Archives for posts with tag: Netflix

The final season of Orange is the New Black feels like the end of an era for me. I think it was the very first show I watched on Netflix. It certainly was the first that I eagerly anticipated the next season for. It represents all what streaming services can be over mainstream TV – brave, representative and uncensored.

Ok, so a couple of seasons lost me a bit. Season 4 was so unremittingly bleak I began to question my ability to watch it and still function. Ditto to a lesser extent season 6, which had me nearly in tears at the finale. In many ways though, its strength over the last couple of seasons has been to tell how political decisions impact the most vulnerable people. And there simply isn’t a way to sugar coat that.

Take the plotline of Blanca and Maritza being locked up in an ICE facility. Nothing says more about the current brutal state of our society than the fact that both are legal citizens of the United States. One lost their status by accepting responsibility for a crime that wasn’t hers, proof that no good deeds goes unpunished. The other, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whist some bad people may get scooped up in this, you can’t help but wonder if they are outweighed by innocent victims of circumstance.

The other central plotline is Piper’s rehabilitation post-release from prison. Rebuilding her life is tough – restricted on employment opportunities, shunned by friends and strangers alike. And this for well-spoken, educated white girl. You are left only to imagine the additional barriers faced by those with a poorer background or an ethnic minority. No wonder so many reoffend.

There are other heartbreaks as well; the continued decline of Taystee from joyous sunshine to feared monster, the OD’s, the gang warfare. Yet there feels also to be lighter touches. The bond between Pensatucky and Suzanne is beautiful, as is the one between Gloria and Red.

Most interestingly though, there is a small window of hope. New warden Ward is changing things and despite cynicism about her book learning, actually seems to be more astute than she is being given credit for.

I hope the season ends on a positive note of some kind, albeit with a tint of realism. I will miss this show and many of the characters, but if the ending works, it will soothe the pain.

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Representation is important in TV. For some, this is the same as diversity, but it arguably isn’t. Diversity smells of box ticking, in that a character is an ethnic minority or LGBT because it cynically taps into a market or fashion. Representation is more of a deliberate action, in that you want to tell a person’s story because it represents our varied society.

Representation is easier when the people behind it are part of the group telling the story. It is obviously going to be more authentic and more nuanced. It allows that group being represented to be presented as more human, as flaws are not tiptoed around and real struggles not sugar coated.

I write about this as I try to get my head round I feel about Special. It revolves around Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy, as he navigates his hunger for independence and love whilst dealing with the limitations of his disability. Ryan O’Connell is both writer and star and is, unsurprisingly, gay and disabled.

He often talks about the show in terms of dealing with his internalised ableism. The central plot is that he has lied to his work colleagues, claiming his disability is really the consequence of a car crash rather than something he was born with. This is something O’Connell himself did at college, trying to start a new life and wanting to throw off the baggage of being disabled.

The problem I have with this show is that I find myself having no sympathy with Ryan. He is willing to take advantage of his disability but hides from the label. He both demands independence yet relies on others to get him out of the smallest of scrapes. He is wanting love but runs away from affection and hides behind a bitch, catty nature. A couple of flaws is fine but this many is just annoying.

I have far more time for his mum. Although she is clingy, you at least feel she is sincere in her efforts to build a new life. I find myself desperately wanting her to be happy with her new boyfriend and am far more moved by the conflicts in her life.

Likewise, Kim is a brilliantly confident character that conveys the hypocrisy of the body confidence movement. In other words, it’s easy to find yourself beautiful if you already are and a few platitudes won’t lift you if you are not.

This show is a classic case of something good that could be so much better. Longer episodes might be a start, allowing a greater depth of story to be told. It may add more layers to Ryan, making him more sympathetic when he gets things wrong. Right now though, Special is, ironically, not special.

I find that I often enjoy the secondary aspect of a show more than the primary. Killing Eve, for instance, is more entertaining for me if I see it as a black comedy than a thriller. It makes the scenes in between the gruesome murders more interesting if you actually treat the violence as the bonus instead of dark humour in the writing.

Likewise, I find myself putting the horror of Stranger Things as a distant second reason to watch it behind the nostalgic coming-of-age story. Which is probably not what the writers, or most of the die-hard fans, want to hear. They probably want the scares to come first, the human interest second, albeit an important second. After all, how bothered can you be by the monster if you don’t care about the victims?

But such a take for me misses the strongest point of the show. Yes, the Mindflayer is doing its thing and it is all very horrible, fitting in nicely with the parable of mass consumerism and late-stage capitalism. Oh, and there is a new dimension of Cold War paranoia ramping up a notch which could actually push the horror down into third place. Yet none of this matches watching the journeys of the young cast towards adulthood.

I was more gripped by the scenes where Will felt crushingly left behind by his friends as they discovered girls than I was by revelation of what the Mindflayer is doing. I was more moved by the growing bond between Max and El than I was scared by the exploding rats. And I took more joy in the humour between Robin, Steve and Dustin then I was repulsed by the transformation of Mrs Driscoll.

In many ways, I am enjoying this series more than the others. There are more storylines in play and the characters are gaining depth. For example, Steve has gone from irritating wazzock to cutely idiotic and vulnerable and is now one of my favourite characters.

All this, and we still have Winona Ryder and David Harbour giving the performances of their lives. Harbour has officially become King of the Dad Bods and Ryder has consigned any previous misdemeanours, both personal and professional, to history.

I hope further seasons continue this progression. The complications of adulthood are knocking on some many of the characters’ doors. It would be a shame to slam it shut.

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.

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.