August 8, 2020

More Reality Shows of Note on Netflix

How is Netflix getting me to consider programs I would not normally watch? When I open the app, a show trailer starts playing above the list of selections. The clips are engaging, upbeat and often pique my curiosity. How else to explain my current viewing selections: “Love On the Spectrum,” “Restaurants on the Edge” and “Sugar High.”

I have been a fan of “Sugar Rush,” a cooking competition using sweet ingredients. When I exhausted those episodes, Netflix automatically cued up a related show from the same producers, “Sugar High.” Stone-cold professionals compete to make sugar creations that delight the tastebuds and the eyes. Much like sculptors and glassblowers, the chefs skillfully fashion shapes using ingredients like sugar, isomalt and paper wafers. I would not have the heart to destroy these artistic creations by eating them, however.

“Restaurants on the Edge” is a bit sleepy in its pacing, but features scenic restaurants in different countries that need help with their menus, decor and promotion.

Three restaurant gurus arrive in the area and find local beverages, food stuffs and decorating ideas to refresh the dining establishment in question. The show tries to defy the adage that the better the view, the worse the food.

“Love on the Spectrum,” an Australian documentary series, introduced me to young people who are autistic and in search of what we all want: love and romance. Cian O’Clery, the series’ creator and director, films men and women as they openly discuss being “on the spectrum.” We watch them go on first dates and interact with their families. The show accomplishes something rare as we feel genuine empathy for young couples who have found love and for those still searching for romance. “Love On the Spectrum” finds the balance between documentary and reality show which impels you to keep watching. At just five episodes, the series leaves you wanting progress reports on all of these endearing people.

During these stressful times, Netflix has carried many serious scripted shows, but I am keeping my streaming subscription because they are offering fun, reasonably intelligent programs that emphasize food, fashion, art, travel and love.

Indian Matchmaking on Netflix

I saw the title, “Indian Matchmaking,” on Netflix and laughed at the absurdity of wanting to watch a program on that topic. The Netflix home page had a trailer for the show which I inadvertently started watching. Call me flabbergasted, but I got hooked into watching episode one which led to episode two, three and…

The star of the show is an Indian matchmaker hired by families and sometimes individuals to find them a suitable mate. This is a very foreign concept in the U. S., so that was the first thing that intrigued me. In fact, Indian singles do sometimes find their own spouses which are referred to as “love matches,” but tradition dies hard in Indian families both in India and abroad.

The cast of characters includes lawyers, a doctor, a blogger/podcaster, business owners, teachers, a jewelry designer and a wedding planner, with most of the families appearing to be upper middle class to wealthy. It costs money to hire a matchmaker after all.

Some of the prospective brides or grooms are endearing, so I found myself rooting for them to find successful matches. Other candidates make it apparent why they are single with entrenched opinions and unrealistic expectations.

Several singles from the show have dangling marriage searches so Season Two is all but assured. One couple did in fact make it to the wedding feast during the show. The series “Indian Matchmaking” is a mixture of cultural study, travelogue and mystery romance. More, please.

Fauda tv series on Netflix

My first binge-watching experience was with the tv series, “24.” The local library had all eight seasons on DVD which worked out to 192 episodes. I just discovered another tv series that checks some of the same boxes; international intrigue, high action scenes and cliff-hanger episodes that have you saying “just one more.”

“Fauda,” an action series from Israel currently streaming on Netflix, was created by Lior Rax and Avi Issacharoff who based the show on their experiences while working for the Israel Defense Forces.

First season is set in Kafr Qasim, a predominantly Arab-populated city just 12 miles from Tel Aviv and managed by Israeli security forces. In this depiction, you can’t always tell the good guys from the bad. Doron, an Israeli soldier, comes out of retirement when he discovers that Taufiq Hammed, a Hamas terrorist he thought he killed, is still very much alive. Doron scopes out a Hammed family wedding in hopes of catching “the Panther.”

