13 Reasons Why: a review

 

A number of people have been asking me about this show so I thought I would blog about it. I watched this show with my youngest daughter (13 years old) when she expressed interest in it. Her interest was stimulated by the kids at school buzzing about it. I probably would not have started watching it otherwise, as there is so much else on my viewing radar (an almost complete list of shows can be found below). My eldest had no interest in the show at all.

 

13 Reasons Why is based on a young adult novel of the same title by Jay Asher. It centres around the life of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has just killed herself. She left behind 13 audio tapes for her friends and acquaintances to listen to, in an attempt to be finally understood by those who failed to help her. There are voice over narratives and flashbacks interwoven with the present day depiction of a community devastated by the loss of this girl. We spend much of the time with Hannah’s friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to the tapes and tries to figure out what he could have done differently. This show is a realistic depiction of many aspects of teen angst.  For this I applaud it. This is a far cry from the teen glamour soaps that that flood us (Pretty Little Liars, etc.). It is also quite stark in its depiction of physical and sexual violence as well as suicide.

The acting was convincing by the young cast. The dialogue was pretty realist as well. However, the suspense structure for dramatic effect seemed contrived at times. This show strained to fill 13 episodes (45 min each). I wanted to understand Hannah’s pain in the context of her extreme action but struggled to do so for much of the 1st season. My daughter had a hard time understanding her too. A somewhat better understanding was left to the end. Much of the earlier events seemed like ordinary teen stuff that she was emotionally ill-equipped to handle. That Hannah could not go to her parents for help was very difficult for me to watch. Her parents were depicted as loving and supportive in flashback scenes. Their devastation after her death brought me to tears. This show had little if any discussion about the mental health aspects of Hannah’s troubles. I found that problematic. It also seemed to simplify and externalize much of the responsibility of what is a very complex and very personal problem. Hannah’s isolation was probably realistic. Many kids live inside their own heads and do not know how to clearly ask for help. Their struggles can seem overwhelming in the echo chamber of their minds. Suicide is often described as an impulsive and desperate act, but as depicted in this show, it is usually associated with depression. I hope Season 2 will delve into this a bit more.

This is a Netflix original series that I admire but would have a hard time broadly recommending as must see TV. I think if you are a parent who is interested in pop culture and you want to know what kids are watching, it is worth a look. If your child is watching it, then I think you should definitely watch it too and discuss the themes which include financial struggles, social class, social media shaming, under age drinking, rape culture, friendship, crushes and sexual identity. This show has been renewed for a 2nd season. I will probably only watch it if my daughter wants to. I am grateful for the opportunity to have watched season 1 with her.

Curious about what else I have been watching? The list below is shocking.

The Americans ___ Archer ___ Better Call Saul ___ Black Sails ___ Call the Midwife ___ Catastrophe ___ Crashing (UK) ___ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ___ The Crown  ___ Dr. Who ___ The Fall ___ Fargo ___ Fleabag ___ Girls ___ Glitch ___ Grantchester ___ Happy Valley ___ Humans ___ iZombie ___ Jane the Virgin ___ Jessica Jones ___ Killjoys ___ Last Tango in Halifax ___ Lovesick ___ The Magicians ___ Master of None ___ Mercy Street ___ Orange is the New Black ___ Orphan Black ___ Please Like Me ___ Poldark ___ Preacher ___ Scott and Bailey ___ Sense8 ___ Silicon Valley ___ Taboo ___ This is Us ___ Veep ___ Victoria

Anne: Prestige TV meets a Canadian Icon

Anne

 

I just finished watching the last episode of Anne on CBC television and I could not wait to blog about it.

Full disclosure first, as a Canadian and Anne of Green Gables fan, I am very biased. I have reread the entire series of Anne books (all 8 novels) countless times since middle school. Additionally, I have read many of author L.M. Montgomery’s other works of fiction. I loved Megan Follow’s performance in the TV adaptions of the first few novels; so much so, that I haven’t had the desire to watch the most recent Anne of Green Gables TV movie starring Ella Ballentine and Martin Sheen, despite owning a copy. By happenstance, in 2008, my family was visiting Prince Edward Island during the 100th Anniversary celebration of the novel’s publication. We found ourselves immersed in this cultural icon at the Avonlea Village and were delighted with Anne of Green Gables, The Musical at the Charlottetown Festival.

