Tuesday, March 23, 2021

What I’m Watching: Genius: Aretha (Season Premiere)

Genius: Aretha: Season 3, Episode 1 “Respect” (B)

I watched the pilot episode of this anthology series, which featured Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein, and never managed to watch any of season two, where Antonio Banderas portrayed Pablo Picasso. As I’ve spent more time getting into limited series over the past few years, I thought it would be worthwhile to check out the first installment of the latest incarnation of this show, which was originally intended to be about Mary Shelley but instead shifted focus to the incredible singer Aretha Franklin. I was extremely impressed by Cynthia Erivo’s performance here, coming off an Oscar-nominated turn in “Harriet” and the first film role I saw her in, “Widows,” which I thought was terrific. She manages to convey a real spirit and disappear into the role in a way that elevates this otherwise relatively standard biopic format. Courtney B. Vance, fresh off a stint in the first season of “Lovecraft Country,” is a great choice to play her father, the preacher who casually gave away his car to racist vandals rather than engage in a bad situation, and David Cross is a somewhat puzzling but passable choice to play the music producer Jerry Wexler. I wasn’t as taken with the casting of Malcolm Barrett, a fine comedic actor from “Better Off Ted” and “Timeless,” as Ted White, but I suppose he wasn’t all that distracting. This all feels well enough done and I am intrigued by her story, but I’m not sure if this series will be able to keep up with the caliber of both its star actress and its title character. Eight episodes over the course of four nights is a lot – at the time of this writing, I haven’t yet decided if I plan to watch the whole thing.

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