Even I Get Sick of Books

There’s nothing to read.

Alright, fine. There’s nothing that sounds good enough to read. Sometimes I go through periods where everything I read is remarkably terrible. I hate everything; there is nothing new; the publishing world is out to get me. I know it’s because I’m reading too much in general or even too much of the same thing. Either way, whatever, I get monumentally jaded and watch TV. Call it a palate cleanser. Here’s what I’ve been watching lately, and of course I want to know what you’ve been watching, too.

Catastrophe | Amazon Prime

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You don’t need Amazon Prime to watch this British TV show written, produced, and starred in by Bob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, but if you have it you can watch it for free.

Rob, an American ad executive visiting London on business, has a week long tryst with Sharon, a Irish school teacher living in London. Rob, back in the States, receives a call from Sharon in the middle of an awkward first date and finds out that, catastrophe of all catastrophes, they’re going to have a baby. Maybe.

The trailer sums up what I love about the show, and that’s Delaney’s injection of dry, sardonic humor. His ‘Rob’ is self deprecating and witty, and most of all nice. He’s a good guy. Rob flies back to London and takes ownership of the situation with earnest American charm. When Sharon begins to panic about having a baby with someone she just met he replies, “I’m not a stranger. I’m a familiar acquaintance. A friend who helped you make a mistake but will now help you … figure it out.”

There’s only one season out right now, with season 2 currently in production.

Mr. Robot | USA Network

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Mr. Robot is a show I picked for the Mister, who loathes social media and believes online privacy and cybersecurity is a myth. It’s a psychological-thriller that I often find unsettling. Yes, I love and watch The Walking Dead, but I’ve explained that one already–those zombies aren’t real. They are a character exploration tool. Mr. Robot is very real. Elliot Alderson is a clinically depressed, socially detached young man living in New York. He works as a security engineer at a cybersecurity firm, white knuckling his way through crippling social anxiety and paranoid delusions using a mixture of drugs and cyber vigilanteism.

Elliot connects to people the only way he knows how–by hacking them until he knows every facet of their life, which he then burns onto a disk and hides under his bed. In this first scene of the first episode he confronts the owner of his favorite coffee shop.

The show is dark, and when I say something is dark you should take note. When an anarchist hacker named Mr. Robot recruits Elliot to join FSociety in bringing down one of the world’s largest, most corrupt organizations, Elliot’s tenuous hold on his sanity loosens until he no longer can differentiate between reality and delusions.

What makes Mr. Robot so chilling–besides the fact that much of the storyline is true or has since come true–are the supporting characters. Elliot is mentally unstable and as viewers we’re never sure if what he sees is real. The supporting characters (do they even exist?) are no more comforting. There isn’t an unambiguous moral compass in the cast with, perhaps, the exception of Elliot’s boss, Gideon Goddard, a man Elliot reluctantly admits is a “good person” after hacking him repeatedly in search of sins. Everyone else is violent, deranged, emotionally unavailable, or struggling in one way or the other.

I can’t wait for the season finale on Wednesday.

Hell on Wheels | AMC

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I have such mixed feelings about this show. I watched it religiously when it first came out but lost interest after season 3. I took a break until a documentary on Chinese workers and the Central Pacific Railroad this summer inspired me to watch it again. Season 4 was excellent but Season 5 premiered with a spiritless and prosaic episode.

What’s great about Hell on Wheels: the acting, across the board. Anson Mount, who always comes to mind when I think of amazing, underrated actors, plays his role as Cullen Bohannon so fully that I forget I’m watching a historical TV show. Anson Mount does make-believe very well.

For me, acting is a process of make-believe. There’s no getting stuck in character. That’s a complete mess. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on a one-man mission to change American minds about this. I think that there is this tendency in our society to think about actors as these shamans who channel these alter egos and go through soul-crushing experiences in order to create a performance. It’s not. It’s just not. It’s make-believe. I think that there’s a lot of actors out there who buy into that myth because it makes their job seems more important. It’s just not. It’s just make-believe. It’s playing make-believe well. It’s playing make-believe with a sense of craft and responsibility to the material, but it’s make believe. [source]

There hasn’t been a bad actor on the show yet, and with season 5 being the show’s last season, I don’t expect that to change. However, the show is not without its faults. The female characters thus far have been a near constant source of disappointment. It’s not that the show lacks strong female actors (they’re all great) or that they aren’t given due attention. It’s that they’re saddled with uninspiring and expected roles. You have the hooker with a heart, the plucky female reporter, the moral compass, and the mother figure. You can do better, AMC.