So when I found out there was to be another TV adaptation, a short series of 7 episodes, I feared anticipointment. Then I learned that Moira Walley-Beckett, the Canadian born, Emmy award-winning writer (for Breaking Bad) was in charge; I was intrigued.

So yes, I am very, very biased, and glad to say I loved this new TV series. I was hooked at the opening credit sequence. Poignantly selected Tragically Hip song “Ahead by a Century” accompanies beautiful images of the beloved heroine of this underdog tale. For those unfamiliar with her story, the setting is turn of the previous century. Anne is an 11 year old orphan who is adopted by the Cuthberts, an elderly brother and sister who live on a farm in fictional small town Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. Anne is a spirited, intelligent, imaginative girl who desperately wants to be loved and accepted.

Amybeth McNulty is perfectly cast; she embodies Anne’s earnestness and awkwardness like no other. Anne is an underdog, coming-of-age story that touches on themes of community, love, friendship, bullying, social privilege and financial hardship. In addition to Anne’s casting,  Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson inhabit the roles of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert exquisitely. The period sets and costumes are wonderful.

The original novels were rather innocent with just a hint of darkness. Sadly, I have yet to persuade my daughters to read them. However, I hope that the dark realism that is dialled up (not to 11, rather a 7) in this TV adaptation will appeal to a broad audience. I hope Netflix will continue to support it; especially if it finds new young fans in addition to those of us who are young at heart and fond the previous screen adaptations.

The first season (7, 1 hour episodes) loosely follows the first part of the novel and ends on a cliff-hanger. I watched newly adopted Anne adjust to her role in the Cuthbert family and got flashes of her pitiful life before the Avonlea arrival. Some of the plots are directly from the book; whereas others are what I would like to call “new chapters.” I found these embellishments fresh and compatible with the original spirit. A bit more darkness is not incompatible with Anne’s story; especially now that new biographical information is available about author L.M. Montgomery life’s struggles.

If you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables, the novel, this is TV series is definitely worth a look. I am curious to know what others think of it.

For now i must wait and hope for more new chapters. Perhaps it is time again to dust off my novels for another reread.

For fans of the series who want to know more about the cultural impact of Anne of Green Gables, especially on an international scale, here is a link to an essay by Margaret Atwood. It taught me why the Japanese love this fictional character so much and continue to visit Prince Edward Island because of her.

Black Sails: a fond Farewell

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It has been over a year since I blogged about Black Sails HERE, shortly after binging the first 2 seasons. I am now facing the final episodes of the fourth and final season and I am sad to say goodbye. Many of the things I wrote about in my original post have remained solid throughout this underrated series and now that it is wrapping up I just want to give it a boost.

 

This show is beautifully filmed and exquisitely plotted. There is a wonderful balance of action, drama, humour and romance. I am constantly guessing as to which way things are headed. The characters’ development is nuanced and the producers are brutal when it comes to killing them off.

Binge watching this show is the best way to do it. The first 1/2 of season 1 was a bit slow but the payoff is so very much worth it. Waiting week to week for the final 1/2 dozen or so episodes is excruciating, but I will manage. In the meantime, I urge you to give it a try if you like a dark, epic, historical under-dog tale brimming with action and served with sly humour.

Lovesick: a review

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I am in the process of watching this show on Netflix for the 3rd time. That is how I measure comedy greatness, primarily in repeat watch appeal. To be fair, the 1st time I watched it while I was doing solo chores around the house, mostly cooking, cleaning, fixing stuff.  Availability on Netflix renders it highly portable. I know I was missing nuanced performances but I thought a 2nd watch with my husband would remedy that. We were looking for something to watch together that would make us laugh. This 3rd time is with my kids, who wondered what their parents thought was so funny! I flit in and out while my daughters are watching but I still find myself swept up in the zany lives of the 3 main characters.

