Binge-Worthy and Not Binge-Worthy

Top of my list for binge-worthy over the holiday season is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. It’s written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino and like her previous show, The Gilmore Girls, it features whip-smart women spouting fast-paced dialogue but here decidedly more ribald and foul-mouthed. The show, set in 1958 New York, features Rachel Brosnahan as the eponymous Midge Maisel who, when her husband leaves her for a shiksa, finds unexpected release by explosively ripping into the situation in a public monologue that gets her arrested for indecency alongside comedian Lenny Bruce. Midge is at the center of three New York City Jewish cultures, the intellectual, represented by her father the mathematician Abe Weissman (in an excellent performance by Tony Shalhoub), the Yiddish business culture as represented by her father-in-law, Moishe Maisel played by Kevin Pollak, and the cultural critic represented by Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby). I especially liked the show as a portrait of the young artist, drawing on and combining all three cultures, honing her material, working it out, mastering the process. Brosnahan as Midge is the very definition of winning. Alex Borstein as aspiring agent Susie Myerson gets some of the best lines. The children are mute and faceless, an interesting choice.

Bright, the $90 million “epic” on Netflix is watchable but ho-hum. The premise seems straight out of Hollywood mad libs: orcs+elves+buddy cop movie in modern LA. Let’s get Will Smith! The undertones of “orcs are like gang-banger blacks” was off-putting.

Godless on Netflix was a near miss. It’s a Western and has a great performance by Jeff Daniels as a spiritual, psychopath gang leader. In fact, I liked everyone in it including Michelle Dockery and Scoot McNairy (Gordon Clark from Halt and Catch Fire) but the show has no center. Is it about Dockery’s character, the single mom with an Indian son, trying to make it on the farm? Is it about the town of women who all instantly lost their husbands in a terrifying mining accident? It is about the going-blind Sheriff trying to track down the killer-gang in one last attempt to win the woman he loves? Or is it about the buffalo cowboys trying to make their way in a white man’s land after the civil war? Any of these stories could have been, indeed would have been, interesting but they are all touched upon and then dropped. Focus goes instead to the “hero,” the bad-guy orphan turned (for reasons we never learn) good. Boring. Oh, and what the hell is going on with the ghost Indian?

Speaking of Halt and Catch Fire it’s on AMC and Netflix and also makes my binge-worthy list. It’s about the rise of the personal computer and the internet. The first season was very good. The second season flagged with a bunch of unnecessary and diverting plots about sex, including a bizarre AIDS subplot. It got back on track in the third season, however, and finishes with the wonderful fourth season and the transcendent Goodwill episode.

The Punisher on Netflix. Binge-worthy! Be forewarned, however, this is the most violent of the Marvel superhero shows. Lots of homage here to Dirty Harry, Goodfellas the infamous eye-ball scene from Casino (NSFW and maybe NSFH). The surface plot, guess who the bad guy is?, was boring and predictable but there’s also lots of interesting commentary on war, the bonding of men (hints of fraternal polyandry) and the pull of amoral familism when society seems to be breaking down.


Hey Alex. Punisher is more binge-worthy than Godless? Yep, you're an idiot. Also, there is no 'Indian' son in Godless. He's Native American. Haven't you lived in the United States AND India? You can't tell the difference?

Don't call him an idiot for his opinions.

Call him an idiot for thinking Punisher is partly an homage to Casino.

Sweet Jesus Lord.

"Part of this movie reminds me of another movie, which I prefer. Clearly this is an homage!" --- You can't get much deeper into The Bubble than this.

Netflix!? Amazon Prime? what is this? Who has time?

If the goal is to call people by their preferred nomenclature, then there is a slight but consistent and significant preference for "Indian" (or "American Indian") over "Native American" in surveys of indigenous Americans belonging to that group, and very few people consider either term offensive. Of course, the most courteous thing is to use someone's tribal affiliation, if known.

I liked bright, but I went into it knowing that the Orc thing was heavy handed race parable. Once you compartmentalize that, I think it is surprisingly good. And not really THAT heavy handed.

