October 23, 2017

The Good Place on Netflix

When I first heard the premise of NBC’s The Good Place television series, I vowed to give the show wide berth. Still, Kristen Bell had charmed me in the cult hit, Veronica Mars, and who doesn’t like Ted Danson, who just gets better with age?
The Good Place showed up on the Netflix trending list, so I gave the first episode a gander. Call me crazy but this comedy is the perfect antidote to all of the crime shows littering the tv scene. Thankfully, there is no laugh track, the dialogue is snappy and the art direction is eye-poppingly inventive. Not to mention the plot twists that hit you right and left in the 13 fast-paced 21-minute streaming episodes.
Besides Bell and Danson, the cast includes the nerdily attractive William Jackson Harper as Chidi, a former university ethics professor, Tahani, a wealthy philanthropist played by gorgeous Jameela Jamil, know-it-all robot, Janet played by D’Arcy Garden and Manny Jacinto who appears to be a silent Buddhist monk named Jianyu. The show explores cultural differences and the thin line between good and evil within the confines of this goofy after-life.

Who would have thought these serious topics could be funny, but show creator Mike Schur has created a world that is…..well, out of this world. Season Two premieres with an hour-long episode September 20, 2017 on NBC. Hey, I’m there.

French television shows available on streaming services

Anyone who wants to begin learning a language or freshen their knowledge of current dialogue in a foreign language may consider checking out television programs in that language.

My emphasis in this blog post is on French programs that have legible sub-titles on internet streaming platforms.

Even if you aren’t trying to learn a language, you will delight in Gallic crime shows, dramas and comedies.

MHZ has a large collection of French tv shows, but Netflix also has some very interesting selections. You can add the MHZ service to your Amazon Prime account, or add the app to your Apple TV line-up. Please consult the link below to see how else you can access MHZ. Hulu is adding a few more French programs so check them out as well.

I will continue to search for more French television series on streaming services. If you run across anything good in French, please send me your French tv recommendations and where you found them.

Bonne chance!

French television shows available on streaming services:

Braquo – MHZ – A brutal but well-made police procedural.

The Break (La Treve) – Netflix – An unsettling Belgian psychological crime series.

Bureau of Sexist Affairs – MHZ – Comedy shorts on various topics.

Cain – MHZ – A charming cop show starring Bruno Debrandt.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix – A comedy about stars and their agents in France.

The Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) – MHZ – A thoughtful drama about young men studying to become Catholic priests.

Detectives – MHZ – A light, entertaining detective series.

Dolmen – MHZ – A ridiculously romantic series if you are in the mood for such fare.

Frank Riva – MHZ – The iconic Alain Delon plays an ex-detective who returns to the fray.

A French Village (Un Village Francais) – MHZ & Hulu – Historical fiction about World War II in a small town in France.

Kaboul Kitchen – MHZ – Comedy set in Afghanistan. Not my cup of kefir, but some like it.

Maigret – MHZ – Simenon novels are depicted on the small screen. Very popular, but not one of my favorite series.

Maison Close – Hulu –  Quite raunchy story about a bordello in France. Only if you are not easily offended.

Marseille – Netflix – Fair to middling political intrigue in Marseille. Tune in to see the marvelous Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimell who goes toe to toe with him.

Paris – MHZ – Off-beat series about Parisians whose paths cross in surprising ways.

Pigalle, la Nuit – Hulu – A dramatic series set in Paris’ Pigalle area depicting tawdry doings.

The Returned (Les Revenants) – Netflix – The dead return. Season 1 was mesmerizing; Season 2 bored me to … tears.

Spiral (Engrenages) – MHZ & Hulu – Voted best 2015 tv show in the world and rightly so. Crime, legal and political skullduggery.

The Witnesses (Les Temoins) – Netflix – Decent detective series starring Thierry Lhermitte.





