An End And A Beginning

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The premise of Suits lies in a secret. Mike Ross, a brilliant young man who practices law in one of New York’s top law firms, is no qualified lawyer. He’s a genius, yes, and is relentless with his arguments in the courtroom, but he never appeared for the bar exam, or even went to law school. Harvey Spectre, the managing partner who hired Mike is fully aware of this, but hires him anyway because he is convinced that Mike’s smarts, his interest in the law, and most importantly, his flawless photographic memory compensate for his lack of formal qualifications. These are the events which transpire in the first episode of the first season of Suits. Over the course of the five seasons that have followed, Mike and Harvey have formed an everlasting friendship, won dozens of cases, and have battled against all odds to protect Mike’s secret.

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The show thrives on a delicious irony – here’s a man who knows the law, and knows how to apply the law as well as, if not better than most qualified professional lawyers, but he’s a fraud by all standards. A few of the previous seasons saw Mike come very close to having his secret busted wide open and going to jail, but the show’s creators would always place a twist at the very end and pull him out of the situation. It started getting predictable in the third and fourth season, but in a way, it was hard to entirely place blame on the show’s writers, after all, what was the show without the secret?

The fifth season of Suits, which concluded recently, blew the storyline wide open. Mike’s secret is out, and it doesn’t matter who outed him because he’s now facing serious charges for fraud and must go through trial in front a jury who could potentially put him away for many years. It doesn’t help that the defence lawyer who has taken the case against Mike, Anita Gibbs, is as unwavering as she is bloodthirsty.

The story arc of the fifth season has been a roller coaster. While the first few episodes seemed like it was going to focus on character development (we saw Harvey going to a psychiatrist to deal with his past, which made for great television), the following episodes saw many dramatic developments take place in a manner which was unlike the light, frothy and mostly unbelievable drama that Suits has perfected the past few years.

The last few episodes leading to the very intense season finale were entirely focused on Mike’s trial, and had an ending which felt more like a sucker punch. Everyone had expected the customary twist – the eleventh hour saviour, the defence lawyer’s hidden agenda being exposed, something, anything that could miraculously save Mike, but the twist ended up being the fact that there was none.

While this felt more like a series finale, I can’t help but wonder if this could be the best thing that has happened to the show in a long time, for it offers a fresh perspective and a new beginning to not just Mike Ross, but Suits as well.

{Suits is presently telecast on Comedy Central}

Women on TV

{Previously published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Women’s Day is fast approaching on the 8th of March, but surely we don’t need any one day to celebrate these five fantastic female characters who are on television right now.

Cookie Lyon, Empire – Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P Henson, is one of the most entertaining and over the top female characters we have seen in television in a long time. A former convict who took the punishment for the sake of her husband, she comes back from prison and is ruthless in her pursuit of the wealth and share in business which is rightfully hers. While it’s incredibly fun seeing her do whatever it takes to get to the top, it’s just as heartwarming to see her try to be a good mother to her sons, and make up for the time that she lost in prison.

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Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones – Although Danerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister are the first female characters you can think of in the context of Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth (played by Gwendoline Christie), for me, is the most underrated female character in the show, and in the books. She is a ungainly, not feminine in the conventional way, taller than most of the men on the land, and doesn’t give two hoots about any of it. She is a brave knight who values honour and friendship, and isn’t afraid to lay her life down to protect the ones she cares about. Brienne of Tarth is a wonderful character who defies all conventional gender roles and teaches us that being different, is what makes us special.

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Jessica Pearson, Suits – Gina Torres plays Jessica Pearson, the managing partner of Pearson Specter Litt. There is only one word which captures the true essence of Jessica Pearson, and that is bad-ass. Jessica has no qualms in admitting to the amount of work that it took for her to get on top, which is why she’s all the more protective of her position as managing partner in the law firm. She can intimidate and sniff the truth out of anything, and anyone. Years of watching legal television have convinced me that Jessica Pearson is not just a boss, she is the boss.

