How the other 90% lives!

This week’s blog is the polar opposite of last week where I confessed to having watched all 13 hours of Bloodline on Netflix on its debut weekend.  As I was entertaining visiting friends this week, I actually didn’t watch TV (aside from a few stolen moments in the privacy of my bedroom where I furiously caught up with Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore most nights).  I have come to realize since beginning this blog last fall, that most people I know don’t watch much TV at all!  In fact, not only are most of my friends too busy to watch TV, they are also too busy to read my blog!!  That’s why, I called this week’s blog, “How the other 90% lives!” As a result of missing TV for a week, yesterday was a blur of catching up with some recorded programming but there is much more catching up to be done before I will have been able to clear my PVR.

So far, I am up to date with The Good Wife, Justified, Arrow, Vice, CBS Sunday Morning , Bill Maher, The Slap and IZombie, but have yet to watch last night’s season finale of The Walking Dead, Dig (I like to flick it on during nap times, as for some reason, it sends me directly to dreamland), Scandal (which has descended to the level of pure dreck/totally guilty pleasure), The Blacklist (starring James Spader in total William Shatner ham mode), The Flash, Better Call Saul, and The Following (OK, I am totally ashamed of myself for tuning into this gorefest).

I almost missed last night’s season debut of Call The Midwife on PBS which I totally adore.  This show always makes me cry, and last night’s story of neglected children was no exception.  There’s a new character who looks like she will be a wonderful addition to the cast as an inexperienced midwife joining the house.

Also debuting last night was HBO’s much heralded documentary on Scientology called Going Clear.  I am recording it tonight and am looking forward to it as it has been widely praised for its revelations about this very peculiar science fiction based religion.

Also making its debut this tonight on PBS is Ken Burn’s latest documentary called Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.  John Doyle gives it a rave review in his Globe column today:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-this-story-of-cancer-is-excellent-poignant-and-powerful/article23668480/

Again, I remind you all to remember that the very last episodes of Mad Men will begin airing next Sunday April 5. If you haven’t watched this show yet, now is your chance to catch up on Netflix, On Demand or whichever way you please. I’ve really enjoyed this series for its portrayal of the late 50’s through mid 60’s time period.  It’s been a great exploration of changing attitudes towards women in the workplace, marriage, sexuality, politics, etc.  The development of its main character, Don Draper, has been fascinating in its nuanced and subtle layering.  Every season has revealed a different aspect of this mysterious man.  He is much more complicated than most lead characters and this show has definitely influenced many ensuing programs which feature complicated story lines with lead characters who are not necessarily good people.

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Netflix makes TV networks kind of irrelevant

Confessions of a binge watcher:

This weekend has been a bit of a blur so far.  I finished watching all 13 episodes of Bloodline last night on Netflix.  This noir family saga set in the Florida Keys is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV.  It stars Kyle Chandler (best known for his starring role on Friday Night Lights, which is possibly one of the best network series ever made and is available on Netflix), Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepherd and the amazing Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn.  It was very smart to cast the relatively unknown Mendelsohn in the role of the prodigal black sheep son who returns to his family after a long absence.  His performance keeps us on the edge of our seats in every scene and he is so charismatic that it is impossible to not look at him whenever he is on screen. I have to say watching this series in Florida is a total treat.  For my shivering friends in the north, the palm trees, beaches, mangroves, sunrises and sunsets will make you long to be here and may actually warm you up.  Of course, at the heart of all those scenes of paradise, is a family whose darkest secrets will come to light.  Today’s Decider column has a great article on the show which you can read here:

http://decider.com/2015/03/20/bloodline-netflix-original-series/?_ga=1.242095938.1952295368.1427031892

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is another Netflix original series that debuted this winter.  The pilot episode is screamingly funny and worth watching for its Matt Lauer segment alone.  In the first episode, four women are rescued from a cult whose members lived underground believing that society has been wiped out in an apocalypse.  Their are many hilarious moments as the women reintegrate into society.  Today’s NY Post has an article on the show which you can read here:

http://nypost.com/2015/03/22/kimmy-schmidt-shows-the-irrelevance-of-nbc/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=NYP%20180%20Day%20Openers%20and%2030%20Day%20Signups&ut

