Archives for posts with tag: american

The new season of your favourite shows being uploaded on Netflix is like receiving a present on your birthday. It comes round once a year, you count down and then you get to indulge. Everyone has their favourite, and for me it is Orange is the New Black.

I love it. For a huge, sprawling cast, it somehow manages to ensure you get behind or stand against every single one. Sometimes, you find your position on people moving as the seasons progress. Big Boo always seemed selfish and cruel, until her unlikely friendship with Doggett and a glimpse into her life story made me warm to her. In reverse, Piper has gone for someone I’m rooting to survive and thrive to being the character who I would least miss if she was shanked.

In fact, this transformation in Piper from naïve and kind to merciless kingpin is one of the shows only flaws. The fact is, I don’t buy it. Even though the show has been running for four years, the timescale is a lot shorter than that within the show, perhaps not even a year. I don’t believe that someone who was essentially an outsider can climb to the top without challenge. Having said that, I’m only four episodes in, so maybe she does get overthrown (no spoilers please).

Other than that, it is still glorious. Many of the originals are still going strong. Red, always a favourite, is brilliant as ever. Taystee is rising in my opinion each episode. Suzanne still gets the best lines, even if it is only two per episode. Some of the new characters are showing real spark too. Lolly, in particular, is fantastic. I look forward to seeing her backstory, as well as how she survives her prison experience.

The humour is still there as well. This, for me, drives the show as much as the moments of heartbreak. Again, Lolly is a real boon here. I loved the scene in the first episode where she was directing Alex on how to be dead for their ‘photoshoot’. It is moments like this that stop the show collapsing under the weight of its worthiness.

Not that there isn’t still an emotional heart. Healey’s episode, in particular, had just the right tinge of heartbreak to show how such an emotionally controlling man was formed. Just because he is a guard doesn’t mean he isn’t in prison as well.

So, yes, this is a present. One I have gratefully received. But like all presents, it is best not to be greedy with it. Watch slowly, allow it to enwrap you and you will never tire of it.

A theme that I have come back to a few times over the years has been the difference between British and American TV. I often feel that British comedy is driven by different things than American humour. Although there are some warm British sitcoms, a lot of the time it seems as if the humour derives from some darkness or a monstrous figure. For example, although the family in Going Forward love each other, it is seen in fleeting moments.

A contrast to this is The Big Bang Theory. There is, at the centre, a love between all the characters. It is one that is frequently strained and sometimes snaps, but is never permanently broken and is rarely hidden. Some people dislike American sitcoms for this very reason, seeing such heart as gushing and sickly sweet. I don’t; rather, I feel it fits the image America tries to sell of itself around the world. That is, of a country that is optimistic about the future and that darkness can still be defeated by the light.

Of course, all of this means nothing if the show isn’t funny. To me, it is. It is one of the few shows that I can guarantee at least one sizeable laugh out of each week. The writing is whip-smart, and the cast bounce off one another in a way that hasn’t been seen since Friends.

What I also like is that the characters have grown and changed, but in ways that are totally cohesive to who they were at the start. Sheldon has slowly come to understand relationships and intimacy, but he still gets is wrong frequently. Howard is becoming a responsible man, but still has this streak of childishness in him. Penny is settling down and reassessing her dreams, but still frets about her life choices. The show has somehow created characters that are both plausibly human while still becoming the best versions of themselves.

I think part of the reason America does this better than us in the UK is the way TV work over there. A show will have 22 or 24 episodes a series, allowing the characters room to grow in the way I have discussed above. You can’t do that when you only have 6 or 7 episodes, like you do in the UK. In Gavin & Stacey, for instance, Stacey and the others never really changed in the three series. In fact, the show seemed to end just as there were about to embark on some of their biggest changes.

That’s not to say I don’t love British comedy. It is brilliant at what it does. It is the Yang to the Yin of American humour. I just wish sometimes we could see the character development and story arcing that those over the pond do so well.

Sitcoms that have parody as their major thrust are a challenge to get right. Enough people have to recognise what it is you’re mocking and not to hold it too dear to be offended by it for it to work. That’s before you even get to making it actually funny, which is an even greater challenge, as you are working at one level of humour constantly. You risk repeating gags much earlier than if you have a comedy with lots of different streaks to it.

Angie Tribeca is the latest parody to launch. It obviously owes a debt to the likes of Police Squad, but has chosen the increasingly over-blown CSI and NCIS franchises as its source. The titles, using mocked up CGI-graphics on glamourous LA scenes whilst a rock voice screams, before it cuts away to the screams coming from a cop holding a hot coffee pot or something similar is an obvious nod to the pretentious title sequence of the likes of CSI Miami. It is also one of my favourite gags, just for its sheer daftness.

