One More Time

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Watching television shows is my way of relaxing, and I have a long list of TV shows to catch up on right now, and yet, on the days when I truly just want to kick back and let some steam out, I almost never reach for a new episode of a show I’m watching, or even a new show. I take my trusty hard disk out and watch reruns of either Friends, Gossip Girl or Sex And The City.

When I watch a rerun, I know exactly where the episode is heading. I know that Phoebe does find her soulmate, and that Chandler and Monica do end up having kids. I know that Blair will finally be with Chuck, and I don’t have to waste time thinking about who Gossip Girl really is. Most importantly, I know that Mr.Big comes back. I suppose reruns are like the visual equivalent of comfort food – they don’t require too much effort to watch, and yes, they are predictable, but deliciously so, and it is this predictability which keeps me coming back.

sex and the city, satc

I had watched each of these shows at a different point in time, and they each represent a different kind of nostalgia for me. Friends, I watched during high school. Gossip Girl was through my CA articleship and study holidays. Sex And The City, I binge watched as I stepped into my twenties, although it was well done and dusted by then. The relationships that I had formed in my head with the show’s characters, as well as the way I had associated myself with them when I’d watched the show initially, was a reflection of my identity, and what was going on with me at that time. In fact, I would decide that I was a particular character from the show, and even went on to match my friends with their show personalities. (Full disclosure – I was convinced that I was a total and complete Rachel from Friends, Blair from Gossip Girl, and Charlotte from Sex And The City).

When I watch a show today, I am so caught up in keeping up with the story line, that I don’t have the time or energy to really delve into a show and go to the extent of forming a relationship with a character. When I watch these reruns however, it’s different, because they take me back to the time I watched them for the first time, and the naiveté of my own youth when I’d thought that it was possible to lead lives similar to the characters I was so enamoured with. When I watch Sex And The City now, for example, I think – Don’t the lot of you have jobs? How do you keep meeting each other? How do you buy a new pair of six hundred dollar shoes every month with a journalist’s, no, columnist’s income?

Although the shows I have grown up with and loved are dubious in many ways, the primary storyline, and it’s characters have never stopped being charming to me. Every time I question a certain plot line’s logic, or a character’s choices, or even understand a joke that I previously didn’t (this happens all the time) it is actually a sign of how I’ve changed and grown, after all, the show hasn’t.There was an article in The Scientific American a couple of years ago on the same topic, and how reruns “spark personal growth”. They had ended the article with a quote by the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, a quote, that I thought summed everything that I’ve ever felt about watching a beloved show over and over. “You never cross the same river twice—it’s not the same river, and it’s not the same you”

{Friends is presently running on Romedy NOW}

Domo Arigato

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

While the idea of hacking has been something that has always fascinated me, its portrayal in film and television has been mostly rubbish – the “hacker” is either a really skinny, or grossly overweight guy who wears a pair of chunky glasses, brings in words like “bypass”, “security protocol”, “router” and “access” to conversation and is the one to crack a few jokes every time the rest of the group gets serious. All we know about the hacker is that he’s the guy who can solve any problem in minutes by furiously typing on his keyboard.

Mr.Robot is a series that revolves around hacking, and one that takes its technology very seriously. Unlike most film or television portrayals where it’s only the hacker’s keyboard that’s seen, here we’re shown his computer screen. There are no special visual effects to make the hacking seem cool – they’re probably the most genuine looking processes I’ve seen on screen. What makes the hacking exciting, are the characters, and their personal stories. The show follows the perspective of Elliot (Rami Malek), a computer programmer with anti-social disorder. We are audience to his everything that goes on in his head (there is one episode where we can even see his drug induced dreams). When he says that he has reprogrammed his mind to hear “Evil Corp” instead of “E Corp”, we only hear Evil Corp throughout.

mr.robot, rami malek

Elliot is a vigilante hacker by night, which means that he gets into the computers of people he has suspicions about, and tips the police if he finds anything incriminating. In the very first episode, he hacks into a coffee shop owner’s computer because the internet speeds at the coffee shop were unlike any other’s, and because “good doesn’t come without condition”. As it would turn out, the owner managed a child pornography website, and thanks to Elliot’s tip, gets arrested.

