Tag: television

Grace and Frankie

We don’t watch a lot of television. We might go days without turning the big dumb screen on at all, but when we do our serial narrative tends to be delivered by one of the streaming services.

There are a lot of good shows on there, not all of which involve superheroes*, so it is difficult to fit another one in.

If you do have a half hour slot open in your viewing schedule, can I recommend Grace and Frankie on Netflix?

Grace and Frankie is a sitcom, but it’s a sitcom with some bite. The story follows two women of (as the saying has it) a certain age, wives of two lawyers who founded their firm together. Almost immediately we learn that the two men are gay, and want to divorce their wives so they can be together. The wives end up living in the same shared house on the beach.

While the premise is strong, it’s easy to imagine it being ruined in any number of ways, but Grace and Frankie succeeds because of several important elements:

  • the cast – the main senior characters are all played by amazing actors: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen and Sam Waterson. While those are the most well-known actors the whole cast is good, and there are frequently guest stars who are very recognisable.
  • the tenderness with which relationships are presented – this is a sitcom (or, perhaps, a dramedy) but the relationships aren’t played for laughs. They are the most important things in the characters’ lives and they are presented seriously.

    And it’s worth mentioning that even though the premise has the two primary characters separating from their husbands in the first episode, we still see how their ex-husbands’ relationship develops as they start their life together. It’s one of the most positive portrayals of a gay relationship I’ve seen.

  • the writing – it’s delightfully witty and keenly observed. The characters have realistic reactions to events and the awkwardness of people not talking about things they need to talk about is pretty intense.
  • the continuity – everyone has changed over the course of a season.

Obviously, the show is not flawless: the half hour form limits how deep they can go into some subjects (although the aforementioned continuity means that they do have large topics); the resolution of some problems can be a bit pat sometimes; and the situations can sometimes be grotesquely absurd.

But it is a really good show. Those awards it has won are well-deserved.

I hope you enjoy it too.

[*] I prefer the more general term “superhuman” but in television they are always heroes.

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Binge Watching

Television is consumed much differently now than when I was growing up. In those distant days before pervasive home video recording, if you missed a programme* then you just had to hope for a repeat. You watched one episode at a time, and you often ended up missing episodes because it was not always possible to be in front of the magic glowing box at the same time every week. If you had a video recorder you could time-shift a bit, but watching a film at home involved going to a video rental store – the only realistic way to own a copy of anything was to record it off the telly.

But now? Now it’s not just films you can find on video but entire boxed sets of a series. Programmes are available online after broadcast so you can catch up even if you don’t have a recorder to help with the time shift. Seeing every episode is the norm rather than the domain of the obsessive**.

Now we can binge-watch entire seasons in a weekend.

Here are a few suggestions for the next time you have a weekend to kill.

Doctor Who

I wrote about my long-standing relationship to Doctor Who last year, but in short…

Thanks to a bout of stomach flu last year, I went from having seen almost none of the new Doctor Who episodes to having seen most of them in just a few days. Each episode stands alone (usually), but there are some impressively long-lasting story arcs across this series.

Battlestar Galactica

I am talking here about the recent reboot rather than the 1980s show. I enjoyed the original show when it was broadcast, but this the newer one is incredibly addictive television. I remember borrowing the pilot from a friend and watching the whole three hour presentation in one evening and just not being able to stop.

That addictive quality continues on for a good part of the run. It lost the intensity a bit in the third season, but watching this in a binge is the perfect way to get past the slower parts.

Game of Thrones

We do not have cable and therefore could not watch any of these as they were first shown: we buy the DVD set and then inhale it over a few short nights.

Although this post is about binge-watching, we actually try to limit our consumption to just a couple of episodes at a time so as to spin out the new material for as long as we can. Once they are all done, though, we’ll be watching all of them again in one go.

Daredevil

This is a show original to Netflix, and it’s a doozy.

Forget everything about the Daredevil film. The basic premise of the character is the same, but the way the story is told and the topics that it deals with are so much grittier and more engaging than the glossy story anchored by Ben Affleck’s rather wooden portrayal.

The storytelling is beautiful too. There are origin details scattered throughout this telling, but they are dropped in like seasoning and add to the tension in the now.

What series do you recommend to binge watch?

[*] computer program, but television programme. That’s my usage anyway. Feel free to correct me in your head.

[**] which, in fairness, I was.

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Constantine

So, Constantine – the new TV show, I should say, rather than the Keanu Reeves vehicle*.