Hell on Wheels was never meant to be a historical romance–at least that’s not how I saw it. I always saw it as an exploration of a man’s struggle with life after the war and all consuming ambition. Cullen Bohannon is a war veteran who channels his trauma into the building of the railroad. He couldn’t be a farmer, he couldn’t win the war, he couldn’t save his family, and he hasn’t shown any ability to emotionally connect with someone without losing them–but he can and will, by God, build that railroad. He is constantly winning and losing everything. He’s all of us who have wanted everything until it was just within reach and we ruined it on purpose.

Hear that, AMC? Cullen Bohannon is all of us, men and women included. Show me a woman, especially today, who hasn’t suffocated under the weight of her own ambition, who hasn’t made missteps that cost her everything, who hasn’t, at the end of the day, wondered if it was really all worth it while grabbing for more. Show me that woman or show me her compelling polarity, but don’t show me a predictable character trope.

What a missed opportunity to develop an interesting female character. We’re talking about the period immediately after the Civil War, a war where 200-500 women fought in secret according to conservative estimates, and this number doesn’t include spies, nurses, or  vivandières. Surely one of those women needed a job on the railroad? I once read an article–I’ve searched for hours, can’t find it–on a woman who became one of the largest suppliers of steel during the construction of the railroad because her husband died unexpectedly. When asked about it she said (paraphrasing) “someone had to do it.” I’d love to see a character like that on Hell on Wheels; bonus points for not making her a love interest.

There is one quasi-strong/interesting female character on the show, Maggie, but she’s regularly irregular. She appears a few times per season when there’s business trouble or someone needs money. Then she does something “a strong female” would do and exits stage left.

In this last season, Cullen searches for the Mormon wife who left him and works with Fong, the son of a Chinese foreman who is a woman in disguise. Bohannon discovers Fong’s secret when an unwanted bandage change results in The Great Boobs Reveal of 1868 (TGBR ’68). This is where I left off, and I’m praying TGBR ’68 doesn’t transition into the season of Longing Glances and Grazing Fingertips. There is potential for Fong to be the strong female character I’ve hoped for all along, so I’m watching until the final episode.

This concludes my ridiculously long post on three shows I’m watching on TV. I’ve got my eye on a host of other shows (damn you, Apple TV) and will report back with worthwhile discoveries.

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Comments

  1. What does iTunes have to do with watching/accessing tv shows? Consider me clueless on the subject. I’m still don’t have Netflix since I heard you have to have a wii set up to get it. Any education on this would be most appreciated by you or anyone else. Ditto Amazon prime…? I vaguely recall hearing about that and. Have no I’d what is needed. My fallback is always wait for the library to have it on dvd. But there is some appeal to bring myself into the 21st century on this. Thanks for any guidance you can offer. All three look good to me. But I never run out of reading material . . . So little time and so much to read and watch.

    • Sorry, I meant Apple TV. I changed the post. 🙂 In case you don’t know what Apple TV is, it’s a device that connects your TV to the internet so that you can access “channels” like Netflix, HuluPlus, YouTube, etc. You can see the whole list here: https://www.apple.com/appletv/whats-on/ Many people use it in place of cable. We did for a very long time, but the boys missed football so now we have basic cable + Apple TV.

      Amazon now how streaming video, which is similar to Apple TV. There are shows and movies you can “rent” on Amazon and watch on your computer or laptop. Some of them for free if you are an Amazon Prime member. You can see that list of shows here: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=2676882011

      I hope that clarifies things a little bit. I know/understand very little about these sorts of things, so I’m counting on readers to clear up whatever waters I muddied! 🙂

    • you can get a Roku for about $50 that plugs into your tv and allows you to stream shows from Amazon, netflix, hulu, etc. by connecting your TV to your wifi. I think it is cheaper than Apple TV and is very simple to setup and use.

  2. I was wondering about Catastrophe. It’s next on our binge watching list. We currently making progress through Peaky Blinders- a BBC show about gangs in England after WWI. Apparently, I love a show that makes me fall for the bad guy who I would never normally think was attractive (like the Sopranos, Walking Dead). TV makes me weird.

    • “TV makes me weird”

      100% true but I don’t care. It’s one of my few pleasures in life.
      Peaky Blinders is a great show. Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby is mesmerizing.
      And I’m slightly obsessed with History Channel’s Vikings. Suits is another favourite of mine.

  3. Currently I’m binge watching Gilmore Girls and Criminal Minds. I read a ton but also watch too much television… A result of complete mental exhaustion at the end of the day and a husnand overseas.

    • Oh, I used to love Criminal Minds back in the day. I watched quite a few episodes last year while wrapping books and it’s just as good as I remembered. Gilmore Girls–I tried but couldn’t get into it. The mom drove me bonkers, like when all she could find to wear to her daughter’s first day of school was a pair of super short-shorts and a cut off. :/

      • Yes…. The Gilmore Girls started driving me batty which is why I switched. (I mean how else do you go from witty slightly crazy family drama to serial killers?) I have to finish though I only have a season left and we’ll I’m the weirdo that has to finish especially when a series is complete. Frankly I prefer to watch television shows that are finished and for that Netflix comes in handy.

  4. Thank you. I need something to watch when I’m doing projects and I’d run out of choices. Have been watching Bloodline, but it’s kinda boring and pretty much all of the characters (especially the main one) are unlikable. If a character’s going to be an asshat, he/she’s got to be interesting!

  5. I just started Catastrophe over the weekend – love it so far! I’m also working my way (slowly) through old West Wing episodes – interesting and sad that so many of the issues they deal with are current topics today.

    Currently taking a break from House of Cards. Hubs and I watch Orange is the New Black, but it’s hard to find time/energy after the kids go to bed, so we’re still on the first season.

    Of course, I love Downton Abbey, and Mr Selfridge is good too (love a period drama!). The Crimson Field, also PBS, was good, though short. I hope there are more episodes/seasons. I saw a preview for another PBS show, something about the British in India, that looks good (see earlier comment about period dramas 🙂

    I watched a few episodes of The Last Enemy (PBS, also on Amazon Prime) with Benedict Cumberbatch. Meh. I like the idea, but the “future tech” part of it was distracting (if we figure out how to make computers talk to us, can’t we make them sound better than they did in the 80s?) and the conspiracy theory was a bit tiresome.

  6. I’ve been watching Ms. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix. LOVE IT. I especially appreciate that I can watch with the kids drifting in and out of the room. My Netflix queue also has Broadchurch, Wallander, and The Honorable Woman, but I have yet to start any of them.

  7. I LOVE Orphan Black – I thought I wouldn’t but my friend convinced me to watch two episodes with her and it’s both hilarious and intense – dark and silly. Anyway, I just finished season 2 and recommend it.

    And I can’t believe I’m going to but I have to disagree with Rita. I loved Bloodline and can’t wait to see what they do with season 2.

    So much great television.

  8. The husband and I are very into Mr. Robot. My husband is s a very techy/geek guy, and he says he really appreciates that the tech & hacking & coding stuff is real and not dumbed down (or made totally unreal) like most shows & movies.

    That said, Gilmore Girls is probably my favorite show, ever. Even though just *occasionally* the speed-talking and one-liners would get on my nerves, too.

  9. I’ve been wondering about Catastrophe . . . so thanks for that. As for me, I’ve got my usual lineup: Sherlock, Elementary (which I SWORE I would never watch because, hello, Watson is not a woman–so much for well-laid plans), and Blue Bloods (I love that the family sits down to dinner after mass–every week; plus, Tom Selleck. I’ve loved him from the time he wore tight, short-shorts in Magnum P.I.). This year I added Longmire to the linelup.

    Oh, and speaking of Hell on Wheels! I have an old, yellow china hutch that my great, great, great grandfather made for one of his daughters, in honor of her wedding. A few weeks ago my grandma gave me a photo of the family, “This is the man who built your china hutch.” History! So exciting! I took one look and knew I’d seen that face before . . . then it hit me: The Swede. THE SWEDE! I’m just thankful the hutch is a cheery color, because I’ve been a bit unnerved ever since . . .

  10. Ok – I know it has only been out for 1 week (the next episode is on Sunday) but Fear The Walking Dead was awesome. I would watch Zombie Apocalypse fiction exclusively if only there was enough of it. It was difficult to watch the first episode only because the viewer (if you’ve been watching TWD) knows how this all plays out – so you see people doing ridiculous things like assuming the Zombies are just sniffing bath salts, and it can make you throw your hands in the air in disbelief. Come on people, don’t just stand there!

    But yeah, will definitely need to check out The Catastrophe!

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