Month: July 2016

Three Shows to Get Your Binge On

Seriously, where does the time fly? I feel like just yesterday it was the Fourth of July, you know the day Target decides summer is officially over and it’s time for backpacks and trapper keepers and boots. Summer does not spring instantly to mind when one thinks about binge watching but I think it is the perfect time to find a couple of shows to fall for and spend some quality time cuddling with your remote and a cold brew.

OJ: Made in America: This mesmerizing five-part documentary series directed by Ezra Edelman originally aired on ESPN in June. (A channel I mostly pretend does not exist, even with my limited internet cable connection options.) Not to be confused with the F/X series that gave Ross from Friends his first job in years (kinda like Chachi at the RNC). OJ: Made in America gives context to how and why Mr. Simpson walked and why the verdict was so divisive at the time.

Anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s could not escape the cult of OJ Simpson. He hawked orange juice (naturally, because advertising types are so creative) and ran through airports trying to convince your dad and all the other dads to rent a car from Hertz. He was in movies (Towering Inferno), television series (Roots) and charmed the pants off your grandma on talk shows. He was golden.

But beneath the smile and the athletic prowess was a grade-A narcissistic, controlling asshole. A wife-beating privileged football star who got away with murder, two of them to be exact. A man who skated through life on his ability to run with a football who hobnobbed with the elites, mostly ignored his own community, and only remembered the fact that he was African American man when he was down and out and it suited him.

I really, really, encourage you to watch this documentary. It is as compelling as Making a Murderer and in my opinion a better overall series. Blasphemy, I know but it’s true. The not guilty verdict is explained in way that most (white) people probably NEVER would have understood before this horrible summer of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and all the others who came before them. Consider this Must-See TV without Central Perk or Smelly Cat. (Coming to Netflix in August, streamable on ESPN.com)

Once you finished OJ, you will for sure need a palate cleanser. Luckily these next two shows will not leave you with a terminal case of the sads, quite the opposite in fact. Yay!

Lady Dynamite: Maria Bamford, where have you been all my life? I liked this series so much that I watched it twice and may even go for a third viewing if Hillary does not increase her poll numbers greatly after the DNC. Seriously, what is wrong with America? Lady Dynamite is weird in a good way like tater tot hotdish or just about any food on a stick. It takes place in the past, in the present, in Los Angeles and in Duluth (actually Roseville, apparently Duluth was too expensive for the producer’s budget). No glorious shots of America’s greatest lake, Superior, which is a shame because Duluth is such a beautiful city, maybe spring for some stock footage at least for season two, okay?

Maria plays Maria, her pugs play her pugs and everyone and everything else are stand ins for the many facets of her life as a stand-up comedienne/actress in Hollywood who struggles with mental illness. Lots of people will probably recognize Bamford from her stint as the crazy Target shopper lady from a few years back. She does not do those commercials anymore and most definitely never will again after the way she mercilessly skewers her former employer’s union-busting ways. Interestingly there has been nary a peep from the fine folks at Checklist about their portrayal on the show. Wise move, Bullseye, wise move.

Every time I think Mo Collins’ Susan character veers too far into Fargo territory Minnesota bad accent-wise I watch the local news, they interview a local and I am reminded that unfortunately sometimes stereotypes do exist for a reason. From the worst manager ever to her pug out Babe-ing Babe in a fierce sheep herding competition, Lady Dynamite is the perfect show for your summer fun binge. (Netflix)

The Strange Calls: Constable Tony Banks is having a bit of a shit life. His girlfriend won’t return his calls, he lost his shoes (along with his dignity) and his father (the chief constable) has re-assigned him to a small town working the night shift in the hopes that he will quit, like all the others before him. Toby’s job is to live and work out of a crappy trailer answering the phone calls of the town’s lonely and loony populace. He is assisted in his endeavors by the town’s self-appointed night security officer, a man named Gregor who says he is decades younger than his appearance would suggest and thinks the town is a hot bed of paranormal activity because of a local volcano.

If Lady Dynamite as weird with its juxtaposition of past/present, Los Angeles/fake Duluth, talking dogs and a commercial for a product called Pussy Noodles than fasten your seat belts because The Strange Calls is an even wackier ride. I could not even explain it if I tried other than to think of it as sort of a mash up of Hot Fuzz, The Vicar of Dibley and just about any show on the SyFy channel.

There are only six episodes at less than a half an hour each so you can easily binge this one quickly and then get yourself outside to the nearest PokéStop.

