Tag Archives: Binge Watching

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.

Pandemic Binge Watching and the Big Three Channels

Let me just get out the obligatory “TV was a lot different when I was young” before we move on.  I tell my daughter about the days before DVRs or VCRs, when you had to be there and ready to watch at a specific time in order to see a show or movie.  A whole weekly magazine was devoted to the TV schedule, which was kind of amazing logistically because the channels were different in every major media market.  The LA TV Guide was useless in Chicago or New York.

And don’t even get me started on the pre-cable days and fiddling with an antenna to get the TV signal.  And I am just old enough to remember pre-solid state TVs, where you had to turn them on and allow a couple of minutes for them to warm up before a clear picture would resolve itself on the screen.  Or a fuzzy picture, if the antenna wasn’t just right.  It was a different time.

Today we have a Roku Stick that juts out from the side of our 46″ LCD TV.  I bought that back in December because there was demand in our house for the Disney+ channel and the PlayStation 3, our streaming device up until that moment, was just seconds from being completely out of support, so no new apps were being made for it.  And, when I looked at it a couple month later, all the old apps were dead too.  So it was just in time.

And, as the pandemic has gone on, we have spent more and more time streaming content over the Roku and very little time watching traditional commercial television.  I’d cancel the cable TV service, but Comcast would raise my monthly charge to just have internet.  So we just leave it there, idle, though I may go in and trim some features, like the extra we pay for HD channels.  The Comcast Xfinity HD compression algorithm was changed a couple years back and what you get now looks pretty bad.  If it even qualified as 720p I’d be surprised.  Maybe sports will come back and we’ll want to watch something like that.

Anyway, this will be a few posts running down of the channels in order of length and depth of investment in each, and I will start with the big three staples of our house currently.

HBO, or Home Box Office back in the day, is probably the first premium channel I ever ran into.  Our friend Gary had a bootleg HBO receiver on their antenna mast back in the day when it was broadcast via line-of-sight transmission from Mount Umunhum into the valley.  It was just movies back then, and the occasional filler 30 minutes of Video Jukebox, which might have pre-dated MTV.

I have subscribed to HBO as part of cable or satellite or streaming a number of times over the years, and I always end up cancelling it after a while.  They never have many movies that interest me, and for a long time they only had a few shows, and none of this was on demand.  But that has changed.

Upside:

Usually has a couple of recent release movies we might want to watch.

Has a deep field of good TV series that they have produced on which to binge like The Wire, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Succession, Generation Kill, and a few others.  I could watch the first two seasons of The Wire on repeat.

Downside:

Priced at a premium tier.

Like a lot of movie channels, there are a bunch of movies you’ll skip right past because you’ve seen them or know you’ll never watch them.  Oh, and they come and go monthly, so you have to keep an eye on that.

Has some series that are decent but which got cancelled quickly, so you have a few episodes and a longing for more.

The UI of the app is not very sophisticated, though I will admit that the UI of none of the streaming apps are ideal.  We are once again up against the limitations of screen real estate and exactly how big things need to be to be able to see/read them from the couch.  But HBO, for all its prestige of being one of the elder services, is behind the pack when it comes to features, at least when compared to the two services below.

Has clung to the old school “episode every week” format for new show content.  This works for topical shows, like Last Week Tonight, and worked during Game of Thrones, when everybody was talking about that at the water cooler on Monday, but that was an exception, not the rule.  Most of the time it feels like they drag shows out week by week because they have nothing else new coming and just want to keep you subscribed.  Our general house rule is to let a series get at least six episodes in so we can watch them in pairs, though it is better still if we just wait until the season is over and watch at our own pace.

I also remain confused as to their branding.  I have HBO Now, or I did, but there is now HBO Max, which I cannot have because they are in a fight with Roku, though I can get HBO Max if I cancel HBO Now and subscribe to HBO via Hulu.  Or something like that.  I am not sure what I am missing by not having HBO Max.  Also, wasn’t there HBO Go for a while?

Current Status: Still subscribed.  Waiting for Lovecraft County to get further along.

Our original stop for binge watching, back when Netflix used to just send disks through the mail.  We burned through seasons of the show 24 three disks at a time.  With no commercials and using the chapter advance to get past the “previously” and the credits, each hour long episode boiled down to under 30 minutes, so we would watch a disk a night.

Eventually Netflix managed to get to the “net” part of its name and started streaming back before that was much of a thing.

Anyway, fast forward to today where Netflix is your prime location for streaming old episodes of Friends, a show we only used to watch because it was adjacent to Seinfeld at one point and the once place where you can watch Tiger King.

