Why I’m Watching My TV Again



Nope. Not to procrastinate. The writing still happens. But after years of avoiding the blank LCD in my living room, I’ve been lured back to the couch.

Not too long ago, everything on television seemed to be drifting toward reality TV. Those giant media conglomerates would launch a niche channel and slowly, over the course of a few years or months, that niche would degrade into voyeurism that often had nothing to do with the channel’s original premise.

But today, bold, niche entertainment is starting to become the rule and not the exception. Turns out, people will pay to see exactly the type of programming they want to see instead of being forced to surf through one marathon after another of survivalists, blue collar workers well…working, and the carnivalesque exploitation of the mentally disabled.

TV’s no longer “TV” and hasn’t been for a while. It’s a feed. An all-you-can-eat buffet where you pick the menu and not some pre-loaded buffet trough where you shuffle behind the retirees for your next foray under the warming lamps.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned my love of Netflix’s original lineup. House of Cards, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and now Stranger Things are all on my watch list. Last week though, I spent my binge TV time with Amazon Prime.

If you haven’t seen Man in the High Castle yet, it’s a solid show. From Phillip K. Dick’s book by the same name, the World War 2 era “what if” is a rare, well done tribute to Dick’s legacy. Sure, it takes some liberties but nothing like the dozens of movies created from his body of work, some of which just seemed to borrow the title and go their own direction. And to be fair, Dick intended it to be the first book of a series and one he never completed. A bit of creative license is necessary.

While I still feel Amazon is trailing behind Netflix on original programming, between the two services, I’ve covered most of my bases for “things I would like to see” and at a fraction of what my cable provider wants for access to their ridiculous slate of channels (not to mention the “optional” DVR.)

And now that the cable channels have caught on to the power of the digital self-serve platform, I’m also catching the shows I wouldn’t pay for 500 other channels I don’t watch just to see.

Shows like Mr. Robot.

I don’t know that this show would have been given a chance without the current laissez faire era we’ve entered in digital programming. Some executive would have shot it down or else tried to force the storyline along an episodic digital vigilante arc, because “superheroes are cool right now and Disney is kicking our ass”. Instead, they’ve let it chart its own weirdly satisfying, counter-culture course full of orchestral swells, the shattering of the fourth wall, a loose handle on narrative progression, and a richly layered plot.

Sam Esmail, the creative force behind the show, uses disorienting camera angles and a running dialogue with the audience from hacker, Elliot, to keep you guessing as the plot unfolds. Esmail’s style reminds me of Kubrick where everything feels gritty and spontaneous yet with a well-honed edge. (And yes, it rides that edge on the very precipice of pretentiousness, but never quite falls over it.)

It’s hard to talk much about the plot without spoilers. It’s as if somebody took the headlines about Anonymous, cooked them in a spoonful of heroin, and bludgeoned the whole mess with a pillowcase full of bars of soap rendered from the body fat of the rich and famous.

The signature of Palahniuk’s Fight Club is utterly unmistakable here. If you’re a fan of the movie or book, you’ll either love this series as an homage or despise it as an imitator. My guess though is you’ll forgive the lapses because as soon as they occur, you’re pulled deeper into the conspiracy.

Did I mention the fourth wall? Want to witness it come tumbling down? If you have the gear, check out the VR mini-episode they filmed. You couldn’t ask for a more appropriate use of what might be considered a sheer gimmick with any other show.

If you haven’t seen Mr. Robot, go rectify that. You can catch all the episodes for season one for free on Amazon Prime which will nearly catch you up with real time (season 2 just started.) Then, you can binge the next four episodes of season 2 on USA for free and be fully indoctrinated into #fsociety.

The digital revolution marches on.

Full disclosure – the link I provide to Amazon is for a free trial and I’ll get a few bucks as an Associate if you sign up but it’s up to you whether you want to subscribe or not.


Categories: Reviews

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