It isn’t long before Elliot is recruited into FSociety, a group of hackers led by “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater). Mr. Robot, and FSociety, are on a mission to bring about a revolution by destroying big conglomerates and rendering them powerless, a mission, to which Elliot is key. While the idea of throwing a spanner in the works is enticing, it also comes with terrible consequences. The rest of the season follows Elliot, his choices, and the consequences which occur when you set in motion something you don’t have complete control on.

The reason I love Mr.Robot is that although there is a lot of technical computer terms that thrown around (in the very first episode, the show thrusts words like “DDOS Attacks” and “RUDY Attacks” at us), there is no secondary character explaining them in layman terms. The show trusts the audience to be smart enough to figure what is going on. Rami Malek is spectacular as Elliot, the wide eyed, socially neurotic hacker with a past, as is Christian Slater, who plays the bordering on insane, yet strangely likeable Mr. Robot.

What really hit home for me while watching the show was the massive amount of information that the Internet has about the rest of us, no, the massive amount of information that we have been feeding it. With every status update we post, every tweet, every Instagram post, with every thought that we type out loud, we give the Internet greater control on us. Given how active I am on social media, these aren’t things I really think about, but watching Elliot scroll through hacked inboxes, Twitter and Facebook profiles to determine a person’s nature, was terrifying.

The all pervasive theme of Mr Robot, is vulnerability. The vulnerability of systems, the vulnerability of networks, and the vulnerability of people. Mr Robot isn’t a show about hacking computers. It’s a show about hacking people.

(Mr Robot is presently running on Colors Infinity)

Casting For Change

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The 67th edition of the Emmy Awards, which recognises and honours excellence in primetime television wrapped up the previous Sunday. I watched the Emmys with more interest than I usually would primarily to see if any of the shows I’d written about in this column so far would win an award – Wolf Hall, Brooklyn 99, Better Call Saul and Empire were all nominated, but unfortunately, none of them won.

The Emmys this year had its moments, but the most important moment of them all was Viola Davis receiving the award for best lead actress in a drama, an award which she picked up for her starring role in the series, How To Get Away With Murder. Viola Davis was the first African American woman to win this award, and she quoted Harriet Tubman, one of the most important African-American humanitarians who worked tirelessly for abolitionism during the American Civil War, in her emotional acceptance speech. “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’t seem to get over that line.” Davis went on to say that the only thing separating women of colour was opportunity, and that you couldn’t win Emmy awards for roles that were “simply not there”.

viola davis, viola davis emmys 2015,

Viola Davis’ rousing speech on the lack of lead roles for coloured women comes at a time when Priyanka Chopra is poised to make a leap from Bollywood into American television as the lead in Quantico, a brand new series that premieres this weekend. Priyanka Chopra plays Alex Parrish, an FBI Agent who is half Indian and half Caucasian. Right from the time that news came out about Chopra’s new project, she raved in all her interviews about how this role was perfect because it was the kind where her “Indian-ness” didn’t matter, and that it could’ve just been played by any actress, irrespective of race. There are a number of actors in the industry, like Archie Panjabi, Mindy Kaling and Kal Penn to name a few who are doing roles that have nothing to do with them being Indian, but the fact that this role landed to an Indian actress from India, and more specifically, Bollywood, isn’t something that happens often, or at all.

