“Orange is the New Black” Season 5 Is the Worst One Yet


Maybe long-time Netflix viewers started to expect too much from “Orange Is the New Black,” and they were inevitably doomed to be disappointed sooner or later. After four magnificent seasons, in which “Orange Is the New Black” made us re-think what’s possible in a TV series, Season 5 just never lived up to expectations. It’s safe to say that “Orange Is the New Black” Season 5 is the worst one yet.

Bizarre tonal shifts

While “Orange Is the New Black” has always shifted between genres, often interposing scenes of tragedy and comedy next to each other, there’s something distinctly “off” about this season. It’s almost like the series has lost its bearing, veering wildly from comedy to tragedy and then back to comedy, and viewers really don’t know what to think.

The New York Times has compared Season 5 of OITNB to “a speeding vehicle with a wheel missing.” With this season, the show is going too fast, the steering is unsteady, and it’s clear that there’s no slowing down. And this lack of focus can be disjointing – especially since all the action of Season 5 takes place within a very concentrated period of 72 hours. The mood swings are just too intense.

Plotlines and narratives just don’t add up

By now, you probably know that the dramatic narrative of Season 5 involves a prison riot and its aftermath at the Litchfield prison facility. The inmates rise up, take over the facility, take hostages, and reorganize themselves. One prison inmate, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (played by Danielle Brooks), tries to negotiate with the private company that runs the prison, urging them to change the living conditions within the prison.

So far, so good, right? This is the type of compelling story that “Orange Is the New Black” is known for. But then comes an episode smack dab in the middle of Season 5 that just doesn’t make any sense. Online fans have referred to this as “an homage to slasher films,” and it involves one of the prison guards (Piscatella) acting like he’s a villain from one of the “Friday the 13th” movies, abducting and tying up inmates.

What’s so bizarre about this whole plotline is that even the show’s writers don’t know how to play this. As a result, you get an episode that’s part horror film, and part comedy. It’s campy and cute and also horrifying. At some point, viewers don’t really know what to think. “Are they just messing with us?” is a thought that’s going to come to you during Season 5.

And that’s not all. There’s also the plotline of the prison inmate Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (played by Taryn Manning), who winds up getting married to the man who raped her in Season 3. The show tries to make this into a bigger story of forgiveness and redemption, but it just comes off as a mess.

“Orange Is the New Black” fails to deliver on Shakespearean-sized ambitions

After four seasons of being an “important” series, “Orange Is the New Black” seemingly overdoses on its sense of self-importance. The website has called Season 5 “staggeringly ambitious” and “a huge mess” – in the same sentence. That’s because the whole series starts to take itself too importantly.

Here’s just one example: the effort by the prison inmates to reorganize themselves into some kind of new women’s commune. There are all kinds of “important” socio-economic issues raised here, such as the possibility of building a society anew so that it is fair to everyone. But “Orange Is the New Black” constantly interjects its Shakespearean ambitions here, almost as if the show’s writers were trying to combine the very best of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies into one TV show for the ages.

And here’s another example: the role of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (played by Uzo Aduba), who has a role very much like that of the Fool in “King Lear.” She’s been taking medications for her mental illness, but the more addled she becomes, the more capable she is of speaking truth to power. But when it all comes as a rambling monologue, it just doesn’t add up.


“Orange Is the New Black” has a final cliffhanger scene that may have driven too far off the cliff

The big cliffhanger scene of Season 5 – the one that has already sparked debate and discussion about a Season 6 for “Orange Is the New Black” – is a microcosm of what’s both right and wrong about the series. In that final cliffhanger scene, the riot police have stormed the Litchfield facility to restore order. And the 10 key characters are standing together in one room. For one of the first times in the five seasons of the show, the dramatic action has seemingly transcended racial and tribal lines.

This is supposed to be a big, important moment. It is supposed to be a moment when we imagine what’s possible when people rise up and reorganize into a better, more just society. But instead, the cliffhanger comes off as a tired ending to the season after the show has already careened out of control.

It’s almost as if many of the main characters are being prepared to be sent in new directions (or perhaps written out of the show entirely), and the easiest way to do this is just to gather all of them in one place (the abandoned swimming pool-turned-bunker at the prison) and then have the writers spend the off-season debating what to do with all of them. Next season, when some characters disappear, there will be a good reason why.

In addition, two of the main stars of the show – Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) – seemingly no longer have a primary role to play in the series. In Season 5, they are often reduced to offering snarky commentary on the prison’s living conditions, but do not play a heroic role in changing those conditions. Some fans have even speculated that these characters won’t even be coming back for Season 6.

Ultimately, the problem may be that “Orange Is the New Black” simply raised our expectations too high. It was always one of the Netflix poster children for the “golden age” of binge-watching, but it’s clear that binge-watching (just like binge-eating) can have some pretty negative consequences. You don’t feel so good, and you suddenly can’t stomach the idea of one more episode of the series.

Hopefully, that feeling of a bad binge will wear off and we’ll be just as excited for Season 6 as we were for Season 5. But one thing is certainly clear – “Orange is the New Black” Season 5 is the worst one yet.



How “House of Cards” Season 5 Stacks Up


By now, viewers know what to expect from Netflix’s “House of Cards” – a bleak portrayal of the American political landscape in which the only constant is the relentless ambition for power. And that’s exactly what Season 5 of “House of Cards,” which debuted on Netflix on May 30, delivers.

1. Raw political ambition and the lust for political power

If anything, Season 5 of “House of Cards” is bleaker and more nihilistic than any of the preceding four seasons. We’re already used to the raw power ambitions of U.S. President Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) and First Lady Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), but now we’re convinced that nothing is ever going to change. In fact, if anything, it’s clear that America’s timeless traditions and institutions may be no match for the current powerbrokers in Washington.

There are scenes in Season 5 that have deep symbolic meanings – such as when Claire Underwood appears to trample an American eagle underfoot on a rug in the White House, or when Frank Underwood appears to wander the White House alone, almost like a ghost, while music plays at some party he has no intention of joining. The message is clear: America is now a waning power on the world stage, and there’s no idealistic young up-and-comer who is going to save the day.

