Archives for posts with tag: Netflix

Regular readers of this blog know I love a bit of hokum. You can make a show as daft as you want; so long as it is good, I don’t care. Some of my happiest hours of my viewing have involved watching some high-quality trash.

Of course, going for this market is a risk. Miss on the quality and it you end up with something just plain silly. Don’t play enough up on the daftness, or worse overdo it, then you end up just making an hour of nothing.

Travelers for me veers dangerously between being watchable trash and unwatchable garbage. The premise is that five individuals are sent from the future to the present day to prevent disasters. They take on lives of people that were supposed to die. So far, so good on the hokum.

The problem with the first episode was that it took so long to set up and understand what was happening. In fact, it was nearly all premise and not much action, setting up the complexities of the characters’ lives as all five needed to be introduced. I can’t help wondering if having just one person as the focus to begin with and expanding outwards from there would have set up more of a hook.

Other episodes have been better. We are beginning to see the conflict of taking on someone else’s life has, especially when the information is wrong. But it still suffers from one major flaw – it is far too serious. The show doesn’t seem to recognise its own innate ridiculousness and the suspension of disbelief it asks for. Pretty much everybody involved appears to be miserable. It is far heavier going than it needs to be.

A couple of individual characters are at least vaguely interesting. Marcy suddenly veering from being a woman with learning difficulties to a fully trained medic is one the shows more outlandish ideas and one I wish it would play with more other than making her now a possible love interest for her former social worker. Trevor seems to be the only character who has ever had a sense of humour, making him more watchable as well.

Basically, it feels like the show is nearly there. It nearly has well-rounded characters. It nearly has strong plots. It nearly has good writing. But it never quite reaches any of these standards. And so it becomes a slog. Maybe someone from the future can travel back to the team behind the show and correct these faults. It’s a future worth saving.

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Last week I talked about being on the curve with some of my Netflix habits (not ahead mind, I will never be ahead). Well, this week is me returning to my natural state of being miles behind. Because, after years of hype, I am finally getting round to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The plot for those who are unaware; a woman who has been trapped in an underground cult gets rescued and decides to start a new life in New York. The comedy comes from her adjusting to the modern world, both in terms of its technology and its social mores. Her naivety is designed to make her endearing and, possibly, highlight some of the negative impacts of our complicated modern lives.

There are several things I like about the show. Top of the list is Titus, her unwilling new roommate, a gay black man desperate for a career in showbiz. Like Kimmy, he has escaped a small-town way of life. His melodrama and social commentary adds a deeper layer to what could be fluff. His scene where he tries to ‘out’ a fellow former cult member’s boyfriend by dressing as a ‘sexy’ farmhand had me guffawing more than anything I had seen in a long time.

A close second is Lillian, the odd but well-meaning landlady. As I’m still part way through the first season she hasn’t developed the depth of the other characters, but her appearances are delightfully batty, not least the hints to a slightly criminal nature and lack of filter in her thoughts. The scenes with Titus and Lillian bounce in a way that drives the whole show.

On the flip side, the two other main characters are less appealing. Jacqueline is a cliché of the New York socialite, a trope that has been done to death. Whilst it is always easy to get kicks out of painting the well off as out of touch, idiotic and shallow, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done in other shows. Maybe as the show progresses something of interest will make her worthwhile, but for now, I hit a mental snooze at the jokes about cosmetic surgery and her rampant consumerism.

The other problem is Kimmy herself. The supposed endearing qualities she has are, to me, irritating. I almost find the way her cluelessness is used to highlight the faults of the modern world clumsy and almost preachy. Endless sunny optimism and a strict moral code are not an exciting combination. Maybe I have got too accustomed to deeply flawed characters being the lead, but I can’t help feeling that in any other show, Kimmy would be a secondary character to the more intriguing Titus.

It is early days though, and there is enough for me to keep going and see if the faults get ironed out. First seasons are always either perfect jewels that should never be touched or flawed gems that just need buffing up, and this is more in the latter category. And besides, there is little else to distract me right now.

Normally with Netflix I am miles behind everyone else. So it is quite exciting for me that instead of my usual months I am only a few weeks behind on The Umbrella Academy. It has helped the delays to The Crown and Stranger Things have knocked my usual winter viewing off course.

I’m not usually one for comic book/superhero type shows. The Marvel and DC universes are like a foreign language to me and the thought of sitting through dozens of films for a pay off in one climatic one is incredibly off putting.

