Bowing out gracefully, or in one chunk
Two shows coming to an end, Ozark and Better Call Saul. The former went with the Breaking Bad final season approach, two parts of an equal number of episodes (seven), released for binging purposes all at once three months apart. Better Call Saul, on the other hand, released the first two episodes of its final season six initially, then one episode per week every Tuesday thereafter. (Note: Here in Japan, the show airs on Netflix, concurrently with the US release on AMC.)
In the recent ballyhoo about Netflix missing its subscriber targets, one analysis mentioned that the binge-ready way of releasing all episodes of a show or a season at once might no longer have the same appeal it once did (I’m paraphrasing). Although I didn’t binge this final part of the final season of Ozark (limiting myself to an episode a day or every two days), being able to contrast the readily-available nature of Ozark versus the wait-until-Tuesday of Better Call Saul has made me realize that indeed I much prefer the set release schedule. I enjoy the anticipation, the having something to look forward to aspect, of Better Call Saul. (And let’s be honest, as entertaining as Ozark is, it just doesn’t have the considered quality of Better Call Saul.) And I appreciate the ease with which I can access tv critics’ recaps or Reddit discussions of the episode I just watched without having to traverse spoiler minefields.
As far as I can tell, Apple TV+ has been taking the weekly episodic approach much more to heart, at least with the shows I’ve watched recently: Pachinko, Slow Horses, Severance, We Crashed. Is it just a coincidence or does this weekly release concept help feed the impression I have that the quality across the board of the fare on Apple TV+ is of a higher level and that with the exception of We Crashed, none of them felt like a Netflix show, however ill-defined or vague that feeling might be?
Although I had several issues with it, which might best be summed up by that critic fave “uneven”*, I dare say I’ve never seen a TV production as drop-dead gorgeous as Pachinko. Watching Game of Thrones a few years ago, you could not escape the sense, bolstered by repeated mentions of budgets in the press, of each episode having the production values of a blockbuster movie. But you could also not escape the fact that much of that was tied to CG and rubberized dragons and so forth. Pachinko on the other hand, in a strangely unassuming way, feels like a proper epic historical film, with exquisite set and costume design captured through beautiful cinematography, episode after episode.
* A lot of my disappointment with Pachinko — and don’t get me wrong, I still adored the show immensely — was connected to this sense I had that the creators couldn’t decide whether it was a limited series or a multi-season project. I suppose this is endemic to current TV where any renewal of the series likely won’t happen until after the first season begins airing, but I wish more thought and care was given to how to end in such a way that either option (renewal or cancellation) is possible. (I see now on Wikipedia that Pachinko was renewed for a second season in April.)
Miniseries of yonder
Pachinko reminded me a lot of the miniseries — is this term even used anymore? — I watched as a kid growing up in the late 70s and early 80s. Roots of course is probably the one that ushered in the era of the miniseries, although I only saw parts of it at the time. But later I watched many that I can still remember quite clearly: Shōgun with Richard Chamberlain (wasn’t he in all of these miniseries?), which I saw twice, once at home and once at school, the two Herman Wouk ones about WWII, The Thorn Birds (aah, I was absolutely smitten with Rachel Ward), later Fortunes of War with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. I would not watch these again, 40 years later, fearing they would not hold up well, but I do cherish the memory of these early milestones in my cultural upbringing.
Documentaries and misogyny
Watched both the Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. docuseries and The Tinder Swindler documentary in quick succession. Both are fine, well-done, particularly the latter which to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from for some reason. (It may be that the title itself pretty much tells you all you need to know about what the story will be about.) But what surprised me was looking for some commentary or follow-up about the respective stories and discovering the sheer amount of victim-blaming connected with the women portrayed, especially Sarma Melngailis, the restauranteur turned fugitive of Bad Vegan. No doubt she shouldn’t come off completely blameless, and is certainly an imperfect and evasive narrator, but how anyone can listen to the many audio recordings of the coercive controlling and gaslighting Anthony Strangis and still come out wholly or largely blaming Melngailis is beyond me. Except that it isn’t really. Imagine if the rolls were reversed, or it was a con-woman swindling a succession of men she met through Tinder. The 30% audience rating for Bad Vegan on Rotten Tomatoes is telling.