Month: January 2016

No Longer Friends

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I discovered Friends much like the rest of the my generation – a few years before the show came to an end in 2005. Those were the days when our consumption of international entertainment was dependent on the few cable channels which would broadcast these shows and the hope that our parents wouldn’t be in the living room when the “adult jokes” would come on. While Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the antique-but-fresh-for-India Full House, and Third Rock From The Sun were all fun to watch, there was no doubt that Friends was on top of the list, and this is despite the fact that some of the jokes took a good five years to dawn on me.

Friends is easily the show that defined my generation and gave us the encouragement to define our own values and to assure us that it was okay to be who we really were. What’s interesting is that there are still younger people out there who are watching it, and deriving the same life lessons I did. I’m not alone when I make the statement that I knew Monica (Courtney Cox), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) as well as I did my own friends. Even today, when I’m having a slow, or an awful day, I take to the internet and watch carefully drafted compilations of “Chandler Bing’s best jokes”.

Friends gif

Over the years though, there have been many requests from fans asking for a Friends reunion either by way of a new episode or a movie, requests which the show’s creators have vehemently denied. So when news came that the cast of Friends have reunited for a TV show which pays tribute to James Burrows (one of the directors of Friends), the internet went into a frenzy like it does so often these days. “The reunion going to happen!” was the collective squeal on my Facebook timeline. A photo of the cast (minus Matthew Perry) together with the cast of The Big Bang Theory released yesterday, creating an even bigger buzz.

I’d like to place on record two things – the “reunion” is of the cast members, not the characters. They’re going to talk about Jim Burrows and it’s more likely to be a somewhat touching yet boring documentary about the man. The second is that I’m very thankful that there is no “reunion”, and that I was not one of those fans who wanted a reunion movie or even an episode because it destroys the perfect ending and the perfect lives that the show, and consequently, the fans imagined for them in the final episode. That is one reason. The other, and perhaps more truthful reason why I don’t want a reunion is because I don’t want to see the cast, now grown up and with grey hair because it isn’t just a reminder of their age, but of mine as well.

To Netflix or Notflix?

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Netflix, the international streaming giant, launched in India this week, bringing film and television content on to people’s computers, and generally hampering everyone’s productivity.
Netflix is a paid service, and works on a subscription basis, so keep in mind that you’ll have to dole out a fee every month based on the plan that you choose (Netflix has three plans depending on the number of screens on which you can watch shows or movies, and the quality of the stream). I love the idea of Netflix, and there is no doubt that on-demand television and streaming services are the future of the entertainment industry. What I do have doubts about, is its efficacy in India, considering the general reluctance we have in opting for paid services (I’m including myself in this list).

The good news is that Netflix, after considerable research I’m sure, is giving a trial month, when you can experience all the features and the entire catalogue available for Netflix India. The bad news is that the Indian catalogue doesn’t have much in terms of variety, with the total number of shows stacking up to just 7% of its American counterpart.

You do get a list of “Netflix Originals”, television shows that have been produced by the service. These shows have been critically acclaimed and won many awards for their high quality of production. Master of None, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Orange Is The New Black, Grace and Frankie, Archer, BoJack Horseman and Narcos are all on the catalog, with House of Cards conspicuously missing because of a telecast rights issue. There are also a few popular favourites on the catalog, like Suits, Better Call Saul, Brooklyn 99, The Blacklist and How To Get Away With Murder. Older, popular shows like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld and Boston Legal, which are all available on the original American catalogue, have been axed for the Indian audience, which I’m guessing, is because of rights issues once again (or simply because they’re stingy with the content they want to assign India). There is news that the content might double in a year, but given that Indian users are paying the same fee that American users pay, it still feels unfair.

Another aspect which is noteworthy is the amount of data that Netflix is capable of guzzling – its High Definition streaming can take 3 GB per hour, so you might just find yourself exhausting your data limit within a week, which also results in the kind of slow internet speeds that will make you travel back to the time to when modems sounded like alien robots. The telecom infrastructure in India isn’t one that is going to dramatically change soon, so unless Netflix offers say, an “offline mode”, or any other way to save data charges, it is going to be rough sailing here.

India is always going to be tricky market for any international service, and more so for an entertainment service to make a mark, for the demand is inversely proportionate to the infrastructure available in the country. So should you bite the bullet and get a membership? I’d say enjoy the free trial, but unless the variety in the catalogue increases dramatically over the next few weeks, it’s not worth it.

