TV

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Three – Two Boats and a Helicopter

article-2654110-1EA2AAB600000578-391_634x356

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Many spoilers ahead.

The Leftovers stares religion in the face with the new episode focusing entirely on Matt Jamison, Mapleton’s minister, as he pushes the line between madness and divine power that arises as a theme once again. Where the previous two episodes have felt frayed at the edges and had us viewers grabbing for a metaphorical bucket dropping into a well, here was an episode that felt tight, feverish, and much more indicative thematically.

Matt Jamison preaching to a near empty church was an interesting and unexpected turn when you consider how much emphasis is placed on the rapture in Christian doctrine, and this brings up a theme of the episode which to me was ambiguity in suffering. I mean here is a guy who lost his congregation and now he’s gonna lose his church, and he can’t get the money from his sister and he eventually does get the money but he almost gets mugged and THEN he gets hit with a rock and misses the deadline and his wife is…I mean WTF, I don’t even know if I have a heart left after all these emotional stab wounds straight to it.

Three arrivals of the pigeons in key locations and colors for a massive gambling success only to have him miss the deadline to buy his church back by three days establishes the point Nora (his sister!?) makes that even with all the “good news,” or even divine help, does it make the situation of life, life in the modern world, any better? To me, The Leftovers is starting to make some massive questions very concrete in this episode, and even the varied tones in which they depicted Matt, from beautiful and serene during the baptism scene, to his eventual nightmare in the hospital and his jagged anger in chiaroscuro lighting, leads us to question each of these characters in multiple settings. It’s not simply binary; it’s not just this and that, but rather a polyphony of reactions.

All this I say, yet when the Guilty Remnants buy Matt’s church, it builds a rage in Jamison that is building all through Mapleton that is very much an “us and them” story. Will it turn violent for the cult? Tethered to all this melancholy and hysteria is this building desire from the citizens for all of post-departed life to mean something more, and with that comes “responsibility” and “retribution” and “redemption” and a bunch of other five dollar words to say that these people want it to matter. So while The Leftovers builds ambiguity and uncertainty, it also meddles with characters who are trying to push against it. Case in point, when asked “what denomination?” in reference to casino chips and Matt (the minister) replies, “does it matter?” we start nodding and going, “okay now I get it.”

This is interesting. It’s interesting to me because at the heart of it is storytelling in general and what television takes for granted in particular and the friction between plot development and real life coming to a head could lead to some super interesting and way too academic analyses (see previous 507 words).

But really this episode was gripping and really hurt and had some more reveals (“Roy, you deserve this” –K.G.) that will make you butt-bump up and down on the couch and clap. You want to see other people (not just us) try and make sense of life in erratic and strange ways? Follow follow follow follow…

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Fargo

allison-tolman-fargo-tv

Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: Fargo, morality, and lots and lots of snow.

I mean, you watched Fargo, right?

Something I’ve become fascinated with lately is “missing” culture. I haven’t seen True Detective yet, and I have to add the yet there as quickly as I can whenever I say that. Of course I’m going to watch True Detective. How could I not, with how people talk about it?

That’s what happens with shows now. People either watch the “not optional” ones or they spend time at parties telling people that they’re “a few seasons behind.” The entire premise of this series — to get you to hopefully watch a show you should catch up on — requires that you be some sort of mythical beast that doesn’t already have a few lifetimes of TV ahead of you.

Let’s assume you have the time, but you need to be persuaded to spend it with Fargo. You saw the movie at least, right? OK. Well, start there, I guess?

Fargo the show exists in the same world as Fargo the movie, but that’s essentially all you need to know. The show is interested in some of the same themes — what we deserve, especially — but it’s refreshingly its own thing. There are a handful of Coen brothers homages peppered through the season, but they are more affirming than they are distracting. They exist to bring up questions about the bigger universe of both Fargo the show and Fargo the movie. They’re meant as little easter eggs more than big “oh, that guy!” moments.

