My Netfix Review: Season 2: Orange Is the New Black

Season 2 of OINB dropped into the Netflix queue on Friday, and apparently plenty of people had time to go through all 13 episodes.

Sheesh!

I’m not a binge watcher and I think it’s unfortunate that binge watching has become a thing for our time shifted TV watching.  Frankly, I just don’t see who has the time to actually sit down for that many hours on a weekend to watch an entire television season.  Are there that many people with that much free time?  Or are unemployed hipsters the new must reach TV demographic?

So I’ve only seen three episodes so far, but I think it’s enough to know that I’m going to enjoy the season.  When last we left Piper she was beating the crap out of Pennsatucky in the yard, a season long culmination of evolution from prissy upper class WASP to what she she’s been all season and just hasn’t acknowledged; just another inmate.  Piper, with no knowledge of Pennsatucky’s condition, is roused from solitary confinement and flown via con-air to Chicago, all the while with no idea why she’s been sent there or when if ever, she’s coming back to Litchfield.

Back at Litchfield, things proceed without Piper, with interesting flashbacks on Taystee and Crazy Eyes to see what began their journey that would end up in prison.  And Red confronts a new/old rival who intends to take control of the prison.

One of the things I like about the show is that none of the inmates are who we think they are, including Piper.  Our impressions undergo a convergence.  It’s not that Piper becomes like her fellow inmates, it’s that she already had a part of her that was like them, and it slowly becomes uncovered.  And the other inmates?  They were always more complicated then we gave them credit for.

Any time there is a show with a diverse cast there will be some sort of racial controversy, however  in general, the reviews are fairly positive in that regard too.  The Root has a second season review called, Today’s Best Black Show has a White Star.  NPR’s review is New Faces Keep ‘Orange is the New Black’ Humming in a New Season.  This review is written by Eric Deggans, a man whose racial sensitivity meter is always turned up to 11, also gives a positive review of the show.  In a previous incarnation as writer TV & Media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, Deggans managed to almost single handedly get a syndicated radio show kicked out of the Tampa radio market because it crossed his racial line. So are we supposed to think there is a racial agreement on the merits of the show?

Not quite.

There is the show, and then there’s the image of the show.  One of the many blogs I frequent had, not a review of the show, but a review of billboard advertising of the show.  Particularly Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba).

The gist being, based on the billboard advertising, Orange is the New Black is a minstrel show that debases and degrades the image of black women.  As Spike Lee might say, it’s “coonery and buffoonery.”  I waded into the discussion with the argument, based on watching the entire first season, that the idea that show degrades black women is a severe misreading of the show.  The intent of the show is exactly the opposite of that; however my knowledge of having watched the entire first season couldn’t counter impressions of the show made by a few images.  Normally I enjoy a good internet argument, but quickly saw that this one was already  doomed based on the way the commenter’s were taking this show personally, felt that feelings supersede actually viewing and knowledge of the show, and was told to stop by the blog owner.

That’s fine, and although I feel I’m correct that the show does the opposite of what those commenters said, the fact is it probably would not have occurred to me to view those images as offensive in any case.  I’m not even attuned to my image and representation being constantly shown in a degraded light by the media; just the opposite.  Of course I have many identities and some of them I am sensitive to their portrayal.  As a dad, I’m well aware that dads have been treated as clueless idiots in TV and movies since the early 1980’s.  It’s the rare TV dad that shows the common sense, wisdom, or maturity of Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady.

I’m also sensitive to the portrayal of military veterans; again because I am one.  Frequently they are shown as damaged goods, crazy, homeless, suicidal.  That’s not the typical story of military veterans in general, but it’s common enough on TV and movies.  Of course the argument could be made (and it has been) that the show really hates men.  All the good men are weak and useless; all of the strong ones are jerks. As a man however, I didn’t really care. I think those portrayals made sense in the context of the show.  Just because a show shows dumb dads, crazed vets, or evil men doesn’t mean I won’t watch the show.

