TV: Please Like Me season 2 (2014)

creators: Josh Thomas & Matthew Saville
language: English and a bit of Thai
length: 10 episodes of about 25 minutes each
finished watching on: 1 May 2017
previous seasons: season 1

I can’t remember why I took such a long break from this series – there were a few months when I didn’t watch it at all, before picking it up again sometime this year. But I still get a strong impulse to watch it whenever I cook food, perhaps a habit, but perhaps also influenced by the importance of food in the series (they provide motifs for a lot of episodes and the episodes are named after food).

Basically, the series has found its feet here, but I feel it’s still far too full of cringe humour for my liking at the end of the day. Josh, the main character, is insufferable, to be honest, constantly nagging other characters for attention and validation.

I like how it deals very frankly and directly with mental illness. But it often goes from these moments straight back into something very cringeworthy for comedy’s sake, and perhaps back again, even ending one episode with the surprise suicide of a side character – I said in the review of the last season that I was annoyed that my favourite character had been killed off by the show, and this is the same. I think the tone wasn’t consistent in this area. Balance is important.

But it’s got some high points – Josh and his mum in the wilderness of Tasmania was a really nice episode, and I liked the introduction of Arnold, who as far as I know will end up with Josh in the next season.

Despite its negative points, I still identify with a lot of the characters and recognize the situations. I’ll still be continuing with the next season. Soon, perhaps!

TV: Stranger Things season 1 (2016)

strangerthings1creators: Matt & Ross Duffer
language: English
length: 8 episodes of variable length, 442 minutes total (7 hours and 22 minutes)
finished watching on: 12 September 2016

I was a little late to the game with this one, I guess, but everyone was talking about it this summer. It’s actually set in November, so maybe we should be watching it now, but Netflix apparently likes to release things all at once rather than teasing it out over the course of weeks (which is a blessing and a curse). No, even then it’s a short series and would have been over pretty quickly during the summer.

I usually say that I don’t like horror movies, but I already broke that edict watching such things as The Descent recently. The horror in this is reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, actually, although I remember finding that difficult to watch and not enjoying it much. In this series it’s the first episode that is the most creepy, as once we get used to the setting and characters it takes the edge off the scary elements, even as they ramp up towards the end of the series. I actually found Orphan Black creepier this year, perhaps because there’s a persistent sense of threat in that series.

I don’t think I need to summarize Stranger Things too much, because I think most people have seen it already, but just in case, it’s the story of a boy who goes missing, and the people – his family and friends mainly – who look for him. With supernatural stuff thrown in. It’s too complicated to explain beyond that without giving spoilers. That said, I’m pretty much going to do just that. So if you haven’t watched it yet, I’d suggest doing that before reading the rest of this.

The series is set in the 1980s, and takes great pains to show us so. This is to do with the creators’ upbringing mainly, but also draws to mind classics such as E.T. and other horroresque or alien children’s movies. A lot of the 80s stuff felt tokenistic, as if to draw a chuckle from modern audiences, like the phones that are connected by wire to the wall, or a lot of the other technology the children use, or indeed can’t use because it hasn’t been invented yet. Walkie-talkies are another good example. But at the same time, they integrated all the stuff well into the story.

Music is also very important, and one leitmotif that often comes up is the song Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash – indeed, I’ll never think of the song the same way again. Once we find out about the Upsidedown, and actually see inside the eldritch world, the sound design comes into its own, too.

When I saw the first episode, and there was this giant alien portal in the government compound, I thought they’d given away too many of their cards too early in the show. But as I watched it a bit more, I realized that we really don’t know what’s going on, not really. We’re thrown hints, mere morsels, from time to time, but the monster isn’t, and we don’t understand what’s really going on with the mum’s lights until the final episode, and then you’re like “Ohhhh!”. I had a few theories as to what was going on, but none of them were correct. I think this is a good way to tell good stories.

As for the characters, everyone was a superb actor in this. The kids are all great in it, and really steal the show, and make it what it is. I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised – there are too many cases where the kid actors in something don’t do a good job. They seem to be genuinely nice people too – I hope the fame doesn’t go to their heads. But the teenagers are also important to the story, and Winona Ryder as the haggard mother really puts in a good performance, if slightly over-acted.

And finally, the ending was bittersweet, and I hope good things happen in the next series. So if you’ve gotten this far, tell me your favourite bit. Or go out and watch it if you haven’t already!

