Sense Of An Ending

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

There is a theory that is often talked about in Behavioural Economics, one that was born out of the research carried out by eminent economists Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman, called the “Peak End” theory. What the theory propounds is that our memories of an event, or an experience are not formed based on the entire duration of said event or experience, rather it is based on specific, intense, moments, or the highlights of it. If, for example, a somewhat dull episode of a television series finishes with a cracking revelation, or a complete twist in events, you’re more likely to remember it as a great episode for that revelation or twist, rather than a mediocre episode made better with a good ending.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the reason why I’ve enjoyed the Game of Thrones franchise as much as I have been, is because of the peak-end theory. The clarity with which I can recall the shock value of the scenes in the first season’s finale where Ned Stark (Sean Bean), who seemed to be a core protagonist, dies an ugly, untimely death, as well as the moment that Danerys Targaryen (Emilia Clark) emerges from the fires, naked, holding her baby dragons, far surpass my memory of other events which took place that season. My memories of the other seasons too, are essentially a combination of key turns in the story and particularly gruesome deaths – like a highlight reel.

The sixth season though, has put the peak-end theory to rest for me. Six episodes have come out so far, marking half the season complete, and every episode has had stunning revelations, and every episode plays like a highlight reel. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) rises from the dead after a mystical haircut performed by the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), after five and three quarter seasons, finally runs into some good luck and not only escapes the Boltons, but also gets the powerful Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on her side, and is reunited with her half brother at The Wall. Danerys rounds up an entire Dothraki army, at Vaes Dothrak after setting the local Khals on fire, and inspires her new Khalasar to be completely on her side to take over Westeros, with a stirring speech (the ferocious dragon she was sitting on might have helped, too). Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), bruised and battered by the Boltons has managed to escape as well, and is now back home at the Iron Islands, helping his sister become the rightful leader of their people, after their father was murdered unceremoniously by a mysterious uncle.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has quit the Faceless men (after wasting an an entire season) and looks to reclaim her identity. Bran Stark (Isaac Wright) has made an important comeback, and his abilities to warg, or see into the past, have evolved to the point where he can now interact with the past, thereby affecting the future, all of which bring in terrifying possibilities.

Back in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is plotting her revenge against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and the Faith Militant which she foolishly empowered, but doesn’t seem to catch a break, as he manages to convert her daughter-in-law, Margery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), and consequently, her son Tommen (Dean- Charles Chapman), the King, into the Faith. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), on the other hand, has been fired as the King’s Hand, and must set aside his ego, and instead, look to quell the rising rebellions against the Lannisters.

The show thus far has not left any room for the audience to catch their collective breath. Every episode makes you think, What now? What next?, and even before you can contemplate an answer, the show gives it to you, along with an entirely new question. It’s doubly exciting because the book on which this season is based on, The Winds of Winter, hasn’t been released by GRR Martin. It is also evident that the show makers have detoured completely from the story line that the book might have adopted (with the blessings of Martin, of course). The official announcement from the producers said that the show would only have eight seasons in total, and given that we’re already in the sixth, there should be some sense of an ending on the horizon, but the way the show is moving now, it feels like it’s only the beginning.


{Game of Thrones is on Star World HD every Tuesday, and is also available on the Hot Star app}

Playing The Numbers Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

As I write this, the previous government has been voted back in to power in Tamil Nadu with a result that was last seen in 1984, during the time of M.G.Ramachandran, who, to date, is held as the greatest Chief Minister the state has ever seen. Once the victory and lead was sealed, the national news channels, who had spent the morning poring over multiple analyses, voter mindsets and trends as numbers danced on the screen, switched to telecasting scenes of victory and the jubilance which had pervaded the air around the winning candidate’s office. Reporters bravely stood in the midst of party workers who were working up a frenzy dancing, and shoving sweets in each others mouths. The scenes being played in the regional television channels though, are a little different.