In fact, one of the trademark plot twists in “House of Cards” is how even idealistic newcomers are quickly brought up to speed on how things happen in Washington, D.C. The people who survive are not those that have an ideology or who want to change the system – it is the people who spend all day thinking of ways to subvert the system to their own whims. They study constitutional law, not to understand how to protect the Constitution, but how to subvert it.

Even the war on terror becomes just another tool for political power consolidation. In Season 5, the Underwoods are intent on inflaming public fears about ICO (the show’s version of ISIS) in order to steadily erode constitutional rights and find loopholes to increase their own power.

2. An underlying pessimism about American institutions

“House of Cards” almost seems to celebrate the men and women who have no ideology and no guiding political philosophy. That, perhaps, is why so many critics have called this the bleakest “House of Cards” yet. There is a sense that any vestige of dignity has departed the office of the Presidency, and all we see, in episode after episode, is yet another lesson in how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The goal of power, it appears, is simply to get more power. In doing so, all the political actors in “House of Cards” go about their nefarious ways.

What is most disturbing about Season 5, perhaps, is that it is not just the men and women who are flawed – it is the very institutions keeping them in power. There is a sense that all the ideals, principles and careful checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had the foresight to create are nothing more than tools now in the hands of the wrong people.

And Frank Underwood has no shame whatsoever in rubbing this in our face. At one point, he turns to the camera and says, “You voted for me, America.” Thus, as easy as it might be to blame a single person (or power couple, as in the case of the Underwoods) for this low point in American politics, we only have ourselves to blame.


3. The Trump context

Of course, you can now see why so many people are trying to make this season’s “House of Cards” a pointed commentary on the current political environment in Washington. The Trump presidency, in many ways, is a mirror image of the Underwood presidency. You have an egomaniac in the White House, using the Oval Office simply to advance his own ambitions and business brand.

The way that Frank Underwood humiliates his underlings, too, has an analogue in the way that Donald Trump likes to punish and humiliate his underlings – whether it’s forcing Sean Spicer to go out and give a press conference at the most inopportune time, or when it comes to directly contravening statements made by one of his inner circle via a late night Twitter outburst.

And, of course, the way that many say that President Trump has degraded the office of the presidency with his constant half-truths and reckless Executive Orders have a clear precedent in the Underwood presidency.

But here is the thing – whereas Frank Underwood has absolutely no underlying ideology or values, one could argue that Donald Trump is at least following some abstract notion of “making America great again.” In the case of Frank Underwood, it’s not so much a case of making America great – it’s about making himself great.

And many people fail to point out that Season 5 of “House of Cards” actually started production BEFORE Trump was ever elected. Thus, even though the show debuted almost exactly four months after Trump was sworn in, it actually had already been in production long before.

For liberals, Donald Trump is just a slightly more odious version of Frank Underwood. For conservatives, though, the double-dealing and corrupt Underwoods are a slightly more odious version of the Clintons. You can see why we’re at such a political impasse in America these days – both figures are so polarizing that there’s little or no opportunity to meet in the middle.


So what to make of “House of Cards,” then? Many would argue that it has simply become too repetitive. The characters may change, but the plot does not. There is more scheming, more shifting of alliances and more egomaniacal attempts to subvert the system. Even the newcomers to Season 5 – Patricia Clarkson (as the deputy undersecretary of commerce for international trade) and Campbell Scott (as a top adviser to the President) – do little to change the underlying dynamic of the show.

But something very distinct has changed in the way that we view “House of Cards” in 2017. If, back in 2013 when the show first premiered, we thought that the Underwood presidency was pure fiction and too insidious to ever become true, we now realize that it is, indeed, possible. In fact, it may now be the case that fact is stranger than fiction. The naked power grab of the Trump presidency and all the inflamed rhetoric about making America great again may actually have the opposite effect – it may reveal just how low the American political system has fallen, and how the lust for power has become all-consuming on both sides of the political aisle.



“Master of None” Season 2 Sparks Social Commentary and Conversation


When Netflix signed up comedian Aziz Ansari to do a special original comedy series, they couldn’t have possibly expected that “Master of None” was going to spark so much social commentary and conversation. But Season 2 of the show has just absolutely changed the national conversation on so many topics, including LGBT issues and what it means to be a Indian-American.

The show, of course, is a fictional account of Aziz Ansari’s life in which Aziz plays Dev Shah, a 30-year-old New York actor. The show is “loosely based” on real-life experiences, including his travels abroad, his experiences in New York, and the friends and family members who have influenced him.

And here’s where things get really interesting. “Master of None” (the title of the show is a reference to the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none) was really meant to be more of an itinerant series, moving from here to there at whim, showing some funny scenes from Aziz’s life. (In Season 2, for example, Aziz winds up in Italy.)

That approach was a remarkably successful formula for Season 1 back in late 2015, when the show routinely made the list of “Best TV Show of 2015.” Critics loved the show, and ranked it as one of the Top 10 shows of the year. There was a lull, and then in May 2017, here came Season 2, fortified with 10 new episodes.

On the surface, perhaps, viewers weren’t expecting the series to become such a spark for social commentary. After all, one of the key plotlines of Season 2 was the character of Dev Shah going to Italy to learn how to make pasta. There were some funny scenes – like the one where Aziz Ansari and his friend accidentally get their car stuck between two buildings in Italy. But then came “Thanksgiving”…

In “Thanksgiving,” Dev shares the story of how he likes to celebrate Thanksgiving with his childhood friends since his parents do not celebrate the holiday. And one of his best friends from childhood (Denise, played by Lena Waithe) happens to be both black and queer. That led to the idea that the episode would feature Denise talking about her decision to “come out” and announce that she’s queer. The episode also featured Angela Bassett as Denise’s mom Catherine, and that’s where things became explosive – the mom is not so accepting of Denise, and that sparked a major conversation about LGBT life.

