Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Thursday

2

May 2019

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Knock Down the House Is a Powerful Showcase of Democracy in Action

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A documentary like Knock Down the House faces two narrative challenges that can be difficult to overcome in a ninety-minute runtime. Showcasing four separate women putting up primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, the film has to not only tell multiple stories, but ones with widely known outcomes. It should hardly be a surprise to anyone that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on to beat incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley.

One of the appeals of political documentaries is the behind the scenes perspective they provide, a chance to know the candidates beyond their cable news appearances. The grassroots nature of the four campaigns highlighted in Knock Down the House gave the documentary a much more intimate feel than films focused on larger efforts by established candidates. Without massive staffs or even office buildings, the film spotlights each of the candidates’ best assets, namely being themselves.

Amy Viela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin came up short in their efforts to unseat their Democrat incumbents. Bush and Swearengin both managed to pull in over 30% of the primary vote, very impressive totals for unknown grassroots campaigns running against established politicians with all the benefits that entail. The documentary showcases their individual motivations for getting in the race, women with deep emotional stakes at play to change a system that isn’t working for too many Americans.

Knock Down the House does a great job explaining the many roadblocks put into place to impede primary challengers, a system that makes it about as a difficult as possible to even get on the ballot. There are a few scenes highlighting the work of groups like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, grassroots organizations seeking to recruit and support candidates for office. All the stereotypical notions of polished politicians are thrown out the window in favor of real people seeking to create real change.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary spends much of its time on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose successful campaign has captivated the nation for much of the past year. The footage from her campaign presents a stunning contrast between grassroots efforts and the establishment, frequently painting Crowley as out of touch, representing a district he no longer even called home. AOC fans might have enjoyed a documentary completely dedicated to her meteoric rise, but the film makes great use of all its subjects to present Washington as out of touch with the nation at large.

Refreshingly absent from the bulk of the narrative is the man in the White House. For all the media attention that Trump gets, much of America simply doesn’t care about his Twitter feed. Even in deep red West Virginia, Swearengin’s campaign focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting her state and not as a referendum on his every move. AOC also goes out of her way to criticize Crowley’s Trump-heavy campaign literature, reframing the “us vs. them” debate in a context better suited to her community.

Knock Down the House is an uplifting documentary that highlights the power of democracy in action. Only one of the film’s four subjects managed to win her race, but their efforts offer more than just inspiration to future candidates. Democracy isn’t always fair, but it’s always worth fighting for.

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Wednesday

20

March 2019

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Arrested Development’s Fifth Season Is an Embarrassment to Its Legacy

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Flawed as it was, season four of Arrested Development set the baseline for TV revivals in two important ways. The most prominent criticisms of the follow-up installment to the Bluth saga tended to revolve around the season’s drastically different tone from the original run as well as the lack of main characters on screen at the same time. Season five sought to rectify these issues, with results that make you wonder if the saga of the Bluths is simply too tired to continue.

Arrested Development has always been a plot-centric show, which was quite unusual for comedies when it first aired in the early 2000s. After a decade of so-called “peak–TV,” the format is far more common, which perhaps evaporates any brownie points the show could earn simply through its sheer complexity. Season four, with its fractured narrative, was hard to follow even if you were trying quite hard to piece together the events initially presented out of chronological order.

Season five, split into two eight-episode installments, the latter of which dropped last week, runs into a different problem. It’s still very confusing, a point the show seems well aware of, extensively using narrator Ron Howard to explain the plot mid-episode. The plot is also difficult to follow for the simple reason that it’s not very interesting or funny. Complexity is especially challenging when the viewer lacks an incentive to engage with the material. You can piece together the puzzle, but there’s no real payoff at the end of it.

The jokes are few and far between. There are an awful lot of gay jokes present, which might have been amusing to a general audience back in 2002, but seem weirdly out of place on a show once praised for its writing. Tobias’ Mrs. Featherbottom routine is similarly overused, lacking moments where humor is even suggested to be conveyed. Even the sharp-witted matriarch Lucille Bluth’s signature one-liners fall surprisingly flat, despite Jessica Walter’s immense talent as an actress.

