Hi friends. It’s time again for some reviews. I thought I would catch you up on new stuff I’ve been watching to help if you are looking for something to watch. Here we go!
STREAMING ON NETFLIX:
- Indian Matchmaking
Having survived this long without COVID, I came down with it just as it is uncool… Needless to say, I was more than grateful to find Indian Matchmaking and its delicious drama. The premise is that Indians and Indian Americans call in matchmaker “Sima from Mumbai” to match them. And while it is fun, romancy fluff, you do learn a lot about Indian culture and dating, which in some aspects are very different from American. Anyway, despite all of the cultural differences, if you have ever been out there in the dating pool, similarities abound. Several times, I was thinking, “Oh, yeah, that’s just like this date I had…” Which is heartwarming and funny. Overall, the show is sooo fun.
- Wedding Season
Speaking of Indian media… This is a cute little movie on Netflix. Starts well, but the writers take their hands off the reins for the ending. B- from me, but not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
- Never Have I Ever
Speaking again of Indian media… 😊 This Mindy Kaling-run teen drama is back for its third installment. It’s a hugely popular show, and it’s easy to see why. It’s got all of the Mindy elements: self-aware and self-deprecating humor, a quick tempo, fun characters, and bingeable pace. The main character’s Indian family is the heart of the show, and the storylines with that are very well imagined and heartfelt.
However, I had some real reservations this season. The storylines of teen relationships didn’t feel very…teenager-ish. I kept thinking that Kaling, who also writes The Sex Lives of College Girls (for HBO Max) must have forgotten to take that show’s writing hat off. I think you have to be very careful with storylines about kids, and I just don’t think the writers were careful here. Who is the intended audience? If adults, why are they writing storylines the way they were written? If teens, is this realistic? Why depict an extremely serious relationship that seems to include, among other nonsensical things, zero consequences for young women? As Never Have I Ever has climbed to Number 1 on Netflix, the audience is clearly everyone. Probably time to take that seriously. And it should never forget its roots: the story of a messy, underdog, slightly self-absorbed teen who is learning to navigate her life while grieving—with a side of fun romance. And a dialing back of the serious sex plots would be appreciated.
The premise of this British show is that the main character, Dylan, finds out he has Chlamydia and feels morally obligated to inform his previous partners (or at least the ones he likes, as his doctor hilariously says). And I know that this sounds completely crazy as a plot, but I had a feeling it was going to work, and it does. Every show is a different woman’s name, and the threads of the life of Dylan (played by Johnny Flynn of Emma’s Mr. Knightley fame) are woven with care while also telling the story of the character’s building main romance and the circuitous route he takes to get there. It starts out really well, with my only critique being the episodes weren’t in chronological order, so I was a bit confused at first. But toward the end, as we see Dylan face the demons that have led him to have so many broken relationships, his character was not handled with care, and he just came off as a hopelessly romantic, destined-to-fail loser… Which was actually not doing the character justice, in my opinion.
- After Life
Ricky Gervais writes and stars in this series about a man grieving after his wife’s death. It has a German shepherd, so what can I say? Despite the obvious sadness viewers are in for, I was a sucker. As a reader, writer, and viewer, I have never found stories that take grief as their entire theme to be particularly interesting. Misery is relatable, but also fairly predictable. What can elevate grief stories is how the people around the grieving person react, or how the person grows. As far as the supporting roles, they were very touching, and I think Gervais did a good job building a community and a workplace. It has an Office vibe that many will find endearing. And there was some character growth. Gervais, who is an atheist, decided to write his main character as an atheist also. I have no problem with seeing characters from various viewpoints. The problem is that a grief story is just ten times more depressing from an atheist point of view. Probably even atheists would agree. If you have nothing to hold onto, no existential meaning, no sense of the transcendent… It has to be difficult, to say the least. Also, a problem too often with atheist grief stories, and I’ve read a few, is that they tend strangely to become preachy. The show takes “faith as nonsense” as one of its sub-themes, and Gervais’s character spends a great deal of time exploring the theology, if you will, of nothingness, dropping long monologues as to the somewhat bleak lessons he learns that will, frankly, strike many as nonsense themselves… It is a bit grating. On the other hand, the German shepherd is beautiful, there are funny moments, and there is some exploration of empathy, which lingers. Also, I like how Gervais writes female characters. The main character’s deceased wife as well as his love interest are age-appropriate women in their early fifties with lovely souls but unglamorous appearances. I heard Gervais say on a podcast that he doesn’t like the idea of using women as props.
- Munich: The Edge of War
Speaking of making women props… This is a WWII movie about two friends on opposite sides of the war and the diplomacy with Germany and Britain in the lead-up to the war. It is a little boring. Most likely this was because it took the old-Hollywood route of removing women almost completely from war movies. Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil from Downton Abbey), who plays the wife of one of the main characters, is completely wasted in her combined two minutes’ screen time (perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much). The writers include a little marriage drama (which we all know is the most interesting part) and then quickly move away from that to the more important stuff, where women largely aren’t allowed. I’m not annoyed by the truth that women in this era wouldn’t have been diplomats. I’m annoyed by the failure to imagine roles for half the population of that era. Screenwriters, this is very boring for women…
Really on-point but heartbreaking depiction of domestic violence, but with the upside that it shows a path out of it. A good show, with good writing and good acting. Only watchable if you’re feeling robust.
A cute British movie about an older couple. Not loud or ambitious. Just pleasant. A perfect way to spend a Saturday night in.
- Grace and Frankie
This winter-of-life show, which started very promisingly, has now come to a lackluster close. The show, at times purposely vulgar, is not for everyone. For a long time, I didn’t think it was for me. Until I watched all the way through the first episode when both women, whose husbands have left them for each other, spend a night on the beach and relax with an assist from Frankie’s special remedies. The next morning, both still high, Frankie points out into the ocean and says, “Grace, do you see that?” Grace nods solemnly. “Yes. Jesus.” I couldn’t help myself after that laugh-out-loud moment. There was some excellent humor in the show. There were also some shining moments of reality about ageing. But a couple of things bothered me that were never really corrected, and they continued to dog the show throughout. In the first episode (perhaps it was the pilot?), Frankie is a true mystic who subscribes to a spiritual set of ethics (despite the fact that those ethics seem to be heavy on peyote use). Very quickly, her character loses all of that nuance and is boiled down to a hippy woman-child. This creates an imbalance in the relationship with Grace, when before they had been equals. Another problem is that, while I don’t mind a show that covers the really old categories, we signed up for a show here that was about the young-old: i.e.: people seemingly in their late sixties to early seventies. The show rapidly aged the characters up (once by having Grace admit that she had lied about her age by several years), and voila! We have a show about people in their eighties. Which is a very different story, obviously, from the original vibe, untethering itself from its core. So while the show has its moments, it got off-kilter early on and never regained its balance.
- Love Wedding Repeat
This is a cute British movie in the rom-com tradition that nonetheless flips tradition a bit and takes the male as the main character. I think that is a neat idea, and I have wanted to see that for a long time. It worked! Likeable main character, cute romance. Not a barnburner, but not everything can be.
- Snowflake Mountain
A reality show that takes pampered young adults, many of whom are influencers who have subscribed to a fairly unsustainable set of worldviews, and puts them under the guidance of a couple of ex-military guys who humble them through a series of life lessons and brushes with adversity. I know it’s a reality show, so who knows how much is scripted. But I came away pretty persuaded that the show had changed the lives of the participants forever. They seemed to become real, mature adults. Fast-paced and enjoyable.
STREAMING ON PRIME:
- Endeavour (PBS Subscription through Prime)
I was raised on Inspector Morse, followed in my college years by the fabulous spin-off, Inspector Lewis, both set in the British university town of Oxford. These are mysteries even for the non-mystery fans like me. So we (my family) were all pretty thrilled to hear that there was going to be a show based on Inspector Morse’s early years, taking his unusual first name, Endeavour, as its title. Starting in the 1960s, the show brings period touches in just the right way, maintains an interesting main character, includes brain-twister mysteries, and has enough personal drama to keep this storyline-propelled viewer coming back. I just finished the seventh season, and they are going to return one more time for an eighth later in the year. Highly recommended.
- Grantchester (PBS Subscription through Prime)
This 1950s/60s British whodunnit is like a cross between Inspector Morse and All Creatures Great and Small. Also sort of in the tradition of Father Brown, it features a vicar, Sidney, who spends most of his time solving crime. Very cozy setting, very good cast. My sister bought the first book in the series on which it’s based. The show started to veer off the tracks a bit after the first couple of years, and, listening to the original storyline as she explained it, it became obvious that the show was faltering where it had decided to spread its own wings and rewrite the story. I know sometimes with big productions there are certain constraints that make screenwriters and showrunners do this, so I don’t want to pass too much judgment. But I will say that if the writers believed they were improving on the story, that would be coming from a place of a bit too much hubris, in my opinion. The screenwriters always seemed afraid to let Sidney be what he obviously is. He is allowed to be a vicar, but he has to be hugely conflicted about it, later going to the extent of opting out altogether. The original appeal was just that Sidney as a character was a vicar and, while he might have been a jazz-loving, modern one with some scars from the war, he was a stable, good guy. I kept getting the feeling that the writers are annoyed that they have to deal with this whole church thing. It is a series at war with its premise, which begins to grate on viewers.
STREAMING ON HULU:
Cute show about a psychic character who in the first episode sees the future of a man she doesn’t know— and she has a vision of him as her husband. It’s more in the tradition of Bewitched than anything more serious. A fun watch.
- Abbott Elementary
Funny show about teachers at an elementary school in Pennsylvania. My mom is a teacher, so there was some stuff that resonated, in both a touching and funny way. Enjoyed this one.
STREAMING ON DISNEY+:
- The Rescue
This National Geographic documentary film follows the Thai boys’ soccer team underwater cave rescue of 2018. The whole world watched and prayed while an international team pulled together with superhuman effort to save them. I was going to say I’m not usually one to watch rescue movies—but I loved Balto and Iron Will as a child, so… Anyway, even during the midst of those terrible days, it was obvious that this was an epic story—and then when the boys were saved, epically inspirational.
I sat glued to the TV as the documentary unfolded. Having no idea “cave diving” was a thing, I assumed all of the people who went in to save the boys were military divers. Instead, they were a band of misfits from around the world who enjoyed this really strange, claustrophobic hobby of diving in underwater caves. The Thai SEALS couldn’t understand at first why their divers couldn’t make more progress, but cave diving is a thing unto itself. The stories of the two British men who first found the boys alive was a triumph of the competence and confidence of middle age—and of justification for doing the odd hobbies you are meant to do. The moment where they found the boys, just the raw footage with no bells and whistles, was overwhelming.
I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that they made the boys completely unconscious for the hours’ long dive, and of how necessary but risky that was. At the time, we were just hearing naively about the boys’ “swim to safety,” which, being unacquainted with this style of diving, we didn’t know was completely impossible. The compassion and tenderness the rescuers had for the boys whom they had never met was moving.
The show highlights the tension between Thai officials and experts from around the world but also the story of how they came to accept the strange reality of this unprecedented rescue. It was an effort of thousands that highlighted all of the best from many different countries and cultures—the bravery and hard work of the Thai SEALS who dived (two of whom lost their lives) and volunteers who diverted a water course, the grit of the British and Australians, and the can-do attitude of the Americans when the verdict was impossible and a soldier asked, as he said, “Well, what if it was possible?”
The Ron Howard movie Thirteen Lives is also about this story and is streaming on Amazon Prime. I watched it because, as good as the documentary was, I felt it could have interviewed a few more people, so I watched to get the perspectives of others. However, the movie was very similar to the documentary. It was careful not to over-sensationalize things, but I actually felt it was less emotional than the real footage, so I think it missed a few opportunities. Anyway, if you have to pick between the two, I would probably recommend The Rescue documentary.
- Secrets of the Whales
This is another National Geographic production, but this time a series, with each episode exploring one of five different whale species. The footage is amazing, and the commentary, in Disney’s words, “plunges viewers deep within the epicenter of whale culture to experience the extraordinary communication skills and intricate social structures…” It really does deliver that. It is amazing and relaxing. Highly recommend.