Outlander, a Couples Show

Outlander is a show that’s not really meant for me.  Based on a series of Romance novels by author Diana Galbaldon, the Starz Network show premieres its third season this Sunday night and Hurricane Irma permitting, I’ll be sitting down to watch it along with some millions of cat ladies.

And I’m not ashamed.                                 

 

OK well I guess I’m ashamed a little.  As I said, this is not a show meant for a guy; it’s based on a romance series summarized by IMDB as:

…the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world in which her life is threatened. When she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, a passionate relationship is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

And it does have all of the usual romantic tropes. Claire travels through time (through some ancient magical means) from a post-World War II belated honeymoon to 1743 Scotland, where she is forced into a marriage with a young good looking Scottish bandit who, wait for it, isn’t really a bandit after all, but a Scottish lord (Laird) on the run from the English. So he’s both a bad boy bandit, and somewhat rich landowner.  All he’s missing is the eye patch and pirate ship.  Naturally he loves her from first sight, and many other men are interested in her.  What’s a girl to do with so many suitors?

So with a show that tries to cram nearly all of the romance novel tropes into one couple, why am I interested in it?

Three things:

Scottish Stuff.  The show really digs deep into Scottish culture and the show actually gives you a taste of the life of both the Scottish landed class and the peasantry.  I found myself fascinated with the customs and culture of that time and place.

Duh, Time Travel.  The show does have time travel, and I admit I’m sucker for a good time travel story, and in this case, there actually is a time travel angle beyond it being used as a device to get our heroine from 1945 to 1743.  It turns out the sneering English villain of 1743 is actually the ancestor of Claire’s 1945 husband.  Kill him (and this guy needs killing) and will it wipe out the existence of her future husband?  And if it did, wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems since she is far more in love with her 18th Century lover than her boring 20th Century one?

A Show we can watch together.  This is a show my wife and I watch together and there are not a lot of those, since she tends to think of the type of shows I watch as garbage, and I worry that the type of shows she likes (true crime shows in which a woman kills her husband or lover) as a how to guide.  So the less time she spends learning how to beat CSI analysis of a crime scene and more time ogling over true love, the better.

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The Carmichael Show Cancelled

I was disappointed to hear that The Carmichael Show was being cancelled after the completion of its third season.   A Google search to try to find an explanation on the show’s cancellation pulled up articles called NBC Execs Open Up About ‘Carmichael Show’ Cancellation which… do not really answer the question as to why the show was cancelled.

“I think the collective decision was maybe [that] it’s best to let the show end,” NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke told reporters. “I have to say personally for all of us, it’s a really hard decision that wasn’t just made on one side of things. It was one of those difficult decisions that kind of live with you for a while that you don’t feel great about because you wish it had done better. … This was the situation we found ourselves in.”  

OK yhat tells me nothing, although the very next paragraph does add a little bit of context.

The beloved series, which wraps its run later this month on the network, was one of NBC’s rare co-productions with an outside studio, 20th Century Television Fox. That, combined with the tepid ratings for the show, led to the cancellation.

Tepid rating I can understand, although I find it odd that it would happen to this show. If there is any show that qualifies as a worthy successor to Norman Lear’s All in the Family, it’s this one.  The show has tackled some pretty controversial topics, such as gun control, religion, infidelity, Bill Cosby,  gentrification, Muslims, depression, gender roles, gun violence, pornography, and of course Donald Trump.  Yet the show has received zero buzz.  Black-ish, a show I trashed pretty severely when it first came out is a critical and ratings success. The Carmichael Show is a critical success…and that’s it. So the lesson here is that I’m the last person you should come to when it comes to evaluating black TV shows.

As a comedian Jerrod Carmichael, is dark and depressing.  Watching his HBO Special “8” really demonstrates just how dark.  After watching that show, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had heard that Carmichael had walked off set and hung himself in his dressing room.  That’s a viewpoint that isn’t exactly reflected in his sitcom, but then, I’ve no idea what happens during production.

The show’s season finale airs August 9th, but I would still recommend the show in whatever streaming platform it lands on.  It’s a sitcom with real issues and laughs, and it’s damn near impossible to find that combination.

