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Original Content podcast: Despite some odd choices, ‘The Undoing’ lays out a satisfying mystery

The HBO miniseries “The Undoing” wrapped up back in November, but the hosts of the Original Content podcast took advantage of the holidays to get caught up.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, “The Undoing” tells the story of Grace Fraser (played by Nicole Kidman), a Manhattan psychologist whose husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) is accused of a brutal murder. As the trial turns into a media spectacle, Grace tries to navigate how she feels about her husband and to discover who else might be guilty of the crime.
While Jordan had already watched the show as it aired, …

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Original Content podcast: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ might be a beautiful mess, or maybe just a mess

“Wonder Woman 1984” was released on HBO Max on Christmas Day, where it quickly divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast.
Perhaps it was predictable that Anthony — a fan of clunky-but-ambitious superhero sequels like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — enjoyed the film. Darrell, meanwhile, took the side of most critics, who found the movie exasperating and even, at times, mystifyingly bad.
The biggest surprise was Jordan, who disliked the first “Wonder Woman” and actually preferred the sequel, thanks in large part to Kristen Wiig’s portrayal of the villainous Cheetah.
Everyone agreed that there were plenty …

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Original Content podcast: ‘The Vow’ offers a muddled look at the NXIVM cult

“The Vow” is a fascinating documentary, but we can’t quite recommend it whole-heartedly.

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, HBO’s new docuseries tells the story of NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um), a self-improvement company that was subsequently revealed as a sex cult, with its leader Keith Raniere sentenced to 120 years in prison.

The core story is both compelling and horrifying. And “The Vow” features an astonishing amount of footage showing Raniere and other high-level NXIVM members at work — for that reason alone, the series is worth watching for anyone interested in the NXIVM story.

However, it’s also hampered by some unfortunate storytelling choices. For one thing, by parceling the story out over nine hour-long episode, the series often feels unnecessarily drawn out and repetitive.

And by focusing on a handful of high-ranking NXIVM members who subsequently became important whistleblowers and critics (including Mark Vicente, the filmmaker responsible for a great deal of that behind-the-scenes footage), “The Vow” has also opened itself up to criticism that it downplays the stories of Raniere’s true victims and obscures the extent of his crimes (unlike the Starz documentary “Seduced”) .

In addition to reviewing the series, we also discuss the latest Disney+ growth numbers and the new season of “The Bachelorette.”

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
0:45 Disney+ discussion
7:40 “The Bachelorette” discussion
30:48 “The Vow” review

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HBO releases a wellness-focused AR app to promote ‘His Dark Materials’

With the second season of “His Dark Materials” premiering on HBO on November 16, the network has partnered with creative studio Framestore to create a new iOS and Apple Watch app called His Dark Materials: My Daemon.

The free app gives fans of the show (and the Philip Pullman novels the show is based on) a chance to interact with their very own “daemons” — the magical animal companions that serve as an extension of characters’ souls.

“It’s a really great opportunity to give users and fans of the show the opportunity to have a daemon companion that’s personalized to them,” said Christine Cattano, Framestore’s global head of VR. “And what better way to do that than on your phone, which is a constant companion to us all?”

Users are assigned a daemon after taking a simple quiz consisting of questions like “day or night?” and “above or below?” They can then interact with the daemon by providing basic updates on their current state (like whether they’re feeling focused or distracted). Based on those updates, the daemon will recommend tasks tied to physical and emotional wellness, like going for a walk or a run, or watching a movie.

As users perform more wellness tasks, their daemon becomes happier and healthier. The app also allows users to go on “journeys,” where they perform a series of (again, wellness-focused) tasks that are tied to the activities of characters on the show.

Image Credits: HBO/Framestore

His Dark Materials: My Daemon will learn more about your activities by integrating with Apple Health and Spotify. And it incorporates augmented reality by allowing you to watch animations where you daemon interacts with the world around you. You’ll be able to share your companion interactions on social media, as well.

HBO’s vice president of program marketing Emily Giannusa noted that the original plan was for “large, real world activations.” After all, Framestore didn’t just work on visual effects for the actual “His Dark Materials” show. It also collaborated with HBO to develop “Beyond the Wall,” a virtual reality experience tied to “Game of Thrones,” as well as Magic Leap GoT experience called “The Dead Must Die,” which were both available via installations in flagship AT&T stores. (AT&T owns HBO’s parent company WarnerMedia.)

But given the pandemic and the need for social distancing, HBO and Framestore knew they had to take a different approach, so Giannusa said they came up with something that could “delight [fans] while they’re at home” — and that should reach a much larger audience in the process.

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