And for short clips for the beginning French student:

Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French (two French sisters in the U. S.) – youtube

BET’s Being Mary Jane on Netflix

I had heard good buzz on BET’s (Black Entertainment Television) tv series, Being Mary Jane and just found it on Netflix. I needed a break from my crime show viewing and this show was the perfect antidote.
Created by Mara Brock Akil and starring the adorable Gabrielle Union, this earthy, sexy show has its share of comedy and drama. Union plays Mary Jane Paul, a successful tv show personality who lives in a beautiful house, wears designer clothing and drives a hot car, but family and romantic problems continue to mar her seemingly perfect life. Her extended family treats her like their personal ATM and she seems attracted to handsome, yet selfish and sometimes cheating men.

This program is mildly reminiscent of the late 90’s tv series, Ally McBeal, especially in its spunky heroine and in its use of engaging contemporary music throughout the show.

As a blast from the past, action-actor Richard Roundtree plays Mary Jane’s compassionate father.

When I need a break from the rigors of the day, visiting Mary Jane’s world is a charming respite.
Seasons 1 through 3 are on Netflix; Season 4 is currently on BET.

Call My Agent, French rom-com tv series on Netflix

Let me state that I love romantic film comedies which the French seem to have mastered to perfection.

Imagine my delight to find a TV series billed as original content on Netflix that captures the madcap breeziness of this genre. The show, Call My Agent, also listed as Ten Percent, depicts four agents who deal with spoiled actors, temperamental film-makers and difficult screen writers while they manage their own wackily complicated lives.

The creator, Fanny Herrero has cast Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Gregory Montel and Liliane Rovere as the quartet of agents that you both love and hate-watch throughout the six episode Season 1. Cedric Klapisch, one of my favorite comic French film auteurs and his wife, Lola Doillon, a director and writer in her own right, are on board as episode directors.

The cameos made by French personalities will tickle film buffs, including Nathalie Baye and her daughter Laura Smet (her father is rock musician Johnny Hallyday), Audrey Fleurot (Spiral, A French Village), French rapper JoeyStarr and Cecile de France (who is in HBO’s The Young Pope), among many others.

Some people complain about sub-titles after a hard day at work, but witty dialogue and droll acting should pull you through the extra reading effort. Keep your eyes peeled for the terrier named, Jean Gabin who gives Asta of The Thin Man fame a run for his movie mutt money.

Gilmore Girls Reunion on Netflix

Many mothers and daughters watched the iconic TV show, Gilmore Girls from 2000 to 2007. Netflix has wisely hired co-creators Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino to give fans a reunion mini-series that catches us up with the lives of Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). No less than Time Magazine and Rolling Stone have written about this cultural phenomenon.

The old series, set in the fictitious Connecticut town of Stars Hollow, featured characters played by actors who continue to star in TV and films. Melissa McCarthy was Sookie, the chef at Lorelei’s charming little inn. Rory’s boyfriends included Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural) and the marvelous Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us, Heroes) all of whom make appearances in this new four-episode series.

In truth, Kelly Bishop who portrays Lorelei’s mother is also a Gilmore Girl and is shown redesigning her life after the passing of her husband (Edward Herrmann who died in real life.) The current series is graced with cameos and small roles for celebrities such as Sally Struthers, Carole King, Todd Lowe plus Broadway veterans Sutton Foster and Christian Borle.

The emphasis may be on the “girls,” but men have important roles, too, such as Lorelei’s inn manager, Yanic Truesdale, town oddball Sean Gunn and the hunky Scott Patterson who plays Lorelei’s live-in boyfriend. The final Netflix episode left some with questions about how the show ends, but just let me say that history is again repeating itself with those Gilmore Girls. They may be tempted by the rich bad boys, but they end up with the salt-of-the-earth good guys. A happy ending indeed.

Catastrophe on Amazon Prime

catastropheAmazon, Hulu and Netflix continue to initiate more of their own programming. The streaming tv series, Catastrophe was the result of British actress/writer, Sharon Horgan and American comedian Rob Delaney meeting via Twitter. They decided that a comedic collaboration was meant to be.

Their inspiration was a quote from the movie, Zorba the Greek: “I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”

While on a business trip to London, American Rob Norris has a fling with Sharon Morris, an English grade school teacher. Once he’s back in the US, Sharon informs him that she is pregnant with his child. Rob decides to move to England to see if being a parent might be his next chapter.