 

 

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Black-ish

Black-ish is the latest attempt to sell an ethnic sitcom to the wider, non ethnic audience.  Unlike the Cosby Show, in which a Black upper middle class family has the same concerns as any non Black upper middle class, and being Black was not a prominent part of the show, Black-ish is about nothing else but being Black.  It’s about upper middle class Black people who are concerned about being Black, ruminating what it means to be Black, embracing Black culture, maintaining Black culture, what is Black Culture… in short, it’s all Black, all the time.

Or at least that’s the case for the main character, Heathcliff Huxtable…err I mean Andre Johnson.  Anthony Anderson plays the Bill Cosby character in this Cosby show with guilt that can’t seem to stop thinking about race and its effect on virtually every aspect of his life.  I literally could not keep track of the number of stereotypes that this show…not skewered like you would think, but embraced. The main character is desperate to get his family playing basketball, eating fried chicken, you name it.

The lesson here is that assimilation to middle class values is bad, and “keeping it real” is good.  But maybe that’s just my white privilege talking.  Could this really be a positive uplifting show that I can’t see because of my privilege?  If so, how do I “check my privilege” in order to understand the true intent?

After typing into Google, “Am I racist for thinking the new show Black-ish is racist?”  I did find there was an actual Change.org petition requesting the show be dropped from the fall schedule because…it’s racist.  So I’m not alone on that.  But being racist isn’t even the worst sin this show commits.

It’s not funny.

Based on the pilot episode, the laughs were pretty sparse, and by sparse, I mean I didn’t laugh once, although maybe I missed something since I was constantly checking the clock.  If the show had been racist and funny, this would have been a totally different review. Some of the stuff that white people like is Black comedians playing up Black stereotypes.  Oh, how white people like that!  But for a show in which the main character wants to base his life on a racist parody of Black life you would think there would be laughs.

So I cannot give this show my much coveted thumbs up. There might be a Black audience for this show, and maybe it could find a second life on BET, but I don’t think that ABC is going to be keeping this.

 

Quickie Fall Reviews: Gotham

Gotham

Like any serious professional middle aged man, I’m a big fan of Batman, but I was skeptical about Fox’s new show Gotham. A Batman show without Batman, set in a crime riddled, corrupt city.  It sounds like New York City in the 1970’s.  In fact, the show sounds like Serpico, minus the villain origin stories.  Anyone expecting superhero antics might be disappointed, at least based on the pilot episode that I watched.

However, knowing all of that going in, I was not disappointed.  Anyone familiar with Batman can guess the broad outlines of the pilot.  New Detective James Gordon finds himself investigating the murders of noted city philanthropists and multimillionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne.  The crime, an armed robbery gone wrong (or was it?) leaves behind an orphaned Bruce who witnesses the murder of his parents.  Hmm, that can’t affect the mental health and psyche of a small child can it?  Future history says yes, but this show isn’t concerned about the future.  Set in the ever present now, it’s dealing with the gritty life in the big city; Law & Order: Gotham.

The Wayne murder case seems to wrap up fairly easily; yep you guessed it, too easy.  There is clearly more going on than a simple street crime, and the show not only sets up the murder as the gateway to an even larger mystery, but lays out several different plot paths to be explored, such as the relationship between Gordon’s fiancée Barbara and Detective Montoya. Of course again, like any serious professional person, I have a pretty good guess what the secret is that Barbara and Montoya are keeping, but no point in dropping spoilers.

So not Batman, but James Gordon, played by earnest looking Ben McKenzie, makes for a pretty good heroic cop.  With a crooked partner in tow, we’ll see what sort of price Gordon may have to pay for being the lone honest cop.  Maybe I ought to re-watch Serpico.