In fact, that one episode attracted so much buzz that Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe did a special feature for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, in which they broke down, scene by scene, how and why they decided to do the “Thanksgiving” episode. Lena Waithe is also gay in real-life, and was willing to share her own experiences and ideas about what it was like to come out on TV.


And there have been other episodes that have also sparked social commentary. For example, Episode 3 (“Religion”) features Dev and his decision not to be a devout Muslim. He can’t possibly tell his parents that, so he has to fake it in front of them. That led to a lot of discussion in the media and entertainment blogs about Aziz’s “pork-fueled feud with his parents.”

More generally, it gets to the root of what it’s like to be Muslim in America. That’s a particularly sensitive topic right now, especially with all the discussion about a “Muslim ban.” How are Muslims assimilating into America? How are they reacting to the Muslim ban. Aziz is such a funny comedian, that we sometimes don’t even think that he’s thinking about these issues. But he’s only human, and it’s clear that all of his hilarious “brown people jokes” are really meant to be a biting commentary about America and its unwillingness to accept Muslims as equals.

And then, in another episode of the show, Aziz Ansari explores how it’s possible that everyday people can actually be racist in their own way. In Episode 4 of Season 2, for example, he dates a number of different girls, and the one he ends up sleeping with actually has a figurine in her home that the character Dev Shah interprets to be racist.

That raises an interesting question – especially from a social commentary perspective – and that’s how people can claim they have “brown friends” or “black friends” and yet still be racist. It could be that these feelings and emotions are so deep under the surface that they don’t even know that they are there. But the appearance of something seemingly as innocuous as a figurine can bring them to light.

Finally, there was one other issue raised in Season 2 that has started to get traction on the blogs and social media, and that’s the very difficult topic of sexual harassment. Despite all the claims that women are equal to men in America, it’s still the case that sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant. And that’s a topic that “Master of None” hasn’t been afraid to tackle.

So, as you can see, “Master of None” is really more than just a Netflix original comedy. It’s more than just funny insights into Aziz Ansari’s life. No – it’s really an increasingly important platform to discuss important social issues that show up again and again in daily life.

Take the example of LGBT issues. That’s something that Aziz Ansari rarely – if ever – tackles in his standup comedy routines, but it’s a topic that suddenly shows up in “Master of None.” Or take the issue of sexual harassment. Aziz may make a lot of jokes about how he is “human garbage” for the way he acts around women sometimes, but his show takes a deeper, more critical look at the issue.

Ultimately, comedy is a great tool for exploring these issues. And, as we’ve seen with Aziz Ansari and his amazing Saturday Night Live (SNL) hosting gig after the presidential election, he’s increasingly willing to take a stand on tough issues. That’s what makes “Master of None” such a great Netflix show. Even as we’re laughing, we’re also getting incisive takes on deeply important social issues.



Why Fans Loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

When Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” first premiered back in March 2015, it was clear that this comedy was going to develop into a cult show with a huge fan base. And so, perhaps, it’s no surprise that fans loved Season 3 of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as much as they loved Season 1 and Season 2. This show really delivered everything they wanted – and then some.

#1: More twisted, wacky plot lines

All you have to know about “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is that comedian Tina Fey is one of the executive producers and co-creators of the show. She is really the creative genius behind the show, and it shows up in all the plot lines of the show. Even the major premise of the show – that Kimmy Schmidt (played by Ellie Kemper) was rescued after being imprisoned for 15 years by a doomsday cult and is now living in New York City with a gay Broadway actor (Titus Andromedon, played by the amazing Tituss Burgess) – is just so wacky.

But it’s that 15-year separation from the world that makes Kimmy so endearing and lovable. It gives the show’s main actors a unique vantage point to question the world around them. Kimmy seems to question everything, and especially the Internet. She’s still fascinated by Google, and can’t quite figure out the meaning of Airbnb, asking at one point, “So, it’s basically like a sleepover with strangers?”

And the wacky, twisted plot lines include the appearance of characters like Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline. She plays an Upper East Side society woman, but it turns out that her whole life is really just a façade. In fact, her real name is Jackie Lynn, and she’s a native American who fled her life on a Lakota Indian reservation. And to make things even more farcical – she’s dating someone who is linked to the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Everything about Jacqueline is a hot mess – like how she tries to keep the trappings of wealth even after her divorce by creating cardboard cutouts of jewelry – and that’s why fans can’t stop laughing when they see her.


#2: The new star power of Tituss Burgess

The show might be named for Kimmy Schmidt, and she may still be the star of the show, but the one actor that everyone is talking about these days is Tituss Burgess, who plays Kimmy’s gay roommate in New York. You’ve probably seen him making all the rounds on the late-night comedy shows, and for good reason: we may be seeing a new star break out on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

The best example, perhaps, is the parody of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” that was touted so highly in the trailer for Season 3. In this scene, Titus Andromedon dresses up in a yellow, flouncy maxi-dress just like Beyonce, grabs a baseball bat, and proceeds to take that bat to both a fire hydrant and a car belonging to his gay lover, a construction worker who happens to be cheating on him. And just like Beyonce sang about jealousy and craziness, Titus also sings about being turned crazy by jealousy. The actual Beyonce clip with the dress and baseball bat (“Hold Up”) has been viewed more than 100,000,000 times on YouTube – and now the parody video with Tituss Burgess is also going viral.

#3: The nuanced return of the doomsday cult plot line

In the first two seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” we learn the basic back story of how she was held captive by a doomsday cult leader (played by Jon Hamm), and how she was kept in some kind of underground bunker for 15 years. But in Season 3 is where we really start to find out all the details. This makes the show much more nuanced and intriguing.

And, in some ways, the details are really dark. There’s the insinuation that Jon Hamm may have continually raped her over those 15 years – and that really gives us pause for thought. Kimmy Schmidt seems so optimistic and so naïve, that we suddenly realize how much of her past life she’s had to sublimate. There’s a dark alternative reality to all her good moods, and it involves both sexual and mental abuse.

