Friday, December 1, 2017

10 for 10: "Netflix and chili" edition

[10 for 10... that's 10 movies TV shows which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of half-remembered scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?   ]

In this edition, 10 teevee programmes watched on Netflix.

1.Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23 - season 1 & 2 (Netflix)
2.The Crown - season 1 (Netflix)
3.The White Rabbit Project - season 1, 3 episodes (Netflix)
4.The OA - pilot (Netflix)
5.Chewing Gum - season 1 (Netflix)
6.Dear White People - season 1 (Netflix)

7.Maron season 1 & 2 (Netflix)
8.Friends from College - season 1, 4 episodes (Netflix) 
9. Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later (Netflix) 
10. Big Mouth -season 1 (Netflix)


I remember seeing promos in 2012 for Don't Trust the B... and thinking "what the hell"?  From the mouthful of a title to the "James Van Der Beek as himself" it seemed like a show that was trying waaaay too hard to be part of the new wave of TV sitcoms that Arrested Development bore.  I gave it a hard pass.  Through the year and a half-ish that it was on television I saw people I knew who had good taste giving it a go and liking it, review sites giving it favourably passing grades, and I thought "how".  I mean, I have friends who watch Big Bang Theory and I know that's garbage, surely this goofy-titled poseur was just another hot pile in disguise, right?  I mean, I'm not a John Ritter fan at all, and I didn't think I'd be a fan of his kids either, nepotism and all.  But after coming to love Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones and learning she's not, in fact, even related to John Ritter, I needed to get more of a Krysten fix.  I hesitantly pressed play on Don't Trust The B... on Netflix and had a quick laugh very early on, plus saw  Nahnatchka Khan's name as creator (also created Fresh Off the Boat) and I was hooked.  Ritter's morally spurious Chloe is both just as nasty as her reputation suggests and nowhere near as nasty, really.  She could have been fairly one note, but I love how Ritter takes her on journies without ever getting "soft" (her on again/off again Aussie boyfriend/soulmate/nemesis is a show highlight).  Van Der Beek adds some "Sad Hollywood" humour and the extended cast of Dreama Walker, Eric Andre, Ray Ford as Luther (JVDB's assistant), Liza Lapria (Chloe's ex roommate and stalker), and Michael Blaiklock as the perv in the window across from them are all ridiculously fun.  This show hits it instantly with only a couple duds early on, and leaves a lasting impression.  I want a rewatch.

[12:46 -- oops]

Oh the Royal Family.  We shouldn't care, and yet, we do.  I don't know why.  There's something about Rulers and Monarchs that is so ... other.  Especially in modern times of democracies and governments, the idea of a monarchy and royalty seems solely symbolic.  Thankfully The Crown elucidates on that symbolism by taking us into Queen Elizabeth's early days as ruler, taking over after her father passes away and her uncle abdicates to be with an unlikable American socialite.  The show zeroes in on how the titular crown affects Elizabeth's relationships, with her husband Philip who expects to be king (and is sorely disappointed/emasculated), with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Churchill's story takes on its own fascinating sub-plot of calculation and back-biting within his party to oust him), and with various members of her staff, not to mention the colonies she visits and her receptions, both the ones she's aware of and the ones her aides attempt to shield her from.  It's a phenomenal show, Claire Foy amazingly inhabits the role and expresses the weight of it tangibly.  Ex- Doctor Who Matt Smith puts in a great turn as Philip, his jealousy and pettiness combined equally with sympathy and love.  Surprisingly outstanding is John Lithgow in his Emmy winning turn as Churchill... it shouldn't be surprising that he's so go but he's above and beyond.  I was utterly engrossed at both the historical and fictional recounting of this time as well as with the care to show it in a reflective lens of modern concerns.  Just a beautiful production.


