Dark Winds - Photo AMC
Dark Winds – Photo AMC

Starting its second season, AMC’s Western series “Dark Winds” is a pulpy procedural drama set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation during the early 1970s.

Based on two of Tony Hillerman’s best-selling novels – “Listening Woman” and “People of Darkness” – it revolves around laconic tribal police officer Joe Leaphorn, played by veteran character actor Zahn McClaron (“Reservation Dogs”), who is actually Lakota on his mother’s side.

Lt. Joe Leaphorn runs the only police station on the 27,000-square-mile Navajo reservation, so he’s in charge when there’s a double homicide at a local motel. Racist FBI Agent Whitover (Noah Emmerich) suggests that the murders might draw more attention if Leaphorn would help with an off-reservation armored-car robbery, so it’s all about the power-dynamics of law enforcement. 

Joe is assigned an ambitious new Deputy, Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), who is determined to expand his horizons as a private investigator. Chee’s first client turns out to be a mysterious blonde (Jeri Ryan) who wants him to retrieve a box of personal effects stolen from her home.

Joe’s empathetic wife Emma (Deanna Allison) is still grieving over the death of their young adult son in a mine explosion when she takes in a pregnant teen (Elva Guerra).  Meanwhile, Sergeant Bernadette ‘Bern’ Manuelito (Jessica Matten) may join the Border Patrol to expand her career opportunities. 

Produced by Robert Redford, George R.R. Martin and series creator Graham Roland (“Jack Ryan”), it was filmed in and around the beautiful, majestic Monument Valley. The producers put together a team of Native Americans to adapt and direct Hillerman’s work; they amplified the role of women roles and depicted the supernatural Navajo culture as a spiritual experience.

The Navajo refer to themselves as the Dine or Dineh, literally meaning “The People.” Tony Hillerman was named Special Friend of the Dineh by the Navajo Nation in 1987 – the only non-Native to receive that award.

This isn’t the first time Hillerman’s work has been adapted for the screen. Years ago, PBS made a trio of TV-movies adapted from Tony Hillerman’s books, starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn and Adam Beach as Jim Chee; Fred Ward and Lou Diamond Phillips have also played the archetypal characters.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dark Winds” is an authentically indigenous, engrossing 8, streaming on AMC.

The Idol - Photo HBO
The Idol – Photo HBO

HBO’s much heralded, salacious “The Idol” came and went so quickly that many missed this supposed big-budget backlash in the #MeToo era. The cringe-worthy, now-canceled six-part series revolves around Jocelyn, a masochistic pop-star played by Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny’s 24-year-old daughter with Vanessa Paradis). 

According to Rolling Stone, “The Idol” was originally intended to be a satire of the music business; instead, it morphed into what some have called “sexual torture porn.” This caused director Amy Seimetz to depart. She was replaced by Sam Levinson (“Euphoria”), who co-created the series with Abel Tesfaye, who became its co-star. Tesfaye’s other occupation is as R&B recording artist The Weeknd.

In the first episode, nearly naked Jocelyn poses for a comeback album-cover photo shoot on her knees with a hospital bracelet that presumably connects to her psychotic breakdown after her mother’s death from cancer. 

When someone questions whether it’s right to romanticize mental illness, record executive Nikki (Jane Addams) chides “college-educated internet people” who rebuke “sex, drugs and hot girls.” Then the intimacy coordinator is locked in a bathroom when she tries to stop Jocelyn from baring her breasts. 

Following Jocelyn to a dance club on the Sunset Strip, her assistant Leia (Rachel Sennot) describes the self-help guru/cult leader/club manager Tedros (Tesfaye) as “so rapey.” To which Jocelyn retorts, “Yeah, I kind of like that about him.” The episode concludes with Jocelyn being erotically asphyxiated with a silk robe.

In the subsequent four episodes, it only gets worse; only five were shown before the series was summarily canceled, much to the chagrin of Lily-Rose Depp, who defended her work in Australia’s Vogue as “provocative.”

“I was never interested in making something puritanical,” Depp goes on. “It’s OK if this show isn’t for everyone. I think all the best art is polarizing.”

Problem is: even with its obvious allusions to self-destructive Britney Spears, the plot is plain, the narrative disjointed and the dialogue dreadful. It’s unclear why Jocelyn would be so obsessively attracted to creepy Tedros or why the rest of the cast would be seduced into his abusive cult. He exudes zero charisma. 

On the Granger Gauge, “The Idol” is a tawdry 3, streaming on HBO.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.