In Season 3, the unhinged cult leader (Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, played by Jon Hamm) has a new surprise in store for Kimmy Schmidt, and that’s his plan to marry his jailhouse sweetheart, Wendy (played by Laura Dern). On the surface, Wendy seems like a very established, well put-together woman, but we quickly realize that she’s a lunatic, just like everyone else on the show.

In one plot line of Season 3, Wendy visits Kimmy, trying to convince her to sign some divorce papers so that she can marry the cult leader. That leads to a whole lot of hilarious jokes – like the need to print out the divorce papers using an outdated, archaic dot-matrix printer.


#4: The ongoing visual and verbal jokes

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has so much humor going on at one time, that it can be difficult to sort through it all. On one hand, of course, there are all the verbal jokes. And then there are all the visual jokes. These visual jokes are really what separates “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” from other shows. In one episode, for example, a water stain on the wall becomes an ongoing sight gag.

In terms of the verbal jokes, Season 3 really distinguishes itself with all the ongoing jokes about young millennials. That’s because Kimmy Schmidt has decided to go back to college in Season 3, and somehow ends up on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, where she learns about all the strange habits of young millennial college students. One of these concerns dating – and the whole need to fill out a “consent form” if the two people plan to engage in any physical activity during a romantic relationship.

On Rotten Tomatoes, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a superstar show, pulling in a total freshness score of 96%. That’s just unprecedented, and it really shows how much fans loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show has so much going for it – the unique comedic talents of Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess, the diverse cast of wacky stars (including Laura Dern, Kane Krakowski and Jon Hamm), and, of course, the continued creative direction of superstar comedian Tina Fey. Fans just can’t wait for Netflix to greenlight Season 4 now.


What Fans Think of Marvel’s “Iron Fist”


When it comes to their opinions about Marvel’s latest creation for Netflix – “Iron Fist” – there’s a sharp divide between fans and critics. Whereas critics offered a mostly negative take on the show, fans were much more accepting. You can see that divide on many movie rating sites, where the ratings can differ markedly.

This is now the fourth Marvel series for Netflix – following “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” – so much of the split between fans and critics was mostly based on how they viewed the entire Marvel universe of characters. This show is obviously the setup for “The Defenders” (which features the stars of each of the four Marvel shows on Netflix) so most fans were willing to give this series a pass, as long as it helped to interconnect all the relevant Marvel plotlines.

#1: Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist

It’s impossible to talk about the new Marvel series without talking about the main hero, Danny Rand/Iron Fist (as played by Finn Jones). In this role, Jones must play a billionaire Buddhist monk and kung fu expert who has come back to New York City to reclaim his business empire (Rand Enterprises) after being absent for close to 15 years. For those years, he has been training to become a warrior with amazing kung fu skills.

The problem is not so much with Jones the actor, as with his martial arts skills. As in, he’s not a big kung fu expert. Although he trained extensively before the series began, and has been practicing Buddhist meditation principles in order to immerse himself in the role, he still falls a bit short of what people were expecting.

Making things worse, this is one of the few Marvel superheroes who can’t hide behind a mask and a cape. That means you can’t have stunt doubles coming in and taking over your scenes. That has led to some pretty tough criticism of Jones, with one  reviewer calling him “a befuddled surfer who wandered into the middle of a kung fu movie.”


#2: The second-rate fight scenes

If you’re making a movie about a martial arts expert, then you have to have some exciting martial arts action. The only problem is, there’s not a single memorable fight scene in any of the 13 episodes. When you look at the original Marvel comics, you can see the problem: the original comics had Iron Fist plowing through group of enemies and assailants at a single time.

In contrast, the fight action in “Iron Fist” often seems like it’s been slowed down so that Finn Jones can catch up. Reviewers have suggested that Finn Jones is holding back the manic pace of fighting that they were expecting. As a result, you don’t have any of the over-the-top choreographed scenes that we saw even in “Daredevil.” Every scene seems heavily edited, to the point it’s not even possible to focus precisely on the action. It’s like one giant aggressive cut, all mixed together to create the appearance of action.

#3: Too much dialogue

Another fan concern was the proper balance between action and dialogue. While there has to be some dialogue and exposition to explain who Danny Rand is, and why he was training with Buddhist warrior monks (his family died in a plane crash over the Himalayas), the common consensus is that the series just gets bogged down in way too much dialogue.

There are 13 episodes in this series, and the common consensus is that it could have been told in just six! That gives you an idea of just how much extra dialogue there is in this series. There’s a serious issue with the pacing and storytelling.

#4: An underwhelming villain

The centerpiece of every great Marvel comic is the arch-villain. Just consider the Marvel shows for Netflix: some of the great villains have included Killgrave and Cottonmouth. In “Iron Fist,” however, the main enemy is a shadowy organization known as The Hand. There are some ninja enemies, and a lot of talk about how they are preying on people in New York, but we never really get a sense that Iron Fist is facing an arch-rival or arch-fiend. That just brings down the whole series. We wanted super-villains, and they just gave us a bunch of bad ninjas.


#5: Questions about racial and ethnic identity

One problem cited by both fans and critics is how the series treats the martial arts, as well as how non-white characters fit into the Marvel universe. In this case, it seems like all the good guys are white, and all the bad guys are people of color. Moreover, some fans have accused the series of “Orientalism,” or the desire to characterize and stereotype an entire race with a few simple tropes. In the case of “Iron Fist,” the martial arts are just one more way for white people to triumph over evil, and it’s felt that the Asian characters are never fully developed.

#6: Mad props for Jessica Fenwick

If there’s one character who gets a lot of love from Marvel fans, it’s Jessica Fenwick, who plays Colleen Wing. She’s a sharp, tough martial arts expert who owns a NYC dojo. Fans like the fact that she seems like a no-nonsense New Yorker and someone who makes a worthy sidekick for Iron Fist.

