Remember that scene in “Pulp Fiction” where John Travolta’s Vincent explains the marijuana laws in Amsterdam to Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules?
“It’s legal to buy it, it’s legal to own it and if you’re the proprietor of a hash bar, it’s legal to sell it. It’s legal to carry it, but that doesn’t matter, cause get a load of this. If you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam, it’s illegal for them to search you.”
We need Vincent to explain the difference between HBO NOW, HBO Go and the new HBO Max streaming service. Here’s how HBO breaks it down on its website:
HBO GO is a streaming service offered by HBO that is included free with your HBO subscription ... and offers original content from HBO, including series, documentaries, specials and more, plus a large selection of movies.
HBO NOW is a standalone streaming service offered by HBO that does not require cable or satellite TV and offers original content from HBO.
HBO Max is a platform offered by WarnerMedia that features 10,000 hours of premium content bundling all of HBO together with even more movies, shows and Max Originals for the whole family.
Ah, OK, got it. I think.
Launching Wednesday, HBO Max is $14.99 a month. Among the initial offerings: a reboot of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote & Roadrunner in new stories rendered in the style as the originals. Kudos and ★★★ to the actors doing spot-on voice-work, to the animation team for capturing the distinct visuals and slapstick spirit of the classic “Tunes” cartoons — and to the writers for creating timeless stories with no winking references to modern times. Doesn’t look like we’re going to see Tweety tweeting or Bugs making a crack about millennials, and that’s a good thing.
The first HBO Max scripted series is “Love Life,” an underwhelming romantic comedy/drama starring Anna Kendrick as a twentysomething single woman looking for love in New York City. It’s “Sex and the City” Lite, with none of the sparkle and of-the-moment zeitgeist of that HBO hit, which believe it or not debuted 20 years ago. The conceit here is each episode is named after a love interest for Kendrick’s Darby, from one-night hookups to substantial relationships that last around a year before the wheels come off and our heroine Darby has to pick herself up and get back in the race, cuz that’s life.
“Love Life” has a bit of a “How I Met Your Mother” vibe in that the narrator is telling these stories (which begin in 2012) with omniscient hindsight, reassuring us Darby “doesn’t know it yet, but her person is out there. … They are alive in this city, and they are looking for her too. It will all happen for her — just not the way she thinks it will.” But it’s not Darby doing the voiceover, it’s a fairy godmother-sounding Brit (Lesley Manville). Just as John McEnroe is as the narrator for the otherwise fantastic Netflix series “Never Have I Ever,” the off-screen presence of the British narrator is unnecessary and distracting.
Kendrick is in her comfort zone playing the smart and plucky Darby, who lives with her friends Sara (Zoe Chao) and Mallory (Sasha Compere) in the obligatory out-of-their-price-range apartment. They’d need at least a couple more friends (or should we say “Friends”) to make the rent on this place. Whether Darby is bantering with her roommates or her latest love interest, they all have an irritating habit of laughing uproariously at their own cleverness, which makes them come across as smug and condescending instead of likable and funny. Come on, when Harry met Sally, they didn’t start congratulating each other on being funny. The best comedic characters don’t even know they’re funny.
In the series premiere, we meet Augie (Jin Ha, fresh off his stellar work in Hulu’s “Devs”), who’s dashing and caring and wonderful and tells Darby after their initial meeting he won’t need her phone number: “I’m gonna leave it up to chance, have you seen [the movie] ‘Serendipity’?” To which Darby replies, “Wow, that’s a solid reference, man,” and does anybody really have exchanges like that?
In subsequent episodes, Darby has a one-night stand with a goofy charmer she meets at a rooftop cocktail party, falls in love with a chef who seems like THE ONE until maybe he’s not the one after all and reunites with an old high school crush. Late in the series, there’s a drastic shift in tone when one of Darby’s friends is in real trouble. It’s arguably the best episode of the bunch, because we get some relief from the mostly uninteresting parade of boyfriends, and the constant barrage of one-liners and characters laughing at one-liners. Probably not a good thing, though, when the standout episode of a series is different from the main overall tone and vibe of the show.