Netflix and HBO have forced the big broadcast networks to develop more challenging fare.  American Crime (starring Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton) on ABC is a prime example of grittier programming that focuses on race and justice issues in a way that really does push the envelope for a procedural crime series.  There is no denying that there is a huge appetite for comfort food shows that wrap up their story lines in one hour and leave viewers feeling satisfied that the crime has been solved and the perpetrators duly tried.  Shows like Blue Bloods on CBS are beloved by their viewers as the formula series always ends with a family dinner table variation on The Walton’s tried and true “good night John Boy” ending.  HBO’s The Jinx (about the real life crimes of Robert Durst, black sheep scion of a NYC real estate dynasty) forces viewers to watch unpleasant truths reveal themselves over the course of 6 challenging hours of interviews and painstaking research.  As has been widely reported, the star of the show, having apparently forgotten that he has a live microphone attached, admits his guilt in the last moments of the show.  Off camera, after the series has aired, the police finally make an arrest more than thirty years after his first murder. There is nothing comforting about this ending, as Durst’s $100 million dollar fortune has previously bought him acquittals through the use of the best lawyers money can buy and a jury system that can be hoodwinked very easily.

I must also confess to a couple of inaccuracies in my Paddington review last week. My eagle-eyed husband reminded me that Paddington was originally from darkest Peru (not Africa) and that the villain of the piece is played by Nicole Kidman (and not Tilda Swinton). So sorry about that!

On the film front, I did manage to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (same as the first, a little bit darker and a little bit worse).  Also, the producers managed to bamboozle poor paunchy Richard Gere into appearing as the enigmatic romantic newcomer in a shameless attempt to pander to American audiences.  So embarrassing for him!  My huge objection to this movie and its predecessor is that the hotel owner character played by Dev Patel is such a broad caricature of the obsequious Indian, sucking up to superiors and generally acting like a complete buffoon. There are so many wonderful Indian films that truly depict Indian society (please watch The Lunchbox which is now on Netflix).  Again, I know there is a huge appetite for comforting films that leave audiences with a satisfying happy ending and, in particular, there is a market for generic British comedies with wonderful casts (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, etc.) playing eccentric but loveable characters.  Bah humbug, I say!!

We also streamed Exodus: Gods and Kings this week and found it thoroughly entertaining.  Starring Christian Bale as Moses and a heavily eyes made up Joel Edgerton as Ramses, this version of the story really tries to differentiate itself from the Charlton Heston version.  Obviously CGI has made special effects much more seamless than they were in the 50’s.  I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the plagues visited on Egypt (especially the crocodiles as I sit here in Florida surrounded by alligators) and the parting of the Red Sea by the forces of nature is pretty suspenseful, even though we know how the story ends.  Also, you may enjoy the appearance of the aforementioned wonderful Ben Mendelsohn in character actor mode as a very effeminate Viceroy who wreaks vengeance on Moses.

I’m still watching my favourites:  The Good Wife, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, IZombie (newly debuted, it’s a comic zombie series), The Slap, The Blacklist (featuring the always hammy James Spader who seems to be growing more similar to William Shatner, his co-star on Boston Legal, with every episode), Elementary, Forever, Arrow, Vice, CBS Sunday Morning, Bill Maher, John Oliver, Jon Stewart, The Nightly Show, etc.

OK, I leave you with a reminder to set your recording devices for the return of Mad Men.  It is only two weeks away and these will be the last episodes of the series. Over the past 7 years, the series has dealt very subtly with the question “Who is Don Draper?”  Played brilliantly by Jon Hamm, Draper has been portrayed as  a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma.  Its depiction of 60’s culture has chronicled societal changes including race issues, the Kennedy era, sexuality, women’s and family issues, etc. Oh yes and it’s set in the world of advertising and features an incredible amount of drinking and smoking. Enjoy!

Back from vacation!

We had heaps of company last week and our touristy excursions (cruise of Naples Bay, hike in the Rookery preserve, hike at the Corkscrew Audubon sanctuary and yesterday, since we were still in tourist mode, a trip to the Everglades to see alligators in the Everglades National Park) completely kept me away from watching and commenting on TV and films so here’s my attempt to catch up.

