Binge Watching VS. One Hour a Week

I rewatched all of season 3 of Lost Girl on Netflix. I was surprised to see many clues to what happened in season 4 that I’d forgotten about in the months between the two seasons. Now I’m rewatching Lost Girl season 4 and having an epiphany about binge watching.

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Kenzi from Lost Girl

When I watched season 4 on a weekly basis, I spent a good part of the time bitchy and irritated because the answers weren’t coming fast enough. When I look back over my recaps of season 4, the annoyance shows through. I cared about the characters and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them – and, by damn, I wanted to know right now!

Binge watching season 4 is much less aggravating. Well, true, I know what happened. But also true, I can rewatch episodes of Lost Girl with as much enjoyment as I felt the first time through. I experience it all again. Knowing that I can play the next episode immediately, where more will be revealed about Rainer or The Wanderer or the time on the train or Bo’s strange behavior makes a huge difference. It changes how I feel about the slow reveal of the clues, the seeming detours into things like bird-women who sing opera that don’t turn out to be detours after all.

alan and celia
Alan and Celia from Last Tango in Halifax

When I have to wait a week to see the next piece of a show I love, the wait seems insurmountable. Having to wait for season 2 of Last Tango in Halifax to reach PBS sent me into an absolute tizzy. Especially when it was available on the BBC, on YouTube, on every freakin’ place but legal American TV. Geographic restrictions are another horrible annoyance.

Orange is the New Black cast

I distinctly recall the feeling I had when I reached the last episode of Orange is the New Black. I wanted 1000 more episodes and I wanted them right now! But I’d just spent 13 hours with Orange is the New Black in a big gulp. Even though I wanted more, I could wait. The binge filled me up in a way that a weekly dose of something doesn’t.

I have a friend with no TV. She comes to town for a meeting every couple of months and stays at my place. We watched Orange is the New Black during each visit, a couple of episodes at a time spread out over several months. I started noticing flaws. Flaws! It wasn’t as wonderful when there was a gap in my viewing. The binge has power.

The Fringe cast
The Fringe

I didn’t watch Fringe until it was off the air. When I’d tried watching it weekly, I lost interest. When I could binge watch, I was fascinated. When I look back at the things I binge watched the past year: Orange is the New Black, The Fall, House of Cards, Bomb Girls, Call the Midwife  – I realize that those shows are some of my favorites. Is it because they are truly great shows, or is it because I could watch them in big chunks? “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”

I still love Lost Girl and The Good Wife and Scandal, Orphan Black and Covert Affairs and other shows I only get to see once a week or in dribs and drabs throughout the year. This is the way TV has always been and I’m willing to go with it. But if I could get a full season of these shows all at once, I would leap at it like a coyote on a cottontail.

Conclusions?

Binge watching is so inherently satisfying. It’s instant gratification taken to its highest level. My conclusion is that more and more shows are going to release ready to binge watch. Television is going to change because of that. Electronic storytelling, streaming storytelling, is going to change.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I know it’s going to happen.

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Reflections on House of Cards, season 2

Season 2 of House of Cards appeared on Netflix on Valentine’s Day. If it was meant to be a little billet-doux from Netflix to sweeten up our weekend, it failed the sweetness test. It more than made up for it in the drama department, however.

I want to share my reactions to this series without revealing any spoilers about season 2 while doing it. Overall, season 2 is even better than season 1 – and season 1 is exceptionally good. Here are a few reasons that House of Cards continues to get better.

  • There are fascinating plot twists that keep you on your toes in this story. Not one of the politicians in this tale does a single thing for the good of the country or the people – it’s all about self-interest. It feels realistic and unpleasantly like modern politics. Yes, it feels realistic in the telling, but if you really examine the plot it seems unlikely to ever be reality.
  • The performances by the lead actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood are outstanding.
  • Supporting actors also do an outstanding job. It’s a big cast, because the story is involved.  Every character is important as a piece of the puzzle and every actor gives a credible performance.
  • The look, the mood, the writing, the pace: everything works, everything contributes.
  • A couple of episodes were directed by women, namely Jodie Foster and Robin Wright. A series always earns extra points with me when a woman directs.

