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}

A Web of Change

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Tanya and Mikesh have been together in a long distance relationship for three years now. One fine morning, Mikesh decides to come back from the US to Mumbai, to propose to Tanya, except Tanya doesn’t want to marry him, for she’s just realised that she barely even knows him. What follows next isn’t the story of the latest Desi romantic comedy novel to hit the shelves, but the first season of Permanent Roommates, a web serial that is produced by The Viral Fever channel on YouTube.

Permanent Roommates has had two seasons so far, and with more than a million hits on each episode, isn’t just a massive success for an independent operation, but has also sparked more YouTube web-series being created in its wake. These shows are all online on YouTube, which means you can watch them whenever you want to. They are roughly twenty minutes long (much like any show that would normally take a half hour slot on television), and take on themes which would be considered to be too audacious for Indian prime time TV. Permanent Roommates, for example, takes on live-in relationships, modern friendships and pre-marital sex – themes which have been done to death on western television shows, but are refreshing to watch when presented in Indian context. Permanent Roommates is based in Mumbai, so the characters speak in Hindi, however, the channel provides subtitles, which is a boon for the Hindi challenged such as myself, not to mention that it ensures that the show gets the large audience that it deserves.

Another web series that I really enjoyed watching, was The Better Life Foundation on the Them Boxer Shorts channel, also on YouTube. The Better Life Foundation, which stars popular stand-up comedians Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Utsav Chakraborty and Kanan Gill among others like Kumar Varun and Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, is a comedy about a group of young people who run an NGO in Mumbai. The show is presented in a ‘mockumentary’ style, similar to The Office and Modern Family. The humour in the series is very original, and the acting is spot on. I found myself actually laughing out loud many times while watching (this hardly ever happens), so if you’re looking out for a new comedy series to follow, don’t look further than The Better Life Foundation.

Permanent Roommates and The Better Life Foundation are just the tip of the iceberg where Indian web series are concerned. A lot of production houses are coming up with web series that are both regional and relevant for the young audience it caters for, complete with local pop-culture references. Put Chutney, a Chennai based YouTube channel which rose to fame with its “If Batman Was From Chennai” video just released its own web series called Ctrl+Alt+Del which traces the life and times of a group of IT workers in Chennai. The amount of activity in this space is quite exciting, and I really hope that this trend manages to jolt regional serial makers from their current and seemingly never-ending themes of unnecessary sacrifice, jealousy and vengeance, take notice of the fact that their audience’s tastes and views are changing, and finally, realise that we deserve better than feuding mother-in-laws.

The Guessing Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I suppose the easiest way of explaining the Emmy awards is to say that they’re like the Oscars, but for Television. There is a Television Academy in Los Angeles, similar to the Motion Picture Academy, which honours the best of Prime Time Television. The awards are determined in an identical manner as well, through peer voting. The Emmy awards differ from the Oscars however, in the manner in which the votes are cast. Unlike the Oscars, where every voting member of the Motion Picture Academy (which is roughly about six thousand member strong) gets to vote in all the categories, the members of the Television Academy are split into groups based on the expertise. So in essence, actors vote for acting categories, writers for writing categories and so on, automatically making the voter group smaller, and the awards, very competitive. As if that’s not hard enough, the quality of television these days ensures that the difference between an Emmy and second place would have only been the barest of margins.

The nominations this year have been mostly predictable, like Game of Thrones finding itself nominated in a whopping twenty three categories, but with a few surprises, like Aziz Ansari being nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category, as well as his show Master of None, being nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series. If Aziz Ansari wins, he will be the first of South Asian descent to win an Emmy in the lead comedy actor category (he’s the first to even be nominated), but faces stiff competition with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays a woman, Maura Pfefferman, in Transparent) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) also vying for the honour.

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The Night Manager found itself in the honours list as well, with the show being nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and its leads, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman nominated for acting honours. It’s hard to say if they’d win though, because non-Americans haven’t really had the greatest runs in the Emmys, and also because People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is in the same category. People vs OJ Simpson scored twenty two nominations, making it second only to Game of Thrones with respect to the volume of nominations, so while I have a great deal of love for The Night Manager, I won’t be putting my money on them.

This year also saw The Americans finally being given the nominations it deserved after three years of being in the Emmy snub list. The show has been nominated for Outstanding Drama, and the leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have both been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series categories. Keri Russell is up against some stiff competition with Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards), and so is Matthew Rhys, who is competing with the likes of Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).