For the last fifteen odd years, the morning of the day the state election results are declared in Tamil Nadu sees a flurry of activity across all its regional television channels. It didn’t matter that their regular programming was general entertainment or films, for on the day of the results, each channel considered itself to be the foremost authority on the numbers that would determine the future of Tamil Nadu’s government. They have experts, hosts, scrolling numbers and expensive productions. They are also the products of political parties, which is why when counting begins, the hosts and political experts on the show talk with great gusto. However, by the time counting stabilises and a winner emerges, in what feels like a twisted reality show, hardly two channels continue their telecast of the election results.

In the year 2006, when the DMK and its allies won in Tamil Nadu, Sun TV (DMK sided) pressed on about the ‘fair verdict’ and the ‘victory of the masses’ while Jaya TV (affiliated to the AIADMK) if my memory serves me right, had shifted to black and white MGR films. Similarly, in the year 2011, the AIADMK was voted into power with a sweeping majority, winning 203 out of 234 seats. As the results were brought into light, Jaya TV declared victory a good one hour before official results were announced, and instead of discussing vote numbers, began a fresh conversation about the greatness of the new Chief Minister, and the good that she was going to do to the state. Sun TV and Kalaignar TV on the other hand, switched from election result analysis to award show reruns. This convenient switch in programming during results day is now a common joke, to the point where people now predict it the moment a slightest trend or lead shows up.

This year though, apart from the fact that the people didn’t bring in the ‘other’ Dravidian party the way they had been all these years, the channels belonging to the losing parties didn’t back down and change programming. Some channels showed delayed numbers which were favourable to the party it was aligned with, some others took the numbers out but persevered with their opinions. Some even started putting out the correct numbers and admitted failure (albeit after crying foul play), which was radical considering the denial we were used to. That television channels continued with election broadcast, I suppose is a good sign, a sign of fledgling maturity that is beginning to show in people, perhaps. I must admit though, it also felt a little odd – after all, what is results day on Tamil television without a disconnected programme showing you how to make the perfect paruppu vadai? I was thinking about this out loud when the internet pointed me to a channel which is the namesake of a certain actor turned politician, whose party had a terrible run this year. This channel, after insisting that no party had won any seats, shifted to a show which detailed the most authentic way to cook brinjals. All was well with the world again.

Tech and Chips

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}
Last week, I had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted, an occasion which demanded rest, food that had compulsorily been through a blender, a heady cocktail of pills, and finally, a comedy series that would help numb the pain. The show I watched through this week, swollen mouth and all, was Silicon Valley, and while it wasn’t as effective as ibuprofen, it certainly helped.

Silicon Valley traces the trials and tribulations of four programmers who are trying to make it big in the heart of the tech world. Richard Hendriks (played by Thomas Middleditch, who looks to be the most interesting mix of Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie) is a programmer who works in Hooli, a software company in Palo Alto during the day, and spends his free time after work, building his own programme, Pied Piper, in an incubator house set up by a big talking, bossy entrepreneur who hasn’t really achieved anything, Erlich Bachmann (TJ Miller).

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Richard is awkward in the worst way, and completely incapable of holding a conversation with any of his co-workers, so when he tries to tell people about Pied Piper, he is ridiculed instead. His colleagues, in a bid to see if they can humiliate him further, test the programme, only to be blown away by the efficacy and complexity of Richard’s code. As more colleagues gather to see what the fuss is about, one of the business development associates , Jared (Zach Woods) sees the potential in Richard’s code to potentially alter the industry, and takes the matter up with the CEO of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Before Richard can understand anything that’s going on, he’s whisked away to the CEO’s room, and is offered ten million dollars, on the spot, to sell the code to Hooli. Around the same time Gavin Belson makes the offer, a famously eccentric Venture Capitalist, Peter Gregory (played by the Late Christopher Evan Welch) contacts him, and tells him that he will fund two hundred thousand dollars for a small stake in the company, which Richard will be CEO of. Richard, who has never been confronted with this kind of money or attention, is forced to make a decision which can change his life – sell out, or believe that he can make his own fortune? Richard, after considerable thought and vomiting, opts for the latter.