The acting is serviceable, as expected with an A-list cast. Tony Hale, appearing in far more of the second half of season five than the first, is perhaps the standout Bluth, making the most of Buster’s time at the center of the narrative. Jeffrey Tambor, marred in scandal after being fired from Transparent for sexual harassment accusations as well as admitted verbal abuse of costar Jessica Walter, looks uncomfortable in the dual roles of George/Oscar. The show would have been better off simply cutting him from the show, as his presence sours an experience that’s already pretty lackluster. Portia de Rossi, who retired from acting before season five, is limited to a cameo appearance in the second half.

While the first half of season five was marred by overuse of green screens used to create the illusion that the Bluths were in the same room, the final eight episodes are far more convincing. There is a lingering distraction caused by the idea that practically every scene needs to be examined for editing, but the show does a good job of at least presenting the idea that its cast members are physically in the same space. As weird as it feels to compliment a show for that simple feature, this issue has been a persistent problem for Arrested Development since its revival.

Television has evolved considerably since Arrested Development first premiered. Single camera comedies have become more of the rule than the exception. Somewhere along the way, a show once praised for its quality writing became complacent, content to rest of the laurels of gags that debuted more than a decade ago.

Absent is any sense of urgency driving the wit. Some of the show’s best moments came from season three, when Arrested Development increasingly embraced gallows humor in the face of imminent cancellation. The threat of no additional seasons has been replaced by the sad feeling of watching a once great show tarnish its legacy with lazy follow-ups. Season five proved that Arrested Development could imitate its glory years, but the Bluths don’t seem to have anything funny left to say.

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Wednesday

23

January 2019

0

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Netflix’s Fyre Documentary Provides an Extensive Look at the Disastrous Festival

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Part of the intrigue surrounding the Fyre Festival debacle lies in the sheer absurdity that the event wasn’t canceled well before guests began to arrive in the Bahamas. The simple answer of fraud barely begins to satisfy the larger question of what anyone behind the festival was thinking throughout its sloppy preparation period. Netflix’s new documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened seeks to illuminate the many twists and turns of this disastrous saga.

Billy McFarland is a professional conman with a long history of grifts before Fyre Festival, and even a couple afterward with the FBI right on his tail. The documentary explains his methods quite effectively, reconstructing his pyramid schemes to accumulate capital by making promises he couldn’t possibly deliver on. Fyre’s narrow application of these findings is mostly kept to how his behavior directly impeded the festival, making no broader assessments as to how McFarland might represent the current generation. The film doesn’t particularly care about the why of his motives, but instead about the people he harmed in the process.

The idea that Fyre Festival was doomed from the start is certainly present throughout the narrative, but the documentary doesn’t settle for the obvious findings. The infrastructure needed to hold a successful festival cannot be designed and constructed in a few weeks, but there were plenty of people involved with Fyre who did actually try to make it happen. While the weekend was never going to be the VIP luxury event advertised in the initial promo video, hard as it is to believe there was a significant effort made to actually plan a concert. Fyre breaks down everything that went wrong, conducting extensive interviews with employees directly involved with the planning. Extensive contemporaneous video of the planning in progress provides a front row seat to the disaster as it unfolded.

The film takes a measured approach to the comedic factor of the disaster. All the memes of stranded rich kids and the pictures of cheese sandwiches are quite funny, but there were a lot of people hurt by McFarland’s actions. Fyre manages to present its findings in an entertaining fashion while shedding light on the real victims of the nefarious con.

While McFarland lies at the heart of every scandalous decision, the documentary does a good job assigning responsibility to other key players. Fyre Media co-founder Ja Rule deserves much of the blame, as do the influencers and marketers who promoted a fairly obvious scam. In an uncomfortable conflict of interest, Fyre is produced by Jerry Media, the firm that marketed the festival. The ethical dilemma is worthy of scrutiny, but hardly detracts from the overarching narrative. Fortunately, other documentaries about Fyre Festival point this out, ensuring that the conflict will not go unnoticed as the history of the event is recorded.

