I Love a Horse(man)

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve talked about TV. I guess that’s partly because my viewing habits have changed so drastically over the past year and a half or so. Once upon a time I wrote a post giving 3 Reasons Why Man Can’t Live on Netflix Alone. Oddly enough, reading back over it, I still agree with most of what I said there.

That being said, I’m now a cord-cutter, and while I do miss the ability to mindlessly surf channels like a lobotomized sloth, I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t imagine being without my dear, sweet Netflix. I originally got the free trial just so I could binge watch Breaking Bad, but (of course) I ended up keeping it. Then back in February I ditched it for Hulu for the sole purpose of watching 11.22.63, but I ended up keeping it for a while so I could catch up on Broad City, plus I got hooked on the Hulu original show, Casual. But I had to go back and get Netflix again, mostly for one solitary reason: a dickhead anthropomorphic horse.

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 I first started watching BoJack Horseman on the recommendation of fellow blogger Dylan at Hooray for Movies!(whose opinion I respect a great deal), who wrote this post about the show after binge watching its first season in 2014.

How do I put this without resorting to hyperbole? Bojack Horseman is one of the best shows on television, and in just 3 seasons is already one of my favorite shows ever, joining the ranks of The Sopranos, the aforementioned Breaking Bad, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whether you like those shows or not, I realize calling it one of the best shows on TV is a bold claim. After all, we are experiencing a bit of a golden age for television. Why would I make such a statement? Let me break it down for you:

First, let’s talk about the cast. BoJack is voiced by the always awesome Will Arnett of Arrested Development, and his freeloading friend/roommate Todd is played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.  Then there’s BoJack’s feline agent and on-again-off-again girlfriend, Princess Carolyn, voiced by one of my favorite people in the known universe, Amy Sedaris. Rounding out the main characters we have Community’s Alison Brie as Diane Nguyen, the writer assigned to help BoJack write his autobiography, and her boyfriend, golden retriever Mister Peanutbutter, voiced by comedian Paul F. Tompkins.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the talent in the supporting cast is absolutely insane. Here, you know what? Let me bring in a visual aid.

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I’ll spare you any gushing about the amazing cameos throughout the show by the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Greg Kinnear, Candace Bergen, and oh so many more—other than to say that this show has raised the bar on cameos so high that I don’t know if another show will ever match it.

But wait, you may be saying, what’s this show even about?

BoJack is a washed up 90s sitcom star. He was on a show called Horsin’ Around, where he was a single horse raising three kids. Think Full House, but with a talking horse. The show made him very rich, and he…well, he doesn’t do much but party. He drinks, does drugs, and screws whoever will let him. Diane is hired to ghost write his autobiography, and her boyfriend is BoJack’s arch frenemy (and fellow 90s sitcom star) Mister Peanutbutter, and the show takes off from there.

The thing is, the show is about so much more. This show goes deep and gets real in a way few shows can manage. It’s astounding how real and three dimensional these characters are, a feat made all the more remarkable since many of them are animals, but the feelings they have are distinctly human. I attribute that to the incredible writing.

The storylines, character arcs, and dialogue are all among the best I’ve ever seen. Certain lines of dialogue can alternately make me laugh, gasp, or leave my jaw hanging open. They’ll spend nearly an entire season setting up a joke, or subtly reinforcing a punchline over and over without you even being fully aware of it (For anyone who’s watched the show, I’m referring to the ‘What are you doing here?’ line woven throughout season two). I feel like all writers could benefit from watching this show; it’s a true master class.

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A little meta humor for the Aaron Paul fans out there.

Ultimately, it’s a show about depression and how people seek validation and happiness in their lives. BoJack is not a very likable character—to call him an anti-hero is much too nice. He’s a toxic asshole who destroys everything he touches. The thing is, he knows he’s toxic, and he wants to be better, and to be happy. At least, he thinks he does, but he manages to sabotage himself every step of the way.

As I was trying to think of how to explain the type of character BoJack is, I found myself looking back at a show I mentioned earlier, The Sopranos. In a lot of ways BoJack reminds me of Tony Soprano, in that they’re both selfish, manipulative narcissists, and yet you find yourself still liking them (to a degree, at least) in spite of that.

Lest we forget, however, that in all the talk of the dark, bleak themes, the show is still a comedy. And there are so many joke. So. Many. Jokes. Silly animal puns. Clever jokes. Smart jokes. Stupid jokes. Vincent Adultman, for Christ’s sake—two children stacked on top of each other inside a trench coat pretending to be an adult, dating Princess Carolyn who is completely oblivious. The show practically requires repeat viewing just to catch the jokes you missed the first time around.