I read Hellblazer almost since it started having enjoyed John Constantine mightily in Swamp Thing – I think the first issue I picked up was #6, and it immediately struck a chord with me. He wasn’t the reason I started wearing a trench coat when I lived in Nottingham, but it didn’t hurt. I read the comic all the way through to the end of Warren Ellis’s run, and I still have a lot of affection for the character and the stories.

In those terms, I have to say that I approve of the NBC show. There are elements that make me unhappy, like having all the current supporting cast be American – even Chas, for pity’s sake – but the spirit of the original stories is certainly there, and the lead actor is more or less perfectly cast. He carries off the insouciance of John Constantine exceptionally well.

I’m really looking forward to future episodes.

Well done, 8/10. This did not suck.

And I really liked the nod to the Jamie Delano version of the character in the closing graphic sequence. That was pretty special.

Time to reread all the stories I have, I think.

[*] which did, in fairness, have its own charms but it was not an especially faithful rendering of the source material despite Tilda Swinton’s excellent angel.

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The Doctor and Me

Where I Come From

I grew up with Doctor Who.

I’m just old enough to remember the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, but my doctor is undoubtedly Tom Baker. I remember his first story, battling a giant robot while he was still weak from regenerating, and I watched almost all of the episodes as they were broadcast. I was very sad if I missed an episode for any reason, and the summers seemed weirdly empty without a Doctor Who episode to watch in the evening after playing outside for the day*.

I didn’t care for Doctor #5, Pater Davison, so much and I really disliked Colin Baker’s turn as the sixth Doctor, hence I drifted away. I did enjoy Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor – I thought his blend of battiness and barely concealed menace was perfect for the character – but I was not really all that surprised when the show was halted at the end of the 1989 series.

Still, I am a fan – not to the same extent as for Star Trek, say, but I very much enjoyed the show when it was on. I even watched the Paul McGann TV movie.

A New Beginning

I was very pleased to learn that the Doctor was to return, but since by that time I was both living in the States and not subscribing to cable I completely avoided seeing any of the stories until 2010: I was treated to the Christmas special when we were visiting Britain for Christmas that year, and although I was not immediately transfixed (it was quite hectically edited, and that particular episode is really extremely silly) I could only applaud Matt Smith’s doctor for his gawky alienness.

But still, I hadn’t seen any of the Eccleston or Tennant episodes, and when people dropped terms like Bad Wolf or the Silence or the weeping angels I had no context to join in.

I started watching the first of the new season episodes a few months ago as a way of dealing with the late working I was doing – one episode at at time while I was waiting for a build to finish or while I was chewing through some repetitive testing – but I hadn’t got very far. I had just crept through the Ecclestons (so I knew what Bad Wolf was, for example) and watched a couple of the Tennants.

Then at the beginning of June I was ill. Not my usual “I’ll just work at home so no one else catches this” kind of ill; this was completely debilitating stomach flu, where I was running a fever for three days and unable to do much apart from sit in front of the telly****.

A perfect time, in fact, to catch up on my Doctor Who.

It is amazing how much binge watching you can manage when all you can do is huddle under a blanket and stare at the screen.

So much wonder.

The New Doctors

The new doctors are mostly good, I think. I’m a little sad that Ecclestone only did the one season, but still – the feeling of delight in the new that he conveyed was glorious, even gluttonous: a greedy kid in the biggest sweet shop ever. The writing was a bit uneven at the beginning and the effects were, um, a little unconvincing but the stories were as enthralling as ever.

Tennant was brilliant in the role – I can certainly see why some think he’s the best, even while he can never outshine Tom Baker in my estimation – and the sheer optimism of the stories was infectious. It reminded me of the profoundly optimistic premise of Star Trek more than anything else.

The Matt Smith stories are a bit more confused, but then Smith’s Doctor is often confused and confusing: the Ponds are great, of course, as is River Song, but the rebuild of the world so that the Doctor still has a place in it was both ingenious and irritating.

Throughout all of these I do very much like the theme that the Doctor needs to travel with a companion to keep him grounded: to remind him of what it is he needs to fight for, rather than just wandering for the sake of it.

What’s Next

I’m just getting into the Clara episodes: I’ve seen two versions of her and will watch the first of the contemporary Claras next time I play a show.

No spoliers, please.

[*] one of the truly weird things about moving to the States has been dealing with the practice of showing reruns** of episodes from earlier in the season when there are still new episodes to be shown. This was not how things were done in the 70s and 80s on British television, and so the time slot for Doctor Who would often be filled with a repeat for another programme entirely***.

[**] or repeats, as they are in British.

[***] which even in those days would usually be Dad’s Army.

[****] a level of complete shutdown I have not suffered in a quarter century.

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