Cop Shows

Diet Coke

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

There was a point in time while watching Narcos, when I had to pause and look up the events that were being played out on screen, just to see if they had actually happened for it all seemed so incredulous and unbelievable. Did Colombia really go through such a prolonged period of drug related violence? And did all the devastation really root from one man’s crazed ambition?

Narcos resurrects the life and times of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord whose business and political aspirations led to government unrest, assassinations, and overwhelming violence across the country, which lasted for most than a decade. Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) is a smuggler from Colombia, who knows his way around the local officials who are impediments to his business. Each time he’s confronted, he gives them a choice – Plata (silver) or Plomo (lead, referring to the bullets in his gun), and the fear he invokes, coupled with the economic situation in Colombia, ensures that the officials’ choice is almost always Plata. It isn’t long before he controls certain transport routes in the country. Around the same time, Mateo “Cockroach” Moreno (Luis Gnecco), a chemist whose specialty is the manufacture of cocaine, comes into his acquaintance.

Cockroach wants Pablo’s help to sell coke in Colombia, but Pablo, the visionary, decides to take the business to the United States. The initial smuggling of coke which happens through blazers with hidden pockets, expands into one that requires shipments delivered through private planes, and before he knows what’s happening, Pablo finds himself with so much money that he has to bury it in fields, and even starts distributing it to the poor. Pablo also takes the initiative to form the Medellin cartel, consisting two other important players in the drug business – the Ochoa family, and Gonzalo “The Mexican” Gacha (Luis Guzman), for it is important to keep one’s friends close, but even more important to keep your enemies closer.

Pablo’s ascent has him believing that he can do anything, he can be anything, including the President of Colombia. His cousin and closest friend, Gustavo (Juan Pablo Raba) warns him that his political dreams are bad for the business, but Pablo is beyond reason. He positions himself as a philanthropist with a dream for Colombia, but his history catches up with him, and he’s shamed out of parliament for being a drug dealer. The humiliation is too much for Pablo, and he unleashes a brutal war on the streets, bringing Colombia to its knees, and giving the government no choice but to support extradition of convicted drug lords to the United States, and empowering the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Colombia.

Although history will serve as a spoiler to how Pablo’s life eventually turned out, the show’s execution is flawless. It’s thrilling, it’s got a great deal of black humour, and it’s impossible to stop with watching only one episode. The screenplay explores the lives of both the drug lords, as well as the men and women on the other side. Wagner Moura’s portrayal of both Pablo, the ruthless drug lord, as well as Pablo, the gentle family man, is impeccable. Although the narration isn’t one-sided, the show has a narrator in the DEA Agent, Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who has been brought into Colombia to help the American government tackle the drug menace. Steve Murphy, and his partner, Javier Pena (the extraordinarily handsome Pedro Pascal), along with the Colombian General, Horacio Carillo (Maurice Compte) are crucial players in the fall of Pablo Escobar. It’s interesting to know that the real Steve Murphy and Javier Pena, who’ve long retired from their Narco hunting days, were hired as consultants to show to ensure that the series is true to the real chronology of events. Season one of Narcos explores the first decade of Pablo Escobar’s reign, and the newly released, and just as brilliant second season, takes on the three years that Pablo spends in hiding. The show is as addictive, and possibly as pleasurable as the drug that forms the core of its story. You’ve been warned.

{Seasons one and two of Narcos are currently streaming on Netflix}

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}

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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

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.

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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}

In A Flash

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Barry Allen is just your average physics nerd who works in the forensics department of the police station. He is struck by lightning in a freak accident, put in a coma for nine months, and wakes up to find that the lightning has bestowed him with super speed and a new set of abs. He also learns that it isn’t just him who was on the receiving end of the lightning, and that there are other “meta-humans” in the city who have great powers, but not necessary good intentions. Barry, although initially doubtful about his abilities, with the help of the scientists who restored him from the coma (and were also the cause of the freak accident), brings down a meta-human who has the power to control the weather. While most superhero shows would take half a season to reach this point of the story, The Flash wraps it up in the very first episode.

