Category Archives: netflix

Binge or No: Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet

(Will be cross-posted at Agony Booth.com)

Zombies are the new vampires, that’s for sure. So, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to make them more physically attractive, grant them spacious homes in Suburbia, and give them white-collar jobs. The Santa Clarita Diet is about as pro-zombie as a television series can get . . . minus the gag-inducing scenes filled with vomit, and the occasional image of a limb grossly detaching itself from the human body . . .

The ten-episode thrill-omedy, which premiered on Netflix February 3rd, stars Drew Barrymore as Sheila Hammond, a West Coast suburban realtor, whose recent infection with a zombie virus has given her a renewed zest for life, and a passion for eating men’s balls off . . . literally. (This isn’t your mother’s “Mmmm, Braiiiiiinnnnnnns” type zombie. Sheila is way less wasteful, when it comes to munching on parts of the male anatomy. Oddly enough, no females were harmed in the making of the first season of the series. Is that sexist?)

Early promotional spots for the series actually skirted the whole “Sheila is a zombie” issue entirely, and instead cleverly featured the cast touting the benefits of a “new diet” that offers its participants “tons of energy,” and “makes them look great.” Sheila, herself, is a testament to this, as Drew begins the series looking rather frumpy (and with something disturbingly weird going on with her eyebrows), then subtly becomes more glamorous with each passing episode . . . until the last two, but that’s another story.

In fact, if it weren’t for (1) Sheila’s new zombie-like dependence on her id making her increasingly impulsive, hungry, and reckless; and (2) the whole “murdering people is wrong, and disposing of bodies is hard work” thing, zombie-ism, at least as it’s portrayed in the series, would seem like a pretty workable lifestyle.

As for Sheila’s supporting cast, we have Timothy Olyphant playing waaaaaay against type as Joel Hammond, Sheila’s mild-mannered nebbish of a realtor husband, who’s supportive faux cheeriness, as the body count piles up, borders on frenzied and manic. Basically, this is the kind of role you’d see Matthew Broderick playing, if this series came out about ten-years earlier.

Rounding out the main cast are: Liv Hewson as Abby, Sheila’s and Joel’s rebellious daughter (who is way cooler about the fact that her mother occasionally murders the neighbors, and feasts on human flesh in her spare time, than I would be); Sklyer Gisondo, as Abby’s nerdy and way too-loyal friend / paranormal enthusiast, Eric, and Dan Palmer and Richard T. Jones, as Sheila’s and Joel’s feuding cop neighbors, Rick and Dan.

The Santa Clarita Diet also features Nathan Fillion in a cameo that’s either truly thankless, or patently hilarious, depending on how you view it.

As for the series itself, I think it takes a few episodes to find its footing. The show seems to struggle early on, at least in my opinion, to strike the appropriate balance between comedy and horror. For example, in one scene, you might see Sheila and Joel bathed in blood and guts, as they try to bury the gnarly organs of body that the former just devoured in the woods, without being discovered by the cops.

And then, in the scene immediately following that, Sheila will be depicted, clad in a garbage bag, chasing after, and unsuccessfully attempting to wrestle, a rooster, like she’s a character in a Looney Tunes cartoon?

The series also takes its sweet time in finding the unique voices of its characters, in ways that go beyond them just spouting cheesy zombie and murder puns to one another for 25-minutes. The writing for Sheila, in particular, suffers in the early episodes, as we are told that the realtor mom’s personality has changed drastically, since she was infected, but have to take the rest of the cast’s word for it, as she begins showing signs of infection within the first five minutes of the series.

I was actually planning to discontinue the show after the first two episodes, but soldiered on, and found myself completely hooked around episode four. Around that time, the writing for the series becomes tighter, the jokes funnier, and the main characters become more consistent and relatable in their personalities.

In particular, I found the acting of the teen characters on the show, Abby and Eric, very strong. Their story line adds a sort of sweetness, and a touch of realism to the series, that I think would be lacking otherwise.

