Trying Out New TV Shows

My summer’s wrapping up, but I’ve had a little bit of extra time to fit in a couple more television series before I get back to work, so I’ve been browsing the streaming libraries to see if there was anything interesting on hand.  So far there’s nothing I’m really taken with, but I have tried out a couple of series briefly, and I have some minor thoughts on them.

The other day, Rachael and I saw that the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was on Netflix.  I’ve heard from a few sources that it’s a fun show, and the conceit of performing a couple original songs each episode is a charming one, so I suggested we try it out.

We got through the first two episodes and then decided to pass on it.

Perhaps there’s something more engaging about the show later on, but the first two episodes didn’t have a whole lot going for them.  While the premise of a woman making a drastic life change for the sake of a guy she spent one summer with has some potential (it strikes me as a sort of inversion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope), the execution falls back on a lot of sexist stereotypes.  The main character seems to be struggling with depression in the first episode (we see that she’s not satisfied with her life in New York, and one scene around the middle of the episode shows her discarding a bunch of medication that’s presumably for depression), but she rapidly transitions to an intense sort of mania as she tries to insinuate herself into her old boyfriend’s life without admitting to herself that his presence is her primary motivation for moving out west.  My previous understanding of the show was that it was going to be an attempt to subvert the narrative of the crazy ex-girlfriend, but the main character does nothing but fixate on her ex; there’s no extra depth depicted in the first two episodes.  The second episode is even built around the sexist premise that women can’t be friends with one another, and involves the main character going to some pretty demented places as she again fails to display any self awareness about her actions.

Another show that I picked up after finishing with Mad Men is the Netflix series A Very Secret Service (the original French title is Au Service De La France, which, if my high school French isn’t too rusty, literally means “In the service of France”; I’m not entirely sure why its English title is so different).  I’m guessing Netflix recommended it because it’s a period show, set in 1960 much like the beginning of Mad Men.  That’s about the extent of the similarities though, as its a half-hour satire of the spy genre (that translates into twenty minute episodes, which means that I accidentally watched nearly half the season in a morning).  Parts of it are incredibly funny, like a moment in one episode where a meeting between the French agents and representatives from the CIA comes to a halt as the French fail to understand how John Kennedy’s rumored habit of sleeping around could be a political weakness in the upcoming election between him and Richard Nixon.  Other parts are… not so good.  One subplot that begins in the first episode and comes to fruition in the third is the ongoing arrival of delegations from French colonies in Africa requesting independence.  That episode’s a really difficult one to watch, as the main character gets drafted to help the latest delegation work through the details of establishing independence while the rest of the agents secretly assassinate members of the delegation in order to intimidate them from continuing the process.  It’s a case of that classic trap of portraying something problematic, in this case the racist and colonialist attitude of a European country during the period when many African nations were trying to become independent, and failing to offer a useful critique so that it simply becomes another example of the thing it’s supposed to criticize.  The majority of the characters are blatantly racist and dismissive of the delegates, and the use of this dynamic as the springboard for jokes at the Africans’ expense plays poorly, especially as it becomes clear that they’re being deliberately murdered.

A Very Secret Service is only twelve episodes long, and outside of that one highly problematic plotline, I’ve found it mildly engaging so far.  I’ll probably finish it before I go back to work, though I don’t know if it’s something I’ll want to return to in future seasons.

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