Month: February 2016

Long Form James Bond

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The Night Manager, BBC’s newest and possibly most lavish production yet, begins in Cairo of January 2011. There is a sea of humanity assembled in Tahrir square protesting against their president, Hosni Mubarak. A casually dressed and impossibly good-looking white man emerges from the crowds, and nonchalantly weaves his way through the yelling, the stone throwing, the fireworks and the bullets to get to his workplace, The Nefertiti hotel, on the other side. It lasts all of thirty seconds, but it is enough to convince you that Tom Hiddleston, who plays this impossibly good-looking man by the name of Jonathan Pine, is the most obvious choice for the next James Bond.

Jonathan Pine is the night manager at the Nefertiti Hotel. He is quiet, polite to a fault and unabashedly English – there is a scene where he describes the weather to be “ghastly”. He knows his hotel and his guests inside out, but we don’t know much about him. His routine of taking calls and calming flustered guests down by offering them free cocktails is interrupted when a beautiful woman, Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), best known for being a very powerful (and very evil) man’s girlfriend casually asks him to have coffee with her. After having coffee, she, in an even more casual manner, slips some documents to Jonathan which have details of her boyfriend bulk purchasing weaponry from the good old United Kingdom. As it turns out, Freddie Hamid (the dastardly boyfriend) was trying to crush the uprising, and Sophie couldn’t stay silent anymore. Do what you have to, she tells Jonathan, and Jonathan being the dignified, respectable Englishman that he is, promptly takes the documents to the British embassy, after which he takes Sophie to a safe house. None of this really works for Jonathan. While the uprising succeeds, the British government, with the exception of one Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) has decided to ignore the information sent to them because even Governments can’t just doesn’t poke their nose into the affairs of Richard “The Worst Man In The World” Roper (played by the inimitable Hugh Laurie). Sophie is brutally murdered, and Jonathan moves to Switzerland. Four years later, Roper’s and Jonathan’s paths cross again, and this time, there will be revenge.

The Night Manager is based on the novel with the same name by the critically acclaimed Spy Novel specialist John Le Carre. The director has pushed the timeline of the original forward from 1993 to 2011, and has tinkered around with the characters and locations in a way which feels like he’s updated the story, as opposed to having changed it. The casting is perfect to the point where it feels like Le Carre wrote the novel with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston in mind. The screenplay doesn’t merely hold your attention, it pins it down on all fours with iron clamps. It’s simply impossible to look away. The Night Manager is a miniseries, a genre of television which the BBC has become a champion of lately, consisting six episodes. The first episode had a record six million tune in, and it’s really about time you joined in on the fun.

Full and Fuller

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I have very vivid memories of watching Full House (and having long and detailed discussions about how incredibly handsome John Stamos was) when I was in school. It was the early 2000’s, so given the (lack of) cable television services, the ‘80s American comedy about a giant family in one house was as cutting edge as it got then. Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), loses his wife, and is suddenly left to raise three very young, and very lively girls – 10 year old DJ (Candace Cameron), 5 year old Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and 9 month old Michelle (played interchangeably by Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen). He enlists his childhood friend, Joey (Dave Coulier) and his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) to help. They move in, and as the show progresses, have their own love interests, and eventually, their own children making it a very full house indeed.

I enjoyed Full House because it reminded me of my own extended family which sprawled with multiple cousins, aunts, and uncles, and also because it was one of the few shows whose jokes I understood because they were always family friendly (and ridiculously cheesy). I found it impossible to be bored of the show because there were so many stories, given the number of characters who occupied the screen. Full House discussed dating pangs, friend fights, family fights, sibling drama and a number of other topics for 8 years before it ended in 1995 as one of the most iconic television shows on American TV. Twenty years later, on the 26th of February, Full House returns, except it’s a little…Fuller.

Fuller House was announced in April last year, amid much speculation and consequently, glee among fans. The story arc of this spin off is essentially the same as the original, but with a gender twist. DJ Tanner, the eldest of the Tanner girls and now mother of three boys, has been widowed. Her sister, Stephanie, and her best friend, Kimmy, move in to help her raise her children. The original cast has been retained (with the exception of the Olsen twins), and the senior members will make cameo appearances from time. The trailer of the series, which has just been released looks like its going to stay faithful to the original, which means viewers will lap the show up right off the bat, after all, Full House is the television equivalent of comfort food. It’s important though, that if Fuller House wants to be anything close to the success that its original enjoyed, must step its themes and stories up to the times that we live in. Every episode in Full House was based on exaggerated 80s comedy interlaced with moral lessons and relentless optimism, all of which can be hard to digest for viewers today (including myself). If Fuller House isn’t going to be relevant and “now”, we may as well stick to watching Modern Family.

