LB: 2 TV Shows I’m Binge-Watching Right Now

by Larry Brody

I’ve been getting emails asking what I’m binge-watching on TV these days.

Interestingly, no one’s asking for recommendations as such, as in “I’ve got some time on my hands. What should I be binging on my big screen, iPad, Galaxy S8, et al.?”

Which is just as well because I feel awkward recommending any series to anyone these days, especially since the most recent PEOPLE’S PILOT, during the judging of which I learned that no matter how intelligent, talented, and perceptive any two people (or in the case of the judges, any 10 people) are, you can never be sure any of them will agree on what the simple phrase “good TV show” means.

So, with that in mind. I’m going to answer the question as asked. I’ve done more than my fair share of binging in recent years, so a lot of my favorites are no longer in use, you might say, and now that I’ve finished Supernatural (meh), New Tricks (fantastic for all but the last couple of years of its run), and Game of Thrones (sorry, but I couldn’t make it past the first season), here are the two series I’m binge-watching as we “speak.”

ENDEAVOUR
Created by Russell Lewis

This UK series on ITV is a prequel to the long-running (and mostly riveting so I recommend it as well) albeit now defunct police procedural/mystery series INSPECTOR MORSE shows how the Morse character, originally played by the touchingly irascible John Thaw, became the brilliant, cynical, lonely, and depressed crime solving genius he was in a series that lasted 13 years.

(SPOILER: He started out even more brilliant, cynical, lonely, and depressed, but younger and trimmer and better looking as played by Shaun Evans. So it goes.)

Currently, my binging coincides with where the series is right now – halfway through ENDEAVOUR’s 6th year on the air. Throughout the run, I’ve enjoyed the well-told and intelligently presented stories and characters, the great music (well, it’s basically the same music as on INSPECTOR MORSE, but greatness doesn’t wear out, you know?)

I’ve also enjoyed sense of time and place the show has had as it’s moved through the recreated 1960s, and the way the political turmoil of the day is presented with the multiple perspectives of past and present. Yesterday’s “radical” youth looks so innocent, and the entrenched establishment reacts with such shock over what today wouldn’t make anyone but John Pence even blink that I’m actually thinking of what I’m seeing as being part of the good old days…even though the crimes and the reactions are as serious as anything happening in the world now.

The best part of Endeavour though, is in the dynamics of the relationships between the characters, which are not merely understated but actually function entirely as subtext, via a look here, a twitch of the mouth there, showing a faith in the actors seldom seen on U.S. TV. Is Endeavor Morse in love with his boss’ daughter? Is that unrequited feeling the key to his later personality on the earlier Inspector Morse? Or, OMG!, am I just overreacting and completely wrong about the whole thing?

Will I ever know?

One more big positive about this series. And an admission:

The Anglophile in me is absolutely head over heels in love with the spelling of Endeavour’s name.

DEATH IN PARADISE
Created by Robert Thorogood

In many ways I find Endeavor sublime, and in just as many ways the most popular series on UK TV, BBC’s Death In Paradise, is its totally mundane opposite. Story-driven and having absolutely no intention of making any kind of statement about anything other than “Wow, we’re on a tropical island. Beautiful, yeah?” the series is insipid, banal, and loaded with clichés.

How loaded? Let me put it this way. Death in Paradise uses the “How the heck (and I mean ‘heck’ because the current protagonist would never even think of giving us a good ‘hell’) was this guy murdered when he was all alone in a room locked from the inside?” trope two out of every three times it’s on…and it just finished its seventh year.

It’s also structured so that in the last ten minutes of each episode the detective gathers all the subjects in a room and explains, with flashbacks that highlight every detail, exactly how he figured everything out, even though we just spent 40 minutes watching him do it.

As a binger, I’m only at the beginning of year 7 now, but I’ve already watched three different stars play the lead.

The first leader of the team on the mythical Caribbean paradise of Saint-Marie was played by Ben Miller as a transplanted London detective so uptight that he sweated his way through three seasons in a suit and tie before dying on the job. The second boss man, another London detective played by Kris Marshall, was a lot looser, a kind of party boy trapped in an unending Spring break for two and a half seasons, after which he left because, hey, he found a really hot babe back in the UK.

Everything about the show up to this point was so insipid that it fitted right into the “so bad it’s good” mold. I watched and watched and wondered and wondered, “How the hell – not heck – has this been such a hit?” Was it the all-pervasive ’70s telly feeling? The cultural insensitivity that either ignored the native population or relegated its members to comedy sidekick roles? The interchangeable gorgeous French-accented detective sergeants who nodded at the leads’ brilliant deductions while their eyes seemed to say, “Hold on, cheri, I’ll be in my bikini in a second,” but always remained fully dressed?

I never figured it out. But it stopped mattering last week because – wonder of wonders! – the third and current UK detective “stuck” on Saint-Marie is played by the most lovable actor since Peter Falk. His name is Ardal O’Hanlon, and UK TV aficionados may remember him as the perplexed priest star of Father Ted or the equally perplexed alien superhero star of My Hero. This time around, O’Hanlon does in fact play Peter Falk, and although he keeps his trademark perplexed attitude, it’s clear that he’s every bit as much in control as Columbo was.