The rest of the show is a painfully honest account of the amount of trouble involved in actually setting up a business. Richard has to deal with Erlich’s bossiness, the constant bickering of the two other programmers in the house, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) who are automatically absorbed into Pied Piper once the funding comes through, and the fact that Gavin Belson is working around the clock with a giant team of programmers to reverse engineer the Pied Piper algorithm.

The show has great comic moments, and the chemistry between Dinesh and Gilfoyle as two people who love to hate each other, is particularly excellent. Perhaps the only fault I can find with Silicon Valley is that despite the abundance of phallic humour, there is close to no female casting. There are no female programmers, and save for Peter Gregory’s assistant, Monica (Amanda Crew), and in the second season, Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) who plays Gregory’s successor. One of the show’s creators, Alec Berg, was asked the same question in a conference recently, and he insisted that the reason for that was because of the actual disparity of women in the tech world. It was evident that they weren’t in love with the world they were showing on screen, and he went on to say that it was screwed up (with an f).

I have to say though, as screwed up as his world is, it’s a lot funnier than the one we’re living in.

{Silicon Valley is available on the HotStar app, and is telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Mum’s The Word

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Growing up in Chennai in the nineties, watching American television, there was a large cultural gap between my world, and the world I saw on screen. It took me some time to understand the way things worked in the west, but what remained for me, the greatest conundrum of all, was the American mother. I was raised in a protective household, typical of most nineties middle class households in the city, so the fact that mothers in the west let their teenagers make their own choices in life was something I found both confounding and exotic (I’ll also go on record to state that I’m glad that my mother didn’t let my foolish teenager self make any).

Although I am now grown up (I think), the television mom continues to be a subject of endless fascination for me. There are a fair number of TV moms who I believe are interesting, but the most interesting, hands down, is Cookie Lyon of Empire. Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, is a former drug dealer who spent seventeen years in prison to ensure that her husband could fulfil his musical dreams, seventeen years away from her three young sons. When she returns, her sons aren’t the wide eyed little boys who saw her off at the courthouse anymore, and worse, they don’t understand the reasons behind her absence, and don’t respect her. In the first season of Empire, when she returns from prison to meet her family, her youngest son, Hakeem, isn’t impressed. “Do you want a medal?” he asks. Cookie, instead of crumbling like most TV moms would, goes after him with a broomstick, automatically qualifying her to be the greatest mother on television today.

Cookie is a mother in a dysfunctional family, and while mothers like her are few, dysfunctional families on television are a dime a dozen, with the Tanner family being a notable one. Full House was a show I watched a lot growing up, and I lapped up the squeaky clean humour and the saccharine life lessons. It embarrasses me today, but I know I have plenty company, after all, why else would there be a sequel, twenty years later? Fuller House sees the eldest of the Tanner clan, DJ (Candace Cameron), take on the mantle of single mother of her three children. The show has its flaws, and banks on nostalgia value, but what was interesting was that unlike Full House where it was the children taking on life lessons, it’s the adults. DJ is no perfect mom, and stumbles aplenty while trying to raise her boys. We live in a day and age where everyone seems to have a Instagram perfect life, so watching DJ take on failure was endearing.

My favourite crazy family though, has got to be The Simpsons. Its slapstick humour is timeless and the long running show has won numerous awards with plenty laying claim to Homer Simpson, the dull-witted protagonist, as their life guru. Surprisingly, there is hardly any talk about Marge Simpson, the matriarch of The Simpson family. Although the character was originally designed to be the stereotypical American housewife, Marge’s disposition to handle anything that life throws at her, and her towering blue hair ensured that she’s one of a kind. Despite all the trouble that her husband and children create, she doesn’t lose faith in her family, and handles them with a little love and a lot of patience – which, as any mother (animated or otherwise) will tell you, is the secret to success. Happy Mother’s Day.