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Annalise Keating, How To Get Away With Murder – Viola Davis won an Emmy the past year for her portrayal of Annalise Keating, the no-nonsense defence attorney who is also a Criminal Law professor. Annalise is charismatic, intelligent and relentless both in her cases as well as in class. Watching Annalise navigate through the world of criminal law, prisons, hardened criminals, and the minds of her own students is utterly gripping, and makes no surprise as to why this show has so much critical acclaim.

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation – The inimitable Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a small town government worker whose sole aim is to improve the town she lives in. Leslie, apart from being hilarious also has some amazing feminist zingers in her repertoire including, but not restricted to “ovaries before brovaries”. Leslie Knope works tirelessly not only make her town better, but to also tell the rest of us, that being a woman shouldn’t have anything to do with getting the career and life that we truly deserve.

Long Form James Bond

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The Night Manager, BBC’s newest and possibly most lavish production yet, begins in Cairo of January 2011. There is a sea of humanity assembled in Tahrir square protesting against their president, Hosni Mubarak. A casually dressed and impossibly good-looking white man emerges from the crowds, and nonchalantly weaves his way through the yelling, the stone throwing, the fireworks and the bullets to get to his workplace, The Nefertiti hotel, on the other side. It lasts all of thirty seconds, but it is enough to convince you that Tom Hiddleston, who plays this impossibly good-looking man by the name of Jonathan Pine, is the most obvious choice for the next James Bond.

Jonathan Pine is the night manager at the Nefertiti Hotel. He is quiet, polite to a fault and unabashedly English – there is a scene where he describes the weather to be “ghastly”. He knows his hotel and his guests inside out, but we don’t know much about him. His routine of taking calls and calming flustered guests down by offering them free cocktails is interrupted when a beautiful woman, Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), best known for being a very powerful (and very evil) man’s girlfriend casually asks him to have coffee with her. After having coffee, she, in an even more casual manner, slips some documents to Jonathan which have details of her boyfriend bulk purchasing weaponry from the good old United Kingdom. As it turns out, Freddie Hamid (the dastardly boyfriend) was trying to crush the uprising, and Sophie couldn’t stay silent anymore. Do what you have to, she tells Jonathan, and Jonathan being the dignified, respectable Englishman that he is, promptly takes the documents to the British embassy, after which he takes Sophie to a safe house. None of this really works for Jonathan. While the uprising succeeds, the British government, with the exception of one Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) has decided to ignore the information sent to them because even Governments can’t just doesn’t poke their nose into the affairs of Richard “The Worst Man In The World” Roper (played by the inimitable Hugh Laurie). Sophie is brutally murdered, and Jonathan moves to Switzerland. Four years later, Roper’s and Jonathan’s paths cross again, and this time, there will be revenge.

The Night Manager is based on the novel with the same name by the critically acclaimed Spy Novel specialist John Le Carre. The director has pushed the timeline of the original forward from 1993 to 2011, and has tinkered around with the characters and locations in a way which feels like he’s updated the story, as opposed to having changed it. The casting is perfect to the point where it feels like Le Carre wrote the novel with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston in mind. The screenplay doesn’t merely hold your attention, it pins it down on all fours with iron clamps. It’s simply impossible to look away. The Night Manager is a miniseries, a genre of television which the BBC has become a champion of lately, consisting six episodes. The first episode had a record six million tune in, and it’s really about time you joined in on the fun.

Full and Fuller

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I have very vivid memories of watching Full House (and having long and detailed discussions about how incredibly handsome John Stamos was) when I was in school. It was the early 2000’s, so given the (lack of) cable television services, the ‘80s American comedy about a giant family in one house was as cutting edge as it got then. Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), loses his wife, and is suddenly left to raise three very young, and very lively girls – 10 year old DJ (Candace Cameron), 5 year old Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and 9 month old Michelle (played interchangeably by Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen). He enlists his childhood friend, Joey (Dave Coulier) and his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) to help. They move in, and as the show progresses, have their own love interests, and eventually, their own children making it a very full house indeed.

