The Office

The Office was one of those shows that I heard a lot of my colleagues talking about over the years, but one that I never got around to watching for one reason or the other. Starting a show that has 9 seasons is a monumental task. It caught my attention again in recent months when I read an article, about how The Office and Friends are still some of Netflix’s most-watched shows. For those in India, The Office airs on Amazon Prime. 3 months and 200 episodes later I’m finally done with the series.

One thing I felt right off the bat is that the first 7 seasons with Steve Carell and the final 2 without him feel like different shows to me. That is not to say that the last 2 seasons are bad. It all comes down to how much of a show-stealer his character was. His absence in the last 2 allowed the others to shine a bit more. When I think about the show this is what felt like the essence of the show was to me.

  • Michael Scott and his general buffoonery and cringe worthy behaviour, countered by his a strong emotional side. Steve Carell plays both these aspects extraordinarily well.
  • His linguistic gaffes. I will never forget the  “Our balls are now in your court” one.
  • The unexpectedly affecting relationship between Pam and Michael. The fact that she really cared for him throughout the series even though he once made a pass at her. So, it was great to see the silent interaction between them in their final scene together.
  • Michael and Holly’s relationship. As far as TV series proposals his proposal to Holly was one of the strangest and sweetest ones, I have ever seen. But they made it work in the way only those two could possibly pull off.
  • Jim’s legendary pranks. It started with the simple stapler in Jello one but as time went on they just upped the ante. The one where Dwight was made to believe he was giving an actual TV interview in the final season is bonkers. The way it escalated from a TV interview to a hostage situation that they made Dwight believe he resolved is a masterpiece of TV writing.
  • The relationships that they have with each other all start of casually. But we see all of them go through some very real and painful challenges over the course of the series. For the mockumentary style that they were going for they managed to go much deeper than I expected when it came to be exploring the relationships.
  • While Andy initially seemed like he was going to be a one note character when he was introduced, he was the one who evolved the most right through to his sad end. A special mention to the song that he plays before he leaves the office.
  • Dwight. The life and the soul of the show and a perfect complement to Jim as his victim, Michael as his obsessive mentor and the only romantic interest that would actually ever work with Angela . The only way to describe his talent is the way he made weirdness seem so entertaining.
  • For someone who has never watched a show that is built around a good number of cringe worthy moments Jim’s reactions to these moments were what I felt were his greatest skills. The pranks were amazing too, but I would attribute those more to the writers than him. And he went on to direct a little masterpiece called “The Quiet Place”

Did I miss out on what can be considered a legitimate cultural phenomenon all these years. Oh Yeah

“That’s what she said” 😉

For all those of you who are getting nostalgic about the series there is a new podcast airing by the actresses who played Pam and Angela called The Office Ladies. Check it out. It’s a great fix if you have been missing the show

Dark Season 2

When Dark Season 1 first came out on Netflix in 2017 I was expecting it to be a slightly darker version of Stranger Things.

What it actually turned out to be was something certainly not for kids. There were no monsters besides people themselves. Everything wrapped around the central conceit of time travel. But what made it extraordinary was how far the show was willing to push things.

It juggled time-lines and a vast number of characters with the assured confidence that viewers would be able to cope up. The twists and turns kept coming and by the end of the season I was a fan. Dark was actually far stranger than I could have imagined. It was also a lavishly mounted production with the highlight being the choice of music and tracks that were used throughout the season.

This Season introduces more characters, more revelations, weaving a more complex web this time around. Once again it manages to go even further with the time travel tropes and paradoxes.  Only the soundtrack choices felt a little disappointing this time around. Peter Gabriel’s My Body Is A Cage was a powerful song for any finale. It worked well here but that amazing song has been used too much before which lessened it’s impact for me here. Still this one of the best shows on Netflix right now. Also as a suggestion for anyone planning to watch this. Keep the original German audio. The English voice somehow detracted from the mood of the show for me.

Chernobyl

The first time I became familiar with the Chernobyl incident was the year 2007, the much-anticipated game Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl came out. At the time, however, just having started working and as a single guy with a lot of free time on his hands all I cared about was playing the game. Soaking up the atmosphere and completing its missions. Beyond that, I have no memory of me ever researching up on Chernobyl. In the years after the game came out, I never played games of the nature much. While the atmosphere it generated was extremely good, it also meant it was bleak and lonely as hell.

Enter June 2019 and I see HBO’s Chernobyl being mentioned everywhere. The thing was I never really lost interest in finding out more about what happened at Chernobyl. I just hadn’t chosen the right medium to understand it. Also, the game I was playing came out in 2007. I am more than a decade older. Perhaps I am more receptive of this kind of subject matter.

This 5 part mini-series is a must-watch for several reasons. It feels extremely authentic and well researched. From the very first episode right until its last it is relentlessly grim and uncompromising. It tries to tell its story sticking as close to what they could have established as fact. It never tries to take sides. I have never had a series show me so clearly as many aspects of a catastrophe as they have managed to do here in just 5 hours.