{Empire is on FX, Fuller House is on Netflix and The Simpsons is on Star World HD}

If This, Then That

A couple of days ago, I was reading about the algorithm, or the computer code that internet giants like Amazon and Netflix use to round up recommendations for their users. They’ve constantly been updating their algorithm, in order to provide better recommendations, and the name of the algorithm they use now, is called Pragmatic Chaos. I found this intensely fascinating – imagine engineers poring over complex mathematical equations to help you find the best way to burn another ten hours of your life, watching television. Pragmatic Chaos determines sixty percent of what is being watched/rented at Netflix, which is a ridiculously large number for sales that’s generated by a piece of code. Inspired by Pragmatic Chaos, and in the hope that this will contribute towards the remaining forty percent of viewing choices, here are my recommendations for what you should be watching, based on what you like.

If you like Sherlock, you will love Broadchurch: If you were to pin point to the reason for the appeal, and at times, frenzy behind the BBC’s contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, it would be Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. His accent, his lack of empathy and his cheekbones make him a character who is hard to ignore and to dislike. Broadchurch, also produced by the BBC, has a similar emotionally unavailable protagonist (with similarly high cheekbones) in detective Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant. Much like Sherlock, Broadchurch has a wonderful working partner chemistry between the leading pair (Olivia Colman who plays Ellie Miller), too. If you enjoyed Sherlock, then it’s time to make way for Broadchurch as your new favourite detective series.
{Broadchurch is presently telecast on Colors Infinity}

broadchurch, television show reviews

If you like Friends, you will love Grace and Frankie: Most of my generation grew up on Friends, and I can’t remember anyone who disliked the part hilarious, part heart warming (and part bawdy) coming of age comedy. Most of my generation is also now all grown up and facing existential crises every other day, which is why I recommend Grace and Frankie, a show about two women in their seventies whose husbands leave them for each other, and now have to navigate the single life by themselves. This show is just as heartwarming, hilarious (and bawdy) as Friends. While Friends saw a lot of us wanting to become adults and grow up overnight, Grace and Frankie will make you feel a lot better about ageing.
{Grace and Frankie is on Netflix}

If you like House of Cards, you will love Veep: If you enjoy House of Cards and Francis Underwood’s takeover of the American government, it’s probably because you either have a twisted mind that’s similar to Francis’, or because you enjoy fast-paced, and entertaining shows based on American politics. If it is indeed the latter, then you will enjoy Veep, a political comedy that is as sharp as it is silly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as Selina Meyer, the Vice President (Veep for short) of the United States who has startlingly little power. Veep is the light to the dark that House of Cards brought to politically themed shows, and although it is very funny, do not expect it to be as entertaining as the actual American elections that are going on right now.
{Veep is being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

veep

Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones returns this week, marking the end of nearly a year long wait for fans who were left to hang on multiple cliffs when the previous season ended. It didn’t help that HBO released three trailers which, instead of giving a clearer picture of what’s to come, only raised more questions.

At the end of the fifth season, Danerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) looked to be in a ‘out of the frying pan, and into the fire’ sort of situation. Although she was airlifted out of a deadly revolt in her kingdom by Drogon the dragon in one of the greatest computer generated action sequences on television thus far, she was captured by the Khalasar, the powerful tribe she was previously married into. The trailer had a few scenes where it’s evident that the sixth season will see this once powerful queen being stripped (literally) into slavery. Having said that, we also see her big, bad, dragons casting giant shadows over the nomadic kingdom, so rest assured that an explosive rescue mission is also on the cards, and maybe we’ll get to see her make that long awaited trip to Westeros to claim the Iron Throne this season.

At the other end of the Game of Thones world, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who managed to rescue herself and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) from the clutches of her psychotic husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) now looks to have been presented the opportunity to regain control of her father’s kingdom. When Sansa Stark is first presented as a character both in the books and in the series, she is portrayed to be feminine and delicate, ready to be the rose to her future husband’s crown of thorns. As the series progresses, her luck worsens in the worst way – her future husband and the boy she dreamed of turns out to be a textbook psychopath, her future mother-in-law is a power hungry queen who will do anything to keep her kingdom, and her father is executed right in front of her eyes. She escapes with great difficulty, only to be forced into marrying Ramsay Bolton, who makes her previous fiance seem like harmless farmer. At the cusp of season six, Sansa is not only free, but also hardened. It will be interesting to see if the eldest surviving Stark manages to avenge all that has happened to her family.

