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.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)
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)
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)
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.
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 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.
What are you binge-watching these days?