#7: The weakest link in the Marvel chain

The problem, quite simply, is that Marvel shows like “Daredevil” spoiled fans. It featured great fight scenes, a tight script, great pacing and some amazing action. In comparison, “Iron Fist” is commonly considered by fans to be the weakest of all the Marvel series on Netflix, trailing not only “Iron Fist,” but also “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.”

And, most disturbingly, some fans have basically suggested that Marvel is only using “Iron Fist” to set up its next show, “The Defenders.” In order to do that, it had to set up the whole back story of Danny Rand, and explain the powers of his glowing Iron Fist.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why fans and critics diverged in their assessment of “Iron Fist.” Critics tended to judge it primarily on its merits, in terms of acting and pacing and storytelling. Marvel fans took a bigger picture view, and evaluated the series as part of the Marvel universe. And there were more willing to overlook the shortcomings of Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Whatever the case, all eyes are now squarely on “The Defenders,” which is coming to Netflix in August 2017.



What “Dear White People” Teaches About Racism


The latest Netflix original series, “Dear White People,” has already caused a firestorm of controversy, with people debating whether or not the show is meant to unite or divide people. Even before the first 10 episodes dropped on April 28, there was controversy brewing with the teaser trailer, which led to some people accusing the show of being anti-white and guilty of white racism. Some people even called for a boycott of Netflix. So what exactly does “Dear White People” teach us about racism?

The show explores the various forms of racism through a number of difficult social situations, with many of them exploring ideas like black-white relationships, or whether or not white people can use certain words (like the “N” word) in casual conversation. The show also examines various stereotypes about black people by showing them in uncomfortable situations that challenge conventions.

The goal of the show, according to director Justin Simien, is to show that “there are a plethora of ways of being black.” Thus, for example, there is the star of the show, Logan Browning, who plays Samantha (“Sam”) White, the host of a controversial campus radio show called “Dear White People.” If that sounds somehow familiar, it’s because there was a 2014 movie of the same name by the same director. Through Sam, we see a lot of questions at the heart of what some would call racism.

Take, for example, one of the scenes from Episode 1, where Sam’s white boyfriend posts a photo on Instagram, saying that they are “hooking up.” That raises a lot of uncomfortable questions: Is it possible to have a white-black romantic relationship where people won’t judge you? What type of emotional baggage do people bring into these relationships. So, the show is not really so much about racism, as about exploring the issues of identity and relationships through the eyes of white and black characters.


Or, take the main plotline of Episode 1, in which a group of white boys plan to throw a “black face” party to protest Sam White’s campus radio show. The boys claim that the radio show is racist, and are taking advantage of this party to make a loud social protest. Only, of course, this is 2017 and you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. That raises a lot of fascinating questions about racism, as well. For example, is it really possible to have racism against white people?

The people who were calling for a boycott of the show certainly think so. The YouTube trailer received a huge number of dislikes, and the goal was to punish Netflix for even thinking of streaming this show. But isn’t that a form of racism as well – saying that blacks aren’t allowed to tell their stories and share their experiences, for fear of alienating whites?

Yes, things are quite complicated, and that’s something that we see again and again in “Dear White People.” One of the discussions that takes place in Episode 1 is about the types of jokes that black people and white people can make. The common consensus is that jokes about white people (e.g. white people can’t dance) don’t lead to oppression by the police or incarceration, while jokes about black people can. Thus, jokes about black people and white people are not inherently the same.

The Netflix original series also looks at the topic of “subtle racism.” This is not the overt racism of a black face party, but the type of racism that black people experience every day in normal society. There’s one scene in “Dear White People” that especially stands out – a group of white people and black people get into a fight, and the campus police is called to break it up. The police then asks one of the black students for his ID, to prove that he’s really a student at the university (the fictional Ivy League university Winchester University). That’s something that would never happen to a white student – the police would just assume that the white guy was enrolled there.


And the storytelling about racism also looks at friendship between whites and blacks. At what point can a black friend forgive a white friend for a remark or action that’s perhaps unknowingly racist? And is there any way to eliminate racism entirely from a friendship?

One of the role models for the show is Samantha White. Her campus radio show might be highly controversial, but it’s only intended to get people talking about issues that have been hidden for too long. And, in fact, she’s the type of person who wants to be friends with everybody, no matter if they are white or black. She even has a white boyfriend.

As Justin Simien said after all the controversy surrounding his new Netflix show, “Glad you’ve woken up.” If you listen to interviews with the cast members, that’s also a theme that gets picked up a lot – the idea of being “woke.”

It’s not just students at prestigious universities like Winchester who need to be “woke” – it’s everybody in society who lives inside a little bubble, not aware of how racism can manifest itself on an everyday basis. And all of that pent-up emotion can sometimes explode, like we’ve seen in Ferguson and the whole #BlackLivesMatter movement.

So the final takeaway of “Dear White People” might just be that white people and black people need to meet halfway in the middle. Black people can’t just use “slavery” as an excuse to hate the system, and white people can’t ignore the fact that “acting black” (especially if it involves using the “N” word) can be hurtful and offensive to some black people.

It’s a very complex issue, and “Dear White People” is just trying to make sense of it all. The very fact of calling the show “racist” is, in fact, definitely racist. Wrap your head around that for a second. Clearly, more has to be done with race relations in this country, and “Dear White People” is a good step in the right direction.


What To Expect From “The Handmaid’s Tale”



The new Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiered on April 26, is already generating a lot of buzz from critics and advance acclaim from fans. The series, based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is sure to draw its share of fans who are eager to check out how faithful the film adaptation is to the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead portrayed in the novel.

So just how faithful is the adaptation?

That is bound to be the first question that many people ask, especially those who remember the dystopian world laid out in such stunning detail by Atwood nearly a generation ago. The novel, set in near-future New England, examined what a totalitarian, post-America world might look like, where a woman’s sole focus in the world is to bear offspring for the elite members of society. That society had a language and vocabulary all its own, including terms like “Unwomen.”