The Stark family will also see Arya (Maisie Williams), blinded and left to death at the end of season five, given a second chance at life, albeit without vision. Bran Stark (Isaac Wright), who we last saw in season 3 as a chubby and adorable little child with mysterious powers that allow him to take over the minds of those around him, returns to the show, this time as a gangly adolescent with better control over his abilities.

Lastly, is Jon Snow really dead? It’s safe to say that no one, with the exception of the cast and crew has any real clue. Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow has been seen at script readings, and at shooting locations but vehemently insists that he’s dead. The internet has been flush with rumours ever since his blood seeped the snow in the final scene of the fifth season, but with barely a few days left for the premiere, it doesn’t matter what the rumours are. We’re all about to find out, and I’m not sure if we’re going to like it.

{Game of Thrones premieres April 26th on Star World and will continue to air every Tuesday}

A Brief History of One Killing

{Previously Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The British crime mystery show, Broadchurch, asks the questions many of us have asked ourselves at some point of time – How long does it take to confidently say that you really know someone? and, do you ever really know someone?

Broadchurch is a small fictional town in Britain, where everything goes around like clockwork and where everyone lives a still life, until a young boy is found murdered, with his body dumped on the beach. Detectives Alec Hardy (David Tennant), and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) must do all they can to catch the murderer, but when a sleepy town’s dark secrets begin to wake, the obstacles in their path are many.

At a time when almost every police themed television show out there takes on a fresh murder each episode, Broadchurch takes on a single killing, a deceptively simple premise (a boy was killed, who did it?), and amplifies it to an eight episode long cat and mouse chase. If, at any moment, you think you’ll be bored by the idea, let me tell you – you will be proven wrong. The show doesn’t drop pace even for a second, and the writers have packed in twists and turns so tightly, that if you miss an episode, you’ll miss crucial parts of the investigation, and trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the investigation. Broadchurch is renowned in the UK for reducing even the most exceptionally critical audiences into a bunch of nervous detectives.

broadchurch, television show reviews

David Tennant, famed for his role as Dr.Who, is a pleasure to watch as Detective Alec Hardy, the sullen outsider with a torrid past who suspects everyone. Olivia Colman as Detective Ellie Miller, the woman who has been in Broadchurch all her life, who thinks she knows her town like the back of her hand only to be shattered by the revelations that rise during the investigation is a class apart. Colman won a BAFTA for her role as Ellie Miller, so there’s no denying her splendid acting performance. The entire casting is actually spot on, with some familiar faces from the Harry Potter movies, and even Game of Thrones. The collective experience of the actors on screen makes you invest in the show and its characters, as if they’re people you know already.

Broadchurch explores not just murder, but also the effect of catastrophe on a small knit community, the mutual suspicions that arise, the combined nervousness which emanates while talking to anyone new, but most importantly, it explores the effects of media attention on criminal cases and the way it is capable of shifting perceptions. The British media are portrayed in the show to be cruel gossipmongers who would slime their way around for even the slightest sniff of gossip. People’s pasts, mistakes they’ve made, mistakes which they have admitted and have corrected themselves for and mistakes which they don’t want to revisit are all brought to light, just to feed the papers.

Broadchurch’s excellence as a show, and the reason it is capable of chilling you to the bone doesn’t lie in its ability to showcase drama, rather it is because of its ability to showcase reality.