Is there any possibility that the Orc thing was meant ironically and humorously? It sounds like a movie that could be so bad that it is hilarious, and maybe intentionally so on somebody's part. I mean, who would greenlight a movie that essentially was calling black people Orcs? And why would Will Smith think it was a good idea to be the lead in such a movie? Or is Hollywood (and Will Smith) just that dumb and clueless?

Also, do you think this movie would be banned in Canada for being hate speech?

Sorry, but just to follow up, it sounds like a screenplay that would be dreamed up by someone like Steve Sailer as a prank to make fun of both Hollywood and America. I hope that he reviews the movie, because he is like the Dave Barry of racists.

Its an intentional send up of both racist white people back in the day - who won't work with black people, etc. and also a send up of PC and affirmative action quotas...

They also sort of touch on how orcs view the orc cop as a "traitor" for being police.

By making it about fantasy, it allows some fun discussion.

Of course, the human cop being black makes it funnier.

Well, Zootopia was hailed a progressive kids wonder movie for equating black people with carnivorous mammals.

Thank you. I said this to a few friends and they looked at me like I was crazy.

You can’t have the metaphor of overcoming racism without casting the “insert geographically determined ethnic minority here” as something.

In this case it was an American culture based movie, and the “race” was...whatever. Carniverous animals was the metaphor.

For some reason no one attacked the movie for being blatantly racist.

"Zootopia" started out as an allegory about masculinity tamed by a feminized, politically correct culture: the carnivores all had to wear shock collars:

But the suits at Disney told the creative guys to make it way more politically correct because that's what audiences want these days.

Bright's director David Ayer and writer Max Landis aren't exactly the most politically correct figures in Hollywood. Ayer, for example, wrote the 2001 movie "Training Day" that earned Denzel Washington an Oscar for giving him a memorable villain to play, a fictionalized character based on Rafael Pérez, the central bad guy in the LAPD's Ramparts Scandal.

The LA Times had twisted the Ramparts Scandal to sound like the usual white racist cop scandal, but Hollywood screenwriters like Ayers and Paul Haggis ("Crash") knew it was really about Policemen of Color running amok.

Perez's lawyer, Winston McKesson, told me that the movie was clearly based on his client:

The top black actors of the 1990s often complained about how they usually got offered only Good Guy roles to play since they were black. Denzel appreciated Ayer writing a good bad black role for him.

Will Smith made a fortune playing Good Guys, but he's not as young as he used to be. He can't play the male ingenue hero anymore. If he wants to enjoy the kind of career that Denzel Washington has enjoyed after age 45, he needs to play edgier characters in edgier projects like Denzel did in "Training Day" or in Zemeckis' "Flight."

In general, the top creative talent in movies and television tend to be men of the world of a certain age who don't have that many politically correct illusions anymore about how the world works.

Unfortunately though they (the top creative talent) also have access to really high quality females and often do what they are told by those females, rather than do what they think is right.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not work.

Nobody who is currently famous in Hollywood - except for a composer or two or a photographer or two , and maybe two or three male Oscar winning actors and one or two female Oscar winning actresses - will be remembered for their art in 50 years anyway. Don't believe me? Ask an acting coach. Ask someone who understands what a dry period in the arts is - maybe someone who really understands things like comparative literature or the great progressively degenerate ages of ancient Egypt.

"currently famous" means the 200 or 300 people with the longest wikipedia articles.
Outside of those 300 or so people there is an awful lot of talent, but it is more "folk art" or "traditionalist" talent than "famous" talent.

A sad snapshot of a country where entire races are still treated like monsters...

Agree that Godless was a miss, though unfortunately that didn't become clear until too much time was wasted. The creator seemed to be intent on stringing together some cool ideas and images (many of which were borrowed from Larry McMurtry, Deadwood, and much better Spaghetti Westerns), but then had absolutely no idea what to do with it all. I think the critics were fooled because it was well shot and mostly well acted (a few performances were frankly pretentious). "The best western since Deadwood" is a very low bar, sadly.

I have seen Maisel, Punisher and 1/2 hour of Godless. Agree with you on all of them.

Will check Halt and Catch Fire. What's wrong with sex?

Dead on about Godless.

I recommend Goliath on Amazon.

The last time I read a reference to a "whip-smart woman" was during the election, about Hillary Clinton.

