Month: January 2017

Fresh For February

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Whether it’s a brand new show or an old favourite returning to the screen, television in February has a lot to love. Here’s a list –

1. Taboo – Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott get together in this eight-episode miniseries that is set in 19th century England. The Mad Max star plays James Delaney, a man long presumed to be dead in Africa, who returns to England to extract revenge on all those who have wronged him. Taboo promises vengeance, stolen diamonds, an abundance of top hats, and also boasts of an all-star cast that includes Jonathan “The High Sparrow” Pryce, Oona Chaplin and Michael Kelly.

2. Homeland, Season 6 – Homeland returns to our screens, this time with the focus shifting back to the United States as Carrie (Claire Danes) moves to New York City. The season’s storyline, apart from featuring a firecracker of a political situation will, interestingly enough, also involve an election with a female presidential candidate. The sixth season of Homeland also feels darker, and seems to hold more intrigue than focusing on the twists that it’s famous for. {Star World & Hotstar}

3. A Series Of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket’s deliciously wicked children’s book series makes its small screen debut with Netflix. The rich, brilliant but chronically unlucky Baudelaire children lose their parents and are put in the care of their relative, Count Olaf, who makes it very clear that he’s only after their large inheritance. Neil Patrick Harris returns to the small screen as the Count, an unabashedly evil and twisted man with a failed drama career. If you liked the books, rest assured that you’ll love the show. {Netflix}

4. The Young Pope – Jude Law plays Pius XIII, a forty something Pope elected by Cardinals with the hope that he will be their puppet, except things never really go to plan, do they? Born Lenny of Brooklyn, Pius XIII declares independence and asserts his authority as a master of manipulation. This HBO series is directed by Oscar award winning director Paolo Sorrentino, and also stars Diane Keaton, as a nun. If that isn’t good reason for you to get started on watching this show, I don’t know what is.

5. Girls, Season 6 – Lena Dunham’s outrageous and sometimes bawdy coming-of-age drama, Girls, finally comes to an end with the sixth season set to premiere this month. Although the show has been criticized many times for having characters that no one could relate to, there’s no doubt that it has made a significant impact on modern pop-culture, with its messy-on-purpose storylines and oddly endearing characters. {Hotstar}

Prime Choice

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

E-Commerce giant Amazon launched Prime Video a few weeks ago to its Indian customers. Prime Video is an online video streaming service, like Netflix and HotStar. The service is free, rather, packaged with the ‘Prime’ subscription that Amazon offers for its customers, where, for an annual fee, they receive extra discounts, free delivery and other privileges. Although Prime Video is probably one of the cheapest subscription services out there at Rs. 500/- a year (not to mention the host of benefits that you’d also be receiving as an Amazon customer), it must be said that there isn’t much variety on offer, especially on the TV show front. But hey, when life gives you lemons, you make lists – so here’s my pick of the TV series that are available on Prime Video.

1. Mozart In The Jungle – Based on Blair Tindall’s 2005 memoir of the same title, Mozart in The Jungle is a series about the inner workings of orchestras, and what it takes to make it in (western) classical music today. A young, unconventional new maestro is appointed at the (fictional) New York Symphony to shake things up and bring in more audiences. The motley set of characters might seem too many at the start, but it doesn’t take too much time for the show to draw you in to its world. The episodes are short, and move fast, so if you find yourself binge watching for five hours straight, well, I warned you.

2. Transparent – Transparent has been a bit of a constant fixture on every award show’s nomination list ever since it made its debut in 2014, and with good reason. This show about a seventy-year-old man who comes out as a transgender to his family, and the world, is heartwarming in ways you don’t expect it to be. Transparent takes on heavy issues like gender and sexuality with a light touch, and a great deal of sensitivity and humour.

3. The Girlfriend Experience – The Girlfriend Experience traces the story of a law student interning in a corporate firm who moonlights as an escort for rich men. The show initially seems to be a tiring commentary about prostitution, but halfway through the first season becomes much more complex and crosses over multiple genres. It’s dark and at times, quite morbid, but riveting throughout.

4. The Night Manager – Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman come together to create magic on screen in this BBC produced mini-series. I have raved about this show enough times on this space, but I’ll reiterate here that it truly is one of the best mini-series out there in terms of story-telling, acting and adrenaline.

5. Mr. Robot – Mr.Robot is easily one of the edgiest television shows out there, with its hacking based storyline and borderline neurotic protagonist, Elliot (Rami Malek). Mr. Robot is thrilling, but also terrifying, for every episode is a reminder of the colossal amount of information that the internet has on and about us, and how vulnerable we are to it. It’s a show that’s as much about hacking people, as it is about hacking computers.

mr.robot, rami malek

Only A Number

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Indian cinema has long been notorious for its ridiculous gender gap. That fifty plus heroes are paired with heroines who are half their age (or less) even in this day and age is not something that is surprising anymore – in fact, it’s convention. The situation is just as bleak in the west, with Hollywood also afflicted by similar gender parity in both casting and in pay. It’s as if every female actress in the world comes with some kind of expiry date, after which they’re exiled to smaller, less significant roles. While films still have a long way to go, it’s heartening to note that television, or at least recent television has created a space for older female actors. More and more shows with strong women leads who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter versions of female TV characters (young, beautiful and full of first world problems) have been cropping up the past year.

Take the case of Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ll admit that despite being a huge fan, I was relieved to see the end of Sex And The City. It was painful to watch her as Carrie in the last few seasons, for she had obviously aged but was still being written like a twenty-year-old. In her newest show Divorce, however, she takes on the role of a woman struggling through a dysfunctional, middle-aged marriage. The show works because of its painful honesty, an honesty that wouldn’t have been possible without the caliber of an actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, who doesn’t just play Frances, but becomes her.

Winona Ryder, one of the eighties’ most iconic actresses, made a splash on the smaller screen by wresting all attention in Stranger Things. Her performance as the distraught small town who must make sense of the bizarre happenings that shroud her son’s disappearance made the show for me. Interestingly enough, the other character who stands apart among the varied and diverse cast of the show, is twelve-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Brown blew me away as ‘Eleven’, a child on whom unspeakable experiments have been conducted on, and is additional proof that when it comes to being a lead, age and gender are mere constructs.

Grace and Frankie rounds off the list of my favourite shows with unconventional and (much) older female leads. This heartwarming comedy about two seventy-year-olds trying to reclaim whatever is left of their lives after their husbands declare their love for each other, resonated with me in ways I never expected it to. Given how sixty plus actresses are usually relegated to two minute roles of crazy grandmother, it’s brilliant to see 78-year-old Jane Fonda and 77-year-old Lily Tomlin light up the screen the way that they do, and have always done.

There are a few more shows that I can list with older and nuanced female leads. There’s How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as a powerful lawyer with a turbulent life, and although I’ve stopped watching Empire, there’s really no doubt in my (or anyone else’s) mind that the life of the show is Taraji P Henson in her role as Cookie Lyon. Veep is another example of a series whose success has hinged entirely on Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ comic talent and timing.

Shows which are brave enough to go all out on a female lead are few, but it is heartening to note that there is a palpable change taking place across the film and television fraternity. One can only hope that more shows with older female leads make it to screen, after all, actresses, like fine wine, only get better as they age.