What I've Been Watching This Month: July 2018
It’s that time of month again, where I share my TV feels from the last few weeks. July has been another Netflix heavy month, but with a bit more of a jump around genres. This month we have Sci-Fi, a (kinda) talk show, comedy and a little home décor…
Altered Carbon, Season 1 – (a generous) ***
At the beginning of the month I felt like watching something with a bit of Sci-Fi and a bit of action. I’d heard a few people comment that they’d quite enjoyed Altered Carbon on Netflix so I thought I would give it a go. It turned out to be a show that was at various times trashily enjoyable, confusing, frustrating, visually spectacular and kinda bad.
The basic premise revolves around a future where a person’s consciousness can be downloaded and placed into a new ‘sleeve’ (body). For the extremely wealthy sleeves can be clones of their own body, allowing them to effectively live forever, for the less financially well-endowed it’s a bit more of crap shoot what sleeve they might get. The main protagonist is Takeshi Kovacs, an ‘Envoy’, the meaning of this title explained over the season, who is basically the most badass of all badasses. His consciousness has been imprisoned for previous crimes, but his freedom is bought and his mind placed in a new sleeve by Laurens Bancroft, one of the uber rich, who wants Kovacs to solve his ‘murder’ (his consciousness has been uploaded to a new sleeve from a back-up).
The financial divide is an important aspect of the show with the wealthy living an almost god-like eternal existence above the clouds where virtually nothing can touch them, including the law. The show looks to ask some serious questions about how much humans’ morality might be corrupted by such an extreme life of agelessness and privilege. Spoiler, the answer is A LOT, leading to some frankly quite upsetting situations. Definitely not a show for those with triggers relating to violence against women.
This heavy-handed approach to portraying the overly-entitled wealthy characters definitely sets them up to be reviled, and perhaps as secondary villains of the piece. At the very least they seem to be used to try and make us connect more with Kovacs, of whom we know little to begin with. Unfortunately, we have to contend with not only this but also an unsympathetic and wooden performance from actor Joel Kinnaman. This criticism is also true of Kovacs main foil/ally in the police department, Kristin Ortega (played by Martha Higareda), her behaviour is nonsensical at times and the acting more than a bit meh.
Given all these criticisms, why did I persevere? Some of the other performances are at least enjoyable if not the most stunning. I quite enjoyed Chris Conner as Edgar Poe, the artificial intelligence that manages to the hotel that Kovacs stays in. The character is a bit stupid (in its conception, not level of intellect) but fun. Also, they drip feed you plot details and back story at a rate that is slightly frustrating but just enough to keep you watching. I also enjoyed the set design and styling of the show.
Overall, it seems to try to be a knock-off Blade Runner, making not so subtle commentaries on how the negative aspects of today’s society (particularly extreme wealth) might fundamentally change the ways we exist. I’m not sure I would tune in for a second season, nor that I would recommend that show to anyone outside those with a hardcore love of all things Sci-Fi.
Finally, as an aside, there is LOTS of nudity in this show. Most surprisingly demonstrated by the actor James Purefoy’s entrance to his second scene. Completely bollocks naked, dick swinging as he walked. I felt like I wish I’d been a bit more emotionally prepared before that appeared on screen!
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee - ****
After watching Altered Carbon I felt like I needed some light relief and Netflix was quite heavily pimping Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee whenever I logged in, so I wondered if it might be worth giving it a go. The big thing that was putting me off is my dislike of talk shows. I hate how forced and false they are. Everyone has their prepared ‘funny’ story and has to answer so many of the same inane questions you can just tell they are imagining how much more fun it would be to have someone stab them in the eye rather than have to go through this again.
Thankfully Comedians… eschews the standard talk show format, instead creating a structure that’s more like a casual conversation between friends (although the ‘friends’ part is true in many of the cases). The show is ‘presented’ by American comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld, and basically seems to just be an excuse for him to drive awesome and/or interesting cars and hangout with comedians he knows or admires. Two activities he admits are his favourite things to do, so fair play to him that he’s got someone to pay him to do this. They always say, ‘do what you love….’