Fyre presents an extensive look at the many cons and blunders that went into crafting the disaster. It manages to be funny, horrifying, and deeply sad all at the same time. Fyre Festival will live on as one of the most infamous grifts in concert history. The documentary ensures that its viewers will know all the various twists and turns of this epic tragedy.

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Wednesday

12

December 2018

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Girl Is an Irresponsible Exploitation of the Transgender Body

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Since its success at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Belgium’s Girl has been causing quite a stir. Director Lukas Dhont has been criticized for his casting of a cisgender male as the teenage transgender ballerina Lara, a longstanding point of contention for films depicting trans narratives. The cisgender casting may have attracted the most controversy thus far, but Girl’s biggest red flag is Dhont’s flagrant obsession with the deterioration of Lara’s genitals.

Lara, played by Viktor Polster in his film debut, is a passionate young teenager eager to pursue her dancing at a top academy while trying to live a life unhindered by the prejudices toward her gender identity. She has a loving father, supportive instructor, and caring medical professionals but encounters discrimination from her peers and, in one bizarre instance, a professor who outright polls the female members of their class regarding their comfort toward Lara in the middle of a lesson. As cringe-worthy as that moment sounds, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Lara’s downward spiral.

In many ways, Lara isn’t really the main character in Girl. Lara’s crotch is a much more potent force that Dhont seems hellbent on featuring at every possible moment. The film features multiple scenes of Polster’s teenage penis in plain view and several close-ups of his pubic region that’s been bloodied by Lara’s excessive taping. Any narrative value of these scenes dries up by the third go-around, leaving the sense that Dhont is farming the transgender body for all its voyeuristic worth.

Suffering has been a common theme of many, if not most, transgender narratives. Dhont takes Lara’s sadness to extreme degrees, with practically every scene dedicated either to her humiliation or the steady decline of her mental health. This hyper-focus on misery comes at the expense of Polster’s performance, whose range is essentially confined to either very sad or completely despondent. There are a few scattered moments where Polster delivers subtle expressions that showcase his talent as an actor, but the torment is so heavy-handed that it robs him of any chance to leave an impression other than the boilerplate sympathy one should naturally feel toward a teenager that’s in as much visible pain as Lara.

Girl’s timeline deserves considerable scrutiny with regard to Lara’s transition. While hormone replacement therapy is a process that’s highly individualistic in nature, it is never something that happens overnight or even in a few weeks. Based on the start of the semester and a New Year’s Eve celebration toward the end, the bulk of the film appears to take place over a six-month span, the very early stages of HRT. Dissatisfaction with progress is hardly out of the ordinary, but Dhont makes several decisions that demonstrate his fundamental lack of understanding of how transitioning works.

There’s a scene early on that features a consultation for gender confirmation surgery before Lara’s even started hormones, something that makes little sense even before you consider how delicately doctors approach treatment for transgender youth. Lara later learns that her surgery must be delayed due to her tucking, in what would be an absurdly early point for that to even be on the table, especially since her father and therapist were aware of her depression. Realistically, surgery wouldn’t be on the table for years for a teenager like Lara. Fictional narratives aren’t exactly expected to showcase complex issues in a completely authentic fashion, but Dhont plays fast and loose with the details in a way that demonstrates how little he’s interested in portraying even a semi-realistic transition. For Girl, Lara’s bloodied crotch takes precedent over anything else interesting about her identity.

There are critics out there, overwhelmingly cisgender men, who feel that this whole casting controversy is a total non-issue, repeating the adage, “acting is acting.” The trouble with this argument is that it relies extensively on a false utopian sense of society, where everyone exists on equal footing. Much of the overwhelmingly positive coverage of films such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians focused on the authenticity of their inclusive casting. A Fantastic Woman, the incumbent Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, earned worldwide praise for its transgender narrative, starring an actual transgender woman. Daniela Vega’s performance in that film captured the hardships of being transgender without focusing on her transition or her genitals.