A lot has changed between now and then. In the Western industrialized world, women have largely attained full equality and so the feminist message may seem a bit dated. However, that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. Everyday, we hear of the Taliban and how they have created their own totalitarian, religious society where women have no rights. Or we hear of ISIS and their religious campaigns against anyone – and especially women – who dare to go against their distorted version of religious law.

Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist

The star of this series will be Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred (“Of Fred”), a handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes). We’ll see how she silently struggles in her new role, and how she attempts to break free of the subservient life.

There are a lot of different storylines that are going to intersect here, especially the relationship between Offred and her fellow handmaids, and the relationship between Offred and the Commander’s wife. No matter what happens, though, the star of this show is Elisabeth Moss, so expect a brilliant performance from her. Alexis Bledel (from “Gilmore Girls“) also appears in the show, so “Gilmore” fans will definitely tune in.


The visual language of Gilead

From everything we’ve seen and heard so far, the show is “visually stunning.” There are close-ups of life in Gilead, and then there’s also the scenes that appear almost as if they were filmed by low-flying drones. We see exactly what the society looks like from a bird’s eye view – the handmaids walking in perfect lockstep, the rows of handmaids in scarlet capes and white bonnets, and the nearly mechanical way every aspect of the society is governed.

And there are plenty of visual elements from the Atwood book that people are looking forward to seeing. This includes the many references to flowers within the book, and how Atwood uses the flower as a metaphorical description of the women. The role of women is to look pretty, give birth to new babies who will form the next generation, and then passively disappear from the scene. They are like flowers that bloom, and then wilt away when the seasons turn colder. As one reviewer has noted, it’s all “horrifyingly beautiful.”

We can also expect to see lots of women engaged in busywork like needlework. That, too, was one of the big motifs of the book. Women were not supposed to think or act for themselves, and so every spare moment has them engaged in either drudgery (as in the case of the infertile Marthas) or in mind-numbing busywork. This is an oppressive, patriarchal system, and needlework is a way to have the women seen, but not heard.

Socio-political implications of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Let’s face it, we live in strange political times. So there’s bound to be critics (both professional and amateur) who are going to compare the dystopian, post-apocalyptic New England of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the current situation in America. Just as Gilead was the post-American republic that emerged in the wake of a great dystopian event, half of American society now views the current U.S. as a dystopian world where everything appears to be upside down.

At the very least, there is bound to be some discussion of how far women have come in the 30+ years since the publication of Atwood’s novel. In the 1985 book, feminism was perhaps at its peak as a sociopolitical worldview. Since then, a lot has gone on with gender equality and gender identity, but some aspects of that earlier era have now been replaced by concerns about equal pay in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in the workplace (just think of the recent examples of Fox News and Uber), and women’s right to an abortion. So this TV show is going to be very relevant.


Constant suspense

From what we know from the Hulu trailer (which dropped on YouTube on March 23), and from advance critical acclaim, this show is going to have suspense from beginning to end. Surely, the fact that “eyes” (i.e. spies) are watching the women every minute of the day is going to be part of the thriller-like atmosphere. Who can we really trust in this new world? And will the handmaid Offred ever be able to reclaim her past life from “the time before”?

A hybrid release schedule

If you’re used to Netflix and every episode of a series dropping on the same day, then you’re going to have to get used to the Hulu system. It’s really a hybrid system, in which the first 3 episodes will drop on April 26, and the next 7 episodes will be rolled out on a weekly basis (much as you’d expect with a new series on cable or broadcast TV).

Putting it all together, this looks a new mega-hit for Hulu. The advance ratings for “The Handmaid’s Tale” are off the charts: it has a score of 97/100 on Metacritic, a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and plenty of critical acclaim from the mainstream media. Hollywood Reporter has even called this “probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.” If you’re looking for the next big show that everyone’s talking about, “The Handmaid’s Tale” certainly makes for compelling viewing.

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“When We Rise” Sheds Light on Important Issues



When the ABC mini-series “When We Rise” premiered on February 27, TV fans everywhere knew they were getting a thought-provoking look at some of the most important civil rights issues of the past 40 years, with a special focus on the hard-fought battle for full LGBT rights.

Without a doubt, the highly talented cast of “When We Rise” – including Austin P. McKenzie as the young Cleve Jones, Guy Pearce as the older Cleve Jones, Mary-Louise Parker (as Roma Guy), Rachel Griffiths (as Diane Jones) and Michael Kenneth Williams (as Ken Jones) – helps to shed some light on some important issues.

LGBT rights

Most importantly, “When We Rise” explores the evolution of LGBTQ rights from the period of the Stonewall riots at the end of the 1960s to the modern era. It’s based on the memoir by Cleve Jones, “When We Rise,” which tells the story of this legendary LGBT activist.

All told, the series covers the lives and stories of 23 different LGBT pioneers. We meet so many of the gay, lesbian, transgender and queer activists who have made recent achievements like same-sex marriage a reality and get a better understanding at why this movement occurred at its unique historical moment in time.

Marriage equality

Forty years ago, at the peak of the Stonewall riots in 1969, few could have predicted that same-sex marriage would later become a reality. In the ABC mini-series, we learn how the initial ideas and conceptions for the marriage equality movement took root in a series of rallies, marches and actions. We also learn how marriage equality was at times a fringe concern of the LGBT movement, and at other times, a core concern of the movement’s organizers.


The relationship between lesbians and gay men

Looking back at this pioneering LGBT movement, it’s easy to assume that lesbians and gay men have always had the same interests in moving forward their part of the U.S. civil rights movement. But as “When We Rise” makes clear, the movement of lesbians and gay men has only sometimes intersected. The liberation of gay men was the first issue that took hold, but it’s hard to say that the interests of the two groups have really ever been divergent.

One key scene is when the young Cleve first meets the young Roma (played by Emily Skeggs). Roma is organizing for a rally to stop violence against women, and asks Cleve if he would like to get involved. At first, however, she is hesitant – as she tells Cleve, men usually don’t show up for these rallies. Moreover, women don’t want them there. As if to cement that point, that first meeting between Cleve and Roma ends with Roma’s female companion giving a disapproving look at Cleve.

