Aziz Ansari first hit my radar in the under-seen and under-appreciated black comedy Observe and Report. He plays a mall kiosk salesman who gets into a “fuck you” battle with a lame-ass cop played by Seth Rogen. It’s a ridiculous and funny sequence. Rather than his expletives exploding in volume and aggressiveness, Ansari’s “fuck you’s” evolve into silent mouth contortions.
Since then he’s blown up everywhere. And now he’s got a new show on Netflix called Master of None. I love this show! He plays a version of himself (his real-life parents play his parents) as a New York actor who attempts to negotiate the modern world and its many challenges: sex, marriage, parenting, and racism. Topics he delves into in his stand-up act, too. His take is incisive, poignant, and hilarious.
In the second episode, “Parents,” he and his Taiwanese-American buddy Brian, learn about their parents’ hardships and struggles while growing up and immigrating to America. He handles the subject matter with keen wit and tenderness. While I’m tempted to binge-watch, all episodes are online now, I’m refraining, so I can savor this great new show, one day at a time.
Food poisoning. Ugh. If you haven’t suffered the misfortune, it goes like this. You eat something with bacteria, your brain signals, “Danger, danger, remove, remove,” then your body violently tries to turn itself inside out, via your esophagus, to expel the cooties. The next day or so you feel like a truck ran over you. But this isn’t a post specifically about bodily functions … while recovering on the couch I had just enough energy to binge-watch this new fantastic French TV series.
All is not what it seems
Witnesses (Les Témoins) is a 6-part, crime series set in the northern coastal town of Le Tréport. A big hit in France when it debuted in March, the series follows a chain of creepy events, which freak out the community and cops. Graverobbers have placed corpses inside model homes to create a “model family.” Who’s doing this? What does it mean? Are the bodies related? It’s up to Detective Sandra Winckler, following in the Scandi-noir footsteps of The Bridge’s Saga Noren and to a degree Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, to figure it all out and unearth the many hidden secrets of the case and apprehend the perps. While negotiating her duties she must handle the politics of dealing with the former police chief played by acclaimed actor Thierry Lhermitte, who is somehow implicated in all the weird goings-on.
Besides being a gripping crime story, the series has lots of delightful elements which make it so wonderfully French. Detective Sandra is not only smart, intuitive and resourceful, she sports effortlessly tied scarves and has that casual chic French beauty that is just so aggravating and enviable. There’s the obligatory chocolate-eating scene, several espresso-drinking scenes and my personal favorite: eating-pastries-while talking-about-said-pastries scene. Sure there’s lots of gun play, mad dashes, twists and turns, and Sandra’s personal relationship stuff thrown in to make Witnesses one satisfying series. If you’re recovering from illness or just feel like getting lost in a good story in a foreign land, check it out.
Catch it on Netflix streaming. Let me know what you think.
You’d really have to be disconnected from the universe to not know that the 3rd season of House of Cards was released on Netflix yesterday. While I look forward to tucking into a delicious binge-watch fest, I have to finish my current fixation. That is the Australian version of The Slap—also on Netflix. It may sound familiar because the American version, a 9-part mini-series, recently began on NBC. I watched the U.S. pilot because the premise and cast intrigued me. At a family birthday party one of the adults slaps a friend’s misbehaving child. That inappropriate act causes all kinds of terrible repercussions. It stars Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton, Uma Thurman and notable others. I instantly loathed all the stereotypical characters: one guy’s going through a mid-life crisis and is canoodling with the babysitter, another’s a rich, aggressive asshole (aren’t they all?), the strident, overindulgent helicopter parents, and more. I was ready to chuck it in.
Then I heard about the original Aussie version and how it was supposed to be better. Whoa, what a difference a continent makes! While the story is the same, everything about the series—from the characters to the theme—is more nuanced and complex. It also has swearing and lots more sex. Just like real life! I was instantly hooked and abandoned the NBC version.
I felt the exact same way about the Danish-Swedish version of The Bridge. I began watching the version on FX, was instantly turned off by Diana Kruger’s (who I normally like) bizarre acting choices and jumped ship to the original. My normally productive life screeched to a halt as I became absorbed in the overall richer characters, relationships, Scandinavian culture and delightfully intricate crime plotting.
I continue to marvel at how American versions of foreign shows get so lost in translation. Having been in meetings with entertainment executives, I’ve learned the sad truth why this is. There’s a general lack of faith and distrust that we, the viewers, are going to get it. We need to be bludgeoned with simple ideas and recognizable tropes, and here’s my bête noire, “likeable” characters. Bah! Consequently, complex stories become diluted … and unwatchable.
So huzzah to Netflix and Amazon and cable channels, like AMC and HBO, for taking risks. Risky TV can be captivating TV.