It feels too slight to just say that it’s not just a cousin to the movie, but it’s an important starting place when discussing the show. I came in skeptical; Fargo is one of my favorite movies. I wasn’t disappointed. The show looks poised to pick up just about every miniseries Emmy available, too, so people have bought into this world.

I’m not going to rundown the plot of the first season. Since the first season is self-contained (supposedly, but some members of the cast broke out so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets reconsidered) this story is “over.” These people, such as they are now, are done in the world of Fargo. This is a completely closed story, and you don’t get too many of those.

Fargo is a hard show to not spoil. I don’t want to give any details here because I want you to go watch this damn thing, but it’s a show that is not uncomfortable taking risks. I’ll say that. Any show where your cast doesn’t even have to last the season — much less the episode — is a show with just an unbelievable amount of suspense. It’s not all blood and death, but man, sometimes it sure is. There’s just something about the contrast of blood and snow. It’s a really striking show, even when there’s nothing too bonkers happening.

I think you should watch Fargo. It’s not that long and you already know the world, somewhat. You don’t know Billy Bob Thornton in it, though. You might wanna check that out, no matter what else you have on your plate.

You can watch Fargo’s first season on FX’s website or on Hulu. You can also read our previous piece about Molly, the cop who subverts the trope of the evil hero in modern TV.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Two – Penguin One, Us Zero

article-2678245-1F5677FC00000578-381_634x789

Colton Royle

Every Tuesday Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. Since two episodes have already aired, we covered episode one on Friday and here is episode two. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

To repeat, massive spoilers ahead.

I cannot believe I’m saying this: there are too many guns. Already in episode two a SWAT team is getting sent into Wayne’s establishment to rob so many Asian girls it’s comical. This action that happens way too soon gets multiplied by Tom “saving” Christine by killing with a gunshot to the neck. Yes, I’m enjoying the parallels to his father, Kevin’s, shooting of the dogs last episode, and yes, we’re debating whether the identities created so far are because of the massive departed, or whether the personality was something there all along, but it’s too much too fast. The violence left the rest of the episode in a fog.

More questions of identity: Kevin Garvey’s mental disturbances mimic the continued parallel to the supernatural plot developments of Stephen King’s The Stand and Under the Dome, and we’re unaware if it is truly madness or divine intervention, which is so 15th Century. It has that Lost feel to it that makes me want to bite down on live electrical wire.

The quick edits to the dog shooting during the therapy session were too quick and not subtle and loud and just…etc.

Kevin’s “Investigation of the Missing Bagels,” felt like a Blue’s Clues episode, but this combined with questioning the shooter’s existence to his father’s schizophrenia was layered extremely well, and featured that adult paranoia that seems to be building in Mapleton.

Yet Jill observing Nora purposely break the coffee mug to get out of paying for her breakfast was easily the most engaging moment in the episode. Is she using her tragic story for profit? Is she simply playing around with suburban niceties? This coincides with her role in “departed insurance” which is literally profit made on the disappearance three years ago.

Jill is at a crossroads, and is the last Garvey to commit to any kind of altered behavior post-disappearance. Playing detective with both the dead dog last episode and Nora this episode has her seeing all the avenues. Again: so much identity.

Meg Abbott swinging an axe is one of those odd totally-a-cult procedures that gets remarked on by Laurie Garvey as “not a cult,” and this is a problem. It’s a problem when handwriting is with blue ink on little white notepads that make us feel like we’re teaching the sixth grade because we’re squinting at the screen. It’s a problem when dialogue moves fast and handwriting and reading don’t. There are some major complexities with the Guilty Remnants that are going to be missed or incorrectly assumed or told without elegance.

Tom’s repeated yelling from underwater last episode to above water this episode was an excellent progression of the suffering that Wayne says he wants, “without salvation,” and perhaps Tom assumes in some way that he is already damned.

