These four exciting TV series are launching soon. Newsday's Verne Gay reports. Credit: Newsday

SERIES "The Regime"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO; streaming on Max

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The chancellor of a central European country, Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet), is losing a grip on her already fragile sanity when she turns to a soldier, Cpl. Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), for guidance. Elena is hardly put off by Herbert's notoriety (he's accused of gunning down striking cobalt miners) but wants to know what he knows about the common man and woman. Herbert explains, and Elena then shapes domestic and foreign policy based on his suggestions. Her advisers, including Agnes (Andrea Riseborough), are worried about the hold this menacing interloper has over their boss. But what to do? When U.S. Secretary of State Judith Holt (Martha Plimpton) pays a visit to the chancellor she's forced to ask the same.

Hugh Grant also stars as the well-hidden leader of the opposition.


 

MY SAY The challenge of building a six-part series around a pinched, cruel, psychotic sociopath and her like-minded consort seems obvious enough — also build an off-ramp for them or for viewers. “The Regime '' eventually does, but what a long, strange trip in getting to that point. At least the payoff is worth the wait.

 In fact, “The Regime '' is unlike any series you've ever seen before (that's good) or probably want to see again (that's not so good). Moreover, there are few pop culture parallels to help ground this as a viewing experience. Maybe a little “Wag the Dog'' or “Bulworth?” The cleanest comparison would be 2017's “The Death of Stalin'' except that “Regime” doesn't have quite the same lacerating wit or sheer latent horror. (Stalin after all did execute a million Soviets during the “Great Terror”; Elena manages nothing comparable.)

What exactly do we have here then? “The Regime” is a satire only when convenient, a black comedy when necessary. “My friends, my loves” is how she begins her own deluded version of a weekly “fireside chat.” Elena's also the self-appointed showstopper during her televised Christmas extravaganzas — cruel forms of torture on a mass scale, where she sings “Santa Baby” dressed in a fur-lined tutu. In her own mind, she'd be a woman of the people except she doesn't know any people, nor want to. (They smell bad, and they're germ bags.) The unseen is what terrifies her most, and she elects to see nothing.

Elena would be an object of pity except that tyrants never are. At least Winslet is outstanding here.

Instead of movies or TV, “The Regime'' draws inspiration — and ultimately blood — from the real world. Herbert is Elena's own personal Rasputin, the mystic who duped the last imperial family of Russia. Grant's opposition leader is Putin rival Alexei Navalny (dying in prison just two weeks ago) or countless other Navalnys. Putin is the obvious and all too easy target. Elena also decides to invade a breakaway republic. She too butchers the truth and rivals.

But only when Elena turns on the United States does her own personal tragedy (and her country's) become a forgone conclusion. “The Regime's'' true target is U.S. foreign policy. Dollars rule the globe — U.S. dollars that prop up corrupt governments and the lackeys that rule them. The Elenas of the world have their part to play, and play it they will. Or else.

Watching “The Regime” won't make you feel better, but will help you to see how the rest of the world sees us. That's the grim intent, anyway.

BOTTOM LINE Not a lot of laughs — as if — but the payoff succeeds and so does Winslet.

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