Culture Crash 19-06: Missing Gems in the Deluge of ‘Peak TV’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

Vulture reported that 495 scripted television shows were broadcast and streamed for the first time in 2018. That’s up from the 216 series that aired less than a decade ago, back in 2010.

With such a boom in the sheer volume of the medium, thanks largely to the growth of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video… it can be easy to lose track of everything you’ve been meaning to watch.

Case in point for me is the Showtime limited series, Escape at Dannemora. The show began airing just a few months back in November, but in TV time, that’s eons ago. Anyway, I meant to watch the show when it was coming out but forgot all about it until the show began hitting the awards circuit. Patricia Arquette specifically has won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Award for her turn in the series, and that was what finally reminded me to give the show a try.

Boy, am I glad I did. Escape at Dannemora is based on a real 2015 prison break in upstate New York and stars Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro as two prison inmates, and Patricia Arquette as a prison employee who becomes tangled up in their web. All seven episodes of the series were directed by Ben Stiller, but make no mistake: this show is a dramatic thriller, not a whimsical comedy. It’s really good and now streaming on Showtime’s various web apps.

But Escape at Dannemora isn’t the only shows I missed in the waterfall of TV content.

High on my to-watch list are AMC’s The Little Drummer Girl, based on the John le Carre novel of the same name and Netflix’s Bodyguard, which is a hugely successful political thriller that originally aired on BBC One. Of course, at some point I may need some comedic relief, in which case I’ll turn to, maybe Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Netflix’s American Vandal, two shows I’ve started but have not finished.

The reservoir of TV content is very, very deep. Sometimes, that can be daunting. And sometimes, that can mean stumbling back on something that dominated the zeitgeist for a few fleeting moments several months ago, and having a blast discovering those things for yourself.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-02: True Detective

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

Tonight marks the long-awaited, sometimes excitedly and sometimes with dread, but long-awaited, return of True Detective. The TV phenomenon of 2014 and possibly the biggest letdown of 2015 is back for its third season, and the early reviews suggest this should be more like the incredible first season and not like the dud of a season two.

Still gone is season one directing wonder Cary Fukanaga, but back is writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto, who has been attached to the show all along. This time he’s sharing the directorial duties with Jeremy Saulnier, the acclaimed director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, and Daniel Sackheim, an Emmy nominee with credits on Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Ozark, and many other shows and movies. Even in his writing, Pizzolatto has sought some help from Graham Gordy and TV legend David Milch, who both co-write separate episodes of season 3.

Back on season 2, Pizzolatto faced a tough turnaround time, scrambling to make a second season that debuted just over a year after the first season finished. The end product seemed rushed, poorly plotted, and was generally hard to follow, even compared to the labyrinth first season. This time, Pizzolatto and co. have had more than three years to write a new season, that can hopefully recapture the old magic.

This go-around will be headed by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and takes place over three time periods in the Ozarks. The details are being mostly withheld, but it appears it will once again delve into a complex investigation of deeply macabre and disturbing crimes.

True Detective was a marquee hit for HBO back in 2014, and despite its stumble in 2015, it still represents a huge name-brand show for a network that will see its biggest hit, Game of Thrones, come to an end this summer. This is a show that matters for a network that still carries weight. For tonight, and the next seven Sunday’s, all eyes will be on HBO and True Detective. Let’s hope it rights this ship and enthralls us once again.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-34: The Joys of ‘Junk Food TV’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

When people talk about television, there’s generally a skew toward prestige TV. We discuss the achievements of Breaking Bad, LOST and Orange is the New Black, we marveled at the talent of Sterling K. Brown and Elisabeth Moss… and deservedly so! Those shows and actors are incredible and they have entertained many of us for hours on end with their high concepts and thoughtfulness. But there’s another brand of TV that’s easy to overlook, what I call junk food TV. In this comparison, those prestige shows are your nice dinners out: they’re prepared with care by professionals. This junk food TV is what you reach for when you just need something easy and fast and delicious.

For me, it’s MTV’s The Challenge. I’ve watched it for years- I know the running resentments and simmering dramas. I enjoy the athletic challenges, the backstabbing of the votes. It’s pure entertainment. For others, this is the role that Riverdale, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or heck, even Family Feud hold.

Lately, my wife has come home and decompressed from hectic days by watching Nailed It on Netflix. Nailed It is a show where home bakers try imitating complicated recipes made by professionals, who make decadent desserts look easy. They typically fail spectacularly, and everyone has fun laughing and commiserating with each other. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable.

Not every day can be a day when I feel up to the emotional weight of watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale or The Leftovers. Sometimes, I need to relax by flipping on The Challenge and watching 30-somethings try to race across platforms 20 feet over water and then vote their friends into elimination challenges. That’s just the way it is.

Junk food TV rarely wins awards or gets celebrated, but sometimes it’s what allows us to relax on a Tuesday night, and that’s worth appreciating.

I’m Evan Rook.