At a time when overall deals are getting the lateral eye, there’s no need to send disapproving glares at Steven Soderbergh. The Oscar and Emmy-winning director signed a three-year deal with WarnerMedia in 2020, when Max was still HBO Max and HBO still had exclusive rights to its original library, and continues to star during the streamer’s tumultuous transition: one film a year, including the third in his trilogy with Channing Tatum (“Magic Mike’s Last Dance”), a sizzling thriller with Zoë Kravitz (“Kimi”) and a little ‘ movie with the one and only Meryl Streep (“Let Them All Talk”). (Not to mention my favorite of the lot: the sneaky meta, elegantly elegant, “Friends of Eddie Coyle” riff, “No Sudden Move.”)
For an artist who once thought he was done with film for good, Soderbergh became the portrait of reliability. People can quibble about the quality — none of his films garnered the awards attention seen earlier in his career or the critical adoration of, say, HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” — but he produced thoughtful stories, full of stars, bearing the director’s trademark visual curiosity. He’s doing exactly what he’s hired to do, and best of all, his work never feels like there’s a mercenary behind it.
Enter “Full Circle,” a six-part limited series directed entirely by Soderbergh and written in entirety by his recurring collaborator Ed Solomon (“No Sudden Move,” “Mosaic”). The slow-moving ensemble thriller centers on a kidnapping near Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, but expands to include groups as disparate as Guyanese migrants and US postal inspectors. Some of these details seem like red herrings: the postal worker (played by Zazie Beetz) works exactly like a cop, but rather than spelling her like a cop, Solomon’s slight modification to a familiar archetype helps take audiences away from the scent , delaying the inevitable connections of seemingly distinct storylines. Some viewers may lose patience with these early blurbs, but you’ll know whether you’re in or out of “Full Circle” as soon as the final twist of the first episode arrives. A simple, focused pin can have a domino effect, especially in a series about how so many of our choices impact so many people outside of our immediate circle.
With thoughtful decision-making in mind, let’s start where “Full Circle” begins: the titular circle. CCH Pounder plays Savitri Mahabir, a grieving sister (and junior mob leader in Queens) whose brother has just been killed and robbed. Convinced that her death is a sign of bad luck befalling her family, Mahabir enlists the help of her Guyanese elders to break the curse and set things right. The plan calls for, yes, an actual circle (both chalked out on the outside and spread out on rice paper) – but it actually calls for doing a favor to a person you’ve wronged, and the favor calls for exacting revenge on a separated family who wronged that person. So Mahabir calls her nephew Aked (Jharrel Jerome) and her friends to help out. Lately, they’ve been running their own hustle (all at Aunt M’s behest), which implies, well, let’s forget that part.
Aked’s friends have no idea what they signed up for. Xavier (Sheyi Cole) and Louis (Gerald Jones) are just two bored teenagers living in Guyana who want to visit America. Louis’ sister Natalia (Adia) is already there, making money as an Aunt Mahabir’s masseuse-in-training, and is engaged to Aked (who often calls her his fiancé, but rarely seems keen to spend her life with the emotionally charged young man). irregular man). Only after the boys arrive and find out how they should repay their passage to the United States, do they begin to realize how dangerous the Mahabir family can be.
Sam (Claire Danes) and Derek (Timothy Olyphant) have never heard of the Mahabirs, nor would they be able to identify any of them if paths crossed on the subway – just kidding, Sam and Derek don’t ride the subway. The married couple work for Sam’s father, Jeff (Dennis Quaid), a celebrity chef (nicknamed “Chef Jeff,” in what I hope is a nod to “The Bear”), who has built a culinary empire despite having the worst ponytail this side of “The Idol”. Their marinara sauce pays off the mortgage on a colossal newly renovated apartment building in lower Manhattan, but they still try to pass down concrete values to their son, Jared (Ethan Stoddard). But in the past few weeks, a hoodie, his cell phone, and other odds and ends have gone missing, which Derek is quick to attribute to the casual contempt of a spoiled teenager.
There may be more to it, but sharing further borders on spoiler territory. “Full Circle” can’t be spoiled by figuring out the puzzle pieces beforehand, unless you’re able to appreciate Soderbergh’s sparse, mean-spirited shooting style, full of decadent natural lighting and more real locations than even a lifelong New Yorker matters, but doles out plot points with intention. Some rounds make fun of how one character can bump into the next. Others make you reconsider which show you plan on watching. They emphasize thematic ties even more, including generational responsibility (and guilt), global versus local communities, and the blind reach of capitalism.
Throughout, Soderbergh and Solomon rarely let the momentum ebb. Whether it’s switching between characters or balancing suspense and action, “Full Circle” thrives on efficiency. Episodes only last as long as necessary. (Four of the six clock in between 50 and 57 minutes, while the other two clock in under 40). scenery to chew on. Olyphant’s summer gets off to a good start with the “Justified” protagonist playing a panicked and rejected father. Jerome has his solid summer streak between this and “I’m a Virgo.” Danes lends his raw conviction to a character that gets more complicated by the hour. Beetz is refreshing, if somewhat hampered by the script, since its non-cop copness only starts to click in the second half. Even Pounder, given a role that could have easily gone off the rails, keeps his curse-averse mob boss grounded.
“Full Circle” tends to paint its white protagonists in more detail than its black protagonists, and the ending examines the former’s guilt more than the latter’s reality. The latest episode also trades the series’ propulsive tension for a somewhat subdued assessment: all of its forward motion strategically drifts downward into a question of how to move forward. But there’s a surprising level of emotion evoked in these final scenes, which gives the tight little thriller more resonance than something simply made up as a fun distraction. “Full Circle” may not return Soderbergh (or his fans) to the glories of yesteryear; it’s not as ambitious as “The Knick” or as audience-pleasing as “Erin Brockovich,” “Logan Lucky” or the “Ocean’s” movies. But he’s not trying to be. Regarded as a creative twist on a tried-and-true format, it balances the experimental and the satisfying in a way TV should struggle more often, especially in an age where filmmakers are being asked to create content. If you’re going to churn out stories for streaming, you might as well maintain your artistic credibility.
“Full Circle” premieres Thursday, July 13 with two episodes about Max. Two new episodes will be released each week through the July 27 finale.