Will Kevin uncover the truth about his supposedly “sent” friend? Will Jill and Aimee steal more stale gummy bears? Is Christine really everything? Will Liv Tyler build a log cabin? We’ll let Wayne decide.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Image: The Daily Mail

Tough Questions: What’s the Best Thing You’ve Seen this Year?

question-mark

Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the best thing you’ve seen this year?

Rules are simple: what have we, like, gotta see, man? No, really, what have we gotta see? It’s the middle of the year and nearly everything worthwhile is on hiatus. Wonder if anyone here is writing about that? Is that the first meta-plug in the intro paragraph? Why are you reading this, still? Go find out what you’re missing! What’s the best stuff from your first half of 2014?

Alex Russell

“So Did the Fat Lady” is the episode of Louie that’s nominated for an Emmy, but I’m sticking with the entire “Elevator” saga. I’m Louie‘s biggest fan, and I’m honestly a little surprised every time I realize it competes for Emmy awards as a “comedy.” I guess it is, but the “Elevator” arc from this season is everything the show is supposed to be. There were a ton of thinkpieces written about how it’s not funny anymore, but if you’re watching Louie to laugh then you’re missing the point. It’s all about watching a woman try to explain “hairdryer” to someone with no shared language between them. DAMN this season of Louie was good, y’all.

Jonathan May

IMG_1472

I’d have to say the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Clyfford Still was one of the leading American Abtract-Expressionist painters. The Museum houses 94% of the artist’s output, and he stipulated in his will that all of his work should be sealed off from the public (upon his death) until a museum devoted solely to it was built. The Museum opened just a few years ago, so I was lucky to be able to return to Denver to see it this year. Not only is the building itself absolutely gorgeous (concrete and steel), the paintings hang beautifully in chronological order, with many more in careful storage. I’d never been able to see his paintings in the flesh, so to walk through rooms and rooms of them was just heaven.

IMG_1476

Brent Hopkins

I would say the best thing I have seen this year would have to be Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by Japan as a long time video game and anime fan, and finally had a chance to go visit. (I wrote about the arcade culture there way back when.) You always hear about Tokyo, but the other cities are so vibrant and lively that they shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Kyoto in particular had me feeling like I had lived there forever or could live there forever. Just a breathtaking place with amazing people.

Gardner Mounce

The best thing I’ve seen so far this year is the trailer for Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film. I’m a huge Linklater fan, having seen all of the Before… movies a dozen times. I was smiling ear-to-ear when I saw that trailer. It looks like it’s going to be like the Before…movies but three hours long and with all the cringiness of puberty. That’s my kind of entertainment.

Colton Royle

Can we just talk about how incredible The Lego Movie really was? I mean here is a movie about a kid’s toy that was somehow also about globalization, free movement of capital, and the possibility for a post-nation state while also adding in a little Marxist criticism for the low income workers?

In all seriousness, the movie is really funny. Each cliché is tweaked just out of reach for comedy. Consider the foreshadowing of Emmit’s fall into the human world (spoilers, but it’s been enough time) with items like the “Blade of Exact Zero” and the enlightened flashes that included a cat poster. Consider how Morgan Freeman’s character Vitruvius thinks that a prophecy is true because it rhymes. And the first five minutes of the film in Bricksburg is the most satirical animated wonder since Shrek. While it definitely shows as not a movie for children, it is philosophical and quirky in a way that had me doing jumping jacks.

Andrew Findlay

The best thing I have seen all year is The Sopranos. I have been on a quest to catch up on all of the universally acclaimed television shows from the last couple decades, and The Sopranos has impressed me the most by far. Mad Men is dripping with style, The Wire is sprawling, complex, and incisive, and Breaking Bad is absurdly exciting to watch, but none quite hit the slow and workmanlike layering of a fully realized network of people. The Sopranos is a show about generational psychosis, the American dream, and family (both the kind you see at Thanksgiving and the kind you order to hijack a semi of fine Italian suits for you). All the shows I listed are amazing, but they are all missing something intangible that The Sopranos has, and I expect it to remain for some time in my top five cultural experiences.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Series Premiere

article-2654110-1EA2AAB600000578-391_634x356

Every Tuesday Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. Since two episodes have already aired, episode one is covered today, episode two will be covered on Monday, and we’ll be caught up by Tuesday. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Colton Royle

