Tag Archives: Apple TV+

Binge Watching into Another Season

Back again with more TV that we have been watching.  There isn’t, technically, a pandemic right now.  We’re all back to pretending COVID is gone, though the case numbers are rising again.  But now we’re in the habit and routine of watching a lot of TV.  So here we go again.

Severance

In some not too distant future… or past, the time line is ambiguous… Lumon Corporation has perfected a technology called “severance,” which allows them to split the conscious brain into two parts, separating a person’s work life from their outside and home life.

If you have the procedure, your work self knows nothing about your outside life and vice versa.  In fact, your work life has no outside memories, it only knows work.  Every day when you arrive at work you pass through an elevator that activates the change to work.  The work version of you… your “innie” in the slang of Lumon… only knows an endless existence of entering the elevator to leave, then immediately exiting the elevator, back at work for another day.

The procedure is controversial, but Mark, the lead character, has chosen it because his wife recently died in a car accident and being able to forget that for the work day seems like a blessing.

Meanwhile, what he and his team do an Lumon is a mystery, even to them.  They have quotas to meet, which earns them rewards like a waffle party, but they have no idea what they are actually accomplishing.  Meanwhile, Lumon has a cult-like corporate culture, with a handbook of quotes from the founder, and an obsession with security even within the severed portion of the company.  The groups there are kept apart through a labyrinth of corridors.

The series starts slowly, kicking off with a new employee, Helly, being brought into the group, and seems very strange, but you do get some payoff by the end of the season as to what is going on.  A slow burn, but it kept me hooked.

The Flight Attendant

Flight attendant Cassie is living the carefree airline lifestyle, traveling the world, drinking to excess, partying, and sleeping with people she has just met.  And then she wakes up next to one of them, a first class passenger who was on her flight to Bangkok, to find he is dead.  She was in an alcoholic blackout and doesn’t know if she killed him or what happened.   She panics, cleans up the crime scene, then gets on her flight back to the US, where she and the rest of the flight crew are questioned by the FBI because the body has been discovered and the Thai police are following up leads.

She isn’t a suspect, but panics and ends up doing a bunch of dumb things that bring more attention to her, while also somehow unraveling by accident the actual conspiracy that led to the murder.  It is dumb but fun, and Kaley Cuoco, best known for her role in Big Bang Theory, is probably the perfect actor to pull the whole thing off.  It isn’t a huge stretch from the BBT role.  So it is fun and silly and full of “that’s not how this really works” moments, but whatever.  You’re there for the ride, and the first season pays off pretty well.

And then there is season two, where the manic quirkiness… well, it isn’t over, but it isn’t quite the same either… changes but the “that’s not how things really work” aspect is doubled down on and I couldn’t make it past the second episode.  But we’ll always have the fun first season.

Vikings Valhalla

A follow on to the Vikings series, which I have not seen, this takes place 100 years down the road, opening with Æthelred, King of England, unleashing the St. Brice’s Day massacre, an attempt to slay all the Danes living in England.  This pisses off the Danes, who sail for England to exact revenge.

And from there we follow the stories of King Cnut, Lief Erikson and his sister Freydis, and the schism between the Vikings who have turned to Christianity (with a very Viking aggressiveness) and those who still follow the old ways.  I wasn’t expecting much from it… it seemed to lack in Skarsgards for something Nordic… but I ended up quite liking it.

Slow Horses

In MI5 Slough House is where you get sent if you have screwed up just shy of being fired.  There Cold War burn out Jack Lamb is in charge of keeping those sent to this purgatory busy with a mix of menial tasks, like sorting through and cataloging the garbage of a somebody who isn’t really suspected of much, and a steady diet of scorn and derision.  Those assigned, the “slow horses” of the title, can put up with it and maybe get back into a better position or resign.

Up and comer River Cartwright, whose grandfather was a major player in the service, makes a very public mistake and is sent there, but cannot leave well enough alone.  He does his tasks but also carries on with some extra curricular activities which Lamb tells him to stop, but then grows interested himself, in his own scornful way, as it turns out Cartwright is on to something and it leads back to Slough House.

Fun, dynamic, and it has Gary Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas.  What else do you need?  I actually waited until the series was complete… Apple insists on the one episode a week drip… so my wife and I could binge it if we wanted… and we did.