The trailer for Quantico made its way out a good couple of months ago, and save for Chopra’s supposedly American accent, looked quite promising. The premise of the show is laid out entirely in the trailer itself – Alex Parrish is a patriotic young FBI recruit with a mysterious past, and when 9/11 happens, she is named a chief suspect. Earlier this week, the first eight minutes of the the first episode was “leaked”, and I managed to catch it before it was taken off the internet again. These eight minutes gives you a solid idea about the kind of person Alex Parish is – she’s strong, she’s intelligent, she keeps secrets from her mother, she’s sexually liberated and isn’t against the idea of getting it on with a random guy she sits next to on the plane – the actual sex “scene” though, is very carefully shot, there’s no nudity, there’s a flash of leg, and it’s mostly just sound, no doubt an effort made by Priyanka Chopra to keep things as Sanskaari as possible.

It’s too soon to judge if Quantico will be a hit (there’s a lot of talk comparing it to Homeland, which I find ridiculous) or if it will dramatically change the way Indians are cast in American television. From what I saw of the the show, it is not ground breaking, nor is it going to be the next big thing in American crime drama, but it was thoroughly entertaining, and that, is as good a start as any.

‘Tis The Season

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I have a giant backlog of shows to be watched, a back log that increases every day, given the number of “must watch” shows that are on television right now. I often find myself prioritising shows that have fewer episodes to catch up on, simply because it’s more convenient. This September, a slew of television shows will resume, bringing upon us new seasons, and more episodes to catch up on. However, there are also a number of new, exciting shows themselves that are coming out, and that’s why I’m planning to stop trying to catch up with existing shows that I’m behind on, and instead, get a head start on the following shows, which could all easily become the next great thing on television.

 

Best Time Ever
Fans of How I Met Your Mother, rejoice! Neil Patrick Harris is back on screens, this time as a host of a brand new variety show titled, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris. The show is inspired by “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway”, which is very popular in the UK, and will be filled with comedy skits, spoof game shows, musical numbers, hidden camera pranks, and even live segments with celebrity appearances. Neil Patrick Harris is well known for his comic timing, but for those who have watched him hosting the Oscars, or even the Emmy Awards, you would also know that he’s also an immensely gifted singer, dancer, and all round performer. There are not enough Variety shows on television, and my fingers are crossed for Best Time Ever to fill that void.

best time ever with neil patrick harris

The Grinder

An actor whose successful TV legal drama has come to an end, comes back to his home town and join his family’s law firm, despite having no license to practice, or even a formal legal education. I’ve only watched the trailer, but I can say with confidence that Rob Lowe is perfect as the over dramatic TV lawyer who takes himself too seriously, as is Fred Savage, who plays his formally educated but charisma lacking lawyer brother. This is a comedy show whose premise has great potential, and given the excellent casting, there’s every chance The Grinder is going to be a big hit.

the grinder, the grinder tv show

Limitless
Limitless is the television spin off of the 2011 Bradley Cooper film with the same name. Limitless stars Jake McDorman, and features the consequences of taking a pill which will enable you to realise the full potential of your brain. The series has some slick editing and action montages, but most importantly, Bradley Cooper reprises his role as Eddie Morra for the television series, and for me, that’s enough reason to look forward to this series.

Limitless, limitless tv show

Narcos
Netflix has been producing some incredible original television recently, with Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards being just the tip of the iceberg. Coming next on the Netflix pipeline is Narcos, a high intensity drama about the Medellin Cartel, a real life drug network from Colombia which operated through the 70’s and 80’s. At it’s peak, The Medellin Cartel monopolised the global drug market, and is, without doubt, a story that would translate brilliantly on to television. The series follows the beginnings of the cartel, and digs into the history of it’s overlord, Pablo Escobar. Netflix has hit a home run with every one of its series, and Narcos doesn’t look like it’ll be an exception.

