Month: August 2016

Two Dimensional Entertainment

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Among the more significant trappings of the generation I belong to, is our continuous refusal to grow up, the way our parents’ generation did. We seem to be in no hurry to settle down, we’re still trying to figure out what we want from our careers, what we want from our relationships, and we’re still watching cartoons – yes, they’re cartoons that are meant for adults, but if ‘adult cartoons’ isn’t an oxymoronic term, then I don’t know what is. While I don’t have great insight into providing a solution for the state of mind that plagues many young people today, I can tell you which of the adult cartoons are the best ones on screen at the moment.

Rick and Morty: Morty is your very average twelve year old, who lives in suburban America with his parents, his sister, and his very old, very crazy, super scientist grandfather, Rick. Rick insists on taking Morty along on all his misadventures across alternate realms and realities. The humour in the show is a very original blend of slapstick and wit, and there’s so much action in each episode that you never get bored. The plot lines are over the top, which adds to the wildness of the show, but no character feels unnecessary or like a waste of time because they all have such interesting personalities, even if they are going to be on screen for just a few minutes. Rick and Morty was made for binge-watching, and is well worth a weekend of staying in to catch up on the show.

{Season 1 of Rick and Morty is currently streaming on Netflix}

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BoJack Horseman: BoJack Horseman might be animated, but the themes that it picks up on, such as the after effects of fame, self-loathing, complicated relationships, hedonism, at times even Nihilism, are far from two dimensional. The characters are all very well thought out, and may seem like stereotypical caricatures at the start, but display great nuance as the show progresses. It gets a little difficult from time to time to spot the really funny moments, but the writing is such that the happenings on screen feel like you’re spending time with these characters as opposed to watching a story unfold. And by the way, this show is about a once-famous talking horse in Hollywood whose arch nemesis is a labrador that goes by the name of Mr.Peanutbutter.

{Seasons 1 to 3 of BoJack Horseman is currently streaming on Netflix}

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Family Guy: Family Guy is a brilliantly absurd comedy about a dysfunctional town near Rhode Island and its even more dysfunctional residents. I used to watch Family Guy religiously on television but for reasons I can’t remember now, stopped doing so for a few years. I got back to show a few months ago, however, when they released their first India themed episode, called “Road to India”. The India episode, in true Family Guy style, was offensive and politically incorrect in every manner, causing outrage across a lot of internet media outlets about how ‘insensitive’ it was. Insensitivity, however, is the core theme of the show. Family Guy rips into every establishment there ever has been and discusses it without any sense of propriety, discretion or consequence. What I love about Family Guy is that it doesn’t discriminate in its selection of themes (or targets, depending on how you look at it), and it’s quite interesting to see people who may have enjoyed the takedown of one particular belief or community, take offence when the same treatment is doled out to their own beliefs or communities. Family Guy truly is the pinnacle of adult animation, for if you can’t be an adult about watching it, there’s very little chance you’ll enjoy it. {

Family Guy is currently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

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The Let Down

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

On paper, The Get Down ought to be the greatest television show of the year. It’s Netflix’s most extravagant production yet, with a whopping $120 million that has been pumped into the show. The show is acclaimed Australian film director Baz Luhrmann’s television debut, and is co-created by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who has won a Pulitzer for writing Drama. If you’ve watched any of Baz Luhrmann’s films, like Moulin Rouge, or The Great Gatsby or even the nineties smash hit Romeo + Juliet, you’d know Luhrmann’s penchant for creating entire worlds, and it is no different with The Get Down. Luhrmann has brought to life, New York of the 1970s, more specifically, the neighbourhood of South Bronx, where the story is set.

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Ezekiel (Justice Smith) is an orphan who is currently under the care of his aunt, and her boyfriend. He’s a bright kid, with a special talent for poetry, but he would rather spend his time trying to win the beautiful Mylene’s (Herizen Guardiola) heart, than on academics, after all, it’s not like anyone at the Bronx is studying – the neighbourhood is plagued with poverty, corruption, gang violence and despair. Mylene wants to leave the Bronx and become a star, a disco star, but her father (Giancarlo Esposito), who is a pastor in an orthodox, Pentecostal church will not have any of it. One night, Mylene decides to sneak out of the house to participate in a dance competition at Les Infernos, the greatest disco club at the Bronx, where the winner gets to meet with a famous music producer. It is also at Les Infernos that Ezekiel has a run-in with Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a legendary graffiti artist as well as an aspiring DJ. Shaolin discovers Ezekiel’s talent with words, and takes him to “The Get Down”, an underground party in the Bronx, that’s headed by Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie), one of the first pioneers of the hip-hop sound. It is here that Ezekiel realises that there is a world beyond Mylene, and the possibility that hip-hop might not only be his ticket out of Bronx, but may well pave his way to greatness.