I miss Mythbusters.  I've been an on-again-off-again viewer of it since its inception, but it was in its final season when my daughter and I started watching it together.  It's science and entertainment, rolled into one, and highly educational while also being ridiculously silly.  It'll be back in some form soon enough, unfortunately The White Rabbit Project, which stars the Mythbusters b-listers Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tori Belleci, doesn't quite hit the mark.  The basic premise of the show is to focus on one topic, find 5 or 6 prominent examples of the topic, look at the science of those examples, conduct some experiments and then judge which of them is the best based on whatever criteria they establish on the show.  The main problem with this is they go through their experiments much too rapidly on the show.  With 5 or 6 examples to get through every story and experiment feels rushed and the exploration factor, the trial-and-error part that Mythbusters did so well, is lost in the process.  Grant, Kari and Tori are capable, amiable hosts, but the premise of the show puts them in talking mode more than action/experimentation mode.  I really wish it were better.  As it is, I didn't get past the third episode, even with an enthusiastic 7 year old ready to watch.


The OA opens with a feature-length pilot about a woman (played by Another Earth's Brit Marling, also the show's co-creator) who famously disappeared as a teen and then returns inexplicably seven years later.  She has some oddities that surround her, mysterious scars, and she starts calling herself "the OA".  Meanwhile her adoptive family tries to reconnect with her with difficulty, and she begins establishing perhaps inappropriate connections with some of her neighbours (mostly all younger than her).  Eventually she starts to open up, both about who she is and what she went through, but her tale of lost time is a difficult one to believe.  The believers though, gather with her, and experience a touch of the supernatural.  It's all a little too self-serious, hitting the same tenor as Another Earth but leaning hard into its more bizarre elements (specifically leaning into Marling's more bizarre and frustrating behavior).  The pilot, around the 50 minute mark, takes a dramatic left turn, as the OA recounts her tale as a young girl in Russia.  It's a lavish production, a harrowing half hour story that seems at once a tangent and absolutely the reason why one should watch this show.  And yet, I haven't gone back to it.  I'm definitely intrigued, but the tangent being more engrossing than the main tale to me was problematic.  That said I'm not sure I was particularly invested, and I've not quite decided whether Marling is a good actress or painfully one-note.  The show's tenor doesn't exactly allow for a broad range from its lead.  The facebook reaction at the time it came out seemed to be "it's mostly good but what the fuck"...which leads me to believe it has a frustrating ending that may not make the journey worthwhile.... I need someone to sell me on continuing with it...


Haha, this show is great.  Just thinking about it makes me smile.  This British show is just goddamn fun.  Written and starring the formidable comedic talents of Michaela Coel as Tracey, it's a show about a repressed 20-something finally coming into her own sexuality it the the low-rent flats of suburban London, while still living with her mother and sister, both direly religious.  The show's explicitly frank sexual talk is utterly refreshing, and coupled with Tracey's ignorance, it's utterly hilarous.  It's a show that could easily fall into a cringe comedy trap, but because the characters are largely so open and honest with each other, the cringe factor rarely (I won't say never) manifests.  Tracey's just a supremely joyful and awkward person, naive but willing.  The supporting cast from her mother and sister, to her almost-kinda boyfriend and his invasive, liberated mother, to her in the closet ex, to her promiscuous friend and her suffering boyfriend, the show is full of amazing supporting characters, most delivering comedy gold.  (Tracey's sister having her own sexual awakening is just one of many, many highlights).  If you're not put off by sex or sex talk, give the pilot a shot.  If it doesn't hook you in then the show won't be for you, but it's practically genious.  So gloriously vibrant, fun, and riotously funny.  I don't think I've ever seen Coel before, but with this series, she's already a comedy legend to me... just a phenomenal spotlight for her.


Oh, the heavy stuff.  Well, heavy, but not, but still heavy.  Dear White People is an series extension of the film of the same name which I've never heard of before.  The series itself is brilliant, exploring issues of race in America, largely African American but not solely.  The series uses its microcosm of a black dorm on an Ivy League campus to explore the macro issue, without ever forgetting that some of its characters who seem to have all the answers are still, in effect, kids without a lot of real world experience.  I loved the exploration of different black thought, and it's not that the show manages to come from every possible perspective but it does effectively reiterate that there's not just one voice when it comes to the black experience, but it equally effectively reiterates that there are common experiences across the board that are largely a result of systemic and even unintentional racism.