We all remember the 1990s and Kirk Cameron, but it’s a new decade, and The Leftovers, an HBO series based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perotta, hopes to avoid any religious dogma while presenting moral aspirations of its very own. The story mostly follows the Garvey family in the suburban and affluent Mapleton, and it has been three years after a rapture-like disappearance of two percent of the world population by unknown causes. “Gary fuckin’ Busey,” a bartender says before turning the volume down, an almost overused reminder in the first episode that there was no motivation or criteria. Mapleton remembers October 14 as “Hero’s Day” and holds a parade to honor the ones that have gone. It is a world of letters with no signatures, and little to no hope of anything near redemption.

The following contains spoilers.

And yet, even with Kevin Garney, police officer and existential night runner, as he punches a photograph of his wife on the wall, even with the students burying a dog and lamenting, “I’m sorry you had to go through this,” and the stale parallels in that, the story is already heading towards some Stephen King style good vs. evil conflict a la The Stand and Under the Dome. Not one but three cults have emerged from the mess of disappearances, each with their own reasoning for the event. The Garney family itself is as fractured as the town, with the father coping with his own wife, in a twist, not as one of those vanished, but a member of the silent-and-chain-smoking-and-traveling-in-pairs Guilty Remnants. Kevin’s son Tom attempts a relationship with a young Asian woman who is under the watchful eye of Wayne, a leader for the second cult, as he holds his eyes open just a little too wide and intimidates with knife moves. And the daughter, who floats in anti-paranoia for as long as possible, gets high on-campus and elbows girls in field hockey.

I myself am stumped by my reactions: do I want a supernatural show to commit to a linear progression of understanding? Because I seem also to enjoy, only slightly, the sheer noise of responses, the entropy of anger. Even the parallel structure with Kevin Garney and his run-in with the dog killer, from hatred for killing animals, to his changeover to shooting the dogs with a gun of his own, the symbolism oversaturated, at least was somewhat intriguing. They showed a lot and told a little, which is a good start, but it will face difficulties in tone and therefore audience if it is continued. “They’re not our dogs anymore,” the hunter says, and while that is true for the town of Mapleton, so far, it is also a question in the air for the entire show. Who will The Leftovers belong to?

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Review

Screen-Shot-2014-03-06-at-2.30.53-PM

Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: the downward spiral of Andy Daly on Review.

We’re gonna talk about Andy Daly’s extremely strange, extremely dark glance at humanity in a second. FIrst, I’m gonna need you to watch him eat 15 pancakes.

I normally don’t think “you’ve just gotta see it” is an important component of criticism, but there’s only so much I can tell you about Review without you having some basic experience with it. It’s Andy Daly (who you may know from Eastbound & Down or various podcastsplaying Forrest MacNeil, a “life reviewer.” He hosts a show within a show, which sounds more complicated than it is.

Forrest is the most interesting kind of madman in that he truly believes he has insight the world needs. His character is defined by the lengths he’ll go to for the “perfect” review. It’s no spoiler to tell you that “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” gets a little dark, but the it’s all more interesting than most shows that get labelled “dark.”

It’s not the divorce itself, that part’s not funny. It’s that Forrest truly believes he’s making something that matters. He believes that by experiencing divorce in a happy marriage he can impart wisdom to the world. He’s game for anything — anything — because he has to have the first-hand experience to “review” it on his show.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia works while other shows about terrible people don’t because the characters in Sunny are getting worse in really slow, specific ways. Dennis on Sunny is likely a murderer at this point, so the show can play around with him being “just an asshole” for a little while with no real fear of those little slights making him unlikable in that moment. If you’re on board for what Sunny has to say about the world — that nothing really matters as long as you’re totally oblivious — then you’re on board for everything else they do to their characters. They can eat garbage or mail people their hair or whatever; they are beyond simple changes now.

