When I first heard the basic premise of the newer television series Jane the Virgin – an early-20-something devout Catholic woman who's decided to save her virginity until marriage is accidentally artificially inseminated – I immediately dismissed it as something I had zero interest in watching. But since the series debuted in fall 2014, I continued hearing positive buzz about the show. I recently took a few days away from the library to stay with my mother during her recovery from surgery; camping out in front of the TV was the only 'activity' she had the energy for, so we decided to check out the first episode of Jane the Virgin. That episode pulled us in, leading us, in the course of a few days, to binge-watch the entire first season and seek out the available episodes from season two online. The series is hilarious and totally charming, and manages to address relevant societal issues in a smart and natural manner. It offered a casual opportunity for my mom and me to have a conversation about immigration that we may not have had otherwise. The series as a whole is definitely much better than the over-the-top premise.
Here are a few other binge-worthy series that generate discussion:
Orange Is the New Black
Master of None
There appears to be no plans on the part of the entertainment industry to reduce or diminish the presence of the Man-child (defined here as: a boorish, immature adult male without capacity for empathy or self-reflection) character. They are sadly, as ubiquitous as ever (we could blame Adam Sandler for this cultural scourge). That’s exactly what viewers get with the lead character of the comedic series The Last Man on Earth—a highly dysfunctional, selfish bozo in a man’s body. Former SNL actor/writer Will Forte lets it all hang out as earth’s final man, roaming the streets of Tucson, living day to day as though he were reverting back to an earlier, primordial period. And yet the best part of the show is the actress Kristen Schaal’s portrayal of the last woman on earth, the quirky but lovable grammar Nazi, Carol Pilbasian (one of my favorite actresses who stole scenes in Flight of the Conchords). The show has its moments, especially when the absurdity gives way to more tender scenes between Phil and Carol. It certainly has potential.
The AMC drama Mad Men's final season will be released in less than a month and so be sure to catch up on this series that explores the cultural and personal inner workings of the advertising industry from the late 50's to the early 1970's. Actor Jon Hamm was awarded the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama last night, a fitting tribute to a dynamic show that featured flawed but lovable characters journeying through their personal crises along side the broader, evolving social landscape that saw the rise and decline of the counter-culture and the ascent of the mass media and the power of marketing.
I've been binge-watching the series Justified of late. Born from a story by Elmore Leonard and starring actor Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), Justified's strength as a show is in the writing and the strong performances from Olyphant and the other cast members. It's not a show that possesses the kind of dramatic depth of The Wire, Mad Men or Orange is the New Black but what it lacks in narrative complexity and sociological dimension, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value. Set in the backwoods of Kentucky where organized crime and drug dealing is rampant, the straight-talking, quick-shooting U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens finds his commitment to law enforcement at odds with both his scheming father and the various drug-dealing factions that battle for turf in Harlan County.
Every May television networks announce the fate of their current lineup of television series and present their new shows to advertisers in what are called upfronts. The upfronts earlier this month weren't too shocking, but this year marks the end of many beloved and/or highly acclaimed series. While you wait for the slate of new shows to begin in the fall, re-watch a few that ended this year:
Parks and Recreation
Sons of Anarchy
You can also place a hold on the first season of this year's smash hit, Empire, and catch up on the original runs of two cult favorites reportedly coming back in the near future: Twin Peaks and The X Files.
After a recent binge-watching of the fantastic BBC series Call the Midwife, I decided to explore other British films that were made or set in the post-war era, focusing my interest upon the 1950’s and early 60's, a time when England faced significant social and economic challenges. Many of these films depict the private trials of characters confronted by rigid class divisions within British society as well as the social and personal costs of having to rebuild after the war ended.
The Browning Version
The Horse’s Mouth—Before he played Obi-Wan in Star Wars, British actor Alec Guinness played a highly dedicated painter of loose moral fiber in this 1958 comedic romp.
The Deep Blue Sea—Terrence Davies’ most recent film is a tender, wonderfully acted and beautiful evocation of a married woman’s love for another man and the troublesome conflict between adhering to social norms or following one’s heart (see also: A Brief Encounter).
The Long Day Closes—This quintessential Terrence Davies film that put him on the cinematic map, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young man’s difficult and complicated engagement with adolescence. Gorgeously shot, edited and scored, this is Davies dreamy evocation of memory and nostalgia even when it delves deep into the sorrows of growing up during difficult times.
Of Time and the City
This Happy Breed
This Sporting Life
The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner—A film about an angry young man’s struggle against social norms that tangentially raises critical questions about the legitimacy of authoritarian institutions that mediate relations between the haves and have not’s.
The Hour—Only two seasons long but a great BBC series that like Mad Men, depicts the emergence of an industry (television journalism) as it struggles to develop amid the ever present social anxiety and fear of Eastern Bloc communism. Loads of intrigue and plot twists!
March is Women’s History Month and so in keeping with the theme of highlighting the achievements and contributions of women involved with movie-making, here’s a list of writers, directors and some of their groundbreaking works.
Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma)
Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)
Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture)
Maya Deren (Maya Deren: Experimental Films)
Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own)
Allison Anders (Border Radio)
Claire Denis (White Material, Bastards)
Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)
Ida Lupino (The Hitchhiker)
Elaine May (The Birdcage, A New Leaf)
Many of my friends have shared their enthusiasm for the series House of Cards. I had never seen an episode but knew from awards shows that it was highly acclaimed. This political season seemed like a good time to watch it.
As my husband and I have been saying to each other as we have been binge watching season #1…is there anyone to like in this show or is everyone a back-stabbing, double-crossing politician?? So far the answer is NO….there is no one to like BUT it is very compelling.
My friends tell me I will be appalled at how Frank Underwood becomes President without being elected. If we watch enough episodes tonight, maybe he will be President by the morning.
This is just one of many good series in our AV collection. I have several on my list for watching this winter.
The Good Wife is one of the best network television shows and after five seasons, still going strong with its mixture of secrecy, passion, scheming and legal maneuvering.
It possesses all of the elements for a successful serial: power politics, courtroom confrontations drawn from the headlines, mysterious characters, well-paced intrigue, and nuanced storytelling. Throw in a fantastic cast (that’s refreshingly racially diverse) that brings to life the smart writing and you have a hit show worth binging on.
The Good Wife
The Danish political drama Borgen has been favorably compared to the American hit show House of Cards. While it resists the kind of farcical plotlines and hyper-cynicism of the Netflix-produced show, there features more than enough intrigue and Machiavelian maneuvering for political power to keep the storylines interesting and germane. Some critics have also alluded to The West Wing’s influence but Borgen resists the kind of naïve portrait of contemporary politics as a romantic idyll or a noble vocation. Borgen’s female protagonist is both a savvy political player engaged in political jousting and a committed wife and mother which suggests that there will be plenty of personal and political sacrifice to go around when the mud begins to fly. This is bingeworthy television, Scandinavian style.