The racial tensions within the LGBT movement

Similar to the divide between lesbians and gay men, there’s also a tension between white and black people in the LGBT community. Cleve Jones, of course, is a white gay man. But then there’s also Ken Jones, an HIV-positive gay black man. We learn how gayness is viewed within the black community, with gay black men sometimes excluded both from the black community and the straight community. Masculinity has traditionally been such an important part of the black community, such that gayness among black men has not always been tolerated.

Moreover, there’s sometimes a sense that the LGBT movement was trying to appropriate the U.S. civil rights movement for its own purpose, trading on the struggles and challenges that the nation’s African-American population had to experience before they were treated as equal citizens. In that way, some members of the African-American population were always somewhat skeptical about the true ambitions of the LGBT movement, especially when it comes to controversial ideas like lesbian separatism (which advocates for the rejection of heterosexuality).


The AIDS crisis of the 1990s

The sweeping range and scope of “When We Rise” also exposes us to one of the most important periods in the LGBT movement — the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. We learn how some of the practices and ideas that were commonplace in the 1970s were now leading to a massive health epidemic. Since it was primarily gay men who were getting AIDS, there was a very real risk that being HIV-positive would become a literal death sentence for living a certain lifestyle.

We also learn how many of the young gay men of the 1970s and early 1980s faced major decisions of how to lead their lives later. Would they need to go back into the closet in order to get ahead in the corporate world? What happens when other fields – not just the arts – begin to embrace the LGBT community?

Equality in America today

“When We Rise” is certainly an ambitious gay rights drama. And, as many reviewers have pointed out, it may try too hard to show every issue, every key figure of the LGBT movement, and every key event that led to full LGBTQ rights. It doesn’t help, of course, that four different directors – Gus Van Sant, Dee Rees, Thomas Schlamme and Dustin Black (who is also the creator and writer of the mini-series) – were involved in the 8 hours of filming.

Yet, each of them brings a new and unique perspective on the LGBT civil rights movement, and that’s important for shining a light on the most important issues. Flash forward to the current period, and it’s unclear what the Trump administration has planned for the LGBTQ community. Despite promises and assurances that rights will be respected, the push for “state’s rights” when it comes to determining issues could be used as a wedge to rollback same-sex marriages in some states. We’ve already seen a foreshadowing of this legal strategy with the whole debate over transgender bathrooms, in which the Trump administration is looking to get involved in the debate over rights for transgender people.

That’s why all the characters who make their presence felt in “When We Rise” – the gay men, the lesbian women, the transgender activists, and the drag queens – are all important in showing how rich and diverse are the experiences, interests and ideas of these people.

But what they all have in common is a hope for a future where everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, can be treated as an equal and their rights respected. If that future ever happens in America, we can all look back and thank the early pioneers like Cleve Jones.

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What to Expect from “Big Little Lies”



Fans have been patiently waiting for HBO’s adaptation of the bestselling book “Big Little Lies” by Australian writer Liane Moriarty, and it looks like the new comedy-drama miniseries is going to be must-watch television starting on February 19. The seven episodes feature a star-studded cast, some gorgeous cinematography of California, plenty of twists and thrills and one big unsolved mystery. So here’s what you can expect from “Big Little Lies.”

#1: An unsolved mystery

The major premise of the new HBO show is that a lot of “little lies” have led to something “big” – what appears to be an unsolved murder at a California school. But here’s the thing  – we don’t know who’s actually dead until the very end of the series. Episode 1 (“Somebody’s Dead”) leads off with a police investigation into a suspected murder that has taken place at an elementary school fundraiser in Monterey, California. But we’re not shown any of the evidence, there are no clues, no police officers showing up at houses, and there is no moment when the murder is discovered.

All we’re given are segments of police interviews with parents from the school. As viewers, we need to determine who’s trustworthy and who’s not, and what pieces of information are really central to discovering the truth behind the mystery. As HBO has told us, “it’s the little lies that are the most lethal.”

From the trailer that HBO has released for “Big Little Lies,” it looks like there is a gun involved, a very mysterious 40-something woman (played by Nicole Kidman), a dangerously abusive husband (played by Alexander Skarsgard) and lots of hyper-competitive, wealthy parents who are using their young kids to climb the social ladder. Again, HBO teases us: Is this a murder, an accident or just parents behaving badly?

#2: An amazing, first-rate cast

The big selling point of HBO’s new “limited dramatic series” are all the big-name actresses involved: Reese Witherspoon (as Madeline Martha Mackenzie), Nicole Kidman (as Celeste Wright), Shailene Woodley (as Jane Chapman), Laura Dern (as Renata Klein), and Zoe Kravitz (as Bonnie Carlson).

The show is really the story of how all these moms interconnect and get along (or don’t get along) together. Reese Witherspoon plays a Type A mom who takes a new mom at the school, Shailene Woodley, under her wing. Nicole Kidman plays a woman full of secrets who may or may not be the victim of domestic abuse by her husband. And Laura Dern plays a high-powered Silicon Valley executive who seems to be in control of everything – except her daughter.


#3: A narrative featuring lots of twists and thrills

The storyline at the heart of the police investigation directly involves two of the moms – Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. We’re told that Woodley’s son Ziggy (played by Iain Armitage) has been bullying the daughter of Laura Dern. That bullying eventually led to her being choked in school. But can we believe this narrative? There’s a social dimension involved here – Shailene Woodley is a new mom who seems to be quietly observing everything that’s happening around her. Laura Dern, in contrast, is more of a high-powered hotshot (on the board of a major tech company) who absolutely won’t stand for the fact that her daughter is being bullied.