The show moves at the same breakneck speed that the fastest man on earth does. Barry takes down evil meta-humans with the help of his team, comprising Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the genius who revives Barry from his coma, and whose failed machine was the reason behind the lightning in the first place, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), in-house computer whiz and the inventor of all of The Flash’s cool weapons and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the moody but brilliant genetic scientist. The show for most part follows a “villain of the week” format while character development is relegated to the background, keeping the show light, and more importantly, easy to catch up on.

the flash, the flash gifs

Grant Gustin, former Glee star, is entirely believable as The Flash, and the fact that he plays an adorable 20 something who uses his super speed to sneak in an extra hour of sleep in the morning, makes him a refreshing change from the usually brooding, pensive brand of superhero which we are so used to today. The show’s creators throw plenty of unexpected jokes throughout the show, and even play on pop culture by bringing together the Prison Break brothers (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the deadly co-villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave. The Arrow, a vigilante hero and a friend of Barry’s (who has his own show as well) also makes frequent appearances, making both shows more cohesive with the comic books they were inspired by.

While there is plenty to like and enjoy about The Flash, it isn’t particularly perfect. The complete lack of chemistry between Barry and the supposed love of his life, Iris West (Candice Patton). Iris is the daughter of Joe West (Jesse Martin), a policeman who takes Barry in and raises him after his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Iris and Barry are raised together, best of friends, and practically siblings. Barry pines for Iris as she dates Joe’s handsome young partner Eddie Thawne (the excellent Rick Costnett). While television can make us buy anything these days, the Iris-Barry-Eddie love triangle feels forced, and their time together on screen feels like time wasted.

Overall though, The Flash is something a lot of superhero franchises aren’t – fun. While it isn’t a show that is going to lend itself to serious cultural commentary, it is definitely one that does justice to the league it belongs to.

{The second season of The Flash is presently running on Colors Infinity}

Well Trained

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

There’s a scene in the second episode of Quantico where the recruits at the FBI Training Academy are made to solve a crime scene, a crime scene which was dummy to begin with, and it is Priyanka Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, who isn’t just the first among her peers, but the first in the history of the Academy to solve it. If someone were to have narrated this scene to me, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a mental note to never watch this show, but when I saw it unfold on the screen, I bought it. In fact, I bought all of it, and I am here to finally come out and say that Quantico is well worth your time.

I had watched the first eight minutes of the show when it leaked online, and yes, I found it entertaining but I still had many apprehensions – with the hype around the show, it seemed like it would be one that was poised to become the television event that I would love to hate. I’d already had half a column written in my head which had the words “wasted potential”, and “Priyanka Chopra should have stayed in Bollywood”, but now, 4 episodes into the show, I’ll eat my words. Quantico is tremendously entertaining, and Priyanka Chopra is not merely good, but entirely believable as Alex Parrish, the intelligent, bold, and tough FBI Agent who is wrongly accused of being a terrorist.

The screenplay of Quantico is fast and furious – it shifts back and forth from the past, where Alex Parrish is training in the Academy and the present, where she is accused of being the prime suspect in the bombing of New York’s Grand Central Station, and transition is seamless. Alex gets to know that it is one of her classmates from the Academy, who is responsible for the bombing and is framing her for the it, and must find out who it is before it’s too late. Could it be Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Brady), the pageant queen who nurses a secret vengeance? Or is it Simon Asher (Tate Ellington), the Jewish guy with a murky past?

Every character has a back story that deserves it’s own television show (the Nimah Amin story, in particular), and the writing is such that it’s impossible to judge any of them as “good” or “bad” upon first glance. There are also lots of little surprises about the characters which keep popping up during the course of the show, surprises which really pull you into watching, and ensure that you’ll be waiting for the next episode.

Finally, I feel like I have to talk about Priyanka Chopra’s accent in the show, despite the fact that there’s an entire library of material on the topic. It is not American, yes, but so what? The show has an explanation for it, even – After a traumatising incident which happens in the family (her father is shot dead), Alex is sent to India for ten years to finish her schooling, out of which her mother only knows where she had been for nine. And just like that, her accent becomes a part of the story. Truth be told, I’ve heard far worse accents from family and friends who have spent brief time in the US – drawls that suddenly appear like colourful underwear in a hastily packed suitcase, so Priyanka’s is really not bad.

There is still some room for improvement in the show – some of the dialogues are really cheesy, and the show does get over the top from time to time, but it’s an action soap opera, so that’s expected. What was unexpected for me, though, was how much I enjoyed watching Priyanka Chopra play Alex Parrish. I suppose it’s time now we stop focussing on her accent, and instead start writing about how she’s well on her way to becoming a legitimate star on American Television.

{Quantico is presently running 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}