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So why aren’t more people watching?

I mean, it has its (very devoted) fans, but this show deserves the adulation (and ratings) of Mad Men, House of Cards, and the like. I think it suffers from two problems.

1) the first impression it makes. A lot of people simply don’t want to give an animated show with talking animals a chance, period. They’ll write it off as another Family Guy wannabe, which really couldn’t be farther from the truth.

2) The show requires some investment. The  first few episodes are funny, but it’s not until you learn more about the characters and some of their true (and very dark) colors come out that the show really gets its hooks in you.

Look, what can I say—I love pretty much everything about this show. It’s damn near perfect.

And I haven’t even mentioned the incredible opening and closing themes, composed by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Grouplove, respectively.

So here’s what I ask of you:

Give the show an honest chance. At least 5 or 6 episodes. You may already enjoy it by then, but that’s when the show takes its first dip into darkness, and that’s when it really got my attention.

And if my urging isn’t enough for you, there’s this: Time magazine just announced its list of the best TV episodes of 2016, and none other than BoJack Horseman’s  underwater-set (and largely dialogue free) episode Fish Out of Water was named best television episode of the year. What more recommendation do you need?

Do yourself a favor: watch it. You won’t regret it.

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Halloween Horror Edition

October seemed to creep up on me somehow this year. Before I turned around the month was already almost half over and Halloween was in danger of passing me by. I rarely squander the chance to celebrate the season, so I decided to binge on some horror movies and thrillers on Netflix over the past few days to get myself in the spirit. I watched a pretty decent psychological thriller (The Guest), a fresh take on vampires (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I didn’t finish yet, but looks promising), and a really creative spin on zombies (Pontypool). While none of those were bad by any stretch, it was a different one altogether that compelled me to write up a piece about it.

The Taking of Deborah Logan

I’d never heard of The Taking of Deborah Logan before I tapped the thumbnail of the image above on Netflix. It had higher than average ratings for a horror movie, and I liked the general premise so I decided to give it a shot.

Deborah Logan is a found footage film (wait, come back…really) put together–in its first third especially–to come across as a legitimate documentary. A college student and her two person crew have gotten the titular Deborah to agree to be the subject of a film the students are making about Alzheimer’s disease. The students capture Deborah’s demise from forgetful to bizarre to self-harming to harming others and begin to wonder if something more sinister than the disease is at the root of it all.

At its core The Taking of Deborah Logan is fairly standard horror movie fare not far removed from the king of all found footage films, The Blair Witch Project, but it stands out for a few reasons, chief among them is the acting–the two main characters, Deborah and her daughter Sara,  are especially believable right off the bat, so as the trajectory of the film veers from realistic and creepy to out and out batshit crazy you find yourself too invested in the characters and story to turn back.

Add to that the clever angle of Alzheimer’s blurring the line between naturally occurring mental issues and more devious forces at work, and the movie manages to suck you in. This is found footage at its best, in my opinion. If you didn’t know going in it was a work of fiction, it would take a good 20-30 minutes to figure it out.

The majority of the jump scares are relatively well placed, but what I really appreciate is that the director resists the temptation to lace them all throughout the movie. There are a good number of scenes where you begin to anticipate a jump scare that never happens. That’s one of my favorite things, that building of tension without a payoff. Then once it finally does pay off, it does so in a major way.

Finally, there is one shot from across the room of Deborah mindlessly playing a tune on the piano with one hand while staring vacantly into the camera that is without a doubt one of the creepiest 15 seconds of film I’ve seen in a long time.

I was going to include a link to the trailer, but I think the trailer gives too much away. Look it up if you want, but I’d recommend just watching it knowing as little as possible.

While I’m at it I’ll throw in a couple other good scary movies I’ve seen in the past couple months. You’re Next is an insanely fun, twisted movie about a group of people trapped in a house surrounded by bloodthirsty killers, and Creep is an unsettling film about a filmmaker hired to document a few days in the life of a terminally ill man expecting his first child. While it doesn’t pull off the found footage angle quite as well as The Taking of Deborah Logan it’s still quite believable, thanks in part to the strong performance by Mark Duplass as a truly twisted man.

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If you’re looking for something off the beaten path of typical horror, give one of these three a shot and I bet you’re not disappointed. And if I don’t get my lazy ass to the computer to post anything else before the end of the month, Happy Halloween!

3 Reasons Why Man Cannot Live on Netflix Alone

Well, this man, anyway.

