Month: September 2015

Casting For Change

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The 67th edition of the Emmy Awards, which recognises and honours excellence in primetime television wrapped up the previous Sunday. I watched the Emmys with more interest than I usually would primarily to see if any of the shows I’d written about in this column so far would win an award – Wolf Hall, Brooklyn 99, Better Call Saul and Empire were all nominated, but unfortunately, none of them won.

The Emmys this year had its moments, but the most important moment of them all was Viola Davis receiving the award for best lead actress in a drama, an award which she picked up for her starring role in the series, How To Get Away With Murder. Viola Davis was the first African American woman to win this award, and she quoted Harriet Tubman, one of the most important African-American humanitarians who worked tirelessly for abolitionism during the American Civil War, in her emotional acceptance speech. “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’t seem to get over that line.” Davis went on to say that the only thing separating women of colour was opportunity, and that you couldn’t win Emmy awards for roles that were “simply not there”.

viola davis, viola davis emmys 2015,

Viola Davis’ rousing speech on the lack of lead roles for coloured women comes at a time when Priyanka Chopra is poised to make a leap from Bollywood into American television as the lead in Quantico, a brand new series that premieres this weekend. Priyanka Chopra plays Alex Parrish, an FBI Agent who is half Indian and half Caucasian. Right from the time that news came out about Chopra’s new project, she raved in all her interviews about how this role was perfect because it was the kind where her “Indian-ness” didn’t matter, and that it could’ve just been played by any actress, irrespective of race. There are a number of actors in the industry, like Archie Panjabi, Mindy Kaling and Kal Penn to name a few who are doing roles that have nothing to do with them being Indian, but the fact that this role landed to an Indian actress from India, and more specifically, Bollywood, isn’t something that happens often, or at all.

The trailer for Quantico made its way out a good couple of months ago, and save for Chopra’s supposedly American accent, looked quite promising. The premise of the show is laid out entirely in the trailer itself – Alex Parrish is a patriotic young FBI recruit with a mysterious past, and when 9/11 happens, she is named a chief suspect. Earlier this week, the first eight minutes of the the first episode was “leaked”, and I managed to catch it before it was taken off the internet again. These eight minutes gives you a solid idea about the kind of person Alex Parish is – she’s strong, she’s intelligent, she keeps secrets from her mother, she’s sexually liberated and isn’t against the idea of getting it on with a random guy she sits next to on the plane – the actual sex “scene” though, is very carefully shot, there’s no nudity, there’s a flash of leg, and it’s mostly just sound, no doubt an effort made by Priyanka Chopra to keep things as Sanskaari as possible.

It’s too soon to judge if Quantico will be a hit (there’s a lot of talk comparing it to Homeland, which I find ridiculous) or if it will dramatically change the way Indians are cast in American television. From what I saw of the the show, it is not ground breaking, nor is it going to be the next big thing in American crime drama, but it was thoroughly entertaining, and that, is as good a start as any.

‘Tis The Season

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I have a giant backlog of shows to be watched, a back log that increases every day, given the number of “must watch” shows that are on television right now. I often find myself prioritising shows that have fewer episodes to catch up on, simply because it’s more convenient. This September, a slew of television shows will resume, bringing upon us new seasons, and more episodes to catch up on. However, there are also a number of new, exciting shows themselves that are coming out, and that’s why I’m planning to stop trying to catch up with existing shows that I’m behind on, and instead, get a head start on the following shows, which could all easily become the next great thing on television.

 

Best Time Ever
Fans of How I Met Your Mother, rejoice! Neil Patrick Harris is back on screens, this time as a host of a brand new variety show titled, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris. The show is inspired by “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway”, which is very popular in the UK, and will be filled with comedy skits, spoof game shows, musical numbers, hidden camera pranks, and even live segments with celebrity appearances. Neil Patrick Harris is well known for his comic timing, but for those who have watched him hosting the Oscars, or even the Emmy Awards, you would also know that he’s also an immensely gifted singer, dancer, and all round performer. There are not enough Variety shows on television, and my fingers are crossed for Best Time Ever to fill that void.

