The West Wing on Netflix

I have had my fair share of free time the past month: no work plus no school equals a ridiculous obsession with Netflix. Add on top of that moving out of the belly of the beast, better known as Washington, D.C. So to cope with my withdrawal in not being in one of the most powerful cities in the world, I turned to the best television-depiction of it: The West Wing. The show has been in my queue for months, and I was resisting seeing that I knew once I began it, I would have a great difficulty in resisting watching. Now, I have no excuse (and in saying that, I did do the math and watching the whole series is quite a dedication).

The West Wing begins with the first few months of President Bartlet’s first year in office and takes the viewer through all eight years of his presidency. From shootings to keeping the President’s MS a secret to kidnapped daughter to close nuclear wars, the show traversed these crises alongside United States-only crises such as legislation and how the White House approaches legislative bodies (and a glimpse into Supreme Court justices, too). The show wouldn’t be the great show it was without its cast of President Bartlet, Leo McGarry, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, or CJ Cregg. It’s very interesting to think of the show as focused on the depiction of a setting and not of a main character or group of characters. I think its one of the most unique parts of the West Wing for it’s the only place that I could think of that has a constant evolution of characters in real life.

Anyway, you don’t need me to tell you that the show is historic and a great piece of television to watch. The best part has to be the writing; the dialogue between characters is fast-paced and incredibly detailed that you have to stay focused on the subject matter otherwise you will be lost. I really also love President Bartlet as the professor in most episodes that discusses the historic premise behind most of the overarching themes of the episode. I don’t even want to begin to think how much research and consulting was put into the writing. Moreover, for me, the sets were also some of the most intriguing. The oval office and residence were true renditions of the real rooms. The cast also often filmed on-site at the White House or Kennedy Center. This took a lot of coordination and really added a tremendous amount to the show. This is probably the biggest contributor to the show’s success: it’s reality. As a viewer, you felt like you were a fly on the wall in the Oval Office or on Air Force One. Not many shows make the audience feel like that, and I think that’s a definite contributor to the shows historic success.

In my opinion, the West Wing’s pros surely outweigh its cons, but noting them are important. Characters seemed to come and go relatively easy, and without any explanation. All of a sudden a character would be gone and there would be no explanation as to where they went. They’d also be mentioned in future episodes, sometimes, but not often. This detracted from the show for I would be watching and think: “Wait, where did Ainsley go?” I felt a little unfulfilled, as if I missed something (and when you watch 4 episodes at a time, it’s hard to miss something like that, so I don’t even want to know how watching the show traditionally would have felt like). Another item that detracted from the show was the complexity of the arguments. I understand that this is perhaps how highly qualified, intellectuals speak to one another in government, but to be understood by the average American, I’m sure made the show hard for them to digest. This goes hand in hand with how the show lost its momentum in the final two seasons. The dialogue got tired, the acting was tremendous, but the plots were a bit unbelievable. Everything that could go wrong during an election did, which is preposterous. I must have thought to myself: “stop being over-dramatic now.”

Obviously, I enjoyed watching all of the main cast, even those that had crazy eccentricities that I thought were over the top. However, my favorite cast member had to be Dr./Mrs. Abbey Bartlet: Stockard Channing. Every scene Abbey is in, she steals. From my perspective as an audience member, it really was a joy to watch that every single character that encountered Mrs. Bartlet was afraid of her. She was a force of nature: intelligent, shrewd, and driven. No one wanted to go against her for they didn’t stand a chance. Some of my favorite scenes are between Stockard and Martin Sheen for while they spared (and oh boy, they did) they also respected and loved one another. Apart from the political dialogue, those were my favorites (especially when Abbey calls Jed a Jackass, in reality, the only person who could get away with it). If anything watch for her.

My last comments are on the reality that a select few in the West Wing hold much of the power of the United States, which surprises me. It almost seems like the main characters (less CJ Cregg as press secretary) did much of the policy-making and sifted through what were important aspects/events of the Bartlet Administration. These individuals were not elected, but hand selected by President Bartlet, and while the onus falls on him for their work, it still is a bit uncomfortable to me to think these select few make many decisions for the country. With how much research went into the show, this premise probably is fact.

I’m not quite sure how much longer The West Wing will be on Netflix, but I hope many of you will watch it (at leas the first 5 seasons). The characters are upstanding American citizens who left high paying jobs to pursue a few years in the service of their country. This really is something to admire in them and appreciate as Americans.

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Grace & Frankie: Season 2 on Netflix

I am not a huge TV comedy fan (excluding the Simpsons). I tend more to enjoy dramas or sci-fi TV series, so it’s a bit of an anomaly that I enjoyed Grace and Frankie so much in its second season. To recap: Grace was married to Robert and Frankie was married to Saul for almost 40 years. Robert was having an affair with Saul and they both divorced their wives, only to leave them as roommates. That was the first season in a nutshell. The second season took this general plot-line to the next level and built upon the relationship between Grace and Frankie.

