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.
- Lovecraft County – HBO
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 Morning Show – Apple TV
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.
- The Queen’s Gambit – Netflix
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.
- Bridgerton – Netflix
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.