Narcos, Narcos on Netflix, Pablo Escobar

Scream Queens
A college campus finds itself housing a serial killer seeking revenge for a murder that happened twenty years ago. This horror-comedy hybrid show has a star cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts and Abigail Breslin, apart from teen icons like Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas, and Keke Palmer. Fans of Glee will also see the return of Lea Michele back on screen. Make no mistake that this is aimed for “young adults”, automatically making me about ten years too old for it, but I am excited nonetheless – age is but a number, after all.

scream queens, ariana grande, emma roberts, lea michele

Singing A Different Tune

The sixth and final season of Glee is presently running on television. If you were a one-time fan of the show, now is the time to get back, because this season is short, fast-paced, and full of the irreverent humour that the show was famous for. I have watched the show right from its inception in 2009, stuck to watching it despite the inevitable collapse that happened when the show’s lead actor, Cory Monteith, passed away due to a drug overdose, and cried secret tears during the finale. Glee covers the trials and tribulations of a bunch of misfits in high school, who discover themselves through song and dance. Given the premise, there is plenty of music on the show and the cast breaks into song every five minutes to express their feelings.

Although Glee rarely does original music, their covers of pop songs were, on most days, better than the original. In fact, I endured the travesties that were the fourth and fifth seasons of Glee, only for the music. Despite Glee’s shortcomings, I was convinced for a very long time that it was the most successful example of a series that mixed drama (high school drama, but drama nonetheless), with music, into one cogent, entertaining show. My opinion changed when I started watching Empire.

Glee Season 6

Empire delves deep into the hip-hop industry, its workings, and the culture, which forms its roots. I’ve never been a fan of hip-hop or rap, but Empire changed that for me because it gives context to the genre, and that makes the music much more enjoyable.

The show follows the life of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is a drug dealer-turned-music mogul. Lucious is the head of Empire records, a company that started out from nothing, and is now poised to go public. It is at this time when he is diagnosed with ALS, a disease with no cure that will eventually lead to his death, and he realises that he must name one of his three sons as a successor before it’s too late. Lucious’ sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) are vastly different from one another, and are united only by their ambition to take over Empire. Andre is a hardworking financial wizard with zero mass appeal, Hakeem is a talented but lazy rapper whose constant partying and entitled attitude comes in the way of his career, and Jamal is an immensely gifted musician, but much to his father’s distaste, is also gay. Also fighting for Empire is Cookie Lyon (Taraji Henson), Lucious’ ex-wife, who has just been released from prison after 17 years.

Empire moves at a blistering pace, with enough plot twists to make your head spin. Scorned lovers, illegitimate children, conspirators, spies and vengeful henchmen walk in and out of episodes before you have the time to register what is happening. Cookie is, undeniably, the life of the show. Played by Taraji Henson, Cookie is the ex-wife who is ready for life and hungry for success with a rare kind of panache. Cookie isn’t afraid of doing what’s right for herself and her sons, even if that means beating one of them up with a broomstick until they learn to give her respect. Some of her lines on paper, sound terribly contrived (“You want Cookie’s nookie?”), but on screen, they are magic. The other breakout star is Jussie Smollett who plays the sensitive, genius Jamal. He is completely believable in his struggle as a gay musician who is trying to gain acceptance not only from the world, but also from his father.

His voice is beautiful, and his songs in the show are poignant, beautiful and catchy. If you’re looking for a show that will entertain you, look no further than Empire. It has drama, attitude, and at times, it even has heart.

(The sixth season of Glee is being telecast on Star World)

Bringing Out The Big Guns

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was during the study holidays leading up to my Chartered Accountancy Final exam, when I discovered the show Criminal Minds. It started out innocuously – all I wanted was to find a way to procrastinate studying Auditing Standards, which, as people who’ve studied Auditing Standards would know, is completely understandable. Within a week though, I was addicted to the point where I would use the show’s timing to motivate myself into finishing that day’s quota of studying. Criminal Minds follows the Behavioural Analysis Unit, a sub-section of the FBI, which is called in by the local police departments whenever there are violent, serial, crimes which are committed by an unknown perpetrator, who is referred to as the “unsub”. The team of analysts then get together to crack the case by going into the mind of the killer, predicting his next move, and consequently, preventing it.