Thankfully The Umbrella Academy is not related to this world. It follows six incredibly gifted children born in auspicious circumstances, all with super powers. Number 5 has seen an apocalypse and is trying to prevent it from happening, with varying degrees of helps from his ‘siblings’ and whilst being chased by two assassins.

There is certainly plenty of action – fans of fight and gun scenes are well served. In fact, you can’t fault the visuals. As befits an adaptation from a comic, sight is an amply rewarded sense. Netflix has once again managed to turn something cinematic in style into a television programme.

The rest of the show is a mixed bag. The problem with such a large cast is you get hooked on one or two characters and want to rush through what is happening with the rest. Luther and Alison for me, both separately and as a potential couple, pose little interest. Luther in particular is too worthy, a martyr for his cause, which too often veers into dullness, even with a striking physical appearance.

On the flip side, Robert Sheehan’s portrayal of drug-addled séance expert Klaus is excellent. He is a ball of manic energy off which sparks fly. Likewise, Number 5 is also beguiling, albeit in a very different way. The scenes with the two of them together lift the show so high that everything else seems to crash down around them.

It is the unevenness of tone that has been the show’s biggest flaw for some critics. Personally, I like it, although as I previously hinted, I’m not sure why we need the weird romance plot growing between Luther and Alison. But other than that the variety works, allowing you to draw yourself in and out as needed.

Overall, I would say it is not my favourite thing. But it is just about intriguing enough and successful in its attempts to be different to be worth my time. At least until The Crown comes back, anyway.

I can be a contrary creature at times. Shows at their peak can often appear wooden and uninteresting to me. Meanwhile, the greater depth that comes with time is like manna from heaven, yet this is where audiences fall away as they are dazzled by a new shiny object elsewhere.

How to Get Away with Murder is a case in point. I found the first couple of seasons cold and too driven by sensation. The characters seemed empty stereotypes and at the mercy of the plot, rather than driving it. By contrast, season four, which I am currently indulging in, to me feels like everything is pulling together. The characters feel fleshed out and likeable, even the most amoral, and the plot works to build upon that, rather than hindering it.

For me, the biggest sea changes are in Michaela and Asher. Who knew the two most instantly dislikeable characters would actually become my favourites when they got together? Perhaps it is because they exposed each other’s soft underbellies beneath the cold, cruel ambition both initially presented.

I have even warmed to Annalise herself. Strangely it is not the constant tragedies of her life that have done that, as I find myself desensitised to her tales of woe. She is a classic example of the character that has had so much misery heaped on her it stretches your belief too far. Instead, it is because she is now truly being on the side of justice. She is fixing her past faults and trying to at the very least not burn anymore bridges.

The flip side is that the mystery plots are weakening. It feels as if we jumped the shark a long time ago, possibly even in the first season, and these are now a distraction rather than a driving force. It makes you wonder if the show would benefit from being more of just a straightforward legal drama rather than something more sensationalistic. Or for it to just be told in a linear fashion, rather than drip feeding the sensation over each episode.

For me, the show has got better. It is people driven, as all good dramas should be. It still has its frustrations, not least that everyone seems so permanently angry or moody, but I can live with that. It is a shame the rest of the audience couldn’t.

The politics of gender is big news at the moment, not least in the ‘Believe Her’/#metoo movements. Yet its biggest impact is being felt arguably in the entertainment industry, where cases of everything from uncalled for sexual comments on set to historical abuse allegations are leading to a rebalance of power. It’s not an unneeded one, Lord knows we need more women in power behind the camera as well as in front of it, but it is a marker of how morally poor we are that it has taken something of this scale to produce it.

One of the most notable shake ups occurred on House of Cards, where the departure of Kevin Spacey created a need to rewrite a whole season of plots and a complete re-centering of the story. Gone was Frank and Claire Underwood’s fight for the White House. Instead, Claire is standing alone against a combination of friends and enemies of Frank’s.

It is a shame that the original storyline has been lost due to the actions of Spacey. He is now a deservedly marked man, someone whose behaviour can derail your entire production. The show always was at its best when put its two leads against each other and weakest when it had them randomly accruing a new sexual partner that they sometimes shared.

Having said that, the new story is a good metaphor for how many women must feel when their men exit their lives. Hated by his friends for letting him go or driving him into his grave, despised by his enemies for having him in their life in the first place. Unless you have enough allies yourself, it can feel lonely at the top.

I have always been more fascinated by Robin Wright’s portrayal of Claire than Spacey’s Frank. Morality being tempered by circumstance is always more intriguing than out-and-out amorality. Claire is more quietly passionate, but not less so for it. Dare I say it, but she is actually more creating a legacy for everyone than for herself.