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The Get Down is a story about music, about two young people discovering themselves through music, and about the socio-cultural impact that music has on history. It’s obvious that the story is well researched, from the music, to the clothes, to the language, to even the graffiti that is splattered across the walls. The detailing in the sets is impeccable, and the show looks every bit as expensive as it has been touted to be. The acting talent is impressive too – Justice Smith, especially, is fantastic as the sensitive poet who is torn about his future.

Theoretically, The Get Down has all the makings of a great show, but on screen, it’s just chaos. There is just way too much that is thrown at the viewer, and despite all that is happening on screen, the story never seems to get anywhere. It’s also hard to ignore the caricaturing – Shaolin wears a belt with Bruce Lee’s face on it, and there’s (vaguely) Asian sounding music that is played each time he comes on screen, not to mention the exaggerated Kung Fu fighting. I understand that they’re trying to portray someone as mythical, but this comes off like a joke. The Get Down, like any other Netflix show, is designed for binge-watching, but it’s far too arduous to even watch two episodes in a single sitting. I couldn’t go through more than three, and the very thought of three more episodes tires me. I suppose the folks at Netflix felt the same way, for only six out of the twelve episodes of the first season have been released, with the second set of episodes coming out in 2017.

The Get Down is supposed to be a story about the gritty beginnings of Hip-Hop during the age of Disco, but instead of an honest, unembellished portrayal of the genre, we get an overwhelming, cluttered, extravagant mess – a let down.

{Season 1 of The Get Down is currently streaming on Netflix}

Out of This World

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Netflix’s most recent production, Stranger Things, released to great reviews and ratings the previous month, with critics calling it the show of the year thus far. I watched the trailer the day it released as well, and it looked very much like a horror series, a genre that I grew to loathe ever since I saw The Ring on television one evening and lost sleep for a week. I avoided watching it, but after seeing everyone rave about the show, and after getting confirmation that it wasn’t of the horror genre, I sat down with the series, and what a great decision that turned out to be.

Stranger Things is set during the early eighties, in the sleepy American town of Hawkins, where the worst thing that has ever happened is an owl mistaking someone’s hair for a nest. Things change, however, when a 12 year old boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears on his way back home one night. His anxious mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and his three best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) set out to investigate his disappearance, only to unravel terrifying secrets that have been buried in the town, including a hungry alien monster, a gateway to a parallel universe, and a little girl with extraordinary abilities.

Stranger Things, I insist, does not belong to the horror genre, but there is a great deal of homage that is paid to Stephen King as well as Steven Spielberg – which means that the show does have more than just a few moments of eerie silence followed by jolts of revelation and visuals of reptilian aliens who squelch around. However, it manages to remain tame enough for the rest of us who are still getting accustomed to the dark.

Winona Ryder, who’s probably the biggest, and most recognisable star in the cast, is flawless as Joyce, the agitated and overworked single mother who falls apart while looking for her lost son. She doesn’t know how or why, but she’s convinced that her son is alive and is trying to communicate with her from another world through phone calls and light bulbs – a conviction, that only begets sympathy from everyone she talks to about this, as opposed to an inspection, or even curiosity. Her only hope of finding Will lies with Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who, after initially rubbishing everything that Joyce says begins to encounter mysterious happenings during the investigation himself, and takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.

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The real show stealers, however, are the (very) young actors who play Will’s friends. Normally, I find most television children to be annoying, but Mike, Lucas and Dustin will want you wanting to be part of their little gang. The boys encounter a young girl (Mille Brown, who delivers an extraordinary performance) during their first search for Will, and bring her home, only to discover that she has telekinetic powers, and holds the key for finding Will.

There is even a little high school romantic triangle that is played out in the show, involving Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and the most popular guy in their high school, Steve (Joe Keery). This angsty hormonal teenager trope seems trite in a show like Stranger Things, but it is towards the end of the show that the writers turn this unnecessary romance on its head and give this otherwise grating storyline a gratifying conclusion.

Given Stranger Things’ storyline with the eighties setting, the curious children and the aliens, there was a great chance that the show could’ve felt overdone, if not mundane. It is to the credit of the Duffer brothers, who developed the series, imbibed a great deal of originality into the mostly nostalgic plot line, that Stranger Things is not a visually superior and edgier mishmash of every alien film which came out in the eighties, but a show that is well and truly out of this world.