I enjoyed this season for instead of relying on the relationships that Grace and Frankie had with their former husbands, the show focused more on the pasts of the main female characters. Frankie has no sense of business, yet spends a few episodes discussing the promotion of her all-natural lube. Yes, I just typed lube. Grace, on the other hand, is establishing a new relationship with a former suitor, Phil. Phil has a wife who is suffering from end-stage Alzheimers. Unfortunately, the relationship does not go any where for Grace learns she can’t mess around with a married man, especially when she has met his wife.

My favorite  character in the season was Babe, an old hippy friend of both Grace and Frankie. Babe makes Frankie look like a staunch conservative in comparison. Her return is due to her cancer returning and her refusal to seek treatment. Instead, Babe asks Frankie to assist with her suicide. Babe’s dialogue is very intriguing and absolutely hilarious, and in that she was a great asset to the show. In addition though, her story concerning suicide delved into the matters that older people have to consider as they age. It also established both main female cast members as real people with real feelings, which has increased the legitimacy of the series.

The last episode of season 2 is HILARIOUS! We are left at a quasi-cliffhanger of Grace and Frankie going into business with each other. I will leave the secret of the business to those who watch the show, for it’s a good one! If you are in need of a laugh, and in the mood to forecast what getting older may perhaps hold for you, I would suggest watching the series. Episodes are only 30 minutes so to get through a 13 episode season does not take that much time. Watch it!

How to Get Away with Murder: Season 2 on Netflix

When I started the second season of How to Get Away with Murder I thought to myself: “Ok, how are the writers going to make season two even close to as suspenseful as season one?” Season one had a personal feel to it for Annalise’s husband, Sam, was the one who died by her law students. Surprisingly, the writers did meet my expectations on keeping the show fast-paced, viewers on their toes, and the risque-nature of the show.

The first episode of the second season begins with the murder of two parents of an adopted son and daughter, both of which were on trial for the murder of their parents. Annalise becomes their defending attorney, along with her team, to represent the two children (they aren’t children, actually fully-functioning adults). Similar to the first season, the second season starts in an anti-chronological order, in which Annalise is shot. Throughout the season the viewer is introduced to the plot sequence that caused Annalise to be shot in a backwards manner. It’s a very interesting way of telling a story. I wasn’t a huge fan of the method the first season, but it went really well for telling the second season’s story.

Characters from the first season were also present in the second for the seasons occurred exactly back to back so all people kept their role. The students: Wes, Laurel, Michaela, Asher, and Connor were all wonderful in this season. I’m really happy that the producers brought Connor’s boyfriend, Oliver, into more shows, because he is very talented and a shining light in the show. As always, Annalise’s confidants, Frank and Bonnie, were a huge part of the season and we got to find out more about their pas; how they operate as a unit, and how they always have Annalise’s back is fully discussed.

The one plot line that really was very enticing during the new season was discussing Wes’ past and how his mother committed suicide. All we knew in season one was that Wes’ mother did commit suicide. The second season discussed that Annalise played an integral part in her suicide and Wes’ progress into law school. The whole storyline was very interesting and was left at a huge cliffhanger. YAY!

All in all, this show is a masterpiece and incredibly unique. However, I think the only way to watch it is to stream it so you catch multiple shows at once. The show leaves you at the edge of your seat, it’s really hard to stop watching it!!

Salem: Season 2 on Netflix

I thoroughly enjoyed the intrigue of Salem Season One a year ago when it was released onto Netflix. All of the actors were terrific and the plot lines were cutting edge while keeping with the traditional story behind the Salem Witch Trials. Season 2 is just as good as Season 1, even more so at times with the addition of gifted cast members.

This season of Salem takes the traditional story of the Witch Trials and builds upon the establishment of witches in MA as well as the rest of the world. The amazing Lucy Lawless joins the cast as Countess Marburg, a witch from Germany who is incredibly evil and the only one to survive Increase Mather. She is spectacular and plays an evil enchantress amazingly. Stuart Townsend also became a cast member as Dr. Samuel Wainwright. Townsend played a critical role in the show as a scientist trying to undercover the reason for the plague on Salem. Both of these talented actors were incredible additions to the show and made the second season tremendous.

In addition to the above cast member additions, the returning cast members came back to Salem, and built upon their season one plot lines. John Alden and Mary Sibley are tremendous lead characters in the second season. Most importantly, they are supported by even more talented supporting cast of Tituba, Mercy Lewis, Anne Hale, and Cotton Mather. There’s a bit of love, a bit of blood and guts, and a ton of magic in this season. As I said, season one follows a traditional Salem Witch Trial plot line. The second season, however, adds more blood, more magic, and more sex. What a season!!