I enjoyed Full House because it reminded me of my own extended family which sprawled with multiple cousins, aunts, and uncles, and also because it was one of the few shows whose jokes I understood because they were always family friendly (and ridiculously cheesy). I found it impossible to be bored of the show because there were so many stories, given the number of characters who occupied the screen. Full House discussed dating pangs, friend fights, family fights, sibling drama and a number of other topics for 8 years before it ended in 1995 as one of the most iconic television shows on American TV. Twenty years later, on the 26th of February, Full House returns, except it’s a little…Fuller.

Fuller House was announced in April last year, amid much speculation and consequently, glee among fans. The story arc of this spin off is essentially the same as the original, but with a gender twist. DJ Tanner, the eldest of the Tanner girls and now mother of three boys, has been widowed. Her sister, Stephanie, and her best friend, Kimmy, move in to help her raise her children. The original cast has been retained (with the exception of the Olsen twins), and the senior members will make cameo appearances from time. The trailer of the series, which has just been released looks like its going to stay faithful to the original, which means viewers will lap the show up right off the bat, after all, Full House is the television equivalent of comfort food. It’s important though, that if Fuller House wants to be anything close to the success that its original enjoyed, must step its themes and stories up to the times that we live in. Every episode in Full House was based on exaggerated 80s comedy interlaced with moral lessons and relentless optimism, all of which can be hard to digest for viewers today (including myself). If Fuller House isn’t going to be relevant and “now”, we may as well stick to watching Modern Family.

{Fuller House releases on Netflix on February 26}

I Love You Telly Much

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Valentine’s Day is here! Irrespective of whether you love the holiday, loathe it, or are just a disinterested party, there’s no denying that going out on Valentine’s Day is a cloying and overpriced affair. Why not stay in and catch up on the latest and greatest in television instead? We’ve got shows for every mood.

If you’re staying in with someone special: Mad Men
Mad Men is a drama series set in the sixties, which focusses on the life and times of Don Draper, effortlessly played by the very handsome Jon Hamm. Watch Don Draper as he crashes and burns navigating through his job as the creative director of the leading advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, and tries to stay afloat as he juggles his job, his wife, his kids and his many, many affairs. Mad Men is a tale of power, love, greed and ambition, and is as riveting as it is sexy.
{Mad Men is presently being telecast on FX}

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If you’re staying in, alone: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
29 year old Kimmy Schmidt has just been rescued from a Doomsday Cult after being locked in an underground basement for fifteen years. Determined to get her life back, she takes the decision to stay in New York City and make up for all the time that she’d missed underground. The series, written by Tina Fey, is hilarious, heartwarming and makes for better company than most people of the opposite sex.
{Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is on Netflix}

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If you loathe the idea of Valentine’s Day: Vinyl
Vinyl is legendary director Martin Scorcese’s (Nothing says “Valentine, Schmalentine!” quite like watching anything by Scorcese) debut offering for television. James Jagger, the son of the legendary rock musician Mick Jagger, along with television heavyweights like Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano and Bobby Canavale come together for a show set in 1970s New York City, that tells the story of the music industry just as the hip-hop, disco and punk genres are about to break out. Take a ride through the world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll in this series written by Terrence Winters (who wrote Wolf of Wall Street) and directed by Martin Scorcese.
{Vinyl premieres on Star World HD this February}

If you’d rather celebrate Gal-entine’s (or Guy-entine’s) Day with your friends: Orange Is The New Black
Ten years after transporting a suitcase full of drug money, Piper Chapman, who now lives a nice, quiet life in New York City, has been convicted and sent to prison. Her present relationships with her fiance, friends and family who had no idea about Piper’s past are immediately strained, and Piper is now forced to deal with not only the inmates of the women’s Federal prison, but also her past. Hilarious and brutal, this female-led ensemble will blow you away.
{Orange is the New Black is presently being telecast on Colors Infinity}

