Question of the week: do you like to binge?

Yes, ‘Question of the week’ is back… on a Thursday. Odd, hey? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I am odd, so that would explain it.

To be fair, I did say I was going to discuss this on Monday. I just forgot, that’s all.

One of the current challenges of keeping up with all the latest TV is the arrival of binge watching. Obviously, back in the day, no one could binge watch. TV was transmitted and you waited for the repeats before you could watch a programme again. If you were lucky, there were repeats, anyway, but you weren’t always that lucky.

Then video recorders came out and you could record entire series off the TV if you wanted. If you could work out how to program the video. And remembered to set it to record two minutes before an episode started in case it began early or your clock was wrong. And remembered to add 20 minutes afterwards in case the sport overran and your programme started late.

Then TV companies started to release all the episodes of a TV series on video once they’d been broadcast. The boxset had been born.

Then videos became DVDs. Then iTunes releases.

And then TV itself went on the Internet and suddenly you didn’t have to wait for a weekly broadcast slot – the TV could be released whenever the ‘broadcaster’ wanted to, to your set-top box, your computer, your phone or your watch. Broadcasters started putting pilot episodes of TV shows on the Internet before transmission, hoping to drum up interest for the broadcast. Sometimes they’d put the pilot episode on TV and release the rest on the Internet immediately afterwards. Sometimes they’d put the whole show on the Internet in one go, too, hoping word would spread and attract actual viewers, particularly if they’re a small broadcaster.

And then the likes of Netflix came along who only worked on the Internet and decided they were going to release TV shows whenever they wanted and entire seasons at a time, because people would watch the whole show in one go over a weekend.

Now, Netflix is pretty sure it’s onto something, although occasionally, particularly outside the US, it goes with a weekly release. And it’s model that others are emulating, too. Amazon Prime does the same and now Crackle’s joined in, too.

Which is all well and good. Some people like to binge. And my first question to you is: do you? Do you prefer to have all the episodes in one go so you can watch at your own pace, or do you prefer the discipline of watching a TV series episode by episode, week by week?

But in the past month, we’ve had at a bare minimum – this isn’t an exhaustive list – the release of entire seasons of Master of None and Jessica Jones on Netflix; The Man In the High Castle, Flesh and Bone, Transparent and Mozart In the Jungle on Amazon Prime; South of Hell on WE tv; and The Art of More on Crackle. 

Which is a lot. Now there’s probably a few people with the time to watch all of those and, of course, there aren’t that many people who are going to want to watch all of those shows – I can’t imagine many of the people watching alternative reality period sci-fi Nazi drama The Man in the High Castle are alternating it with seedy ballet dancing drama Flesh and Bone.

All the same, here’s my second question to you: are there now too many new shows to binge watch? Are you finding it hard keeping up? Would even prefer it if there were fewer new shows?

As always, leave your answers below or on your own blog with a link

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Mid-week mini-reviews: South of Hell (US: WE tv) and Superstore (US: NBC)

What’s this? ‘Mid-week mini-reviews’? Is this something new? Could this be Rob, having a new idea, some genuine innovation for a change?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA. 

HA.

Not really. It’s basically a couple of short reviews of programmes I watched this week that normally I’d save to Friday, because they’re not worth full reviews, but decided not to this week. 

South of Hell (US: WE tv)
Benjitek did herald this as being “about as bad as TV can get” and he wasn’t wrong. Mena Suvari (American Beauty, American Pie) plays an exorcist-for-hire who wanders round the US South expelling demons. The trouble is that a demon lives inside her, feeding on the evil Suvari exorcises from others and threatening to take her over.

Now I’m not a big fan of Eli Roth (Cabin FeverHostel). In fact, I’m not a fan of Eli Roth at all, but he has something of a rep in the horror genre and was given the honour of exec-producing Netflix’s second original TV series, Hemlock Grove, as a result. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about horror.

