Romantic Comedy

A Year In The Life

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The Gilmore Girls premiered in the year 2000, bringing to life the story of a young single mother, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenaged daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) in the fictional American town of Stars Hollow. Lorelai and Rory’s special and unconventional mother-daughter relationship, along with the witty banter that became the show’s signature, captured the imagination of millions before the series came to a close in the year 2007. The Gilmore Girls’ relatable themes of friendship, romance and family, its cast of memorable characters, and the way the show used dialogue to guide the story line made it an instant classic.

The show’s ending in 2007 though, was not one that was received well by fans, and with good reason. Instead of tying the 6 season old storyline together, the ending only brought on more questions and what-ifs. This botched finale was attributed to the absence of the show’s original creators, Amy Sherman and Daniel Palladino, because of network and channel politics. After years of more what-ifs and rumours of a Gilmore Girls movie, the original creators along with the internet streaming giant and series-factory Netflix are bringing the Gilmores back with ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life’, which has released right on time for this weekend.

I’ll confess here that I’m an unabashed Gilmore Girls fan – I used to catch the occasional re-runs on television, but ever since it surfaced on Netflix, I’ve constantly turned to the show and copious amounts of ice cream to put a good end to bad days. I’m not one to be excited by revivals (remember how Fuller House turned out?), but given that the show’s original creators are the ones behind the revival, I am hopeful.

A Year In The Life, thankfully, isn’t a new series. It’s a feature with four episodes, each about ninety minutes long and named after the four seasons. The show picks the story up in present day to tell us what’s been happening with the Gilmores, nine years later. Richard Gilmore (Edward Herrmann, who died in 2014), the patriarch of the Gilmore clan, has passed, creating fresh strains on the already delicate relationship between Lorelai and her mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop). Rory decides to return to Stars Hollow as well, to take the time to find herself, for her once promising journalism career still has her searching for success. The rest of the town continues to be in its comfortable little bubble, far removed from the happenings of the real world – the Dragonfly Inn still has sarcastic Frenchman Michel (Yanic Truesdale) running its phones, Rory’s exes are still around, and Lorelai’s partner-of-many-years-now, Luke, is still sermonizing his customers.

That isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t aware of the time period it’s in, and what it is – the pop culture references which the characters have always been throwing around, have been updated to feature Amy Schumer and Game of Thrones, and more importantly, Rory, Lorelai and Emily, are all made to feel their age.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life isn’t a revival that requires prior knowledge of seven seasons to enjoy. All you need is a love for free flowing repartee and the acquired taste for small town oddities, like the fact that there’s only one café in the whole town and everyone knows everything about everybody. You might even find yourself going back to the original, and generally losing all track of time. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan though, get the pizza ready – it’s going to be a good weekend.

{Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is now streaming on Netflix}

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}

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.

jane the virgin gif

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}

Master of Some

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’ve never been impressed by Aziz Ansari’s stand up comedy routines – I watched a few before I began to watch his new show, Master of None, and it was underwhelming. My immediate reaction was that I knew stand up comedians from Chennai who could do better, which, if you know stand up comedy scene in Chennai, isn’t the greatest of compliments. However, I proceeded to watch Master of None anyway because I knew that he had written the show, and was playing a character of Tamil descent, and if there’s one thing I like more than supporting talent who I share roots with, it’s nitpicking.

Master of None lies in uncharted territory which feels familiar. Aziz Ansari plays Dev Shah, a first generation immigrant Indian, who is trying to make it as an actor in New York City. The show deals with Dev’s various life experiences which fall under a broader topic. The episode “Indians on TV”, for example isn’t just about a casting problem that Dev faces, but is also about the rampant stereotyping of Indians as cab drivers, 7-11 owners, philosophical middle aged men or IT guys. Other episodes deal with feminism, old people, parents, and so on.

Every time Dev faces a problem, or comes across something he feels strongly about, he talks it out, and it is conversation that forms the solid foundation of Master of None. Whether he’s talking about feminism with his girlfriend Rachel (Noel Wells), or about what it takes to get a hot ticket date with his group of best friends Brian (Kelvin Yu), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Arnold (Eric Wareheim), or even if he’s talking about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States with his parents, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari) and Nisha (Fatima Ansari), it is the conversation which guides the direction of the episode. All the characters, for whatever limited time they appear on screen have very vibrant, distinct, and real personalities, which shines through the dialogue, and makes for very fun viewing.

accent

Currently, Master of None is soaring high up on the television rankings in the US, and for good reason, but I have a bone to pick with the show, and it is with Ansari’s own character – Dev Shah. I’ll even forgive the terrible pronunciation of his own name (he calls himself “Dev”, as in development), but what I can’t wrap my head around is that for a character who identifies himself as Tamil, and whose parents are from Thirunelveli (spelled Thiranalveli in the show, another problem I had), why would he choose a last name like Shah? A Shah is as authentic to Thirunelveli as Jalebi is. For someone who not only had an entire episode dedicated to Indian stereotypes, but is also Tamil, the poor research was just glaring. It is also to be noted that Ansari’s own parents play his parents on the show which I found incredibly sweet on his part, but I have to say this – they’re terrible actors. The rest of the cast though, especially Lena Waithe as Denise, are excellent. The chemistry between Dev, and Rachel is also something that should be written about – their moments together play like parts of a romantic comedy that you’d actually be interested in watching. There are also some great special appearances in the show, with the likes of Claire Danes and Colin Salmon joining the cast.

Over all, Master of None is something I haven’t ever seen before. It’s fresh, it’s funny, it’s relevant, and it proves that Aziz Ansari is in fact, a Jack of All.

{Season 1 of Master of None is currently streaming on Netflix}