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Netflix is the rare technological advancement that’s totally affordable but I haven’t adopted yet. For the longest time it was because I had no device to deliver Netflix to my TV—my gaming days ended way back at the PS1 (which, not to get on a tangent, but I’m very grateful for. As if writers don’t procrastinate enough, I can’t imagine having video games calling my name from the other room while I’m trying to get some writing done). Then, last Christmas I got a Chromecast, and suddenly Netflix re-entered the picture as an actual, viable option for our TV/movie viewing needs.

I’ve talked to people I know, and read the comments/opinions of people I don’t know on the internet, and there seems to be a resounding cry of “Screw the cable companies! Get Netflix and cancel your service provider! Netflix is all you need!”

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I agree with the first half of that statement—seriously, screw cable companies. Satellite providers may be only marginally better, and that depends just on your personal experience with whatever company you use, but I hate cable companies. I mean, like, hate-hate. They aren’t regulated for the most part, and it’s basically like the wild west when it comes to their business practices.

But the second part…get Netflix and cancel my paid TV service altogether? I don’t think I can do that. Why? Funny you should ask.

1. Limited choices

From what little I know about Netflix’s menu of programming, TV shows are pretty easy to find—the vast majority of shows are available to binge watch at your leisure. Still, I’m sure with my luck there would be something I watch not on there. Then there’s the issue of movies. I don’t watch movies all the time, but I like having a wide variety to pick from, which from what I can gather about Netflix, is not necessarily the case. They are constantly working to get better, newer movies on their format faster, but their choices are a little limited for the time being. Again, this is just as I (an admitted Netflix ignoramus) understand it.

2. HBO

HBO holds a special place in my heart. Sure, they show movies. Yes, they have boxing. But how HBO got their hooks in me and kept them in is with their original programming. I’m thinking back as far as I can, and the oldest shows I remember watching are Tales from the Crypt, Kids in the Hall and Dream On. Then I got hooked on OZ, followed by the big daddy, still my favorite show of all time, The Sopranos (R.I.P. James Gandolfini—still missed). Since then, HBO has pretty much kept their momentum, with a few bumps in the road of course, with Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Big Love, and currently with True Blood, Game of Thrones, and True Detective.

Time is a flat circle.

Time is a flat circle.

And that’s just the scripted shows.

HBO just struck a deal with Amazon (another alternate TV viewing option) to stream their shows, but only shows that are at least 3 years old. Right now my wife and I are getting ready to watch the final season of True Blood (are they really going to let Tara survive the entire series?), then a cool-looking new show called The Leftovers starts next week, so we’ll be checking that out, and I just started getting into Veep and Silicon Valley. My point is, I’m in too deep.

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Damn you, HBO…

 

Which brings me to…

3. I’m a creature of habit.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning. Once I’m done with this and any other writing I’m working on, I’ll go sit in front of the TV and see what’s on. I’ll look through the onscreen guide, flip to something I’ve never heard of or want to see what it is—I’ll channel surf. That’s what I do, and I can’t imagine not doing it with Netflix.

Last night I found myself watching some show called The Pool Master, about some British guy who was hired to build a dream pool for this (evidently filthy stinkin’ rich) couple in Kentucky. They wanted this dramatic pool built on the side of a cliff, deep enough to high dive off rocks—to cliff dive into their pool, basically—that would have a water feature and a fire pit, etc. It was a massive undertaking as the Brit had to figure out the logistics of digging out the hole for the pool, moving the enormous stones he wanted to use to construct their cliff diving thingie, and it was really interesting…for about ten minutes.

I love doing that kind of thing. Seeing something on and going, what the hell is that? And changing the channel to see just what the hell it is. I know if I cancelled my TV service I could still get a handful of basic channels (the networks) with an antenna, but I’ve been down that road during especially bad storms that take out the satellite signal, and living off antenna is not something I want to do again. Homo sapiens have evolved this far, I’m not going to take a giant leap backwards and watch TV off an antenna like some animal. That’s a slippery slope—where does it end, doing away with my remote and getting up every time I want to change the channel?

I know some of you remember...

I know some of you remember…

Despite all my ramblings, I’ll probably end up getting Netflix sooner rather than later. I think it’s actually a really cool service that would make a nice addition to my TV viewing experience. But to me, that’s all would be: an addition; an enhancement to what I already have. I’m not ready now, and may never be in the future, to cut myself off completely from the pay TV lifeline I’ve been weaned on for so long.

I’m curious what anyone can tell me about Netflix—are you happy with it? Do you find its choices limiting? Have you dropped cable/satellite altogether?