Reacher

Jack Reacher has been done before.  The popular 26… soon to be 27… book series has already had two movie adaptations starring an unconvincing Tom Cruise as the title character.  I’ve read a few of the books… not a huge fan as the quality of the early books varies quite a bit… and Jack Reacher, who everybody just calls Reacher, is a muscular 6’5″, while Tom Cruise is a wiry 5’7″ on a good day.  There is only so much suspension of disbelief he can carry.  Also, Tom Cruise only knows how to be Tom Cruise.  He is very good at it, and if you have a role written for Tom Cruise, only Tom Cruise will do.  But Jack Reacher isn’t a very Tom Cruise role.

Alan Ritchson though, the star of the Amazon Prime series, he very much sells the Jack Reacher role.  If you have read the first book… and the series starts with the first book, unlike the movies, which picked up in the middle of the series… the first episode of the series will seal the deal.  You don’t get the inner monologue from the text, but Reacher doesn’t waste words, and when he does speak he tends to hit the mark hard.  A couple people I know who love the books were big on the series as well.

And if you haven’t read the books, the first season is still very good without that knowledge.

Binge Watching into the New Year

There was a lot of free time over the holidays, which meant lots of time for TV.  We managed to get through three new series.  We were a bit late to the party for the first two… though that was fine, because it meant we didn’t have to wait week-to-week for new episodes.

The wheel weaves yadda yadda yadda

I was probably the ideal audience for this show.  I am familiar with the material, having read… or at least listened to in audio book form, which at least means I know how to pronounced things, sort of… the whole series.

But that was more than a decade ago for most of the series, and I didn’t come away as a huge fan of the tale, so I am not wed to the idea that every word is sacred and must be reproduced on screen as the late Robert Jordan intended.

I know the basic tale, am hazy on the details, and happy enough to see them bypass huge tracts of text to winnow the story down to something that can be told in less than a thousand one hour episodes.  So I enjoyed it, remembered enough so I was never really lost, and felt they got through first book just fine.  Just a dozen more to go!

The casting might have been the weak part of the show, not that I don’t love Rosamund Pike, and having Sophie Okonedo, who we last saw as the boss in Flack, as the Amyrlin Seat sparked some amusement, but the kids from the Two Rivers were all kind of bland.  We’ll see how they develop over time I suppose, but I’d like to get some more of the cast of Flack into the Aes Sedai.

The hard core Wheel of Time fans though, there are some very unhappy people in that group.  And I get it.  I like about 1.5 movies out of the six that make up The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  But I also try to remember that bringing something to a different medium makes it a different story almost by default.  Of course, that is easy to say when I’m not invested in the tale.

My wife was on the other end of the spectrum and knew nothing about the story and just had to go with what was on screen and the bits of clarification I could provide.  But even with that, she was on board.  We’re looking forward to next season.

Beautiful and pretentious

Another one where I might theoretically be a prime candidate.  When I grew up the science fiction club in middle school had drawn a line between those who worshiped Asimov and those true to Heinlein, and the weirdos like me who were off reading Niven or Burroughs learned to keep clear of the holy war between the two factions.  And while I warmed to Asimov later, the Foundation series has always been ill considered pretentious schlock in my book. So color me happy to see somebody re-interpreting it, because it always felt like it needed another pass to make it worth reading.  And the series looks so good.  Production values worthy of the tale.

A pity it is both pretentious and as dull as dishwater, though I suppose in that they have captured the original.  We plodded through, though I will probably need a serious “previously” recap when the next season drops… because it was good enough to get renewed for a second season.

Those opening credits

And a third series for which I was well primed, this time because I had never seen the original so I was not going to rend my garments every time something varied from the expected.  Overall the show had great casting, great music, tons of style, and really worked for me for the first eight episodes.  I very much enjoyed the practical set dressing, the retro-futuristic kitsch theme, the music, and the way the story kicked off.  I liked the opening credits so much that I didn’t even skip them after the first couple of episodes.

I was all into this.

The biggest chore was watching it with our daughter, who had seen the original, though she seemed mostly okay with this live action remake.  The problem was that she only wanted to watch one episode a night, and what kind of binge watching is that?

As it turned out, that managed to expand my enjoyment over more than a week.  On New Years Eve we watched the final two episodes and… well, we’ll always have the initial eight.  If they had stopped at eight and teased a bit of what was to come, we might have had a season two in the works.