We see their story unfold with catastrophic hilarity. Their respective friends and family are a motley crew who sabotage their tranquility at every turn.  Carrie Fisher is Rob’s abominable mother back in the States.

This is not a show for the easily offended. Graphic sex scenes and extremely bawdy jokes are sprinkled throughout the two seasons of 12 episodes. If you turn your taste meter down, however, you may find yourself laughing at the improbable situations, the profane banter and the marvelous interplay between Horgan and Delaney. The BBC passed on this show so Amazon, it’s up to you to order more episodes.

Mozart In the Jungle and Transparent – 2nd Seasons on Amazon

Streaming services continue to give the major networks and cable a run for their money. Amazon Prime recently rolled out second seasons for both Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. I’m happy to report that both shows retain the charm they created in their premiere seasons.

Although Jeffrey Tambor won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in Season 1, Season 2 veers slightly away from his character of Maura Pfefferman and is more about his ex-wife (played by Judith Light) and their children (Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker.) Flashbacks of family members in 1930s Germany add a historical context to the problems of current day Pfeffermans.

Watch for former Chicagoan, singer/actress Alexandra Billings as Maura’s friend, for Angelica Huston in a bedroom scene and for Bradley Whitford’s brief cameo in the flashbacks. No surprise that Amazon has already ordered Season 3 from creator Jill Solloway.

Mozart In the Jungle is a little more self-assured in Season 2, with the tone more consistent than its initial season. Cousins Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman have written and produced the series with director/writer Alex Timbers.

The lead character of Rodrigo is based on Venezuelan symphonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel who makes an appearance as a stage hand in the Season 2 opener. Gael Garcia Bernal continues to delight as mercurial conductor, Rodrigo, but Bernadette Peters as a patron of the New York Symphony and Malcolm McDowell as the emeritus conductor go toe to toe with him in charm and wit. The heart of the show is Lola Kirke as the aspiring oboist and personal assistant to maestro Rodrigo as she mixes practicality with bohemian charm. We might want her to end up with Rodrigo but not until she has had successes and adventures of her own.

Music fans will get a kick out of seeing Lang Lang, Emmanuel Ax and Joshua Bell not only act, but play ping pong and pool, go bowling and dance. Dermot Mulroney has a fun turn as a visiting cello soloist.
True, some of the episodes get a little wacky, but each program is under 30 minutes and the second season as an aggregate just might make you smile.  And whistle a classical tune or two.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix

Comedy is such a random and personal thing that I hesitate to recommend a sit-com program, but I bravely bring Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to your attention if you have not run across it.

Originally set to air on NBC with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as producers, you can see why the peacock network got a little scared with its lead character having been held captive by a cult leader for 15 years. The show starts when the now 29-year-old Kimmy (refreshingly played by Ellie Kemper) commences her life in “the real world of New York City” after her long years with an Indiana doomsday cult. Not your normal comedy scenario, eh? Thankfully Netflix picked this quirky show up for two 13-episode seasons.

Some of the old crew from 30 Rock are in harness, most notably Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline Voorhees, a boorish New York socialite as well as Jon Hamm in a minor role as the creepy cult reverend, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. Karol Kane plays Kimmy’s kooky landlady, Lillian Kaushtupper joined by Tituss Burgess as her outrageous actor/singer room-mate. The dialogue whips past with barbs about paleo diets, Pilates, and other current topics which frequently evoke the phrase, “Did they really say that?” In fact, the humor is of the same flavor as 30 Rock, but magnified with the “anything goes” spiciness of the streaming platform.

Even the show theme song, “Unbreakable” lets you know that the show will be smart, technologically savvy and eccentric. One tv critic deemed it the “first great sitcom of the streaming era,” but your funny bone may or may not be tickled. Hey, we don’t have a button on us that commands laughter! A Marlo Thomas “That Girl” for 2015, Kimmy wears brighter clothing, gets into more trouble and has wackier friends. Might this be your new cult comedy?

