Month: March 2016

Higher Powers

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I am not entirely a fan of television which is politically themed, primarily because I don’t understand it. This was the reason I stayed away for as long as possible from the critically acclaimed, giant fan base having and first ever Netflix Original, House of Cards. There’s too much television to watch anyway, I told myself, and just like that, the first web-only show to win an Emmy, became a casualty in my watch list. Last week, however, thanks to a bout of dehydration that our city’s summer had blessed me with, I stayed at home and caught up with the show.

Kevin Spacey plays the gloriously vicious and power hungry politician, Francis J. Underwood. Frank, he of calculated ambition, has been a key player in bringing to power the new President of The United States, a role for which he expects to be rewarded by being appointed Secretary of State. However, the President decides to go in a different direction, and Frank leaves not with a position, but only a feeling of betrayal. This sets to motion a series of events where Frank extracts carefully planned revenge on all who wronged him, while doing all that he can to get to the top of the political food chain.

Kevin Spacey occupies the screen with a presence which I have, in all of the television I’ve watched so far, never encountered. He smiles when he doesn’t mean to, he stays calm when you know he’s burning inside, and ever so often, turns to the camera to talk to the audience and tell them what’s really going on in his signature southern drawl. The show is full of quotable quotes on power – “Friends make the worst enemies”, “Hunt, or be hunted”, “Power does not sleep in”, and Spacey leaves no room for doubt that from the minute the show begins to when it ends, it’s entirely Frank Underwood’s.

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The themes which dominate House of Cards are not anything novel when it comes to soap operas – backstabbing, loyal henchmen, well meaning addicts, corruption, call girls adept at the art of blackmail, and affairs all around, but they’ve been presented in a manner that is refreshing, an aspect for which the credit should go the brilliant cast of actors who form the show. Robin Wright, in particular, is spectacular as Frank’s frosty, devious wife. The Underwood marriage is much like eating cold, slightly stale pizza in the middle of the night – it’s not right, but you simply cannot get enough.

Some of the events, and the politics that are covered in House of Cards are so over the top, that there were many instances where I found it hilarious to even contemplate that this is a show which is supposed to reflect the life of American politicians, and American politics. Having said that, and considering the fact that we live at a time and age when someone like Donald Trump is a serious candidate for becoming the most powerful leader of the free world, maybe not that hilarious.

Popular talk show host, Stephen Colbert, in a recent episode asked Kevin Spacey if he ever thought that a particular storyline was too broad, and was too fantastic to ever happen in real life, to which Spacey responded that there have been multiple times when he thought that the story writers were really “pushing it”. “And then I turn on the news”, Spacey continues. “And actually, we’re the ones who are behind”.

{House of Cards is on Netflix and also cast on Zee Cafe}

An End And A Beginning

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The premise of Suits lies in a secret. Mike Ross, a brilliant young man who practices law in one of New York’s top law firms, is no qualified lawyer. He’s a genius, yes, and is relentless with his arguments in the courtroom, but he never appeared for the bar exam, or even went to law school. Harvey Spectre, the managing partner who hired Mike is fully aware of this, but hires him anyway because he is convinced that Mike’s smarts, his interest in the law, and most importantly, his flawless photographic memory compensate for his lack of formal qualifications. These are the events which transpire in the first episode of the first season of Suits. Over the course of the five seasons that have followed, Mike and Harvey have formed an everlasting friendship, won dozens of cases, and have battled against all odds to protect Mike’s secret.

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The show thrives on a delicious irony – here’s a man who knows the law, and knows how to apply the law as well as, if not better than most qualified professional lawyers, but he’s a fraud by all standards. A few of the previous seasons saw Mike come very close to having his secret busted wide open and going to jail, but the show’s creators would always place a twist at the very end and pull him out of the situation. It started getting predictable in the third and fourth season, but in a way, it was hard to entirely place blame on the show’s writers, after all, what was the show without the secret?

The fifth season of Suits, which concluded recently, blew the storyline wide open. Mike’s secret is out, and it doesn’t matter who outed him because he’s now facing serious charges for fraud and must go through trial in front a jury who could potentially put him away for many years. It doesn’t help that the defence lawyer who has taken the case against Mike, Anita Gibbs, is as unwavering as she is bloodthirsty.

The story arc of the fifth season has been a roller coaster. While the first few episodes seemed like it was going to focus on character development (we saw Harvey going to a psychiatrist to deal with his past, which made for great television), the following episodes saw many dramatic developments take place in a manner which was unlike the light, frothy and mostly unbelievable drama that Suits has perfected the past few years.

The last few episodes leading to the very intense season finale were entirely focused on Mike’s trial, and had an ending which felt more like a sucker punch. Everyone had expected the customary twist – the eleventh hour saviour, the defence lawyer’s hidden agenda being exposed, something, anything that could miraculously save Mike, but the twist ended up being the fact that there was none.

While this felt more like a series finale, I can’t help but wonder if this could be the best thing that has happened to the show in a long time, for it offers a fresh perspective and a new beginning to not just Mike Ross, but Suits as well.

{Suits is presently telecast on Comedy Central}

Women on TV

{Previously published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Women’s Day is fast approaching on the 8th of March, but surely we don’t need any one day to celebrate these five fantastic female characters who are on television right now.

Cookie Lyon, Empire – Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P Henson, is one of the most entertaining and over the top female characters we have seen in television in a long time. A former convict who took the punishment for the sake of her husband, she comes back from prison and is ruthless in her pursuit of the wealth and share in business which is rightfully hers. While it’s incredibly fun seeing her do whatever it takes to get to the top, it’s just as heartwarming to see her try to be a good mother to her sons, and make up for the time that she lost in prison.

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Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones – Although Danerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister are the first female characters you can think of in the context of Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth (played by Gwendoline Christie), for me, is the most underrated female character in the show, and in the books. She is a ungainly, not feminine in the conventional way, taller than most of the men on the land, and doesn’t give two hoots about any of it. She is a brave knight who values honour and friendship, and isn’t afraid to lay her life down to protect the ones she cares about. Brienne of Tarth is a wonderful character who defies all conventional gender roles and teaches us that being different, is what makes us special.

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Jessica Pearson, Suits – Gina Torres plays Jessica Pearson, the managing partner of Pearson Specter Litt. There is only one word which captures the true essence of Jessica Pearson, and that is bad-ass. Jessica has no qualms in admitting to the amount of work that it took for her to get on top, which is why she’s all the more protective of her position as managing partner in the law firm. She can intimidate and sniff the truth out of anything, and anyone. Years of watching legal television have convinced me that Jessica Pearson is not just a boss, she is the boss.

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Annalise Keating, How To Get Away With Murder – Viola Davis won an Emmy the past year for her portrayal of Annalise Keating, the no-nonsense defence attorney who is also a Criminal Law professor. Annalise is charismatic, intelligent and relentless both in her cases as well as in class. Watching Annalise navigate through the world of criminal law, prisons, hardened criminals, and the minds of her own students is utterly gripping, and makes no surprise as to why this show has so much critical acclaim.

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation – The inimitable Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a small town government worker whose sole aim is to improve the town she lives in. Leslie, apart from being hilarious also has some amazing feminist zingers in her repertoire including, but not restricted to “ovaries before brovaries”. Leslie Knope works tirelessly not only make her town better, but to also tell the rest of us, that being a woman shouldn’t have anything to do with getting the career and life that we truly deserve.