They ran into what I think of as the Burn Notice problem, where there is a story arc for the season, but a lot of time is spent on quirky, fun side adventures that let you get to know the characters, but don’t always advance the main story.  And then in the last two episodes they went all in on the main story arc, with a whole episode of flashback and then a final conflict episode… and I really missed the quirky, fun side adventures.

We had also just watched The Last Duel, and there were some odd parallels between that and the final episode.  Anyway, the end wasn’t as satisfying… so much so that there will be no second season.

Expansive

Somewhere in season four the series kind of lost us.  But, the books also lost me at about the same point, so I guess that all adds up.

The cast is still good, the sets and effects remain top notch, and there are occasionally things going on that I follow and understand, but we were pausing and asking each other, “So what is going on here?” a little too often.  I think there is an argument here for waiting for a show to be done and binging the whole arc in succession so as to not lose the threads of the plot.  The wheel weaves erratically at times, such that even having to go a week between episodes left us a bit lost.

I don’t know why Amazon insists on weekly episodes.  If there is one streaming service we’re never going to cancel, it is Prime, because we use the subscription for other things as well.

Anyway, we muddled though, saw Holden as the reluctant hero once more, and saw some state of accord come to the solar system for a bit.  I’m just not sure what the scenes on the planet through the gateway were about and, honestly, I kind of missed the simplicity of “whose got the proto-molecule?”  But this was the final season, so I guess we’re done with that.

Pandemic Binge Watching in the New Year

Just because the world is falling apart doesn’t mean we’ve stopped watching TV.  Sometimes we watch more.  Back on the 6th I had the TV on and tuned to CNN… live freaking television… almost all day.  I don’t think I’ve done that since the Gulf War back in ’91.

But aside from insurrectionist farces involving people who probably lack the self reflection to ever achieve the “Are we the baddies?” epiphany they rightfully deserve, we have watch a series or three.

A powerful mixture of the ordinary, the supernatural, and the Jim Crow reality of the US in the 50s, it follows Atticus, an African American veteran of the Korean War, whose father publishes a travel guide akin to the Green Book and whose family history is mixed up in things alleged to have inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s tales or horror.  Based on a book of the same name, it is disturbing, confusing, and compelling by turns, it isn’t done until you get to the final episode.  Oh, and time travel… there is time travel in there too.

There are seasons where I feel like I needed to re-watch the previous season to understand what is going on and there are series where I feel that maybe I should have read the book (or the books in this case) in order to have gotten the most out of them, but here we have a rare combo of both.

We watched the first season when it came out and then, a year later, picked up with the second season only to not really get a grasp of what was really going on.  The basics were there in the “previously” summing up segment, but the “why do I give a shit here?” was sadly lacking.  Lots of stuff goes on in the parallel worlds, the visuals are magnificent, and I could sit and watch stylishly attired Ruth Wilson and her vicious monkey familiar… demon… whatever… all evening, but at the end credits of the final episode of the season I was left feeling a bit… so what?

The other show I wanted to watch on Apple TV.  Inspired by, rather than based on, a book, this is a look into the world of morning television in the US centered on the fictional The Morning Show.  The series opens when the male co-host of the show, played by Steve Carell, has been fired due to allegations of sexual harassment, leaving Jennifer Aniston, whose character had worked side by side with him for years, alone hosting the show.

The show follows who is complicit and who knew what was going on, the network’s attempt to cover things up, and the infighting over who runs the show and whether or not Jennifer Aniston will remain in the host.

It was… okay.  I know it was nominated for a bunch of awards, something I attribute partially to it being about the one thing the industry loves most; itself.  And it has some good performances, with a lot of the supporting actors carrying water for the show.  But the main cast let me down.  Steve Carell comes with a lot of baggage having played so many clueless comedic roles that his lack of self-awareness steers a little too close to that.  Jennifer Aniston might have peaked as Rachel Green in Friends, because her performance feels like we’re revisiting the same character 20 years down the line.  And Reese Witherspoon is unsurprisingly cast as the outspoken southern woman who is a bit of a loose cannon.  Go figure.

Another Netflix series that was getting a lot of buzz a while back, so we were perhaps a bit late to the party.  Though, I say that as somebody who follows Netflix on Twitter and they retweet positive reactions to their own shows, so sometimes I am fooled by that.  But not this time.

Chess, drugs, orphans, Soviets, and the 50s and 60s all based on a novel from 1983, this wrapped up into a surprisingly compelling package.  We would have burned through this over a weekend if our daughter hadn’t been home from school and watching it with us, and she has a two episode limit when it comes to watching TV in the evening.  I quite enjoyed the whole thing, even though the rules of television plot did dictate the ending somewhat.