Not so with Forrest. Forrest is a character that’s alternatively really depressing and really infuriating. He ruins his own life to make these “reviews” for his show, but even the show itself doesn’t matter. He makes bad choices and stands to gain nothing from them beyond fodder for a show. That gives the whole thing a meta feel to it that layers over the darkness; you feel genuinely bad for Andy Daly while you also feel that Forrest MacNeil deserves what he gets.

It’s a wonder the show worked with so many people. I was deeply in love with it from the start, but bits like a misunderstanding of language that causes Forrest to commit himself to serious mental care (“There All Is Aching”) really require you to take a few steps as a viewer. Anyone should be able to enjoy Andy Daly dressed as Batman trying to get his son back, though (“Being Batman”). Watch that one, and, hell, you’ve already watched him eat 15 pancakes. Don’t you want to see what the second installment of pancakes could possibly be?

It’s 30 pancakes, but as with everything else in Forrest MacNeil’s life, it’s so much more than that.

You can watch highlights of season one of Review on Comedy Central’s site, and the full season is around if you’re crafty. Season two comes out in 2015, so you better be ready.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Nathan For You

maxresdefault

Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: the nervous weirdness of Nathan For You.

It’s summer, and TV is dead. Even with Netflix releases of shows like Orange is the New Black, we’re still mostly at the mercy of TV scheduling to determine when we watch new stuff. If your DVR looks like mine, right now you don’t have much to catch up on. This is the perfect time to start something new. For the next few weeks, we’re going to go over what you should watch to get ready for the glorious return of fall TV.

The first installment is Nathan For You, a supremely strange show that had an eight-episode first-season run on Comedy Central last spring. In each episode, comedian Nathan Fielder meekly suggests business ideas to struggling local businesses. They range from the simple and bad (a cab service where you can opt out or in to conversation with the driver) to the complex and bad (a gas station that offers “free” gas with rebate where the rebate requires customers to climb a mountain and sleep in the woods).

The real joy of Nathan For You is that these ideas aren’t complete jokes. For a brief second, all of them seem like they have a chance at working. When Nathan suggests that a burger place claim that they have the best burger in town — and they’ll give you $100 if they’re wrong — you definitely feel compelled to go to the burger place and see. Watch this three-minute clip from the episode:

The business owners in these episodes always come off genuine. Nathan only shames people or makes them look stupid if they’re actually terrible people. There’s an episode with a private detective who is genuinely awful, and it’s fun to watch Nathan make him look like an idiot on TV. There’s a very The Daily Show with Jon Stewart feel to those interviews, but in this one the burger guy just seems genuine. He wants you to eat his burger and he thinks it’s the best in town, he’s just not sure he wants to risk $100 that he’s wrong. Nathan offers to put up the cash himself, and the game is on. You might see where this is going.

“Cringe TV” can be pretty awful. I’ve written before about how The Office was a fun show, but 22 minutes of Michael Scott disappointing inner city kids in “Scott’s Tots” doesn’t work because it’s too mean and too sad. Nathan For You has some rough moments to watch, but they’re all at Nathan’s expense. When he offers people a free pizza if a pizza place can’t deliver in eight minutes, you know it’s going to end badly. But when the customer is angry that the free pizza is the size of a hand, Nathan’s the one who gets yelled at. It’s funny because you think the poor real pizza delivery guy is going to catch hell, but it’s this nervous Canadian comic instead. The pizza guy getting yelled at is sad; Nathan having shit rain down on him is amazing.

You should start with the gas station episode. It’s really beyond description to watch people file into a van to spend the night in the woods with Nathan to save miniscule amounts of money on gas. The creators’ choice to pop up images about how little people are saving as they go through the ridiculous rebate process is inspired. Watch it, love it, and throw the new one airing tonight on your DVR. What, what else are you watching tonight?

