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Ovation Premieres the Compelling Adaptation of 'Marjorie Prime'
February 3, 2018  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments

Jon Hamm continues his impressive film and TV presence, currently clowning it up in H&R Block commercials and this month he stars in the broadcast premiere of Marjorie Prime, (Sunday, February 4 at 7 p.m., ET on Ovation), an elegiac science fiction tale of an old woman with dementia visited by the holographic projection of her deceased husband… in his younger days.

Untethered from his milestone Mad Men role as antihero Don Draper, Hamm has proved game for the silliest of sitcom gags to leading roles in major dramatic releases such as this year’s Beirut.

Hamm plunged into a dark future of virtual reality and avatars in Black Mirror’s 2014 "White Christmas," but viewers need not be concerned about such bleak dystopian aftertastes here. Set in 2050, Marjorie Prime is a delicate and captivating unraveling of Marjorie’s backstory as her daughter and son-in-law, Tess and Jon (Geena Davis and Tim Robbins), have provided her with her holographic husband Walter (Hamm), her “prime,” still handsome and in his 40s, to keep her company and to recount details of their life together as her memory fades.

Adapted from the original Pulitzer Prize-nominated play by Jordan Harrison, the film has the cadence and meditative feel of a Tarkovsky or Bergman set piece, primarily taking place in Marjorie’s oceanside home, with long takes accompanied by the recurring sound of the surf and an emotional techno-score by Mica Levi. (Lois Smith, top, reprises her role as Marjorie from the original 2014 stage premiere.)

Like a David Mamet play, people don’t talk this way, but you wish they did, as when Jon explains unspoken family secrets missing from Walter’s original programming, and then drifts into subtle frailties of human relationships -- how they often collapse or somehow, they survive despite them.

Alone with Walter one night, Jon, after a large scotch, spills out, “Walter, all relationships, even the long-lasting ones, are impossible. Marriages, friendships, people are constantly looking the other way, accepting some bad news, penny infringements, compromise, betrayal. You have to decide. You say, ‘I want you. I want this.’ Then you work through all the disappointments, disasters. You work through it. Against all odds.’”

Walter listens patiently, seeming to concentrate, and answers as he does when he is given new information about his former life.

Flatly, but sincerely, he replies, “I’ll remember that, now.”

With some unexpected but stirring turns, we, as Walter, unfold Marjorie’s story, some of it unbearable, but other parts the stuff of a life worth remembering, including the time she went with him to walk in the winter sun under Christo’s flying saffron flags under his "Gates" art project in Central Park in 2003.

Life-like avatars are really the only forward bit of technology here, and like all worthwhile science-fiction, Marjorie Prime uncovers some of our most urgent concerns through its futuristic conceit. Walter gains the complexity and accidental grace of those around him; viewers get a grand excavation of identity, authenticity, and compassion set within what we would otherwise consider inadequate or superficial relationships.

And what would we say to lost loved ones if we had another chance?

Ovation has stood by its slogan, “America’s Only Arts Network,” by continuing to bring fine arts documentaries and dramatic adaptations like Marjorie Prime to cable viewers.

That is commendable and should be rewarded. Bravo launched decades ago with a similar mission, flopped, and now is the home of Real Housewives – hardly in the same solar system as Marjorie Prime.

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Mark Isenberg
Ovation remains a crap,pretender Arts channel with so many repeats of old series and only like this,a rare original one. Watch it but Ovation is never going to reach a big audience.The audience knows better.
Feb 3, 2018   |  Reply
Do indeed love his work,but those H&R Block ads,like any chain tax prep services that entice folks with instant refund or advances, are shameless cons that rip off the customer. Not as slimy as payday loaners,but easily as bad as furnishing rental companies,and with the Executive Chief Cheeto in DC,consumer protection is disappearing faster than a package of Jeff Sessions All White Fudge Coated Elf Cookies. At least when Hamm was peddling high-priced cars,he was only conning the very rich.
Feb 3, 2018   |  Reply
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