March 31, 2020

My Goodbye to Netflix

I have been a long-time subscriber of Netflix, all the way back when their business was predominantly mailing DVDs to one’s home. In 2010, they added streaming to their business model, which has exploded into 148 million streaming subscriptions by the end of 2019.

Sad to say, I have put my membership on hold while I explore other competitive services such as CBS All Access, Starz, Showtime and Sundance Now. I will eventually give newcomers AppleTV+ and Disney+ a look-see, too.

In a last hurrah, I enjoyed four shows before pausing my membership.

The Great British Baking Show is my favorite way to unwind from politics and the cares of the day. Netflix has a large catalogue of GBBS versions, 7 Collections (seasons), Master classes and holiday shows. Could Netflix look into carrying spin-offs of this show from Canada, the United States and Australia?

Project Runway has been on my radar since its inception in 2004. Netflix has done a pretty good job of creating their version of the successful fashion competition with Next In Fashion. Tan France, the fashion consultant from the newer Queer Eye show, makes for a great host along with Alexa Chung. The format is similar to PR but the contestants now have a fabric store on the set. To be honest, I miss Tim Gunn taking the designers to Mood NYC to purchase fabric and hang out with mascot, Swatch.

The Witcher was a hate-watch streaming series for me, but watch it I did with the handsome Henry Cavill, period settings and costumes dressing up the fantastical plots. Would I watch a Season Two down the road? Mayhaps.

Goop Lab features Gwyneth Paltrow and employees of the hugely successful life-style brand Goop. The six episode season explores alternative health, beauty and well-being services like cold exposure, psychedelics and energetic healing. This may be a series that is more attractive to women, but men could learn a lot about alternative therapies, and women in general.

Aside from the aforementioned shows, many of the recent Netflix original programs just have not been to my taste. They have not lost me for good, but I will have to be wooed back with a mix of both creative Netflix productions and popular programming from outside sources. Are you listening Netflix?

CBS All Access with Picard, The Good Fight and Evil

The Good Fight, an exclusive streaming spin-off series from The Good Wife was what got me to sign up for CBS All Access initially, but the catalogue has much more programming that might be of interest.

Initiated as a streaming service October 2014, CBS All Access has original programming, day later availability of CBS network broadcasts and vintage tv series like Twin Peaks, Cheers, CSI:Miami, Frasier, Taxi, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason and even Gunsmoke.

This is trekkie central for those who like the various versions of Star Trek since its debut in the 1960s. Being a Kate Mulgrew fan, I am currently watching Star Trek: Voyager. But then again, I could choose from Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Short Treks, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: The Animated Series. Patrick Stewart has signed on to reprise his role as starship commander Jean-Luc Picard in the 8th Star Trek series, Picard which premiered on CBS All Access in January 2020.

You can even bounce between old series and their new versions like Hawaii Five-O or MacGyver.

Current well-reviewed comedies include Young Sheldon, The Unicorn and Mom. Alas, the entire series of The Big Bang Theory is not available on CBS All Access.

I do have two “guilty pleasure” dramatic series on the CBS streaming service, the cancelled Salvation and Evil, a fantasy created by Michelle King and Robert King who gave us The Good Wife and The Good Fight. Hey, I can’t live by PBS alone.

The streaming world is a huge smorgasbord and for now, I am sampling the fare at CBS All Access. For simplicity’s sake, I added the channel to my Amazon Prime Video package. As famed CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

https://www.cbs.com/all-access/

Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO

Call it comedy heresy but I never really got into the television series, Seinfeld when it was on network tv from 1989 to 1998. When I read that co-creator Larry David had a new sitcom, I avoided even checking out one episode, assuming that the humor would be similarly lost on me.

A friend recently suggested I give a chance to Curb Your Enthusiasm, now in its tenth season on HBO. Quelle surprise! Episode 1, Season 1 had me roaring with laughter. Subsequent episodes in Season 1 provided me with at least one belly laugh per show. I must admit that I have been lured into the comedic realm of Larry David.

Playing a version of himself, David displays rapier wit, blurts ill-advised comments and holds firm on quirky habits and rules that get him into layer upon layer of trouble. He’s a misanthrope, but a lovable, funny one.