Whatever else you can say about her, she is a very smart woman. Even her detractors would agree, seeing as though they portrayed her as a sinister head of a global cabal of thieves and pornographers.

I almost voted for her, and I respectfully disagree. She was the only sane option and I chose to not vote since my state was heavily Clinton regardless.

She has never struck me as intelligent. She failed the Bar exam. She’s definitely ambitious and hard working. Which means the only conclusion is that she is an idiot. I mean you can literally compare her to every moron that passed the Bar. And she’s below that “bar” if you will excuse my poor pun.

Regardless I do not believe her to be a smart person, or even above 110 IQ. 110 should be more than enough to pass the Bar for someone that ambitious and power hungry. It’s a god damned law exam, we’re not talking math.

I think she’s above average intelligence and maxed out ambition and lust for control. Which may have been better than idiot ADHD toddler Trump, but hey. She did turn Libya, a stable dictatorship, into a forever war nightmare with ISIS. If Trump doesn’t create a new Libya he’s still better than Hillary.

Ruined by the Libya thing. If you can't wrap your head around the true story, you are (at best) prolonging confusion:

"United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, on the situation in Libya, is a measure that was adopted on 17 March 2011. The Security Council resolution was proposed by France, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom."

So yeah I was part of that team.

I don’t understand your bullshit.

So yeah I was part of that team.

I don’t understand your nonsense.

I thought she was pretty smart until she became SOS. After that, barring dementia, my estimations went down considerably. Maybe the blunders can be pinned on Obama, but you'd think she'd be able to salvage something useful in her 4 years at State.

I find reactions to Maisel depend on your reaction to the lead. Mine is the most extremely negative. I find her excessively cute and precious and smug. The whole thing seems overwrought and I could barely finish the first episode and quit for good a few minutes into the second.

"The whole thing seems overwrought"

Yep. The description of the series sounded appealing. But the acting! Somebody described the acting as being over-the-top as in a Broadway musical -- you half expect the characters to suddenly break into song. Ugh.
My wife and I couldn't make it through the first episode.

Should it be a musical?

Nothing should be a musical (unless intended for little kids)*

*partial exception for 'Book of Mormon'

Ms. Maisel is a strong show. It's funny and Rachel brosnohon has the nicest boobs on screen since that chick from compliance. She plays that whore in house of cards, also known as a prostitute, note to self, also is a powerful word. She's a strong character actor. And in the age of lord of the rings and star wars, character acting is refreshing. She's also a reprieve from the mara sisters and their raunchy, tawdry steven sell-you-shit act. She was in Manhattan which was a solid show also. Look, Australians like Ashley Zuckerman are able to affect the best American accents. It's embarrassing. Luke Kirby makes up for his performance in Rectify, which was made up because rectify was shot in Atlanta.

The blonde chick in halt and catch fire is in Martian, which Tyler did not note in his talk with Martian's author.

I agree that we need more great acting and fewer star wars and superheros. But I can't get past the overdone, stagey acting style. And boobs? Really? There's a shortage of great writing and acting, but Hollywood seems to have limitless supply of lovely boobs on display (whether natural, surgical or digitally enhanced) -- I can't quite imagine picking a show on that basis.

I enjoyed Maisel too. The most interesting thing about it to my mind is that the stand up bits which you might suppose would be the funniest parts of the show are the least funny. Tony Shalhoub (and honestly all the supporting cast) are hilarious though - weirdly the lead tends to work best whenever she's put in background. I hadn't thought about it but the show kind of reminds me of one of those noir detective movies - where there's a plot but the real point of the detective and that plot is to just to have someone move around interacting with oddball characters. The only other thing I'd say about the show is that Pollack's character walks right up to the line of being something distasteful but doesn't quite cross it.

Punisher really seemed to maintain its quality better than some of the other Netflix Marvel shows.

What's funny about it is, effort was obviously made to distance it from the "comic book" world he resides in, while the contrast with superpowered do-gooders was a huge part of what The Punisher is about. And without the Marvel name, how would such a story of revenge and PTSD ever gotten a 13-episode series?

I enjoyed the show, but I have deep reservations about their portrayal of combat veterans.

