Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard it would be to keep up on with new movies, TV shows, and reading while living with a newborn? (Actually, EVERYONE told me).
Somehow…I did manage to finally finish a novel…T. C. Boyle’s The Women, a piece of historical fiction recommended by my wife that vividly details the life of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright through the four (often tempestuous) women he loved. Hopscotching points of view (which include all four women, but also Wright, and a Japanese apprentice) and flip-flopping timelines, large swaths of the early sections are a bit sluggish to get through (though I’m not sure if some of the difficulty I had turning the pages was due to my own exhaustion and short attention span). But, man o’ man, when the novel finally settles on its final 100 or so pages, which culminate in the infamous murder spree at Wright’s palatial Wisconsin hideaway Taliesin that resulted in the deaths of his mistress, her children, and other workers at the hands of an hatchet-wielding, fire-starting butler from Barbados, it was impossible to put down as the setting, characters, feelings, and horrific actions were made indelible on the mind as if the reader was right there watching it all.
(Side note – the earlier passages at his Oak Park estate outside Chicago were especially vivid in a different way as we had visited Oak Park last summer and I could picture his disgruntled ex-wife Kitty and their children in the rooms described by Boyle).
Meanwhile, in this day and age of Netflix, it’s easier to stay on top of some newer programs as binge watching lends itself well to being stuck inside a house for weeks on end.
We tried to watch the second season of Ozark (with Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in fine form as an ordinary couple turned money-laundering crime lords) after having mixed feelings about the first season (my wife thinking it just a lame retread of Breaking Bad, and me thinking everyone was just trying too hard), but it was just so dark (literally dark – lit like they had no lights on set and shot everything on cloudy days at twilight, you know, because, whoa man, the darkness reflects the darkness within the characters), dank, and depressing we couldn’t get past the third episode.
Speaking of dark, could there be anything darker than the fifth season of Bojack Horseman? A pivotal episode is simply, and brilliantly, a 25 minute monologue where Bojack gives the eulogy at his mother’s funeral, while the penultimate episode is a mesmerizing depiction of an addict’s melding of fantasy and reality that ends with an accidental strangulation. Each tortured character gets a fully fleshed episode of their own, showing the strength of the ensemble and intertwining character arcs, and it’s heartbreaking to watch the multi-faceted souls struggling, yearning, and making mistake after mistake. In Diane, the human bloganista and reluctant screenwriter, the show finds its heart and soul, and she makes some really deep observations about the lure of liking the anti-hero, and how we’re all our own hero and anti-hero (everyone is capable of good and bad), and that, I dunno, we all need to give each other and ourselves a break sometimes…or something like that…who knows…it was sad and tragic and true though. Oh, and you know, this thing is often hilarious, full of its now signature sight gags and verbal puns (we are talking about a cast half-full of anthropomorphic animals after all), a scathing yet humanist satire of Hollywood culture…so it’s working on those levels too. Like the character Bojack himself, if season 3 was the creative peak, is season 5 rock-bottom? Where will they take us next season?
Which brings us to Atypical, a show we binge watched two seasons of in quick fashion on a lark (two people within a few days recommended it to us). Once I got over the fact that a man in his late twenties was playing an Autistic teenager, and my wife got over Jennifer Jason Leigh playing the mom, we settled in nicely with this family of fully fleshed-out characters and the people (friends, therapists, etc…) in their lives. While everyone in the show has their quirks, makes mistakes, and often fumble through awkward situations, the writers (and performers) do an amazing job making everyone likeable in some way. What a breath of fresh air…likeable characters in real situations acting like human beings, struggling through life, but ultimately finding solace in connection with others. Which makes me wonder, did Diane from Bojack write this as wish-fulfillment? If so, it’s her masterpiece.
Written by David H. Schleicher