{Broadchurch is on Netflix & is presently telecast on Colors Infinity}

Gangs of New York

{Previously published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Marvel’s Daredevil isn’t a conventional superhero. Blinded as a boy in a freak accident which involved nuclear chemicals, Matt Murdock doesn’t have super strength or fantastic abilities – he is human, but with a heightened sense of things around him – He can listen to heartbeats, he can listen to conversations across a wide radius and he can sense movement better than people with vision do. After his boxer father becomes a victim of gang violence, the young, orphaned Matt, is picked up by a mysterious old man called Stick, who teaches him how to fight. After Stick decides that there’s nothing left to teach, Matt goes on to study law. Matt Murdock, defence attorney by day, becomes Daredevil, vigilante crime fighter by night.

Netflix’s production of one of the most intriguing, and human superheroes is very dark, sometimes literally (there are very few scenes which involve daylight, and even those have a constant gloom that pervades Daredevil’s New York City). The show also does not mince violence either. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed studies in brutality, where blood is spilt with the carelessness that one would associate with milk or water.

In the first season of Daredevil, we see Matt (played by Charlie Cox), just getting comfortable with his role as protector of Hell’s Kitchen, the area in New York where he is born and raised. Hell’s Kitchen is infested with gang violence, and the more Matt tries to smoothen things out, the more he realises that it isn’t a molehill which can be removed, but a veritable mountain that has been put into place by a gang boss who goes by the name Kingpin. Being an undercover hero trying to uncover a city’s dark secret is tough work, and the challenges they pose are best represented by Matt’s necessary friendship with a nurse, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who works a night shift at the General Hospital. It isn’t long before Matt’s day job as a defence lawyer is affected, either. He must do all that he can to ensure that his best friend and partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) doesn’t get wind of his newfound hobby.

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Usually, in superhero shows, one sees very clear demarcations between good and bad. We have the hero, he is a good man, sometimes a wronged man, but most definitely a man with a gift, who must put it into use protecting people, and we have the bad man, an overall unappealing person who thinks about nothing but evil. The makers ensure that the audience doesn’t spend too much time wondering who to root for. Daredevil though, takes on a different path. The evil, awful villain and “Kingpin”, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is given a love story, and a rather tender one at that. Matt, on the other hand, is made to question himself multiple times about his own intentions with respect to protecting his city. After all, he constantly advises people to believe in letting the legal system take its course while wearing uncomfortable spandex and beating people up at night, making his own moral system a very murky shade of grey.

Daredevil is a series about a vigilante hero who is flawed, and a series which proves that you don’t need incredible super powers to be interesting. You only have to be human.

{Marvel’s Daredevil is presently on Netflix}

Tinker Tailor Manager Spy

{Previously Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

A few weeks ago, I’d written about the first episode and the general buzz surrounding BBC’s new, greatly hyped and exorbitant production of John Le Carre’s celebrated spy novel, The Night Manager. The relentlessly excellent series wrapped up last week, ending the roller coaster ride of emotion and the mini heart attacks that viewers underwent each time they saw an episode.

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Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is the night manager at The Nefertiti hotel in Egypt. One night, the girlfriend of the most powerful man in Cairo gives him access to information about an arms deal that her boyfriend’s family is in the middle of with one Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), a British industrialist who she calls “the worst man in the world”, which could potentially alter the fate of the political situation in Egypt. Pine alerts the British embassy about the deal, and does all that he can to protect her, but fails. The British Embassy, with the exception of one person, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) becomes conspicuously silent, and Sophie is forced to come back to the hotel, where she dies a gruesome death. Pine, who is now traumatised by the series of events, takes up a new job as a manager in a ski resort in picturesque town in Switzerland, where he meets Richard Roper again.
The wounds reopen, and Pine contacts Angela Burr again. We learn that she is a British enforcement agent who has been trying to nab Roper and his illegal weapon deals her entire career, but with little support because Roper has the entire British intelligence in his back pocket. She asks him if he would be willing to become, and to commit to become a spy for her, and infiltrate Roper’s ranks, gain his trust and ultimately, expose him. Pine agrees, setting off a motion of events which form the series.