Girl exists in stunning contrast, a film guided by cisgender voices that never seeks to explore the nuances of the transgender identity, not when it can constantly return to its point of utmost fascination. Dhont claims to have been interested in this project for close to ten years, inspired by a transgender dancer he’s since become close friends with. The trouble is that he never demonstrates any concern for transgender people beyond what you might find from a stranger on Grindr, desperate for a peek of one’s private parts. For years, prominent transgender voices have called for an end to the exploitative trauma porn that defines most depictions of trans people on screen. Instead of elevating transgender characters as people worthy of dignity or respect, Dhont exploits their bodies to his heart’s content. Girl is a deeply dehumanizing film, reducing the transgender identity from a soul to an appendage.

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Saturday

10

November 2018

1

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Nesting Comfortably in Braveheart’s Shadow, Outlaw King Is an Action-Packed Delight

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As unfair as it seems to compare Outlaw King to an unrelated film made nearly twenty-five years earlier, Braveheart’s presence looms heavily over the narrative. The story, mostly set in the immediate aftermath of William Wallace’s death, functions essentially as a sequel, continuing the First War of Scottish Independence. Rather than partition his film off from a previous Best Picture Winner, director David Mackenzie utilizes his viewer’s likely familiarity with the history to his advantage, crafting a narrative unburdened by needless exposition.

At its core, Braveheart was a story of hope in the face of brutal opposition, fighting for that freedom that should be bestowed on every human as a birthright. Outlaw King is far more grounded in the brutal reality of Robert the Bruce’s uphill battle. War is ugly. Guerilla warfare against a well-organized foe leads to a lot of casualties and heartbreak. There’s little romance to be found in constantly being on the run, hoping your enemy spares those who harbored your resistance for a night or two.

Chris Pine’s Robert the Bruce is not a particularly inspiring figure. He’s totally beleaguered under the weight of his sense of duty. His face is perpetually sullen, the grey in his beard conveying the losses he’s endured in the name of a fight few think he can win. His best moments are brought out in scenes with Florence Pugh, who anchors the film’s emotional core as Bruce’s wife/queen consort Elizabeth de Burgh, delivering a compelling performance that greatly raises the stakes of the personal conflict at hand.

Outlaw King spends very little time on the macro-politics of the era. The viewer is never really given a firm grasp of the underlying cause of the animosity between Robert the Bruce and King Edward I. Much of this seems to be the result of about twenty minutes of footage, which dove more into the history of the story, being cut from the film between earlier screenings and the version released on Netflix. The film assumes the viewer knows enough about war and oppression to follow along, resulting in a narrative that rarely stops to take a breath.

The two-hour runtime passes by in the blink of an eye. Mackenzie has a firm sense of pacing, injecting just enough plot development to buoy the film between action scenes, all of which are incredibly well-crafted. The supporting cast is largely under-developed, perhaps the product of the film’s shorter runtime, but Robert the Bruce’s companions make up for the charisma lacking in their leader. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Tony Curran particularly stand out as Scottish commanders James Douglas and Angus MacDonald, making the most of the few scenes their characters are given to stretch their legs.

I came away from Outlaw King incredibly impressed with Mackenzie’s directing. The film is meticulously well-crafted, always aware of when a scene has outstayed its welcome, while never allowing itself to be bogged down by a desire to explain the mechanics of war. It isn’t as good as Braveheart, but it knows its hero doesn’t possess the same heroic larger than life sense of grandeur as William Wallace. The film is an excellent companion to its cultural predecessor, giving Robert the Bruce’s story a worthy adaptation of its own.

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Tuesday

5

April 2016

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Halt and Catch Fire Redefines the Second Season Shake-up

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Sophomore slumps are fairly common in television both with good shows and not so good ones. It makes sense if you think about how much more time is fundamentally spent creating a first season than every subsequent one. After all, the first season is the one that determines if a show exists at all. No network would order a show that didn’t at least sound good until season four.