And that’s the difference, I think.  Since my image isn’t generally attacked in media, I don’t view media impressions as a personal attack on me.  Clearly the image of white men in the media is positive.  For every Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, there are literally hundreds of other movies in which white guys are the heroes. Even if these white guys get arrested for a crime-they-didn’t-commit, they can be assured of facing a black female judge in court.

 

My Netflix Review: Iron Sky

I had been waiting for this movie for years, ever since the initial trailer hit the internet:

So I was delighted to see it pop into Netflix last week.  It seemed to have all of the classic B movie elements, Nazis, a ridiculous premise, and did I mention Nazis?  Who wouldn’t want to see a comedy like that?  Well that was the purpose of the trailer.  Not to promote a movie already made, but to obtain financing for a movie the producers wanted to make.  Using crowd funding, the producers wanted to close the gap between what they were able to raise from normal studio methods and what they needed to complete the film.  Crowd funding may well be a strong future method of financing films as the internet makes it possible to connect potential investors by dangling a trailer of what you have in mind for a film.

And crowd funding did work, helping the producers close the financial gap and make their movie.  So the movie was released worldwide and…bombed, earning just over 8 million dollars worldwide.  Not that great for a movie that had such internet interest prior to being released.  Hopefully the movie’s investors didn’t have any retirement plans tied to their investment in this movie paying off.

But what about the movie itself?  Is it the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly?  If you put much stock into Rotten Tomatoes it rated a 37% on the Tomatometer.  However, it is a B movie about Nazis on the moon, so we’re talking about grading on the curve here.

The basic plot of the movie is that in the near future, an American moon expedition to the dark side of the moon comes across a secret Nazi moon base, hidden since the end of World War II and working to reverse the results of the war.  One of the American astronauts, or should I say the Black American astronaut is captured.  Realizing that the astronauts Iphone has more computing power than the Nazi’s World War II era  computers, the space Nazi’s send a mission to Earth to collect more Iphones to provide the computing power needed to operate their ultimate weapon.  Along for the ride is the supposedly brainwashed American Astronaut, and stowaway “Earthologist” Renate Richter (Julia Dietze).  Antics ensue when the Nazi’s hit New York and besides an Apple Store, they discover new motivations for their mission.

Plus, a space battle.

However here is my take:

First the good:  The movies tone was just about right.  It was playful, with a hint of comedy.  Not enough to really consider it an actual comedy, but in this case, the premise is the comedy.  Although I have to admit the parody of the Downfall parody meme placed in the film gave me a laugh out loud moment.  The movie is well casted, with the starring role of Renate by Julia Dietze showing perhaps the most delightful, beguiling Nazi to appear on the silver screen.   She outshines Udo Kier, who as the Führer is the biggest star in the film.  The special effects, although not spectacular, were sufficient for the film and the production and costuming was excellent.  Little was updated in the basic Nazi uniforms, which have proven a perennial fascist costuming favorite for over 60 years.  The set design was strictly 1940’s U-Boot.  Even the Nazi’s anti gravity flying saucers had a retro feel to them.

The bad:  As a Finnish-German-Australian production, I’m not sure how they know how to present black people.   Christopher Kirby, playing astronaut James Washington, as one of the main stars of the film, was given little to do other than stand around being black.  In fact his character wasn’t even an astronaut but a male model sent to space as a publicity stunt.  As a consequence, the character is presented as if the last time the makers of the film saw a black guy in a film was in a 1970’s Blaxploitation film.

Or any Chris Tucker movie.

I’m not saying it was a degrading or racist portrayal; I mean, the character didn’t say “feets don’t fail me now” or anything like that, but it was way stereotypie.

Also, I wasn’t a fan of the film’s Anti-Americanism.  In fact, reading some of the tweets on this movie, it seems like for most of the fans who really liked the film, the anti-Americanism was the best part of the film.  Start with a Palin-esque President; in fact you might as well call her President Palin.  The moon based Nazis who come to earth to collect Apple products end up with the President’s campaign manager, who integrates the newcomers National Socialist ideology into a winning campaign strategy.  Combine that with the US’s secret moon agenda and you quickly figure out who the real Nazi’s are:  Yep, it’s the Americans.  In fact at the end of the movie, even the Nazi’s get at least a partial redemption and sympathy from the audience. Thanks partly to Julia Dietze‘s ability to portray her character as the protagonist with nothing but good intentions, compared to the American indiscriminate targeting of women and children.  No sympathy for the Americans though.  They are the films real bad guys.

