Things I’ve been watching (summer edition)

Due to the random nature of Netflix (and the kids being around for the last week or so), our evening viewing has been all over the place.

Before you start, be warned: spoilers abound.

Stranger Things

There are only 8 episodes in season one of Stranger Things, but it still only took us two nights to watch it. A lot has already been said about this supernatural/horror/retro 80s show, so I won’t go over well trod ground. But I have some observations of my own.

First off, I think the show is conceptually brilliant.  I love how it takes from so many different yet related sources and brings them together into a coherent whole. (A disagreed with me on that, she thought it was too patchwork as a result, which I can see but it worked for me.)

Although I suppose Winona Ryder does a fine job, I would have preferred someone I associate with the 80s esthetic that the show uses (eg Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald, someone like that). Ryder and I are close in age and I associate her more with 90s (and late 80s, I suppose) work. I fully admit that this is a super fussy observation.

Otherwise, I really liked the show. It was not particularly scary or gory (I say as someone who saw and enjoyed virtually every 80s horror film as they were released), but nicely mixed horror, supernatural, and science fiction premises in a pleasing way. And the characters, particularly the kids, are compelling and well cast. Just an overall enjoyable tv show.

Orange is the New Black

That it took us two and a half months to watch all of season 4 of OITNB says a lot. The first couple of seasons we breezed through in well under a week, but the show has begun to meander over the last two seasons. The introduction of a raft of new characters hasn’t helped matters much, because they haven’t got rid of enough of the already resident ones.

And that brings us to one of the larger problems with the show as it is now — there are way too many characters. Yes, it’s a prison. Of course, there are a lot of prisoners, guards, and other staff. But they don’t all have to have names and back stories. Although some people have left (through release, being fired, etc), it hasn’t been enough. Too many of the prisoner characters feel like they should have long since finished their time. If you want to have characters who are in prison over a period of years, it strains credibility to also make them more likeable or relatable by having their crimes be relatively minor. (This doesn’t apply to all the characters, of course, but there are a few too many examples, including but not limited to Piper, Poussey, and Sister Jane Ingalls.) Not that this doesn’t happen in real life. It just seems less plausible in a fictional context.

Regardless, season 4 begins in the same less-than-exciting manner as season 3, but thankfully ramps up by the final episode. The former military who are now most of the correctional officers at the prison shift the prison’s environment and create a tension that was formerly lacking. This ends up triggering non-violent pushback from the inmates that results in tragedy. This is one of the more interesting and compelling things to happen on the show in ages and I hope that they don’t drop this in season 5.

The last few episodes of this season were strong, although the flashback/back story device is getting tired and it feels like they’re calling it in. Nothing interesting happens in them and they do nothing to give the characters additional depth.

I liked that there was some random character quirkiness introduced (Healy’s breakdown, the Judy King/Luschek/Jones threesome), although much of the interpersonal drama from earlier seasons has subsided.

I expect I’ll watch season 5, largely because of the way this season concluded, but my enthusiasm for the show has been tempered by too many episodes in which little happens.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Enterprise began airing in fall 2001 and I confess I only watched the first episode (I think, I certainly remember that episode!) at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t continue, although I had a 2 year old and was 7 months pregnant at the time, so that may explain why I didn’t continue with it.

When the various Star Trek shows popped up on Netflix earlier this summer, we started with Enterprise as none of us had watched it.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the show. It is better than I expected and they did a nice job in creating a pre-TOS environment that doesn’t look cheap and tacky. The crew is nicely cast. I loved Scott Bakula on Quantum Leap (I know) and he does a nice turn as Captain Archer. He has an intuitive sense of the (not yet existent) Prime Directive, but is happy to repeatedly go against those concepts. The other characters provide good foils and are somewhat multi-faceted.

I like most of the post-TOS shows (DS9 not so much, especially the later seasons) and Enterprise holds its own amongst them.

We’re at the end of season 1 right now, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say later.


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