By taking a closer look at the trailer video for the show, it’s possible to piece together some of the key moments of the seven episodes – there’s going to be a (literal) cliffhanger (as a young woman out for a run suddenly veers off a cliff), a gun, a sexy costume party, biting jokes about the age of certain moms, and plenty of mystery and intrigue about the Nicole Kidman role (it’s impossible to tell if she’s happy, sad or somewhere in between with her life).

#4: The perfect life that’s not so perfect

In the original bestselling novel, the action took place in Australia. In the HBO miniseries, though, all the action takes place in Monterey, California. As a result, we’re shown amazing ocean side homes, beautiful people, great schools and lots of “lifestyle porn.” Everything just looks so amazing. This is the way you’d imagine living a super-wealthy life in sunny California. It’s perfect enough for a postcard.

But that’s where all the twists and turns are involved. Some reviewers have called this HBO show “twisted and dark” – and for good reason. The most obvious example is the character played by Alexander Skarsgard (Perry Wright) – he’s handsome and young, but he’s also violent and a little scary. And it’s clear that almost all the moms at the school are not opposed to telling a few “little lies” if it helps them move up the social ladder.

#5: Relationships on the edge

Some have tried comparing “Big Little Lies” to “Desperate Housewives,” and while there are some similarities, the new HBO show is really more of a sexy mystery-melodrama that’s targeted to women over 35. As a result, the show includes insights into all the problems faced by women in this age range – trying to raise young kids at the same time as they are trying to move a career forward; dealing with marriages on the brink of failure; and trying to find meaning and mission in a life that seems to have no clear direction.

In many ways, the children of the moms are “proxies” for solving these problems. They enable the moms to deal with various aspects of their work, family and social lives that need to be fixed. The only question is: How far will they go in fixing their lives?

Already, the buzz around “Big Little Lies” has been very positive. The show has picked up a rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Since this is HBO, it’s a safe bet that this show will turn out to be as addictive and fun to watch as all the other HBO shows that have debuted on a Sunday night. It seems to have all the right elements to make it a success – lots of top talent, a great screenplay based on a bestselling book, wonderful scenes of California, and plenty of dark, twisted thrills. We can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the end.


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Why Fans Love “Shameless”



It’s hard to believe that we’ve already had 7 seasons and 84 episodes of the comedy-drama “Shameless.” In that long period of time, we’ve had plenty of time to fall in love with the characters and understand what makes the Gallagher family so unique. By almost any measure – like an 8.7/10.0 rating on IMDb – the show has more than its share of committed and loyal fans. So what are some of the reasons why fans love the Showtime TV show “Shameless” so much?

#1: William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher

The show has always revolved around the Oscar-nominated William H. Macy, who has introduced the world to Frank Gallagher, a single father of six who spends much of his time drunk (or plotting new ways to get money to get drunk). He’s largely distant from any real parenting duties, and is responsible for his kids growing up poor and struggling with life on Chicago’s South Side.

On the surface, that’s hardly the recipe for a sympathetic character. In fact, you might even call Frank Gallagher more of an “anti-hero” than a “hero” – he’s someone that you don’t want your kids to emulate. He’s a deadbeat, an addict and someone who only schemes and steals to get ahead in life. Yet, there’s something very captivating about him. He is a polarizing character, but someone that binds his family closer to him merely by the fact of being such an absentee father.

#2: Emmy Rossum as Fiona Gallagher

It’s William H. Macy, in fact, who makes us appreciate the beautiful and talented Emmy Rossum so much. She’s everything that he’s not – she’s attractive, intelligent and resilient. She’s someone who cares for the family and puts all of their interests first, not hers.

And, yet, she’s not a perfect angel either. She doesn’t even have a high school graduation, and has a weakness for men who steal cars and drink. And, yet, you feel that she’s just looking for someone to fix her life and tell her that she’s doing OK. She’s been called “one of the most real characters on TV,” and for good reason. She has plenty of positive features, but also plenty of flaws. But don’t we all?



#3: All the messy romances

Throughout all the daily grievances, addictions and pettiness, there’s always the romance. And that can be wonderfully uplifting (or at least, sustaining) when confronted with a grim view of the world. We have the wonderful and talented Joan Cusack (as Sheila, one of Frank’s potential love interests, as well as the always scene-stealing Svetlana. We have Justin Chatwin (playing Jimmy Lishmann), as someone who steals for a living but who desires Fiona. And, of course, we have the budding gay relationship between Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich. It’s all the messiness of being young and in love, and having so many confusing feelings.

#4: The great Gallagher kids

Fiona (Emmy Rossum) may get most of the attention – and deservedly so – but the other Gallagher kids also play a huge role in making the show so much fun. One of the best characters is Phillip “Lip” Gallagher. He’s smart but self-destructive. You get the feeling that he could be one of the smartest kids in his class, but driven by circumstances, he’s selling pot out of the back of an ice cream truck. And so it goes with the rest of the family – they all seem to be resilient, if a bit damaged.


#5: The attitude of the “So here’s what you missed” segment

The opening of every episode always starts with a “so here’s what you missed” segment, and it’s a real winner. This is more than just the traditional “Previously on…” segment that’s now become such a cliché on TV. Instead, “Shameless” delivers this segment with a bit of attitude and character. (It’s almost as if the characters voicing the segment have a total disdain for the viewers, who were just too ignorant or drunk to have missed the last episode.)

#6: The shamelessness of keeping it real

In life, you have to “own” what you have become. And to do so, you often have to be shameless. And that’s why, at the end of the day, we really love and respect “Shameless” – the show could have sold out and showed us some sickly, sentimental view of what it means to be poor and working class. But this is life as it’s being lived in America today.

As one fan has pointed out, this show just wouldn’t mean as much if it was filmed in a trailer park – that would have turned all the characters into just stereotypes. Instead, these characters feel like real, three-dimensional characters who might live a few blocks down from us.

For much of its first 7 seasons, “Shameless” has been primarily a social media phenomenon, an entertainment favorite that’s shared via word-of-mouth, Twitter and Tumblr. The critics may have been missing out on the show, but fans have not. You can watch “Shameless” on Showtime as well as Netflix.


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