Binge-Watching on the Small Screen

If you’ve not ventured out to the Cineplex lately for larger than life spectacles, you’re not alone. And that’s what Steven Spielberg is worried about. The small screen is taking over: streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crave… are keeping movie goers at home. What more, these services are making their own productions; memory of last year’s Netflix original movie, multiple Oscar winner Roma may still be fresh.

If binge-watching is the new urban phenom, then binge-racing has to be the newest spectator sport on the couch. Binge-racing, a term not in the OED yet, just means watching a whole Season of episodes all within the first 24 hrs. of their release. That could amount to 12 hrs. of binge-viewing.

In recent months I too have discovered the joy of small-screen bingeing. I declare though, I’m not a racer; as the title of this blog implies, I’m a ripple rider when it comes to small screen viewing. So for a while I’ve been catching up with some interesting titles and I must admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the activity.

No, this is not a debate about which is better, watching big Hollywood productions in the theatre vs. streaming on your TV screen or just on your 6″ handheld device; it’s about accessing interesting human stories to watch in a continuous and user friendly mode, as you can pause to take care of more urgent needs that may arise, like heading to the snack counter, without missing a beat or having to wait for the next commercial break.

The following are some titles I’ve binge-watched in the past year or so. By ‘binge’ I just mean watching all the episodes in a Season in one sitting, or two. Some are mini-series, so it’s just like watching a slightly longer movie than you would in a theatre.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

The-Marvellous-Mrs-Maisel

This is probably the best period series I’ve watched in recent years. 1950’s NYC, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), wife, mother of two young children, devoted daughter of a Jewish family living in the Upper West Side, decides to choose a different path.

Inciting incident is when her husband Joel (Michal Zegen) one day packs up and leaves. Happy families can be turned into unhappy in the blink of an eye, for various reasons. One time at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, Midge rants about her domestic blues during open mike and is discovered, or rather, she hears her true calling, and that’s being a stand-up comedienne.

This must be kept a secret from her Columbia U. professor father Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) and her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle), a deep-rooted figure in the community. Midge hides her double life successfully at first, and her resolve to strike out on her own is strong. First she finds a day job at B. Altman Department Store, unheard of in her social circle, and at night does stand-up gigs as a comedienne, even more far-fetched. She lies low with her new persona, why, her newly acquired language is too foul for her family and friends, but foul is fair for Mrs. Maisel’s career. 

Period events and personalities add to the authentic build up of the story: Lenny Bruce is Mrs. Maisel’s supporter, Jane Jacob hangs around the Village, emergent artists perform at the Gaslight Café, albeit some are the deadpan material of the comedy. For the larger picture, the Cold War, secrets and spies, the Kennedys form the backdrop.

Very well written comedy, beautiful set design and period costumes, superbly performed by the wonderful cast. Rachel Brosnahan won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV series, Musical or Comedy (2019); the show won a GG for Best TV series, Musical or Comedy in 2018, and for 2019, it has snatched SAG Awards, Prime Time Emmy, AFI Award for TV Program of the Year. Enough said.

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime Video)

Mozart in the Jungle.jpg

No matter which classy name you put in, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert… it’s still a jungle. The series doesn’t just showcase the music of the fictional New York Symphony but probe their private, and not so private, life as well. In the jungle, you’d expect that’s where the wild things are. Their softball team is aptly named Wolf Gang (no doubt a playful pun on Mozart’s name). The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner for Best TV series, Musical or Comedy, does have some inspiring musical scores and thoughtful lines.

To add some real-life flare, classical music figures Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax and Joshua Bell had made personal appearances. What more, while the regular cast members had to fake their instrument-playing, Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997) didn’t need to. In one episode as a guest star, he’d shown himself to be an impressive cello virtuoso.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently finished Jamie Bernstein’s memoir Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing up Bernstein. With her book, she had successfully destroyed the image of my American idol during my youthful days, Leonard Bernstein. Fact is stranger, or wilder, than fiction indeed. The classical music realm isn’t a ‘holier than thou’ kind of high-brow milieu. It’s occupied by humans after all.