When Halt and Catch Fires second season started off with the main cast splintered off in four different directions, I couldn’t help but feel like this was familiar territory. It’s hardly uncommon for TV shows to separate their casts during finales, only to reunite them a few episodes into the following season. As season two progressed, I realized that bringing back the status quo wasn’t something HaCF particularly cared about. The cast stayed apart and the results were shocking. The show upped the ante and quietly became one of the best on television.

Much like the tech industry itself, HaCF is a show that’s constantly changing as it figures out what it’s supposed to be. Season one was completely powered by the trio of Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, and Mackenzie Davis, with the cast mostly serving as interesting supplementary parts. Three episodes into season two, I found myself wondering why Toby Huss, who portrays former Cardiff executive John Bosworth, was still on the show. It’s not uncommon for characters to linger after they’ve served their purpose, which is how Bosworth usually looked hanging around the Mutiny headquarters. While he wasn’t given much screen time, Huss took every minute he was given and turned his character’s arc into perhaps the most heartfelt story of season two.

HaCF took a big risk in sidelining its lead actor for the majority of the season. Season one was about building the Giant. Season two was about Mutiny and for the most part, Joe McMillan had little to do with it. He didn’t have much to do at all besides clash with his stepfather, played by James Cromwell in a subtle yet powerful performance. As someone who first checked out the show because of Pace’s involvement, I was surprised at how okay I was with his backseat role in the season.

Season two belongs to MacKenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé. Start-ups are chaotic and long hours often lead to short fuses. In Mutiny’s case, the fuses were short with both the characters and their office space, a cramped frat house filled with twenty-something programmers.

While season one had a fairly linear arc, season two was more of a blend. The characters took the front seat and rolled with it, allowing the chaos to heighten the viewer’s experience. HaCF is the perfect binge show because the lines between episodes become blurred to the point where you really don’t want to stop watching when the credits roll. Ten episode seasons make it easier to have almost no filler, a formula that AMC has also used for Better Call Saul.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, HaCF has a significantly smaller following than Saul. Strong critical support gave the show a third season, which could very well be the last if ratings don’t improve. That would be quite a shame as HaCF is one of the most original and entertaining shows on TV. Season two was a masterpiece and even if future seasons take a step back, they’ll still be better than the vast majority of what’s currently on the air.

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Monday

17

August 2015

0

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Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp Succeeds Where Arrested Development Failed

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As someone who enjoyed Wet Hot American Summer, but not to the same degree as much of its cult fanbase, I was skeptical of how the Netflix prequel series was going to turn out. It’s highly doubtful that this would’ve been made had cast members like Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Paul Rudd not become huge stars fourteen years down the road, but that also presents a problem. Huge stars typically don’t have much time for projects like these.

This was the problem with Arrested Development’s fourth season. Its cast was busy, so the show filmed around them which didn’t really work that well. It’s hard to recapture the magic when half the people who helped make it in the first pace are only in it for two seconds and rarely at the same time.

WHAS: FDOC had a couple things going for it right from the start. Creators David Wain and Michael Showalter were obviously locks for every episode, but the series benefitted from the fact that a good chunk of the cast hadn’t necessarily gone on to “bigger better things.” In actors like Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino’s case, they were pretty much doing the same sort of stuff of Comedy Central and Adult Swim.

Which isn’t to say that WHAS: FDOC solely relied on cast members that weren’t appearing in blockbuster films. Rudd, Poehler and Elizabeth Banks have ample amounts of screen time. Mad Men’s John Slattery was brought on to aid Poehler’s scenes in cases where Cooper wasn’t available and you don’t necessarily feel like anyone’s missing.

The series also added numerous big stars to its cast. In addition to Slattery, Jon Hamm, Jason Scharztman, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles, Jordan Peele, and Michael Cera aid the show tremendously, giving the viewer the idea that this isn’t merely a harebrained scheme that Wain and Showalter managed to trick Netflix into funding. WHAS isn’t strictly back for nostalgic value, it also has something new to bring to the table.