My last comment must be concerning my favorite aspect of the show: costumes! The costume designer made all of the stops for Countess Marburg. Her dresses were magnificent! All of the other characters, especially Mary Sibley, were incredibly ornate and wonderful to watch (at times better than the acting).

I would highly recommend watching this show, but start from Season one if you haven’t seen it. The second season will not make sense if you don’t watch the first season, so binge it all!!!

Lizzie Borden: Netflix

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted a blog! A lot has changed: a successful defense (yay, I’m a Doctor), moving across country (only to move back in 2 months), and changing career paths. No stress, right?! So, obviously, I needed something to keep me a bit sane during this rather insane time. Cue Netflix! I just completed the 8 episodes of the Lizzie Borden Chronicles, a recently added series to the Netflix family.

You may remember the famous rhyme that children play while skipping rope:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

In 2014, Lifetime aired a film about Lizzie, her life prior to the murders then during/after her trial. She was accused of murdering her father and stepmother. The film left off at the very end of the trial when she was found not guilty. The Chronicles, alternatively, begins when she was released from jail and began her life after the trial. It is all fictionalized and portrays Lizzie as a murderess who seeks revenge over anyone who gets between her, her happiness, and her sister’s happiness.

Overall the 8 episodes are rather well done, considering that the series has been panned by many critics. The costume pieces are exquisite and the sets are almost as comparable to the time era of the Bordens’ life era. You have to consider, however, that this series is a fictional representation of the Bordens, who they were as people, and the individuals that they interacted with. Lizzie is assumed to be a heartless woman, only interested in protecting her own interests. Moreover, she was a wise woman who plotted against her enemies, usually taking most enemies out at once (framing one for another’s murder).

For how much this show had amazing costumes and sets, it had an excessive amount of blood. Lizzie would slit wrists, necks, and sever heads from bodies (at least 2 an episode). It’s pretty gruesome, so this show is definitely for the faint of heart. But, I wonder if this is even close to Lizzie’s personality. From my readings on the internet, it seems highly likely that she killed her family. But the degree of complexity that this series gives to Lizzie in plotting against people who are blackmailing her, is almost inconceivable. Women during the Borden era were not that smart, on the aggregate; additionally, they weren’t use to getting their hands dirty.  In this alone, I feel like the series is a bit preposterous, and I can see why others didn’t really like it. But, if you take it at face value, the series keeps you on the edge of your seat, “What is that crazy woman going to do now?”

I wish Lizzie had a journal. We would at least get to understand what kind of things she thought about. Was she a wise and cunning woman, always planning her next success? Was she obsessed with her sister (the series painted a very vivid picture of her obsession with Emma, her sister, and women)? We won’t ever really know, unfortunately. Borden was found not guilty and lived her life out after the trial, constantly being plagues of the murder of her parents, which I do pity her for. If she had a percentage of the craziness that the series paints her to have, though, I have less pity for her. Regardless, watch it if you’re not squeamish. If you are, be prepared to close your eyes about every 10 minutes. Lots of blood, lots of death. My kind of series.

Netflix Series: Hemlock Grove

Netflix debuted a few years ago, the sci-fi show “Hemlock Grove” and just recently released the third and final season. It’s an odd mix of traditional science fiction themes (vampires, werewolves, etc.) and updated versions of classical science fiction (biological and medicinal research). The main characters are the Godfreys: Olivia (mom), Shelley (daughter), Litha (cousin), Norman (uncle), and Roman (son). They are an extremely wealthy family who owns and operates a variety of industries in Hemlock Grove and whose headquarters is the “White Tower” (ominous, no?). The other main characters are the Rumanceks: Destiny and Peter. Rumancek’s are gypsies and do not nearly have the wealth that the Godfrey’s have. The catch: Godfreys are vampiers and Rumancek’s are werewolves. Obviously two clans that do not mix.

The seasons have a central theme that brings the Rumanceks and Godfreys together, but each season has a mutual evil that both families need to bind together to overcome. The first season is an evil werewolf that keeps attacking women. The second season are these odd, masked, religious zealots who murder people, making it look like an accident. The third season involves an even weirder plot-line of this winged creature who steals Litha’s baby and makes a weird third race to begin the apocalypse.

While the seasons make sense in the central themes, each episode was quite hard to follow. Moreover, some of the subplots were just really odd and superfluous. They neither meshed with the central issues of all of the characters nor were they helpful in understanding why the characters were the way they were. An example of this was the girl(s) that Roman befriends. He likes them, but then casts them aside, then returns to them and uses them. It was just weird!