Last Man On Earth TV Show

Sit-coms are not my favorite genre of television show, but I accidentally watched the first episode of Fox TV’s “The Last Man On Earth” with Saturday Night Live funny man, Will Forte. I must admit that I laughed at the silly humor and the fresh take on what happens after an apocalypse. The year is 2020 and Phil Miller (Forte) thinks he is the last surviving male on the planet. Just as he is about to commit suicide, he sees smoke.
The fire belongs to a most eccentric and annoying woman, Carol Pilbasian, played by the brilliant Kristen Schaal, who for my money, is the best thing on the show. She reminds me of the late, great Imogene Coca in her zany facial expressions and mannerisms. Carol coerces Phil into marrying her so he can have sex and she can have legitimate children. Don’t worry. It makes wacky sense as you watch the show.

The plot thickens as former real estate agent Melissa Shart (played by January Jones from my hometown in South Dakota) shows up and makes Phil regret his matrimonial plunge. But wait, another man shows up: Todd, a very sweet man who has a bit of a weight problem. Phil is horrified as Melissa falls for the second man on earth. That’s as far as I have gotten in the series, but each episode has injected a new twist, and I have high expectations  that the show will continue to keep my attention.

There is literally “toilet humor,” and sex talk so I was surprised that this is a Fox show, but I have to hand it to the producers for creating a comedy show that is like nothing else on television right now. There is no laugh track and the outdoor shooting gives this a drama feel, but make no mistake, laughs are the goal of this show. Noel Coward this is not, but rather the humor of “40 Year Old Virgin” or “Something About Mary.” If that suits you, tune in on Fox or catch episodes on Hulu.

Sharknado and Z Nation: When Bad is Kinda Good

Do you ever have evenings where you want, no, need to watch a bad tv show or movie? I hesitate to admit watching and liking such low-brow fare, but I’m coming clean. Friends recommended Sharknado 2 which they said would have me laughing at the dialogue, the acting and the cheesy production values. Being the thorough person I am, I first watched the 2013 made-for-tv satirical disaster film Sharknado 1 with a mixture of horror and delight. John Heard makes a brief but memorable appearance as a barfly in the Fin Bar, owned by ex-surfer Finley Shepard played by Ian Ziering. Tara Reid (American Pie, Scrubs) plays Fin’s ex-wife. Sharknado became a cult success for SyFy which prompted them to order a sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One.

Word was out that this concept was such a bad idea that it was actually kinda good, encouraging celebrities to sign on for the second ride. Vivica A. Fox joins Reid and Ziering as shark-fighters. Cast members in bit roles include Kelly Osbourne, Robert Hays, Judah Friedlander, Andy Dick Billy Ray Cyrus, Downtown Julie Brown, Perez Hilton and Richard Kind. The estimable Judd Hirsch plays, what else, a New York taxi driver. Kelly Ripa, Stephanie Abrams, Al Roker and Matt Lauer play themselves. (The Today Show, The Weather Channel and Syfy are all owned by Comcast.) The CGI (computer generated imagery) is amateurish and the script consciously hyper-dramatic, but I found myself laughing with glee over the unrepentant badness of it all. Sharknado 3 is already in the works, I might add.

You might not think that zombies have anything to do with sharks, but the tv series Z Nation, with Syfy yet again to blame, has rolled out a post-apocalyptic horror drama that piles on the violence and gore with operatic badness. Kellita Smith as National Guard member Roberta Warren even references Sharknado as zombies get the cyclone treatment in this 13 episode first season. Harold Perrineau (Lost) plays a Delta Force member along with Tom Everett Scott as National Guard Sgt. Charles Garnett. It’s a tiny spoiler alert to say that most characters are “disposable.” Creators Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler are quoted as saying their series “puts the fun back into zombies.” This show is much more graphic than The Walking Dead, so it might not be for the weak of stomache. It’s also way funnier. Z Nation is like a a video game that should only appeal to teenage boys, but has curious and guilty allure to adults as well. Be forewarned: Season 2 has been ordered.

If you are tempted to wallow in a little cultural mud, spend an evening with sharks or zombies, your pick.

Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One, and Z Nation, all on Netflix streaming.