Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My New Favorite TV Network is a Website

A couple of years ago Netflix endured some very bad PR when it split its business model into two separate units for DVD rental and online streaming.  Turned out to be an outstanding decision as in just a couple of years, streaming movie and TV content on multiple devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops and even main sets) has exploded.  Netflix has helped make the stream a flash flood by offering up amazing original content, usually available all at once so that viewers can "binge watch" an entire season of multiple episodes whenever they like.  If you crave quality TV and you don't have the patience to be fed delicious pieces of it one week at a time,  you can thank Netflix for this awesome new world.

Following are some of my favorite Netflix series.  You might want to set aside a weekend day for some marathon viewing and catch up, as some (like House of Cards) are getting ready to release a second season. 


House of Cards: Kevin Spacey stars in this dark and cynical political drama set in Washington D.C.  If you think our nation's capital has more demons than the 9th ring of Hell, this series will do little to change your mind.  Spacey's pit viper southern drawl will pull you in, and I dare you  to watch at least 6 episodes in a row before you come up for air.  Season two is already set to release in Feb 2014.
Orange is the New Black: Based on a true story, Orange is a fish out of water tale about a na├»ve and morally ambiguous upper crust white girl who finds herself in prison after she's caught dealing drugs internationally.  Featuring a huge ensemble cast of fascinating characters, this series is mostly shocking and occasionally frustrating.  Lead character Piper has an annoying blank and baleful expression that makes her seem as if she's receiving special radio messages from an alien planet. Bucket loads of grounded, compelling characters more than make up for the wispy Piper, including Kate Mulgrew as a tough Russian cook, Uzo Aduba as the volatile and poetic Crazy Eyes and the amazing Laura Prepon as Piper's former girlfriend and partner in crime.  Orange is probably the most "X" rated of all these original series, so anticipate tons of nudity and lesbian prison romps.
Derek: Ricky Gervais writes, produces and stars in this half hour British series about a mildly autistic chap who works in an old folks home.  I'm not really sure what genre to put it in, but it is most definitely not a comedy. Except for one hilarious scene where Derek's nitwit friend wrote dirty words on the back of crabs with a Sharpie during a beach outing.
I don't believe there is anything remotely like Derek on television anywhere.  It is that rarest of  entities in the media world...something truly unique.  Derek is a sweet soul who is so incapable of cruelty, he shelters back yard snails in a bedpan so the birds won't eat them.  He stages animal days for the seniors and brings in dogs and cats from the local animal shelter.  He covets a YouTube video featuring a hamster on a piano keyboard.  He buys lotto tickets for octogenarians and mourns when they inevitably pass on.  Most of the elderly residents have been discarded by their dreadful families, but they have a loyal friend with Derek. 
The cast is superb, particularly Kerry Godliman as the group home manager Hannah.  She is absolutely extraordinary, and I predict many Emmy awards in her future.  Also amazing is long time Gervais collaborator Karl Pilkington who plays the Dougie, the bald and righteously furious handyman. You will watch all 7 episodes in a row, so you might as well carve out an afternoon and get your nachos and box of Kleenex ready.
Lilyhammer: In another unusual fish out of water tale,  Steve Van Zandt (Sopranos, bass player for Bruce Springsteen's E-Street band) plays a NY mobster who finds himself in a small Norwegian town as part of a witness relocation program.  Decked out in polar fleece, and mounds of arctic wear, Frank Tagliano looks like he's ready to whack a reindeer.  He's hardly capable of blending in with the locals, who mostly speak Norwegian while while the viewers read English subtitles.  Lilyhammer has a bit of a "Northern Exposure" feel too it and I keep waiting for a moose to wander by.  It's a cute premise, so far the only false note is in trying to remake Van Zandt as a romantic lead with a much younger school teacher local girl.  It's a stretch, he'd have better luck getting the girl with his rock star (and not mobster) persona.
Hemlock Grove:  Horror stories set in small woodsy towns where EVERYONE is either a monster or a weirdo have become their own genre lately.  David Lynch's Twin Peaks was way ahead of it's time with this premise two decades ago on ABC.  Now we have this latest Netflix original to add to the growing oeuvre that includes Bates Motel on A&E and American Horror Story on fX.  I like Hemlock Grove, although it doesn't do much to break the established mold for this kind of series.  It has drug abuse, werewolves, promiscuous teenagers and monsters.  My favorite character so far is a shy, 6'5" high school girl with a deformed eye that hides behind a curtain of hair.  I hope she turns out to have special powers so she can annihilate all the bullies and tormentors in her school.  I'm only three episodes into this one so far, but expect I'll finish the whole season before the week is out!