The Hollywood writers strike has sparked talk about the dangers of AI taking over the scripting of movies and shows. But if you look at a series like Prime Video’s Citadel — with its gleaming surfaces and indestructible characters who only marginally resemble living humans —  it’s easy to suspect our digital overlords started writing for streaming platforms a while ago.

Designed to appeal to international markets, Citadel features glamorous exotic locales, lead actors almost as glamorous and exotic and fight scenes (with a bloody brutality that veers on the pornographic) that translate without need of too many subtitles. 

Citadel stars Game of Thrones’s Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Mason Kane and Nadia Smith (and various AKAs). They’re spies united across global borderlines by their flawless cheekbones and ability to interact seamlessly with the stunt people who step in to take over the roughest stunt scenes.

We first meet them in an Italian train doomed to crash. In its aftermath (and a zillion flashbacks to previous times), we learn their history. Or, at least, their history according to whatever particular episode you’re watching, before a plot reversal contradicts everything you think you know about them. It’s that kind of show, one that isn’t shy about throwing in old soap opera plot devices like amnesia or children born in secrecy. 

Though the show’s creators want it all to seem very complicated, it’s really just a sexed-up iteration of that old Mad magazine staple, Spy vs. Spy. Mason and Nadia are working for a secret but noble spy agency called Citadel (or do they?), where their job is to battle the evil terrorist group known as Manticore and its evil agents (or are they?). Oh, and one more thing: is one of them secretly the mole responsible for the murder of most of their Citadel colleagues at the time of the train wreck eight years ago?

It’s all guilty fun, given a dose of class from two veteran MVPs and former Oscar nominees. Stanley Tucci plays the wearily affable leader of the surviving Citadel corps. Then there’s Lesley Manville as a British ambassador whose official job and twee afternoon-tea protocols (cliches that Manville manages to rise above) camouflage her ruthless work as Manticore’s bloodiest operative. The show’s first season is set to wrap with the May 26 episode.



Much less kinetic/frenetic, and stuck in one drab locale instead of hopping the globe, Apple TV+’s Silo still kept my attention more than the flashy Citadel. 

The dystopian sci-fi whatsit plops us inside the gray, sun-deprived confines of the structure of the title. It’s a vast, concrete colony sunk mainly underground, with 140-plus levels housing 10,000 residents. Who built the silo? When? Why? There’s a whole vague mythology about rebels who many years ago tried to break open the doors protecting the environment from the outside world —  supposedly a blasted wasteland where humans cannot survive. But any citizen of the silo, on expressing a wish to try her luck in the big unknown out there, is immediately exiled. It’s the law. 

That’s what happens in the show’s first episode to Allison (Rashida Jones), wife of the community’s sheriff, Holston (David Oyelowo). She has dug around in the silo’s elusive history (breaking multiple laws) and decided that the story of a toxic world outside is a big lie. After she takes that literal step outside, Holston also starts questioning the accepted truths about life inside.  

In its themes, Silo may remind some older readers of A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1959 novel about a civilization following a nuclear war, trying to piece together through remaining artifacts how that conflagration came about and what the world was like previously. In its retro-urban set designs, the show also recalls the 1980s film Brazil — a movie now old enough to be considered retro-urban itself. 

As much as any of these references, Silo reminds me of another Apple TV+ original, the terrific Severance. That 2022 series is another puzzle-box mystery about an environment where people work in a bewildering system, organized by a mythology and rules that none of its characters quite understand. God and the writers strike willing, Severance will have a second season in the next year or so. 

Meanwhile, the 10-episode Silo continues weekly through June 10. As it nears the explanation of its central mystery (or not), the show may continue to explore some interesting social and class themes. Given the innate human desire to always feel better than someone else, there’s strong class resentment between the white-collar citizens of the upper reaches of the silo, vs. the residents of the Down Deep, where the real survival work of the community is performed.

The strong cast includes Tim Robbins, Geraldine James, Common, Will Patton and Harriet Walter (in a grubby departure from her turn as Logan Roy’s second wife in Succession, the great HBO series that ends its four seasons on May 28). Following its first episode, Silo’s focus turns primarily to Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson as a stoic, joyless but determined mechanic named Juliette. After watching her onscreen for years, I’m still not sure if Ferguson has much nuance as an actor. But she’s fantastically striking and she gives great glare. 


NETFLIX: Working: What We Do All Day 

Back in my school days, I read Studs Terkel’s great oral history, Working, an honest and eye-opening account of the many ways people make ends meet in our country. Actually, the full name of that 1974 book was Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, which spells it all out. 

Netflix amends the title to Working: What We Do All Day, and former president Barack Obama serves as host and onscreen interviewer. In its four episodes, the documentary updates the subject to the world we live in now, one changed by huge bounds in technology and equally huge plunges in economic equality. 

When Terkel wrote his book, the post-World War II middle class was at its height. This was still a few years before the Reaganomics of the 1980s, the trickle-down theory and the Greed-Is-Good approach to the economy that contributed to the widening gap between the haves and all the rest of us. Working notes that today, almost half of U.S. citizens scrape by in service jobs. 