Scandal, mild intrigue, and ever so many romantic complications in Georgian period piece.  The London season is upon us and grand balls and matchmaking the order of the day.  But the mysterious Lady Whistledown has been publishing a fliers that dish the dirt on seemingly everybody and many are keen to find out who she is, including the Queen.  It doesn’t have the gravity of, say, Dangerous Liaisons, and feels a bit stretched over eight episodes, but it isn’t bad.  My wife seemed to enjoy it immensely.

There are two tidbits I want to bring up.  First, Nicola Coughlan, who plays the 16 year old Penelope Featherington, and was also the teen Clare Devlin in Derry Girls, is in her freakin’ 30s.  That is beyond Beverly Hills 90210 level of playing a character younger than yourself, and she nails it.  I only noted her age on reading up about her.  She is amazingly youthful.

Second, as with The Great, which I wrote about previously, the cast is multi-ethnic rather than just being pasty white Brits.  That’s fine.  It isn’t like we haven’t heard about Hamilton around here, so roll with it.  And nobody within the show mentions it, so it isn’t a thing… until one short scene mid-season when Lady Danbury mentions to the Duke of Hastings, who are both played by black actors, that he needs to hold up his end of things because they’re only in the heights of society because George III married the black Queen Charlotte, introducing a measure of racial equality and tolerance.

At that point I figured that the racial makeup of the cast was going to become a thing… and then it was never mentioned again.  If you’re not going to do something with a revelation like that, just don’t bring it up.  I imagine somebody management got nervous and felt the need to quickly explain the racial makeup of the cast.  Maybe they should go see Hamilton.

Still, fun and extravagant and fun and if you listen closely to the music you might find you’re not getting what one might expect.

Something old.  I was bemoaning my inability to find The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin on any streaming service when I summed up some of our binge watching, and on my subsequent mental list of shows I would want to go through again was The Sandbaggers, another one of the shows from the UK that found its way to the US in the 80s via public television.

Having been recorded/produced on standard definition video tape, which was the standard of the time, rather than 35mm film like some earlier television, has no doubt held it back from the transition for formats beyond DVD.  (Hogan’s Heroes for example, was all on film, which was why it made it to HD early and why you can find the whole series on Blu-Ray today.)  As such, I had little hope of finding it anywhere save for some episodes somebody dumped onto YouTube.

On a whim I used Roku’s search, which goes through all the services they support, and I found it on a service called Tubi, which was purchased by Fox last year, which puts it in bed with Hulu and Disney+ at this point.  You don’t have to subscribe, but you do have to watch commercials.  There is always a price.

But for The Sandbaggers and its focus bureaucracy and policy fights over Bond-like action I’ll put up with a few commercials.  And at least they show it in 4:3 aspect ratio rather than trying to stretch it awkwardly in order to fill up your HD screen.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Channels

Previously on Pandemic Binge Watching I wrote about the three long established streaming services that have been staples of our watching habits, even before the current series of unfortunate events.

Hulu is the little channel that could.  We originally got it in order to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, then cancelled.  But it is the service I keep coming back to.  I had to get it to get through all of Archer after that fell off of Netflix.  At one point a year of so back I had a plan to simply replace our Comcast cable lineup with the local channel and sports package you can through get through Hulu, but was brought up short on the details.

My wife is a hockey fan, and we can get the channel that carries all the Shark’s games, but on Hulu it runs 20-30 seconds behind the cable broadcast and my wife was quickly annoyed that her game night texting buddies would announce somebody scored before it ever made it to our screen.  That is literally a deal breaker here it seems.  A pity, because I was good with every other aspect of it, especially picture quality.  Comcast put in a really bad compression algorithm a year of so back, so their HD service barely looks like HD anymore.  The streaming services look much better.

Hulu has a lot going for it.

Upside:

Some very good original content.  I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale already, and did a post previously about Catch-22.

The channel really excels at being the place to go watch seasons of things once they have wrapped up on cable channels that do not have their own streaming service yet.

Hulu has a bunch of subscription options.  You can go cheap if you can handle some commercials, or opt to pay a bit more to remove them, and add on a number of additional options, up to and including a basic cable replacement.

Downside:

Their interface hides the depth of the channel more so than some competitors I could mention.  If Netflix is a hyper puppy trying to get your attention, Hulu is an old sheep dog that can’t be bothered some days.