Upside:

Overall, lots of stuff available.

Lots of new and original content showing up all the time.  When they drop a new series, it is all episodes on the table, ready to binge.  And they have hit the mark multiple times with shows like Stranger Things and Tiger King.

Top of the class when it comes to features like “skip the ‘previously’ segment” at the start of a series show and “skip credits” so you can get straight into the content.

Tries really hard to flag content you might like based on your viewing, and isn’t that bad at it.  And it allows you to make profiles so when your daughter binges anime on her profile you don’t end up with the weeabo selection on your own recommendations.

Downside:

Has, over time, dramatically decreased the amount of third party content they have licensed.  There are still some good third party items in the mix, and of course Friends, but they are more about their own stuff these days.

A lot of their own content isn’t that great.  Some of it is okay.  I was good with a pass through once on things that otherwise got mixed reviews, but it can be really hit and miss.  A bunch of it is foreign television that has been dubbed in English and branded as “Netflix Original” and dumped into the listings.  Some dubbed stuff is okay, though a dubbed show really has to have a strong underlying plot for that not to become a distraction.

Really wants stuff playing on your screen.  The only service where I will leave something selected, walk away to do something, and come back to find myself starting episode three already.  You can tone that down some in the settings, but they don’t make it easy.

Current Status: Still subscribed, waiting for the next bit of binge fodder to drop while I get through Parks & Recreation.

Amazon Prime is the streaming service we sort of backed into because we had Amazon Prime for free delivery and suddenly it included a video service.

Upside:

Has content for Prime members, which occasionally has a movie I want to watch when I want to watch it.  I caught The Battle of Britain the other day.

Continues to ramp up some decent original content like The Man in the High Castle, The Boys, and Hanna.  If you’re going to dub something, Comrade Detective is how you do it.

Has caught up to Netflix on the “skip this” features without trying to start playing video at you every time you pause the cursor for a moment.  Also, just added profiles.

Can subscribe to a variety of other services like Showtime or Starz in their interface.  Also has a huge library of pay per view titles in its catalog.

Downside:

Not a lot of selection when compared to Netflix when you consider the price differential.  But maybe the free shipping takes a bite out of the content options.

Not as easy to navigate as Netflix.  Not that Netflix is great, but on Prime everything is smaller and less intrusive and feels like they are not trying as hard.  Prime also lists out each season of a show as its own entry, which feels like they are trying to look like they have more content than they actually do.

Searching for titles will lead you to a lot of things that are pay per view.  This sets it apart from the other two where everything you find on the service you can watch without additional payment.

The last time I tried a pay per view movie I had to get up from the TV and go into my office to order it on my computer before I could watch it on the TV.  I guess that keeps down the accidental purchases.

Some spotty or indifferent shows.  Also clings to the “one episode a week” idea of content deliver, except when it gets impatient and suddenly releases half a season, the doles out the rest more slowly.

Status: Still subscribed for free shipping, Twitch games, and other stuff, while finishing up Counterpart and waiting for all the episodes of The Boys season two to become available.

Next time I’ll look at Hulu, Disney+, and Starz.

Pandemic Binge Watching Part Three – The New Season

In parts one and two I went on about shows we started on fresh.  But the binge-watching life isn’t all about brand new shows.  Sometimes the agonizing year long wait ends and something you watched before comes out with a new season.  So I am going to cover a few of those shows we’ve watched and, in the process, answer the most important question: Do you need to go back and watch past episodes? (You should just watch everything if you haven’t started on a show, but if you’re up to date and a new season comes along, the question is valid.)

  • Homeland – Showtime production, most seasons on Hulu
  • 8 seasons total

We watched the first three seasons of Homeland way back in the day, back when it wasn’t clear that Carrie Matheson was really the central unifying figure of the show.  Also, I think we watched on DVDs from Netflix.  Somewhere along the way we caught season four.  And then, when surfing around for something to watch I saw that Hulu had all but the final season available, so off we went.

Carrie is clearly the center and a pattern is now apparent where she must at some point each season:

  • Fight with Saul
  • Make a bunch of promises she won’t keep
  • Screw over somebody who trusts her
  • Join forces with Saul
  • Go off her meds or otherwise off the reservation
  • Eventually turn out to be right

She is both the best and worse of the show.  Fortunately, there is a host of excellent supporting roles to hold things together when the script sends her off the rails and I find the stories interesting… though some seem very quaint given our current president.  Somebody agonizes over doing a mildly bad thing that Trump would approve in a heart beat.  I keep thinking, “Remember when somebody would resign over that?”