 

Killing Eve (Crave)

Killing Eve

I don’t have Crave (HBO), so this one I watched on DVD, after a long wait for holds at the public library. Sandra Oh won a Best Actress Golden Globe for a TV series with her portrayal of MI5 agent Eve Polastri, obsessed with tracking down the psychotic killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Comer is good too, like a female version of Hannibal Lecter. Only difference is, she’s more humane than Lecter in that she’d rather put a fast bullet in her victim’s head than slowly eat the grey matter inside. Exactly, this is not for everyone, but for the thrill seekers and Oh fans. Slick and fast-paced, engaging performance and suspenseful storylines sprinkled with humor every now and then.

Collateral (Netflix)

Carey Mulligan in Collateral

I’ll watch anything that stars Carey Mulligan. The David Hare written, 4-Episode TV mini-series stands out, for it features a 7-month pregnant Mulligan as a London detective solving a street shooting. Exactly, why can’t a woman with a baby bump be a detective and fight crime, and along the way, exposes issues within the government about immigration policies and some dark secrets? Kudos to BBC, director S. J. Clarkson, and Carey Mulligan for taking on the challenge.

The Crown (Netflix)

The Crown.jpg

The series deserves all the accolades it has garnered. Claire Foy is superb as a younger Queen Elizabeth and the whole cast is notable. I’m eagerly waiting for the new Season with Olivia Colman as the Queen, continuing with the relay. QE is the longest reigning monarch in England’s history, so we’ll have many more Seasons to come(?) Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret would make one lively addition in the upcoming Season.

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

A dynamic acting duo, Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin exude good chemistry. Douglas is Sandy Kominsky, an acting coach transforming young actors with his own Kominsky Method. Arkin plays his long-time friend and agent Norman who recently lost his wife to cancer. Confusion and insecurities abound in this stage of their life. What better companion they have than each other to ride into the sunset. The well-written script and nuanced performance from both make this series an enjoyable and inspiring character study.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon Prime Video)

Based on the book Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, who produced  the TV series and wrote the screenplays of several episodes. Beautiful set design, costume and makeup. Fowler’s book and the adaptation is framed from Zelda’s point-of-view, a writer in her own right and a tragic heroine when it comes to her marriage. Zelda (Christina Ricci) is an unhappy wife overshadowed by an alcoholic, egoistic writer. Only one Season so far has been produced and the biopic stops in midlife. I hope the production will eventually pick up to the end. It’s an image-questioning look at F. Scott Fitzgerald who’d given us some of America’s best loved novels.

The Highwaymen (Netflix)

A Bonnie and Clyde remake but this time from the the point-of-view of two Texas Rangers who come out of retirement to take down the notorious outlaw couple. No, it’s not a comedy but yes, lightweight. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are replaced by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, who join hands to offer a non-glamorous take on the capture. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, 2009). A Netflix original movie.

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What are you binge-watching these days?

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

21 thoughts on “Binge-Watching on the Small Screen”

  1. I’ve not been out to the flicks for ages too. I got halfway through the first series of Mrs Maizel, but sort of lost interest – don’t know why as I really enjoyed it. Watched all of Killing Eve (of course – loved it – better than the book). I was quite enjoying New Amsterdam on prime too, but a bit cheesy, and not ER. Last night I got stuck into Good Omens and watched the first 3 episodes.

    I can’t say the idea of Mozart in the Jungle attracts me (I’d love to read the book though), as I have a hatred of watching people fake playing the violin (even Sherlock), ditto most intstruments – that’s why it was so lovely that Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano for La La Land.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annabel,

      I share the same sentiment about actors faking playing an instrument. Mind you, some are easier to fake so that’s ok, e.g. winds or woodwinds. But the violin, or any string instrument, is a dead giveaway to expose non-players. It took me some time to get used to their play-acting. And I’m sure there are real musicians in their midst as a realistic backdrop. That’s why when I saw Dermot Mulroney play the cello in one episode, a concerto therefore solo and the camera stays on him for a long while, I know this guy can play. I stopped the movie and went to Google him right away. Yes, he could choose music or acting, and he picked the latter.

      Some other actors who can really play their instrument is, well you probably know, Richard Gere on the piano. We see him play in many of the movies he’s in. And Emily Blunt can play the cello. Check her out playing Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” in The Summer of Love (2004).

      Have you read Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald? The screen adaptation is watchable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Arti,
    I have to throw my pebbles into your pond on three of my favorite bing-worthy series:
    1. Hell on Wheels. Post civil war historic tale of broken people finding work building the transcontinental railroad. This RR brings the east and west coast together while tearing apart the native Americans way of life. I could go on forever about all the colorful characters. Anson Mount delivers as the complex main character.
    2. Godless. A women’s western with delightful casting and a far fetched story that grabs your attention nonetheless…with great performances by Michele Dockery (Downton Abbey’s Mary), Tantoo Cardinal, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson and Thomas Bodie (Nowhere Boy’s Paul MacCartney).
    3. Goliath. Billy Bob Thornton (need I say more?) as a down-on-his-luck LA attorney who gets a big case dropped into his lap.

    Like

    1. Heather,

      Thanks for throwing in your two pebbles! And hey, Hell on Wheels was shot right here in “Arti land”, outside my city. And glad you mention Godless. I’ve forgotten about that. That was well done and sure, I watched it all because of Michelle Dockery. But she’s been quiet since. I miss those Downtoners. Looking forward to the Downton movie. Hope it doesn’t disappoint.

      Again, thanks for the ripples! 🙂

      Like

  3. Hi Arti,
    I’ve watched 2 seasons of Mrs. Maisel, enjoyed them, though halfway through season 2 lost interest and kept asking the question, how does she have the luxury of holding down a day & night jobs, who’s minding her kids?
    I’ve also watched season one of Killing Eve, it was entertaining & just enough for me to get a taste of Sandra O’s acting talent, don’t think I’ll watch season 2 – don’t care for the recreational Killing… I started to watching Julia Roberts’ Homecoming, but didn’t understand it (actually fell asleep), also tried Michael Douglas’ Kominsky Method, and Jane Fonda‘s Grace & Frankie, but don’t have the luxury of continuing, will probably get back to them at some point… as always enjoyed reading your post!

    Yinling

    Like

    1. Yinling,

      Thanks for stopping by the Pond and throwing in your two pebbles. I know, binge-watching is totally personal and subjective. Hard to find something you absolutely fall for. Re. Mrs. Maisel’s household, I suppose the whole team of housemaids share the child caring duties. Midge’s mother Rose has her way of expressing her frustrations regarding her absentee daughter. Remember the scene of Midge’s baby girl’s birthday party, she didn’t come home till late and the whole party mess was left there for her to clean up. I like that scene. 🙂

      Like

  4. It surely will amuse you to know that I’ve been doing a little small-screen binge watching myself — except I’ve gotten through seasons one and two of The Sopranos (1999!) For some reason, I’d never seen a single episode, and it just seemed time to catch up. Who knows? Before it’s over I may move on to Deadwood and Downton Abbey — and there are things in your list here that sound appealing

    I might even try Mrs. Maisel, although I must say, hearing the years of my childhood referred to as a ‘period’ is a little startling. On the other hand, the film might be worth it just for the memories of 1950s life — and my New York aunt and uncle!

    Like

    1. Linda,

      I am amused indeed, and The Sopranos too! I’m sure you’ll find something of interest in the plethora of streaming offerings. And oh, the term ‘period’ refers to anything that’s not right now, not contemporary. Even films set in the 90’s are called ‘period films’. And yes, I’m sure you’ll have fun watching Mrs. Maisel. I remember your post about PP&M in the Greenwich Village? Was it at the Gaslight you saw them?

