With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.

 

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.