Saturday, May 30, 2015

TV Maturing Well ?

When we started watching Grace and Frankie, Netflix's own new series, without having read any reviews I was expecting a comedy - mainly due to Lily Tomlin's inclusion in the cast. Husband did laugh out loud a few times during the first couple of episodes - I didn't. I really disliked the show's pilot and second episode. Maybe it's due to my non-American background. Maybe due to ....oh, I don't aversion to certain sitcoms about a certain "class" of Americans. They always live in big houses with pools and a view of the ocean, they are lawyers, surgeons, always wealthy, clever, successful etc. etc. Such situations might have been just the thing to attract an audience a few decades back. TV viewers in the USA, then, might have been anticipating their own rise to such opulence. Now - not so much!

Basic storyline of Grace and Frankie is that "Grace" and "Frankie" (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively) women in their 70s, have been long married to lawyers who are business partners, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston). The husbands announce to their wives, over a communal dinner, that they've been in love with each other for 20 years, and intend leaving their wives to set up home together and marry. The guys hope to live out the rest of their lives in tune with their natural instincts. Both couples have grown-up families, bringing in four more regular cast members.

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are probably the only two actresses, of the right age group, who could have carried off the parts of Grace and Frankie. They're a classic "odd couple" thrown together by circumstance. There are other, lesser known TV faces who could have played the parts of the husbands to much better effect though. Martin Sheen remains Jed Bartlett (West Wing) to me for all time. Sam Waterston's Law and Order character loomed large for me over his characterisation of an ultra-sensitive, soft and gentle gay guy.

The show did grow on me some during the 13 episodes of its first season. It still isn't, for me, what it ought to be, and could be. Maybe Season 2 will improve it still further. In any case, it is good to see another show with its focus on characters of an older generation, and not portraying them like doddering old fools. In tandem with its more mature characters the show approaches what had been "a sensitive subject": being married to a heterosexual partner while gay. For those factors alone I should give Grace and Frankie a gold star!

Another show we saw early on in our Roku-owning time, was Amazon's Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a guy who dared to came out as transgender in later life. I much preferred the general tenor of that series to that of Grace and Frankie. The humour was less forced, more natural; the characters warmer, and far more believable.

An excellent British TV drama series we found, I think also on Amazon Prime during our free month's trial a while back: Last Tango in Halifax. It's another drama mixing love stories of an elderly couple (played by Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi), with an interwoven theme of a lesbian relationship of one of their daughters (played by Sarah Lancashire). Characters in this series were totally believable; there was humour and pain mixed with delicate deftness, skilled writing and acting. Maybe I'm a wee bit prejudiced because the action took place in my native county of Yorkshire!

Thank goodness some writers and producers are at last cottoning on to the fact that there is an audience out here made up of more than teens, twenties, thirties and forty-somethings! We have time to watch too, and we have been starved of decent drama and comedy to which we can easily relate. I don't want to watch nothing but "oldie" stories, I enjoy films and shows featuring younger people, as long as their themes are interesting, funny, witty, clever or science-fiction related - so few of them are though. Writers of such shows will often throw in a token "oldie" to keep things, as Fox News puts it "fair and balanced", but those token characters are usually portrayed in such a way that is anything but fair and balanced - just like Fox News!


Sonny G said...

I can't find much on tv or even among the movie selections that I like--except some of the oldies:) Most of it-- discovery, food network and animal planet functions as background noise for me.
I have "full" cable - hulu an netflix so no lack of material to choose from but most doesnt hold my interest.

I'm glad ya'll can find a few things you enjoy..

mike said...

I viewed all of season 1's "Grace & Frankie", too. It wasn't what I had expected, which was disappointing and refreshing all in one. The drama-comedy (dramedy) portions were too extreme in juxtaposition...I would have preferred more tongue-in-cheek, maybe darker type of comedy considering the storyline. By the end of season 1, I thought the four leads had done a very good portrayal of their characterizations, but the script itself could have used better writing and formatting.

I tried "Last Tango in Halifax" on Netflix, but had difficulty concentrating on the story rather than the accents...LOL. I use closed-captioning on some programs, but if the dialogue is too swift, I don't have time to actually enjoy the visuals...I might as well read the book. I had the same problem viewing the highly acclaimed "Shameless". I thought this was the American version, but it's the original British production and I just couldn't follow the dialogue.

I'll mention BBC's "Sherlock" again for the last time! There is a reason the series has won so many awards. I was never a big fan of the original, classic "Sherlock", but I certainly enjoyed the modernized BBC One production.

As I commented recently, I've been watching short films with much pleasure. The PBS film series is very good and youtube offers an almost endless supply of them. Youtube's search function allows for genres, such as apocalyptic, sci fi, etc. Youtube offers longer films and full-length, free movies, too. I just started exploring other Roku channels and there is a plethora of possibilities.

I'm still waiting for HBO NOW streaming. It started last month, but only for Apple-product users, and Roku isn't on the next tier's cue.

mike (again) said...