Lovesick (previous title for Season 1 was Scrotal Recall) kept popping up as a recommendation on Netflix. But frankly, the original title put me off because it sounded like bad porn. I know, I know, as someone who will defend TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer until the end of time, I will admit to a bit of judgy irony on my part. When I saw this show recommended by mainstream critics, I thought I would give it a try.

So glad I did, when I did. The 1st season aired 6 episodes (24 min each) back in 2014 and just recently released the 2nd! 14 hilariously sweet episodes to binge watch is a glorious treat. To have waited for season 2 would have been excruciating.

This romantic comedy jumps somewhat randomly through time (in a clever way that is not at all confusing) and deals with 3 best friends (Dylan, Evie and Luke). Dylan’s recent diagnosis of Chlamydia and subsequent need to inform his previous partners serves as a novel conduit into the colourful world of these 20 something characters. This is a show for an older audience, no doubt (language, sexuality). It is kind and yet very incisive. It stars Johnny Flynn as Dylan (frustrated romantic), Daniel Ings as Luke (superficial player) and Antonia Thomas (Alisha from my beloved Misfits) as no-nonsense Evie. Watching them figure out lives, careers and relationships is so much fun. The show’s humour is not only in its dialogue but its physicality as well.

If you like romance, British comedies and do not mind non-linear story-telling, this is a show to check out.

A Couple of TV Comedies by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

It has been a while since I have blogged. Summer was a busy time, but I am back with lots to write about. I watched a number of enjoyable TV shows. Here is the first lot that I wanted to share. Both are comedies written by a talented woman whose work is new to me. If you have a dark but quirky sense of humour, like short British series and are not offended by swearing or nudity, you might want to check these shows out. Warning, the trailers are NSFW.

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Crashing

This UK comedy is available on Netflix in Canada. 6 episodes, each less than ½ hour. It is just perfect for binge-watching in one evening after a long work week has left one good for nothing else (Not that THAT ever happens). OMG, what a way to lift my mood, this show had me laughing out loud like a fool. It is written by and stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom I now just absolutely adore! I had seen her previously as a supporting character in Broadchurch’s disappointing 2nd season and she made no impression at the time. She is a remarkable comedy writer and a tremendous actor. Crashing is an ensemble comedy set in a decommissioned hospital. The inhabitants are property guardians, which is a real thing that I had never heard of before. In an attempt to prevent squatters, the property guardians are lured, with low rent, to live in and maintain the abandoned hospital. This brings together a colourful group of characters and hilarity ensues. This show is about being a young adult, figuring out your life’s direction and who you want to share it with. To say more would spoil the fun. I enjoyed it so much I watched it again with my husband (over 2 evenings this time) and was thrilled to hear his belly laughs. This show is a rapid-fire of one-line zingers and exquisite physical comedy. The supporting cast is a delightful mix of actors. Some of them are familiar to me. What a treat it was to see them again (Jonathan Bailey Olly from Broadchurch and Damien Molony, Vampire Hal from Being Human -UK).

********************

fleabag

Fleabag

Unfortunately this comedy is not readily available in Canada, yet. It is available in the USA on Amazon’s streaming service. I managed to catch it in my travels and was blown away. This is the 2nd TV series launched in 2016 that is written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Based on her award winning play, this TV show is a character study that is much darker than Crashing. It is funny, charming and an exquisite showcase for this woman’s remarkable talent. Her facial expressions alone flash a series of emotions so quickly, I am almost afraid to blink. Her writing is as brilliant as her physical screen presence. Fleabag is the nickname of the main character, who is a millennial struggling to find her way in the world after a (mini-spoiler alert) tragedy. This show deals with dysfunctional families, sisters, feminism, human frailty, friendship, loss and love. The main character breaks the forth wall throughout the show, a risky move that really works. Another risk is the interjection of poignant flashbacks. Phoebe Waller-Bridge weaves a haunting portrayal of a young woman’s life. That it is also a comedy is a genuine marvel. Her supporting cast is a delight. Olivia Colman, playing Fleabag’s father’s wife, is a treat to see in a role diverging from her serious ones (Broadchurch, The Night Manager). I hope it comes to Canadian Netflix soon. Because at 6 episodes, each less than ½ hour, it is a perfect show to binge-watch. Another enjoyable evening was spent unwinding with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Thanks go to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast for introducing me to this show (which also led me to find Crashing) and a wonderful young talent.