Now we just need to find season 8 to finish up the series.

Good for: A look back at some old school political and spy drama.

Do you need to rewatch past seasons: No.  Carrie will mouth enough connecting exposition about her current status with the agency and Saul to let you know where things stand.

  • Marcella – Netflix
  • Three seasons total

A psychological police drama about a detective who comes back to the force and is back following a serial killer who was active before she left.  Trouble at home and her of mental trauma play into her view of the world and make her a compelling character.  We burned through the first two seasons pretty quickly.

Good for: Somebody who wants an investigation that might leave unanswered questions

Do you need to rewatch past seasons: No.  For the first couple of episodes of season three you’ll think you have to, because nothing makes any sense, but eventually they explain.  Just ride it out.

The unorthodox time and space bending super hero story about a set of kids, all born on the same day, who were collected and adopted by one Sir Reginald Hargreeves who wants them for their super powers.  Crazy, compelling, interesting, and fun to watch.  I enjoyed it.  Season two just makes things all the more crazy and compelling.

Good for: Somebody sick of the scale of MCU.

Do you need to rewatch past seasons: Oh fuck yeah.  If you go into season 2 and haven’t recently watched the first season, you’ll end up having to pause and look things up just to keep things straight.  There are way too many moving parts.  They do a quick summary, but it isn’t enough.  If you don’t know their numbers and their powers by heart, just watch the first season again.

  • Killing Eve – BBC America, available on Hulu
  • Three seasons total

A charming, fresh, exciting new show in its first season, featuring spy craft and assassination in the current day, Killing Eve grabbed a lot of people  Then the show didn’t quite know what to do with itself after the first eight show run.  First season good, second season okay, third season… unsatisfying.  The Eve and Villanelle dynamic is what gives the show life, but they can’t always be sneaking up on each other I guess.  And Jodie Comer (who was also one of the Elizabeths in The White Princess which I mentioned in part one) plays the quirky Villanelle so well that even unsatisfying was fun at times.

Good for: Somebody in search of something that seemed charming, fresh, and exciting in 2018.

Do you need to rewatch past seasons: The past seasons are the good stuff.  If you dive right into season three you’ll feel a little lost, but I’m not sure you’ll care.

  • Lucifer – Netflix
  • Five seasons total

The devil has left hell and got himself a nightclub in LA… you’d probably think Vegas first, but really, LA is where he would go when you think about it… under the name Lucifer Morningstar.  He can help people get what they desire for a price.  And then he runs into Detective Chloe Decker of the LAPD and the whole thing turns into Castle set in LA with the devil rather than a mystery writer.

Still, I liked Castle for a few seasons.  The problem is that in both the main question is whether the devil/writer will finally get together with the homicide detective and you can only put that off for a few seasons before the question has to be resolved, after which the show dies.  Or, at least that was what happened with Castle.

It is dumb, and was a Fox show for three seasons, so there are a lot of episodes where the quality varies, but the actors are mostly good.  Lucifer his siblings and parents become part of the plot and they are often much more interesting than the petty grievances of mankind.

Good for: Somebody who wants a remake of Castle with the devil?

Do you need to rewatch past seasons: Nah, it really isn’t that deep.

  • Hanna – Amazon Prime
  • Two seasons total

Based on the 2011 film, there is a secret government super soldier program, some wolf DNA, some young girls, and… well… call it a girl’s school version Jason Bourne.  Lots of action, evil government operatives, top secrets stuff, and so on.  The first season was okay, though not all that memorable.  The second season goes a little more into project Treadstone… erm, UTRAX… and the girls, their school, and their mission.  Things are still over the top, but I found it more interesting.

Good for: Somebody who wants a girl’s school version of Jason Bourne?

Do you need to rewatch past seasons:  The first season is so narrowly focused that you’ll get by even if you’ve forgotten it.  Flashbacks and characters stating exposition will fill in the gaps.

Pandemic Binge Watching Part Two

I wrote up the first post about the shows we have binged during the pandemic, thinking I had this covered and that I had gotten them mostly in chronological order.

And then, of course, I kept remembering other things we had watched.  Like, a lot of things, which proved my ordering not very chronological at all.  So here, in part two, the things I missed in part one.

I am forgetful at times, but I think I am also a victim of the 2020 news cycle where there is some new horror every 15 minutes.  This is the only way I can explain having forgotten Tiger King, which was pretty much the seminal shared experience of millions of Americans of the “everybody stay home and watch TV” era in which we now live.