The genius of the show is in how it plays out.  It starts with an event, a campus party, an un-PC party put on by the campus humour/satire publication (a Harvard Lampoon of sorts), and it approaches it from our main character, Samantha.  Or at least we think it's our main character.  She hosts a campus radio program with the same title as the show that seeks to incite and inform in equal measure.  But the next episode our lead switches to Lionel, the demure side character from the first episode, as he becomes fully aware of his homosexuality, and we see the party and events leading to it from his perspective, but advancing slightly.  Each subsequent episode retraces steps with another character, but moves things forward, by midway the rather lighthearted take on race relations becomes in your face and dire, as an encounter with campus security turns almost deadly and the show does an incredible job at hitting to the core of what the police violence against black people means, the lack of safety in the world, the crawling unease.  Eventually the show swings back to it's lighter perspective, but after that it never lets go of the fact that America (and many other places, let's not kid ourselves) still treat black people as "other".  The show explores the roots and continued fight for equality in a systemically corrupt reality.

It's not a straight comedy, it's not a drama, but it manages both incredibly well.  The cast is incredible, and many of the characters become instant favourites, such that we're eager to see the spotlight circle back on them but also disappointed that it's to the detriment of other favourites.  Just an incredibly well put together show.


I've reviewed Maron once before, back when IFC threw fans a bone and place a couple episodes on youtube.  In the years since Maron had four seasons and is now finis, but has been available on Netflix for some time.  I've slowly worked my way through the first half of the show in fits and starts, pretty much the same way I consume Marc Maron's podcast now.  The podcast has hundreds of episodes, each with a famous or semi-famous person, always with a cold open of Maron discussing his life.  The TV show flips that.  The show is mostly about his life with a bit of the podcast where he's interviewing a celebrity creeping in.  It's Maron's angst that leads the show.  Nearing 50 at the show's inception Maron's past the mid-life crisis, has done a ton of self-help, and is a much better person than he used to be.  He's not a slave to his demons anymore, but they occasionally return to remind him of who he was, which only surges him on to try and do better.  But old habits die hard.  Maron is a compelling central figure, a solitary man not looking desperately for love, a man only marginally burdened by his parents, a man whose friends are as messed up as he is, only generally more secretive about it.  Maron's life, especially towards the end of season 1 and the start of season 2 spiral out of control when a particularly destructive and invasive relationship begins and then decays.  It's a relationship I knew from Marc's real life told through the podcast but it's fascinating to see it play out in fiction.  Part of my fun was recounting to my wife the reality of the situation which was actually just as crazy if not crazier than the show.  There's a hint of cringe comedy to Maron, but most of it is Maron fighting with his own worse tendencies in a given situation, sometimes side stepping the cringe, and sometimes stepping right into it, it's not knowing which way it will go that makes it so satisfying, and funny.  With a tinge of DIY and a hint of melancholy, few other comedies have felt like Maron, and few others trying to find this balance are as successful at being funny.


Oh I was so looking forward to Friends From College as an exploration of how friends you made from one of the peak times of your life have grown or not grown with you, how friendships have evolved or stagnated, how those old habits and tendencies you have with those friends crop up every time you see them, and how those same things impact your significant other when they're invited to join in yet are perpetually the outsider.  Ostensibly these things happen in Friends From College, but the show is less a broad exploration than it is a very specific one, for this very specific group of friends.  I dunno, I just couldn't relate.  Nick Stoller has done some fun, funny, accessible films, but this, this was off putting, despite it's fantastic cast which includes Keegan Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, Nat Faxon, Annie Parisse and Fred Savage.  The show opens with Key and Parisse engaging in a post-coital discussion in a hotel room, their long-standing relationship obvious by the familiarity they have with one another.  As the conversation progresses, these are obviously people who are in love with each other and still good friends after all these years, a real solid relationship to start the show on...except when it becomes clear that these two are not married to each other, and in fact have been cheating on their own spouces with each other since before either were ever married.  It makes the show wildly uncomfortable from the get go, and despite the likability of both actors, it's hard to like or sympathize with the characters at all, and it's hard to find something to root for... do we want them to break up their otherwise happy marriages/families (Parisse has a child, Key and Smulders are going through IVF to try to have a child) and friendships?  It's a no win situation for the show, even if Key and Parisse choose to never sleep with each other again.  After four episodes of this horseshit sneaking around and cringe-inducing situation comedy around covering tracks and friends finding out, I couldn't really take watching anymore.