Grantchester: a Review

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I just finished binge watching a charming TV period drama called Grantchester. The second series debut was being promoted on PBS as part of their Masterpiece Mysteries series and my familiarity with the 2 excellent lead actors had me take notice. So I downloaded the first series (6 episodes) from iTunes and enjoyed it over the Easter long weekend in anticipation of the debut of season 2.

This is a murder mystery/buddy cop drama set in 1953, based on books written by James Runcie. James Norton plays Sidney Chambers, a vicar in Grantchester, who befriends Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). Each episode has them solve a murder case with a few threads of subplot (usually involving their personal lives) that carry through to the end of each season. This role is a radical departure from Norton’s portrayal of sociopathic thug Tommy Lee Royce on Happy Valley (another excellent British cop drama, available on Netflix that I highly recommend). Sidney Chambers is struggling to be a good man and leader of his community. Because he remains haunted by his pre-ordination WWII experiences, one gets a sense that his chosen profession serves to heal his soul in addition to his parishioners’.

 

 

Anyone who knows me well may be surprised that I would recommend a show that features an Anglican priest. This show is not preachy and it is super fun. It is exquisitely filmed in the English country side. It weaves elements of social change into the background of well crafted murders of the week. There is romance in addition to good mysteries with reasonable twists. Of course one must suspend one’s disbelief at the number of violent deaths that occur in such a small place. And I try not to think too hard at how a vicar has so much time for police business, not to mention that the police actually encourage it. Nevertheless, everything else about this show rings true. It is not afraid of tackling topics such as racism, abortion, death penalty, homosexuality (illegal in the UK until the late 60’s) and class structure. There is a sweet earnestness to this program with a gentle injection of humour. The characters are very well developed and distinct. The supporting cast is amazing, especially housekeeper Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) and closeted curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver). If you are a fan of classic whodunits, English countryside, period drama, thematic depth and well drawn characters, this show just might do it for you.

 

Romantic TV Comedies

catastrophe

Is it just a coincidence that I am writing about this topic on the eve of  Valentine’s Day? Probably not, I can’t stand greeting card holidays. So maybe that is why I enjoyed binge watching 3 TV comedies about damaged people navigating the waters of love and life. All 3 of these shows have been buzzed about on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast so I thought I would check them out. So glad I did that I thought I would share.

Catastrophe first aired on British TV and I was delighted to find all the episodes (2 short seasons, total of 12 episodes) available for binge-watching on shomi here in Canada (Amazon Prime in the US, but season 2  won’t stream until April 2016). This show takes place in London and revolves around a couple in their early 40’s. She is an Irish school teacher; he is American ad executive. After a brief fling, while he is in town on business, she discovers that she is pregnant. With no external pressure, he decides to relocate and give it a go for the long term. So we get to see this couple, who barely know each other in a sober state, [she is listed in his contacts as Sharon – London(sex)] figure out their relationship as they go through the various stages of pregnancy. The show is created and written by the lead actors Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney and it is whip smart. The acting is superb, the banter is witty, the jokes are funny, starting with the title and building from there. Both lead characters have issues, mostly involving potty mouths, alcohol and obnoxious family members (Carrie Fisher is fabulous as Rob’s mom), resulting in many bumps along the way consequently making them very relatable. This is my kind of romantic comedy but I should warn you, this is strictly for adults and the video below is NSFW.

