she read the character description. “I really felt connected,” she said. After sending in her “soft tape,” she says she didn’t hear anything for two weeks. Then a flurry of activity — another email, a flight to L.A. and a meal (vegan) with executive producer DuVernay — and finally, a call. “It was Miss Ava,” Walfall said, “and she says, ‘I want to invite you to the Array family to play Naomi.’” The Times spoke to Walfall about her origin story before the show premiered Tuesday on The CW. —Dawn M. Burkes
There was quite the information dump in the early episodes for people who haven’t read the comics and don’t know much about the character.
The foundation was laid so beautifully. I was so nervous. I think I’ve read the pilot like 100 times so I could really dig deep within that. I did watch the pilot with the cast. And I thought that it was so great because you get all of these different sets and settings but it feels like this [world] has existed before.
Are you reading more comics now that you’ve entered that world?
I read a lot of books, not necessarily comic books. I’ve read the “Justice League” that [Naomi] is in, which I love. And DC sent me a package of some “Wonder Woman” comics and some “Flash” comics. But when I get a chance I need to sit down and read some that aren’t Naomi-based.
Who would you like “Naomi” to cross over with?
As Kaci, I would probably say “Batwoman” or “The Flash.” As Naomi, of course, I would say Superman.
Who’s your favorite superhero, besides yourself?
My favorite DC superhero is probably Wonder Woman. I really love Gal Gadot’s portrayal. And my favorite CW DC superhero — I have too many — I probably would say Supergirl; the Flash; Lightning — Jennifer Pierce, that’s China Anne McClain’s character [in “Black Lightning”].
What’s your favorite CW show?
My favorite DC ones are “The Flash,” “Black Lightning” and “Supergirl.” I’ve watched a little bit of “Star Girl” — that show is great too — and a little bit of “Batwoman.” My favorite non-DC superhero CW show is definitely “All American.” My brother and I watch “All American” all the time. I’m really excited for the “All American: Homecoming” that’s coming out soon.
Do you have any plans for binge-watching now that Omicron has made it so we probably shouldn’t leave the house?
Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between
Since its debut last month, “Station Eleven” (HBO Max) has drawn both acclaim (from critics including our own Robert Lloyd) and criticism (from fans of the novel on which it’s based, which it changes in key ways) for its tale of a pre-, post- and post-post-apocalyptic society much like our own.
Normally we’d break down the finale, which premiered Thursday, right here — but senior editor Matt Brennan and columnist and culture critic Mary McNamara felt so passionately about the series that they ended up expanding their answers to feature length. Is “Station Eleven” a form of “‘Walking Dead'-meets-Terrence Malick self-indulgence,” or “an antidote to every other post-apocalyptic tale” on screen? You’ll want to read their full debate no matter where you come down on the matter. And be sure to check out Lloyd’s interview with Christian Sprenger, a cinematographer on “Station Eleven” and other noteworthy series.
The TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on in the coming week
Fri., Jan. 14
“Archive 81" (Netflix): The found-footage horror podcast makes the leap to the screen, with “Malignant’s” James Wan on board as a producer.
“The House” (Netflix): An animated anthology series with the added selling point of some top-notch British vocal talent, including Miranda Richardson, Helena Bonham Carter and Matthew Goode.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple TV+): Joel Coen’s solo venture, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, is a particularly intense adaptation of the Scottish Play, writes film critic Justin Chang, one that “distills each sequence to its furious essence.”
Sun., Jan. 16
“Somebody Somewhere” (HBO): Bridget Everett plays a Kansan singer who feels like a fish out of water on her home turf in this series, which counts the Duplass brothers and “High Maintenance” as part of its pedigree.
Tues., Jan. 18
“How I Met Your Father” (Hulu): More laughs! More love! More voiceover! A gender-swapped remake of the popular CBS sitcom, with Hillary Duff in for Josh Radnor and Kim Cattrall in for the late Bob Saget.
Thurs., Jan. 20
“La Fortuna” (AMC+): “The Others” director Alejandro Amenábar is behind this Spanish production about the attempt to recover a shipwreck, with Clarke Peters (“The Wire”) and Stanley Tucci (of pasta-making, forearm-bearing fame) aboard.
“Single Drunk Female” (Freeform): Creator Simone Finch offers up an alcoholism comedy, with Sofia Black D’Elia as a young woman in recovery and Ally Sheedy as her mother. With Jenni Konner (“Girls”) and Leslye Headland (“Russian Doll”) attached, which is never a bad idea.
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