How do you get through a New England winter?
Wine and chocolate are a good start, but what about sight and sound? Once football season ends (and we just won’t go there), the hardy hunker down and wait. We wait for our Facebook friends in warmer climates to post photos of forsythia in bloom and purple hyacinth on the rise. We continue to sip cabernet by the fire and listen to crazy-talk about spring awakening, remarking, “Check back in eight weeks. There might be a rogue daffodil sunny side up.” We wait—mostly for that final nor’easter to blow through, because we know it will.
While our 747-sized seasonal holding pattern continues, we do our share of reading. With novels, I’ve been cherry-picking from author Barbara Delinsky’s book reviews. Her thoughtful insights have led to several intriguing reads. Check them out if you’re in need of a good book. Naturally, TV watching is another go-to activity, and an Olympic winter usually promises a bonus.
How was Your Televised Olympic Experience?
I’ll be honest. The 2018 games did not capture my imagination. Mostly, this was about NBC’s coverage, attempting to turn every athlete’s journey into a moving human interest piece. I’ll just say it—not every great athlete makes for a great story. Sometimes it just makes you coordinated. Aside from this distraction, the cost of airing the Olympics must have gone up. At any time during the games, you had a 50-50 chance of tuning in to the skeleton or a Hershey’s commercial. One evening, I abandoned the games for the movie Miracle—the onscreen adaption of the 1980 men’s Olympic hockey team. Watch it. The movie captures one sporting event that made for great storytelling.
Where does your remote take you?
As we round the March corner, three television programs did get me through the winter. Maybe you’ve already watched, but if you haven’t I highly recommend them. Unless, of course, you live in the South. In that case, no doubt you are outside choosing an Instagram filter for your blooming azaleas, and I will be sure to check them out in just a few.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
In full disclosure, if Amy Sherman Palladino wrote out her grocery list, I’d read it. Okay, I’d most likely steal it. I am a longtime Gilmore Girls addict, and even enjoyed her short-lived series, Bunheads. The recent explosion of viewing options, like Amazon TV, has given writers like Palladino room to work. I don’t know Ms. Palladino personally, but she strikes me as the kind of writer who should simply be turned loose.
The result is an inspired show like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Set in the late 1950’s, poised on the edge of political and social change, Palladino makes brilliant use of the time period, mixed with salty, vivid characters and intelligent humor that will have you riveted. Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, follows the prescribed path of her Upper West Side life and Jewish upbringing. As the pilot episode starts out, she is married to Joel Maisel, traditional breadwinner and wannabe standup comic. Unfortunately for Joel—a two-timing cad, who will oh-so-come-to-regret his misstep—it’s the effervescent Midge who’s steps into the spotlight. From there, Palladino does her thing, effortless and organic storytelling at its best.
The humor can be subtle and is artfully captured by actors like Tony Shalhoub, who plays Midge’s father, Abe Weissman. The show is also thought-provoking as Palladino gives real-life comic legend Lenny Bruce a pivotal cameo. I actually insisted my adult kids read up on him before watching. Knowing Bruce’s intricate and often troubled history is a fascinating comparative lens when held up to the society in which we live. How far we have come—or not. Adding to Palladino’s whip-smart casting and writing are the costumes and sets. You will be transported and thoroughly entertained. My only caveat with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is that filming for season two doesn’t begin until next month!
Okay, so I’m late to the party on this one. But if you are too, the four short seasons of Peaky Blinders will make for a solid few weeks of binge watching. (Season 5 is out later this year) This UK product follows the ever-violent, always intriguing life of Tommy Shelby—WWI hero, but most predominately the uber-tough crime boss for the Shelby family’s array of businesses.
Actor Cillian Murphy does not play the main character but embodies him. You’ll be googling Murphy by the end of the first episode, desperate to know how the producers plucked this guy right out of 1919. Set in Birmingham, England, the supporting cast is equally suited to their roles and it is a fascinating ride to accompany this band of post-war, shell shocked mutts as they rise above—despite questionable methods—their seedy working-class lives.
One drawback, if you are an American viewer, the heavily accented show can be slightly frustrating.
At times, you do have to work to follow the plot. But it appears Peaky Blinders got savvy to this hitch about midway through the available episodes. For example, the actor playing supporting character, Alife Solomon, was impossible to understand—ever. He clearly dials back his accent somewhere around season three. Suddenly, gratefully, viewers miraculously comprehend almost every word. Peaky Blinders is intense and gory at times, but it all makes for great TV, another period-piece that combines history and drama to the utmost advantage of its viewers.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Where to begin with this adaption of Margaret Atwood’s bestselling, 1986 dystopian novel? Well, let me be honest again—I couldn’t get through the book all those years ago. (I also tried and failed miserably with George Martin’s Game of Thrones series) Is it me, or are some books just better when reinvented for television? I’d offer a rousing “Yes!” for The Handmaid’s Tale.
Near-future life in the United States is the train wreck from which the viewer cannot look away. Current political climates may add to the series mojo, giving its red-cloaked episodes a creepy note of creditability that might not have resonated a decade ago. Atwood’s plot has been smartly tweaked for television audiences, with added and deleted scenes to better serve a visual experience.
The formula works as we are immersed in Offred/June’s unwanted world, feeling as angst-filled and on-edge as the character in front of us. The suspense never ebbs, whether we are with Offred as she is subject to the horrors of house Waterford, or backstory scenes where we visit June’s gentler past. Any anticipated breather is snuffed out as the show’s past/present pace keeps the tension grinding.
Expertly written, rousingly acted, and plain old jaw-dropping, my only warning is not to watch The Handmaid’s Tale too close to bedtime. If you think blue-light from devices hinders sleep, the adrenaline device of this well-played drama equates to having downed a case of Red Bull.
So what’s on your watchlist? What program do you find impossible to miss and makes you glad that technology now offers so many amazing ways to watch?