As far as movies go, we needed a mindless and and enjoyable film so we streamed Paddington, which answers the question of what Hugh Bonneville gets up to on his vacations from Downton Abbey.  I loved this very sweet natured film which is primarily live action with an amazing bear at its centre.  Paddington is an adorable bear from darkest Africa who makes his way to London looking for an adoptive family.  He is hilariously depicted and the humans are wonderful as well including Sally Hawkins and Tilda Swinton.

Having binge watched Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon Prime and House of Cards season 3 on Netflix already this year, I tried to binge watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix and made it through about 7 episodes.  A very funny premise (created by Tina Fey), Kimmy is a rescued molewoman who has been kept captive in a backyard bunker for several years before being rescued by police.  It’s a fish out of water story about how she adapts to modern life, romance, work, etc.  Very silly in the same way that 30 Rock was and occasionally interrupted by very funny scenes.

John Doyle had a column this week on Netflix shows you should watch:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/doyle-seven-shows-you-should-be-watching-on-netflix/article23337490/

and my favourite of his picks was The Hour. A great retro show about British telly in the 1950’s with a strong mystery at its centre.  Stars the great Domenic West (need I say more?).

I have also been bingeing on HBO’s Girls, which although I know it is aimed at 25-year-olds, is still a fascinating look at a narcissistic young woman who is amazingly confident and cheerful about her life (she’s a bit like Mindy, whom I love, but not as ethnic or high achieving).  I have also been catching up on HBO’s Togetherness about life in LA for a group of 30 somethings.

Banshee (which airs on Starz here and on HBO Canada at home) is one of my guilty pleasure shows about an outlaw who assumes the identity of a small town sheriff in rural Pennsylvania and proceeds to create mayhem as a result.  One of the most graphically violent shows I have ever seen and I can’t stop watching!  The sheriff is dreamy, of course.

For some reason, I keep looking in on Scandal which has gone from the ridiculous to the ludicrous this past year, with a bizarre kidnapping, a Ferguson type incident and now back to the secret organization subplot.  Yikes, this show is seriously stupid. Following it on ABC is American Crime which is broadcast TV’s answer to cable shows like True Detective in its gritty storytelling.  It starts Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton as parents of an LA murder victim and tells about the investigation of this crime.  I have suffered through the first two episodes of CSI:Cyber starring Patricia Arquette and the unintentionally hilarious James Van der Beek (Dawson!).  This show is so formulaic, it’s like a template lifted from all the other CSI shows even with the same theme music and oppressive musical score.  Hilarious camera work and robotic acting (especially by Arquette who tries to be a super serious psychologist/cyber crime expert).  It’s like they gave all the actors the instruction to watch old episodes of Dragnet and try to be really deadpan when reciting their rapid-fire cyber dialogue.  The supporting players are like a kaleidoscope of stock crime procedural characters variously super hip, super funky, super smart, super dorky, etc.  Everyone reads like a caricature.

I continue to watch and love guilty pleasure shows Nashville (Deacon has cancer!), Empire (Daddy has ALS!), The Americans (Phillip almost slept with a 16-year-old!), Allegiance (The Americans clone told in modern day parlance), Gotham, The Flash, Arrow, The 100 (all aimed at 15-year-old boys, but what do I care, until Teen Wolf returns).  I am already mourning the upcoming conclusion of Justified which I love for Raylan’s Inspector Javert-like commitment to catching Boyd Crowther.  I keep watching The Blacklist waiting for glimpses of Tom Keene.  I am giving The Slap a chance (an American adaptation of an Australian TV miniseries which I loved), have decided to give Secrets and Lies a pass (another American adaptation of an Australian TV miniseries which I loved). I also binge watched the rest of Suits here which ended in a cliffhanger episode with Donna deciding to change bosses (sorry if I ruined it for some slow pokes).  The new series starts in the US this summer.

I have started to watch The Dig with Jason Isaacs and just wish that they would let him be English (even though he’s an FBI agent).  I slept through most of the pilot, but have recorded the second episode and will watch it one sleepy afternoon.

Still loving The Good Wife, even though its return last Sunday was a very odd show indeed which purported to take us into the mind of Alicia Florek.  So weird, but still better than most stuff on the regular broadcast networks.  The Walking Dead has the cast in an awfully nice town where people seem a little too good to be true, so this can’t possibly last, although all the characters were admitting to total battle fatigue as they have been in one horrifically harrowing situation after another since the show began and all were in danger of losing their humanity. Better Call Saul has given us the backstories of  two main Breaking Bad supporting characters and continues to show us Saul’s evolution from simple criminal lawyer to lawyer to criminal masterminds.