The change in cast has brought enemies old and new as well. The Shepherd’s represent everyone’s worst fears about Western politics, that no political decision is ever made without the permission of big business. Journalists are still hounding Claire over actions from the beginning of the show. Political foes are lining up. There is a sense of something building.

There is still that feeling that everything moves at a glacial pace but sometimes this pays off. I’m hoping that everything is lining up to a monumental

With all the re-launches, you would be forgiven for thinking TV is without any original ideas. Of course, you may be right; there is certainly a dearth of truly new programming at times. Besides, making a reboot is, as the film industry has shown, so much simpler than creating anything new.

But then we have a question of when is a reboot a reboot an when is it something arguably more – a rethinking or reimagining perhaps. To reach this level you need more than a new cast, you need an entire genre and tone change, and therefore take a much bigger gamble.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina certainly is more than a reboot. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a kids’ comedy with talking cats, daft plots and very little substance. Of course, I loved it. Even now, the snarky Salem the Cat is one of my televisual spirit animals.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is definitely not a comedy, instead returning to the supernatural horror roots of the original comic. Personally, I miss the humour. In fact, the abiding air of the show is one of taking itself far too seriously. It isn’t exactly miserable as such, but it is lacking a wit that surely wouldn’t be that out of place. Some people have compared it to Buffy, but that also had a lighter tone amongst the angst, knowing when to be deep and when to be frivolous. Sabrina hasn’t learnt that yet.

It is also politically confusing as well. One the one hand, many of the plots touch on #metoo with the message of the importance female support groups, along with an open approach to sexuality and the generic ‘don’t be bad to those who are different’ moral. It is one of those shows that has worked so hard to strengthen its female characters, the men are underwritten into either being Neanderthals or pushovers.

At the same time, it is oddly conservative in how black and white it draws its moral lines. X group of people are bad, Y group of people good, and no one seems to really float in the middle. Again, this ability play with what is good or evil is where Buffy trounces Sabrina.

Some things, or rather some characters, save the show, although for me one of them isn’t Sabrina herself. I found her very irritating for the first couple of episodes, although I am coming round to her now. Instead, it is Aunt Hilda, Cousin Ambrose and Madame Satan who seem to be the most watchable. Of course, the latter isn’t a surprise, Michelle Gomez must be top of everyone director’s casting list when you are wanting a villainess with a fine line in menacing bon mots.

So overall, I would argue Sabrina could be so much better. The horror isn’t that horrifying, you never really feel the stakes raise and it is far too serious. For saying it is so much darker than its comedy predecessor, I’m not convinced it has any more substance. Whatever spell some say it has cast, it hasn’t worked on me.

The Good Place has never been a conventional sitcom. Not in a downbeat, angry white male kind of way though, which by the way there are far too many of. If anything, it is relentlessly upbeat whilst tackling the big questions.

Its unconventionality lies more in its ever-shifting premise. Season one was about Eleanor avoiding being discovered as not belonging in The Good Place. Season two became about the entire cast avoiding The Bad Place, which actually involved being sent to said place. Season three sees them back on Earth living mortal lives, initially unaware of their previous experience in the afterlife.

Of course, for a show that sees humour and philosophy intertwine, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Philosophers change what it means to be good, and even whether it is important to be so, on a regular basis. If the first season was about the difficulties of actually being good (Chidi was punished despite being a nice person), the focus is now on ‘why should we be good?’ With the gang guaranteed eternal damnation, and they know it, the good they do is coming from a more selfless place. This is the point where you can start debating on how possible is it to perform a purely selfless action. If you want that debate, please have it.

Now the characters have built up a backstory, I am actually finding the show funnier. Not just a glib ‘oh that’s quite good’, but genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. There is a strong satirical bent to the humour, which is where the show is strongest, not least in its openness to critique the trappings of the modern world.

The difference between a sitcom that works and one that doesn’t isn’t just about the jokes though. It is about investing in the characters. Thankfully, he whole cast has grown on me, even Jason, whose stupidity has progressed from irritating to charmingly naïve. Janet still remains my favourite. D’Arcy Carden tells a whole joke with just her facial expressions, and for saying she is playing the least human character, is also the one that brings heart to the cast.

The risk with changing premise and creating almost drama-like cliffhangers is the risk one won’t pull off. A change too far or a ‘jumping the shark’ that leaves the viewers at breaking point. So far the show has avoided that, but there will be a point where there is a reset to many.

Until then though, it is one of the warmest shows around but still has a message. In a bleak and cruel world, that alone should earn everyone involved some Good Points.