It’s hard to write this sentence about WHAS, but much of the humor in the series is actually pretty subtle. It’s filled with quotable moments, but the metahumor is what really sucked me in. Most of the cast looks phenomenal, but this is a prequel starring a cast that’s now a decade and a half older than when the first was made. Some of them do look pretty old, which definitely plays into the wackiness of the series as a whole. A lot has changed and yet much of it looks the same.

Is it accessible for people who weren’t fans of the original film? Probably not, but it earns points for not trying to be. The show managed to have a pretty A list cast for a Netflix mini-series based off a box office bomb. I think it’s doing just fine.

This could have been really terrible, which isn’t to say that it hits its mark 100% of the time. The show does fall flat a little bit in the middle episodes, but it’s never awful, unless you hated the show to begin with.

We’re going to see a lot of revivals in the coming months. Even Coach is coming back. Many of these will suck, like Arrested Development’s fourth season and for many, that will tarnish the legacy of the source material.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp chose not to rest on its laurels. It’s a worthy successor that enhances one’s enjoyment of the original in many ways. I never went to summer camp, but I hope most of them are exactly like Camp Firewood, talking cans of vegetables and all.

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Monday

23

March 2015

3

COMMENTS

House of Cards’ Lackluster Third Season Exposes Flaws in Netflix’s Business Model

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If House of Cards was airing on television, it’d be about a fourth of the way through its season. It can be hard to believe it’s only been a month since the entire third season premiered on Netflix. There’s a good explanation for this.

It wasn’t very good.

This article isn’t intended to be a review, but I’d just like to highlight a couple reasons why I hated this season. It wasn’t fun at all. Frank’s manipulations weren’t clever and the infrequency of his inner monologues damaged his relationship with the viewers. Everything about Doug was terrible and the same is true for most of what Claire was up to (including the bizarre hair color changes).

Of course opinions are subjective, but what isn’t up for debate is the fact that no one is really talking about House of Cards anymore besides a few blog sites that have staggered the reviews. To a certain extent, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. There aren’t any new episodes. All of them came out on the same day. Problem is that previous seasons of HOC as well as Orange is the New Black did get plenty of buzz weeks after they came out.

The reasoning for this is simple. Word got out that this season was crap quickly. Shows tend not to get as much buzz when the reviews aren’t so hot.

Netflix spends tens of millions on shows like House of Cards for one reason. Buzz. Original content garners attention and gets subscribers. That’s why Netflix doesn’t just fill its library with Cheers and Magnum P.I., which come at a fraction of the cost of original programming.

It stands to reason that Netflix’s number one objective should be to protect its buzz in order to maximize its return for an expensive show like HOC. Debuting all the episodes at once caters to the binge-watching crowd and creates a day which in the television world can belong solely to House of Cards.

That’s it.

Think about the buzz breakdown of a typical cable show. Unless it’s a blockbuster like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, you get buzz for the first few weeks and then it naturally tapers off when other shows either start or finish their seasons. The buzz returns when the finale rolls around even if it’s been a lackluster season.

House of Cards got some buzz. Now it’s mostly gone. It’s hardly ridiculous to suggest that this wouldn’t have been the case if Netflix had aired the episodes one at a time rather than all at once.

This would have also protected the show from criticism for much longer. It would’ve been unfair to call the entire season lackluster based off the first few episodes. Because of Netflix’ model, we can write off the season days after it comes out. That’s not particularly great for Netflix.

Is it a problem? Maybe. Netflix doesn’t release views for its shows and even then, comparing it to the rest of television would be difficult.

When House of Cards first premiered, its model was praised as the wave of the future for TV. Three years later, I think it’s safe to say that while it certainly has a place in the grand scheme of television, it’s far from perfect.

While presenting viewers with the option to binge watch straight from the get-go is unique, it doesn’t really need to change anyone’s viewing habits. People can still watch an episode a week and if Netflix released them one at a time, you could still wait until all of them were out before starting. This really isn’t that revolutionary.

Netflix wants to maintain viewers yearlong. Last month, they had two powerhouse shows in HOC and OITNB. Now they have one. It stands to reason that HOC could reclaim this status next year and that season 4 will be inherently talked about, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Netflix is really only front-page news for two days out the year. HBO can top that number by a wide margin with Game of Thrones alone.