The basic format of the episode sees Seinfeld introduce the car he has selected for the episode’s comedian in question. These range from the sublime, some of the classic sports cars are drool-worthy, to the ridiculous, taking in tiny cars, campervans, station wagons and aquatic vehicles. We then hear him calling the comedian to say, ‘let’s grab some coffee,’ and after he picks them up they head out for a cup of java, some food, and often a wander around whatever neighbourhood they are in.
The remainder of the episode sees them talk casually about their lives, careers, who inspires them, what they think comedy is, and whatever else occurs to them! I really love it when Seinfeld and his guests get into the nitty gritty of writing and performing stand-up. Hearing how they structure jokes, the subjects they address, how they handle hecklers and the other minutiae is fascinating and has definitely sparked in me a renewed interest in stand-up comedy. Seinfeld’s enthusiasm and love for the craft of making people laugh come through in almost every episode.
The variety in the guests is also great, there’s a real mix of young talent, established comics, and the old guard. Lots of people I haven’t heard of before, but I will definitely be searching out their stand-up shows now. Some particular highlights for me have been Trevor Noah, Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Seth Meyers, Sarah Silverman, Kate McKinnon, Ricky Gervais and John Oliver (only 5 out of 8 of them were people I was familiar with before watching their episodes). There are also come great episodes with comedy actors, or people of interest. There have been 2 great episodes with Alec Baldwin, and a surprisingly good one with Sarah Jessica Parker. The stand out of the ‘non-comedians’ though has to be an ep with Barack Obama. Shot near the end of his presidency, it’s clear why Seinfeld describes Obama as the coolest president the USA will ever have.
Not every episode is a winner though, I’d definitely advise skipping the first in the line-up on Netflix with Jim Carrey. Boy, is he an annoying ego-maniac. Also, unfortunately, the episode with Amy Schumer falls really flat. It’s hard to tell whether it’s due to her trying too hard, nerves, or just a lack of chemistry, but the awkwardness is hard to cope with at some points!
The individual episodes are relatively short, generally between 15 and 20 minutes, which makes it a great filler show if you’ve got a wee bit of time to waste. Although be warned, I frequently found myself 6 episodes deep before I realised what was happening…..
Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Before Seinfeld - ***
Sarah Silverman, A Speck of Dust - ****
Jim Jeffries, This is Me Now - ****
Iliza Shlesinger, Elder Millennial - ***
To assuage the appetite for stand-up that watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee created, I’ve started devouring comedy specials and have decided to group some of them together here in attempt to not ramble on for too long! The first two have been available on Netflix for a while now, but the second two are relatively recent additions.
First up is the man himself, Jerry Seinfeld. I was particularly interested in watching this one after seeing him so much in Comedians… This is a bit of a weird special as it’s actually him going back to re-examine his beginnings in comedy, the hook for the episode being that all the bits he does are from before his time on Seinfeld. While that’s an interesting premise, it does show how much both comedy and society has moved on from the 1980s. Some of the jokes still land, but many are now a bit outdated and creaky. One bit about men flocking towards any another guy in the neighbourhood doing DIY particularly sticks out as past it’s best. The special is somewhat saved by the short segments interspersed through the show where Seinfeld talks about his early career and writing processes. So, it’s a show for those who love Jerry Seinfeld, or are interested in the development of comedy, but perhaps not for those looking for a belly laugh or cutting-edge humour.
Sarah Silverman’s Speck of Dust, however, made me laugh A LOT. Not afraid to be crude, confrontational or controversial, Silverman brings a sharp wit and an excellent sense of how to structure a joke to topics including politics, dating, women’s issues and her own health scare. One particularly beautiful set-up has the audience silent and aghast as they expect the story’s resolution to be one of true horror before she makes a sharp right turn into one of the most hilarious (and gross) conclusions I’ve ever heard. Definitely one to watch if you’ve not caught it already but be prepared for Silverman to take you places you might not want to go!
Next up is Jim Jeffries, a comedian I’ve been a fan of for a while, but one who has recently been gaining more of the spotlight in the US after appearing on a bunch of late night shows like Politically Incorrect and starting his own show on Comedy Central. In This is Me Now, Jeffries delivers his typical style of no apologies, close to the line comedy, that is definitely politically incorrect. Here he talks about what it’s like to gain some fame, being a father and the current political and social climate. Many of the jokes will likely land or not for the viewer at home depending on their own situation and view on the world. This is because it can be easy to take Jeffries at surface level as a bit of a jerk, speaking from his place of white male privilege. Being released so soon after fellow Australian Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette doesn’t help either, as Jeffries’ show doesn’t have even close to the same depth and emotional punch. Being both familiar with his other work and having gone through what felt like an education in stand-up while watching Comedians… I would give him the benefit of the doubt and wonder if his comedy is perhaps performance as critique of traditional male roles. I’ve definitely learned that not every joke we hear should be accepted completely on face value and there can often be deep currents underneath. My willingness to believe he is more than just a misogynist is perhaps also coloured by a segment I recently watched from his TV show on diversity in comics. So, a bit of a divider this one, but I found it enjoyable.
Last in this section is Elder Millennial by Iliza Shlesinger. She wasn’t a comedian I was familiar with but, again, Netflix was promoting this hard to me and a few friends whose opinions I’d trust posted that they were big fans. Sadly, while I enjoyed her stand-up, I didn’t LOVE it like I thought I might. Her delivery and the way she crafted jokes was on point, a comedian who has definitely honed her craft, but the topics of getting too drunk, attracting men, and beauty regimes/body image felt cliché. Something that was emphasised further when I watched a couple of her older shows which tread very much the same path. She seemed to be holding herself in at every turn, trying to be not too offensive, not too feminist, and not too political. One friend that had recommended the show bemoaned the fact that Shlesinger isn’t as famous as she deserves to be, but I think she needs to be braver with her comedy before that happens, and to step out of the comfy box she’s made for herself. So, overall, amusing but definitely not ground-breaking.
Amazing Interiors - ***
July, it seems, was mostly a month of non-narrative TV for me. After my comedy-centric run of Comedians… and stand-up specials I decided to give another show a go that Netflix was pimping to me pretty hard, Amazing Interiors. Each 30 minute-ish episode shows you around 3 homes that look normal on the outside but are ‘amazing’ on the inside. Two of the homes are complete, which the show visits once in the episode, and one is in progress, with visits at the start, middle and end of the show. The episode ending with a tour of the newly completed home.
I have a love of architecture and interior design, I’m a big Grand Designs fan, so was intrigued by what these amazing interiors might involve. After watching all of the episodes I can safely say it’s mostly about the homes of people who are a bit bonkers and/or have way too much money to spend (although there is a bit of a theme in the in-progress homes of people almost bankrupting themselves….)
Some ‘highlights’ include:
- An aquarium big enough that it’s owner can pull on scuba gear and get in to clean it/hang out with his fish
- A guy who built a million £ display garage in his basement for his car (I suspect he might also be the owner of a micro-penis)
- An attic of horror props that still sends a shiver down my spine when I think of it, and
- A house where EVERYTHING is pink, including the dog…..
Before watching the show, I expected the homes to be ‘wow, I wish I could live there’ places, or at least ‘that’s super cool/clever/interesting’, but the majority ended up being ‘why would you DO that?!?’ Which I guess is entertaining in itself. What was not entertaining was the constant references to ‘man caves’. Actually, just fuck off with your macho bullshit.
The exception to the ‘WHY?!?’ question was the ‘in-progress’ home shown in episode four. A renovation of the top two floors of a building in Maastricht, the space created by the designers involved was as breath-taking as views of the city from the buildings windows. The interior was a perfect mix of the best of 70s design and industrial chic and was all warm woods, gorgeous shapes and lush textures. I don’t know what their budget must have been, but man did they do that places up right.
If Amazing Interiors comes back for a second season I hope they do a better job of mixing inspirational design with the kooky. But in the meantime, if you like to marvel over the weirdness that is people, this is a show for you.