Criminal Minds is about criminal psychology, and about getting into the unsub’s head to find out what drives him, hence, there isn’t as much action in the show as one would expect in a conventional cop show – the guns come out only towards the end. When you’re new to the series, Criminal Minds comes across as a really entertaining, impressive and intelligent show. Every episode deals with a new crime, and the writing is such that it’ll take you to the edge of your seat within the first ten minutes and keep you there until it ends.

brooklyn 99, andy samberg, best cop shows on tv

 

If you’ve been a long term viewer of the show, you’d know that the series had a rough few seasons of late. The plot lines were getting weaker, the criminals were more macabre than ever (I remember this one episode where the unsub had a habit of pickling his victims’ eyeballs), but the main reason the show had become a shadow of what it used to be was due to a casting reshuffle which broke the core team. The success of Criminal Minds wasn’t just in the writing, but in the chemistry that all six of the analysts in the team shared, which is rare in cop shows since they mostly focus on one or two main characters. Interestingly, it is this shared chemistry which makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine, another cop show, stand out as well.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy which entails the happenings of Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct. The Police Station has just got a new captain, Ray Holt, who intends on changing the way the precinct functions. The detectives and other employees in Brooklyn Nine-Nine are all oddballs, chief of them being Jake Peralta, the talented but immature detective. The other detectives include the perfectionist Amy Santiago who is also Jake’s greatest competitor, the tough and bitter Rosa Diaz, Jake’s best friend and food enthusiast Charles Boyle, and the heavily built but soft hearted Terry Jeffords. There’s also Gina, the very sarcastic civilian administrator, and Hitchcock and Scully, erstwhile detectives who are presently useless.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s brand of humour isn’t one that will resonate with most – it’s part ironic, part sarcastic, and part slapstick. Every character has a quirk, from Captain Holt’s deadpan expressions to Jake’s disgusting office habits to Rosa’s general distaste for emotions, it’s the kind of humour you’d enjoy if you liked Modern Family, and 30 Rock. The show never takes itself too seriously, and pokes It wouldn’t be right to call Brooklyn Nine-Nine a satire on cop shows, although it regularly pokes fun at the genre’s many cliches. There are crimes, and there is solid detective work which is done, but it is ridiculous humour which accompanies the solving that makes this show stand out.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Criminal Minds are two sides of the same coin – they’re both entertaining in their own ways, and are made for lazier viewers (such as myself), for neither of them require continuous following, and missing one episode won’t make a drastic difference to watching the next one. Brooklyn Nine-Nine in particular, is made for marathon viewing, so in case you haven’t any plans this weekend, you now know what to do. Or at least, what to watch.

{Criminal Minds is presently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, on Comedy Central}

The King’s Great Matter

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I was about twelve years old when Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone movie was announced. It was the year 2001, and only four books had been published in the seven book series – all four of which I had read, re-read and loved, much before there were talks of taking the novel to the big screen. There were only a few friends in school who had read the series, and once we got tired of discussing the books between ourselves, we would collectively stalk the fan websites to get our fill of anything and everything related to Harry Potter. When the films were announced, I faithfully followed the hype, developed a rather premature crush on Daniel Radcliffe and ended up seeing the film the first week it released in theatres.

The next following weeks at school though, it seemed like everyone knew about Harry Potter, and the characters weren’t exclusive to the few of us anymore. I developed a condescension then towards the “haven’t read the book but I’ve watched the movie” type of people. This condescension didn’t last too long though – I am now well and truly one of them.

