On the new Hulu show “Reprisal,” characters take a drug called Spent Casings that look like little bullet shells. Snort them up your nose, and your brain fills up with a chaotic collage of images from old film clips.
I imagine that the creators of “Reprisal,” which premieres its entire first season on Friday, are similarly addicted to old movies. The stylish and brutal show plays like a fever-dream noir, taking familiar hard-boiled tropes from old TV shows and movies and bending them into something fresh and unexpected.
Every good noir has a femme fatale, and “Reprisal” has a dilly in Doris (Abigail Spencer of “Mad Men”). Doris was betrayed and nearly murdered by her brother (Rory Cochrane) and his street gang, a group of thugs wearing identical mechanic's uniforms called the Banished Brawlers.
She survived, moved to a new town and created a new identity for herself. Years later, when her husband Tommy (Ray McKinnon) dies, leaving her a small fortune, she decides to use the windfall to finance an elaborate mission of revenge against the Brawlers.
Creator Josh Corbin has set Doris’ mission of revenge in a stylized alternative universe of tough guys and tougher women, fast cars and faster guns. I kept a running list of all the bizarre place names featured in the show, like a greasy spoon diner named Slimmy Hank’s Egg Pit and a seedy motel/donut shop called Donuts ‘n’ Duvets. I want to stay there sometime.
At the heart of all this two-fisted fantasy is Spencer’s revelatory performance as Doris. Doris is mad as hell, but Spencer conceals her fury beneath a deceptively placid exterior. Doris rarely raises her voice, frowns on profanity, and refers to people as “dear” or “pumpkin.” Time after time, we see tough guys underestimating this polite, harmless-seeming woman. And then she turns the tables on them, sometimes violently, with an “I’m not angry, honey, I’m just disappointed” tone in her voice.
“Reprisal” takes a little while to take hold, as the viewer gets their bearings in this strange new landscape. But it’s so audacious and unexpected that I want to see Doris’ dark mission of revenge to its end.
Also on streaming: Hot on the heels of “The Irishman,” Netflix is premiering another likely Oscar contender this Friday. “Marriage Story,” written and directed by Noah Baumbach, stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson as a couple whose marriage is crumbling. Baumbach already told a divorce story from the kids’ perspective in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale,” and “Marriage Story” looks at a break-up from the parents’ perspective, with empathy and even-handedness.
Driver is also starring in the new Amazon Video original movie “The Report,” written and directed by longtime Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion”). In the true-life drama, Driver plays an FBI agent investigating the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by CIA agents in the wake of 9/11. The movie is available now.
On a lighter note, Amazon is also premiering the third season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Friday. Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) takes her show on the road in the new season, which follows her new life as a comedian touring around the country.
For your next crime-series binge, Sundance NOW! is premiering the new New Zealand six-part thriller “The Gulf” beginning on Wednesday. The series stars Kate Elliott as a detective who is suffering from memory loss after a car accident in which her husband was killed. She suspects foul play in the accident, but has to overcome her own amnesia and grief to find her husband’s killer.