The viewer sees how every killing, including mass bombings, ratchets up enmity on both sides. Wives, girlfriends and children not only suffer collateral damage, they sometimes become radicalized themselves. This is no mere “shoot ‘em up,” but a look at the personal and professional lives of opposing sides locked in a deadly battle of geography, culture, religion and power.

Fauda means “chaos” in Hebrew, and thought-provoking entertainment chaos it is. I have appropriated the word for aspects of life today.

Please note that Netflix has made the decent English-dubbed version the default. You can, however, change the settings so you can get the original Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles which is my preference. Your choice.

“The Final Table” on Netflix

In my quest to be lightly entertained, I parceled out one or two episodes nightly of the cooking competition, “The Final Table,” on Netflix.

Teams of two culinary professionals from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America are tasked with making signature dishes from different cuisines. Single episodes each feature culinary nods to India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Japan, France and the United States.

The first round of dishes are judged by three people from that particular country — two celebrities and a food critic. In the episode’s second round, called The Final Plate, teams must fashion a dish highlighting one ingredient, and judged by a celebrity chef from that evening’s country.

The Final Table

One team is eliminated per show with the series winnowing down to four competitors who compete against each other for the honor of being seated at a table with the nine celebrity judges.

I did not fall in love with this show immediately, but if you like food and restaurants, you may want to persevere. Throughout the show, clips highlighting famous chefs and competitors, alike, are fascinating. Learning about different cuisines and ingredients is another benefit.

For local bragging rights, Chicago’s own Grant Achatz is the celebrity chef representing the United States. His restaurant, Alinea, and other world-famous dining establishments mentioned in the series now go on my dream dining list.

“The Vote” on PBS

As a country, we are marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote in the 1920 elections.

If you want to learn more about this historic anniversary from the comforts of home, “American Experience” on PBS is featuring a fine documentary, “The Vote,” about the suffragettes and their march toward becoming voting members of our democracy. The show’s tag line provides the theme —“Women were not given the vote. They took it.”

“The Vote” painfully describes the initial coalition and ensuing separation of African-Americans and women to both be awarded the vote after the Civil War. Women were told they had to wait and 43 years elapsed before they were nationally accorded voting rights.

I learned that the Illinois delegation in the Washington, D.C. Women’s March shamefully bowed to racial pressure and denied Ida B. Wells and her group the right to march with white women from “the land of Lincoln.”

Archival photos and film footage are punctuated with short interviews with current-day writers and historians. This is timely information as we examine issues of equality in race, gender and economic status.

The almost four-hour series is separated into Part One and Part Two. Viewing is free now, so catch the programs before they revert to the paid membership catalogue. With that said, a paid Passport membership would not be a waste of money.

“Knives Out” Movie on Amazon Prime Video

Because the pandemic has brought film-going to a standstill, many recent movies have been expeditiously transferred to streaming services and unreleased films have gone straight to video.

I missed seeing “Knives Out” in a real live movie theater, but thankfully, Amazon has been featuring the Rian Johnson-directed film for free to Prime members.

“Knives Out” initially seems like a boilerplate Agatha Christie-type murder mystery, with the deceased being famous and wealthy crime writer Harlan Thrombey played by the superlative 90-year-old actor, Christopher Plummer.

The real stars are Daniel Craig as southern detective Benoit Blanc and Ana de Arias as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s immigrant nurse and friend. Flashbacks slowly divulge what really happened as staff, police and family members are introduced to viewers.

The literary scion’s family members are deliciously played by Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Colette, Jaeden Martell and Katherine Langford.

I was especially tickled by the throne of knives in the author’s home that gives a pointed nod to the throne of swords featured in the “Game of Thrones” book and tv series. Plot twists, clever dialogue and subversive themes make this a bracing evening of entertainment. Word has it that Daniel Craig may reprise his southern accent in a “Knives Out” film sequel. Count me in.