The pandemic is still here… and it has been getting worse rather than better of late… so we’re still spending a lot of time at home in front of the TV consuming huge servings of streamed shows. You can look at the Binge Watching tag to see this and other posts on the topic.
- Billions – Showtime
We started watching this because it had a bit of the same vibe in the ads as Succession, the HBO series that we both enjoyed.
It features the ongoing struggle between the CEO of an investment firm, played by Damien Lewis, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, played by Paul Giamatti.
Unlike Succession, which was about a rich and powerful family being horrible to each other, and fully deserving it most of the time, Billions tends to be more about the rich (Lewis) and powerful (Giamatti) abusing their power for their own agendas, which is less fun, being closer to the reality where the everyday person just gets crushed if they get in the way.
Also, the show doesn’t really go anywhere. There are four and a half seasons available on Showtime and when we got to the end of season four I commented to my wife that after 48 episodes everything was pretty much back where it started. A lot of details changed, but the essential conflict remained practically as it began.
The redeeming grace of the show is the supporting cast, who are often more fun an interesting than either of the two primary characters.
- Counterpart – Amazon Prime
A science fiction series originally aired on Starz, the premise is that in the late 80s in Berlin some scientists broke through a barrier and discovered a parallel, identical Earth. Or maybe they created it, as everything was exactly the same there. And everybody has a double on the other side that is an exact copy of them. But then the two worlds began to diverge.
30 years down the road, the two worlds are very different, with research and technology having progressed differently. The two worlds maintain embassies with each other and negotiate trades of information, but the relationship is tense. Both sides distrust the other and spy while trying to keep their own secrets. The whole thing has been kept under wraps from the general public and is run by a group referred to only as “Management.”
The show only ran for two seasons, which I suspect may have been due to a lack of “stars” to bring in an audience. I mean, I like J. K. Simmons a lot, but stars maybe don’t do insurance commercials. Or maybe the slow pace did it in.
But the two season thing turned out to be a bit of a benefit. I think they knew going into the second season that they would have to wrap it up, so they did. The first season brings you into the conflict between the two worlds and sets a plot in motion. The second season resolved the plot, answers a bunch of questions, and tidies things up at the end, making it a 20 part story. And it is all kind of fun because a lot of the actors get to play two versions of themselves.
- Long Way Up – AppleTV+
Ewan McGregor is back with his childhood pal Charley Boorman for another motorcycle adventure. It has been a long time since they did Long War Round and Long Way Down, but the two are back again for another adventure, and one I figured they would do eventually.
I figured Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would be a natural. However, that is another “down” journey, so they decided to start in Tierra del Fuego and go north, thus the title.
The big twist, besides everybody being older, grayer, and less spry, is that they decided to do the ride on electric motorcycles. They got two prototype electric motorcycles from Harley Davidson for the run. And, to go with them, were two prototype electric trucks from Rivian. (An old friend works for them, so I’ll have to ask if he got to meet Obi-wan.)
That is kind of an interesting twist, but it also meant that the first three episodes were largely focused on battery life charging time, and whether or not they have the right plug adapter. The vehicles all run down at some point, but they have a van and a generator truck on call at times.
After that it settles down into the usual routine from the earlier shows, where they alternate between cool local sights and culture and figuring out how they are going to overcome some obstacle or make it in time for a ferry.
Also, they don’t go all the way to Alaska, settling on LA to end the trip, which is where Ewan lives. Driving up Interstate 5 to Canada and then the ALCAN Highway to Alaska is probably less exotic than they wanted.
Basically, if you like the first two shows, this is a bit more of the same.
- Utopia – Amazon Prime
I didn’t have any background on this one, but it had John Cusack in it, so we gave it a watch. Starting off it felt very much like a comic book adaptation, with the over the top graphic violence and crazy conspiracy theories… oh, and it revolves around a pair of comic books which a group of “enthusiasts” believe foretold and can foretell disease outbreaks in current times.
But it is actually a remake of a British show of the same name from seven years back. I suppose the source material doesn’t matter, but it felt like what it felt like.
Anyway, conspiracies are true, diseases are planned, and an evil corporation has an evil plan to remake the world in a way that at least two Bond villains would approve. The whole disease and vaccine and media influence aspect of it was very on the nose in 2020 I guess, but after a crazy and sometimes shocking start, the whole thing felt a little flat by the end. It was only eight episodes, but it was no Umbrella Academy.
- Kim’s Convenience – Netflix
In the middle of the pandemic and the election and all of the rather tense shows we’ve been watching, it was nice of Netflix to import four seasons of silly sitcom for us.
The show feels straight from 70s/80s mold of family sitcoms. It features the Kim family and centers around the convenience store they run. The parents immigrated from Korea, but their two kids have grown up in Toronto and are much more Canadian than Korean in ways the second generation often are as part of the immigrant experience.
Light, airy, and easily digested in 22 minute doses, we ran through all four seasons pretty quickly. It isn’t Derry Girls hilarious, but it is pretty funny. You can get wrapped up in whether or not the ethnic humor aspect of it should be a thing, but at its core it is a family sitcom with many of the same setups as sitcoms from bygone days.