Thursday, 8 December 2016

Weekend Plans

This has been a bit of an odd year for TV for me. I’ve found myself extremely frustrated with a lot of the so-called popular shows and completely fed up with others that I’ve watched for years (and overall feeling like I was wasting time watching shows that I didn’t actually like very much), which led to the biggest purge of my schedule ever. A purge so big that I cut long-time favs The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural (seriously, why are they still on the air when they aren’t doing anything new), popular pick Orange is the New Black (what’s the point of this show again?), all reality shows except America’s Next Top Model (which may not make it through the re-vamped season unless they up their game), and judged harshly a few so-called “classics of modern tv” (cough Breaking Bad and The Fall). And yet, there were some absolutely phenomenal new premieres this year and I discovered (and re-discovered) some absolute gems, so I’m not writing television off just yet!

I can’t believe that I missed out on this show from the get go, but discovering it 3 years on left me with plenty to binge watch over a few long weekends - which was absolutely awesome. I don’t think that I’ve laughed so hard at the ridiculous antics of a show’s characters since Parks & Recreation wrapped up last year, which is really the appeal behind this show. As the title suggests the main characters are literally the worst, and yet, somehow, they’re absolutely endearing for their foibles, negative behavior, and absolute lack of self-knowledge - all topics which most of our generation can relate to. Maybe a little too much in a few cases! We’re three seasons in and our characters are still stumbling around trying to figure things out, even after a lot of personal growth has happened, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens to them next! Though seriously, Sunday Funday is so over...

I may not be a fan of John Le Carre’s brand of espionage on screen normally (I loved the novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but couldn’t keep track of the look-alike cast in the recent film), but this latest adaptation was absolutely splendid. Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie lead an all-star cast (they had me at Hiddleston, haha) in a spy caper that spans the globe from a hotel in Egypt to a private island and culminates in the warfields of the Middle East, and while the premise of the story is pretty simple it’s really the characters who drive it. Obviously a deeper understanding of the story will be gained from reading the novel (there’s only so much one can visually portray in some cases), but I think that the director and writers did a spectacular job in translating the conflicted character of Jonathan Pine, who goes under deep cover in order to bring down one of the world’s most notorious gun-runners, Laurie’s enigmatic Richard Onslow Roper. The characters are full of surprises, and are at no point simple or one-dimensional - the subtle deceit, rampant bitterness, and the surprising care that they all show at various points makes for one helluva narrative that just begs to be watched in a single sitting (and over and over again). 

I feel a bit bad about including a second series that’s on the surface about espionage, but London Spy is a lot less about spies than a commentary on social constructs. It’s not really a series that I can describe adequately, since it is just so strange in its narrative turns and characterization, but it filled a niche in the tv market that is severely lacking in my eyes. Unlike the Night Manager, which does a lot of traveling and involves a large interaction of characters, London Spy plays things much closer to the chest. It could have easily sprawled into a systematic wounding of the British espionage machinery, but the story circles consistently around Ben Wishaw’s Daniel Holt who seemingly stumbles into a much more complicated world than he ever wanted to be involved with. The finale of the series left me with more questions than answers, but whether they’ll produce a second series is still up in the air - I seriously hope they do (if only so that Holt can get some actual closure), but if they don’t I’ll have to live satisfied that this little gem was produced in all its strange glory in the first place. 

This was definitely the perfect year to get back into South Park. Lots of people I know were glued to the various political satire/comedy shows that seemed to dominate the airwaves this year, but for me South Park was on a whole other level. They can push the envelope on SNL and John Oliver, but South Park’s standing as a show that literally gives no fucks has always been one to ignore the boundaries completely. Maybe they get away with it more because they’re operating on a truly fictional (animated) plane, but I don’t think that’s entirely the case. There were plenty of Donald Trump impersonators, but making the ever-random Mr. Garrison the face of political insanity was pure genius - he is clearly a representation of his real-world counterpart, but he stays true to the Garrison way of reacting before fully understanding the situation and then learning to live with it. What’s next for the newly elected president? Who knows - but more importantly will the newly-reformed Cartman manage to keep his internet history from Heidi? And what of the dastardly member-berries?!

Marvel may not be my favourite among comic book publishers, but they are definitely exceeding expectations with their cinematic universe. Jessica Jones is probably the most off-kilter (and grittiest) that they’ve delved into, thus far, but I fully applaud their choice because it brought audiences a much-needed reprieve from spandex clad superheros. The titular protagonist is has a penchant for leather jackets and sarcasm instead, putting her squarely in same camp as classic anti-heroes like Marvel’s Logan/Wolverine and rival publisher DC/Vertigo’s John Constantine & Lucifer who hate having to be the hero but do it anyways (all while screwing up continually). Considering what has happened previously with TV adaptations of my favourite type of character, I was not expecting much from Jessica Jones & co, but was instantly hooked by the realism of the story. The only truly supernatural part of this story are the powers that some of the characters have, but the situations that they’re in are straight out of the worst parts of human existence. Kilgrave’s abilities have startling similarities to the systematic emotional control and abuse that are unfortunately rampant in society, so the story plays as an extended metaphor and commentary. Bravo Marvel on a unique start - I just hope they don’t ruin it for the second series...

**images from here, here, here, here, and here

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