Next week I am off to see the second Marigold movie as it appears to be an obligation for my generation.  The reviews have been generally dismissive as it’s a tick all the boxes generic feel-good British comedy starring the great Judy Dench and the magnificent Maggie Smith.  What could go wrong? I’ll tell you later….

Still shaking my head at this year’s Oscars…

Well, I’m a bit sad about the lack of recognition for Boyhood‘s director, Richard Linklater.  For those of you who may have seen the Honest Trailer for Boyhood and are still chuckling about its many truths (short on storyline, slow paced, etc.) the film succeeded in engaging us with the story of its protagonist who grows from 6 to 18; the same actors play their roles throughout the 12 year shoot and time period of the movie.  I felt that Birdman was a terrifically original film and I loved the performances, especially Edward Norton who as the actor’s actor stole every scene he was in.  However, I didn’t feel it had the heart of Boyhood which I loved for its humanity.

As for the Oscars show itself, it kept up the tradition of spectacularly misfiring comic bits; Neil Patrick Harris who always carries off the Tony Awards with such aplomb, somehow missed the mark on this show, despite a great opening number.  His running gag about his predictions for the show and enlisting Octavia Spencer to watch the box was just plain lame and unfunny.  His “everything sounds better with a British accent” bit with David Oyelowo totally sucked and managed to demean films with black casts (the recent remake of Annie) as well.

John Travolta provided the icky moments of the show as he cradled Idina Menzel’s face (trying to redeem himself for his mangling of her name – Adele Nazeem – at last year’s show);  apparently this was totally scripted, as I’m sure most of the attempts at comedy were.  Apparently, the script goes through several layers of vetting by the presenters’ managers, agents, etc. before the presenters actually perform their introductions, so perhaps the whole process needs to be re-examined.

Their were real moments of sincerity from some of the award winners who disclosed painful moments and heartfelt agendas.  The slow pace of the show wasn’t helped by the Lady Gaga medley, performed rather well, but completely unnecessarily, as the 50th Anniversary of The Sound of Music had already been celebrated in a series of film clips from the movie featuring the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.  The nominated songs this year were a travesty of uninspired performances with the exception of the song from Selma which had the audience on their feet because of the emotion it evoked. The inclusion of the nauseatingly repetitious song, Everything is Awesome, from The Lego Movie, was just plain ridiculous.  One hilarious blogger noted that the cameras never focused on audience reactions to the song, as everyone was vomiting.

Anyhow, just another overly long and somewhat boring Oscars show.  Nothing really stood out.  Very little old Hollywood glamour, no crazy outfits (how we miss Bjork and her swan outfit).

Anyhow, the really bright point of my TV watching week has been the opportunity to binge watch Season 3 of House of Cards which debuted on Fri. Feb. 27.  I am up to Episode 11 of 13, so not bad, considering we have had company this weekend!  It’s as dark as ever.  You might want to watch a recap of Season 2 to refresh on characters and dangling plot lines from the previous season.  This year the marriage between the Underwoods comes under very close scrutiny. Claire’s ambition comes to the fore as she forces Francis to name her as the US Ambassador to the UN.  Francis continues to manipulate and maneuver through a sea of naysaying Democrats who refuse to nominate him as the Democratic candidate in the upcoming election. The Russian President (amazingly Putin-like) is Underwood’s nemesis throughout and the situation room activities are mesmerizing.  Politics (whether on the world or national stage) is portrayed as a nest of vipers, where only the strongest survive.  This is possibly the most Darwinian of all TV series. Nasty and cruel, but somehow as engaging and entertaining as hell.

I believe, tonight is the last episode of Downton Abbey.  I loved this season and its focus on romance.  Social change was also a major factor with Rose marrying a Jew, Edith bringing her child into the family, the downstairs staff making retirement plans for themselves, etc.  Enjoy until the next season!

Returning tonight is The Good Wife, my favourite show on network TV.  The Walking Dead continues.  A new crime show Black Creek focusing on the FBI debuts  starring Josh Duhamel (married to Fergie of The Black-Eyed Peas).

Enjoy the week everyone!  Off to take my company to the major shopping spots of Naples.