wolf hall on bbc, wolf hall, hilary mantel

Any literature, when adapted well for the screen, is a joy to watch for people who are already familiar with the story, but even more so for those who aren’t. Hilary Mantel’s award winning Wolf Hall trilogy, has been on my “to-read” list for a very long time now. This year, BBC adapted the books into a six episode mini-series for television. The story itself is based on real happenings, popularly known as “The King’s Great Matter”, which transpired during 16th Century England. King Henry the VIII needs an heir to the throne, but unfortunately, his wife of twenty years, Lady Katherine, has been unable to produce one, and so, Henry decides to abandon his existing marriage, and marry Anne Boleyn, who he is infatuated with. However, the concept of divorce then, wasn’t just alien, but also illegal. The only way for Henry to legally alienate the Queen is by annulling the marriage, something that he cannot do without papal consent. His Cardinal, Wolsey, struggles for eight long years to get the order from the Pope, but to no avail, following which Henry exiles him. The entire series of events, as well as what happens next, is narrated through the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, the Cardinal’s lawyer, and right hand man. Cromwell is the son of a blacksmith, a “nobody”, as he is referred to in the series, who works his way up in the ranks to become the King’s confidante as well as an important political figure during that time.

The casting in the series has been exceptional – the show is full of faces you’d recognise if you watch Sherlock, Homeland and even Game of Thrones, such as Mark Gatiss who plays the thoroughly entertaining Stephen Gardiner, Damian Lewis as the conceited yet strangely likeable King Henry, Claire Foy as the haughty and resolute Anne Boleyn, and Jonathan Pryce who does a remarkable job of playing the wounded Cardinal Wolsey. You’d think that it would be impossible to pick an outstanding performance in a cast like this, but Mark Rylance, who plays the politically deft and determined Thomas Cromwell is in a league of his own.

The way the story ends for Anne in the series is no different from how it ends in history – she is executed on counts of witchcraft and incest, but watching the events unfurl on screen takes your breath away till the very last minute. I do hope that the show’s director, Peter Kominsky and writer, Peter Straughan earn many awards for Wolf Hall. The series is perfectly paced, skilfully written, and an overall triumph in adaptation.

Hilary Mantel is due to release the final book in her trilogy very soon, and I for one, cannot wait to join in on Thomas Cromwell discussions when it does. After all, I may have not read the book, but I have watched the series.

It’s All Good

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

When the TV phenomenon Friends came to an end, I was devastated, and I missed it terribly. It was this devastation coupled with the free time that one gets while waiting for exam results that led me to watching Joey, the Friends spin-off that picked the life of Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) up from where Friends left off. I was quite excited for the show, given that Joey was my favourite character in Friends, but hardly a few episodes in, I found myself wishing that I had just stuck to watching reruns.

A spin-off more or less ruins the original show for me. There is something so unimaginative and bland about them, and watching a spin off when there’s plenty of fresh content on television otherwise, feels like a criminal waste of time. Naturally, when Better Call Saul, the spin off to Breaking Bad was announced, I had neither had expectations from it (despite the fact that it was going to be directed by Vince Gilligan himself), nor any intention to watch it. Then, one very dull evening, I gave in to Better Call Saul.

better call saul, vince gilligan

The show’s undercurrent is the same as Breaking Bad’s – good men in a bad world. In Breaking Bad, Walter White, a chemistry teacher who gets cancer, turns to drugs to support his family. We saw him make his way through it all, not knowing exactly how things would turn out in the end. In Better Call Saul, however, there is no suspense because it is a prequel, and the story of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a small time defence attorney, ended up becoming the despicable and widely hated lawyer from Breaking Bad.

Jimmy McGill, a one time scam artist, is now a struggling defence attorney who works out of a makeshift office housed in an Asian salon. He defends a variety of criminals, from drunk drivers to men who commit armed robberies to students who decapitate a head off a cadaver in the biology lab because they thought it was fun. After one particularly trying day, he goes back to his scamming roots to procure a client, only to get caught in the middle of a vicious drug circle ruled by a brutal overlord. Walter White and Jimmy McGill are both men who were pushed to the corner by circumstance, men who had no choice, but the difference between them is that Jimmy is a natural fraud who has to try really, really hard to be good.