Episode one covers this stratum, focusing on a housekeeper in New York City’s Pierre Hotel, a homecare worker in small-town Mississippi, and a delivery driver in Pittsburgh. All of them are women, and all of them struggle. The second episode visits the same cities and workplaces, but one step up the employment and paycheck ladder, including that very 21st-century group of employees known as “knowledge workers.” And so on, up the lucrative ladder to the corner offices and the CEOs. Having achieved their dream jobs, they now have to find meaning beyond their bank accounts. 

Working is fascinating in its mini-portraits of all the people interviewed, and Obama makes an appealing, humorous host as he hangs out with them. For me, the show is the best in its first half. Living well may be swell, but the series grows less interesting the higher it climbs toward the top. 

“Work” isn’t a word very much employed in the conversation of the wealthy, pampered nobles and royalty of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, the six-episode sidebar series Netflixers have been soaking up since it dropped on early this month.


NETFLIX: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story 

When it debuted in 2020, Bridgerton was a novelty: racy, race-conscious and history-tweaking. With its heavy-breathing but less sexy second season and now this new spinoff, the series — like its Netflix confederate The Crown — has become an institution, a hardened brand. Its familiar shapes and approach to storytelling are equally comforting and disappointing. 

That was my limited take, at least. I only watched the first episode, but the elements are all there: lavish costumes, even more lavish wigs, and an idealized, bodice-ripping view of romance given slight counter ballast via executive producer and writer Shonda Rhimes’ feminist dialogue. Queen Charlotte seems as historically iffy as the other Bridgerton iterations, but a winning brand is a winning brand. This one has the novelty of including a gay romance for the king and queen’s male secretaries. Huzzah.  


NETFLIX: The Diplomat

Also on Netflix, people who miss smart, talky political series like The West Wing or Homeland can get their fix with The Diplomat, created by a veteran producer of those shows, Debora Cahn. It also has the plus of showcasing Keri Russell, star of another great political series The Americans

She plays career diplomat Kate Wyler, accustomed to getting her hands dirty in places like Afghanistan. Thus, she bristles when the president assigns her to be U.S. ambassador to the U.K., where much of her work involves “a ceremonial component.” She’s expected to clean up nicely for photo ops and keep a leash on her roguishly egotistical husband Hal (Rufus Sewell), himself a diplomat with Machiavellian maneuvers. 

The instigating incident of the series is an attack on a British aircraft carrier by assailants unknown, though fingers point at Iran. The eight-episode show follows the intricate ins-and-outs of discovering the truth, but I bailed after the first two episodes. It’s a good show. But for me, The Diplomat is so busy being brainy and sexy and realpolitik, it doesn’t really leave me much room to breathe. Or care very deeply for the political maneuvers constantly under discussion and analysis.

Also on Netflix, a breakthrough comedian returns to apologize for putting us through the emotional wringer with the standup special Nanette back in 2018. With Hannah Gadsby: Something Special, the Australian, nonbinary comic updates us with news that they’re now happily married to producer Jenney Shamash (who directs this show).

After bearing personal trauma in the 2018 breakout, Gadsby proves to still be funny, with crack timing. A story about a walk with their dogs and then-girlfriend that’s interrupted by the appearance of a diseased bunny on the path is both a highlight and a great finale. In other words, Gadsby is now able to present a comedy set that’s basically the sort of thing a lot of other comedians could do, getting comic mileage out of everyday stuff. 


DISNEY+: Peter Pan & Wendy

Peter Pan sprang from the imagination of J.M. Barrie, and that imagination sprang from the social, cultural and sexual mores of the writer’s era. (Barrie’s imagination was also shadowed by some psychological problems with women, adult sexuality and sibling guilt, but you can read all about that stuff in the biographies.) 

When he first flew onto stage, Barrie’s Peter and the Neverland he strutted through reflected imperial England’s 1904 attitudes and prejudices. Thus, there were “savage” natives known as Indians, scheming murderous mermaids, and a magical trans-species cat fight between Wendy Darling and Tinkerbell over the careless affections of the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. 

Modern times demand the dismantling, undercutting or amending of many of the very things that made Peter Pan who he was. As a result, director David Lowery’s new film — like his A Ghost Story and The Green Knight — has skill, charm and intelligence. But there isn’t much of the magical boy we once knew in this Peter Pan & Wendy. It’s more the Wendy Show, and that’s only partly because Alex Molony makes a smug, not very memorable Peter. 

Wendy is nicely played by Ever Anderson. She’s the one who gets to lead the Lost Boys in the climactic fight with Captain Hook (a greasy, amusing Jude Law). There’s no Wendy House in this version, no spat with a wordless, lovely and relatively useless Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi). And if the indigenous characters aren’t caricatured as in versions past, they’re definitely othered in the form of a Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) whose function is to heal an ailing Peter with tribal remedies. 

Peter Pan & Wendy is primarily a girl-power revision. It’s well-crafted and inoffensive, and that’s the problem. The movie is an argument for leaving all the old stories alone if we’re not willing to embrace their weirdness and wrongness. Otherwise, we kill a lot of the odd magic that attracted us to begin with.   


Steve Murray is an award-winning journalist and playwright who has covered the arts as a reporter and critic for many years. Catch up to Steve’s previous Streaming column here.

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