Because I knew I’d be dog-sitting Bentley for two weeks, I spent the weeks prior getting a lot of work done with the specific intention of burning out a bit and needing some loaf time. I figured I could spend Bentley time, when not actually interacting with her, reading and catching up on TV (both queues are long). The Yang to the Yin is that, after a goodly break, the work would seem fresh again.
The point is that I’ve been watching a lot of TV. During the day (when not “dogging it”), I’ve read (more about that another post); and in the evenings, I’ve watched TV 5.0.
Which is to say cable-cut internet-streaming wifi TV using downloaded apps from the manufacturer’s online store. We’ve come a very long way (baby).
The way I break it down is:
- 1.0: Black & White; the birth of TV.
- 2.0: Color: More life-like (“living color”).
- 3.0: VHS recording; time-shifting; home libraries.
- 4.0: Cable: Uncensored, commercial-free content.
- 5.0: Streaming: Platform agnostic; on-demand.
Each generation brought a new level to visual storytelling, a performance art form that goes back to theatre (if not earlier to poetic readings and news criers).
The first generation brought these visual stories into our homes; the next made them more realistic. (In the second generation I include bigger, better screens and improved television technology in general.)
In the third generation we became more active consumers, watching shows we’d taped and zipping past commercials. We could build home libraries of things we’d taped or movies we purchased. DVDs made it better and made it easy to buy entire TV seasons.
In the fourth generation, Cable broke us free of broadcast networks, introduced new “super” networks, and provided HBO and other “movie” channels. Both the super networks and the movie channels began producing their own content.
A trend with roots in the 1977 miniseries Roots, the idea of a story arc over multiple episodes, grew to the point that TV is rarely as episodic as it once was. Nearly all shows have a linear timeline now. (More about this trend another time.)
What matters is the confluence of a prolonged form of storytelling, where entire seasons are a primary story thread, and a technology that raises both story creation and story consumption to very high levels.
Never has TV looked so good.
Never has it been so accessible, or so varied, or so vast in content.
The TV stories now are often long and detailed. They are to movies now what movies once were to television: the richer, deeper, better stories.
One consequence of all the content is the need for new content.
Since no one ever really knows what will succeed or fail, and since TV 5.0 is such a large landscape with room for almost anything, people make some very interesting (and often very worthy) shows.
Of course, Sturgeon’s Revelation always applies. (To everything. Always.)
And there’s always the matter of taste.
Which is all to say I’ve watched some pretty good TV during the last two weeks. I’ve been trying out this season-binging thing, and have burned through a few worth mentioning.
Russian Doll (Season 1; Netflix) — Natasha Lyonne (who also stars), Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, created (and produced) a wonderfully dark and twisted take on the idea used in Groundhog Day — that the main character keeps repeating their life from a fixed point (and that there is a reason for it).
The comparison with the Bill Murray movie doesn’t really serve, though. The similarity only resides in those main ideas. One key difference is that Lyonne’s character, Nadia, discovers another character, Alan (Charlie Barnett), stuck in the same loop!
Another difference is that it requires dying to restart the loop (Murray’s restarted each day). Also, Russian Doll, despite the title, is absolutely not a romantic comedy.
It is dark and rich and textured and often hysterically funny. The title refers to how each iteration of Nadia’s life gets smaller! It’s worth seeing just for the Harry Nilsson track (and so, so much more).
I really enjoyed this (and will watch it again). A solid Wow! rating.
I confess I’m a little at sea with this one. Firstly, the show is surreal, which always gives me pause. Secondly, it’s like rap in that I don’t have the cultural background to understand everything that’s going on.
My general question with surrealism: Do the surreal elements come from the heart or the head? I’m never sure whether I’m seeing ink blots or puzzles. Are my impressions and reactions the only expected response, or should I be figuring out what it all means?
All that said, I really like it, and much of it is hysterically funny, so it gets a Wow! rating.
I think it succeeds, despite being surreal, because the characters and contexts are so real and grounded. Other surrealists lack the grounding, so their work seems all noise and confusion (cough, David Lynch, cough).
Because there are only ten episodes (and, as far as I know, only one season), I’ve been doling these out sparingly and have only watched the first three.