 

 

YOU'RE THE WORST -- KEY ARTYou’re the Worst is another adult-oriented comedy, airing on FX Canada (FXX in the USA), about a couple in a relationship. I hesitate to call it romantic, but it has a sweet side that occasionally melts through the cold cynicism. Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are 2 caustic people who recognize and appreciate each other’s toxicity. This bond leads them to a pretty dysfunctional but at times funny relationship. Their few friends are screwed up in different ways and this adds to the humour. This show has aired 2 seasons, with a total of 23 episodes and does a good job as a character study. We learn why these 2 are the way they are and it is quite moving. It is also a TV show that is not afraid to portray mental illness, specifically depression, realistically. We see how depression affects those who suffer with it and its effect on those around them. I think it is a brave choice for a comedy. I should place another warning about the embedded video below, definitely NSFW.

 

 

crazy-exgirlfriend

Speaking of brave choices, don’t let the title of the last show dissuade you. Crazy Exgirlfriend is aware of how demeaning the title is and addresses it in the opening theme.

This show is a satire on romance and modern living that occasionally breaks out remarkably catchy song and dance numbers. If you like comedic musical theatre, this is definitely worth a look. The show is created and written by the star of the show Rachel Bloom. She plays Rebecca Bunch, a “successful” but unhappy lawyer, who suddenly quits her job in NYC and moves to California to live closer to the object of her affection. Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) is a nice guy who dumped her 10 years ago after a summer fling. Rachel clearly has her issues, but no more so than the cast of colourful characters who surround her. They also match her talent for song, dance and humorous quips. There are so many great songs (usually 3 per 45 min episode) in this show it is hard to believe it is only 11 episodes into the 1st season (18 episodes to air in total) on the CW (Global in Canada is streaming all episodes on its mobile app).

Also NSFW are the following videos which showcase some of my favourite songs so far.

Sexy Getting Ready Song

 

Sex With a Stranger

 

Feeling Kinda Naughty

 

I Give Good Parent

 

Last Man on Earth: TV for mothers and daughters

The.Last.Man.On.Earth.S01E01

I was looking for a comedy to enjoy with the kids and stumbled upon the first season of this 1/2 hour Fox TV show. It is available with a new steaming service, shomi, that is bundled with my cable package. So with neither commercials nor a laugh track and some warm buzz from a few of my reliable entertainment sources, I thought I would give it a try. So glad I did. This show is currently on hiatus in the middle of its 2nd season. After binge-watching to get caught up, our wait for its return on March 6th, 2016 is excruciating. So my daughters and I are rewatching it with my husband.  The second time round is even better with his boisterous laugh joining ours.

This is a dark comedy set in the near future (2022) after the world’s population has been wiped out by a virus. The logistics of this tragedy is not dwelled upon. There are no bodies piled up. Rather, the world is a lonely place for Phil Miller (portrayed by Will Forte, also creator of this show) as he laments his solitude. Because he has spray painted billboards with “ALIVE in TUSCON” a few remaining survivors join him and hilarity ensues.

This show has an ensemble of distinct and quirky characters. Each member is a unique combination of sweetness and wacky. The cast includes January Jones in a surprisingly effective turn as Melissa in a traditional “straight man” role. Kristen Schaal is absolutely brilliant as eccentric misinformed grammar-nerd Carol. Will Forte plays Phil Miller as jerk looking for redemption. His character, although funny, can be almost be cringingly painful to watch. I think this show is a brilliant mix of funny dialogue and physical gags. The joke density is such that I caught things that I missed while watching it the 2nd time. There is no multi-tasking while we watch this; it brings our family together for some great shared belly laughs.

I am the first to admit that humour is so very subjective. But if you think you share a similar sense of humour as me and have enjoyed other comedies that I have reviewed,  you may want to check the first episode out at the link below.

