Month: November 2016

A Year In The Life

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The Gilmore Girls premiered in the year 2000, bringing to life the story of a young single mother, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenaged daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) in the fictional American town of Stars Hollow. Lorelai and Rory’s special and unconventional mother-daughter relationship, along with the witty banter that became the show’s signature, captured the imagination of millions before the series came to a close in the year 2007. The Gilmore Girls’ relatable themes of friendship, romance and family, its cast of memorable characters, and the way the show used dialogue to guide the story line made it an instant classic.

The show’s ending in 2007 though, was not one that was received well by fans, and with good reason. Instead of tying the 6 season old storyline together, the ending only brought on more questions and what-ifs. This botched finale was attributed to the absence of the show’s original creators, Amy Sherman and Daniel Palladino, because of network and channel politics. After years of more what-ifs and rumours of a Gilmore Girls movie, the original creators along with the internet streaming giant and series-factory Netflix are bringing the Gilmores back with ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life’, which has released right on time for this weekend.

I’ll confess here that I’m an unabashed Gilmore Girls fan – I used to catch the occasional re-runs on television, but ever since it surfaced on Netflix, I’ve constantly turned to the show and copious amounts of ice cream to put a good end to bad days. I’m not one to be excited by revivals (remember how Fuller House turned out?), but given that the show’s original creators are the ones behind the revival, I am hopeful.

A Year In The Life, thankfully, isn’t a new series. It’s a feature with four episodes, each about ninety minutes long and named after the four seasons. The show picks the story up in present day to tell us what’s been happening with the Gilmores, nine years later. Richard Gilmore (Edward Herrmann, who died in 2014), the patriarch of the Gilmore clan, has passed, creating fresh strains on the already delicate relationship between Lorelai and her mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop). Rory decides to return to Stars Hollow as well, to take the time to find herself, for her once promising journalism career still has her searching for success. The rest of the town continues to be in its comfortable little bubble, far removed from the happenings of the real world – the Dragonfly Inn still has sarcastic Frenchman Michel (Yanic Truesdale) running its phones, Rory’s exes are still around, and Lorelai’s partner-of-many-years-now, Luke, is still sermonizing his customers.

That isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t aware of the time period it’s in, and what it is – the pop culture references which the characters have always been throwing around, have been updated to feature Amy Schumer and Game of Thrones, and more importantly, Rory, Lorelai and Emily, are all made to feel their age.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life isn’t a revival that requires prior knowledge of seven seasons to enjoy. All you need is a love for free flowing repartee and the acquired taste for small town oddities, like the fact that there’s only one café in the whole town and everyone knows everything about everybody. You might even find yourself going back to the original, and generally losing all track of time. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan though, get the pizza ready – it’s going to be a good weekend.

{Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is now streaming on Netflix}

Love, Found and Lost

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Sarah Jessica Parker returns to the stables of HBO with Divorce, which, on first sight, feels like a twisted sequel to her much celebrated Sex And The City. Parker, through six seasons of Sex And The City, did everything she could to find true love (while accumulating an enviable shoe collection) in New York City. Now she returns as Frances Dufresne, a married woman struggling to put her life back on track as goes through, well, divorce.

The show begins with the couple, Frances and Robert (Thomas Haden Church), when they’re still married. It’s immediately made obvious that they’ve been together for a while, but are not really madly in love. They head out to a friend’s birthday party where an abundance of alcohol results in things going sideways, with a dramatic shooting and heart attack. The shock of it all makes Frances realize she doesn’t want to be with Robert anymore, and take her life back while she “still cares about it”. Frances breaks to Robert that she wants a divorce, throwing him, predictably, into shock and anger for he had been of the opinion that they were happy together. While Robert tries to process what had just happened to him, Frances realizes that making a clean start after a middle aged marriage is harder than she thought it would be and runs back to make amends, but it’s too late. There are no spoilers here – the show’s title makes it clear that there is no happy ending.

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When the show was announced, I’d been of the opinion that it was some kind of unfortunate sequel to Sex And The City, after all, it’s hard to see Sarah Jessica Parker as anyone else other than Carrie Bradshaw. However, I am happy to admit that I was proven wrong by the show. While there are bits of Carrie’s personality that have been infused into Frances, it’s obvious that she is her own person, and not an aging Carrie. The addition of her friends’ lives in the narrative though, unlike in Sex And The City seems forced and unnecessary. Thomas Haden Church is painfully hilarious as Robert, part sincere husband and part incompetent buffoon. He has the demeanor of a soldier who has seen unspeakable things, to the point where even his apparently romantic declarations seem like he’s barking instructions to his men. It’s clear that Frances and Robert couldn’t be more different, and yet there is something about them together which makes sense, and for me, that’s where the show’s success lies.

Divorce explores every married couple’s worst nightmare – what happens when the person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with, isn’t the really the one you want to spend the rest of your life with? The show gets into the nitty-gritties of the modern marriage, and connects in ways you’ll never expect it to. There are no yelling matches or burst blood vessels or dramatic revelations or tears. Instead there are awkward silences, obvious dysfunction and unflinching honesty – not what you’d want in a marriage, but everything you’d want in a black comedy.