*Semi spoilers*

Option A: Insane terrorists who are Trumpists and want to murder innocent people

Option B: Liars who make up war stories so they can feel important. And drive other veterans insane to the point of murder because they’re ...I’m not sure, NRA members ?

Option C: Cynical fat cats who murder innocent people for money. State Department security is officially hitler. This is comically wrong on the merits.

Option D: People who murder innocent civilians .... because plot. It was never explained why a military chain of command would just accept murdering innocent people for ....profit? Seems like underpants gnome logic.

They’ve unintentionally created a new reality where US forces murder innocent Afghan police for drug money. And the only “truth” Afghan people will see is on a burned DVD of this bullshit. And they’ll believe it because it’s televised.

Incredibly irresponsible and stupid. But what the hell, hipsters can talk about how gritty it was.

Some of those guys are I believe presented to show what Frank could have turned into with slightly different circumstances.

The conspiracy was predictable and inevitable when it was decided to change his origin from he and his family being random victims of crime to being deliberately targeted...who else was it going to be? It's the basic plot of a million second-rate action movies. I do wonder how many more operators could have lost trying to kill Frank before they'd decide the job is not worth it. I also wish the gun-control debate presented had been more informed by the sort of world it takes place in.

If you thought book recommendations from Tyler "Doesn't actually read the books" Cowen were bad, wait until you hear tv critic Alex.

I liked Made in Abyss a lot. Best TV show of 2017.

If you're not already watching Vikings, you should binge watch the first four seasons, because Season 5 is shaping up to be excellent.
Spoilers ahead for those who want to avoid them.

Now that Ragnar is dead, tt's becoming rather like Game of Thrones in terms of the number of multiple parallel storylines going on and the fighting for the throne by his children. Ivar the Boneless vs. the Saxons Britain, Lagertha vs. King Harald back in Kattegut. Bjorn travelling around the Mediterranean, Floki discovering Iceland or Greenland or maybe North America (hard to tell at this point), and also the subplots involving Ragnars other two sons. A great performances by Alex Hogh Anderson as Ivar is shaping up. He's part psychopath part crippled child, one minute he's torturing a priest to death in a particularly gruesome manner, the next he's crying on Floki's shoulder as he bids him farewell.

Enjoyed Maisel a lot. Thought it wandered a bit when they were trying to show her failing, and Shalhoub was fantastic but his character would sometimes behave weakly or out of character to help the plot. Maisel's husband was thin gruel. Would be a stronger series if the unlikable characters had more depth.

Agree Godless was a near miss and bit of a mess, but enjoyed the actors. The whole thing with the glasses? What?

Punisher was great for what it was. The Heroine plot brought the character back to his roots in the comic as a murderous drug warrior. Somewhat problematic from the libertarian perspective, so they insert the evil .mil into the modern mix. Whatever. Good for what it was. Well paced & shot.

Will check out Halt & Catch Fire.

Goliath rec (from the comments), was good but not great. I'm getting tired of the hero with entire lower torso of clay trope (alcoholism, quirky neurosis, etc. etc.). I suppose it makes it easier to write, but .

Still waiting for next season of Occupied. Anyone know what's up with that?
The original Swedish Wallander series was great. (BBC remake not so much.) Wish the big streaming services had more foreign programming. Perhaps I just don't know about the good stuff.

One show not mentioned that I though delightful was GLOW on Netflix. I went in to it expecting some sort of lefty preachiness - and there was some of that - but weridly for a show about wrestling it was weridly smart. It had a play-within-a-play thing going on that was used to excellent effect.

I'm currently watching Godless and agree - it's not really drawing me in, although Jeff Daniels is doing a great job.
The only character I really like is Mary Agnes the butch lesbian who is the town's real leader, or ought to be if the other ladies had any sense.

As I understand, Godless was originally intended to be a movie, and not a mini-series. I think they probably tried to expand the plot, and never really did it properly. It's a shame too because most of the other pieces are there.

"The Punisher on Netflix. Binge-worthy! Be forewarned, however, this is the most violent of the Marvel superhero shows."

Of course it is. That's the point of the character. The Punisher is a deliberate counterpoint to the fantasy of "Let's just knock 'em all out and everyone gets back up in the next scene" in traditional comics.

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