Original Leisure & Entertainment

‘Unstable’ & ‘The Power’ Put Separate Spins On Social Commentary ~ At The Movies With Kasey

This week, my toddler came down with a fever, which gave me plenty of naptimes to check out new streaming series. Unstable, a comedy, and The Power, a drama, take very different tones, but both offer social commentary and significant star power.

In Unstable, biotech CEO Ellis Dragon (Rob Lowe) has promised to develop technologies that can save the world, but his erratic behavior reaches new levels after the death of his wife. His right-hand woman Anna (Sian Clifford) flies his son, Jackson (John Owen Lowe), home—somewhat against his wishes—to help Ellis get back to his version of normal. Meanwhile, Luna (Rachel Marsh), Ruby (Emma Ferreira), and Malcolm (Aaron Branch) are in the trenches trying to make the tech company work and doing office sitcom things like haggling over pistachios.

The role of Ellis Dragon seems a bit like the writers put Chris Traeger, Rob Lowe’s character from Parks and Recreation, into a cocktail shaker with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Eccentric, brilliant, overly sunny, and yes, unstable, the character provides many opportunities for gags. Some of them, like a golden helmet—essentially a singing bowl—that Ellis wears for clarity, get funnier the longer they go on. Others, such as Ellis kidnapping his therapist (Fred Armisen) only to help him with his own problems, do not quite land. Undeniably, Lowe and his son have comedic chemistry as the younger Lowe plays the straight man to his real and on-screen dad’s antics. The elder Lowe seems to be having a great time playing out Ellis’s quirks, which lends his charm to the show even when the writing struggles.

Overall, however, the series also reminds me of the first season of Parks and Recreation, which featured great characters but had not yet dialed in on the tone of the series. It is maybe just a touch too goofy, undermining some of the funnier takes on the tech industry, the CEO-as-Savior trope, and grief. I would like to see it come back, but with sharper humor to balance the zanier beats.

Unstable was created by Rob Lowe, John Owen Lowe, and Victor Fresco. It runs for 8 episodes on Netflix and is rated TV-14.

The Power, based on the bestselling novel by Naomi Alderman, tells the story of a revolution that takes place after girls develop shocking powers, enabling them to control and subjugate men. The novel derived shock value and suspense from women inflicting on men the types of atrocities that they have endured. The series is headed in that direction, making it a hard watch in many scenes, as it depicts violence against girls and women as well as their revenge.

In the first half of the season, the story is so stuffed with characters that I found it difficult to care about all of them. Two storylines stood out as anchoring the unfolding saga. First, Margot Cleary-Lopez (Toni Collette) already struggles for power and resources as Mayor of Seattle. Then, she and her husband Rob (John Leguizamo) must face “the power” head-on when their daughter, Jos (Auli’i Cravalho) is affected. Toni Collette and John Leguizamo are both always fun to watch. They play off each other well and give parental energy to a story focused on teen girls.

Meanwhile, Allie (Halle Bush), a teen in foster care, starts hearing The Voice (Adina Porter) and realizes that she can use “the power” to protect herself. Halle Bush delivers a harrowing performance and her character’s quiet defiance builds tension underlying the forward motion that the Cleary-Lopez family’s drama provides.

The cinematography of The Power is rich with symbolism—birds in cages, girls in pigtails, etc.—and the writing builds plenty of groundwork for a coming revolution, drawing on the dynamics of denial and paranoia that play out in real life. I am curious to see how the rest of the season unfolds, hoping it eventually finds a way to balance and bring together all the plots. Certainly, there is potential for the sci-fi epic to grow and develop.

The Power was created by Naomi Alderman, Sarah Quintrell, and Raelle Tucker. It runs for 9 episodes on Amazon Prime and is rated TV-MA. As of this writing the first four episodes have been released.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer