When I first found out that Netflix was doing its very own original series I was more than a little curious, and more than a little impressed. I thought to myself that if House of Cards proved to be a hit, Netflix could have a winning formula on their hands and that this could very well herald a new future for TV programming and how we watch it. With the Veronica Mars Kickstarter triumph I think we can safely say that now, more than ever, a healthy (and let us hope an expanding) amount of programming is being produced purely with the average Consumer’s wants, desires and tastes in mind.
Now that I have sampled (and in some cases devoured) what original material Netflix has had to offer, I’d like to showcase what are, in my own opinion, the best and the worst of the bunch. I’m hoping to do a follow-up review of House of Cards and Arrested Development as soon as the sun stops shining. Caution is advised when reading further, try as I might, I could not seem to keep spoilers from my scathing review of Hemlock Grove, which is my first of two today.
The black sheep in my happy Netflix Original Series family. Holy Jaysis, where to start with this cluster**** of oddities. I was shocked to find out that it was a big hit for many, most of whom appeared to be in my own demographic, although the cultish following it received after its airing does seem to enjoy a majority within the Young Adult group. I took some time to try and figure out why, and to try and gather my errant thoughts into something that at least resembled sense.
First of all, I don’t think the acting was half as bad as some critics have deemed it to be. Sure, it was at times stilted, it lacked movement and there was very little that was natural about the characters’ interactions. Was this the fault of the actors themselves, was it the script, or a mixture of both? On my perusal of other reviews I did come across one interesting point that made me stop, think and eventually concede with a nod of my head. Do you remember being a teenager? Have you seen teenagers just “hang out” with each other lately? That’s exactly what they’re like. They’re awkward. They relate to each other very differently. They do and say stupid things. Just like adults really, except without the subtle social nuances and graces that most adults pick up along the way while they’re chalking all of their missteps and poor decisions down to experience.
It makes sense that teenagers would enjoy this show. I loved horrors as a teenager; I loved to be scared and grossed out (and bloody hell, Hemlock Grove is gross). And I just loved anything with a supernatural element. Is the way I felt about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and later, Angel, similar to the way this generation feels about Hemlock Grove? Did my elders think that Buffy was needlessly violent and gratuitously gory? I’d like to hope not, but let’s face it, most probably did. As an aside, my own parents don’t really count, they watch The Walking Dead.
But I digress. In my efforts to come up with some positive points about Hemlock Grove I realised I could only really echo what most have said before me: That Transformation Scene. It was horribly hypnotising, in the sense that it was horrible to watch, but I couldn’t not watch. It was real, it was gruesomely visceral, and in my opinion, a realistic element of the supernatural within a wholly unrealistic premise. I loved it, and I have to give props where it is due, it was very well done. That is kind of where any positive contribution to this review ends though, and if I’m honest, probably where I should have stopped watching it. My delight at seeing two former Battlestar Galactica stars died pretty quickly. Not to mention that if the Skarsgård kid doesn’t stop frowning like that he’ll have a fivehead like a Kling-on by the time he’s thirty.
I disliked all of the characters. Try as I might, I could not relate to a single one. I’ve never said that about any show I’ve watched before. Some of them seemed so irredeemable, then the writers would throw out something so ridiculously to the contrary that I’d be left bemused, scratching my head and wondering WTF was going on. How was I supposed to feel when these characters were in jeopardy? Was I supposed to hope they’d come out alive in the end? Or was I supposed to cheer for their slaughter? And why in the name of all that is holy were ALL OF THE WOMEN KILLED.
I watched the whole thing. I didn’t even want to watch it, but I was inexplicably drawn to it, sort of like the way I was drawn to licking chalk off the blackboard once after school when I was 10. I have no idea what that means, but it has been renewed for a second season, so either Netflix are doing something very right, or I’m just made of all types of wrong.
It tasted awful, the chalk, just in case you were wondering.
Orange is the New Black
My second course (the meat) today is Orange is the New Black. In stark contrast to our former starter of Hemlock Grove, I thoroughly enjoyed this Netflix offering, and I know exactly why. It was clever, immersive, entertaining and provocative.
I completely binged on this series, completing the watch from start to finish yesterday as I was laid up in bed recovering from a bug. One of my more pleasant sick days, to be sure. Orange is the New Black piqued my interest from its first appearance in “Recommended For You”. What initially drew me was the listing of the creator (Jenji Kohan) as I’m a big Weeds fan. To a lesser degree the starring credit of Jason Biggs also caught my attention. Maybe because I hadn’t seen him in anything since American Pie and I was curious, but probably (most likely) because he is the spitting image of a friend of mine and that always amuses me. Anyway, it was added to the shortlist and I got down to the pleasant business of my day-long binge.
We start off with the introductions to the main character, Piper Chapman. I immediately sympathise with her predicament; a woman facing jail time for something silly she had done as an adventurous young adult. She leaves behind a naively optimistic fiancée (seriously, anyone else lol at their insistence on making the time inside “count”?) and heads off into the abyss of a United States Federal prison, joining the colourful cast of inmates where many lulzy, weird and emotional moments begin.
It was here that I had my first OMG! moment. HOLY ****, it’s CAPTAIN JANEWAY!
To my delight I see Kate Mulgrew, whom I haven’t seen in anything since Voyager. She’s playing fiery Russian cook Red, the powerful inmate who “runs” the kitchens and smuggles contraband (a hat-tip to the Red of Shawshank Redemption fame, perhaps?). Following this revelation I note other cast members who bug me in an “I know you from somewhere…” kind of way. Suffice it to say there are more than a few familiar faces, and much like I found with the House of Cards cast, they were experienced, talented and gelled well together. Netflix are certainly succeeding in securing actors with a high standard of aptitude and capability.
Despite this entire show being chock-full of criminals, individuals in positions of authority with questionable morals, and clueless friends and family very far removed from this bubble of incarceration, I loved, liked or at least empathised with the majority of the characters in Orange is the New Black. They are an extremely interesting bunch and each back-story added so much to the existing story, and expanded just the right amount on the inmates’ lives before Lichfield.
There were moments when I genuinely laughed out loud, moments I found difficult to watch but still managed to do so (through splayed fingers over my eyes I might add) and moments when I felt shocked and appalled, surprised and angry. Our lady protagonist took us with her through her ups and downs as she struggled to come to terms with the duality of her free self and her incarcerated self. Her proclamations to “keep her head down and finish her time” seemed to be dashed instantly and at every turn, usually as a result of her own self-absorbed self-sabotage, while she struggles with her confusing environment and her fragile emotional state.
I learned a few things while watching Orange is the New Black. I’ve never been to a Federal prison myself, so I’m not sure just how realistic the issues explored in the show are, but the most important information I have gleaned is that I would most likely end up shivved or in Psych. One thing is for sure, that season finale has me impatient for more. Highly recommended, definitely worth a watch.