Unlike Breaking Bad, whose slow, tedious first season nearly made me give up on the show, Better Call Saul is interesting right from the start. You want to know Jimmy better, you want to know why his brother walks around wearing a blanket made of aluminium foil, and you want to know what happened between him and his ex-girlfriend who he still has a soft spot for. The characters in Better Call Saul are also very oddball, and very original. In many ways, it’s unfair to call Better Call Saul a spin off to Breaking Bad – I would call it a companion show because although there is some reminiscence to Breaking Bad here and there, it stands on its own. Vince Gilligan hasn’t just taken a hit show and spawn something new, he’s also made sure that it wouldn’t be overshadowed by its predecessor.

There are ten episodes in the first season, where each episode is about forty five minutes long. Should you watch it? If you are already a fan of Breaking Bad, then it’s easy – you will thoroughly enjoy Better Call Saul. If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, I would recommend Better Call Saul anyway. It’s interesting, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s unlike anything else on television right now.

{Better Call Saul is presently being telecast on Colors Infinity}

The Law of The Land

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The fifth season of Suits, which is currently underway, has been a revelation. Although I’ve been a fan of the series since it’s inception, I’ve always had this niggling worry in my mind about the show’s eventual deterioration – after all, there’s only so much you can do around the show’s basic premise of a fraudulent genius who practices the law. Season three was tiring, and season four improved steadily, with the last few episodes leading up to the finale having a few plot twists that were unexpected, but also the kind that you’d think would iron themselves out the moment the fifth season began.

suits, suits on abc, suits season 5 review

Well, they haven’t, and that’s why the fifth season is my favourite season of Suits, yet. We get to see the human, vulnerable side of Harvey Spectre (Gabriel Macht), everyone’s favourite tough guy lawyer, and the story behind why he is who he is. We also see how he deals with the loss of his secretary and Woman Friday, Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty), who has just started working for his rival partner, Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman). The Donna-Harvey split was probably one of the best things that happened in Suits. It gave the show the shake-up it’s been needing for a while, and has given it new direction. Initially, I’d expected only unnecessary drama, but I’ve been proven wrong – it’s been really enjoyable, endearing even, not only to see Donna and Louis working together, but also to see a sensitive side to Harvey.

There are four new characters this season so far, and all four of them have been excellent, and at times, steal the show from the mainstays themselves. Dr. Paula Agard (Christina Cole), Harvey’s psychiatrist, and Jack Soloff (John Pyper-Ferguson), this season’s bad guy, are both very well written characters, but the standout new character has been Gretchen Bodinski, Harvey’s new, brutally honest secretary.

Gretchen, who is played to the hilt by Aloma Wright, is sassy, eminently likeable, and has bags of personality. The Harvey-Donna chemistry was one of the show’s focal points, and something that a lot of fans even held sacred, but I hope that Gretchen stays on for the seasons to come. The latest addition to the cast has been Esther Litt (the gorgeous Amy Acker), who is Louis’ sister, and potentially, Harvey’s new love interest. Who would’ve thought, eh? Every episode of this season has had a twist, or a character, or a detail which has surprised me, if not completely taken me away, and has really reinforced my love for watching legal drama.

It is because I love this genre, that I know that although Suits is thoroughly entertaining television, it isn’t the particularly relatable, or even close to reality. Enter Silk, a courtroom drama series that is produced by the BBC. Silk chronicles the trials (literally) and tribulations of Martha Costello (Maxine Peake), a barrister in practice who is on her way to making “silk”, which is the informal term for the Queen’s Counsel (the British equivalent of Senior Counsel in India), a powerful and prestigious status that is bestowed on to lawyers based on merit. Martha’s rise isn’t going to be easy, and in order to make silk, she has to not only deal with difficult clients, but rival lawyers from her own chambers as well. The cast has many recognisable British actors, including Natalie Dormer and Nina Sosanya.