You can watch all eight episodes of season one of Nathan For You on Comedy Central’s website.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3”

louie-3

Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: the season ends.

Episode 13: “Pamela 2”

Whenever you see someone on television wake up after they’ve had sex, they look like no real person ever looks after sex. It’s just the way sex is always shot, it seems even more unrealistic than it does in, well, real life. Real sex is awkward and full of absurd, funny moments.

In Louie, when people have sex, they have to think about taking their shoes off. They have to have their pants taken off both legs at the same time. They have to figure out how to get to the bed, because no one just sits on a bed. They sit on a couch. The bed is later.

This may seem overly simplistic to point out. Louie is a show obsessed with the “what is real” question in a narrative sense, but it’s also a show fascinated by the mundane. Louis C.K. became one of the most famous comics in America on the strength of the mundane as a comedic source. His show is less about how it’s all funny and more about how it all is consistent. Everyone takes their shoes off before they have sex and no one knows how to do it. There’s no sexy — or even practical — way to take off your shoes in a hurry.

It’s not all sex, but everything is that moment. Everything is taking your shoes off quickly to not let a moment pass or convincing someone to do something spontaneous before they make a joke. Everything in life is making the moment what it can be before it passes. When Louie is a sad show, it’s about missing those moments. Sometimes it’s something else, and this one is mostly something else. Just go out there and try, dummy. That’s all you can do.

Episode 14: “Pamela 3”

The choice to run all 14 of these episodes over seven weeks seemed weird when this all started. But now, after all of the “Elevator” saga and “Pamela,” it’s clear that this was the only way to run this. It could have just as easily been a one-night binge, I guess, but then I’d be dead. This was all rough.

I don’t want to spend too much time on recapping the season, but let’s review for a very short paragraph. This is the season of a show on television where Louis C.K. rescued an old woman from a stuck elevator, went on dates with three women (four women, maybe, hard to say with the model), and opened for Jerry Seinfeld. That’s what happened. Oh, and he also went back in time to show the breakdown of his marriage and his childhood and his family and his psyche and…

…back to “Pamela 3.” Long-time viewers of Louie (hello, all 13 of you) know that Louie and Pamela have an aggressive — but familiar — relationship. They rag on each other and riff and talk in dumb voices. Even one of the most romantic moments in Louie history was Pamela getting on a plane as she yelled “wave to me, dummy,” which was mistaken for “wait for me.” Pamela and Louie have had chances, but they’ve always been caught up in the armor of acting like you don’t give a damn.

But they do. It’s just hard to tell someone else that you’re going to finally drop the cynicism or the sarcasm or whatever your deal is and engage with them. It’s hard to actually be a person, because jokes are easier a lot of the time. We make jokes at funerals because funerals suck. We’d rather not engage.

It’s an old lesson, far older than most of the ones in this season of Louie. “Pamela 3” is about not getting what you want, but it’s about something even better than that. It will make you more kind, and it’s something that I struggle with all the time. The lesson in the finale of this season of Louie has to be that you have to let other people be themselves, because that’s all anyone should ever be. If you do that, and you still like them, then that’s what love is. Not anything else.

We’ll be back next week with a different show. If you have suggestions, leave a comment.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

You Should Be Watching Season Two of Orange is the New Black

OITNB-logo

Stephanie Feinstein

Minor season two spoilers.

If you haven’t watched season one of Orange is the New Black, then stop reading this and go watch it now. NOW.

For those who have made it diligently through season one, rejoice! You are probably already done with season two!

On June 6, season two was released in its entirety on Netflix. A hit since the beginning, OITNB was a semi-experiment for Netflix, embarking into the world of truly original programming (I do not count the 4th season of Arrested Development as “original”). Along with other hits like House of Cards, this new generation of streaming television addresses directly the demographics and preferences of the target audiences. People were watching David Fincher movies, Kevin Spacey movies, and presidential/political dramas…. so they made a political Kevin Spacey drama, directed by David Fincher. We asked, they gave. In the case of Orange is the New Black, I guess we were all thirsting for some female drama that did not include Friday night dates or working at a hospital, where little focus can be given to a character’s wardrobe and men are not the only love option.

