September 12, 2022
Five TV shows that you should watch
TV shows. Am I right?
The last couple of years must have been the best for the TV industry, what with us sitting on our buttocks all day, gas prices making it expensive to drive cars toward destinations, and streaming services punching production companies with bags of money because they are starving for content.
As a species, we seem to enjoy binging entire seasons until 3:00 AM on a work day, with Netflix politely asking: "Hey, real quick, are you still alive?" 🙊
And I get it. Why constrain ourselves with a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, that effs off in two hours, when you can tell the same facts by spreading them all over eight seasons to maximize consumption?
It's not like we are busy or anything! And the longer we stare into the sea of pixels, the less we ponder about the emptiness of our existence.
If I come across as salty, it's because I am!
I guess I've wasted too many hours on series that over-promised and shit-delivered. If I could get that time back, I would use it to learn to play an instrument, so that I could seduce people by the campfire with my sweet guitar skills, instead of exhausting them intellectually.
But good TV shows are possible! In this post, I'll share with you five excellent series that you should watch in 2022. May my quirky taste shine a light!
Important Warning. This post also contains a spicy take on a beloved show that has just wrapped up and that I did not like.
I ask you to read my opinions with an open mind.
Initially, you will reject them. You'll be mad at me, even. But let that sink in. Take a few thoughtful showers, then admit your mistakes, unwatch said program, and apologize by sending me money.
The shows are in no particular order because we are all adults here. Although, I did place the ones I like the most at the bottom, for effect, so I guess they are ordered after all. 🤷♂️
Set in Russia circa 18th century judging by the dress code, The Great follows the occasionally true story of Catherine, trying to overthrow her husband's reign of fear and incompetence, and replace it with her Enlightenment inspired reign of fear and incompetence.(Remember kids, nobility is cringe, as they said back then. If at all possible, you should avoid it.)
If the show feels like the adaptation of a play, it's because it is. Most of the story takes place in one giant set, the casting is race blind, and the actors speak a mix of modern and ye olde English ("Nay means nay!"), instead of the language most commonly used by Russian nobles at the time: French.
Highlight of the production is Nicholas Hoult having the time of his life portraying a character that can switch from funny goofball to homicidal maniac on a dime, while always managing to be delightful.
He is truly a wonder to witness.
If you liked The Favorite, this is more of that goodness.
(After my immersion in Russian literature last year, and this show now, it seems to me that Russians are a bunch of interesting folks. I wonder what they are up to these days.)
For All Mankind
Ronald D. Moore has learned the ropes writing for Star Trek. Then, for his debut as showrunner, he's worked at Battlestar Galactica, which had a stupid story and ridiculous characters.
On his following project For All Mankind, he must have thought what if this time I write an intelligent story and - hear me out! - compelling characters that have interesting arcs?
This turned out to be an excellent idea...
For All Mankind is set in an alternative universe where the Soviets have won the race to the Moon. So this is what they are up to these days!
Losing the competition makes the Americans extremely butt-hurt as they go pedal to the metal into the space program, instead of getting bored with rocket launches as in our own darker timeline.
As a side effect to giving NASA infinite money, in the show's continuum, technology advances a bit faster, with the iPhone 14 being the iPhone 17 or similar.
On a more negative note, due to the increased nationalism, republicans stay in power for longer, which means that they don't get to experience the Clinton/Lewinsky cigar scandal. 😢
And, for some reason, John Lennon is not murdered, so a few changes are neutral.
Across the pacific pond, the Soviet Union holds together to their common objective of maintaining space superiority, instead of falling in 1989 over the population's obsession over Levi's jeans, soft drinks, and not dying.
As you can imagine, establishing a base on the Moon is already a difficult endeavor in itself, but doing it in a world where two super-powers are trolling each other is hella challenging.
Which means that characters go through such hardships and face emergencies so big that they make you think how will they even survive this one? And sometimes the answer is: "Oh, they don't", which makes the times they do feel earned.
Best sci-fi of the decade.
According to my napkin calculation, Breaking Bad is 70% drama and 30% dark comedy.
Have you ever stopped considering what happens if you swap those numbers? You get Barry is what you get!
Titular Barry is a former US Marine shell-shocked by the whole Afghanistan thing. Back to the homeland, he is coached into making use of his particular set of skills by becoming a hit-man.
While fulfilling a contract about killing an actor, he discovers the joy of being on stage, decides to quit the hitting career, and enrolls in the same acting class of the poor guy he had to dispose.
Of course, the old life keeps creeping up.
Set in Los Angeles, the show heavily parodizes the Hollywood scene. Actors, producers, teachers are all self-absorbed, brain-dead pricks.
And then there is Sally.
Played by Sarah Goldberg - who has not a background in comedy - Sally is a national treasure...
Conversely, the Chechen and Bolivian mob, who are supposedly the bad guys, are all sweethearts, and they contribute to what is quite possibly my favorite dialogue exchange:
Speaking of Breaking Bad...
I didn't love Better Call Saul
This fucking show.
As for its sequel, Better Call Saul has unparalleled visual narration. It's the best example on TV of the power of show / not tell, which is incredibly hard to convey, and here is on par with the work of the Coen Brothers.
Take for instance this wonderful scene...
Initially, it's just two wine enthusiasts talking shop. Then, you understand the subtext: they are flirting! 🥰
And it's a kind one at that, where boundaries are removed like onion layers ➡ Am I talking too much? ➡ Not at all ➡ Mr. Fring ➡ ✋🏿Gustavo ➡ ...
Toward the end, something happens that makes Gustavo leave abruptly. We are not told what got into his mind, and we don't need to, because we do know! Of course, he cannot let another person in his life, not after what happened last time. 😭
So, it sucks that people at the top of their storytelling game, forgot to include a story.
Better Call Saul takes six seasons to tell a story that could have been wrapped into a 2 hours movie like that Jesse one, which you could then have skipped more easily.
Should you choose to invest the 2 days and 15 hours needed to watch this show, you will find plenty of masterfully written and acted scenes that end up being mostly naval gazing and character studies that are not as interesting as they were hoping for.
But at least, they managed to make the Mexico scenes not yellow.
Is it possible to love a show where every character is a piece of shit?
With Succession, you can imagine the notes that the network could provide:
I feel like there is an alternative version of this show where protagonist Kendall Roy is a righteous man who is trying to save the family company from a senile abusive father and his spoiled siblings, possibly set in the same universe of For All Mankind.
This would end up being a lesser version of the show.
It's important for Succession to be choke-full of detestable characters, because something happens along the way that you don't expect.
You start seeing these people not as villains, but as broken beings.
Of course, the reasons why one would develop such a toxic personality are complex, multi-varied, and require tons of intros- it's the parents' fault!
Take Siobhan Roy. She is self-absorbed, superficial, and manipulative. A textbook c-word. Now take this incredible scene with her mother.
These are two adults that take turns hurting each other. Amidst the vitriol, they are making some good points, and they have several opportunities to throw an olive branch and mend their relationship. Instead, they choose to escalate.
Did you notice Siobhan's face when her mother drops the bomb?
How would you react if your mom told you that she should not have had kids? 😭 How can you despise Siobhan after this?
The best written TV show since The Wire.
Do you know who Nathan Fielder is?
If not, I envy you, because you are now exposed to the genius of Nathan For You, a show that starts with a simple premise of helping businesses that are struggling, and goes into wild places.
For his next project, Nathan must have thought what if Nathan For You had a budget?
The result is The Rehearsal...
The show is about Nathan helping people solve their problems by rehearsing the situation in every tiny detail. This means hiring actors to follow and study the individuals they are impersonating, and even building a complete set of the place where the confrontation will take place.
The first episode, involving a man that wants to confess a lie to a friend, establishes the format.
The second episode pushes the envelope further, with a woman rehearsing motherhood on a multi week endeavor, with child actors of increasing age, so that she can have the full experience.
At the end of the second episode, the format breaks already, with Nathan deciding to participate more actively in the rehearsal by becoming the woman's fake husband.
This spirals into a personal voyage for Nathan, where he questions his tendency of lying to get out of problems, his capacity of building healthy relationships, and ultimately his ability of being a good father.
To investigate these feelings, Nathan hires an actor to play himself, then he rehearses the rehearsal, in a form of recursive storytelling that screams Charlie Kaufman from the rooftops.
Having found myself wondering if I could be a good father -- or at this point I should rather say "could have been" -- this strikes a chord.
With these kind of shows that involve "real people", you never fully know how much is staged.
Sometimes, events are reassembled to become more meaningful through the magic of editing. Some other times, people are just eager to yes-and Nathan's ideas.
But by season end, something happens that is definitely real, as it involves a six-year-old child, which falls precisely into the whole fatherhood theme, and that is frankly heartbreaking. As a result, a show that is so funny in a dry and self-deprecating kind of way, had me in tears by the last episode.
Truly a masterwork of improvisation, careful planning, and unfiltered examination of the self.
It will be studied in schools.