What I’ve been watching: July 2016

Just to share with y’all what I’ve been watching lately.


TV shows

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

buffy

I started watching Buffy recently after people started suggesting that the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff Class will be a lot like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Steven Moffat himself characterised the concept of Class as a “British Buffy”. I have such high hopes for Class, I’m actually really looking forward to it, despite the lukewarm reaction of much of the fandom, that I was naturally intrigued by the comparisons with Buffy.

I’m one-and-a-bit seasons into Buffy right now, and I’m really liking what I’m seeing. It’s fast becoming another cult show to add to my list of fandoms. I’ll admit there’s a lot of camp in what I’ve seen so far, especially in the first season, but the campiness is accompanied by genuinely good writing and storytelling and characterisation. It’s very much like Doctor Who in this way in that it’s essentially a fantasy show for kids and teenagers, but there’s such substance in the writing and the characterisation that it easily appeals to older viewers as well—for every Aliens of London there’s a Blink or a Heaven Sent, so to speak. But its strength is definitely its characters, and the characters of Buffy, Cordelia, Xander and Giles make up a tight-knit family of friends in whom it is easy to invest and identify with.

Parks and Recreation

parks and rec

I’ve been seeing Ron Swanson memes all over the place and I kind of felt like I was missing out. I was finally prompted to start watching Parks and Rec when I found out a friend watched it (she sent me a Ron Swanson meme…) She suggested that I start with season 2 rather than season 1, because season 1 apparently sucks, so I’m about halfway through season 2 but haven’t seen season 1 (weird, right?).

I love it. I don’t know why I put off starting watching this show for so long, because within a couple of episodes it became an instant new favourite. I love the documentary-style format, which lends itself so effectively to the show’s comedy (I think it makes all the jokes 10 times funnier). And the characters are all fantastic. Ron Swanson proved to be as amazing and hilarious as I expected, and I’m pleased to have found a cool INTP character in April Ludgate (for those who haven’t been following my Typing Doctor Who posts, I now obsessively try to figure out the MBTI type of every single fictional character I watch). Very good, very funny and addicting show.

Pretty Little Liars

pll

Don’t you dare judge me. I know. Trust me, I know. I was like you once. “I’m a grown man, I am not watching a show about a bunch of teenage girls.” But then I did. It was the Netflix description that intrigued me: it hinted at mystery, murder and plot. I was interested. I thought “It couldn’t hurt, could it?”, and watched an episode. Then another. Then another. Within a few weeks I had watched two whole seasons (50+ episodes). Before I knew it I had binged my way through all five seasons and had caught up with the sixth. Now the seventh season is underway and I’m ravenously devouring each new episode every week.

I wrote a post some time ago when I was relatively new to Pretty Little Liars, extolling the virtues of this show. The reason I love it so much is that it combines great characters and character drama with irresistible plot and mystery and intrigue. It’s the mystery and the overarching plot arc that draws you in and keeps you coming back every week, but it’s the soap opera stuff and the exceptional character writing that makes you continue to care about what happens to these characters. I promise that if you start watching the show, you’ll not only have a favourite character and a new OTP, but you’ll be hooked by the compelling mystery and plot, too.

Pokémon: Indigo League

pokemon

I LIKED POKEMON BEFORE IT WAS COOL. Unfortunately my phone isn’t good enough to get the Pokemon Go app (*tears*), but I’ve been rewatching the original Pokemon TV show for the last few months—for the memories, you know? It’s been a thrilling blast from the past watching all those old Pokemon episodes that I watched when I was a kid, and I’m pleased to report that they still hold up after all this time.

Rewatching Pokemon, I’m struck by how creative and inventive the writers were in coming up with such a diversity of interesting stories. The Indigo League series has 82 episodes (I’m up to episode 70), and each one of them is a new, exciting adventure. There’s rarely a dull script in there. I also love, having played some of my old Pokemon games recently, seeing how Ash’s journey in the show lines up with the journey you take in the game, and where it deviates (heresy alert: I played Fire Red, not Blue/Red/Yellow, because I like playing in colour *ducks for cover*). It’s sort of like the experience of watching the movie adaptation of a book you’ve read. Very interesting and rewarding.


Movies

Me Before You

me before you

Warning: spoilers about the ending in the second paragraph

I decided to go and see this one because it had not only Jenna Coleman in it, but also Emilia Clarke in the starring role — two of my favourite actresses currently. I really liked it. It wasn’t among the best movies of this romantic drama type genre that I’ve seen, but I found it an engaging and moving story all the same. I’d happily watch it again. The best reason to watch this movie is the performances of its leads, Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, who really were extraordinary and elevated what might have been another unremarkable romantic drama, in the absence of leading performances of such quality, into the enchanting screenplay that it was. Emilia Clarke, especially, was exceptional. I actually think her performance in Me Before You bests her work in Game of Thrones—certainly it’s very different.

I only found out about the controversy surrounding the movie afterwards, and I should say that I don’t really see what the fuss is about. It never occurred to me once while watching the movie that it was propagating any ancillary socio-political commentary about disabled people. Why can’t a story just be a story without imputing politics into it? It actually seemed to me that it dealt with its subject matter very delicately and sensitively, and, in fact, that the point it was making was the precise point for which Vincent and the Doctor was praised in its handling of depression, i.e. that, as much as you might try to help someone in such a situation, sometimes you just can’t, and sometimes there is no storybook happy ending.

The Scandalous Lady W

the scandalous lady w

This is the BBC TV film about the historical Lady Worsley, from the late 18th Century, who eloped with a lover, who was criminally prosecuted by Lady Worsley’s husband for “stealing” his wife. Natalie Dormer stars as the “scandalous” Lady Worsley. Yes, Natalie Dormer, another one of my faves, was really the only reason I watched this film.

