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What to watch: Spoiled racist NBA coach gets his due in satisfying ‘Clipped’

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An ambitious new series looks at the scandal that erupted when a Los Angeles basketball team owner’s racist remarks went viral. It tops our list of what to watch this week, along with one sexy Netflix “Hit Man” and a Jessica Lange acting tour de force

We even have two under-the-radar offerings worth seeing out: the moody zombie drama “Handling the Undead” and the drag-themed “Solo.”

Here’s our roundup.

“Clipped”:  Creator/showrunner Gina Welch’s ambitious six-episode FX series about about L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s shocking fall from NBA grace — he was banned for life from the league after a series of racist remarks he uttered were made public by TMZ — is a slam-dunk from start to finish. ESPN’s “30 for 30” five-part podcast series “The Sterling Affairs” serves as the potent, all-sides-covered base material for this explosive series, which successfully juggles numerous storylines and fills in the juicy and meaty details while constantly entertaining us.

Ed O’Neill of “American Family” makes a perfect match to play Donald Sterling, conveying the sunbathing fat cat as an obnoxious example of old-school white privilege, woefully out of touch. Sterling loves to parade the Clippers’ mostly Black athletes as if they’re his property; the players bristling at how Donald and his watchful wife Shelly (Jacki Weaver, eating alive this role and perhaps netting Emmy talk for it) throw lavish parties and demand they show up and be on display.

Shelly is more socially astute than Donald, and gets into a gnarly catfight with her hubby’s much younger, social-media-climbing personal assistant/girlfriend V. Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman), who loves flouting how smitten Sterling is with her. Stiviano has risen from scraps and hungers to join the ranks of the Kardashians of the world. And she’s got tapes of her conversations with Donald that might plunk her on the social media map.

The trio’s conniving actions thwart the efforts of respected and level-headed coach Doc Rivers (Laurence Fishburne, given the opportunity to really shine), making his job to win all that more challenging. Once the tapes go viral and become late-night talk-show fodder, the Clippers players go from frustrated to infuriated, particularly since they’re finally having a winning season.

“Clipped” is always entertaining and is as fast and as light on its feet as Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox as it pivots between dishing on the behind-the-scenes world of pro basketball and focusing on the heated exchanges — often between Shelly and Donald. “Clipped” casts its net wide — at times too wide — to look at the insistent racism at the core of the American way, and even works in the Rodney King verdict.

In the end, “Clipped” reminds us that there’s a lot of lip service and damage control going on, and when it comes to combating racism, we have a long ways to go. (Note: If you’re a Golden State Warriors fan, you’ll definitely want to tune in since a couple episodes cover the playoff games between the Clippers and the Warriors. Details: 3½ stars out of 4; two episodes available now on Hulu. with  one episode dropping every Tuesday through July 2.

“Hit Man”: Are most of us putting on and taking off various identities throughout our lives? That’s the thought-provoking question posed and answered in Richard (“Boyhood”) Linklater’s spark plug of a romantic thriller/comedy, which cleverly springboards off the real-life exploits of fake assassin Gary Johnson (embellishing on them, of course). Johnson led a dual life, posing undercover for police as a fake hitman and also standing at a podium as a full-time professor. The plural identities proved successful for Johnson in real life, and the story line works just as well for the “Hit Man” team, which has created one of Netflix’s best movies yet. Johnson’s life provides star/co-writer Glen Powell (“Anyone But You”) and Linklater a rich canvas to dabble in, and the duo definitely spice up the romantic element (this film is way sexy). “Hit Man” gives superstar Powell a juicy assignment as Ron, in which he has to alternate between playing a nebbish and socially awkward guy and someone who’s sexy and dangerous. Initially, everyone harbors doubts that Johnson can succeed undercover, but after he convincingly subs for an undercover cop colleague (Austin Amelio), he flings himself into portraying someone he isn’t. Then he meets the transfixing Maddy (Adria Arjona), who wants to off her no-good numbskull hubby (Evan Holtzman). Ron persuades her not to go there, but the pair flirt outrageously until they become hearty lovers. Powell and Arjona are incendiary together, but “Hit Man” relies equally on the super-smart screenplay, the rich characterizations and the fleet direction by Linklater. Details: 3½ stars; drops June 7 on Netflix.