Binge-watching might be greater for many viewers, but it’s hard to say it’s really great for the networks themselves. When seasons are great, buzz can be maintained. As we’ve seen with season 3 of HOC, buzz can fizzle out pretty fast. I wouldn’t call that a great business model at all.

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Thursday

16

October 2014

0

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Breaking Down the Netflix Stock Drop and What Needs to Be Done Moving Forward

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Netflix’ stock took a tumble yesterday despite impressive growth in its third quarter earnings. There are two obvious reasons for this that stand out. The timing of HBO’s announcement that a separate subscription for HBO Go will be available in 2015 is certainly not a coincidence. Netflix personally attributes the stunted growth to the dollar price increase, which has merits especially considering the Qwikster blunder of 2011.

We live in a time of tremendous growth for the streaming market as a whole. Channels like FX are dedicating large portions of their ad space toward pushing their streaming services. Amazon has original programming that’s starting to garner mainstream attention. Even Yahoo has entered the fray.

While Netflix might have the largest piece of the pie and there’s little reason to think that another service will take over as king of the hill, it’s clear that being king of said hill means less than it once did. It’s not too different from the smart phone market, which is still lead by Apple but faces much stiffer competition in the year 2014 than 2007.

But what does this mean for Netflix? The service has increased its original programming department, but still relies heavily on older content to appease its viewer base. We’ve seen this recently with their increased ad campaigns promoting debuts of Gilmore Girls and Friends, which have been off the air for quite some time. Supplementary programming is necessary for every service, especially the ones that launch entire seasons at once.

There are two questions that need to be asked. The first is whether or not Netflix is doing enough to please its current subscriber base. An expanded original programming department has worked wonders as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have established Netflix’ status as a legitimate contender for awards season and have supplied the company with an impressive amount of buzz.

But that’s only for two days out of the year for publications plus however long it takes viewers to get through the seasons. For binge watchers, that might actually be only two days. Other shows like Hemlock Grove and Bojack Horseman don’t carry the same amount of widespread appeal. So then what?

That’s why Netflix has so many other shows to watch. But for people who have cancelled cable and only use Netflix, is that really enough? The increased emphasis on original programming comes with exponentially higher costs than acquired content. Which means that Netflix doesn’t acquire as many shows as it once did to help make up the difference. That’s almost to be expected as there are only so many shows out there. Amazon has a fair amount of exclusive contracts of its own with shows like The Good Wife, Justified, Broad City, and Awkward, cutting into the available pool of shows.

Netflix raised its price in an effort to dissuade people from canceling their subscriptions after watching shows like House of Cards or OITNB. But that’s only a dollar. It’s conceivable to suggest that a person could watch their fill of Netflix’ offerings in a two month span, especially if they had subscribed in the past or have a DVR. Cable providers have increased their on demand offerings, making it more plausible for TV aficionados to live with Netflix than it has been in the past.

The second question is whether or not Netflix is doing enough to attract new subscribers. Unlike the first question, which depends mostly on the viewer, this is a clear no. With years of mainstream advertising under its belt, it’s hard to argue that there are many people in America who don’t know about Netflix or haven’t at least considered getting it.

Now there are external factors to consider. Houses with poor wifi are less inclined to pay for streaming services. There’s also houses that simply can’t afford it at all. But what about the people who just simply said no?

Let’s look at Friends, which is Netflix’ big grab to start of the year 2015. Friends is a beloved show that embodies the 90s and will certainly be one that users will want to check out. But are there really that many people who are going to subscribe because of Friends? The show is still on TV multiple times a day and has had numerous box set re-releases that have been quite popular. It’s hard to make the case that there’s that many people out there desperate to watch Friends who can’t find a way already.

Which is Netflix’ underlying problem. Tens of millions of people have it and enjoy it. But tens of millions of people have thought about getting it and decided not to. Further more, people who have gone through their library have decided to take a break and aren’t being given much incentive to come back except for two months out of the year.