I can’t say I was satisfied, because the film wasn’t very good, in my opinion. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but the script didn’t feel as though it was written with as much conviction as the story merited—I felt as though it was a ripping story which could have made a very exciting film in another production team’s hands. Perhaps it was the decision to overtly stylise and dramatise the story that left me cold—I felt that if they had played it straighter I would have enjoyed it more; although, that said, I’m not a great fan of historical drama in general, despite being a huge history geek.

Nor were the performances particularly memorable. Again, it was all too dramatised and soap-operatised for my tastes. Too Downton Abbey. It didn’t feel as though I was watching real historical figures, but crude soap opera characters in period dress. Even Natalie Dormer, who is one of my favourite actresses, was somewhat disappointing. The only parts of the film that really engaged me were the courtroom scenes, which I think were the best sequences of the film, although I may only think that because I’m a law student who gets an unnatural thrill from watching court processes.

First impressions: Pretty Little Liars

I don’t really know why I started watching this show. I was feeling at a loss as to what to do with my leisure time in the evenings, now that I’m not writing Doctor Who reviews every night, and turned faithfully to Netflix to look for a new show to watch. I scrolled hopefully through the shows and films I had added to “My List”, looking for something palatable to tie me over in the week between new Doctor Who episodes. I considered briefly starting Lost or Supernatural, both cult shows I’ve been meaning to get round to watching, but I didn’t think I was ready for that kind of commitment yet. I’m still trying to work through my love/hate relationship with Game of Thrones, after all. There were a few shows I’ve started but have put aside with the vague idea of getting back to them one day, like Arrow, which I stopped watching a quarter of the way through the second episode because I found I had begun thinking about all the other more rewarding ways I could be spending that time.

Then the icon for Pretty Little Liars caught my attention. I vaguely remembered adding it because the description piqued my interest. I also have a bit of a soft spot for teeny dramas, particularly ones with strong characters. Along with the kind of mystery that animates other thriller shows I’ve liked, like Orphan Black, it seemed like something I’d enjoy. So I swallowed my pride and began watching Pretty Little Liars. At the point of writing this, I’ve finished the first series and am a couple of episodes into the second series. And I’m actually surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed watching this show so far. I’ve made it through almost 30 episodes of Pretty Little Liars in a little over two weeks, where I spurned more “mature” dramas like Arrow and Marco Polo after two and one episodes respectively, and where it usually took me a couple of weeks to get through one series (13 episodes) of shows like Merlin and Torchwood. Apart from being eminently binge-able in general, it’s just surprisingly well-written—surprisingly engaging and intelligent for a show directed at, essentially, adolescent girls (mostly).

Introductions, though. Basically, this is a show about four high school girls who, a year on from the disappearance of their friend, Alison, begin getting sinister messages purportedly from Alison, terrorising them with their secrets, some of them very dark secrets. The plot thickens when Alison is found dead—but the messages keep coming. That’s essentially the overarching plot of the series, and the narrative involves the group’s interactions with their shadowy tormentor, known only as “A”, and their attempts to find an unmask “A”. “A” seems to be always watching them, and seemingly knows everything about them. (S)he blackmails the group, collectively and individually, mocks them cruelly with their most sensitive secrets, and generally makes for a menacing, threatening presence, seemingly invincible, armed with virtual omniscience and omnipresence and a frustrating ability to remain hidden in plain sight. The girls’ efforts at discovering “A” are always fruitless because their sinister harrier is always far ahead of them in the game. Added to this the compelling mystery that still surrounds the circumstances of Alison’s death, the identity of her murderer unknown, and Pretty Little Liars makes for a genuinely gripping mystery-thriller.

The “A” mystery is what keeps the audience coming back every week, but the show’s real strength is in its quality character drama. It features four very strong characters as its leads. There’s Aria, the artsy, down-to-earth one who keeps together her fragile family; there’s Hanna, the glamorous “it-girl” whose preoccupation with clothes and boys belies profound compassion and strength of character; there’s Emily, the shy, sweet, pensive one who’s also a star athlete; and there’s Spencer, my favourite, the clever, determined, strong-willed one. Each are played by girls in their early 20s—all wonderful actresses, but the disparity is patent at times; for example, the actresses’ performances were far too mature for the 16 year-old characters they were playing for much of the original season, although their teenage girl portrayals gradually became more convincing over the season. The physical age disparity was also quite apparent to me at first, especially when I saw the 24 year-old Troian Bellisario dressed up as a 15 year-old Spencer Hastings in the first scene of the first episode. But I notice the age difference less now, although maybe I’ve just got used to it.

Each of the characters have their own personal issues to face, and the drama surrounding the the private lives of the four leads makes as much compelling viewing as the very intriguing mystery surrounding “A” (which actually develops fairly slowly). Again, this isn’t your standard-issue teenage soap opera; I’ve found that the drama is particularly mature and intelligent for its demographic base—it doesn’t patronise its audience by any means. Whether it’s Aria’s family breakdown, Emily’s issues surrounding her homosexuality, or simply Hanna’s relationships problems, it approaches its subject matter sensitively and maturely. More than anything, the show is prepared to discuss and explore consequences, something conspicuously absent, or given only superficial treatment, in many other dramas of this age-demographic. Indeed, the consequences of actions, on both “perpetrators” and “victims”, is at the heart of this very multi-layered and thematic show. All this without becoming overly dark or gritty and losing the charm of a teen drama.