Please Like Me: a Review

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Please Like Me is an Australian TV show that was picked up this summer by CBC when it aired the first 2 seasons. It is the creation of Josh Thomas who is a wonderful young comedic talent. The show is based on his award-winning stand-up comedy, which mines his life for material. This TV show is sweet, romantic and very, very funny. I had read about it in Entertainment Weekly magazine, the A.V. Club’s reviews and then it got a shout out on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Before long, I was intrigued, but I missed it when it aired on the CBC. So I decided to buy the first episode on iTunes. I was smitten and promptly bought the first 2 seasons. It is amazing how quickly I can burn through 16 episodes (almost 7 hours) when I have a week off work. This show kept me on the treadmill and in the kitchen chopping things and cooking up meals days in advance.

 

Not only does he produce and write the show, Josh Thomas stars as Josh, a young university student who is almost 21 years old. We first meet him as he is being dumped by his long-time girlfriend because they have “drifted” and according to her, he is gay. He seeks solace from his best friend and housemate, Tom (Thomas Ward, Josh Thomas’ best friend in real life) and a new friend, Geoffrey. His divorced parents are around, but they are of little help with troubles of their own.

 

This show is aimed at an older audience. There is no laugh track. It has super funny dialogue spoken in wonderful Australian accents, plenty of visual gags and a charming cast of distinctly quirky characters. It is a coming of age story that deals with insecurity, sexuality, mental health, dysfunctional families, romance and relationships (gay and straight, young and old). Oh yes, I almost forgot, there is an underlying love of food and cooking peppered throughout. This is a show with lots of heart and I especially admire its realist depiction of mental illness. It refuses to pretend to have easy answers. I can’t wait for CBC to air the 3rd season, which is currently airing in Australia on the Australian Broadcasting Corp and in the USA on Pivot Network. In the meantime I am watching it again with my daughters. The first episode had them begging for more.

Master of None: a Review

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I just finished mainlining Aziz Ansari‘s new Netflix original series Master of None (10, 30 min episodes) and was absolutely charmed. My familiarity with Ansari was restricted to a few interviews and a stand-up comedy special. He was a regular cast member of TV show Parks and Recreation, but I may have only caught a few episodes of that.

Master of None was getting some great buzz from Entertainment Weekly, the A.V. Club, so I thought I would give it a try. Ansari plays Dev, whom I suspect is a fictionalized version of himself. Dev is the 30 something, American-born, son of immigrants from Tamil Nadu, India. He is an actor, living in NYC, who is trying to make it into the movies after a string of successful TV commercials. Like many adults his age, he is trying to figure out his life, especially his career and romantic relationships. Along the way we watch him navigate not only those troubled areas but also his relationships with his parents and a fun and diverse group of friends.

 

This show is billed as a comedy and it is funny, but not in a traditional jokey sit-com way (no laugh track). The dialogue is super clever and there is some physical comedy too. At times it can be quite dark and at other times quite sentimental. Each episode deals with a specific and often refreshingly unique approach to a theme (i.e. parents, the portrayal of Indians and other minorities on TV, the elderly, cheating, gender differences) with an authentic voice. This show does not dodge controversy. The main and the supporting characters are richly portrayed, uniquely distinguishable and wonderfully acted. I was especially pleased to learn that Ansari cast his non-actor parents as Dev’s parents on the show. As an added treat, Master of None offers a great array of guest actors including Claire DanesH. Jon Benjamin, Noah Emmerich and Danielle Brooks.

Kudos to TV show creators Ansari and Alan Yang for successfully and humourously tackling subjects that are usually eschewed by traditional TV shows. Although not a visible minority, I, as a, North American-born, child of immigrants (from Eastern Europe), could relate to many of Dev’s stories. Except for his career trajectory (sorry no spoilers here), how he managed to avoid a professional career path as a doctor, dentist or lawyer  (listed in hierarchical order of prestige, at least according to the way my parents thought) with the support of his parents is a story that I wish I knew more about. Maybe I will find out next season? I look forward to there being one. In the meantime, I think I will wait a few months and watch it again with my daughters. This will be a fun show to revisit and use as a springboard for discussion with them.

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