{Fuller House releases on Netflix on February 26}

I Love You Telly Much

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Valentine’s Day is here! Irrespective of whether you love the holiday, loathe it, or are just a disinterested party, there’s no denying that going out on Valentine’s Day is a cloying and overpriced affair. Why not stay in and catch up on the latest and greatest in television instead? We’ve got shows for every mood.

If you’re staying in with someone special: Mad Men
Mad Men is a drama series set in the sixties, which focusses on the life and times of Don Draper, effortlessly played by the very handsome Jon Hamm. Watch Don Draper as he crashes and burns navigating through his job as the creative director of the leading advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, and tries to stay afloat as he juggles his job, his wife, his kids and his many, many affairs. Mad Men is a tale of power, love, greed and ambition, and is as riveting as it is sexy.
{Mad Men is presently being telecast on FX}

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If you’re staying in, alone: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
29 year old Kimmy Schmidt has just been rescued from a Doomsday Cult after being locked in an underground basement for fifteen years. Determined to get her life back, she takes the decision to stay in New York City and make up for all the time that she’d missed underground. The series, written by Tina Fey, is hilarious, heartwarming and makes for better company than most people of the opposite sex.
{Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is on Netflix}

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If you loathe the idea of Valentine’s Day: Vinyl
Vinyl is legendary director Martin Scorcese’s (Nothing says “Valentine, Schmalentine!” quite like watching anything by Scorcese) debut offering for television. James Jagger, the son of the legendary rock musician Mick Jagger, along with television heavyweights like Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano and Bobby Canavale come together for a show set in 1970s New York City, that tells the story of the music industry just as the hip-hop, disco and punk genres are about to break out. Take a ride through the world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll in this series written by Terrence Winters (who wrote Wolf of Wall Street) and directed by Martin Scorcese.
{Vinyl premieres on Star World HD this February}

If you’d rather celebrate Gal-entine’s (or Guy-entine’s) Day with your friends: Orange Is The New Black
Ten years after transporting a suitcase full of drug money, Piper Chapman, who now lives a nice, quiet life in New York City, has been convicted and sent to prison. Her present relationships with her fiance, friends and family who had no idea about Piper’s past are immediately strained, and Piper is now forced to deal with not only the inmates of the women’s Federal prison, but also her past. Hilarious and brutal, this female-led ensemble will blow you away.
{Orange is the New Black is presently being telecast on Colors Infinity}

oitnb

New Age Comedy

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s not unusual for international television shows to explore age as one of its fundamental themes. We see shows about middle aged men and women going through sudden crisis and being forced to act on it – the first examples that come to mind are Breaking Bad and Desperate Housewives, as do we see twenty-somethings contemplating the ways in which they want to lead their lives and sort out their relationships with shows like New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Master of None, One Tree Hill and the like. In my experience of watching television, and trust me, I’ve watched a lot of television, the sixty five plus age group gets little to no attention on the screen. It’s usually a theme that’s relegated to a single episode which involves a mildly senile or dead grandparent, or a crusty evil villain who is trying to make a comeback.

To translate the sometimes-literal pains of growing old on to screen without giving the viewer a mild case of depression about the future is a veritable challenge, which Grace and Frankie has conquered admirably. Grace and Frankie is a Netflix show that brings together a veteran cast comprising Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. Jane Fonda plays Grace, a vain retired cosmetic company CEO, and Lily Tomlin plays Frankie, a free spirited artist whose personality was given birth to in the sixties. They’re polar opposites who tolerate each other only for the sake of their husbands (Martin Sheen as Robert and Sam Waterson as Sol) who have been business partners and best friends for forty years. It is at one such “dinner” when the four of them are together that the husbands break the news to their wives that they’re leaving them, for…each other.

Grace and Frankie are forced to not only confront this bizarre new twist in their lives, but also each other. The acting in the series is marvellous. Jane Fonda’s Grace and Lily Tomlin’s Frankie (who has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role) share a special on screen chemistry as they bond, albeit grudgingly, over the sadness and fury of how their husbands now get to live happily ever after while they’ve been left alone to fend for themselves in their seventies. How Grace and Frankie take on the big bad world of senior dating, and make peace with their past (which includes adult children in various stages of complicated relationships), forms the crux of the first season.

It should be noted that although it has been listed as a “comedy”, its humour is far from the crude slapstick that it could have been, and is also more sparse than you’d expect. There are many poignant scenes through the course of the twelve episodes which make the first season, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any laughs. In the very first episode, Sol tells a furious Frankie that his life with Robert would be the “next chapter of his life”, Frankie retorts, “I’ve got news for you – the next chapter isn’t that long.” The humour of Grace and Frankie isn’t one that will make you guffaw regularly, but it will make you smile throughout.

{Grace and Frankie is available on Netflix}