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New Age Comedy

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s not unusual for international television shows to explore age as one of its fundamental themes. We see shows about middle aged men and women going through sudden crisis and being forced to act on it – the first examples that come to mind are Breaking Bad and Desperate Housewives, as do we see twenty-somethings contemplating the ways in which they want to lead their lives and sort out their relationships with shows like New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Master of None, One Tree Hill and the like. In my experience of watching television, and trust me, I’ve watched a lot of television, the sixty five plus age group gets little to no attention on the screen. It’s usually a theme that’s relegated to a single episode which involves a mildly senile or dead grandparent, or a crusty evil villain who is trying to make a comeback.

To translate the sometimes-literal pains of growing old on to screen without giving the viewer a mild case of depression about the future is a veritable challenge, which Grace and Frankie has conquered admirably. Grace and Frankie is a Netflix show that brings together a veteran cast comprising Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. Jane Fonda plays Grace, a vain retired cosmetic company CEO, and Lily Tomlin plays Frankie, a free spirited artist whose personality was given birth to in the sixties. They’re polar opposites who tolerate each other only for the sake of their husbands (Martin Sheen as Robert and Sam Waterson as Sol) who have been business partners and best friends for forty years. It is at one such “dinner” when the four of them are together that the husbands break the news to their wives that they’re leaving them, for…each other.

Grace and Frankie are forced to not only confront this bizarre new twist in their lives, but also each other. The acting in the series is marvellous. Jane Fonda’s Grace and Lily Tomlin’s Frankie (who has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role) share a special on screen chemistry as they bond, albeit grudgingly, over the sadness and fury of how their husbands now get to live happily ever after while they’ve been left alone to fend for themselves in their seventies. How Grace and Frankie take on the big bad world of senior dating, and make peace with their past (which includes adult children in various stages of complicated relationships), forms the crux of the first season.

It should be noted that although it has been listed as a “comedy”, its humour is far from the crude slapstick that it could have been, and is also more sparse than you’d expect. There are many poignant scenes through the course of the twelve episodes which make the first season, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any laughs. In the very first episode, Sol tells a furious Frankie that his life with Robert would be the “next chapter of his life”, Frankie retorts, “I’ve got news for you – the next chapter isn’t that long.” The humour of Grace and Frankie isn’t one that will make you guffaw regularly, but it will make you smile throughout.

{Grace and Frankie is available on Netflix}

No Longer Friends

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I discovered Friends much like the rest of the my generation – a few years before the show came to an end in 2005. Those were the days when our consumption of international entertainment was dependent on the few cable channels which would broadcast these shows and the hope that our parents wouldn’t be in the living room when the “adult jokes” would come on. While Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the antique-but-fresh-for-India Full House, and Third Rock From The Sun were all fun to watch, there was no doubt that Friends was on top of the list, and this is despite the fact that some of the jokes took a good five years to dawn on me.

Friends is easily the show that defined my generation and gave us the encouragement to define our own values and to assure us that it was okay to be who we really were. What’s interesting is that there are still younger people out there who are watching it, and deriving the same life lessons I did. I’m not alone when I make the statement that I knew Monica (Courtney Cox), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) as well as I did my own friends. Even today, when I’m having a slow, or an awful day, I take to the internet and watch carefully drafted compilations of “Chandler Bing’s best jokes”.

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Over the years though, there have been many requests from fans asking for a Friends reunion either by way of a new episode or a movie, requests which the show’s creators have vehemently denied. So when news came that the cast of Friends have reunited for a TV show which pays tribute to James Burrows (one of the directors of Friends), the internet went into a frenzy like it does so often these days. “The reunion going to happen!” was the collective squeal on my Facebook timeline. A photo of the cast (minus Matthew Perry) together with the cast of The Big Bang Theory released yesterday, creating an even bigger buzz.

