Month: December 2015

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

cookie lyon, cookie lyon gif

  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

wolf hall gifs, wolf hall

  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

mr robot

  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

modern family

In A Flash

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Barry Allen is just your average physics nerd who works in the forensics department of the police station. He is struck by lightning in a freak accident, put in a coma for nine months, and wakes up to find that the lightning has bestowed him with super speed and a new set of abs. He also learns that it isn’t just him who was on the receiving end of the lightning, and that there are other “meta-humans” in the city who have great powers, but not necessary good intentions. Barry, although initially doubtful about his abilities, with the help of the scientists who restored him from the coma (and were also the cause of the freak accident), brings down a meta-human who has the power to control the weather. While most superhero shows would take half a season to reach this point of the story, The Flash wraps it up in the very first episode.

The show moves at the same breakneck speed that the fastest man on earth does. Barry takes down evil meta-humans with the help of his team, comprising Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the genius who revives Barry from his coma, and whose failed machine was the reason behind the lightning in the first place, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), in-house computer whiz and the inventor of all of The Flash’s cool weapons and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the moody but brilliant genetic scientist. The show for most part follows a “villain of the week” format while character development is relegated to the background, keeping the show light, and more importantly, easy to catch up on.

the flash, the flash gifs

Grant Gustin, former Glee star, is entirely believable as The Flash, and the fact that he plays an adorable 20 something who uses his super speed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep in the morning, makes him a refreshing change from the usually brooding, pensive brand of superhero which we are so used to today. The show’s creators throw plenty of unexpected jokes throughout the show, and even play on pop culture by bringing together the Prison Break brothers (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the deadly co-villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave. The Arrow, a vigilante hero and a friend of Barry’s (who has his own show as well) also makes frequent appearances, making both shows more cohesive with the comic books they were inspired by.

While there is plenty to like and enjoy about The Flash, it isn’t particularly perfect. The complete lack of chemistry between Barry and the supposed love of his life, Iris West (Candice Patton). Iris is the daughter of Joe West (Jesse Martin), a policeman who takes Barry in and raises him after his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Iris and Barry are raised together, best of friends, and practically siblings. Barry pines for Iris as she dates Joe’s handsome young partner Eddie Thawne (the excellent Rick Costnett). While television can make us buy anything these days, the Iris-Barry-Eddie love triangle feels forced, and their time together on screen feels like time wasted.

Overall though, The Flash is something a lot of superhero franchises aren’t – fun. While it isn’t a show that is going to lend itself to serious cultural commentary, it is definitely one that does justice to the league it belongs to.

{The second season of The Flash is presently running on Colors Infinity}

Television and Tragedy

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The past few weeks have been hard on Chennai, with floods ravaging the city, and stripping its citizens of possessions, homes, and livelihoods. While a part of the blame with respect to the massive amount of damage that the flood has caused, no doubt, belongs to poor urban planning, these were no ordinary rains. It was bizarre, freak weather, the kind that appears once in a hundred years, and it took mainstream news channels a good couple of days to realise that these floods were a far greater disaster than Aamir Khan’s comments on intolerance.

Rajdeep Sardesai, the (very) popular news anchor and consulting editor with the India Today group was the first to speak up about the national media’s indifference towards not only the floods in Chennai, but also the fact that events in and around the national capital get far more coverage than what happens in South India. “I just feel, at the moment, that the focus of news channels must be on Chennai, to try and help people”, he concluded.

Around the same time that Sardesai had released the video, the national media channels came in droves. I had been among those who were irked that the city was being ignored, but I suppose one must be careful for what they wish for. When I started watching the coverage (I was among the lucky few who had power for a good part of the rains), my exasperation only increased. It appeared as if every news channel was competing against each other for the most tasteless coverage of the calamity. Microphones were shoved into the faces of families which were only now trying to come to terms with the colossal damage that the rains had done to their lives. “What have you lost?” asked reporters briskly, and pressed for specifics as the camera panned to the family’s apparent anguish.

Every channel had its own tragedy: If it wasn’t a household which had lost everything in the face of their daughter’s wedding, it was an orphanage that was stranded with no access to food or water. Some channels took the trouble of creating video montage sequences of the flooding, punctuated with shots of people in grief, set to sad, funereal music, which they played every five minutes. Chennai, they declared, was devastated, and there is nothing but trauma here.

Although there is no doubt with regard to the vast desolation and suffering that the rains have caused to the city, I found it surprising that no channel, in its initial coverage of the rains, was particularly interested in covering the resilience and uprising of the people of Chennai, and the way social media was used to mobilise help and resources across various areas. People opened up their homes to complete strangers who were stranded in the area, and a staggering number of people stepped out of their houses, braving the storm to help in rescue and volunteering operations.

News Channels have a special place in Indian television – after all, it’s never just news. Every news channel has come to believe that it is the emancipator of the people, with hosts who are convinced that they’re human courthouses which have the authority to question, and pass judgement on the nation’s Executive. While Arnab Goswami striking terror in the hearts of politicians isn’t a bad thing for our country, the way both natural catastrophes and man made attacks are reported on screen, has to change. It is imperative that reporters learn to be sensitive when interviewing and talking to victims, and understand that empathy is far more important than TRPs.