Another important point to note, before you venture into The Santa Clarita Diet is that it’s pretty friggin gross. As in, don’t watch it while you are eating . . . EVER! Maybe you folks who just love watching The Walking Dead, and really dig body horror, will be totally cool with this. But I found my eyes averting the screen pretty much any time one of the characters projectile vomits (soooooooo much vomit on this show), or a painted toenail pops off and rolls under the coffee table, or Drew’s Sheila is seen slowly and messily gorging on an arm, while looking much like a baby eating her first spaghetti and meatballs dish. These kinds of scenes amount to roughly a quarter of each episode’s run time, so be warned.

As for trademark zombie lore and the series’ central mystery, i.e. how Sheila came to be infected with the zombie virus in the first place, there isn’t really much there, at least in the first season, which focuses more on the inconveniences and unintentional hilarity of suburban zombie living than any sort of complex rules and/ or zombie origin stories. The mythos that is presented is rather vague and superficial, though I suspect that aspect of the show will be built upon, should The Santa Clarita Diet be picked up for a second season. Still, this might annoy some of you paranormal enthusiasts out there, who tend to like a bit more world-building with your blood, guts and gore.

In short, if you are someone who: (1) likes a good laugh, and a unique take on an old reliable horror movie stable, (2) doesn’t mind lots of gross shots of vomit and disemboweled corpses, (3) doesn’t care too much about origin stories, and (4) is patient enough to get through a rough first few episodes, The Santa Clarita Diet might be the lifestyle change you are seeking. And by “lifestyle change” I mean “five hours seated on your couch watching a show on Netflix, while not eating.” (Did I mention before that you shouldn’t be eating while watching this show?)

Verdict: BINGE IT . . . with discretion.

 

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Binge or No? – Netflix’s 3%

Cross-posted at Agony Booth.com

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Though it may have been ever-so-slightly overshadowed by a certain other Netflix series whose name may or may not rhyme with Shmilmore Shmirls, November 25th brought with it the debut of 3%, an eight-episode Brazilian series that may not be quite as innovative as it believes itself to be but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or timely.

Imagine a world where the economic elite build a wall to keep out the lower economic classes, and then take it one step further, by putting an entire island’s length between a small percentage of rich privileged folks, and the poor underprivileged masses who make up the societal majority. Crazy, right? Unfortunately, not in this day and age.

looking-over-masses

At first blush (and second, and third), 3% is a dystopian young adult fantasy, the likes of which you’ve seen before in countless successful novel trilogies and films. The premise is simple: at some point in the not-so-distant future, society alters itself in some way that it believes will increase the peace among the people. So, a group of young attractive folks of varied social backgrounds and dubious moral compositions, must compete with one another, to prove they are worthy of living in the upper echelons of this new society.

elimiinated

What’s refreshing (albeit, a bit frightening) about 3%’s view of future dystopian society, is that, unlike some of its predecessor’s visions (A society based on individuals’ possession of singular random personality traits? HUH? A society based on the fact that rich people, with terrible taste in clothing, get their kicks out of watching poor teenagers murder one another? WHAT?), this series’ premise actually seems fairly plausible.

you-deserve-it

In short, this is a future society based, at least ostensibly, solely on merit. Every year, all the 20 year olds in the poor part of the world (“the Inland”) compete with one another in a series of mental, physical, psychological, emotional, and team-building tests known as “the Process.” Those who score in the top three percent on those tests get to join the world of the elite on an island referred to as “the Offshore.”

I even liked how the tests involved in “the Process” actually required some intelligence, leadership, and cooperative thinking, and weren’t just about people beating the crap out of one another . . .

building-blocks

This is not to say that I think the fictional society created in 3% is a good idea. In fact, the series takes great pains to show you that it is not. Specifically, like any form of society premised upon separating the haves from the have-nots, it breeds corruption among those in power. It also seems to reward those most capable of deception, manipulation, and, at times, out-right violence, at the expense of those individuals who are honest and more docile.

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And, of course, like many series involving a dystopian society, this one includes a rebellious faction, hell-bent on overthrowing the current status quo, in exchange something “better.” In the 3%, these folks are referred to as “the Cause.”