So you’ve probably seen this.  Or if you have not, you’ve probably sworn you’ll never watch it.  I get it.  It is an eight episode train wreck of people who, at times, have significant insight into other people, but a complete blind spot to the over the top crazy they themselves manifest.

The main problem is that it feels like they signed a contract for eight episodes and found they only had about five episodes worth of crazy on the main story thread.  So they went looking for some additional crazy… which wasn’t all that hard to find in the world of big cats.  As far as I can tell the whole Doc Antle thread had nothing to do with anything other than spectacle, but there it was.

Good for:  Really, nobody, but once you get past episode 2 you probably can’t stop. And it may end up becoming a touchstone, a point of nostalgia, for those early days of the pandemic when we thought we knew what the hell was going on.

A psychological thriller murder mystery, where a young girl is found dead in a forest where two kids went missing 30 years earlier.  Everybody seems to have a dark secret they aren’t sharing.  A good atmospheric tale, though things do seem to be spinning out of control… and then comes the big reveal.

Good for:  People who are too good at solving TV mysteries based on the fact that the most famous actor that is a suspect inevitably did it.

This was recommended by our neighbor across the street who came over to borrow some… sugar I think… or flour… something cliche… and started talking about what people watching on TV now that we were all stuck at home.  Look, we were desperate for any guidance.  They are really the most wholesome family, full on Cleavers, so they were not biting on Tiger King.  But they did like Outer Banks, though there were some bad words, so it was a bit risque.

It starts off okay, it is about a missing treasure, and some high school kids who look like they are closing in on 30 and there is a whole Veronica Mars “rich kids vs poor kids” dynamic and things kind of start spinning out of control.  But the scenery is very pretty, as are all the too old for high school “kids.”  Very light fare that won’t make you think too hard.

Good for: Somebody who wants an action based, southern coastal 90210 maybe?

Warrior Nun – Netflix

Dead orphan is brought back to life by a holy relic belonging to an order of ninja-nuns who do battle against evil unseen to most of us for the Catholic church.  Only, the order would like their relic back please, so she needs to sign up for the cause or return to her previously dead status.  Oh, and there is an corporation that may or may not be evil trying to create a portal to heaven and an archbishop… or was he a cardinal… I forget… who wants to be pope and who is probably evil as well.  Also, about twice as many coincidences than the human mind can generally accept before going all skeptical.

Still, fun enough, not too deep, and everybody is young and attractive and in swanning about in sunny Spain.  You can guess what is going to happen next most of the time, but we watched the whole thing.

Good for: Somebody for whom Dan Brown novels are too mired in detail.

Peaky Blinders – Netflix

Technically we started watching this pre-pandemic, but finished it up after we were all staying at home, so I am counting it.  Good performances, based somewhat on reality, gets into the state of England in the interwar years, with the BUF and all that.  I tend to be somewhat less enthusiastic about shows where brutal criminals are cast in a sympathetic light, but they are also a product of their environment as well.

Good for: Anybody who wanted The Sopranos set in England in the 20s and 30s.

Perry Mason – HBO

Perry Mason was a staple of afternoon TV reruns in my youth and a cornerstone of early television, so there was a bit of a risk trying to start it over again.  But HBO did a credible job of it.  If Perry Mason was an MCU super hero this first of no doubt many seasons would be his origin story.

Set in 1931, with the Great Depression started and prohibition still in place, the series is alive in gritty details.  Everything is weathered and dirty and a bit sweat stained, just like Los Angeles for real, and the people are all flawed.  Perry is a private investigator in a case that will change his life.

The one nit I have to pick with the series involves the “release an episode a week” method of HBO versus the “give them everything at once” system that Netflix has adopted.  Perry Mason isn’t Game of Thrones, where everybody talks about it in between episodes, so it loses a bit of its edge in the wait between.  But now that it is out and done, you won’t have that problem because you can binge it all at once.

Good for: Gritty crime drama fans, 30s re-enactors, people patient enough to wait until the final episode credits to hear the classic theme from the original show.

Next time: Series where a new season has dropped

Pandemic Binge Watching Part One

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept many of us at home for more than four months now.  All that staying home has led to a demand for entertainment.

Oddly, video games haven’t proven quite the outlet for me that you might imagine.  The problem is that I have also been working from home for more than four months, so I spend 8-10 hours a day sitting at my desk in front of a computer.  When work is over, I often feel strongly that I need to get up and go somewhere else in the house rather than switching over to play a game at that very same desk.