From Dusk till Dawn: The Series

“The film was the short story, the series is the novel.”     Robert Rodriquez

 

That quote from Robert Rodriquez is probably the best answer to the question, why make a TV show from the movie From Dusk till Dawn.  The movie, a combination gangster-vampire-martial arts film, had a great cast and as horror movies go, was pretty entertaining.  But I wouldn’t have thought it was ripe material for a TV series.  And I should say, although making TV from movies is a practice going back almost since the dawn of television, its unusual when the TV series takes the movie plot and stretches it out over 10 to 13 episodes.  It’s a much fuller retelling with more detail, more back story, more characters, in fact, more everything.

I was first clued in on this by a post on another blog promoting the show.  The show runs on the El Rey Network, which I confess I’d never heard of.  I did a little research and found out it was a new cable network started by Robert Rodriguez that intended to focus on the type of films that Robert Rodriquez liked:  Grind house, Kung Fu, and cult horror flicks.  I’m not sure if there is a market for Rodriquez’s personal preferences, but part of the uniqueness of the movie From Dusk till Dawn is that it combined all three, so who knows.

As for the From Dusk till Dawn TV show:

 

Having seen a couple of episodes already, I have to say the show is fulfilling its promises.  This is a high quality production with a great cast and I love the gradual movement from crooks on the run to the supernatural elements, with a much deeper look at the peculiarities of Mayan Vampires.

So if you actually have El Rey on your local cable provider, I would recommend giving this show a look.  They are having a back to back marathon of the show starting with the pilot on April 30th, so it’s not too late to catch up.  Set your DVR and enjoy a Vampire show that pretty much has it all.

 

 

The Lena Dunham Demographic

Lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live last night, imagine my surprise when Lena Dunham was highlighted as the guest host.  Dunham, really?  I thought to myself.  I was curious if the typical SNL viewer even knew who Lena Dunham was.  Star and head writer of the HBO series Girls, it’s hard to gauge how much pop culture cred she has.  Despite the phenomenon of buzz, of which this show has plenty, it is on HBO, which is a limited universe of viewers.  However ratings have gone up.  The show has improved in its current 3rd season from season 2’s average of 632,000 viewers to 1.1 million for season three.

Why is this important?  I have no idea, and that’s part of the fascination I suppose.  Lena Dunham and her show would normally have been something that would never have come to my attention.  She is a millennial writing a show about millennials for millennials.  As either a tail end baby boomer or post boomer, however you want to count it; I should have no interest in this group.  And I don’t.  That is the Pajama Boy generation.

But when Girls premiered in 2012, my universe of blogs that I read, that generally lean right, blew up about the show.  I could not figure out what the interest was from the right side of the aisle. So I set aside time to watch the first season.

My first observation, which apparently is the same as virtually everyone else’s is, what’s up with all the nudity?  Of course there has been so much written about the nudity on that show it’s pointless for me to rehash it (although that’s a tricky search string if you want to Google it), since I share some of the criticism of the show’s nudity.   But much of that criticism seems to be mean spirited.  As if the criticism is being used as a way to insult Lena Dunham on the sly. I mean, how often do you hear TV critics berate a show and its star because the show has too much nudity?  In fact, in a rather well publicized incident in January, during a panel discussion a TV critic made a comment critical of the amount of nudity on the show.  Of course TV critics are not complaining about the nudity of other premium cable shows, just this one, since Dunham is pudgy and covered with some fairly hideous back and arm tattoos.  When people constantly tell you that they hate seeing you nude, that’s gotta sting.

On last night’s SNL, the over the top nudity was mocked in one of the few funny skits of the episode.

My second and frankly my last observation on the show are the incredible self absorption and narcissism of the characters.  To me, virtually all of the characters are unlikable.  And honestly, I can’t tell if Dunham is writing the characters that way because she is mocking her generation, or if it’s because she is so inculcated into the introspection of her generation she can’t see what horrible human beings they appear to be on the screen.  Then again, to another millennial, these characters may seem perfectly normal.  So after watching the first season of the show, I could judge that I found the show interesting, but totally devoid of entertainment.  I was interested in why the characters were presented the way they were, and why lines were written a certain way, but I could care less about the characters.

The only way these horrible creatures could be redeemed would be if there was a mash up with some other show.  I would like see all of the Girls characters on The Walking Dead.  A one episode special in which they all suddenly had to deal with real survival issues rather than texting on their phones would give me the closure I crave.  None would survive the episode of course.  Now that’s entertainment!