Probably my favorite character was Olivia played by Famke Janssen. The whole first season, she only wore white. Every outfit was pure white. Gorgeous! Then, she begins to wear colors, solids that progress to prints. Reflecting back on the seasons, I think the white that Olivia wore in the first season were all affiliated with Olivia’s angelic impression on people. In the end, however, Olivia was the most demonic of all the characters. She is psychotic, selfish, and will do anything to protect herself (killing her own children, even). But, Janssen presents Olivia in an amazing manner. She’s elegant, poised, and brilliant.  She’s a character you love to hate.

Overall, I enjoyed the series, even though it did have a few issues. The plot-lines were mostly unbelievable, but when you have a plot in which all the characters are vampires or werewolves, I think you won’t believe any of it. Fairly unbelievable, but why else will you watch something like this? IF you have the time and enjoy science fiction, go for it. Otherwise, don’t bother. You’re not missing much.

50 Shades of Grey

So, little old me spent my Saturday night watching “50 Shades of Grey” because it was on HBO and I thought “why not?” After I watched it, I needed to re-ask myself: “Why?!” Not only did I waste my Saturday night watching crap, I also got really angry throughout the film, then slept like crap since I was so angry. Let’s visit the reasons I hated the film and then turn to the reasons I was so angry and cussing at my TV for the 2 hours it was on.

The short and sweet version of the plot: senior college student, Anna, meets billionaire, Christian Grey. He seduces her to be his “submissive” then continues to mistreat her. For the whole film. And in between small plot lines, there’s a lot of sex, ties being used as handcuffs, and whips. It’s extremely telling that I can summarize this film in two sentences. Not only was the plot extremely lacking in tangible plot lines that the average day movie-goer could relate to, the script was awful. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were decent as the lead cast members, but their lines were terrible. They obviously had nothing to work with.

Now, onto the more important business of the film: my overall anger towards its major themes. Lets cover the first one: Anna is Grey’s submissive. Just think about this for a moment: if Anna was the billionaire and she wanted Grey to be her submissive, do you think the film would be considered a porn? Do you think for one second, that society would find a woman beating a man (yes, I consider taking a whip to someone as beating) as a film to pay money to watch? I think not. That film would be found in one of the skeezy porn cinemas.

Moreover, this idea of a woman as a submissive feeds directly into the idea that society grapples with: a woman is an object. We have all heard of the “trophy wife” or a woman as “arm candy,” but this film has taken that logic to a whole new level. Throughout the film, Grey continuously reminds Anna “You’re mine.” There is no situation where a woman should be treated as such a minimalist object, especially as a sex slave. That’s exactly how Grey treats Anna: a sex slave. He makes her sign a non-disclosure agreement, negotiate terms for that agreement (including the use of some extremely forceful items), and do everything he says.

Not only is Grey a sadist psychopath, Anna is a weak female. She is so blurred by Grey’s gifts and the “new experiences” he is introducing her to, that she can’t see past them to see herself. We are first introduced to Anna as she mumbles through an interview with Grey and cannot think for herself. She is constantly trying to please her roommate, Grey, and her parents, but never herself. This is a HUGE problem and an even more detrimental theme of the film. A woman should be worth much more than her body. She has a mind. She has a soul. She has a heart. A body gets old. A soul stays intact and doesn’t, for the most part, change. Grey saw Anna as a body to torture. He did not see her as a soul to be nurtured and loved. Anna kept on asking Grey throughout the film why he can’t sleep next to her, why she can’t touch him, and why they can’t do couple things. Grey couldn’t do it for he saw Anna as a sex slave and nothing beyond that. Why didn’t Anna think more highly of herself than to fall prey to a crazy creep like Grey.

The most telling scene of the film that was the pinnacle point of my anger was when Grey introduced Anna to what he expected of her. Grey asked Anna about her past relationships. When Anna said she had not been with anyone ever, Grey said “we need to remedy this situation.” Excuse me?! This is not a “situation” that needs to be remedied. Anna was totally caught up in the moment that there was no fight in her to say “Wait, what, asshole?” Literally, I was appalled with the writing, the disgusting way in which Anna is seen as a weak female, and Grey as the man that needed to remedy a situation that in all reality wasn’t a situation to even begin with.

Obviously, my disgust and hatred for the movie could probably be expounded beyond the above 3 paragraphs. People do not need a movie in which women are treated like objects or trash. They get that enough in real life. Moreover, people do not need another porn movie. You can get that free off the internet. So, why pay? It saddens me that people want to go and see trash films like this. It saddens me that an author could imagine a relationship like this. Who am I kidding? It’s not a relationship, it’s a boy meets girl meets whips. That’s all. No substance beyond that.