Do you watch Bojack Horseman? It's my favorite show on Netflix right now, and yes, that means I'm very late to the party, seeing as it's already done 3 seasons. But, rumor has it season 4 will be coming out in August 2017, so if you're not up to speed on this show, you have plenty of time to get caught up (and catch up you should.)
I get why it's a hard sell. It's a cartoon. It's about a rude, drug-fueled out-of work actor who just happens to be a horse named Bojack Horseman. When the show first came out a few years ago, I read the early reviews and heard that description, and while I was mildly interested (mostly because I'm a cartoon fan), I wasn't interested enough to watch. Sounded like just another show about an entitled male character. But since deciding to get divorced a few months ago, I finally had the time and inclination to see it (nothing like heartbreak to get you in the mood for Netflix).
What first drew me in was the surprising depth to the Bojack Horseman character. The show's fundamental question through each season is whether someone who is truly broken (by their parents, by their success, by their failures, by their losses) can ever be redeemed. Is Bojack beyond fixing? By outward appearances, his out-of-control drinking, drug-taking, spending, womanizing, anger, and cynicism would suggest so, but there's clearly something deeper and wholly sincere to him that makes Bojack if not likeable, at least someone you can feel compassion for.
And this depth of character isn't just limited to him; just about everyone on the show gets a similar treatment. Even the most apparently superficial character, Mr. Peanutbutter (a professional rival of Bojack's). is more complex than he seems. At first you think he's just there for a laugh, but then his story takes an interesting spin about marriage. I mean, how many TV shows feature a marriage on the rocks that slowly recovers? None, right? So you wouldn't expect a cartoon to be the one that does it. Yet it does and it works.
The second thing that drew me into the show was its bizarre universe. Animals and people live and work together, and it's not remotely commented on. For example, Bojack is a horse, his agent is a cat, his roommate is a twenty-something-year-old man, his rival is a Labrador Retriever, and his ghostwriter is a Vietnamese American woman. The show feels no need to explain this, which is great (no fucking origin stories here). All of the animal characters make for some fun visual puns and jokes, which probably only works because the character design is so top-notch (actually, it was an interview with the artist, Lisa Hanawalt, on the Imaginary Worlds podcast that got me interested in giving Bojack Horseman a shot).
And then like The Simpsons before it, part of the appeal of Bojack Horseman is that this universe is totally self-contained and self-consistent. There must be a cast of a hundred recognizable characters. Small details that happen in one episode will reappear again in later seasons For example, after Bojack steals the letter "D" from the Hollywood sign in L.A., the characters simply start referring to the area as "Hollywoo," and they unironically do this for the rest of the series. Another example is how "sexy" characters are almost always marine mammals, like orcas and dolphins. What the hell is that all about? I don't know, but the consistency of the absurdity makes it funny.
Maybe it's just me, but I love details like that. It's one of those shows I won't listen to while I'm doing something else. You need to really watch it to catch all the jokes since so much of it is visual-based, making a cartoon the perfect medium for it, since anything can be drawn into the story.
All in all, I think Bojack Horseman is an unusually good TV show. There are a few slow episodes here and there, but the overall arc of each full season is excellent. My personal favorite episode was the one that takes place underwater and is completely silent - a great nod to the old cartoons that didn't have a lick of dialogue. This seems to drive some people crazy (see all the people who didn't like Wall-E), but I love it. Let the pictures tell the story, that's the strength of cartoons.
Guess I've banged on about Bojack for long enough. I'm curious though, are you a fan? Seems like it has a cult following, but I don't know anyone in real life who watches it.
p.s. Alison Brie, who does the voice of Diane the ghostwriter in Bojack Horseman (and was Trudy in Mad Men), has another new show on Netflix, called Glow, which is about a real-life female wrestling league in the 80's. I just started it last night and I was pretty entertained. We'll see where it goes, but if you're on the fence, I think it's worth watching.
Anne with an E, Netflix's recent adaptation of the classic Anne of Green Gables story, was going to be a hard sell for me no matter what. My cousin and I used to watch the first video tape of the classic 1985 miniseries over and over at our grandmother's house, desperately wishing we had the second tape to see how Anne's story turned out! We loved her. I don't know why but little girls love to imagine themselves as orphans. Maybe it's the only way children can envision independence at that age. Anne was our perfect heroine.
Eventually I did get to see the end of the series thanks to Blockbuster, and later power-read my way through the novels, sitting on the floor, propped up against my bed, as happy as an any 11-year old could be. All of this is only to say that I'm one of those people who is deeply invested in the Anne of Green Gables story.
So you're probably not surprised to hear that I didn't care for Anne with an E. To be fair, I could barely make it through the first episode. It's such a radical new interpretation of the story, and I don't think it works.