Up all night, binge-worthy shows to Netflix now

Back in the pre-internet, pre-cable days summers were pretty much virtual wastelands as far as television viewing goes. Sure there were a few summer replacement shows (anyone else remember The Hudson Brothers? Yes, Kate Hudson’s dad did actually have a job once) but mostly it was nothing but reruns of TV shows your dad liked. Consider this updated post a combo of those two ancient TV relics, a rerun combined with just enough info to make it seem like a brand spanking new summer replacement show, minus Kate Hudson’s dad.

Pretty much all of the shows listed below have new seasons available to stream with the exception of The Honourable Woman which will sadly not live to see another episode. The hairdo’s remain questionable in Peaky Blinders, modern technology is still scary AF in Black Mirror, Dicte tries to make nice with her dad and no one gets one bit happier in Happy Valley and that my friend is a good thing for us fans.

I have always been somewhat of a night owl, going to bed early was never part of my routine. I had older parents who stayed up late and even though I wasn’t supposed to, I often times watched the Tonight Show right along with them from the hallway where they could not see that I was still up on a school night when little girls were supposed to be in bed. That practice of staying up later than I should has never gone away. What has changed though is how very far I can push it. One of the many less than fun things about getting older is how much more your body rebels against any change in its routine. Eat a little too much between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when you are twenty-five and it is not even noticeable, do that a couple of decades later and not only is it noticeable it takes until Easter to get rid of and by then the Reese’s peanut butter eggs are out and there are Peeps bunnies and chicks everywhere and pretty much all bets are off.

Staying up all night is no longer an option for me on the regular, but sometimes when I find a series that I really, really like, I can come pretty close. These five shows are binge-worthy for various reasons, mostly because they are so addictingly good or they have Tom Hardy in the cast.

Happy Valley:  more like mega unhappy valley, despite its idyllic appearance somewhere in the Yorkshire countryside. This six episode series stars Sarah Lancashire (Ms. Foster from my very favorite episode of Doctor Who and currently seen on PBS’s Last Tango in Halifax) as Catherine Cawood, a small town divorced cop who is barely coping in the aftermath of her daughter’s suicide. Her marriage broke up, she is estranged from her son and she is raising her grandchild with a little help from her former addict sister Clare (Siobhan Fineran) or as I will always fondly remember her, O’Brien, the maid you don’t ever trust with a bar of soap from the first couple of seasons of Downton Abbey. One day on the street Catherine spots Tommy Lee Royce, the man who she believes raped her daughter and is the father of her eight-year-old grandson, Ryan. In addition to being an alleged rapist and now paroled drug dealer, Mr. Royce (played by James Norton yet another Doctor Who guest player) gets involved in the kidnapping of a local businessman’s daughter. How Catherine ties the two together while dealing with the loss of her child is what makes this series so watchable.

There are a couple of episodes of this series that are quite graphically violent, Mr. Royce is not a very nice man, and I had to fast forward or avert my eyes more than a few times. Blood and violence are not my scene and luckily there is so much more going on that I could easily get past something that in another series I would not be able to stick with. Sarah Lancashire is amazing, she is a good cop, a loving grandmother to a child her ex-husband can barely acknowledge even exists and a grieving mother whose pain is truly believable. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Black Mirror: if you have not heard about this one than I am not sure what kind of a cultural black hole you live in but you should get out of it right away and start watching this show. Take today’s modern technology and amp it up a bit, toss in a little of Twilight Zone/Tales of the Crypt-like creepiness and you pretty much get the gist of this import from Britain’s Channel 4. Each episode is a stand alone, with two series of three episodes each currently available on the old Netflix. I watched them in chronological order because that is the way I roll but you don’t have to. In fact, I almost gave up on episode one, The National Anthem, as it was that personally disturbing to me. But if I could make it through that one you can too, and the pay off is pretty amazing so hang in there.

I liked this show a lot, but there were a couple of episodes that really stood out from the crowd, White Bear, which is not just the name of a lake and a town in Minnesota, but the story of Victoria Skillane, a young woman who wakes up with no memory of the day before who is being pursued relentlessly by people she does not know yet alone the reason why. This episode stars Lenora Crinchlow, who any Brit-show watcher may recognize from either Doctor Who or the original Being Human. Amnesia in both movies and television as a plot device is a bit of a bete noire usually but this is beyond anything I have ever seen before on All my Children or General Hospital, like Laura totally forgetting she knew Luke and Elizabeth Taylor showing up in Port Charles, and actually made sense albeit in a way I was at first rather uncomfortable with, that is until a couple of news stories of such cruelty and brutality happened within days of my watching White Bear and I was like, yeah, I could get down with that.