Along with O’Hanlon came another couple of pluses. This year the writers are giving us a more grounded view of island life, exploring the supporting characters’ personal lives, giving them their own crime-solving moments, and the current beautiful French-accented sergeant actually looks and acts intelligently. She still isn’t a real person, but she’s almost a real TV cop, with no bikini-teasing in sight.

As for the Everyone Gathered in the Room So the Hero Can Screw with Them scene, it’s still a big part of the show. But thanks to O’Hanlon it’s now genuinely fun.

Because it’s absolutely clear that regardless of our hero’s befuddled facade he really is screwing with everyone, and, even better, enjoying every second of it.

I’m enjoying too, but I can’t help wondering. Will making the show better mean its ratings go down?

Diana Vacc sees “The Alienist”

Nothing is happening here, which doesn’t change the fact that this could be the most exciting image in the series!

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

This winter TNT premiered The Alienist, a 10 episode series that showing what police work was like before the turn of the 20th Century

Set in 1896, this psychological thriller centers around the murder of a young prostitute boy. The event brings together an Alienist (at the time the term for certain experts on mental illness), a newspaper illustrator, a secretary, and Theodore Roosevelt in the job he actually had at the time, New York City Police Commissioner, all working to solve this brutal crime.

THE GOOD:

  • I always find something good about what I view. But while I was attracted to the show after learning of its historical premise and use of real people like Teddy Roosevelt as character, once I started watching I could not find one single thing to enjoy.

THE BAD:

  • First, the way the show is shot is ugly, murky, and so difficult to see that it seems deliberate.
  • Much of the “action” is similarly ugly but, unfortunately, not murky enough to keep me from seeing it.
  • The performances are very disappointing.  With a cast led by Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning, I was anticipating fascinating characters with meaningful development arcs. At the very least, I hoped to find something about each character to I care about. But that was not to be. The acting is dry, dull, and monotonous, with none of the actors exhibiting the slightest hint of emotion, or eliciting any emotion in me.
  • Based on a best selling series of books by Caleb Carr, and billed as an “Event Series, The Alienist is probably the most uneventful TV series since The Arthur Godfry Show” back in television’s infancy. Writers Hossein Amini, Caleb Carr, E. Max Frye, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Gina Gionfriddo wrote scripts that are dull, boring, and did not move the story along. Watching The Alienist was like watching a caterpillar making its away across a leaf in slow motion, except that caterpillars are at least fuzzy and cute. These episodes drag on and on and on. It got so that I gave up on wanting anything exciting to happen and just hope that something would happen, period. And no, that too wasn’t to be.
  • Gina Gionfriddo produced Law & Order, one of my all time favorite shows.  Having her on board was truly exciting for me, however, the show fell short of any expectations I had.

THE REST:

With a heavy heart I find it hard to recommend that anyone watch this show. The Alienist has left me totally alienated.


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and TVWriter™ University grad. Find out more about her HERE

Munchman sees ‘Altered Carbon’

Holy crapoly, guys ‘n’ gals. We live in a dystopia where every new show being presented to us on TV and its hangers on is being labeled “dystopic” and “about a future dystopia where…”(fill in the dots – it’s easy cuz all you have to do is look at just about any new description of just about any fiction just about anywhere).

Except that it’s all bullshit, with the in, hip, trendy, and in and of itself totally dystopic buzzword of the day being used when it absolutely doesn’t apply. By which yer friendly neighborhood munchamatic magilla here means, CHECK OUT THE GODDAMN DEFINITION, OKAY MOTHERFUCKERS?!

Cases in point:

“Dystopia. Relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

And “An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.”

With that I mind, munchamoneybags has to say, “Sorry, misreading, misinterpreting, misogynist momos,” but while yes, this is a dystopia if ever there was one:

As is this:

And this back in 2016 when we were all certain it could only be a fictional future:

This is not:

It’s just another interesting science fiction novel about a future civilization that has its good sides and bad sides and exciting sides and terrifying ones and everything in between, just like just about every civilization just about anywhere and anywhen.

And this:

Netflix’s Altered Carbon TV show is just another overblown, pompous, self-important, hideously violent, unconscious parody of every ridiculous trope used in every other science fiction show and film that totally misinterpreted what made the book interesting.

Oh Christ! The voiceover! Puh-leeze! And the music! Turn them off, turn them off, turn them off! For the love of God, montresor!

In other words, nope, munchikins didn’t really get much of a kick out of watching this abomination. But I sure liked writing this review.

Kathryn Graham: Deconstructing Supergirl & Homophobia

by Kathryn Graham

*** CAUTION! Mild spoilers for Supergirl if you are 11 weeks behind. ***

Last week, I was perusing a comment section on TV Guide regarding Alex & Maggie’s breakup on Supergirl. One fella, let’s call him Major Homophobe, said he was glad it was over. The show ‘isn’t about lesbians’ and now they could ‘get back to what it’s really about’.