So, for my wife and I, with no movies, no going out to dinner, and not even any sports, the television series has become the entertainment outlet for us.  We are subscribed to a few streaming services which offer us up full seasons of shows, and so we have spent time binging on those.  I’m often tempted to write something up about each as we finish them, but that means going back to my desk again, so I have been slacking on that.

Now, however, I am going to sum up some of what we watched both as a public service as well as a reminder to myself as to what we have watched.  This is in some sort of order close to chronologically related to when we watched them, but there was some overlap.  The bullet points are the title and the service on which they are currently available.

That is a three-fer right there.  Based on the books by Philippa Gregory, they cover the War of the Roses and its aftermath, spanning a time frame that covers a few of Shakespeare plays.  They represent and ongoing story, though each series was filmed independently and is a complete story on its own.

A good set of tales, if not fully historical at times, they point out the key problem of the War of the Roses, which was too damn many people named Henry, Edward, Elizabeth, and Margaret.  Seriously, at one point I think there were four Henrys, three Edwards, two Elizabeths, and two Margarets in play, and more came and went.  We had to pause to establish which Henry or whoever was being referenced at times.

Also, a completely new set of actors takes over for each series, which can be a bit of a test when the same characters can span series.  Still, some good fun, if you like that era.  I enjoyed watching the 1995 film version of Richard III after this to see how many of the same people were treated by the two perspectives. (Also, that movie is a must for the casting alone.)

Starz had a $25 for six months deal on their streaming service, and these three made that worth the money.

Good for: Tolerant history buffs, people named Henry, and people keen for drinking games related to spotting actors from other shows.

More historical tales, this one is a comedic look at Catherine the Great and her early time in the court of the Czar.  I had to double check that this was a US produced series, as we’re not usually that big on European history that doesn’t involve us directly.  Very funny at times, often crude, and feeling no need to adhere to any particular historical accuracy, it can be quite a ride.  The main problem was it felt like about 8 episodes worth of content in a 10 episode series, so it flags a bit towards the end.  Still, I was good with it.  Huzzah!

Good for: Really tolerant history buffs and people who kind of miss Blackadder.

I don’t think I have laughed out loud as much in a long time as I did during the first two seasons of this series.  Hank Azaria’s character is relentless.  This humor is often crude and rarely strays from sex, drugs, alcohol, and his character flaws.  Very much not for children.  Gets serious at the end of season two and into season three, then completely flies off into a bizarro future history in season four, but is still pretty damn funny.

Good for: Hank Azaria fans, baseball fans, and anybody who might like a Filipino knock-off of Hart to Hart.

A solid interpretation of the novel by Nick Hornby, transplanted to New York City in the current era, so mix tapes are out and play lists are in.  Vinyl though, that is eternal.

The cast is very good and the story flows well enough.  My main problem is that this series exists in the same universe as the 2000 film version of the novel which is a favorite of mine.  The series seems tame and a bit flat compared to the manic energy and comedic rhythm of Jack Black and John Cusack in the film.  Also, the characters in the TV series are not even half as obsessed about music as the film cast is, and that obsession really drives the characters at times.

Basically it is the same issued I had with the Catch-22 series; if I already like the existing film version a series really has to work to get away from that comparison.

Good for:  People who haven’t seen the movie… or read the book probably.

I think Hulu is our best value for streaming services at this point.  Also, another series that is based on the same work as an already existing film that I like.  A Terry Gilliam film no less, so you know I have it on DVD on the shelf already.  Oh, and the series is literally based on the film so, while I don’t know how that works legally, it certainly qualifies as a great big “Danger Will Robinson.” (Which reminds me, I need to put Lost in Space on the list for next time.)

That said, the series didn’t just copy the movie.  I suspect the lack of a popular novel as the original source material meant that they didn’t have to go scene for scene to meet expectations and could run with their own plan.  And that plan seemed to be to illustrate that no simple plan ever ends as expected.

The first season is a non-stop roller coaster of “if we just jump somebody back in time to save a person, kill a person, or stop an event, then our problems will be solved.”  That never happens.  I mean, of course it doesn’t or it would be a very short series.  But you do end up with a lot of plans and time spent figuring out what they missed and the jump back in time to fix that only to find there is some other complication.

Season two is a little less jumpy on the timeline, but still full of paradoxes and unanticipated results.  We haven’t started on season three yet.  We’re still a little dizzy and needed a break to watch something else.  The acting is good and I like most of the cast.  It will hold your attention.  Just don’t expect resolution, or even answers half the time.

Good for: People who like their time travel shows to be complicated.

Next time: Maybe something not on Hulu.