Documentaries

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

the-night-of

The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

better call saul, better call saul gifs

The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

What’s Eating You?

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’ve become my grandmother lately. Every evening about 8.40 PM, I sit squarely in the living room, clutching on to the remote to make sure that no one else can take control of the screen. I announce often (and in irrelevant ways) to anyone who so much as passes by that I’ll be watching television from 9 PM to 10 PM. You can join me, of course, but there will be no changing the channel. Not while Masterchef Australia is on.

India’s favourite western cooking show is back along with its much loved judges, Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris. I say with confidence that no other reality cooking competition has come close to elevating cooking into an impassioned spectator sport the way Masterchef Australia has. No other cooking show boasts of the staggering talent (of both participants and guest judges) that Masterchef Australia does, either.

This season, for example, only four weeks have passed, but we’ve already seen participants come out with exorbitant desserts, beautifully plated salads, meats cooked in methods that are impossible to pronounce, and dishes that will have you questioning how they still call themselves ‘amateur’. We’ve also seen the terrifying Marco Pierre White (the youngest chef to clip three Michelin stars to his belt) take participants through challenges and bark orders at them as they sweated it out in commercial restaurant kitchens preparing bulk amounts of fine food. This week, food goddess Nigella Lawson came on to the show, sending participants, judges and the viewers into a tizzy.

The contest is designed in such a way that two participants are eliminated every week, and each time a participant comes up for elimination, there is a dramatic sit down with them where the judges ask – What does this competition mean to you? What does cooking mean to you?
While this exercise is mostly carried out for the theatrics, it really is incredible to see the raw passion in some of the contestants’ answers. This is my life, they say. I can’t see myself doing anything else. When you watch the seriousness with which the contestants approach this question, you ask yourself – Isn’t it just food?

The answer is in Netflix’s excellent documentary show, Chef’s Table. Chef’s Table traces the journey of some of the greatest modern chefs of our time, including Massimo Bottura, Grant Achatz, Magnus Nilsson, Dan Barber and Gaggan Anand. These are chefs who have changed the way food is thought of, seen, presented, and eaten. The documentary traces their beginnings, and draws the viewer into the present day where they are changing the discourse about food. The chefs themselves talk about their inspiration, the ways they drew strength when faced with failure and criticism, and what pushed them to be where they are today. The episode with Gaggan Anand in particular I found compelling for obvious reasons – I was able to understand better because of the Indian connection.

Gaggan now heads a successful restaurant named after himself in Bangkok, a restaurant that consistently has been featured in the list of the Top 50 restaurants in the world, and was named Asia’s best restaurant in 2014, which is no mean feat for a restaurant that serves Indian food, a cuisine associated with quick comfort food.

In the episode, Gaggan recalls a time when he lost his job, despite being one of the most promising chefs in the country, and found himself making and delivering food for Rs. 15 to Pizza Hut employees. He meets small success a while after, and just when you think he’s doing well, political situations push him out of business, and he loses his brother. When you’re watching it, you wonder, how did he ever manage to push himself to where he is now? When you’re pushed so hard in to the corner”, he says, “You explode”. The documentary then shifts to his triumphs, the night he won the best restaurant in Asia award, the culmination of his sweat, the overwhelming emotion in his voice when he says he’s lived a dream, and that’s when you realize, it’s never just food.


{Masterchef Australia is on Star World HD and Chef’s Table is on Netflix}