Pandemic Watchlist: Version 3

Watching TV, Watching Television, TV Watchlist, Pandemic WatchlistWith the Covid-19 pandemic dragging on into the second half of the year, television studios are scraping the bottom of the barrel. They haven’t been able to film anything new and that brings the whole idea of a fall season to a screeching halt.

The fall TV season only existed to sell new TV sets and cars anyway, so that’s no big loss. But if you have wondered what happened to season 2 or 3 or 4 of your favorite show, that’s the reason.

Watchlist Downside / Upside

TV Watch List, PandemicThe downside is obvious but we do have an upside. The networks have to fill time slots with shows that advertisers will support and streaming services have to refresh and renew their offerings. This has resulted in three approaches:

  1. Second time around: Rebroadcasting old series from past decades. Yawn.
  2. The JV team: Putting out shows that might have been produced earlier but never made it out of the can. These either occupied spots further down on the list of what executives thought would make money or were too “far out” for the suits to be comfortable with.
  3. Foreign intrigue: Broadcasting shows produced in other countries that are now appearing on US screens for the first time.

We have no desire to re-watch something I have already seen or watch for the first time something we passed on when it first appeared. Life is too short for that. The second category may include some gems among the dreck. The third option has so far offered the most entertainment.

Here is my recent pandemic watchlist with some of the movies and  TV shows we give a thumbs-up. I won’t bother with the ones we turned off before the first show finished.

Streaming Series

Modus: (Swedish, with subtitles – 2015) “During a snowy Christmas season in Sweden, psychologist and profiler Inger Johanne Vik finds not only herself but also her autistic daughter drawn into the investigation of a number of disturbing deaths.”

This is a police procedural with several twists. It’s engaging and engrossing. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Poor Stina.” Recommended.

BeforeignersBeforeigners (Swedish, with subtitles and some English – 2019) “HBO Nordic’s first original series from Norway, Beforeigners is about two persons who mysteriously appear in Oslo. They are the first of many from the past to seek refuge in present time. Seven years later the community is transformed.”

In a science fiction framework, Beforeigners offers a metaphor for the impact of immigration on a society.How do a Cro-Magnon man, a Viking shield maiden, and a Victorian gentleman react to 21st-century mores and technology? How does the society react to them? There’s some real humor in the answers and twists in the last episode. Recommended for science fiction fans and people who can grasp metaphor.

The Fall: (British, with Belfast accents – 2013, 14, 16) “A psychological thriller that examines the lives of two hunters. One is a serial killer who stalks his victims in and around Belfast and the other is a talented Detective Superintendent from the MET who is brought in to catch him.”

This is a very quiet but compelling series. Gillian Anderson’s Detective Stella Gibson often speaks in a near whisper and even the serial killer is a sneaky, low-key guy. But you’ll want to hear every word. Recommended

Into the Night, NetflixInto the Night: (Netflix, Belgian in various languages with subtitles 2020) “When radiation from the sun causes a global disaster on Earth, survivors on an overnight flight from Brussels race from city to city trying to stay ahead of the sun’s rays by remaining in the cover of night.”

Great concept and good action. The whiny, difficult characters with their constant bickering get on one’s nerves but the drama wins out. Recommended for science fiction fans.

Premium Channels

Perry Mason: (HBO 2020) “In booming 1932 Los Angeles, a down-and-out defense attorney takes on the case of a lifetime.”

This origin story for the eponymous lead character in an old TV series shines because of Matthew Rhys and Tatiana Maslany, both superb actors. It did suffer from a plot too similar to that of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. If you want to choose, pick Perry Mason. Recommended

SSnowpiercer, Bong Joon-Honowpiercer: (Amazon Prime 2020) “Seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, the remnants of humanity inhabit a perpetually-moving train that circles the globe, where class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival play out.”

This series is based on Director Bong Joon-Ho’s movie of the same name. As with the movie, it plays out the director’s constant theme of class warfare but is less brutal. I think a second season would benefit less claustrophobic visuals that show more scenes of the frozen world outside the train. Recommended for science fiction fans.

Movies

The Old Guard, Charlize Theron, WatchlistThe Old Guard: (2020) “A covert team of immortal mercenaries are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.”

Charlize Theron goes through her patented kick-ass action role but with a difference: she’s thousands of years old. Unlike most movies of this genre, which replace dialog with fighting, this one is pretty interesting. If the villain looks familiar it’s because he played Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies. Recommended.

Da 5 Bloods: (2020) “Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.”

Basically, this is a remake of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre updated to the Vietnam War. If middle-aged Black men really quibble and bicker constantly like this, I’m glad I missed the experience. It takes a long time to set up and then the comparison between the two movies becomes obvious. Too obvious. Limited recommendation.

Watchlist Lesson

Watchlist lesson for today: Don’t be afraid of foreign languages. You will find some good stuff to watch out there if you broaden your horizons. We all have to wait a while for the next season of “This is Us.” And major league baseball just isn’t cutting it this season.

But you can still kick back and relax after a hard day of working from home or searching for a new job.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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