The Master Manipulator

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood continues to be ruthlessly ambitious, a manipulator who will do anything to get what he wants. He shares some of his plans and goals with us by talking directly to the camera as he did in season 1. We see a measure of his true self thanks to this device. Other than his wife, most of the people around him have no idea what he’s doing. He’s very convincing.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

In season 1, Claire Underwood was off doing her own thing, but in season 2, this power couple are working more closely together to achieve their joint quest for power. We see deeper into their relationship. House of Cards would still be fascinating if the only plot involved the complex and murky interactions between this couple.

Shared time in a complex marriage
Shared time in a complex marriage

They understand each other, they support each other, and they are committed to getting what they want. They tolerate each other’s foibles and needs and build on each other’s strengths. In some ways it’s a political marriage based on shared ambitions and convenience, but in other ways they love and care about each other.

House of Cards is about much more than a marriage, however. There are themes of good an evil, about power and whether power corrupts, about the end justifying the means, about progress, the common good, the rule of the moneyed class. Mixed in with the big thematic elements there are human stories about the desire for love, the need for sex, and appetites of all kinds.

A Few Supporting Characters

The majority of the supporting characters are ambitious politicians. There are a few journalists, sex workers, security staff, double agents, or others who somehow know too much and could be a danger to the politicians.

These are the supporting players that I found particularly impressive.

Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp
Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp

Molly Parker as House Whip Jackie Sharp is terrific. She’s strong, devoted to her own political ambitions and willing to work with Frank Underwood even though she knows he’s a snake. Her story gets fairly well developed for a supporting part. She gets involved with Remy Denton as part of that development, a choice that might end badly.

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton
Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton is someone who is not a politician, but does what he can to influence politics in various ways. He’s an employee of billionaire Raymond Tusk and sometimes is sent to do things he doesn’t really want to do.

Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk
Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk

Raymond Tusk is played by Gerald McRaney. I have been watching Gerald McRaney on TV for over 40 years, since the early 1970s. I have to admit I’m fond of him. He’s usually a good guy, but here he’s a power junkie with billions at his disposal. He’s fantastic as a villain!

Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner
Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner

Michael Kelly is chilling as Frank Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper. One of his chores in season 1 was to get the sex worker Rachel Posner out of the view of journalists and make sure no one ever heard from her again. He’s an alcoholic with 14 years of sobriety, but he goes on a crazy “dry drunk” binge over this woman (played by Rachel Brosnahan) and spends his time obsessing about her and following her every move. Her storyline grows more interesting and important with each episode of season 2 as well.

There are many characters I haven’t mentioned because I’m trying not to reveal anything that happens in season 2 that will shock or surprise you. There’s plenty in season 2 that will do that.

Heading into Season 3

Season 3 is a go. As I look at what transpired in season 2 and think about what may happen in season 3, I can’t help but think about a book I read recently called Give and Take by Adam Grant. I reviewed this book briefly in a post on my other blog, Web Teacher. The Machiavellian Frank Underwood is a taker of the highest magnitude. He thinks he’s invulnerable, he thinks everything is in his control, but he makes mistakes. He trusts the wrong people, he does the wrong things, and his empire could topple like a – it must be said – house of cards.

Adam Grant’s premise in Give and Take is that takers eventually fail and fall. Will Frank Underwood?

Trailer: House of Cards, season 2

If you have Netflix and haven’t watched the first season of House of Cards I recommend you watch it. It’s excellent in every possible way storytelling and acting can be excellent. The first season won 3 Emmy awards.

Season 2 will be released February 14, 2014. Here’s the trailer from Netflix.

Among the many featured actors in the series are Kevin Spacey, Michael Gill, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara. Kevin Spacey carries the lead as the ruthlessly ambitious Francis Underwood.