For OITNB, season one was good, but not amazing. I got really tired of the first-world problems of our main character, as the true storytelling was hidden among the myriad of inmates. Jenji Kohan, mastermind of the hit Weeds, is also the creator of OITNB, and she has gone on record that Piper’s story got us in the door, but what will keep viewers around are the otherwise untold tales of incarcerated minorities. Piper Kerman is a real woman, who did get incarcerated because of drug-running mistakes of her youth, she did have a fiance and a lesbian lover, but Piper Kerman only shares so much with Piper Chapman. Real people rarely make captivating television, so the glory of fiction rounds out less fascinating dents, and sometimes other people’s dents are more interesting. With a bevy of flashbacks highlighting key moments of the women’s lives, we glimpse depth and understanding beyond the orange and beige jumpsuits. Heavy issues of race, poverty, sexual violence, drugs, and motherhood are all addressed, in addition to a fairly scathing view of the privatized prison system. You do have to put up with a lot of Laura Prepon, though.

One of my favorite aspects of OITNB this season? Jodie Foster.

An occasional director for season one, Foster directed the opening episode of season two. Oh the fear! I am a great Foster fan, mainly because the fear she portrays on screen becomes so hauntingly real that it can give me nightmares (Silence of the Lambs, Panic Room). Foster pulled out all of the stops for this episode, drenching viewers in uncertainty and panic. Small homages to Hannibal Lecter, with beautifully placed airplanes, masks, and talks of false freedom. My skin crawled from the hungry looks of men, the implied violence around each turn, the tension of unknown destinations. It was a home run of an episode.

In the week since it all was delivered to Netflix, I have finished season two and I recommend it to everyone I see. Most of my issues with season one have since been resolved, the acting has increased, the story has power, and prison life has become fascinating. You should be watching it.

Stephanie Feinstein spends more time than she should yelling at her television, and that may never change. You can contact her at stephanie.feinstein@gmail.com

BBC’s Whites: Should You See It?

whites BBC

Jonathan May

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: We talk recipes. Should you see BBC’s Whites?

BBC’s Whites follows one Roland White, head chef at the White House, a restaurant and hotel in a traditional British manor, as he attempts to abuse everything under his care in return for his own happiness. It’s unfortunate then for Roland, and everyone else, that he has no idea what happiness is. While he attempts to please himself in various ways, his tall, blond sous-chef, Bib, runs the kitchen. First episode in, Bib, at the end of his wits, demands help in the kitchen. The agency sends over a not-too-bright chap named Skoose, whose sole purpose in life is to make Bib miserable. Throw in a beautiful female manager and a doe-eyed, clueless server, and the rest basically writes itself, or appears to, in its effortlessness.

It’s good that the show centers on such an egotistical figure—a sort of comedic, pathetic Prince Hamlet to a crumbling Elsinore. Roland, in his pursuit of drinking and women, has abandoned his creativity, his friends, and a tight hand on his restaurant. An inspector’s visit doesn’t go so well, and we’re left to wonder where the humor is when someone essentially turns out to be a real asshole. As with most comedies that are built around someone you are supposed to hate, Whites makes sure that its ancillary characters are in dire need of viewer sympathy. Poor Bib is overworked; you almost weep for the thin bastard. And is the beautiful manager really dating a gay guy?

Should you see it?

This six-episode gem really never took off due to financial difficulty (the actors were all trained in a professional kitchen). It’s a shame because as the last episode ended, you could feel the show brimming with fresh energy for another round. Oh well. I can’t recommend this show highly enough. At 30 minutes each, the episodes are ripe for a Hulu binge. One pro tip: don’t watch hungry, because by the end, you’ll be trying to make every fancy thing you’ve never tried to make in your kitchen.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Image: The Daily Mail