Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Parade's End" on HBO -- Flying Under the Radar...ish!

We don't exactly know why HBO is keeping this one such a secret, but you should be getting ready to watch the superb English miniseries Parade's End which begins tonight.  Starring the elegent and exceptional Benedict Cumberbatch -- PBS' recent present-day Sherlock Holmes and the villain in the upcoming J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness feature and many other production -- Parade's End will be interesting to anybody who's been devouring Downton Abbey, to be sure, and anyone else who thrives on intelligent drama done played to perfection with that refined British stiff upper lip.  Also starring with Cumberbatch are Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens, both very talented and adding so much to Parade's End.

Parade's End airs beginning tonight -- Tuesday, 2/26 -- at 9pm -- and plays for the next three nights, and that appears to be it, for at least a while on actual TV, though it looks like it will be available On Demand and on HBO Go. 

We don't even need to go into the plot here, but rest assured that the provenance of Parade's End is solid.  It's based on the novels of Ford Madox Ford, which may mean something to you but if it doesn't that's okay, too.  If you'd like to know a little more before you dip your toe in, click here and take a look at this detailed synopsis from HBO, but really...it's not necessary.  You'll be just fine tuning in tonight and having a go.  Think World War I, think aristocracy, think infidelity...

Parade's End aired first on BBC Two back in August of last year, causing a run on Ford's original novels and garnering unanimous critical acclaim and impressive audience ratings.  There seems to be a divergence of opinion on Parade's End over here with critics; some, like Robert Bianco from USA Today think it's a duller version of Downton Abbey, while others, like Time's James Poniewozik, rather likes its deliberate tone.  We think this one should get your attention if for no other reason than Cumberbatch, and that should be sufficient. 

Tune in tonight on HBO beginning at 9pm for two hours (Parts 1 & 2), tomorrow Wednesday at 9pm for Parts 3 & 4, and finally on Thursday at 9pm for the only one hour of Part 5. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

House of Cards Shows a Winning Hand

A very interesting experiment is unfolding on Netflix this week and I predict it's going to be a winner. They've premiered a dark, engaging, top notch political drama....and all 13 of the series episodes are available to download instantly on Netflix.  I think this innovative television approach is going to work because the series stars Kevin Spacy as a Machiavellian politician with a menacing southern drawl.  And there's no better time to show case a D.C. villain than now, with public official approval ratings in America at an all time low.  I think it's also ripe for success because Robin Wright stars as his even colder, meaner, psychopath wife.  And I still haven't forgiven her for being mean to Forrest Gump as Jenny the space cadet hippie.  So she's extra easy to boo and hiss. 

But the real reason I think the time is perfect for a series like this on Netflix is because of tablets.  Kindle Fire and iPad ownership is exploding, and there's nothing quite like curling up in bed with a darling little device that lets you watch about a billion hours of TV in a row.  Studies have actually shown that insomnia has increased because nobody can put down their tablets at night.  There's a small blue glow emanating from the bedrooms of millions of Americans.  It's a new army of Netflix zombies being born.  I don't think it's going to be the end of TV consumption as we know it anytime soon.  But if I was in charge of  Pay-Per-View at any of the cable companies I'd be getting that resume polished.  I personally have not succumbed to overly expensive PPV movies in over a month.  Now, if there's nothing on TV, I'm glued to my Kindle Fire HD and it will take me years to plow through all the stuff I'm finding on Netflix.

I've watched the first two episodes of House of Cards and I'm impressed so far.  The imagery is mesmerizing.  It makes me want to visit the capital and look at the Lincoln monument at night.  Kevin Spacy's character is terrifying and charming.  He's like a political Dexter.  From time to time he narrates the series by staring directly at the camera.  That doesn't bother me as much as some critics, who think this technique is old hat now.  If it was anyone less than Spacy, I'm not sure it would work.

It will be loads of fun to see if this innovation will result in a spike of subscribers for Netflix.  I still remember the howling when they split their business model into streaming vs. DVD delivery.  It didn't make much sense at the time, but boy oh boy it sure does now.  Just as one word defined a generation in the movie The Graduate (plastics!), it's quite possible one word will define a shift in television viewing for the 21st Century.  Tablets!

As they say in the business...stay tuned!