Quantico

My Watch Has Ended

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

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  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

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  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

modern family

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}

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.