They’ve been really good, so I give it a provisional Wow! rating. In tone and in content, it’s reminiscent of Black Mirror on Netflix.
It’s been pretty good SF so far (but then they have pretty good source material). I plan to track down and read the short stories.
(Note that Amazon orders the episodes differently than the original UK series did, but order doesn’t matter that much in an anthology. The stories aren’t connected.)
Jack Ryan (Season 1; Amazon Prime) — John Krasinski stars as the well-known Tom Clancy character, Jack Ryan. The very versatile Wendell Pierce plays his boss, James Greer (seemingly just in season one).
Along with most of the USA, I went through a Tom Clancy phase, but I lost interest once it became the “Ryanverse” (I don’t really understand the fascination with more of the same, especially when the same is kinda limited in scope.)
But it wasn’t bad; I give it an Ah! rating and will watch season two.
The Kominsky Method (Season 1; Netflix) — A sitcom from (the!) Chuck Lorre with Michael Douglas, as a briefly famous actor turned (very successful) acting coach, and Alan Arkin, as his agent and long-time friend.
Lorre (Rosanne, The Big Bang Theory, Mom) is behind most of the writing (and directed the first episode), so along with Douglas and Arkin, there is some high-powered talent here.
The show doesn’t break new ground, but it’s warm and comfortable and easy.
There definitely is a market for us aging folks who enjoy good acting from talented performers “of a certain age” (see Grace and Frankie below). It’s increasingly hard to identify with young heroes.
I give it a low-ish, but warm and comfortable, Ah! rating.
Disenchanatment (Season 1; Netflix) — A third cartoon series from Matt Groening, this one takes place in what appears to be a Medieval setting (but a close look suggests it actually takes place in the future after some collapse of civilization).
This came out a while back, but I remember enjoying it. I meant to watch it again, but haven’t gotten around to it (so much TV, so little time).
I’ve always been a really big fan of Futurama (although my favorite SF cartoon is Rick and Morty), and I’m still a fan of The Simpsons (it’s comfortable, like an old shoe, and it’s not stupid, like other cartoons I could mention).
I give Disenchanted a weak Ah! rating (that may grow with a re-watching and additional seasons).
Travelers (Season 3; Netflix) — Eric McCormack (Will from Will & Grace), and many others, as time-travelers from the future, but with a twist that only their minds can be sent back to inhabit an existing person.
This process destroys the existing mind, so the good guys, to be ethical, only take over minds of people history shows were about to die. (There are bad guys in the future who aren’t so ethical.)
A further wrinkle is that no “traveler” can be sent back prior to the last one, which means the past is progressively closed to the future as they send people back.
I was less certain about the show at first, but it’s grown on me. I give it an Ah! rating. They’ve managed to keep things fresh each season, and I’m looking forward to season four (I hope Kat will be happy with the other guy).
Frankie and Grace (Season 5; Netflix) — Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) plus Martin Sheen (Robert) and Sam Waterston (Sol) as a pair of long-time married couples whose business partner lawyer husbands turn out to be gay and in love with each other.
The first episode involves a dinner out where the husbands announce their mutual love, intention to divorce their wives, and to marry each other. The wives were assuming the big announcement was that both were retiring from their firm.
I give it a strong Ah! rating. As mentioned above, it’s wonderful to watch seasoned and talented actors, and, in a sense, these are folks I’ve known a long time. It’s almost like a family reunion.
Those words are: Oh. Hell. No. Mos. Def. Not.
In that order.
In the case of Bird Box, it just sounded like a dumb-ass movie, and I’m not really into that sort of creature feature, anyway. Pity to hear Sandra Bullock was pretty good in it; I always did like her.
In the case of Bandersnatch, if I wanted to play a damned video game, I’d play a damned video game. I don’t watch (operative word: watch) stories to interact with them. I watch (again: watch) stories to sit back and let them wash over me.
So there was zero chance I’d ever watch Bandersnatch, even though I really like Black Mirror (give it a definite Wow! rating and recommend it to friends).
It turns out that Netflix recorded all the Bandersnatch choices, which bothers some. As with not having a Facebook account, I’m glad it’s not any kind of issue for me.
Stay streaming, my friends!