What to watch at home this week? Which is the best series to watch? What about the movies to watch this weekend? Which are the best TV shows to binge? NOW STREAMING makes your search simpler.
What: Private Life
Who: Eleven years after her Oscar-nominated Savages, writer-director Tamara Jenkins returns with yet another minutely observed tragicomedy about a man and woman at the receiving end of a trying period of transition. Only here they are not siblings but a husband and wife desperate to have a child. Richard (Paul Giamatti), a critically acclaimed theatre director who now sells pickles, has only one testicle and that is blocked. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a writer who at 41 is struggling to produce one good egg. They have tried everything from IVF (in vitro fertilisation) to adoption to surrogacy but have failed to become parents. When Sadie (Kayli Carter), Richard’s brother’s step-daughter, moves into the couple’s New York apartment, they ask her to donate her oocytes.
Why: As Richard and Rachel go through their daily lives punctuated with hope and heartbreak that come with their relentless pursuit of having a baby, Jenkins paints a touching portrait of empathy. The situations are funny and the dialogues sharp but it is in the understanding of human instincts that Private Life evolves from just another slice of life dramedy to a post-modern gem. Giamatti and Hahn are perfectly cast as Rich and Rach – real, vulnerable and always a scratch away from a meltdown. But the breakthrough performance comes from Carter as the spirited Sadie who will take on her mother – and the world – to make her “Art Dad and Art Mom’s” dream come true.
Why Not: At two hours this Netflix original is a little long and a touch heavy. Although deceptively so. And it’s not intended for big laughs. It doesn’t even have a conventional climax to tie it all up. Also, there are lots of scenes with detailed medical procedures in the film. That may not be something you wish to watch on a relaxing weekend.
Whee: So many filmmakers have tried so many crazy things with the closing credits of their films that it’s rare to find yet another new way to close a movie. But the way Jenkins pulls down the curtains or rather pulls up the scroll of what’s clearly a deeply personal work is just beautiful. Can’t spoil it for you, now that you know what to watch on Netflix next.
What: The Degenerates
Who: Welcome to the “coarse and salacious side of comedy” which roughly translates to no-holds-barred and no-organs-spared jokes about sex. They warned us in the trailer – “you may find this show offensive, outrageous, hilarious, darkly funny, downright dirty, truly original” and they weren’t kidding. The six “crude and funny” degenerates, who each do a half-hour stand-up set in the six episodes of this first season filmed in a Las Vegas hotel, are comedians Big Jay Oakerson, Brad Williams, Yamaneika Saunders, Liza Treyger, Joey Diaz and Christina P.
Why: Despite the non-stop hammering of raunchy raunchier raunchiest pussy and dick jokes across the three hours, The Degenerates also call out all kinds of men for their sexual misconduct, from Donald Trump to Harvey Weinstein. A couple of them even go after Louis C.K. But what really turns the show on is when the comedians are able to steer their sets to a wider conversation about man vs woman. Like Treyger, whose is clearly the best episode, in her “illuminating sex experiment” establishes how men are least bothered about women’s sexual pleasure and the ladies are left to “burn their clits off with back massagers.”
Why Not: Regardless of how you like your comedy, you are going to find certain sections from a couple of the sets pretty offensive. No matter how Oakerson tries to support his argument, his bit about watching his 14-year-old daughter naked and his idea of “focused child abuse” aren’t funny and there is no underlying statement being made. He also takes his “transgender experience” a little too far.
Whee: In her set, Christina P. comes up with this genius idea of “making public shaming fun again”. Here’s her step-by-step #MeToo recipe… “In an arena every year, we’re going to round up all the pedophiles and rapists and we’re gonna cut their dicks off. And their balls. And then we are going to throw them in these big barrels. We are gonna take off our shoes and our socks and then we’re going to get inside and just Lucy and Ethel the shit out of them. Once we get all the juices out, we take what’s left… all the hot dog casings… and staple them back on the faces of all the rapists and pedophiles.” Sounds just about fair!
What: The West Wing (1999-2006)
Where: Amazon Prime
Who: Arguably one of the greatest TV shows ever made, The West Wing doesn’t enjoy the of-course-I-have-seen-it popularity of the other alliterated wonder dramas like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. At least in this country. Maybe because of its subject: an unapologetic liberal look – often playing out like a fantasy fable – at American politics. A crack ensemble cast comprising Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Stockard Channing and John Spencer play the senior White House think tank rallying around the benevolent Democratic President Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen.
Why: The real star of the show, though, is writer Aaron Sorkin (Oscar-winner for scripting The Social Network) who wrote episode after episode of what is still today considered the Bible of television drama writing. The inimitable monologues, the signature rapid-fire dialogues, the famous walk-and-talk scenes… Sorkin was supposedly high on coke when he wrote those unforgettable first four seasons of The West Wing. And for those 90 episodes (yes, at least 22 per season!), the show won numerous Emmys (26!) including Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row.
What: Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
Who: Before becoming a Netflix original in Japan, the award-winning manga, on which this is based on, has already been made into a film and a TV series. Yet all of the 10 episodes, each named after the dish that plays some kind of relationship catalyst in that particular episode, stir and simmer your soul like no other. The action – a mix of high drama and light comedy punctuated with lingering food shots – takes place at a small restaurant in Tokyo which is open only during the night. “When people finish their day and hurry home, my day starts,” says the chef, simply called The Master (Kaoru Kobayashi, who’s played this same character in every adaptation ever made!).
Why: While there are a few recurring guests, each episode centres around new characters who not only come for the food but to seek emotional closure of some kind. Whether it’s an ageing pornstar or an absent-minded-scientist or a mahjong gambler or an ever-knitting real estate agent or a washed-up comedian. There is an irresistible melancholy permeating through every story that almost always culminates in a happy ending thanks to twists which you never see coming. But what makes Midnight Diner stand out is the way food becomes entwined with the people and their conflicts. True to Japanese culture, the treatment is minimalistic, yet deeply moving.
Why not: Unlike most shows that stream these days, this one is not in slap-dash mode. It’s like an egg batter being poured on a warm pan brushed with a little butter. An initial soft sizzle, a lazy spreading across the surface and only after it’s taken its own sweet time, we have a moist, fluffy omelette. Midnight Diner is almost meditative in its languid narrative and it might not be something you’d like to binge all night but savour one bite at a time.
Whee: There are some very common Japanese food items which are served up in the little diner like noodles or omelette-rice or ham cutlet or egg-tofu but watch out for tonteki (pork loin steak cooked in a garlic sauce), tanmen (a simple but typical Tokyo style ramen) and the sour plum (heavily salted pickled plums). If you watch closely, The Master even teaches you how to make them.
DID YOU KNOW
Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking masterpiece Pulp Fiction is now streaming on Hotstar.
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s own personal favourites, his 1940 film Foreign Correspondent is now streaming on Mubi.
The first season of The Son, the 2017 series starring Pierce Brosnan as a Texas cattle baron, is now streaming on Zee5.
The first season of The Handmaid‘s Tale is finally legally available online in India; now streaming on SonyLIV.