I hope you all enjoyed your holiday weekend (if you celebrated Thanksgiving). It was a much needed break for me. Every day when I woke, Mr. PCN would ask, “What would you like to do today?” and my answer was always the same: “Attain pure sloth.” I crushed this goal. Mr. PCN pointed out the bar was pretty low, if not on the ground, but remaining immobile for as long as I did on the couch is an art form not everyone understands.
Clearing my schedule—besides attending two Thanksgiving dinners—gave me plenty of time to binge-watch two new series, one from Amazon and the other from Netflix. Below are my thoughts.
The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
Amazon’s new drama, based on Philip K. Dick’s book and set in 1962, depicts an alternate universe in which Americans lost World War II. The Germans govern the East Coast, called the Greater Nazi Reich, while the West Coast is named Japanese Pacific States, with some areas in between remaining a neutral zone.
The mysterious titular man compels a resistance group to smuggle films to him that show the Allies winning the war, giving hope to the oppressed. Resistance members are pursued by spies and yakuza and kempeitai (Japanese military police) and Nazis.
The series is gripping, suspenseful, moodily shot—it’s extremely unsettling to see the swastika on the American flag and arm bands—and well-acted. Alexa Davalos, whom I’ve been a fan of from her stint on the Buffy spin-off Angel, stars as Juliana Crain, who gets drawn into the resistance when her sister shoves a can of film at her one night while running away from the kempeitai. (Juliana’s last name is too obvious for me, since it’s a homophone for crane, a Japanese symbol of longevity and good luck. In the book she has a different last name.)
A standout supporting actor is Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Kido of the kempeitai. He mostly remains very still but oozes menace from every pore.
The story has many plot holes and the ending leaves a lot of questions unresolved, but High Castle has high-quality production values and deserves a look.
Nerd verdict: Provocative High Castle
Master of None (Netflix)
Aziz Ansari cocreated, stars in, cowrote and directed some of the episodes of this Seinfeld-like half-hour comedy. Ansari plays Dev, an actor in NYC mostly known for his commercials who’s starting to land movie roles. When not working, he hangs out with his buddies, often in restaurants, talking about relationships—with friends, parents, and significant others.
Dev may seem like a shallow dude but the writing is sharp, making funny, keen observations about show business (the audition scenes are hilariously true to life), thirtysomething angst, and our social-media-obsessed culture.
One of the most poignant episodes is titled “Parents,” which depicts Dev and his Chinese friend Brian taking their immigrant parents for granted, then slowly coming to appreciate the sacrifices their parents made to give Dev and Brian better lives in America. It’s an extra sweet touch to have Ansari’s real parents play Dev’s parents.
Noël Wells winningly portrays Dev’s girlfriend, Rachel, a cool girl who seems too good for him, but their chemistry is so adorable she’s also just right for him. I’m hoping for a season two so we can see where Dev’s and Rachel’s adventures take them.
Nerd verdict: Master drops truth bombs about life
What did you watch/read over the weekend?
Photos: Davalos/Amazon Studios; Ansari & Wells/Netflix