10/31/15

Couch Potato Suggestions

10/31/15
Not counting the samey-same day-to-day stuff, my life has little routine: in fact I have failed to identify a monthly or yearly routine. I don't have a meta-routine. One year, I'll read 25 books or so and the next I might not even read a newspaper. Some months, I'll watch hundreds of hours of tv shows (online mostly), and others months I'll just read blogs. Then sometimes I start playing video games to the exclusion of almost everything else. Hell, 7 or 8 years ago I used to blog voraciously, but now I can't be asked.

My brain is like a small child: it will want to play with a new toy for days on end, but after a while when it loses interest, it tosses the toy aside and gets all whiny upon finding there isn't a new, more interesting toy to play with. And just as I'm about to crawl back to crossword puzzles (or the entertainment equivalent in a Youtube video) in despair, the heavens open, and a new Netflix show gloriously descends, lights up our screens and whiny brains everywhere rejoice.

If you're anything like me, you really want to know about the good shows out there, to rekindle that high of watching high quality, well-written, cathartic stories. But desperately wanting to avoid all the mediocre let-downs, or worse, into your precious time. It's hard to do that, even if you read a lot of reviews. And reviews are usually bad anyway; they're either way off or so spot on they spoil it.

That's partly why I don't do reviews. I do minimally informative suggestions (or cautions if it's bad). I like to think that I have high standards when it comes to tv shows, so even if you disagree with my suggestion, you might be able to at least appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into such a show.

To make all this rambling resemble some coherency, the point is that my spoiled brat brain doesn't tolerate low quality entertainment when it realizes it is consuming low quality entertainment in a shiny new wrapper--despite creators' attempts to hook you with character/story development by the time the shine wears off. (Some shows are deceptive. E.g., LOST, which was a bad story* but a great show, and it worked well until the ending--imagine if LOST was low budget with poor acting, the story wouldn't have been enough to carry it) My spoiled brat brain does however, become addicted to the good stuff, usually until the good stuff runs out.

So, without further wall of text, I present my strongly encouraged shows to watch:

Halt and Catch Fire.
 
 
Wow. It's been a while since I last watched this, but it does have staying power--I can't wait for the next season to start. I want to say Lee Pace carries that show because his performance is just superlative, but I shouldn't because it's a damn good show on its own.

Halt and Catch Fire is like the 80s dramatic version of HBO's Silicon Valley. A good dose of nostalgia for 70s and 80s kids but that's just the icing. Once you get into the cake that is the twists and turns of cutting edge 1980 PC technology/culture and the dynamic between Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy's characters, you know you've hit couch potato gold.


 



Speaking of Silicon Valley...

Hilarious show that doesn't sacrifice good drama for comedy nor vice versa. Every episode tends to feel like it topped the last one in entertainment value. There's the occasional bit of ribaldry type stuff in there, but it's woven so flawlessly into the dialogue and mood that it works well, and is actually funny--it's not just there for shock value.

Silicon Valley is the funnier more dramatic version of what I imagine life is like inside a somewhat promising tech startup in Silicon Valley. One of the show's creators is none other than Mike Judge, so you get that fun kind of comedy that pushes and crosses the boundaries of political correctness that only he can provide. Only 8-10 episodes per season (2 so far) and each is just 30 minutes long (which really is too short for good shows) so it won't swallow up too much time. Definitely worth a look if you haven't already.




Better Call Saul.

Well, I was wrong. This is good. There's something about it, maybe it has to do with being in the Breaking Bad universe, but I just cant put my finger on it. It starts slow, and I mean slow. If memory serves, it takes at least 3 episodes to get things moving. I mean really the whole first season is pretty much just exposition--setting up the character that is Saul, and getting a glimpse of the bigger story. That sounds terribly boring, but there is just the right amount of bread crumbs and just the right amount of pay-offs without going too far. It's serious but tastefully sprinkled with humor. You can't help but like Saul Goodman. I feel like we've just barely covered the first page of the first chapter that is the thick book of Saul, in a good way.

If you haven't seen Breaking Bad, well, Saul Goodman is a sleazebag lawyer helping criminals of every income bracket, and himself, to beat the system. But he sure didn't start out that way--and that's what you'll be watching in this show. Whether it's early Saul or later Saul, he's always a wisecrack. I still can't wait to see the next episode.


Peaky Blinders.

Yet another British-made period drama that takes place in Britain. Heh, but seriously, the Brits must have so much practice at this by now that they can't help but make great period dramas, and that's what they did with the Peaky Blinders. Imagine Sam Neill. Okay, now imagine Sam Neill as a bad guy. Intrigued? I was. But it gets better. The bad guys (members of the Peaky Blinders) are actually the good guys--at least that's who you sympathize with--and the good guys (the cops) are well, not necessarily bad, but the chief cop Neill plays definitely is not a good guy.

There's really nothing new here--a show about gangsters from their point-of-view set in 1919 --but it's so well scripted and acted that the only thing I could really complain about is the soundtrack (some of it really sounds like dive-bar rock bands, but the actual main theme works well). The music is only occasionally distracting, but you either get used to it, or they eventually started using a lot less of it--I'm not sure which. What I've written about it isn't very compelling, but the show is. This show is up there with the best of them, or I wouldn't have included it. It's almost as good as...


Narcos.

Handy Netflix Link
Who would want to watch a show about a drug dealer? I didn't think I did, but then I watched Breaking Bad and fell in love. But surely a show about a scumbag terrorist drug trafficker from Colombia would be off the table, right? I gave this show a chance, feeling skeptical, ready to stop the moment it got boring. It never did, and I watched all the episodes made so far in short order. Just amazing, captivating, graphic, and it's pretty much a dramatized documentary. Don't get me wrong, it feels like a normal fictional tv show. It's just that, you know.

The bad guy is a truly bad guy, and the good guys are sometimes bad, but usually good. But the way this show, the story is told is different. And you don't even notice it! There is well-written narration from the perspective of a DEA agent, but most of the show is from the Drug Lord's perspective. So you kind of sympathize with the bad guy, but not completely, because he's a really really bad guy. You also sympathize with the good guys, but also not completely, because they're not really so good. How does a show like that keep your interest? It just does, compellingly.


Rick and Morty.

Yes, a cartoon. And it's awesome. A crazy fun sci-fi cartoon that doesn't take itself too seriously, nor does it insult your intelligence. It explores sci-fi concepts and general wackiness without getting bogged down, nor failing to deliver the laughs.

The show follows the adventures of Rick, an uninhibited alcoholic mad-scientist type grandpa and Morty, the slightly under-achieving naive moral compass teenager and their family. The show isn't for kids. Lets just say Morty's conventional moral compass often gets them into trouble, followed by lots of gore and/or risqué dialogue. Just the same, Rick's total lack of a moral compass also leads them into hilarious troubles, but I don't want to spoil anything.

Rick's got a sharp tongue, and the way Morty interprets it is just gold. Every show is an adventure, a quickly-paced joyride, and it's a damn shame the next season isn't coming for like a year or more.


*Shows are about stories. The characters are a part of the story, not THE story--even if it's a story about one person. Right around the time LOST was coming to an end, I distinctly remember the creators spinning it as a show about the characters--which is just another way of saying the LOST story sucked and they couldn't fix it.

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