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What I Watched Last Summer

I didn’t spend the summer traveling around the world.  I neither toured the Grand Canyon, getting lost while chasing an Indian kid, nor did I go to Hawaii and find an old Tiki idol and get cursed.

But I did watch television.

Back in, what is euphemistically called,” the day,” there was one television season.  It started in the fall, and ended in the spring.  And as a kid, you were expected to go play outside all summer because what else were you going to do, watch reruns?  But now, the new shows never end.  There are at least three TV watching seasons now, the traditional fall season, the mid season replacement, beginning in January through February, and of course summer.  With cable, there is never a time when there isn’t a run of new shows.  So this summer, I gave two summer shows a try.

Siberia

Although this show has been described as a mocumentary; that’s not really accurate.  It would be fairer to say that this is a faux reality show that gradually turns into something like a thriller, and it could probably be said to go in other directions. The design, music, first person filming, and graphics are all that of a typical reality show.  Sitting down watching the first episode, if no one told you that this was anything other than the normal, run of the mill reality show, you would have no reason to think otherwise.

That fades quickly as the series move on.  From a survival contest in the Siberian wilderness, the show gradually comes more urgent as odd things happen and the contestants aren’t sure if they are being messed with by the producers or if there is something else going on.  Eventually the show’s production camp is discovered abandoned with all the signs of an attack.  The “button” that lets you quit the show and call for transportation out of the area?  Not only does it not work, it was never hooked up in the first place.

Curiouser and curiouser as they say.

It would be giving away to much to say much more, other than the show looks like it could go in several directions, a thriller, a science fiction tale, or something of the supernatural, however don’t expect all, or even most of the questions to be answered by the season one finale.  So whether this show is worth jumping on depends on whether the show is renewed.  Right now, that doesn’t look likely.  But stay tuned.  If the show does get renewed, it’s worth giving a look.

Under The Dome

I’ve not read Stephen King in ages, so I have not read the book this show was based on.  That was probably for the best given previous attempts to translate King’s works to both the big and small screen. Still this show was mildly entertaining, although too kid-heavy, as King’s works tend to be.  I doubt kids are drawn to shows that have kids in them unless the show is about kids, like the shows on the Nickelodeon or Disney.

The show has all the familiar King tropes; only the kids know what’s really going on, crooked ministers and a total misunderstanding of  actual human behavior. In one episode, the evil town councilman “Big” Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) manages to talk virtually the entire town to turn in their guns.  During a time when food, water, and medicine are in short supply, and the police are seriously undermanned, the last thing people would be willing to do is line up and meekly turn in their guns so the town councilman can store them at his house.  Not even people in Maine would do that.

The town councilman character is supposed to be based on Dick Cheney, but knowing that from the beginning of the show, I didn’t see any comparisons between Dick Cheney and Rennie.  I don’t know what they are supposed to be other than Rennie is evil, and I’m sure per King’s thinking Cheney is evil… a thin reed to base a character on.  Frankly, if I was in a town trapped under a Dome, I wouldn’t mind a Dick Cheney there.  At least he wouldn’t try to take my guns.

King’s total ignorance and/or hatred of religion continues in this series in the same vein has many of his other works.  The minister is not only crazy, but he’s involved in some crazy drug manufacturing scheme with the town councilman.  Unlike Breaking Bad, which shows step by step how a good man can go bad, the minister starts off as both crazy and bad, and therefore just doesn’t seem realistic. As was pointed out on the Lion of the Blogosphere blog, the lack of religion on the show seems quite a contrast to an actual small town in the United States. A dome descends on a typical small town USA, and no one thinks there are any religious implications to that, nor do they even think about going to church or seeking some sort of spiritual guidance.  It takes almost the entire first season before that occurs to the townspeople. There may be an atheistic small town or two somewhere in America, but I doubt there common enough for the town’s strange behavior to seem normal to a regular viewing audience.

So there is much to critique on this show, but when it comes back next summer, I’ll probably watch it.

Hey, I want to see who made the dome!