What made Anne appealing in the books and the 1985 series was that she was smart, imaginative, hard-working, and courageous - in spite - of her horrible childhood prior to life at Green Gables. The new series basically says that she is all of those things - because - of her past. Those are two very different characters, and while the latter might be more realistic, that her flights of imagination are coping mechanisms brought on by childhood trauma, it's not particularly pleasant or interesting to watch. It's strident and dark. The Anne of Green Gables story was anything but those things. It was optimistic, fun, and funny.
I don't love this trend in TV nowadays where everyone and everything is unhappy and serious. When I want to hear a story, it's usually because I want to escape those things. There's a place for catharsis, but I don't think it's in children's literature. Maybe that's where the creators at Netflix got things wrong - trying to take a children's story and turn it into adult entertainment. See how wrong that sounds? Who's bright idea was this?
Have you seen Anne with an E yet? If so, what did you think? I should probably push through the series, if only to see if it gets better, but it doesn't according to the New Yorker, so I think I'll save my time and energy for other things. (Like moving this weekend - wish me luck!)
So it took me a week or so, but I finally found a TV show on the internet that I really enjoyed:
It's on Amazon Prime, and while it isn't perfect (there's a plot hole or two), it's still pretty damn good. It's set on a remote Norwegian island in the arctic in a small community of people who are rocked after a gory murder takes place, which I suppose makes this series Nordic Noir. But what starts off as a standard police procedural gets way weird and eventually crosses genres into horror, with a touch of science fiction.
Obviously, the setting is cool in it of itself (much of it was filmed in Iceland), and the mystery/horror element is also great, but the show really shines with its characters. I got particularly interested in the sheriff, who has so many different relationships with people on the island that we get a nice multi-faceted perspective of him (could that be used as a writing technique, maybe?). I really enjoyed how Richard Dormer played him. The investigator, DCI Morton, was also fun as a sort of Sherlock Holmes archetype, played by Stanley Tucci, who's always excellent.
Anyway, I thought I would recommend Fortitude because it's one of the better TV shows I've seen in a while. I finished it yesterday, and I can't stop thinking about it, which is usually a sign of good story. I hear there's a season 2 coming out next year, and I hope it's as good (though my expectations for season 2 of anything these days is fairly low).
Let me know if you have any Amazon Prime recommendations. I would love to hear them. I also enjoyed the show Fleabag, especially since it focuses on a female friendship, which you almost NEVER see on TV. But other than that, I haven't found a lot.
Of course, with NaNoWriMo upon us, any TV recommendations are going have to wait until December anyway. But when December rolls around and you have some more time (if you're participating in NaNoWriMo), you should definitely check out Fortitude. It's binge-able, but not compulsive. Just a really nicely balanced show.
Confession: I am a sucker for a good couple to ship.
I am such a shipper, it's embarrassing. A lot of my favorite comic books, tv-shows, movies, etc. were more or less based on the fact that I shipped some obscure fictional couple. Let's list them, shall we? In approximate chronological order:
Batman and Catwoman (From the old Adam West series.) It's the earliest memory I have of wishing two characters would get together. I spent a lot of summers at my Grandparents' house watching old reruns of this show, hoping each episode would feature Catwoman (or Batgirl, who was equally awesome and had the sweet motorcycle).
Batman and Catwoman (Batman Returns). I was pretty young, but I still shipped them. No doubt the cartoonishness appealed to me.
Batman and Catwoman (From Batman the Animated Series - sensing a theme!) Ok enough, yes Batman is pretty hot, and when you add him to the equally hot Catwoman, it's pretty fucking awesome.
Gambit and Rogue (X-men) So doomed! So frustrating! Technically, I got into this pairing like most 90's kid did - through the animated series, but I thought this comic book illustration was en pointe. Rogue by herself was awesome (I want her powers), Gambit had an undeniable sex appeal, and then when you threw these two southerners together and added some reluctance on Rogue's part (cause, you know, she might kill him), it was pretty hot.
Conan and Jezmine (Conan the Adventurer) What can I say? Jezmine got to throw ninja stars. Who wouldn't love her? Conan was alright. This was shipping for lack of many other options (there were like, four characters in this show - tops).
Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Lost Ark!) There was no one more attractive than Harrison Ford in his prime. Plus, Marion was a bad ass, AND she got to wear a pretty white dress too. Talk about my ideal fictional avatar.
If we're going to talk Harrison Ford, then we have to mention Han Solo. I came around to Luke Skywalker later in life, but when I was a kid, Han and Leia were my jam (Star Wars).
Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) I was introduced to this show fairly late by the first movie, which has some pretty heavy shipping themes. Ironically, I think it was actually the X-Files where the term "shipper" comes from. That show had one of the earliest internet fan-bases, and those who hoped for a Mulder/Scully pairing were termed "relationshippers," or just "shippers" for short. The more you know.
Krycek and Marita (The X-Files). Cause I grew up and realized that it was more fun to be a bad guy. There was really not enough information on these characters, but I found that to be part of the appeal. You could make up some pretty epic fanfiction between those two, and set it in Russia!
There may have been others, but these were the couples I shipped the hardest, while other characters may have had fleeting, but unstained appeal. (Robin and Batgirl, for instance. I need more interaction!)
Then it kind of falls off for me. I don't know, maybe I grew up, and it got harder to care about the love lives of fictional characters. Or maybe there haven't been many good new ones in a long time. Most of the TV I see these days is strangely heartless, even cold. Everyone says we're in the "golden age" of television, but it's all so serious. I'm dying for a good romp with a decent couple that just refuses to get together.
Finally, if we're going to discuss shipping, then I feel obligated to mention Harry Potter, but personally, I never understood all the Harry Potter pairings. To me, those characters seem almost asexual, so I have no idea where the appeal of a Harry/Malfoy, Hermione/Snape, or Lupin/Tonks coupling comes from. But then again, I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there who wouldn't understand my love for Batman or Krycek. It's generational, I'm sure.
Who do you ship?
Have you seen Stranger Things yet?
If you haven't, maybe you should click over to Netflix and get started on that. I'll wait.
Stranger Things is a Netflix original series, which is like a cross between classic Spielberg movies (e.g., E.T., Goonies, and Poltergeist), Resident Evil, and a dash of Stephen King (who also recommends it). It's the tv show/movie I've been wishing someone would make for the last 15 years.
It's set in the eighties and totally nails that vibe. Do you remember flying around on your bike, feeling like you were the king of your neighborhood? This show is basically built on that premise.
Mind you, It's not perfect, and if I had one criticism it's that it sometimes strayed from homage to outright ripoff, but it's not a huge issue and I wasn't put off by it. There's a fine line between acknowledging your influences and plagiarizing, and I think Stranger Things pulled it off.
So if you like sci-fi, and you enjoy old Spielberg movies, seriously, do yourself a favor and get started on Stranger Things.
I've been struggling to finish my latest Aubrey/Maturin book (it's been a total slog) and Stranger Things was such a good reminder that I should pick up a fun sci-fi novel next. I deserve it.
When we moved out to the country, we had to give up our internet along with other city conveniences, like brunch, and trash pickup. There's also no cable where we live, so no TV either. Yes, a satellite dish would solve both of these problems, but it just seemed like more trouble (and money) than it was worth. Plus, I kind of liked not having the constant distraction of TV and internet constantly beckoning me.
When we left Durham, I think we'd just finished watching the 4th season of Game of Thrones. It's never been my favorite show, probably because I'm not a big fan of high fantasy in general, but I watched it anyway because it was an addictive soap opera.
Post-internet, I continued to follow GoT by reading recaps during breaks at work. And honestly, the recaps were almost as good, if not better, than the show itself. They also saved me a hell of a lot of time, and told me what I already knew: it's just a soap opera. Not great art. Just a story built on cliffhangers and melodrama.
Anyway, I've been visiting my parents this week and working from home at their place so I can hang out with them in the evenings. Last night they asked if I wanted to watch the season finale of GoT with them, knowing that I haven't been watching the show for the last two seasons. I said sure, why not. I felt pretty up-to-date from the recaps.
And you know what? I understood everything perfectly. Having watched the first few seasons to get myself acquainted with the characters and setting, I was perfectly able to follow along after missing TWO SEASONS of the show by reading episode recaps alone.
And my parents? They had one question, which they repeated throughout the episode:
Thankfully, I was there and able to fill them in.
So can I suggest you save some time by cutting out at least one show from this "golden age" of television and following along with TV recaps instead (if you must)? It's what I did with Downton Abbey, and it's what I'm doing now with Orange is the New Black.
And no, I have no FOMO about it. I just ask myself, when I'm on my death bed, will I care that I never watched seasons 3 and 4 of OITNB? Will I even care if I skip half the recaps? All of them? Remain totally clueless about how Downton Abbey even ended? Nope. I don't think that's going to be on my mind when I die.
I just think there are better ways to spend your time than watching upscale soap operas. Like reading a book, or writing one. Like maybe for once, we should take a break from consuming so much entertainment/media/art, and take a stab at actually creating some.
Writing Streak: 3 days
My Books on Amazon:
Waking Lions by Avelet Gundar-Goshen
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro