Some Thoughts On Black Mirror

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This week, most of the people in my office have been discussing what they did over our Thanksgiving break, sharing stories of gathering with family, traveling, or Black Friday adventures.  When it comes to my point in the conversation, I’ve been basically been saying the same thing over and over: “Forget Thanksgiving – have you guys seen Black Mirror?” If you saw me in person over Thanksgiving weekend, you can testify that I definitely could not shup up about this show.

Of course, the debut of the new Gilmore Girls episodes have been the talk of the pop culture world, but while I was enjoying some time off I also finally got around to binge watching the anthology series Black Mirror. This is a series that I’ve heard nothing but raves about since it originally debuted in 2011 and that has long been on my list of shows to watch, yet I had somehow never actually sat down to watch it. I was prompted to finally do so for two reasons: 1) I had to do something to distract myself from watching the new Gilmore Girls episodes until the late afternoon viewing party that I was attending and 2) one of my favorite podcast, The Watch, was going to be discussion the new episodes and I didn’t want to have anything spoiled. Since there are only 13 episodes in the entirety of the series to date – got to love the British – it was not an unmanageable binge watch. I sat down to watch the first episode and was instantly infatuated.

For those that have never heard of Black Mirror – and I’m guessing that is a lot of you – the series originated in Britain for the first two seasons and then was picked up by Netflix for additional episodes. Black Mirror is an anthology series; unlike recent anthology series in the U.S. (American Horror Story, American Crime, American Crime Story), individual episodes of Black Mirror are stand-alone rather than an entire season. Each episode features a new story and a new cast. There is no thread that connects the individual episodes other than thematically; theoretically you could jump into watching Black Mirror with any episode as an entry point, though I do suggest starting with the first episode of the first season (“National Anthem”) because it does a nice job of teaching you how to watch the show and is probably one of the more easily accessible stories. Black Mirror is something of a modern-day Twilight Zone; each episode focuses our relationship with technology and the consequences of the dependence, for good and for ill (mostly for ill). The title comes from the omnipresent of screens – smart phones, monitors, tablets – in our lives. Black Mirror can be dark and depressing, but it is also at its heart a satire. It is also occasionally very funny or sweet. On paper, this isn’t necessarily a show that I would normally be drawn to, but it is so smart and well done that I couldn’t stop watching it. I finished the original 7 episodes that aired in Britain as well as the new 6 episodes for Netflix in just over two and a half days. The individual episodes differ in length depending on the story; most range from 45 minutes to a little over an hour. Though occasionally some bigger stars turn up – Jon Hamm is probably the most famous of the bunch – the actors are mostly not household names (I thought “Hey – it’s that guy” a lot).

To go too much into plot will ruin watching the episodes, but the nice thing about an anthology series is that if you aren’t into a particular storyline, the series resets with the next episode. That being said, though my enjoyment of individual episodes varied a lot, even a “bad” episode of Black Mirror is better than most of what’s currently on television. The series has a way of continually pulling you in and surprising you; you can certainly say a lot of things about Black Mirror but “predictable” isn’t one of them. Many times an episode would completely surprise me, zigging when I expected it to zag, much to my delight. The stories can be a little disorienting in the beginning because you are constantly being thrown into a completely new narrative with each episode and it isn’t often immediately clear where things are going or what the reality of this story is. I like when shows throw you into the deep end and force you to sink or swim; Black Mirror isn’t unnecessarily confusing, but it assumes that its viewers are smart and patient enough to let the story reveal itself at its own pace.

As I said, I watched all the episodes in the order in which they were released, because I’m kind of neurotic like that, but you can really watch the show in any order that you like. All the episodes have something to recommend themselves, but if I had to pick my favorite episodes they would have to be “The Entire History of You” (season 1); “Be Right Back” (season 2); “White Bear” (season 2); the Christmas Special; “San Junipero” (season 3); and “Hated in the Nation” (season 3). Season three dropped on Netflix in October and another batch of episodes is already in the works. I can’t wait.

Black Mirror has quickly become one of my favorite shows and I’m kind of sorry that I consumed all the episodes so quickly because now I have to patiently wait until more episode are released. I do recommend doling out the episodes more slowly than I did, not only to stretch out the enjoyment longer but also because watching all these episodes in a compressed timeline puts you in kind of a weird headspace, making you look at technology and the world in a different light.  There’s really no reason to rush through watching the episodes and I wish I had taken more time to really reflect on them individually before diving into the next one so quickly. But they were just so good that I couldn’t wait to see what the next story would be. It’s also best if you know as little as possible about the episodes before you watch them; half the fun of these episodes is just going along for the ride. The journey is as important as the destination. I really can’t recommend Black Mirror enough.

All three seasons of Black Mirror are currently streaming on Netflix.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Short and Sweet Edition

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The world of pop culture never stops spinning, but it does occasionally slow down. This past week is a perfect example, since Thanksgiving and the return of Gilmore Girls soaked up a lot of the pop culture bandwidth. So while the pop culture roundup may be on the light side this week, there’s still plenty that you may have missed while you were gobbling up turkey with your family or throwing down to get the best Black Friday deals.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Passengers:

 

  • Season finale of Westworld:

 

  • Fences:

 

  • Lifetime’s Beaches remake:

 

  • Emerald City:

 

  • Goon 2:

 

  • Riverdale:

 

  • White Rabbit Project:

 

  • First promo for the Golden Globes:

 

Music

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Books

Stand-up

Theater

Odds and Ends

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Mashups and Supercuts

  • Every “Matt” from American Horror Story: Roanoke:

 

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  • Who knew Mariah Carey and My Chemical Romance would mash-up so well?:

 

  • Want to watch all 8 Harry Potter movies in a little over an hour? This mashup is for you:

 

  • Wes Anderson made an ad for H&M:

 

  • Someone made the lyrics of Smashmouth’s “All Star” into an action movie trailer:

Some Thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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This Thanksgiving I was thankful for many things – my friends, my family, my health, my job, and that there would soon be new episodes of Gilmore Girls available. Forget turkey and all the fixings – this is what I was most excited about during my Thanksgiving break. The fact that I held off watching the new episodes until 3 pm on Friday is a testament to my willpower and my affection for my sister-in-law, as I was she was having a Gilmore Girls viewing party. I’m not going to lie – I was very tempted to watch the four new episodes before I went and then just watch them again with everyone else. Thankfully I was busy binging another show – more on that in a later post – so that kept me on the straight and narrow until it was time for the party. Distraction is a good thing. Though it was a late-ish start, we still managed to get through all 6 hours of new programming. We are hard core.

Overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed the new episodes; unlike other revivals of some of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life was not a disappointment. It wasn’t perfect – it was definitely a little uneven and messy in part and some of the cameos felt too shoehorned in – but when I heard the famous final four words of the series, I was satisfied with the journey (random detours and all). It was just really nice to spend time with these characters again.

All the actors seamlessly stepped back into their roles and though many of them look a lot different than they did when we left them nine years ago (Miss Patty (Liz Torres) is now super skinny!), the spirit of their characters are alive and well. Lauren Graham (Lorelai) once proves that she may be the only creature on the planet that can flawlessly carry off the rapid-fire dialogue of Amy Sherman-Palladino and company, with Kelly Bishop (Emily) and Liza Weil (Paris) a close second. Scott Patterson is instantly Luke, gruff and loveable as always and I didn’t know it was possible but Kirk (Sean Gunn) has somehow gotten even weirder. It feels like these people have been playing these characters forever, not picking them back up after a long absence. The characters have evolved a bit, but the same through line that made these great characters when the show started is more than present. That doesn’t always mean that the characters are more likeable; I struggled with the likeability of Rory (Alexis Bledel) occasionally during the original run of the show and that is still the case in the new episodes; ultimately you root for her, but it’s hard to miss that she is a bit entitled and lost during the revival. I’m still solidly #TeamLogan (Matt Czuchry), but A Year In the Life softened me tremendously on Jess (Milo Ventimiglia). That character has really changed the most, for the better. I’m surprised as anyone that I kind of like Jess now.

The 90-minute run time per episode were both a blessing and a curse; on the one hand, the longer run time allowed them to cover a lot of ground and made the story feel more fleshed out and complete in a few number of episodes. I really liked the framing device of the revival focusing on the four seasons of one year. That concept permitted the writers the freedom to explore stories with longer arcs and show the change over time; this is especially apparent in how the show handles how various characters handle grief; one of the most compelling story lines follows how Emily adjusts to the new normal of her life after the death of her husband of 50 years. It’s beautifully done and because the four episodes cover an entire year, you can really see her transformation.

The downside of the long runtime is that sometimes the show indulges certain storylines for a bit too long. One glaring example of this is the musical about Stars Hollow that appears in the “Summer” episode; it’s a funny joke that goes on for about two minutes too long. The performances are great, but the writers’ indulgence ultimately hurts the overall effectiveness of the joke. I was charmed by it, but then I was bored with it. Because of the longer runtime, the episodes sometimes feel a bit unfocused or like they are filling time to justify the length. I would have preferred a slightly leaner and meaner set of Gilmore Girls episodes that had the occasional diversion but that kept the writing tight and that knew when to move on. Sometimes the 90 minutes felt a lot longer than 90 minutes. Of course, watching all the episodes back-to-back probably exasperated this issue, so that’s partially on me.

My other critique of the new episodes is how they handled the Sookie situation. I understand that the writers were in a pinch, not sure if Melissa McCarthy would reprise her role and how long she would be available if she did, but that uncertainty resulted in some very disjointed story telling. The initial explaining away of her absence didn’t make a ton of sense, especially since her husband Jackson (Jackson Douglas) appears to be in Stars Hollow. The idea that Sookie would be around and not an active part of Lorelai’s life is unbelievable at best and absurd once she does eventually turn up only to disappear again. It was certainly a difficult situation to write around, but the execution ultimately didn’t work at all.

As for the final four words – which I won’t reveal – I was satisfied with them, though I think that they would have worked a little better if they had been used when the show ended its original run in 2007. There is certainly room for more Gilmore Girls episodes down the road, but I’m content with how A Year In the Life ended despite the fact that it didn’t wrap everything up. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at more episodes, but I don’t need them for any sense of closure. A Year in the Life succeeded in undoing a lot of the damage of the final season of the original episodes and paying tribute to the death of Edward Hermann. I’ll admit that we had a big reaction to hearing the final four words and it was initially kind of surprising that was how Amy Sherman-Palladino wanted to end the show, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it and thought it was fitting finale for the series.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will make most fans of the original run of the series happy. It can be messy and uneven, but when it really hits its stride it rivals the best moment of the series. A Year in the Life does not feel like a reasonable facsimile of Gilmore Girls; this is not imitation or going through the motions, but it truly feels like going home again. If this is really it, I’m totally OK with that. I’m just glad that I got another six hours with these actors and characters and that Amy Sherman-Palladino got to wrap things up on her own terms. Where she leads, I will follow…if that’s another Gilmore Girls revival, I’m in. If not, I am more than happy with the state of affairs in Stars Hollow.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is currently streaming on Netflix.