TV: Please Like Me season 1 (2013)

plm1creator: Josh Thomas
language: English with a bit of Thai
length: 6 episodes of 28 minutes each
finished on: 7 July 2016

This series was swept up in my quest to consume all LGBT media in the world – it’s been around for a while now and is often recommended by the places that recommend LGBT media, but it was after I came to Japan and I never had easy access to it. I think you can pay for a premium service to watch it online, or something.

I actually started watching it before, but only got a few minutes into the first episode – I think I found the main character, an autobiographical depiction of creator and principal actor Josh Thomas, too awkward and annoying. I still kind of think that, but this time I persevered and got through the first season pretty quickly. I started the second, but I stalled on the third episode or so – I should pick it up again.

The awkwardness doesn’t really let up, though. Josh’s character is one that gets anxious over unimportant things – he also moves robotically. I was at some points internally screaming at him to get over himself.

He has a boyfriend for the majority of the first season, but they’re obviously completely different kinds of people. I instantly distrusted the boyfriend when he outed him to his parents – like, have some respect for your compatriots and understand that you may not know as much about others’ situations as you think. I know it’s a sitcom in which everyone is awkward, but there’s basic gay decorum and this is breaking it. I also found it jarring how quickly he was referred to as a boyfriend. They barely fooled around in the first episode, and in the second they were in a relationship. I think the show was going for something like a slice of life, in this case.

Aside from him, though, I enjoyed the rest of the characters, especially the homophobic aunt, but also the mentally ill mum. I found a lot of them were also true to life. I also enjoyed the series in general, I think (aside from the awkwardness) it was well-observed and the jokes were frequent. And like with a lot of the other things I’ve written about recently, I liked to be reminded that LGBT stuff is becoming more mainstream, to the extent that there are actually TV shows like this at all. When I was growing up there was only Queer As Folk (though I like it, it’s decidedly not suitable for younger teens). Nice to have more variety now. The genre is still a niche, but perhaps that’ll always be the case.

TV: Orphan Black season 4 (2016)

orphanblack4[spoiler alert]
Creators: Graeme Manson & John Fawcett
Language: English
Length: 10 episodes, about 44 minutes each
Finished watching on: 17 June 2016
Previous seasons: 1 | 2 | 3

I was a bit nervous about this show because season 3 had been a bit of a let down, but my fears were very quickly allayed when I watched the first episode – the writing, at the very least, is back on form, and the atmosphere of the show is darker than ever – in fact, compared to the previous seasons, I was surprised at how much dread I felt in each episode.

Fortunately, Allison doesn’t have a ridiculous, irrelevant side plot in this season, and the writers manage to find other ways to make comedy out of the situations – and Donny, since mid-season 3 a member of clone club, plays a much bigger part in the story this time.

The other character Krystal now plays a bigger part too, and I was glad to hear that her character is directly based on the comedy characters in ”PubLIZity”, which has some kind of meme status on the internet and is very funny.

The show also manages to partly redeem itself (and this is a massive spoiler) for making us think that Delphine had died a horrible death – presumably having seen the backlash against the constant murder of lesbian and other LGBT characters, they somehow brought her back to life at the end of the season.

As before, the season leaves off on a massive cliffhanger, as Sarah is I think left for dead having been attacked by Rachel, and as I mentioned, the atmosphere is very dark. But it was miles better than the previous season, and I definitely welcome this return to form. Tatiana Maslany is at the top of her game. Still wondering where they will go from here, though – it has still been getting weirder every single episode!

TV: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, season 2 (2015)

brooklyn-nine-nine_612x380Creators: Dan Goor and Michael Schur
Language: English with some French
Length: 23 episodes, roughly 22 minutes each
Finished watching on: 22 May 2015

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a new contender in the TV scene last year, coming in with a strong first season. Its second season is a worthy continuation of that. The writing is tight and the jokes come fast and readily, helped in no small part by the excellent comedic timing of its actors.

As a sitcom, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of overarching plot, although there is more this time around than in the first season. As a result, each story seems a bit disjointed, and no one story is particularly memorable. But overall it’s an enjoyable series and something that’s easy to look forward to after a long day at work.

Also since it’s a sitcom, character development is pretty limited and usually serves to emphasize the characters’ distinctive traits – but it’s worth noting that enough real character development is done to keep the series feeling a bit fresh, even if occasionally I got the feeling that the lessons characters were learning by the end of the episode were just going to be forgotten by the next.

I was pleased with this season, in any case – I’ll be continuing to watch it next year. In fact it should be starting again in September, so I have something to look forward to.