Holiday Binge-Watching

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)

man-in-the-high-castle

Alexa Davalos

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)

master of none

Aziz Ansari & Noël Wells

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

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Lauren
    November 30, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I’m so happy you watched these and shared your views, they are both on my watch list as well. I have not historically been an Ansari fan, he drove me nuts on Parks & Rec, but I just read his book, Modern Romance, and came away with a BIT of a different feel for him. Enough that when coupled with the good reviews of his show I knew I would at least give it a chance. This pokes me down that road a little further.

    I binged on the last season of Homeland, Catastrophe (Amazon, but from England; quite hilarious), season 2 of Rectify and season 1 of Better Call Saul. Still have most of Saul to go, but I’m enjoying it more than when I tried to get into it during first run on television.

    • Reply
      Paulette
      November 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      I loved Catastrophe!

    • Reply
      Paulette
      November 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Is Better Call Saul on Amazon Prime?

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      Ooh, I’m going to check out CATASTROPHE! Always looking for new shows to binge on.

      What did you think of last season’s HOMELAND? I remember it being pretty suspenseful. I was so tense while watching it!

  • Reply
    Eirego
    November 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I loved Master of None. I may not have attained total sloth level, but I did catch this series. It’s odd and nothing like the usual tv offerings. I finished the series in one sitting and the next day I hung out with friends who were flipping channels while awaiting dinner to be ready. Everything on the major networks gave me a headache. Shows like Dr. Ken, Law & Order and the NCIS pieces I saw felt so pandering and dumb. Nothing as insightful, well-written or acted as Master.

    I can’t cope with the concept of The Man In The High Castle. Mentioning plot holes pushes me further away.

    I’m thinking about checking out Jessica Jones. Any thoughts?

    • Reply
      Paulette
      November 30, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      Jessica Jones was lots of fun. It got a little tedious, chasing the same villain all the way through, but lots of kickass action!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 30, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      I’m on ep. 9 of JESSICA JONES. It’s uneven. Some eps have lots of action, others are so slow, they made me drowsy. Will post more thoughts on it after I finish the season.

  • Reply
    Paulette
    November 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I may have you beat (or at least tied with you) in the sloth department. I watched all of Marvel’s Jessica Jones (fun) and River (fantastic) on Netflix. Streamed a movie on Vudu, Man Up, which I adored.
    Let the festivities continue!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      I’ll look up RIVER, too! Planning my sloth schedule for this weekend.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      I just looked up RIVER and saw it has Nicola Walker from MI-5! Checking it out for sure.

  • Reply
    Jann
    November 30, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    My kids were in town, so I was at the mercy of them and the library…I’m now fluent in Mad Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock and House.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 30, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      I’m fluent in the last two shows! It still pains me that Heidi Klum has an Emmy but Hugh Laurie does not.

  • Reply
    Laura Benedict
    November 30, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    Hooray for sloth life! We had company from Wednesday on, so there wasn’t too much opportunity for binge watching in long sittings. But I just this minute finished River. You will undoubtedly love it. Stellan Skaarsgard (sp?) is brilliant, and Nicola Walker is always terrific. Did you see her in Last Tango in Halifax? My last big binges were season 7 of Midsomer Murders (it was fairly good, but I miss John Nettles), and the latest season of Doc Martin. Don’t miss Sundance’s The Returned. Season One is totally worth a weekend! Oh, and we are watching Man In the High Castle now. It’s so different from the book, and I’m finding it a tad slow, but I do like it. And how awesome is Burn Gorman??? I wish he’d been in more than two episodes.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      December 1, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      I have not seen Walker in LAST TANGO, but will add that to my list of series to check out! I did watch the first half of season 1 of the French THE RETURNED. Quite unsettling, especially the little boy.

      Burn Gorman is so creepy in everything I’ve seen him in. I think he tends to chew scenery, though. He already has such a powerful presence, he could underplay everything and be just as threatening, if not more so.

      • Reply
        Laura Benedict
        December 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

        That’s a good point about Gorman being over-powerful sometimes. He is much more restrained–to good effect–in AMC’s TURN.

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