I’d like to place on record two things – the “reunion” is of the cast members, not the characters. They’re going to talk about Jim Burrows and it’s more likely to be a somewhat touching yet boring documentary about the man. The second is that I’m very thankful that there is no “reunion”, and that I was not one of those fans who wanted a reunion movie or even an episode because it destroys the perfect ending and the perfect lives that the show, and consequently, the fans imagined for them in the final episode. That is one reason. The other, and perhaps more truthful reason why I don’t want a reunion is because I don’t want to see the cast, now grown up and with grey hair because it isn’t just a reminder of their age, but of mine as well.

To Netflix or Notflix?

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Netflix, the international streaming giant, launched in India this week, bringing film and television content on to people’s computers, and generally hampering everyone’s productivity.
Netflix is a paid service, and works on a subscription basis, so keep in mind that you’ll have to dole out a fee every month based on the plan that you choose (Netflix has three plans depending on the number of screens on which you can watch shows or movies, and the quality of the stream). I love the idea of Netflix, and there is no doubt that on-demand television and streaming services are the future of the entertainment industry. What I do have doubts about, is its efficacy in India, considering the general reluctance we have in opting for paid services (I’m including myself in this list).

The good news is that Netflix, after considerable research I’m sure, is giving a trial month, when you can experience all the features and the entire catalogue available for Netflix India. The bad news is that the Indian catalogue doesn’t have much in terms of variety, with the total number of shows stacking up to just 7% of its American counterpart.

You do get a list of “Netflix Originals”, television shows that have been produced by the service. These shows have been critically acclaimed and won many awards for their high quality of production. Master of None, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Orange Is The New Black, Grace and Frankie, Archer, BoJack Horseman and Narcos are all on the catalog, with House of Cards conspicuously missing because of a telecast rights issue. There are also a few popular favourites on the catalog, like Suits, Better Call Saul, Brooklyn 99, The Blacklist and How To Get Away With Murder. Older, popular shows like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld and Boston Legal, which are all available on the original American catalogue, have been axed for the Indian audience, which I’m guessing, is because of rights issues once again (or simply because they’re stingy with the content they want to assign India). There is news that the content might double in a year, but given that Indian users are paying the same fee that American users pay, it still feels unfair.

Another aspect which is noteworthy is the amount of data that Netflix is capable of guzzling – its High Definition streaming can take 3 GB per hour, so you might just find yourself exhausting your data limit within a week, which also results in the kind of slow internet speeds that will make you travel back to the time to when modems sounded like alien robots. The telecom infrastructure in India isn’t one that is going to dramatically change soon, so unless Netflix offers say, an “offline mode”, or any other way to save data charges, it is going to be rough sailing here.

India is always going to be tricky market for any international service, and more so for an entertainment service to make a mark, for the demand is inversely proportionate to the infrastructure available in the country. So should you bite the bullet and get a membership? I’d say enjoy the free trial, but unless the variety in the catalogue increases dramatically over the next few weeks, it’s not worth it.

The Abominable Bride

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s only been a week into the first month of 2016, but I do believe that I’ve already watched the best of what television has to offer this year in the new “holiday special” episode of Sherlock. Sherlock, is the modern adaptation of the classic detective story by BBC which premiered in the year 2010, and has seen resounding success across the globe, with good reason: the screenplay moves at a blistering pace, and more importantly, the completely unexpected casting, which compels you to not accept anyone else as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson other than Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (no, not even Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law).

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The holiday special episode is a one-off release, perhaps to assuage fans who’ve been waiting for the fourth season (due to release in 2017), after the third season ended on a cliffhanger in 2014.
While I’ve been infatuated with Sherlock for four good years now (I discovered it rather late), I found the last season mediocre at best. The writers had given the razor sharp, ruthless detective, emotions, which made made him slow, made him care, and made him human. This irked me, for one of the qualities which made Sherlock so worthy of the idolatry was his cold-blooded, and hardboiled nature. After all, why would you idolise anyone who is similar to yourself? I wasn’t alone with this complaint, and given how unrelenting Sherlock was in The Abominable Bride, it looks like the writers have taken note.

The episode begins with a quick flashback to the previous seasons, after which, “alternatively”, we are taken to 19th Century London, where Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective whose adventures are chronicled for the newspaper by his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. There’s a new case, too – a woman, dressed up as a manic bride, stepped out into the public and created chaos, before shooting herself in the head. The police have come to the spot, and taken her body to the morgue. Six hours later, the same woman, Emelia Ricoletti, comes back to take the life of her husband. The case remains unsolved, only to get resurrected several months later, presenting Sherlock the opportunity to take another crack at it.

The pace of the episode is breakneck, and you don’t lose interest even for a single moment, which is rare in ninety minute episodes. Cumberbatch’s acting is as incisive as his cheekbones, and Martin Freeman, is perfection as the loyal, well meaning and occasionally bumbling Watson. The dialogues are top class, full of jokes that deserve a second and maybe even a third watching, and proving that the Victorian setting wasn’t going to slow the episode down in any way. An hour in, the episode tilts to the present, and takes off from where it ended the previous season. This may sound complicated on paper, but rest assured that the writing ties all loose ends in an immaculate manner. Overall, this holiday special was an absolute treat to watch, and the perfect springboard for the fourth. 2017 couldn’t come quicker.

{Sherlock: The Abominable Bride will air on AXN on January 10th at 12 Noon}

Immaculate Conception

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s the golden age of television, and given the number of TV shows that are on air today, it’s impossible to not only watch everything, but also to choose a show to watch without thinking about how it reflects on you. Think about it, you’re talking to your friend about the shows you’re watching, and you can see yourself saying something like “Oh, have you seen Mr. Robot? It’s this great show about hackers, and it’s not like the movies where the guy just types at the keyboard, you know? It’s real, and intense.” Not taking anything away from Mr.Robot, because it is an excellent show, but theres’ no denying that there’s a certain element of cool attached to shows like these. If Mr.Robot is on the top of the ladder of television cool, Jane The Virgin, is far far down.

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I mean, think about it – a show about a good Catholic girl who is saving herself for marriage, and is on the verge of being engaged to her stable, predictable boyfriend of two years, is artificially inseminated by a gynaecologist who is facing romantic trouble herself, and as it turns out, the sperm belongs to an unbearably handsome, but spoiled, rich heir of a hotel empire, and it’s his last chance of having a baby because he had been affected by cancer. Not only is this story a mouthful, but it also has the making of every regional soap opera back home, which are mostly unbearable to watch.

Jane The Virgin, however, is everything like a soap opera, and nothing like it at the same time. The show is narrated by an invisible narrator armed with an onscreen typewriter and a wry sense of humour. Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, is perfect as the hardworking, grounded student who feels strongly about the promise she made her grandmother, Alba. Jane’s family forms a strong part of not only Jane’s personality and decisions, but also the show. Jane’s religious grandmother, sexually liberated mother and her overthinking self make for the most dysfunctional family on paper, but come together seamlessly on screen, to the point where you think, how else can they be?

The reason Jane The Virgin is the most charming television series I’ve seen this year (I’m writing this on the last day of 2015), is because of how confident it is about it’s identity, and because it’s not afraid to make fun of itself. Yes, it’s a soap opera, and it’s dramatic with twists that appear at every turn, but it’s also full of comedy gold because it makes full use of the ridiculousness that transpires through the show. Watching Jane the Virgin might not give you the television street cred or cool factor that watching say, Narcos, or Mr.Robot, or Fargo does, but it will give you the rare opportunity of being able to watch a comedy with a heart.

{Season 1 of Jane the Virgin is being telecast on Romedy Now}