Which almost makes me think that maybe South of Hell is some cunning piece of satire that eluded me, because it’s astonishingly bad and ineptly made, with no hint that Roth was doing anything but reading a magazine while sitting 1,000 miles away behind some drone controls, directing on auto-pilot. In fact, it’s so laughable – I was literally laughing in places – with kids with badly glowing eyes to indicate possession, there were times I thought the show had to be deliberately bad and almost comic in the vein of Supernatural.

Except it’s clearly not. It’s just bad, virtually unwatchable, with no redeeming features. Cliched plot, abyssmal acting, cheap effects. Pity the poor, wretched souls forced to work on it.

Superstore

Superstore (US: NBC)
So on the one hand, well done to NBC not only for continuing to try to be diverse in its casting and plotting, but also for harking back to the days of Roseanne by giving us a blue-collar comedy with touches of workplace classics such as Parks and Recreation and The Office (US). On the other hand, it would help with a situation comedy if the comedy actually came from the situation or indeed the writers really ever indicated they’d worked in a supermarket before. The Office (US)? Think Outsourced instead. Just less racist. 

The basic set-up is that America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) is a supervisor in a hypermarket and Ben Feldman (A to Z) is the new employee with airs and graces who finds her attractive but makes an immediate bad impression on her, which leaves her with little patience for him. The result is that he keeps making costly mistakes, such as marking everything as costing $0.25 rather than 25% less, resulting in Black Friday levels of customer in-fighting. An obvious training issue that needs to be addressed? Something that needs HR’s involvement? A simple tannoy announcement that legally, the store doesn’t have to sell anything at the marked price if it doesn’t want to, so stop clubbing each other with the electrical goods or you’ll have to pay full price?

Nope. Just hilarious consequences.

The show’s saving grace is that while there are other employees and plenty of customers who are white trash idiots, Ferrera isn’t an idiot and Feldman’s not truly a dick, just a little unfortunate, so the show usually feels like it’s laughing with its characters, rather than at them. It’s even sometimes sympathetic towards them.

All the same, without jokes, a comedy show is for naught, and while frequently it’s smart and comes perilously close to being funny and sometimes even witty, nothing ever really lands home, bar a joke about a cubic zirconium knock-off. Still, it’s better than South of Hell. And Sky’s Trollied, for that matter.

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The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Into The Badlands (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

The famous physicist, Richard Feynman, used to talk about ‘cargo cult science’:

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

I’d like to propose ‘cargo cult television’ to describe shows like Into The Badlands – they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of television or specific genres of television, but they’re missing something essential. In the specific case of Into The Badlands, it’s trying its level best to be a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It’s got a star of Hong Kong martial arts movies (Daniel Wu). It’s got a script derived from a work of classic Chinese literature (Journey Into The West). It’s even got trademark manoeuvres and stunt scenes lifted almost wholesale from Hong Kong martial arts movies. It’s even got a bit of magic.

But it’s just not a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It’s missing something essential. 

Some things, actually. Enough fights per episode. Speed of execution. Engaging, original scripts. Even the magic’s been used only once in the three episodes we’ve had so far. 

Don’t get me wrong – it’s very beautiful to look at. The fight scenes even achieve a level of beauty themselves. But just like The Matrix before it, every blow lands without weight. Unlike The Matrix, though, there’s nothing to fill the gap beyond a feudal society where everyone goes around punching everyone as a ‘Clipper’ or a ‘Colt’ (Clipper in training), works in a bar or a field, or is a sex slave. And because it’s AMC, we’re already halfway through the first season of six episodes and we haven’t even entered the Badlands*. I’m assuming that’ll be somewhere around season four. 

The show has at least improved a bit since the first episode, having remembered women exist and might not all want to be prostitutes or wives in our dystopian future. There were times when I even became engrossed at points.

But ultimately, this is a poor imitation of a genre that throws out 50 or so movies a year, almost all of them more interesting and more exciting than Into The Badlands. All the same, it’s on Sunday, so what else you going to watch?

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: It’s AMC. Like a dinosaur, it’ll take about two years before it realises it needs to cancel the show

* Confusingly, we may already be in the Badlands and we actually have to leave the Badlands on our future journey