New TV season shows I can’t wait to see

The summer shows are fun and I love quite a few of them, but I’m eager for the new seasons of some old favorites. Here’s what I’m looking forward to. What about you?

Lost Girl

Season 4 can’t get here soon enough for me. It airs first in Canada on Showcase beginning in November. Then there’s an agonizing wait for the U.S. showings on SyFy. At the end of season 3, Bo was off somewhere unknown meeting her father – maybe. Dyson and Tamsin disappeared in a puff of black smoke when their truck went over a cliff. Lauren was in a science lab creating Fae from humans and nobody knew where she went after everyone else escaped. Kenzi was driving a hot car with Bruce beside her. Trick had gone to Scotland with his lady love. And where the heck was Hale? Obviously the beginning of season 4 requires explaining where everyone has been and how they all get back together.

Guest stars that have been mentioned for season 4 include George Takei (from Star Trek), Mia Kirshner (from The L Word), and Ali Liebert (from Bomb Girls). If the guest stars are any indication, things should be fun on Lost Girl.

Here’s a bit of a teaser for season 4. Lost Girl season 4 is currently filming in Toronto.

House of Cards

House of Cards was Netflix first attempt at original programming and it was superb! (I can’t wait for season 2 of Netflix’s other great series, Orange is the New Black, either.) House of Cards won’t show up until sometime in the spring of 2014, but it is definitely worth the wait if it maintains the quality it had in season 1.

This political drama felt completely real. Or if not real, at least valid and true. Stars Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara were especially good, but the cast was large and there were many compelling performances.

Netflix released this trailer for season 2, which is currently filming in the Baltimore area.

Nashville

Nashville season 2 begins in September 25 on ABC, less than a month away. I love anything with singing (Glee, Smash, Nashville – I’ll watch ’em all.) People we don’t normally think of as musicians are leading the cast of this show and doing a really fine job as Nashville singing stars: Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, and Charles Esten in particular. Clare Bowen is my favorite in terms of singing. She plays Scarlett, a folky type who reminds me of Emmy Lou Harris.

A theme of the show has been the conflict between young and old country music, personified by Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton. They get forced together in ways they don’t want and are very different. Both have confused personal lives and troubled love lives. A troubled love life leads to the finale of season 1, which was a disastrous car wreck.

I don’t know if you were a fan of Friday Night Lights (if you weren’t, you should have been) but there is just something completely wonderful about Connie Britton. She’s fabulous. I’m so glad we get to see her in another great series – with SINGING.

Here’s a teaser for season 2.

Grey’s Anatomy

Season 10. Can you believe it? We’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy since Shonda Rhimes only had one show on TV. They announced recently that Sandra Oh is leaving the show. What will Meredith do without her person?

The new season begins in September with a 2 part opening episode. At the end of season 9, Arizona and Callie were in danger of breaking up, Richard was possibly electrocuted, Meredith was pregnant – the usual Grey’s drama. Over the years Grey’s has had its wins and losses, people have come and gone, story lines have succeeded and failed. But it’s always been engaging and I keep going back.

I couldn’t find an actual preview video for season 10, but three of the cast members do talk about season 10 in this video.

The Good Wife

I say that I want to see the new season of The Good Wife with some trepidation. Season 4 wasn’t good. They lost their way a bit. There were fabulous guest stars, but those guest stars got too much of the screen time, there were too many court room scenes, Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) story was just dropped, and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) can’t figure out what the holy hell she’s doing. I think Alicia is fascinating in her own guarded and self-contained way. However, the queen of self-contained and guarded is Kalinda. She is the most interesting character in The Good Wife. If we don’t see more of her in season 5, I think it’s going to be the end for me and The Good Wife.

When season 4 ended, Alicia was leaving Lockhart Gardner to start a new firm with Cary. That will add some drama to the relationships we already have going on the show. We don’t know where Kalinda will end up – I sincerely hope it’s with Alicia and Cary, but there haven’t been any clues.

The new season starts in September. Here’s a teaser. It seems to acknowledge that the show went off the rails a bit in season 4 with its claims to be back.

Scandal

Scandal, like House of Cards, has a ring of truth about politics and Washington that makes it fascinating. This Shonda Rhimes series begins in September with season 3.

I could talk about Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn and the other excellent cast members. They deserve the attention. Instead, I want to make a big fuss over Guillermo Díaz.

Guillermo Díaz has been around a while. You may remember him from Mercy or Weeds. There are currently 78 titles on his filmography page at IMDB, so I know you’ve seen him before in more than one thing. But the job he’s doing as Huck on Scandal is phenomenally outstanding. He should have had an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor, but he didn’t get one. As a defender of justice I’m here to announce that Guillermo Díaz is doing amazing work on Scandal and he should get a million awards for acting.

Now that I’m finished with my Guillermo Díaz rant, I can get back to the bigger picture on Scandal, which is the steely and powerful Olivia Pope and her Machiavellian schemes to control situations for people in Washington who screw up, including the President. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.

This promo video is more about Kerry Washington’s Emmy nom than season 3, but it’s the only thing available right now.

I haven’t even mentioned The Walking Dead or How I Met Your Mother, which is on its last season, or Elementary, or Castle or a whole lot of other good shows. Which of your favorites are you most eager to see?

Guillermo Diaz image from The Jasmine Brand.

The 2013 Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress

The 2013 Emmy Nominations were announced. The noms I most care about were in the Outstanding Lead Actress category.  Here are the nominees.

  • Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in Bates Motel
  • Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
  • Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland
  • Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards
  • Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in Mad Men
  • Connie Britton as Rayna James in Nashville
  • Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal

What a great list. I love all these actresses and all these performances and all these shows.

Well, I can’t stand Mad Men. I lived through the 50s once – I don’t need to suffer all that patriarchy again. But I loved Elizabeth Moss in Top of the Lake so I’m happy she was nominated for that, too.

Claire Danes, Connie Britton, Kerry Washington – I lurve them to bits. And a big Hurrah for Kerry Washington for letting herself be filmed with wet hair in the shower with Tony Goldwin and for being the first African American woman nominated in this category in years. I hope she wins.

tatiana maslany
Tatiana Maslany

But, really TV academy people, Emmy nomination people, where the hell is Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black? She really should be on that list. She doesn’t have to win, but cripes, she should have been nominated.

She really should.

Like REALLY should.

Are you happy with the Emmy nominations? What’s your particular favorite category of nominees?

If you’d like to see a complete list of all the women nominated in every category, check out Looking at the 2013 Emmy Nominated Women at Women and Hollywood.

Connie Britton Photo credit: EyesOnFire89 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Orange is the New Black: A Winner from Netflix

I just finished the last episode of season 1 of Orange is the New Black. It’s a women in prison comedy/drama. My thought as I watched the last few seconds of the stunning season conclusion was, “Please let there be 1000 more episodes of this show.” It’s that good. It’s been renewed for another 13 episodes in season 2, so that only leaves 987 that I’ll be wanting. The first season of 13 episodes runs from September to December in the story of one year in prison, so 3 seasons of equal pacing might be more realistic to expect.

Taylor Schilling
Taylor Schilling gets stripped searched in episode 1

Orange is the New Black is a a Netflix original, created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds. I loved Weeds and I love Orange is the New Black. Apparently I am a huge Jenji Kohan fangirl. Kohan takes characters who are flawed, vulnerable, maybe a little off, often of questionable moral inclinations and she makes me care about them. Her characters aren’t Hannibal Lector, but they aren’t Mother Teresa either. They fall somewhere in between those two extremes, in a place where most of humanity struggles to get through the day.

Orange is the New Black stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman. The series is based on the book Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. Piper Kerman and her TV self Piper Chapman are blonde, pretty, perfect WASPs who should be successes in life, and who don’t expect to find themselves figuring out how to survive in a prison.