By the end of it, I actually understood the basics of how a nuclear reactor works. The incredible sacrifices that scientists can make to ensure that the truth can emerge. The lengths that a state and its government can go to preserve their image in the eyes of the world. All of the efforts that went into ensuring that the nuclear accident did not escalate. The lateral effects of the disaster, not just those who died but all of those who had to leave their homes at short notice, to never return. To say any more would spoil what is actually a gripping tale full of unease and tension that never lets up.

Black Mirror Season 5

Bandersnatch the interactive episode was the last Black Mirror content that was released before this season. While it was an interesting experiment, it never felt like a true Black Mirror episode to me. So I was excited about the new season and looking forward to more of what I call tech dystopia.

Striking Vipers

The first episode “Striking Vipers” did not disappoint. Its a bold and unexpected exploration of what infidelity could actually mean in the future. Its also a great example of how deep the divide between emotional love and physical lust can be. This episode felt like classic Black Mirror, which means it gives you plenty to think about once the credits have rolled.

Smithereens

This was a somewhat middling episode that started out interesting. The presence of a star cast that includes Topher Grace and Andrew Scott of Sherlock fame lends some weight to the episode. By the end of it all however the end episode goes nowhere interesting and the motivation of the central character seems weak at best.  An episode that never says anything meaningful. So while the performances are quite good, it leads to a very ordinary end.

Rachel, Jack, and Ashley, Too

The presence of Miley Cyrus added nothing of value to this episode for me. I felt like I was watching a teen pop star comedy movie of some kind. What should have at least been a strong end to the season instead left me with the feeling that shows creators have finally begun to run out of ideas.

Young Sheldon

Despite what many people feel about The Big Bang Theory, it still has the highest viewership among sitcoms even today. Young Sheldon is a spin-off series that I had heard about sometime back. I initially assumed that it was simply a series that was trying to bank off the popularity of its parent show.

I came across an article talking about the most-watched shows of 2017 and I wasn’t surprised to see Young Sheldon ranking high. I decided to give it a shot when I saw that it was available on Amazon Prime Video.

The show is about the life of Sheldon from the original show when he was a child living in Texas with his parents and siblings. Meemaw his grandmother who gets mentioned often in the Big Bang Theory is a primary cast member here. Jim Parsons the adult Sheldon serves as the narrator for the show.

I expected the show to be very much like The Big Bang Theory with Sheldon being a snarky, sarcastic and obsessive-compulsive child as well. While some aspects of his adult personality are present here, overall Young Sheldon is a show that feels very different from The Big Bang Theory.

9 year old Sheldon is still a genius and he can be sarcastic but he is also rather sweet and innocent at the same time. Every facet of his behaviour whether a portrayal of his intelligence or his sarcasm is encompassed by the innocence with which he speaks his words. That is why the show feels so different from The Big Bang Theory. At the heart of it, its a show about family and the trials and tribulations of growing up as a boy genius in a very traditional family. Every other member of his family is equally well cast. Especially his mother who feels very different from the character she plays as his adult mother. The only common thread is their deep religious beliefs. Meemaw the grandmother is one of the best characters in the show. She is very different from the rest of the family and turned out very different from the overly sweet sounding Meemaw that the adult Sheldon always mentions.

The biggest change fans might notice going in though is that unlike The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon does not have a laugh track accompanying it. It’s hard to describe what kind of show it really is. To put it a bit obliquely it’s a relaxing, family-friendly show for everyone. If you have grown to hate the adult Sheldon you just might end up feeling the complete opposite about him in this one.

This Is Us

A scripted family drama was not something I thought I would ever find myself watching. I began watching This is Us somewhere towards the end of the year. One episode in and I was hooked. What makes it so special is the incredible writing, the complex characters and the stellar cast who plays them. Add to this the brilliant music score and the selection of songs used throughout the episodes and it all adds up to an extremely well-produced show. That’s not where the superlatives end.

Each character is not just interesting on their own, the chemistry between all of the leads is incredible. There was a point when the lead characters Jack and Rebecca played by fairly well known actors Milo Ventimiglia(Of Heroes and Gilmore Girls fame) and Mandy Moore (the singer) became just the characters of Jack and Rebecca. It began to feel like I was watching real life documentary of a family. Every other cast member that comprises the family in the show is great in their own right. The other part about it is how many surprises it manages to throw your way on a regular basis.

There are times when This is Us will bring you to tears. But it earns those tears through genuine, intense and raw moments that could happen in anyone’s life. The dialogs are also stellar. They leave you hanging onto every word and make you wish you could express your most complex thoughts with such impact and clarity.

This Is Us is currently midway through its second season and it remains as fresh and engaging as it was in its first season. It’s also one of the highest watched dramas on television right now. Which bodes well for its future. As it currently stands I could watch the lives of these characters for a long time to come.