If you want to watch this show because you enjoy Suits, you should know that the similarities between Silk and Suits end with the fact that they’re both about modern lawyers. Silk delves into courtroom proceedings, and how cases are actually argued in court. Silk is also grittier, darker, much less glamourous and more cleverly written. The reason I love this show though, is not merely because I can associate with the black gowns and white bands, but because of its protagonists. It’s impossible to tell who’s good or who’s bad- making them all so very grey, and so very human.

Cooking Up A Storm

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Masterchef Australia came to an end last week with a finale that was, in every way, a condensed, concentrated reflection of the entire seventh season. It was full of drama, endless close-ups of focus and perspiration on contestants’ faces, Heston Blumenthal, and of course, beautiful food. The show’s ending has left a rather large void in my week night routine, considering that for the past few months, all I’ve been doing at 9 pm is religiously sitting in front of the television watching contestants chopping, pureeing, zipping sous-vide bags and plating up food like their life depended on it.

 

Contestants of Masterchef Australia Season 7
Contestants of Masterchef Australia Season 7

 

I’ve been watching this show right from its second season, and initially, I was underwhelmed. This was a cookery competition, where they showed very little of the actual cooking. What’s more, the contestants were nice, friendly and supportive of each other, which was against everything that was sacrosanct in reality television. A week into the show, however, I was hooked. I quickly realised that this was a show which elevated cooking into an adrenaline-pumping, high intensity sport. Five seasons later, I’m still infatuated with the show. I know the challenges contestants face in preparing and seasoning lamb racks, in creating that elusive shade of pink that only belongs to the most juicy of steaks along with them, and in filleting a King Salmon in a manner that is not only efficient, but also respectful. And this, is in spite of my being a vegetarian.

Considering the fact that the show doesn’t encourage participants to get nasty with each other, the theatrics come from the hosts (and judges) George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston. They zip in and out of kitchen stations, questioning contestants’ dishes, seasoning choices, and most importantly, what the title of Masterchef means to them. When the food does come to the tasting table, there are no words – just dramatic music as spoons meet plate, and indiscernible expressions before they admit, in detailed and almost poetic ways, to loving, loathing, or being on the fence about the dish in front of them.

This season was no different – George, Gary and Matt constantly spoke about the show and winning the title the same way most people would speak about the invention of Penicillin. For twelve weeks we saw amateur cooks either coming on top of, or crashing and burning while they recreated Michelin star recipes and participated in fine dining challenges with dishes whose names required French lessons to pronounce. Celebrity chefs including Marco Pierre White, who has become the resident Masterchef Boogeyman, and everyone’s favourite mad genius, Heston Blumenthal made appearances, and were given rockstar welcomes.

As it is with any reality competition, it is only when the season considerably progresses that you really start rooting for someone. When the Top 10 was announced, Reynold became an instant favourite for me, as did Billie and Matthew. Unfortunately, both Reynold and Matthew crashed out towards the end of the competition, and finally, only Billie and Georgia remained.

The finale, as expected, was brutal – and the usually calm, collected and machine-like Billie got a delayed attack of the nerves, and Georgia, who is made for prime time television and who experiences at least fifteen different varieties of panic before the hour comes to an end, powered through the first two rounds with a considerable lead. The final round, which was a vicious five hour pressure test set by Heston Blumenthal, turned the tables around as Billie tapped into her inner beast machine, and Georgia, oh Georgia, started dropping things and panicking again.

When the time came to announce the final scores, I had chewed up fingernails and had nearly dropped off my chair, and when it was confirmed that Billie was to be crowned this season’s Masterchef, I pumped my fist in the air as if it were a personal victory.

I’ve often wondered what makes this show the success that it is – Is it the format? The concept? Or is it the food? I got my answer this year, when my staunchly vegetarian mother watched a meaty dish being put together and sighed – “They’ve butchered a poor animal, but it looks delicious”.