The first Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series, First Day of Camp was great for how it played with the timeline of the original movie in relation to the actual timeline in real life...that is to say, it was old comedians attempting to play teenagers, the results were never not funny.  This sequel series Ten Years Later takes its cue from the end of the film where the characters promise to regroup in 10 years time, and we get to see where they all wound up.  The First Day of Camp succeeded in spite of its logistical challenges, bringing together its repetoire of now very successful actors and comedians, and having a script that juggled their availability in any one scene adeptly.  Ten Years Later feels less well planned, the logistics not working out as well, and rushed in spots.  The excuses they make for replacing Bradley Cooper with Adam Scott, for instance lends its own spot of comedy, as does the retroactive inclusion of two new players Mark Feuerstein and Sarah Burns and the continual flashbacks that insert them into sequences of the film or preceding series where they never were.  This would be more amusing if the show didn't spend so much time with them.  The cast of characters was large enough that spending (a lot of) time on two new characters only makes them stand out more as outsiders (and for them to be quite unlikable as well doesn't help anything).  There's an absurd plot involving George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan that also doesn't quite take off, primarily for how much cheap comedy circulates around them, and yet the show's under-arching plot pretty much hangs off it.  There's a lot of fun stuff in Ten Years Later but not nearly as much as First Day of Camp.  Like most comedy sequels, it's diminishing returns on similar jokes.


I can't say that Chewing Gum inspired Big Mouth, but these are two peas of the same pod, despite one being very British, the other very America, one a live action cartoon being about people in their 20's discovering their sexuality, and the other a highly animated cartoon about teenagers discovering sexuality as they go through puberty.  Both are incredibly frank and hilarious, although I might have to give Big Mouth  an edge largely for what it dares to do with it metaphors come to life.  Created by Nick Kroll and his childhood friend Andrew Goldberg (with Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin) its a mostly fictional recounting of their pubescence, with Kroll playing Nick and frequent collaborator John Mulaney playing Andrew.  Andrew's puberty is hitting him hard, and he's shadowed constantly by the Hormone Monster (also played by Kroll), who's like the little devil on his shoulder telling him to get into trouble, only there's little sinister about it, it's just a personification of urges.  Nick and Andrew hang out with Jessi (Jessie Klein) who has her own Hormone Mistress played brilliantly by Maya Rudolph and, for some reason, Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) who is that kid who's just the filthiest kid, extremely annoying, you never want to be around them, and yet you're friends with them for some reason.  The show's exploration of pre-teen sexuality is very daring, but necessarily frank, and absurdly true to life, despite its grandiose metaphors.  At one point Jessi has a conversation with her vagina (as played by Kristen Wiig) and there's a sequence where Nick, still having not hit puberty, catches a glimpse of Andrew's post-pubescent crotch and can't think of anything's penises everywhere.  The casting is brilliant, the show is largely spot on (one episode's spotlight on Jay's relationship with his pillow is, perhaps, too weird, stretching the metaphor way past its breaking point), and it's full of quotable quotes (as often based on inflection as cleverness).  I'm a huge fan of Kroll, from his stand-up to Kroll Show to Oh, Hello on Broadway and now this... it's not just about how talented Kroll is, but the people he surrounds himself with.  Outrageous, and again, like Chewing Gum, not for prudes.  Watch the first episode, if it puts you off you won't want to continue.