      Thanks to these streaming services, I can do a lot of catching up. Just last night, I watched an episode of Peter Gun and energized by the theme music once again, and for the first time, watched the 1939 John Ford classic Stagecoach (starring John Wayne) in its entirety. I love ‘period films’. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Killing Eve was amazing. I got into it after everyone else, assuming from the title that it was a generic dark murder thing, but it is so far from that. I love the sassy attitude and that it wasn’t too long. I will check out some of these series, and there is one with Carey Mulligan, that looks like a departure from recent films!

    Like

    1. Denise,

      It’s interesting that many of these British productions, be they suspense thrillers, crimes, e.g. Killing Eve, Bodyguard (I forgot to mention this in my post, excellent performance from Richard Madden, captivating story), and Carey Mulligan’s Collateral, all involve certain dark government secrets or corruptions. Just an observation. 🙂

      Like

  6. I do not watch much television as I have so many unread books I need to give away and try to read as many as possible first. I have a “smart” TV, whatever that is, in Nashville and receive emails from Amazon Prime but I have never watched their program. After reading your post I’ll try to see if I can catch the Marvelous Ms. Maisel as it sounds fun. I am missing my language though so often I watch old French movies, in French, on youtube.

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    1. VB,

      If you’re subscribed to Amazon Prime, then you could search their videos by typing in the search words ‘French Movies’. They have a long list. Maybe not all in French, at least they’re related in some ways. Check that out. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Like

  7. Great post I’ll try to see Mozart in the Jungle first I think.
    I’ve watched Hannibal the American thriller. Lucifer. The Good Place. The Last Kingdom and I’ve lined up Vikings.

    Like

    1. Charlotte,

      I’m curious to know your opinion of Mozart in the Jungle after you’ve viewed the series. Do you think it matches the real musical world? As a classical music lover, I’ve enjoyed the music but not the fake instrument-playing. However, I do think it’s quite well written and have some interesting episodes. Thanks for stopping by the Pond and throwing in your two pebbles. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am all about the small screen. No desire to go to the theatre anymore, not to mention it’s just too far. I am a fan of the Crown and look forward to the cast changes in the next season. The first couple were excellent. The Kominsky Method is funny and sweet and beautifully acted as you say. And now that Game of Thrones is done…

    Like

    1. For some reasons, I’m not into the hugely popular Games of Thrones or the Handmaids. The smaller scaled, personal works are my faves. Hope there will be more like The K. Method, but maybe from a woman’s POV. And then, I’m looking forward to The Crown too.

      Like

  9. We haven’t watched many of the big small-screen series, mainly because we haven’t yet committed to streaming services. We seem to have enough to watch. We did watch the first series of Killing Eve and were devastated at the end when it was clear that there was going to be another season, because we felt we just couldn’t sit through another, even though we could see the quality in the script and the acting. And the reason is that I didn’t see Vilanelle as humane at all – I seem to remember times when she played with the victims, telling them they were going to die, but maybe my memory was wrong. Regardless, I really find it hard to cope with sociopath/psychopath stories.

    One series we did watch recently that you haven’t mentioned is a German miniseries, Ku’damm 56, which was followed by Ku’damme 59.

    Oh, and we haven’t watched The Crown but I really would like to. (We didn’t get into Game of Thrones, nor Handmaid’s Tale which latter was available to us on free-to-air.)

    Like

    1. WG,

      For some reasons, I’m not a fantasy or dystopia fan, didn’t get into Game of Thrones or Handmaid’s Tale either.

      Villanelle is more ‘humane’ than Hannibal Lecter is meant to be a joke but based on real observation. You see, she lets her victims die fast with a bullet in their head than slowly savoring their brain. Have your seen that one?

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah, the sequel. No, I didn’t – and no, I don’t think I will. I’m not sure Vilanelle not being THAT bad would warm me to her. Seriously, I think killing Eve has a great script, well acted, but there is so much to watch!

            Liked by 1 person

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