Overall, some of the jokes work a lot better than others. The interplay between Tanner and his canine partner Hoffman has me giggling away like a fool. The supposed relationship developing between Tribeca and Geils leaves me cold, however. It just doesn’t work, to my mind, to have a romantic sub-plot, even if you are parodying romantic sub-plots.

It also has another, more unique problem, here in the UK, in that it is scheduled straight after Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I am a huge fan of Brooklyn, and it has the different layers that allow it to have greater breadth in its humour than Tribeca. Because of this, its gags have a higher hit rate. If one character or scene doesn’t hit the spot, the next one probably will. Tribeca, with its one-note humour, as to make it all work constantly, otherwise it just doesn’t work. The first couple of episodes have been good enough for it to succeed, but I question whether it can last an entire series at the same pace.

Despite this, I want to give it a real shot. Like I say, so far I am liking it more than I hate it, and is able to tap its sources just right. Will it stand the test of time? Who knows? It’s raising enough laughs now to earn its stripes. Just maybe don’t screen it so close to its biggest rival.

I sometimes wish that I was capable of watching the weightier TV shows. You know, the ones with real heft that praised to kingdom come and get showered with Baftas. Line of Duty, The Night Manager, The A Word, all of these have passed me by. And why? Because, instead of watching some deep, powerful drama, I find myself watching something like Castle.

Not that there is anything wrong with Castle. It’s slick, fun and entertaining. It has that streak of malice in amongst its brash light-heartedness that American shows do so well. The cases can veer from slapstick comedy to dark conspiracies within a few moments. So yes, I enjoy it. But the fact that it will never get mentioned in the same breath as, say, Breaking Bad, means that it remains a guilty pleasure.

Personally, I think this is a shame. Writing this off as something that this for the mass audience and not part of the upper-echelons of television classics is almost a form of cultural snobbery. For a start, it ignores that this show has been going for 8 seasons, yet still is capable of episodes that thoroughly draw you in. Some of them, for instance the season 8 opener, are more like action thrillers.

Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are also great together. There is a real sense of them bouncing off each other. Part of me wishes they hadn’t got together, as it so hard to find great examples of men and women that are just friends, but it was unstoppable. Such is their chemistry, the episodes where they are apart always feel that little darker, and a little flatter as well.

Of course, there are faults. No matter how much they try, Ryan and Esposito never really gain that third dimension they need to make them interesting. There have also been episodes that have been little more than rip-offs of Liam Neeson films (one was almost a scene-by-scene copy of Taken). When you see how good it can be, seeing it dial it in is a real wrench.

Yet there are also things that are getting better. Firstly, Alexis has developed from precocious brat to savvy intellectual with a backbone. Secondly, the arrival of security consultant Hayley as seen the show perk up somewhat. The Alexis-Hayley dynamic is becoming as endearing as the Castle-Beckett one. Should the show come to an end, the producers could do worse than consider the two of them for a spin-off.

So, yes, although the show is often big, it rarely gets credited with being clever. But it is. Why? Because it knows what the audience wants and delivers it. It is shamelessly what it is. Now I just need to stop feeling shamed about watching it.

I must confess to not being a binge watcher. I think my brain is programmed in such a way to regard TV as a treat, something that is earned. Even on my days off, I have too much of a list of little things to do, as well as a social life that is enough to stop me being a hermit, to watch entire seasons of shows back to back. That doesn’t mean I can’t get some good TV watched – I can plough through a good 3 or 4 episodes of a decent American drama a week. Coupled with the fact that I still watch a lot of shows the episode the old-fashioned way of once a week, I never tear through seasons like so many others of my generation.

This is way I am only just starting season 5 of The Good Wife. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve made good progress, it’s just I know people who would zap through the 6 seasons on Netflix in the course of less than a month. Instead, I pootle along.

Having said that, there is something to be said for drip-feeding yourself good quality shows. Alicia’s rise to partner would seem frantically paced if taking place over a month; give yourself a good part of a year and you are able to drink in everything so much more. And it is a show worth drinking in.

For a start, it is smart, and getting smarter. It neatly and organically evolves from its ‘wronged-wife-goes-back-to-work’ premise to become a tale of political intrigue, office politics and, old chestnuts, love and friendship. I have adored seeing Cary Agos move from rival, to enemy, to good friend to Alicia Florrick, with no doubt more shape shifting to come. The chemistry between everyone almost literally crackles, a neat trick for a show that isn’t scared of layers.