The series is reminiscent of the Jackie Gleason Show in that David has an “Alice,” a patient, smart, eye-rolling wife, Cheryl David, played by comedic actress Cheryl Hines.

Hines’ early work with the Groundlings, an LA improvisational group, has served her well. Surprisingly, much of the brilliant dialogue on Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised. As a side note, Hines was introduced to her current husband, Robert Kennedy Jr. by co-star David.

Running characters like Hines, Richard Lewis as himself, or Jeff Garlin playing David’s agent, Jeff Greene give an ensemble feel to the show. Guest stars Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis Dreyfus making cameo appearances add to the fun.

You just may want to catch Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO if you, like me, were initially immune to its charms. One season down. Nine to go. I wonder how many much-needed laughs that will be?

The Two Popes – a Netflix original movie

When major film stars agree to appear in films produced by Netflix, you know the movie industry is indeed changing. Witness the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis is no slouch either having worked in films, tv and on stage, most notably to me as The Engineer in the original Miss Saigon on Broadway.

Based on true life, The Two Popes allows the viewer to see the relationship between these two pontiffs. Pope Benedict is the German who loves music but has difficulty connecting with people. Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina asks papal permission to resign from his post. Based on a play by Anthony McCarten, the future Pope Francis admits to dancing the tango and confesses a dark secret to his church boss.

Film director Fernando Meireiles has fashioned a film with intelligent dialogue and tour de force acting moments for both Hopkins and Pryce. You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy watching these two acting titans verbally joust as they get to know one another.

We all know that Pope Francis followed Benedict to the papacy, but the journey is still entertaining in The Two Popes. Hopkins, Pryce and Meireiles all garnered Oscar nominations for their work.

And if you are not all “poped out,” HBO also features The Young Pope with Jude Law and The New Pope with Chicago acting legend John Malkovich.

What’s next? A papal fashion craze? I want a pair of those red leather shoes.

The Outsider on HBO

The Outsider series currently streaming on HBO joins countless other Stephen King books that have been adapted for movies or television.

Episode one sets the scary tone for this murder mystery that also features some of King’s trademark supernatural creepiness. A seemingly normal man is accused of brutally killing a little boy. Further investigation uncovers similar cases across the country.

Stand-out performers are Ben Mendelsohn as grieving detective Ralph Anderson and Cynthia Erivo as oddball private investigator Holly Gibney. Mendelsohn is Australian and Erivo English but you’d never know it from their believable American accents.

Other notable actors are Justin Bateman (also a producer of the series), Mare Winningham and Julianne Nicholson.

Kudos go to show creator Richard Price for taking viewers on a macabre journey to discover who is killing children and their families. You might not want to watch The Outsider alone.

Rocketman, a film inspired by the life of Sir Elton John

Released last year, Rocketman, the bio pic based on Elton John’s early life, has been currently available on selected streaming sites. In short, Taron Egerton is a wonder as Sir Elton. He justifiably won a Golden Globe as best actor for his performance, but was inexplicably left off the list of this year’s Oscar nominations.

Film credits go to director Dexter Fletcher and screenplay writer Lee Hall for choosing a dramatic arc in John’s life that has great emotional resonance. We see his difficult childhood, his precocity at the Royal Academy of Music in London and his search for a musical path. Enter lyricist, Bernie Taupin, played by actor Jamie Bell, who teams up with Elton to add words to his prolific compositions.

We see his meteoric rise as he conquers British and American music markets and becomes fabulously wealthy. Like a rocket, what goes up, must come down. Along the way, he tries to commit suicide and becomes addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, shopping and sex. The movie effectivelyly uses his participation in a rehab group as a device to tell the story.

Throughout the film, we hear those iconic hits and are bemused by his journey through ever more outrageous clothing and accessories. Those platform shoes! Those eyeglasses!

Elton John’s journey in this movie feels a little bit like that of Rocky Balboa’s in the Rocky franchise, but that is not a bad thing. We are rooting for him to turn his life around. Stay for the final credits where you get to read about “the rest of the story.”

If you love Elton John’s music, Rocketman is a must, but the film is inspiring enough for those who are less familiar with his work. Fashionistas will have a visual feast, producing both horror and delight.