The streaming competition isn’t going to get any lighter in the coming years. Netflix is a pioneer and continues to offer top tier original programming. But the company cannot forget that growth is best maintained by a continued commitment to original programming and consistent quality acquisitions.

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Monday

23

June 2014

2

COMMENTS

Orange is the New Black Searches for Balance Between Plot and Character Development

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Is it possible for Orange is the New Black to simultaneously be one of the best shows on TV and overrated? Season two of the prison comedy-drama solidified the show’s status as Netflix’ flagship program. The hype was certainly big, which isn’t very surprising considering the complete lack of anything else happening on TV in the month of June. But does it deliver?

This season takes much of the focus away from Chapman. The acting has always been OINTB’s strongest attribute and the cast rarely misses a beat. Kate Mulgrew and newcomer Lorraine Toussaint are responsible for the season’s meatiest moments while other characters make the most of their more limited screen time.

While the cast excels with whatever they’re given, the show suffers from a lack of direction. There are plenty of plotlines, but none of them feel as developed as they could be. Flashbacks and unnecessary scenes involving Jason Biggs, the show’s sole rotten egg performer, waste precious screen time that could be better dispersed elsewhere. Chapman’s breakup with Larry was a perfect opportunity to get rid of Biggs and yet the show missed a perfect opportunity to shed the 90s has been. There’s no good reason to keep him on the show when other characters are given nothing to do for the whole season.

The show also doesn’t utilize its ensemble cast to its full potential. For the most part, they’re completely separated from one another by individual plotline with very little overlap. The quirk feels a bit toned down when the characters are separated from one another and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The season as a whole feels a bit incomplete when it’s all said and done. Most storylines are left unresolved and the payoffs are less rewarding than they should be. It’s okay for OINTB to put its focus on character more than plot, but the balance is a bit lacking. The flashbacks aren’t needed in every episode anymore and the show would do well to recognize that. The same problem plagued Lost in its later years when the flashbacks were no longer necessary. Format changes are okay.

The wasted time affects the season’s most interesting storyline involving contraband smuggling and the subsequent power struggle between Mulgrew, Toussaint, and Selenis Leyva. The plotline is never dull, but it never reaches its full potential either. Hints are made that it could have prison wide ramifications, which would be the natural progression and yet the show hesitates to make this the center of attention. It feels like a slightly extended subplot that is naturally the big attention grabber as it’s the easiest talking point.

Chapman’s storyline is the biggest mess of them all. She starts off the season being duped by Alex, then paints herself as some kind of badass, followed by a highly unrealistic/unnecessary furlough, and finally settles for some Stockholm syndrome. Fun right?

Season two is often a mess and yet it’s a fun mess. The cast is a treat to watch and the concept lends itself well to binge watching. It’s no different from having regrets about eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting though no matter how fun it is. The acting is immensely satisfying, but you’re bound to question what it was all for.

The bar in theory should’ve been raised for this season coming off such a successful debut. It delivers on the acting front, but when it comes to creating a season with a beginning, middle, and end, the show fails to figure out how to make it all come together. That’s the problem with a show that only airs new episodes one day a year. You burn through the episodes fairly fast without stopping to examine the flavor.

Which is fun, but it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Phish Food, whichever came first). OINTB is a very enjoyable program, but much of its praise should be taken in context. It doesn’t need to be better than anything else on TV, because the competition is hibernating when it comes out. The show entered itself for Emmy consideration as a comedy, a move that’s been tried by hour-long comedy-dramas like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, and Glee to mixed results. I’d be surprised if the show didn’t win Best Supporting Actress for either Mulgrew or Uzo Aduba, but voters have been reluctant to reward dramatic series for exploring genre loopholes.

This post has been oddly hard on a season that I did enjoy, but it’s somewhat unsatisfying when you consider the lack of growth that the show took in its sophomore offering. That’s hardly the slump that many other shows have struggled with, but it does preclude it from true contention as TV’s best program. OINTB is a show that settles for the status quo because the status quo works without trying to see if things could be better.

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