My biggest love though, is for Eli Gold. Alan Cumming plays him so perfectly. Arrogant and with a malicious streak, Gold is also a surprising conduit for the show’s lighter moments. The scenes between Cumming and Margulies are amongst the most sublime you could see: unstoppable energy hitting an immovable object, whilst behind it all, a respect that has grown into a friendship.

See? Going through all these subtle shifts in power too quickly and you lose the beauty of what is being made. Binge watching is great if you intend to watch something disposable. However, if you want to really enjoy a show, slow the pace down. It is the respect some shows deserve.

Contrary to some arguments, satire appears to be in robust health. The sketch show has perhaps continued it’s slow death, although Tracey Ullman has giving it a bit of a boost, but panel shows have sprung up to take its place. Having said that, there does seem to be an increasingly blunted edge to their swords, particularly on the BBC, who are having to kiss the arse of a government that overtly hates them.

So it is little surprise then that the brightest future for a satire is a) American and b) animated. The Simpsons arguably started this charge, with South Park and Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad following suit. Joining the charge of the laughs brigade is Bordertown, a cousin of the aforementioned of American Dad. It has a similar tone and target, focusing on the ludicrous actions and bewildering popularity of right-wing political movements and their supporters. What AD did to the Republican movement, Bordertown is doing to the hot potato of immigration.

At the centre of the show are two families living in a small town on the US/Mexico border. The Buckwald’s are borderline red-necks. You can imagine them supporting Trump and not batting an eye at the violent mob that swirls around him. The Gonzalez family are Mexican immigrants who have achieved a modest level of success. Most of the humour revolves around the patriarch of the former, Bud, being jealous of the latter’s head of house, Ernesto.

A lot of the jokes hit home in a fairly blunt manner. It’s quite clear that the reason for the Gonzalez’s success is having a better work ethic, entrepreneurial vision and a sincere gratitude for life. Meanwhile, the Buckwald’s are comparatively uneducated, lazy and consumed by material greed. This is, of course, more black and white than reality, but some points still stand. Those who look frustratingly at immigrants climbing past them don’t realise the work the immigrants put in to doing so. Certainly in Britain, the tools are there for everyone to achieve, it’s just that some choose not to and prefer to complain about those that do.

Of course, it’s all well and good making some wise satire, but if it’s not funny it is not going to hit its mark. Thankfully, to me at least, it is. I have laughed several times at each episode so far, which is an achievement in itself. Yes, some of the humour is a little basic, and I am still not a fan of toilet humour. But, overall, I am charmed by it. Reviews suggest I am in a minority, but I’m used to that. Sadly, those of us that look beyond the spin around immigration often are.

Before anybody says anything – yes, I know I have discussed Grimm before. Twice, even. However, there is a good reason for me to come back to it. Quite simply, there is always something new to say about it. It is a show that keeps moving forward, even if sometimes it shoots of down a dark tunnel that looks hard to get out of.

Which brings nicely to the big season 5 story arc, the rise of Black Claw. There are a fanatical Wesen terrorist organisation, fighting to bring back old traditions and return the Wesen race to dominance. Apparently, Hitler wanted the very same, which begs the question ‘was Churchill a Grimm?’ Probably not, but never let being sensible get in the way of enjoying a fantasy series.

Anyway, the parallels to our world are obvious. Black Claw are Isis or similar, wanting their culture to be the dominant one. People who don’t join are traitors to their kind, and winning over impressionable young minds is key to their success. The unrest is on a global scale and often disguised as general political disgruntlement (riots in Ukraine, the Troubles in Northern Ireland re-emerging etc.). It certainly feels very frantic.

This feeling of everything being at warp speed wasn’t helped by the first episode back from its Christmas break being very weird and feeling like it had been shot as a cross between a B-movie and bad soap opera. The filming was jerky and the background music obtrusive. Weirdly, only we in Britain seemed to notice, and by the next episode the faults seemed to have been corrected. Perhaps someone pressed the wrong button on the DVD player at the TV network. Bloody interns.

There is a general feeling that this season is going for the big payoff, as if someone knows this will be the last series. It is hard to imagine how the show would top this next time around, especially in terms of the depth of peril that the characters are rushing in to. The obvious comparison here is season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a similar apocalypse scenario played out. The team knew there was no way back from it, so called it a day.

If it is the last season, at least the people behind Grimm are throwing everything at it. Juliette as a weird cyborg-Wesen with a ridiculous amount of wigs, Nick kissing Adelind, Meisner looking so grumpy he puts Daniel Craig to shame. It’s a wonder there is any space in an episode to return to the crime of the week.

Like I say, as much as I love the show, it feels as if it is right that this is a swansong. This is their jumping the shark, their return of the First, their all or nothing. Just make sure the person putting the disc in knows what they are doing.