Not so much original stuff as you might imagine.

Really needs some of the features that Prime and Netflix have adopted to skip show intros and the like.  I realize this is related to the relationship they have with networks and what not, and that they are getting some of the features going, but still.  I do get a bit pissy when content from other networks won’t even let you fast forward past promos.

Current Status:  Subscribed and using the service to subscribe to Showtime rather than get into Showtime’s app.  Also still watching Bob’s Burgers.

 

On paper Disney+ should be a subscribe and never leave channel for our family.  It has all of the MCU movies, all of the Star Wars movies and (almost) all the shows, all of the Disney catalog that they’ll still admit to, and it has every episode of The Simpsons.  I should literally be parked in front of that channel forever.

Upside:

Inexpensive at $7.00 a month.  Can get it bundled with Hulu.

Literally everything 14 year old me could want.

The Madalorian was pretty good.  We watched that every week through its first season.

Downside:

The Hulu bundle made you take the ad sponsored version of the service last I checked, plus you have to take ESPN as well, in which I have no interest.  The faux seasons pro sports are putting on now are not enticing at all.

I’m not 14 any more.  I have seen almost everything on the service already.  Hell, I have a significant fraction of it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Not much new/original content

No Star Wars Holiday Special?  Are you kidding me?

Current Status:  Currently not subscribed, but another season of The Mandalorian is coming up soon.

Starz came to us when they had an offer back in March to get 6 months of their service for $30.  The thought was that we could finish up Outlander, but that stopped clicking with us after a couple seasons.  We came for that, but stayed for The White Queen and its follow on series, which I mentioned previously.

Basically Starz is a lesser version of HBO, an old school cable movie service that has expanded into some original content and its own stand-alone streaming app.

Upside:

Always has dozens of movies available to watch on demand.

Some very good original content

Downside:

Really a lesser version of HBO in too many ways.  Not so many movies you’d watch, not so many original series that you’d stick around for.

The UI design of their app always leaves me feeling I need to press the button to start a show or movie one more time that other apps.

Easily the hardest app for me to read text on from the couch.  They expect you to read the show/movie titles from the thumbnail.

Current Status:  Just lapsed, but The Spanish Princess 2 is coming up, so could return I suppose.

Apple TV+ is the latest channel we’ve tried.  I have been wary of it in the past because Apple has run it like the iTunes store in the past, where it is essentially a store front to sell you content, and there are a lot of other options in that market.  Also, it required an Apple device in the past.  Recently they have made it an app that I can get on our Roku and they have added a subscription and some original content.

I have been tempted to try it if only to watch The Morning Show, which has gotten good buzz, but my wariness as to what else one gets with their subscription has left me cold.  It is easier to figure out the difference between HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max that to get that info out of Apple.

But then Long Way Up was announced and my wife is a big Ewan McGreggor fan and watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down, so suddenly we had to give it a try.

Upside:

At $5.00 a month, the cheapest subscription service so far.

Available soon in a bundle deal with Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and iCloud.

Some original content, including Greyhound.

Some additional content from other sources available as well.

Splashy fresh UI.

Apple has the cash to fund content worth watching.

Downside:

Easily the most annoying service to sign up for in my experience so far.  You cannot sign up through Roku… somebody tell Epic Games… their web site is barely functional, and it is unclear to me if you can even sign up if you don’t have an iOS device.  I mean, I think you can, but my experience suggest it won’t be easy.

The original content is extremely limited.  I think I’ve named most of it already.  There is not a lot of “there” there.

Plays like an old school service, metering out an episode a week for their shows… though I suppose they really need to, given how little of it there is, in order to keep people subscribed.

The additional content is nothing special.  I think it is literally a subset of what I get on Hulu as part of that subscription.

98% of the service is there to offer you up rent or buy options.  It is the iTunes store on your TV.

That splashy, fresh UI is overwrought and unclear at times and doesn’t always render correctly on the Roku.  But their website doesn’t always render correctly on anything besides Safari, so go figure.  But at least it mostly works on the Roku.  Apple does not make a Windows or Android client.

Hard to tell if it is a work in progress that needs more time or if Apple arrogance levels have exceeded their eWorld peak, back when I heard Apple execs saying they would own the online experience because they could rebrand a literal copy of AOL.

Current status: Subscribed at least until we finish up get the last episode of Long Way Up.