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I hope The Americans win an award this year, not because the performances and writing were better than that of their fellow nominees’ (I mean, did you take a look at that list? They’re all impeccable), but because The Americans deals with a subject matter that is complicated, and uncomfortable – it makes you empathise with your enemies, and turns your perceptions of the bad guy on its head. It is intense, for me, has taken over the spot which was filled by Better Call Saul as the best drama series on television at the moment. So could this be the year of the Emmy underdogs? Or will it be just another year where the rest of us television nuts wax lyrical about our deserving, off-beat favourites, but Game of Thrones and House of Cards split all the awards between themselves?
Probably the latter.

Back To The Future

{First published in The Hindu Metroplus}

My sister and I grew up with the television in the most literal way – as toddlers, neither of us would accommodate meal times unless it involved very specific television. In my case, it was cartoons, and in her case, it was MTV. Today, my nieces and nephews eat while fiddling about with their parents’ tablets and phones, but what they watch hasn’t particularly changed, for it is still loud music and talking animals. A pink cartoon pig called Peppa that speaks in a British accent, particularly, has most of my little cousins in raptures. Peppa Pig is originally a television show,but now, thanks to how tech-savvy its audience is, has a slew of apps which ensure that kids always have access to Peppa whenever they want to (and to help parents have less troublesome meal times).

The fact that you don’t actually need a television to watch television programmes is something about modern television that never ceases to amaze me. Gone are the days I had to time tuition classes to ensure that I didn’t miss watching reruns of Full House. Gone are also the days when my family and I sat together and watched television. Does anyone even do that these days? Watching television with friends and family seems to be an event reserved for major sporting tournaments. Most of the television I watch and discover are from and through the two streaming services I’ve subscribed to – Netflix and HotStar. I watch YouTube for updates on films and song releases, like most of my generation. Does this mean we’re all headed to a future where we’re going to become lonely zombies who are plugged into their own little technology bubbles?

Perhaps not. My parents, who grew up in the seventies and the eighties, have often told us stories of getting together at the house of the one neighbour in the street who owned a television, to watch Oliyum Oliyum on weekends for that was what anyone spoke about in school the next day. Television back then, they said, was as special watching films in the theatre, if not more. Today though, we (my parents included), are all plugged into our own devices, but interestingly, we’ve never stopped discussing the shows that we see. If you’ve ever watched a live-stream on your computer of an important sporting event while being plugged into Twitter, you’d know that the experience is the virtual equivalent of viewing it with a massive crowd. Accenture confirmed this when they conducted a survey a year or so ago where their researchers discovered that consumers are switching to watching television on computers and mobile devices: about 62% of TV viewers concurrently use a laptop to watch television, and 41%, phones.

Given the popularity of mobile devices though, it’s no surprise that programme creators ensure that their shows are also streamed online, apart from being telecast, and that almost every news channel telecasts their programmes on their websites as well. It’s also no surprise that television makers are pulling all stops to make the device more relevant to the viewer of today – television sets now come equipped with internet connectivity, bluetooth, and streaming capabilities.

Despite the increasing usage of mobile devices to watch programmes, I don’t believe that the television will go defunct any time soon, in fact, the TV set looks to become an entire ecosystem by itself. You’ll probably be able to share content, and your opinions, with whoever you want to, with just your remote control. Television programming might become more interactive than ever, with the audience playing the most important role in not only shaping the content, but creating it as well. We’ve already seen news channels inviting citizen journalists, so the day where audience members become either part of the cast or the production of television shows, doesn’t look too far away. The future of television, in many ways, is in our hands.

My Watch Has Ended

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s impossible at this time and age to keep track of every show on air, which is why recommendations on what to stop watching, are just as important as what to watch. Here’s my guide on shows to kick out of your watch list for there’s little worse than precious time (and space on our hard disks) wasted on terrible television.

Empire: I have professed to loving this show many times to many people, and the truth is I did enjoy the first season’s humour, music and the exquisite tension between the leads, Lucious (Terrence Howard), and Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). There were lots of surprising turns, the music of the show was fabulous, the writing was crisp, and Cookie’s barbs in particular, were magic. Unfortunately, the second season went flying off the rails for me, with story developments that made no sense and twists that were so over the top that the show became a parody of its previous season. If you haven’t watched the show at all, I do highly, highly recommend the first season. The second season, unfortunately, is awful enough to warrant giving up on the show altogether, and is proof that in television, even the toughest Cookie is capable of crumbling.