My other favorite episode by far was The Entire History of You about a couple having relationship issues but with some fun modern technology ways to cope. I don’t want to say too much about this one lest I spoil it for you other than to say that Robert Downey Jr. has already optioned the movie rights for it which is so weird to me since there has already been a kinda/similar movie made and it was called The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it was perfect, so just back off Iron Man, back off.

The Honourable Woman:  it’s like MI-5 and Looking for Mr. Goodbar got together with Not Without My Daughter and had a baby that wasn’t named Homeland. I let this one sit in my queue and stew for a couple of weeks before I decided to check it out and then ended up not getting up from my comfy furalicious bean bag chair for over three hours which was not so good for my 10,000 steps a day minimum lifestyle goal. Three episodes without moving so you know it’s gotta be good as there were no potty breaks for either me or the dog. Luckily I had my popcorn and milk duds and she had a chewable so all was good during our binge-a-thon into the murky politics of the West Bank.

These things are seriously comfy

These things are seriously comfy

The Honourable Woman (yes, that is Brit-spelling) just recently aired on Showtime and has miraculously already shown up on Netflix. I say that semi-snarkily as other Showtimes series I want to see like Master of Sex and The Affair are still not Netflix-able and that is pretty annoying. Thanks to this show I now have a new fear, that of billowing curtains in fancy restaurants and waiters with bread knives. Trust me, you will feel the same way after the opening of episode one. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein, a rich British lady do-gooder with a big secret in her past and a bad habit of sleeping with the help. Some of the plot holes are big enough to drive an Escalade through like the supposed security expert guy who falls for the old my-mother-does-the-books-at-night-at-a-stone-factory-out-in-the-middle-of-bum-fuckville, let’s go there, when anyone, let alone a security expert would know that was a one-way trip to not making it to the next episode. But the cast, especially Stephen Rea as the soon to be retired MI6 Middle East chief, and the overall story more than make up for a couple of dumb turns.

Dicte: is the only non-Brit show in the whole batch and is about yet another crusading Scandinavian journalist a la Annika Bengtzon, although Dicte is set in Denmark instead of Sweden and instead of a non-helpful boyfriend Dicte has a non-helpful ex-husband. Dicte also knows how to wear the heck out of a scarf in a way that I find very intriguing since whenever I try to do something similar it just ends up looking like a big giant rat’s nest of a mess. This show is slick and produced and very American style-wise, which is a trend I have noticed in Scandinavian shows now that I have watched quite a few of them and am totally fine with that. If the woman playing Dicte looks familiar to you then you have probably seen the movie High Fidelity, where Iben Hjejle played John Cusack’s girlfriend and where I now realize my obsession with listicles probably goes back to. Thank you Nick Hornby!

-1

Dicte moves back to her hometown with her teen-age daughter to start a new life but also to find out some things from her troubled past. Her parents were/are Jehovah’s Witnesses and disowned her once she left the fold which was news to me as I did not know the Witnesses did the shunning thing like the Amish and Church of Scientology do.#thingsyoulearnfromDanishtvshows

Peaky Blinders:  I have to be honest and say I did not binge watch this one until I heard Tom Swoon-worthy Hardy was in series two and then you can bet your sweet ass I blew through the last couple of episodes just so I could get there. Peaky Blinders were real gangsters in Britain in the time period right after WWI and got their name by carrying razor blades in the caps so they could blind their enemies or just slice them up like so many watermelon or apples when you play Fruit Ninja on your phone or at the Big Thrill Factory.

images-1

This series reminds me a bit of the BBC America series Copper in that it is dark, not so much in subject matter but as in dark-dark, like the lack of proper lighting so everyone looks the same and I just wish someone would turn on some damn lights except then I remember how horrible the haircuts are and there’s the rub. Now I know Peaky Blinders is going for the realistic period look but a large part of the problem I had with this being wholly binge-worthy was the male hair-do’s which are in my non-professional opinion are MAJOR hair-don’ts. I mean like not ever. They were so distractingly awful I could not ever forget they were there, like the Babadook, they haunted this show.

Perhaps they are historically accurate although I have seen plenty of shows or movies taking place in roughly the same time period (Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises just to name a few) and no one looked as hideous as poor Iddo Goldberg (so cute in Secret Diary of a Call Girl) or the almost too pretty for a boy Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins). Peaky Blinders is about a family of brothers who are gangsters who get messed up with the IRA (never a good idea) while trying to be legit bookmakers and along the way get mixed up with gypsies (the Irish traveler kind like in The Riches) and communists (the Emma Goldman kind like in The Americans) and there are lots of otherwise interesting things going on but you can just never escape the hair elephant in the room. In fact, the last time I saw hair that awful it was the 1980’s and it looked something like this:

I ran alright, away from such hideousness.