However, if you hate America, or can just handle heavy doses of anti-Americanism, I would recommend you see this movie.  First, if you really, really like B movies, this is definitely one.  And secondly, it’s about Nazi’s.  And they’re on the moon!  It’s kind of hard to mess that up.

My Netfix Review: Lilyhammer

What happens when you take an average gabba goul eating Goodfella; transport him to Norway, and let him try to blend in with the locals?  Well antics ensue of course, and that’s the premise of the Netflix original series Lilyhammer.  Yes I know it sounds preposterous, but the premise of this limited series seems pretty clearly to have come from some late night drinking.

“We take this mafia guy who joins witness protection, but instead of being relocating to Southern California or someplace, he wants to relocate to… I dunno, Norway?”     

Publicidad de Netflix

Publicidad de Netflix (Photo credit: Daniel_Afanador)

“Put the bottle down, you’ve had enough.”

It’s interesting that Netflix, for its first original project, chose this idea over what I’m sure were a multitude of others.  I can only assume that someone among Netflix’s higher ups really missed the Sopranos, since this show has all of the markers of a Sopranos’s sequel, Silvio on Ice.

Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio in The Sopranos, plays much the same character again, only with a different name.  When he suspects (via an attempted hit) that he’s on the outs with the new boss, he decides to turn State’s witness against him in exchange for relocation… to Lillehammer, Norway.  Why Lillehammer?  Eh, he liked the way it looked during the 1994 Olympics.

Really.

It’s a bit of a bizarre fish out of water tale, but this fish actually adapts fairly well into the community, quickly becoming a successful club owner in a country where proper permitting and licenses can take years, Van Zandt’s character manages it in days thanks to his ability to bring his mob business tactics to the rigid Norwegian bureaucracy.  Naturally, he manages to also attract some unwelcome police attention.

Although that’s part of the cross cultural stranger in a strange land story, the way the show handles the language barrier is also unique.  The Norwegians speak Norwegian and Van Zant’s character, Frank Tagliano, speaks English.  The conceit of the show is that Tagliano, shown listening to language tapes on his way to Norway, can understand the language, but can’t speak it.  So he speaks English, the Norwegians speak to him in their language, and he understands.  It’s a weird way to have a conversation, but it mostly seems to work, if you can accept the premise that a guy can understand the language perfectly, but can’t speak a word; so half the show is subtitles.  Now some people just will not accept subtitles (yes I’m referring to my fellow Americans) under any circumstances, so if that applies, this show isn’t for you.

More interesting than the show is the business model that got this show on the…air.  Netflix intends to use original programming to attract subscribers.  Their logic is that the old advertising model that has funded on the air and cable television is on the way out.  The multiplication of TV channels and the alternative options to regular television mean that the audience is getting smaller and smaller for each channel.  The days of getting 106 million viewers for a single show, like the series finale of MASH, are, with the exception of major sports events, gone forever. As the television audience becomes more bifurcated, the revenues these channels can get for advertising shrinks.

Netflix ignores advertisers.  It’s only interested in attracting new subscribers.  Will Lilyhammer help with that?

I’m guessing no.

Although it did garner enough viewers to justify a second season, I doubt the show actually did much to pull in new subscribers to the service.  However for its next show it’s decided to go after an already established fan base.  It’s producing 10 new episodes of the show Arrested Development.  Like Community, which I wrote about here, Arrested Development has an established, loyal fan base that could be tempted to sign up for a Netflix account to view the shows.  Other properties that Netflix was considering, like Terra Nova, did not.  There is even talk about reviving Firefly on Netflix (please oh please!)

When the second season of Lilyhammer comes out next year, I’ll probably watch it.  Hey I’m invested in the story now and want to see where it goes, but I don’t think the potential audience for a show like this is particularly big.

That’s why it’s on Netflix.

Enhanced by Zemanta