Quantico: Quantico is another show I openly admitted to liking for it’s fast pace, and home girl Priyanka Chopra’s surprisingly (I was surprised, at any rate) effective performance. The thriller series worked well when the audience were forced to re-evaluate their predictions as to who bombed the Grand Central Station in the first half of the season, but the instead of tying the mystery together and providing some semblance of clarity to its viewers, the show just became a pointless goose chase. While I do hope that Priyanka does more mainstream American television in the future, I’ll be giving Quantico a miss from now.

The Flash: The Flash started getting tiresome for me the moment the writers stopped focusing on The Flash’s powers, the humour and the wit that the show is known for, and instead started putting out emotional plot arcs. Between Barry (Grant Gustin) refusing to commit to love because he’s a superhero, Joe West (Jesse Martin) going out of his way to be every character’s dad, and Iris West’s (Candice Patton) incapability to express feelings (not to mention the complete lack of chemistry between her and Barry), there were hardly any “that is so cool!” moments during the second season, which are so important for superhero shows. I might cling on to this series for a third season, but for a show that had a talking gorilla as a villain once, the entertainment quotient has really taken a steep dive.

The Big Bang Theory: The Big Bang Theory used to be an intelligent comedy about a bunch of physicists, but now, it’s just about a bunch of guys and their relationship problems. Even the show’s greatest character, the incorrigible Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) has relationship problems! The Raj Koothrappally (Kunal Nayyar) stereotypes have gone from bad to worse as well. The series has mutated from the interesting show about a bunch of people passionate about science, a group that is thoroughly underrepresented in mainstream television into a more boring version of Friends (whose reruns I can always watch anyway).

Two Broke Girls: To be honest, I’ve no idea how this show is even running. The acting is vapid, there’s zero humour despite the presence of the usually stellar Jennifer Coolidge, and to be honest, there really is no reason to watch this show unless you’re waiting for Masterchef to come on next.

The Spies Next Door

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are a suburban couple in eighties America. They help their children with the homework, they get ice-cream together, they even bake brownies for new neighbours – so really, they’re just your average, All-American husband and wife, except they’re not. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are trained, skilled and deadly KGB agents who work for the Soviet Union during the Cold War while leading deep-rooted lives in Washington DC. Oh, and remember the new neighbour who they baked brownies for? He’s Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI counter-intelligence agent.

The Americans traces the tumultuous life and times of the Jenningses as they are torn between serving their country, and themselves. What makes the series absolutely fascinating to watch, is the fact that it’s set in the eighties. Not only was it a time of intense political intrigue, but also a time when supercomputers, location tracking bugs and cars that could talk had no potential to exist. The spy games that the couple play involve good old disguises (wigs included), kidnapping, morse code, skin burning chemicals and the occasional sexual favour. A lot about The Americans is reminiscent of Homeland, especially in the ways that the past and the present collide on screen, but The Americans is definitely on the more dramatic, for it is as much about a war, as it is about marriage, and at times, family. The Jennings’ marriage was a match that was made in the upper echelons of the Soviet spy directorate, but despite the great masquerade of it all, there are moments of genuine tenderness and love that seep through their secret lives.

The creator of the show, Joe Weisberg, interestingly, is a former CIA agent. A lot of the show’s story line is based on the stories and experiences that he collected during his time there, as well as a lot of research. The Americans is excellent television, not only because of its fast, almost frenzied pace, but also because despite the surreal plot line, it captures human frailty in a manner so accurate, that it is painful. The leads, Keri Rusell is extraordinary as Elizabeth Jennings, the spy capable of breaking a man’s ribcage with her bare arms, but is still capable of being outraged by the fact that her 13 year old daughter bought underwear without her. Matthew Rhys is also brilliant as Phillip Jennings, the surprisingly soft-hearted agent who is constantly torn between serving his motherland and going against everything he was taught to believe in, and make his blissful false life, real.

What I found most enjoyable about The Americans was how it almost forces the viewer to root for Elizabeth and Phillip, despite the fact that they’re the bad guys. The fact that you want two Soviet spies to somehow wrangle themselves out of the dangerous situation they (willingly) got themselves in and just happily ever after with their two kids is a solid triumph on part of the show. It will even have you believe that spies, on most days, are just like us.

{Season 4 of The Americans is presently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

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}