The Abominable Bride

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s only been a week into the first month of 2016, but I do believe that I’ve already watched the best of what television has to offer this year in the new “holiday special” episode of Sherlock. Sherlock, is the modern adaptation of the classic detective story by BBC which premiered in the year 2010, and has seen resounding success across the globe, with good reason: the screenplay moves at a blistering pace, and more importantly, the completely unexpected casting, which compels you to not accept anyone else as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson other than Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (no, not even Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law).

sherlock ext

The holiday special episode is a one-off release, perhaps to assuage fans who’ve been waiting for the fourth season (due to release in 2017), after the third season ended on a cliffhanger in 2014.
While I’ve been infatuated with Sherlock for four good years now (I discovered it rather late), I found the last season mediocre at best. The writers had given the razor sharp, ruthless detective, emotions, which made made him slow, made him care, and made him human. This irked me, for one of the qualities which made Sherlock so worthy of the idolatry was his cold-blooded, and hardboiled nature. After all, why would you idolise anyone who is similar to yourself? I wasn’t alone with this complaint, and given how unrelenting Sherlock was in The Abominable Bride, it looks like the writers have taken note.

The episode begins with a quick flashback to the previous seasons, after which, “alternatively”, we are taken to 19th Century London, where Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective whose adventures are chronicled for the newspaper by his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. There’s a new case, too – a woman, dressed up as a manic bride, stepped out into the public and created chaos, before shooting herself in the head. The police have come to the spot, and taken her body to the morgue. Six hours later, the same woman, Emelia Ricoletti, comes back to take the life of her husband. The case remains unsolved, only to get resurrected several months later, presenting Sherlock the opportunity to take another crack at it.

The pace of the episode is breakneck, and you don’t lose interest even for a single moment, which is rare in ninety minute episodes. Cumberbatch’s acting is as incisive as his cheekbones, and Martin Freeman, is perfection as the loyal, well meaning and occasionally bumbling Watson. The dialogues are top class, full of jokes that deserve a second and maybe even a third watching, and proving that the Victorian setting wasn’t going to slow the episode down in any way. An hour in, the episode tilts to the present, and takes off from where it ended the previous season. This may sound complicated on paper, but rest assured that the writing ties all loose ends in an immaculate manner. Overall, this holiday special was an absolute treat to watch, and the perfect springboard for the fourth. 2017 couldn’t come quicker.

{Sherlock: The Abominable Bride will air on AXN on January 10th at 12 Noon}

Immaculate Conception

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s the golden age of television, and given the number of TV shows that are on air today, it’s impossible to not only watch everything, but also to choose a show to watch without thinking about how it reflects on you. Think about it, you’re talking to your friend about the shows you’re watching, and you can see yourself saying something like “Oh, have you seen Mr. Robot? It’s this great show about hackers, and it’s not like the movies where the guy just types at the keyboard, you know? It’s real, and intense.” Not taking anything away from Mr.Robot, because it is an excellent show, but theres’ no denying that there’s a certain element of cool attached to shows like these. If Mr.Robot is on the top of the ladder of television cool, Jane The Virgin, is far far down.

jane the virgin gif

I mean, think about it – a show about a good Catholic girl who is saving herself for marriage, and is on the verge of being engaged to her stable, predictable boyfriend of two years, is artificially inseminated by a gynaecologist who is facing romantic trouble herself, and as it turns out, the sperm belongs to an unbearably handsome, but spoiled, rich heir of a hotel empire, and it’s his last chance of having a baby because he had been affected by cancer. Not only is this story a mouthful, but it also has the making of every regional soap opera back home, which are mostly unbearable to watch.

Jane The Virgin, however, is everything like a soap opera, and nothing like it at the same time. The show is narrated by an invisible narrator armed with an onscreen typewriter and a wry sense of humour. Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, is perfect as the hardworking, grounded student who feels strongly about the promise she made her grandmother, Alba. Jane’s family forms a strong part of not only Jane’s personality and decisions, but also the show. Jane’s religious grandmother, sexually liberated mother and her overthinking self make for the most dysfunctional family on paper, but come together seamlessly on screen, to the point where you think, how else can they be?

The reason Jane The Virgin is the most charming television series I’ve seen this year (I’m writing this on the last day of 2015), is because of how confident it is about it’s identity, and because it’s not afraid to make fun of itself. Yes, it’s a soap opera, and it’s dramatic with twists that appear at every turn, but it’s also full of comedy gold because it makes full use of the ridiculousness that transpires through the show. Watching Jane the Virgin might not give you the television street cred or cool factor that watching say, Narcos, or Mr.Robot, or Fargo does, but it will give you the rare opportunity of being able to watch a comedy with a heart.

{Season 1 of Jane the Virgin is being telecast on Romedy Now}