“The Great Lillian Hall”: Anyone who doubts that Jessica Lange remains one of our greatest living actors should catch this HBO drama — those doubts will perish. The award-winning theater, film and TV star triumphs as the brilliant but needy veteran stage performer Lillian Hall realizing — and making those around her realize — that something is seriously wrong with her. She’s messing up her lines during rehearsals for a Broadway revival of “The Cherry Orchard,” throwing tantrums and constantly running into her dead husband. The cause is Alzheimer’s, which thrusts Hall into her most unwanted role yet and forces those close to her have to adjust as well. These include her “Orchard” director (Jesse Williams), her ignored daughter (Lily Rabe, Lange’s “American Horror Story” co-star) and her assistant (Kathy Bates) who knows all too well about the scope and scale of the disease. Written with sensitivity by Elisabeth Seldes Annacone, and well-directed by Michael Cristofer, “Lillian Hall” hands Lange another opportunity for an acting tour de force, with a somber story about the sacrifices we make to appease our own need for acceptance. Details: 3 stars; now available on MAX.

“Ren Faire”: If Netflix’s “Tiger King” made your jaw drop, get ready for it to fall to the ground while watching Lance Oppenheim’s wild three-part HBO series. It addictively covers the house-of-cards succession plans being hashed out for the Texas Renaissance Festival. Oppenheim melds documentary vérité for a fascinating depiction of 86-year-old King George’s (George Coulam) pursuit to pick a “suitable” successor at the role-playing empire he created and ruled over for some 50 years. The candidates include a fast-talkin’, energy drink chuggin’ entrepreneur Louie Migliaccio; the reliable, if unexceptional, general manager Jeff Baldwin who’s a former musical theater performer in love with “Shrek the Musical;” and shrewd vendor coordinator Darla Smith, who used to train elephants.

They’re all on shaky ground since the extra-critical King George berates, ridicules and sees faults in all of them. There’s more than enough to keep you invested in each episode: a Renaissance podcast, a big community that King George built in Texas, but there’s much, much more to shock you, including George’s quest for a suitable mate.

Oppenheim accompanies King George to these unbelievable Olive Garden encounters. All of this gets told much in the same vein as his “Some Kind of Heaven,” which followed life in a tony Florida retirement community. The difference is that this one, co-created by David Gauvey Herbert, has the potential to turn into a viral sensation. I certainly can’t stop talking about it. Details: 3½ stars; first episode available now on HBO; next two episodes drop June 9.

“Solo”: A playful, passionate relationship with attractive new drag queen Oliver (Félix Maritaud) at a Montreal club where Simon (Théodore Pellerin) performs sours and plummets into toxicity at the same time Simon tries to gain acknowledgement from his career-obsessed, disinterested opera star mom. Sophie Dupuis’s compelling character-driven third feature collected awards on the film fest circuit, and it’s easy to understand why. It brings us into Simon’s world and draws out two riveting performances from her leads, and while it might see to strut down a similar runaway of other drag-oriented features, “Solo” avoids tired tropes and celebrates drag itself (the scenes of both stars performing are outstanding) and those who step out on the stage while dealing with their own struggles and desires. Details: 3 stars; in theaters June 7.

“Handling the Undead”: A gray cloudbank of melancholy blankets the lives of each of the characters in director Thea Hvisetendahl’s effective minimalist zombie feature – a quasi horror film that’s devoid of gore but is no less unsettling and disturbing – particularly in its final act. “Let the Right One” scribe/screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist co-wrote this grief-bound story that has the ominous sense and pace of “Leave the World Behind.” As in “Behind,” a disruptive force in Osolo triggers a skin-crawling phenomenon. In this case, it’s the dead coming back to non-vocal semblance of life. Hvisetendahl’s thoughtful film follows three groups of characters visited by the departed:  – a mournful mom (Renate Reinsve of “The Worst Person in the World”) and her father (Bjørn Sundquist), a husband (Anders Danielsen Lie, also from “The Worst Person in the World”) broadsided by his wife’s untimely death and his children, and a lonely, elderly lesbian (Bente Borsum). The reappearance of dead loved ones isn’t a cause for joy as the survivors crushingly realize the resurrected can’t speak and are vague replicas of who they once were. Composer Peter Raeburn’s beautifully sad soundtrack along with Pål Ulvik Rokseth’s cinematography contribute in creating a tragic mood that’s hard to let go of after the film’s sad conclusion. Details: 3 stars; in theaters June 7.

“Trim Season”: Ariel Vida puts in the horror oven the equivalent of a pot brownie but unfortunately the result turns out half-baked; toggling between campy horror and social commentary while failing to deliver a real goosebump. Bethlehem Million stars as Emma, a recently unemployed L.A. resident who signs on with four others, including her female lover, to trim cannabis in a remote cabin in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle. The premise is packed with potential and Vida does her hardest with a screenplay that could have been more potent if it moved faster and expanded on events leading up to its gory ending. As their witchy new employer Mona, Jane Badler vamps it up with “Sunset Boulevard” relish, and hits the campy highs. It’s too bad that the screenplay didn’t focus more on her and her two “sons,” which would have given the talented Vida the opportunity to really cut loose.  Details: 2 stars; available June 7 On Demand.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected].

 

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