It’s a typical criticism: I don’t watch this show for kissing! I watch for punching! There’s too much damn romance in this show!

Funny how it’s only mentioned when the couple are same sex.

I have news for for the Major. The show he loves is about both punching and kissing no matter who’s doing it, and I can show you how.

Supergirl follows classic structure with A, B, and C stories.

A Story – Supergirl and her allies fight some evil-doer(s). This will most often center Supergirl herself.

B Story – Conflict in someone’s romantic life, family, or friendships. Up close and personal.

C Story – Something short, sweet, and sometimes silly. Kind of a wild-card. Defined by having the least amount of screen time.

Specific Examples:

Season 1 Episode 12 – Bizarro

A Story – Maxwell Lord tries to ruin Supergirl’s reputation by releasing an evil Bizarro version of her on National City.

B Story – Kara navigates her budding romance with Adam under the watchful eye of his mother (and her boss): Cat Grant.

C Story – Winn helps James come to terms with his feelings for Kara.

Season 2 Episode 9 – Supergirl Lives

A Story – Without her powers, Supergirl must fight to free herself, Mon-El, and a group of humans before they are sold into slavery.

B Story – Alex blames herself for Supergirl’s capture and tries to break up with Maggie.

C Story – Winn almost dies on a mission with Guardian and needs to find the courage to get back in the field.

All three stories intersect and cross with each other, but they are the main threads.

Romance is typical B-Story. The Major sees it in nearly every show, book, and video game. If it was missing, he’d know something was gone. It’s a part of our lives. It’s important to so many of us. Why wouldn’t it be in our stories?

If you’re like Major, there are only a few options for why you would complain about queer romances ‘taking over’ a show you like:

  • You have no earthly idea how the stories you’re watching work. (Hope this helps.)
  • You hate romance in general – straight, gay, etc – and wish there wasn’t so much of it everywhere. (You have my sympathies.)
  • You’re being disingenuous about your discomfort and/or dislike of queer people. (I see what you’re doing.)

Maybe you didn’t see this before. Heterosexual romances are so ubiquitous that, to you, they’re window dressing. You feel the space queer romances take up because you haven’t encountered them before.

Maybe you, like the Major, are just dodging the fact that you don’t want to see any queer romance because you’re uncomfortable with it.

I’d ask you to consider that discomfort for a minute. If you can put it aside, even for a little while, you might be able to connect with stories and people in ways you never thought possible. I love Moulin Rouge. It’s a romance about a man and a woman. I don’t love it the way I would with two women as the leads (can someone make this?), but I still enjoy it.

If you still can’t do that, if you’re still uncomfortable, realize that this is how many queer people feel watching every. single. other. show. ever. It’s one show. You’ll be fine. I promise.

If you liked this article, or you’re curious to know more, I suggest hanging with me at ClexaCon in Las Vegas this April 5th – 9th! It’s a multi-fandom convention focused on queer women in the media. Everyone is welcome to attend. Not only will you have a lot of cool discussions along these lines, but Chyler Leigh, who plays Alex, is going to be there!


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor and a Fine Writer Of All Things. Learn more about Kate HERE

How-to-be-good TV: “The Good Place”

There was a time not all that long ago when a network executive could leap up on his or her high horse, throw down a script and scream to those assembled below: “Every scene in this is about something! We can’t do a show like that!”

But now:

by Melanie McFarland

he Trolley Problem” is type of episode a person recommends to demonstrate to an uninitiated potential viewer what’s best about the series in question —“The Good Place,” in this case — and, just maybe, to call attention to their own cleverness. It refers to a thought experiment that asks a person to choose between saving five people in danger of being killed by a trolley by switching tracks and killing one person on the other side, or allowing the train to continue on its course.

In this comedy set in the afterlife a former professor of moral philosophy, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), attempts to explain the concept to the otherworldly architect of The Good Place, Michael (Ted Danson), as the central point of an ethics lesson.

The question illustrates two ethical viewpoints: utilitarianism, doing the greatest good for as many people as possible, and deontology, doing as much good as possible while being conscious of the actions taken to do it. This is not a concept I knew off the top of my head, by the way. My husband the philosophy buff had to explain it to me while we watched it.

I tuned him out, though, because I was more delighted by the all-powerful Michael’s reaction. Professing to be unclear on the lesson he created a reenactment of the problem for Chidi, himself and Chidi’s soul-mate Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) to experience in all its variations. The trolley would kill five, spare one, and reset. The trolley would kill the single person, save the five, and reset.

Then Michael spices it up: What if he knew the guy on the other track? How about if it were five Shakespeares? Each time the simulated victims would explode a shower of blood and guts all over a Chidi shocked into silence. It was a tremendous sight gag that would have gone on forever if Eleanor hadn’t figure out that Michael wasn’t learning any lessons about being good at all. He was torturing Chidi and figuring out how long he could push it until he got caught.

In that a single broad stroke “The Good Place” thrilled the philosophy nerd sitting next to me while incapacitating me, a couch potato for whom Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” in high school represents the extent of my philosophy education, with belly-bruising laughter….

Read it all at Salon