{Season 1 of Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix}

Good Things, Small Packages

{First published in The Hindu Metroplus}

My love for the miniseries format is one that has been well documented in this space. I cannot get enough of them, and it isn’t just the low commitment that it requires which draws me, again and again, back to them. A well made mini-series is the perfect hybrid of film, and serial episodes. It combines the well defined storyline of a movie with the steady, more fulfilling pace of storytelling that multiple episodes allow. The slow burn of the miniseries allows characters to shine and for the audience to develop a greater understanding of, and attachment with them, making the format perfect for novel adaptations. Olive Kitteridge, the Emmy award winning miniseries about a cynical American schoolteacher, was based on the novel by Elizabeth Strout. The recently released and phenomenally successful miniseries, The Night Manager, was adapted from the novel of the same name that was written by the master of espionage, John Le Carre. Both Olive Kitteridge and The Night Manager, with their intense screenplay and masterful acting performances, were an accomplishment in televised storytelling.

Another miniseries that I couldn’t stop raving about, was Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall was also named after the novel (by Hilary Mantel) whose story it took on, but the story was essentially a dramatised version of actual events which took place in the 16th Century, known as “The King’s Great Matter”, which today stands immortalised by the Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London. People vs OJ Simpson: An American Crime Story, is another miniseries which took on a real life incident: the much publicised trial of OJ Simpson, a sports superstar and actor, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and a restaurant waiter, Ron Goldman.

All these series had actors of immense calibre put together on the same screen, for the miniseries format allows them to explore stronger, deeper characters with more nuance, and directors to take on stories that are more complex and can’t possibly contained in a time frame of a few hours. People vs OJ Simpson: An American Crime Story managed to lure in the likes of John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., and David Schwimmer. The Night Manager had Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston’s portrayal of the spy, Jonathan Pine was so successful that it sparked rumours across the United Kingdom of him being cast as the next James Bond. Wolf Hall had Mark Rylance, (who went on to star in Spielberg’s celebrated film, Bridge of Spies, and win an Academy award for it) and Damian Lewis. The more recently released thriller miniseries about an immigrant who is jailed for the murder of a girl in New York City, “The Night Of” was written by Steve Zaillan, who has worked on movies like The Schindler’s List, and Gangs of New York, among others.

For all their merits and the hype surrounding them through all these years – Meryl Streep and Al Pacino made a miniseries way back in 2003 called Angels in America for HBO – the miniseries is only now finding its way into Indian Television. If you don’t have the time for a full fledged television series and all its characters, I recommend you embrace the miniseries with both your arms (and your legs). It’s the best way to experience not only modern television, but the power that a good story can have over you.

{People vs OJ Simpson, The Night Of are available on HotStar. Angels in America premieres today, August 6th on Star World Premiere HD}

All In The Family

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I often feel like I don’t write about Modern Family enough. It’s not a television tour de force the way say, Game of Thrones is, or Friends was, or even Sex And The City. It is however, a quietly successful television show that has been running for close to 8 years now, with seven seasons and now renewed for an eighth. Modern Family is primarily a comedy, presented in documentary style where the characters talk about situations as they play out on screen. It revolves around the Pritchett-Dunphy clan, which consists of three core couples and their children. There’s Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), the patriarch of the family and his beautiful, outrageous second wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Jay’s daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen), who is married to Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), and Jay’s gay son, Mitchell (Jesse Ferguson), who is also married, to Cam Tucker (Eric Stonestreet). There are children, step children, and adopted children in the mix as well.

When I started watching Modern Family back in 2010, I didn’t expect to relate to the show as much as I did, because I was raised in a rather conservative South Indian family. What would I have in common with a show which (also) involved step children? The more I watched though, the more I realised that the terms we gave these ‘modern’ families, whether it’s nuclear, same-sex or step were all redundant because they were just people who were in love and nurtured relationships the same way any family would. It normalises relationships which we may have unconsciously categorised as different, or freaky even, and that is an important reason why I endorse this show as much as I do.

One of my other favourite features about Modern Family, show wise, is that it doesn’t follow a strict timeline. Yes, the kids grow, but there’s no pressure to keep track of what’s going on next, and strangely, that makes the show all the more addictive for you lose count of the number of episodes you’re watching. The acting is all-round brilliant with each character and actor having impeccable comic timing. Given the strange situations they manage to get themselves in, there’s plenty of scope for bad acting, but it just isn’t there. The ensemble cast of this show is so strong, and there’s really no explanation needed behind why the show has racked up 21 Emmy Awards thus far.

What I love most about Modern Family though is that it doesn’t allow you to judge the person on screen. You’re thrown into their world, shoved into their shoes, and before you can wonder what two men are doing together raising a little girl, you’re already connecting what’s going on on the screen with your own experiences. To be honest, it was Modern Family, and Glee, which helped me understand, and more importantly, empathise with homosexuality, and given the times we live in, we could all use a little bit of empathy.

{Modern Family is currently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}