'Altered Carbon,' a New 'Strike Back' Team, 'Absentia,' and '2 Dope Queens'
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Altered Carbon (streaming, Netflix): Blade Runner fans who long to enter yet another dystopian future may be the most inclined to endure the grueling, hyperviolent, dense and derivative adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk thriller, a mashup of sci-fi nihilism and noir mystery. Carbon is set in a world where if you can afford it, immortality is possible, with human consciousness transplanted from one body (call them “sleeves”) into another, or even into clones, so it’s not always easy to tell who’s who or who was who. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) stars as Takeshi Kovacs, a warrior rebel resurrected after 250 years on ice, inhabiting the body of a framed cop and hired by a debauched zillionaire (James Purefoy) to solve his own murder. Teamed with a combative female cop (the terrific Martha Higareda) while beset by memories of his warrior past (when Takeshi was played by Will Yun Lee), Kovacs follows each twist of the convoluted plot into gruesome situations bordering on torture porn.
Absentia (streaming, Amazon Prime): Too long absent from TV, Castle’s Stana Katic returns in the twisty 10-part mystery Absentia as an FBI agent who disappeared and was presumed dead six years ago. Her disorienting return to a husband and son who’ve moved on coincides with a series of murders that somehow implicates her.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (8/7c, The CW): Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is forced to face her fears and come to grips with her relationship with Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) in an episode that includes a time jump and explains a crucial difference between Rent and Grease and their respective film versions.
The Trade (9/8c, Showtime): Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) examines the opioid epidemic in Showtime’s five-part documentary series.
Strike Back (10/9c, Cinemax): The body count is higher than ever in the shoot-first, think-later cacophony of Cinemax’s signature action series, returning for a fifth season with an entirely new Section 20 team, described as “dangerous soldiers for dangerous missions.” Led by Luther veteran Warren Brown and Daniel MacPherson filling the combat boots of former cast members Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton, the covert unit comes together to locate an escaped terrorist who’s fled Syria for Libya, where his deadly schemes are being financed by a Saudi prince. As mindless as a video game, and at times even bloodier.
2 Dope Queens (Friday, 11:30/10:30c): Yassss! HBO brings the hit podcast 2 Dope Queens to TV in concert form for four hour-long specials. Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson entertain with banter from the stage of Brooklyn’s gorgeous Kings Theatre, where they bring on rising stand-up stars and welcome celebrity guests. Jon Stewart drops by in the premiere to talk New York pizza.