Tom Hiddleston is nothing short of delicious as Jonathan Pine, the spy who blazes his way up Roper’s ranks with a combination of his sort of self-deprecating “Who, me?” charm, and his surprising capability and tolerance for brutality. During the time the series was aired, there was a great deal of talk about Tom Hiddleston being the most obvious candidate for the next James Bond – a sentiment that I agreed to at the start of the series, and as the series progressed it felt like one that even the show’s makers shared – why else would Pine be made to order a Martini at a Casino?

Olivia Colman does even better as the unwavering, and very pregnant Angela Burr who is dogged in her pursuit of Roper despite all the odds (and the government) not being in her favour. Tom Hollander as Major “Corky” Corkoran, Roper’s sharp tongued right hand man, and Elizabeth Debicki as Roper’s ethereally beautiful girlfriend, Jed, are also stunning in their portrayals of their respective characters.

If you’ve read Le Carre’s novel, you’d know that Richard Roper is the kind of malevolent business man, who, after seeing little children choke and die from a gas bombing in a school in Kurdistan, starts peddling the chemical to his buyers. Hugh Laurie, during the promotions for the show, said that he had “impudently imagined” himself portraying Pine the spy, not Roper the arms dealer, because “loathed” the character. Laurie then said that he decided to play him anyway because “there is something intoxicating about someone who has put themselves beyond the bounds of laws, who has the confidence, the daring, the kind of madness.” I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve no doubt that Laurie’s Roper is much more terrifying than Le Carre’s.

Higher Powers

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I am not entirely a fan of television which is politically themed, primarily because I don’t understand it. This was the reason I stayed away for as long as possible from the critically acclaimed, giant fan base having and first ever Netflix Original, House of Cards. There’s too much television to watch anyway, I told myself, and just like that, the first web-only show to win an Emmy, became a casualty in my watch list. Last week, however, thanks to a bout of dehydration that our city’s summer had blessed me with, I stayed at home and caught up with the show.

Kevin Spacey plays the gloriously vicious and power hungry politician, Francis J. Underwood. Frank, he of calculated ambition, has been a key player in bringing to power the new President of The United States, a role for which he expects to be rewarded by being appointed Secretary of State. However, the President decides to go in a different direction, and Frank leaves not with a position, but only a feeling of betrayal. This sets to motion a series of events where Frank extracts carefully planned revenge on all who wronged him, while doing all that he can to get to the top of the political food chain.

Kevin Spacey occupies the screen with a presence which I have, in all of the television I’ve watched so far, never encountered. He smiles when he doesn’t mean to, he stays calm when you know he’s burning inside, and ever so often, turns to the camera to talk to the audience and tell them what’s really going on in his signature southern drawl. The show is full of quotable quotes on power – “Friends make the worst enemies”, “Hunt, or be hunted”, “Power does not sleep in”, and Spacey leaves no room for doubt that from the minute the show begins to when it ends, it’s entirely Frank Underwood’s.

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The themes which dominate House of Cards are not anything novel when it comes to soap operas – backstabbing, loyal henchmen, well meaning addicts, corruption, call girls adept at the art of blackmail, and affairs all around, but they’ve been presented in a manner that is refreshing, an aspect for which the credit should go the brilliant cast of actors who form the show. Robin Wright, in particular, is spectacular as Frank’s frosty, devious wife. The Underwood marriage is much like eating cold, slightly stale pizza in the middle of the night – it’s not right, but you simply cannot get enough.

Some of the events, and the politics that are covered in House of Cards are so over the top, that there were many instances where I found it hilarious to even contemplate that this is a show which is supposed to reflect the life of American politicians, and American politics. Having said that, and considering the fact that we live at a time and age when someone like Donald Trump is a serious candidate for becoming the most powerful leader of the free world, maybe not that hilarious.

Popular talk show host, Stephen Colbert, in a recent episode asked Kevin Spacey if he ever thought that a particular storyline was too broad, and was too fantastic to ever happen in real life, to which Spacey responded that there have been multiple times when he thought that the story writers were really “pushing it”. “And then I turn on the news”, Spacey continues. “And actually, we’re the ones who are behind”.

{House of Cards is on Netflix and also cast on Zee Cafe}