{Divorce is telecast on Star World Premier HD and is also available to stream on Hotstar}

The Political Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The past week has been eventful, with two announcements that had us glued to our television sets, the first being the demonetization of the Rs. 500/- and Rs. 1,000/- notes, and the second being the majority of America’s public voting in Donald Trump to be the President of the United States, and the most powerful man in the free world.

Both were surprises, bombs, even, that were dropped on an unsuspecting public, leading to shock, awe and panic. Both these decisions, I am sure, also involved tense newsrooms and action behind the scenes – the kind that directors and writers try so hard to bring to life on screen. It’s hard to imagine exactly what could have happened in the halls of our Prime Minister’s office given the superficial, almost comical ways that high stakes Indian political scenarios are played out in our films and television. However, it is possible to visualize the amount of work, the tension and the nerves that took over political offices in the United States on Wednesday morning, thanks to the abundance of excellent film and television shows that give us an intimate look into the workings of their system.

The most comprehensive show when it comes to American politics, is undoubtedly, The West Wing. The show ran from 1999 to 2006, a true television classic, and is perhaps the prime reason behind Aaron Sorkin’s iconic status as a screenwriter today. The West Wing explores the trials and tribulations of the senior staff at the White House as they attempt to run the most powerful country in the world, while balancing a no-nonsense President who couldn’t care less about being liked and the ground realities at Washington. It’s fast paced, full of quotable lines, an enormous amount of fun to watch, and most importantly, an education in American politics.

Although the The West Wing is the first show that comes to mind (my mind, at the least) at the mention of American politics, it is a decade old now, and runs the risk of being ever so slightly irrelevant.

Many consider its successor to be the Netflix original (and smash hit), House of Cards. It must be said though, that House of Cards is practically a fantasy show in comparison to The West Wing. House of Cards traces the ambitions of Frank Underwood, a Congressman, and his wife, Claire, as they go on a no-holds-barred spree to do whatever it takes to get to the top. House of Cards is just as well written and snappy as The West Wing, but is also extraordinarily exaggerated. The West Wing’s pull lay in its realism. There are plenty of moments in House of Cards where you can’t help but wonder how absurd the scenarios are. Having said that, Donald Trump is America’s President-Elect, so I’m starting to question myself about the show’s farfetchedness.

Finally, it is hard to ignore Veep, the HBO production starring multiple Emmy award winner, Julia-Louis Dreyfus. Veep narrates the story of Selina Meyer, a former US Senator who becomes the Vice President after a failed campaign, and is constantly relegated to matters of unimportance. Veep is entertaining, witty as hell and sharply written. It is unfortunate though, that the one show which is focused on chronicling a woman’s effort to get to the top seat has to be classified as a comedy.

{The West Wing is on FX, Veep is on Star World Premiere HD, and House of Cards is on Netflix}

The Great Escape

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The American elections are on Monday, and from what I read in the newspapers, it seems like Donald Trump has a legitimate chance at becoming President of the United States of America, and perhaps the most important leader in the free world. As if that’s not depressing enough, NASA has just released a video which shows how the Arctic ice-caps are on the verge of disappearing altogether, putting a greater question mark over life as we know it. During times like these, you can’t help but wish you were in a different planet altogether. While that’s an impossible task (at least at the moment), I can give you the next best thing: Immersive, critically acclaimed television shows that will pull you into another world, even if it is only for a weekend.

Game of Thrones – The most obvious choice if you’re looking to spend the weekend doing nothing but staying glued to your screen. Game of Thrones, apart from being one of the most talked about shows in the world, is an engrossing fantasy series that takes place in the medieval world of Westeros. If you like the ideas of becoming familiar with evil queens, men who rise from the dead, and giant fire breathing CGI dragons, this is the show for you. {Game of Thrones is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

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Westworld – If you’re more of a forward looking person, then you should try Westworld, which is based in the future. Westworld is about a futuristic theme park that is inhabited by very realistic robots. Inspired by the novel written by Michael Crichton and directed by Jonathan Nolan, Westworld’s premise lies in the very uncomfortable thought of artificial intelligence becoming so human-like, that they begin threatening our very existence. The visuals are stunning, and the show is technically brilliant, but the real success of the show are the questions of morality that form its core.
{Westworld is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things – Stranger Things, technically, doesn’t take place in another world – the story is based in a sleepy, small American town in the ‘80s. The story revolves around four children whose friend suddenly goes missing after a night of board games. The more they try to investigate into the disappearance, the more they realize that something mysterious and terrifying is taking place in their town. Stranger Things is a must watch if you enjoy Stephen King novels or are generally nostalgic about the good old days when kids had to ride their cycles everywhere and played board games instead of playstations.
{Stranger Things is presently streaming on Netflix}

WinonaRyder-StrangerThings

The Americans – The Americans is another show that takes on the 80s, albeit in a completely different light, for its focus is on the Cold War between Russia and America. The show traces the life and times of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings who are a wholesome suburban couple by day, but Russian KGB agents by night. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch, and that isn’t just because of the wigs, elaborate disguises and 80s spy equipment. The Americans is one of those rare shows which will twist perspectives, make you root for the apparent bad guys, and question your own moral compass.
{The Americans is presently telecast on Star World HD}