You might enjoy "Time Trap", a slightly comedic, post-apocalypse, eight minute film that I watched on youtube last night:

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ We're still in early stages of exploring, but I dare say that, in time, we'll feel much the same as you do. If that happens we'll bring out our stash of DVD and VHS sets and re-watch some of the best of the best, until Netflix etc. re-fill their slots with different stuff. :-)

Twilight said...

mike ~ There was definitely something not quite "on key" for me in "Grace and Frankie". As you say, the writing could be the culprit. I don't usually enjoy stories/series set in the glitzy fringes of this land as much as those set in what are known as "flyover" areas. I loved "Justified", set in rural Kentucky, for instance. It's odd really - I despise these regions' politics, but still can love these regions for themselves. Same applies to British TV output, I much prefer stuff set in areas such as that of "Last Tango in Halifax" to stories set in London and "posh" areas of the south.

Husband didn't have too much trouble with the Yorkshire accent, but then he's had years to get his ear attuned to it, and he spent more than a year actually living among it. :-) We do have captions up where available though. I still have difficulty with US dialogue when characters "gabble" too quickly.

We haven't got around to "Sherlock" yet - but we will - I promise!

We watched "Penny Dreadful" from the shorts (via PBS/Roku/TV) last evening - very good acting by the young girl! Husband said it reminded him of a O.Henry short story. We also watched a couple more blank-on blanks, but the sound is really bad, coming as it does from old, "lost" cassette type recordings. Will continue to explore the PBS offerings. Will go watch your recommendation "Time Trap" on YouTube too...thanks!

Twilight said...

mike(again) ~ Enjoyed "Time Trap"! Really well done and creative short. :-) Thanks again.

mike (again) said...

Glad you liked it! I'm very impressed with the short films I've viewed, with a minimum of duds. Even the duds weren't terribly bad, as most that I put in that category had abrupt endings I didn't understand or the overall message-theme went over my head. And they are short, so not much invested, if disappointing. I definitely prefer full-length movies and I look at this a bit like reading books: I prefer one story told over many chapters, but on occasion, I indulge in a book of short stories...both can be rewarding.

I rarely went to the movie theater as a child, usually a Saturday matinee, and there were short films before the main attraction. Seems that over the years the short films turned into advertisements for coming attractions. The short film has been revived the past two decades through film festivals and particularly now, with the internet's reaching a wide audience. It amazes me how much entertainment and-or thought provoking dialogue can be packed into five to fifteen minutes.

When I searched for "short films" on youtube, there are almost five million hits! I'm not sure how youtube defines "short film", but there seems to be an endless supply. I looked at Roku's Vimeo channel last night and watched a number of their short film offerings. Both Vimeo and youtube offer full length films, too. As you noted, not all are high quality recordings.

There are several Roku movie channels that offer free viewing with advertisements interspersed or noncommercial for a fee. I haven't gone that route yet, but may try a couple to see if I can bear the commercials.

Netflix currently offers streaming, but has their separate DVD service with the more recent movie releases for an additional $7.99/month. I don't understand why they don't offer one complete package of streaming-only for $15 to $20 per month. Amazon has their own gimmick, too, which is just as unsatisfactory. These streaming companies are avoiding a potential customer-base.

Re "Grace & Frankie" - "...Grace and Frankie is basically a network sitcom, dolled up with great actors, trying to pretend it belongs in the same room as Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards."

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Ah yes, I remember those short films regularly shown before the main feature in cinemas, back in the day. I was a real film fan as a child and teenager, bought movie magazines, sent away for "autographed" photographs of my favourites etc. :-) On a trip to the cinema, back then, we'd be presented with a cartoon feature and/or a short cowboy film, a film reporting world news, a coming soon preview, and the main feature. Way, way back, too, there'd be an organist somewhere in front of the screen playing to entertain the audience before screening started, and between screenings! Seems like another world.... it was!

We experimented with a few films from "Cracker" and a couple of other free outlets - available via Roku, but the adverts put us off - that was before we invested in Netflix.
I'm against paying extra for one of the more recent or more popular movies, having once paid the Netflix subscription - though if there was something we really wanted to see, and that was the only way, I guess we'd pay the 3 or 4 dollars extra.

Hmmm Hollywood Reporter was scathing about G & F - I agreed with much of the piece though. The show might improve with a second season, but there are limited places for it to go from where it ended. The two women "buried the hatchet" and became friends, accepted their lives had changed for good or ill. What more could there be to reveal that wouldn't be just repetitive and boring?

Bob said...

These links might prompt searchs for some movies to watch from the movies listed or the stars who acted in them. They list the five films nominated for the academy award for best picture for each of the last 42 years. Clicking on the icons reveals a synopsis and other info about the cast ,release dates, etc. (1990-2011)

Twilight said...

Bob ~ Many thanks - those will prove useful links - I'm putting them in my Bookmarks file.