best time ever with neil patrick harris

The Grinder

An actor whose successful TV legal drama has come to an end, comes back to his home town and join his family’s law firm, despite having no license to practice, or even a formal legal education. I’ve only watched the trailer, but I can say with confidence that Rob Lowe is perfect as the over dramatic TV lawyer who takes himself too seriously, as is Fred Savage, who plays his formally educated but charisma lacking lawyer brother. This is a comedy show whose premise has great potential, and given the excellent casting, there’s every chance The Grinder is going to be a big hit.

the grinder, the grinder tv show

Limitless
Limitless is the television spin off of the 2011 Bradley Cooper film with the same name. Limitless stars Jake McDorman, and features the consequences of taking a pill which will enable you to realise the full potential of your brain. The series has some slick editing and action montages, but most importantly, Bradley Cooper reprises his role as Eddie Morra for the television series, and for me, that’s enough reason to look forward to this series.

Limitless, limitless tv show

Narcos
Netflix has been producing some incredible original television recently, with Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards being just the tip of the iceberg. Coming next on the Netflix pipeline is Narcos, a high intensity drama about the Medellin Cartel, a real life drug network from Colombia which operated through the 70’s and 80’s. At it’s peak, The Medellin Cartel monopolised the global drug market, and is, without doubt, a story that would translate brilliantly on to television. The series follows the beginnings of the cartel, and digs into the history of it’s overlord, Pablo Escobar. Netflix has hit a home run with every one of its series, and Narcos doesn’t look like it’ll be an exception.

Narcos, Narcos on Netflix, Pablo Escobar

Scream Queens
A college campus finds itself housing a serial killer seeking revenge for a murder that happened twenty years ago. This horror-comedy hybrid show has a star cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts and Abigail Breslin, apart from teen icons like Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas, and Keke Palmer. Fans of Glee will also see the return of Lea Michele back on screen. Make no mistake that this is aimed for “young adults”, automatically making me about ten years too old for it, but I am excited nonetheless – age is but a number, after all.

scream queens, ariana grande, emma roberts, lea michele

Singing A Different Tune

The sixth and final season of Glee is presently running on television. If you were a one-time fan of the show, now is the time to get back, because this season is short, fast-paced, and full of the irreverent humour that the show was famous for. I have watched the show right from its inception in 2009, stuck to watching it despite the inevitable collapse that happened when the show’s lead actor, Cory Monteith, passed away due to a drug overdose, and cried secret tears during the finale. Glee covers the trials and tribulations of a bunch of misfits in high school, who discover themselves through song and dance. Given the premise, there is plenty of music on the show and the cast breaks into song every five minutes to express their feelings.

Although Glee rarely does original music, their covers of pop songs were, on most days, better than the original. In fact, I endured the travesties that were the fourth and fifth seasons of Glee, only for the music. Despite Glee’s shortcomings, I was convinced for a very long time that it was the most successful example of a series that mixed drama (high school drama, but drama nonetheless), with music, into one cogent, entertaining show. My opinion changed when I started watching Empire.

Glee Season 6

Empire delves deep into the hip-hop industry, its workings, and the culture, which forms its roots. I’ve never been a fan of hip-hop or rap, but Empire changed that for me because it gives context to the genre, and that makes the music much more enjoyable.

The show follows the life of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is a drug dealer-turned-music mogul. Lucious is the head of Empire records, a company that started out from nothing, and is now poised to go public. It is at this time when he is diagnosed with ALS, a disease with no cure that will eventually lead to his death, and he realises that he must name one of his three sons as a successor before it’s too late. Lucious’ sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) are vastly different from one another, and are united only by their ambition to take over Empire. Andre is a hardworking financial wizard with zero mass appeal, Hakeem is a talented but lazy rapper whose constant partying and entitled attitude comes in the way of his career, and Jamal is an immensely gifted musician, but much to his father’s distaste, is also gay. Also fighting for Empire is Cookie Lyon (Taraji Henson), Lucious’ ex-wife, who has just been released from prison after 17 years.

Empire moves at a blistering pace, with enough plot twists to make your head spin. Scorned lovers, illegitimate children, conspirators, spies and vengeful henchmen walk in and out of episodes before you have the time to register what is happening. Cookie is, undeniably, the life of the show. Played by Taraji Henson, Cookie is the ex-wife who is ready for life and hungry for success with a rare kind of panache. Cookie isn’t afraid of doing what’s right for herself and her sons, even if that means beating one of them up with a broomstick until they learn to give her respect. Some of her lines on paper, sound terribly contrived (“You want Cookie’s nookie?”), but on screen, they are magic. The other breakout star is Jussie Smollett who plays the sensitive, genius Jamal. He is completely believable in his struggle as a gay musician who is trying to gain acceptance not only from the world, but also from his father.

His voice is beautiful, and his songs in the show are poignant, beautiful and catchy. If you’re looking for a show that will entertain you, look no further than Empire. It has drama, attitude, and at times, it even has heart.

(The sixth season of Glee is being telecast on Star World)

Bringing Out The Big Guns

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was during the study holidays leading up to my Chartered Accountancy Final exam, when I discovered the show Criminal Minds. It started out innocuously – all I wanted was to find a way to procrastinate studying Auditing Standards, which, as people who’ve studied Auditing Standards would know, is completely understandable. Within a week though, I was addicted to the point where I would use the show’s timing to motivate myself into finishing that day’s quota of studying. Criminal Minds follows the Behavioural Analysis Unit, a sub-section of the FBI, which is called in by the local police departments whenever there are violent, serial, crimes which are committed by an unknown perpetrator, who is referred to as the “unsub”. The team of analysts then get together to crack the case by going into the mind of the killer, predicting his next move, and consequently, preventing it.

Criminal Minds is about criminal psychology, and about getting into the unsub’s head to find out what drives him, hence, there isn’t as much action in the show as one would expect in a conventional cop show – the guns come out only towards the end. When you’re new to the series, Criminal Minds comes across as a really entertaining, impressive and intelligent show. Every episode deals with a new crime, and the writing is such that it’ll take you to the edge of your seat within the first ten minutes and keep you there until it ends.

brooklyn 99, andy samberg, best cop shows on tv

 

If you’ve been a long term viewer of the show, you’d know that the series had a rough few seasons of late. The plot lines were getting weaker, the criminals were more macabre than ever (I remember this one episode where the unsub had a habit of pickling his victims’ eyeballs), but the main reason the show had become a shadow of what it used to be was due to a casting reshuffle which broke the core team. The success of Criminal Minds wasn’t just in the writing, but in the chemistry that all six of the analysts in the team shared, which is rare in cop shows since they mostly focus on one or two main characters. Interestingly, it is this shared chemistry which makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine, another cop show, stand out as well.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy which entails the happenings of Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct. The Police Station has just got a new captain, Ray Holt, who intends on changing the way the precinct functions. The detectives and other employees in Brooklyn Nine-Nine are all oddballs, chief of them being Jake Peralta, the talented but immature detective. The other detectives include the perfectionist Amy Santiago who is also Jake’s greatest competitor, the tough and bitter Rosa Diaz, Jake’s best friend and food enthusiast Charles Boyle, and the heavily built but soft hearted Terry Jeffords. There’s also Gina, the very sarcastic civilian administrator, and Hitchcock and Scully, erstwhile detectives who are presently useless.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s brand of humour isn’t one that will resonate with most – it’s part ironic, part sarcastic, and part slapstick. Every character has a quirk, from Captain Holt’s deadpan expressions to Jake’s disgusting office habits to Rosa’s general distaste for emotions, it’s the kind of humour you’d enjoy if you liked Modern Family, and 30 Rock. The show never takes itself too seriously, and pokes It wouldn’t be right to call Brooklyn Nine-Nine a satire on cop shows, although it regularly pokes fun at the genre’s many cliches. There are crimes, and there is solid detective work which is done, but it is ridiculous humour which accompanies the solving that makes this show stand out.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Criminal Minds are two sides of the same coin – they’re both entertaining in their own ways, and are made for lazier viewers (such as myself), for neither of them require continuous following, and missing one episode won’t make a drastic difference to watching the next one. Brooklyn Nine-Nine in particular, is made for marathon viewing, so in case you haven’t any plans this weekend, you now know what to do. Or at least, what to watch.

{Criminal Minds is presently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, on Comedy Central}