Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Monday

17

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

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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Monday

2

June 2014

0

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Netflix’ Derek Continues to Be TV’s Oddest Offering

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The first season of Netflix’ Derek was a peculiar one. Largely marketed as a comedy, the new offering from Ricky Gervais largely steered away from the material commonly found in all of his other series. Derek’s tone was much darker than anyone could’ve expected from the co-creator of The Office, Extras, An Idiot Abroad, and Life’s Too Short. While the results were mixed, a strong season finale had me excited about the prospect of another season.

The biggest problem with Derek is that it doesn’t appear to have much of an idea of what it wants to be. Season one had a few funny moments, but this was a drama that also wanted to explore the meaning of life. The fact that Gervais was channeling existentialism while portraying a seemingly mentally handicapped character oddly reminiscent of Father Dougal from Father Ted made matters complicated. Season two does a good job of fleshing out Derek’s character to a point where he finally makes some sense, but it doesn’t do a great job of following up on his growth from the season one finale.

Season two doesn’t really go anywhere. The six episodes are largely dedicated to exploring the main cast with minimal involvement from the actual residents of the old age home. Karl Pilkington, who plays the handyman/bus driver Dougie, departs after the first episode and the show suffers without his wit, but the rest of the cast steps up in his absence. The acting is elevated drastically in season two and the strong performances provide perhaps the best reason to watch the show.

There’s too much of the same in season two. This season dedicates more time to character than plot, but the destination is exactly the same. Each character is a flawed mess trying to make it through the hard road called life, but we knew that already. Life season one, there’s an episode that stands above the rest, but the majority of the season is largely forgettable. Familiar themes repeat themselves and the characters are mostly restricted to one notable event a season. With a collective run time of a little more than two hours, that’s not exactly surprising. Derek has more of an ensemble cast than any of Gervais’ other shows, which leads to an elevated feeling of inconclusiveness when the season abruptly ends. Though it’s hard to call brevity a deterrent, as I don’t think I could put up with a full season of the show.

It’s hard to imagine where Derek will fit in when it comes time to evaluate Gervais’ career as a whole. As of now, it makes more sense to compare it to Stephen Merchant’s first solo effort, Hello Ladies, which was a far more disappointing effort that received the boot from HBO after eight episodes. Derek represents a transitional series for Gervais, where he steps away from the pitiable narcissists roles in favor of more developed, if not equally flawed, characters.

Does that make it worth watching? Yes and no. If you’re a fan of Gervais’ other work or British television, then the simple answer is yes. Derek is the kind of show that needs its viewers to drop all preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t know and in small doses, that’s okay. But it’s a show with quality acting and enough tearjerker moments to merit its brief run time.

Season two struggles to deliver on the good will garnered from the season one finale. There’s a few new things to say, but the season as a whole feels like it didn’t need to happen. There’s been no news on the future of Derek, but it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be at least a wrap up special. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

Derek is a drama that people want to think is a comedy that’s also largely a meandering mess with a few heartfelt flashes of brilliance. That’s hardly a glowing recommendation, but I think it’s certainly worth watching. Ricky Gervais used Derek to grow as a performer and I had fun watching him work

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