OITNB poster

Other well-known actors appearing in the series include Jason Biggs as Larry Bloom, Piper’s fiancee. Laura Prepon is Alex Vause, Piper’s lover from a decade ago. Alex was a drug smuggler and the reason Piper is in prison all these years later. And, oh yeah, Alex is in the same prison. Kate Mulgrew is Red, an inmate who runs the kitchen in the prison. Pablo Shreiber is a corrupt and cruel guard. Michael Harney plays the prison counselor. Natasha Lyonne is one of the inmates.

OITNB cast
Image via Netflix

This is a big cast, the names I mentioned above are ones you may recognize. I feel like I should list the name of every single cast member because every performance is outstanding. Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Dascha Polanco, Matt McGorry – I didn’t mean to start listing them, but I can’t help it. And there are more names that should be applauded. Every character in this ensemble has a story, makes a real contribution, and every actor in the ensemble produces brilliant work. The acting is true, believable, powerful and at least 85% of the reason the series is so good. The other 15% goes to great writing. My math must be a little off, because I think there should be some percentage given for directing and costuming and set design and that Regina Spektor song at the beginning of every episode. Well, okay, I’ll say that the acting is at least 50% of the reason why this series is so good.

Can you give an entire cast an Emmy for best supporting actress?

A Few Mild Spoilers

Orange is the New Black is both a comedy and a punch-in-the-gut drama. There are a few laugh out loud moments and some running gags that will make you smile. A favorite running gag was the woman who was crying on the phone next to Piper each time she made a phone call. One scene where everyone in the cafeteria stood up and started dry humping everything in sight had me rolling on the floor.

There were moments of cruelty, fear, pain, and brokenness. There were moments of insight. There were moments of love. There are thieves, drug dealers and murderers – and those are just the people in charge of running the prison. There is fornication, masterbation, revenge, overdosing, insanity, sanity, rage, delusion and denial, pragmatism and surprising beauty. Storylines include race politics, religious politics, prison politics, uses for screwdrivers, Shakespearean recitations, and good hair. In short, this series has multitudes to offer and a cast that is capable of delivering it.

Our pretty blonde WASP princess heroine is afraid of everyone at first but soon finds that the women in prison are just like her. She finds people to respect and admire, and to like, which surprises her a bit. Taylor Schilling goes all out in this part. You can be sure there’s plenty of drama and tension involving in getting from fear to admiration.

There is love and relationship drama. With sex. Within the first 30 seconds of episode 1 we see Piper having lesbian shower sex with Alex and straight bathtub sex with Larry. Seems these two super clean moments were flashbacks to happier times as Piper takes her first prison shower, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Flashbacks are used often to reveal more about the characters. We see into their childhoods, meet the parents (or lack of parents), see the abuse or the quest for drugs, and learn about the crimes that brought each one to the prison.

One thing I liked about the flashbacks was that the actors could look more like we normally see them. In the prison garb, with no makeup, horrible hair, and possibly awful prosthetic teeth it was a little hard to match up actors faces with the images on imdb.com for the cast. (I do have a tendency to look at cast bios and photos while watching a show.) It took me nearly all 13 episodes to figure out that Taryn Manning was the person playing the crazed Jesus-freak character. That was partly because I could never catch her character’s name and partly because she looked so crazy-scary in the role. Damn, was she good, too.

Laura Prepon never looked bad. Not once. She had blonde hair in Are you There, Chelsea?. She’s been a redhead in some shows. She has black hair here and big black glasses. Her hair never seems to be stringy or wild and she doesn’t need makeup to be stunning. Which partly explains why Piper can’t stay away from her and we have the lovers triangle of Piper, Larry, and Alex through most of season 1. Larry, so straight and normal out there waiting in the real world – Alex, so gorgeous as she offers up her very warm body right here inside the walls. What’s a girl gonna do? I cast my vote for team Alex, drug smuggler though she is. Alex seems to love Piper with a beautiful eternal flame that makes poor Larry’s conditional acceptance pretty lame by comparison. If you’ve read the book and know how this all turns out, don’t rain on my team Alex parade, okay?