But unlike some of the more simplistic dystopian stories, 3% is a bit less black-and-white in how it views its society. In fact, the arguable main villain of the story, Ezequiel, the person responsible for creating and running the process whereby the 3% are ultimately selected, is easily the most complex, multi-faceted, and interesting character in the series. Likewise, the members of “the Cause,” the would- be heroes of a tale like this, are shown to have some dubious, less than noble, motivations of their own, for doing the things they do.

covered-up

Character is something the 3% offers in abundance. There are some juicy intriguing characters here, ones that don’t fall into the pat stereotypes that tend to pervade this particular genre. The episodes are structured in the now-familiar format made popular by the TV series, Lost. Namely, each character (at least the important ones) get their own “centric” episode, which flashes back to key moments of their past, before whisking them back to the present in the Process, thereby illuminating how their experiences in the former, dictate or inform their actions in the latter.

climbing

To keep you entertained and guessing, the series also offers some clever twists along the way. Some of which you will guess quite easily, early on, even before the characters do. Others may genuinely surprise you.

One of the things I enjoyed, particularly about the earlier episodes of the series was the fact that, since I didn’t know any of these actors and I wasn’t reading a book about them told from a first-person perspective, I was never entirely sure which participants in the Process would be eliminated in a particular episode. In fact, more than once, a character I thought would be important to the story suffered an early elimination and became a complete non-entity.

elite

I would be remiss not to mention that the actors in 3% speak in Brazilian Portuguese. So, if that’s not your first language, some adjustments will have to be made before beginning the series on Netflix. A number of dubbing options, including English, are available. But the message boards are informing me that the English dubbing kind of sucks. Therefore, I recommend watching 3% as I did, in its native tongue, with your chosen language as subtitles. I promise it won’t detract from your viewing pleasure.

Another caveat: Given the heavy amount of exposition generally required for the world-building of dystopian series’ like this one, I found the first episode of 3% to be a bit slow-moving, and some of the dialogue involved in it to be unnatural, at best, and clichéd, at worst. If you feel as I did after watching episode 1, I recommend trying episode 2, anyway. It gets better.

surprise

In Summation: The 3% offers up many of the structural, thematic, and narrative devices you’ve come to expect from dystopian young adult stories. However, it’s use of a plausible premise that will have you and your friends debating the merits of a sociological oligarchy based on merit, complex characters, and clever plotting overrides some of its more clichéd aspects for an entertaining and intelligent viewing experience . . . provided you’ve selected the proper subtitle settings prior to viewing.

FINAL ANSWER: BINGE IT!

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Embrace the Binge – Orange is the New Black Season 3 is almost here!

OINT S 3

Mark your calendars, Netflix subscribers and people who have their friends’ Netflix login information and passwords memorized!  June 12th is fast approaching.  And with it comes our long-awaited reunion with plucky, pretty, erstwhile drug runner, Piper Chapman and her diverse gaggle of felonious female pals.

When we last left the ladies of Litchfield Correctional Facility, their formerly airtight “tribe” alliances, were showing some serious signs of strain, under the corrosive influence of sociopathic Bond villain and former drug lord, Vee Parker.

sick kids with cancer

[MAJOR spoiler alert for those who have not yet watched Season 2.  I’m not kidding!  Click away from this page now.  I’ll wait .  . . ]

piper waits

[Are they gone yet?  Super!  Let’s continue . . .]

Vee, a drug kingpin who manipulated teenage orphans with nowhere else to turn (like the whipsmart, but vulnerable, Taystee) to do her bidding, and murdered those same orphans when they had the audacity to attempt to strike out on their own, left an immediate and indelible impact on the ladies of Litchfield, in her short tenure as the series’ antagonist.

vee versus red

In just a few episodes, Vee managed to (1) break up the seemingly iron clad friendship between Taystee and Poussey; (2) completely brainwash the childlike, but indubitably well-meaning,  “Crazy Eyes” Suzanne, into her terrifyingly loyal top henchwoman; and (3) turn nearly the entire prison against its tough-as-nails mother figure and long reigning queen Red.

Then, long-suffering cancer-patient/prisoner Rosa accidentally/ on purpose ran Vee over with the Litchfield Prisoner Transport wagon, while both were simultaneously plotting their escapes from the women’s prison.  This casual bout of vehicular manslaughter brought  Vee’s reign of terror in Litchfield to its untimely, though not entirely unexpected, end.  Not to mention, it taught us all a very important lesson about the importance of being polite . . .

run over by truck run over two

Also last season on Orange, Alex Voss, Piper’s siren song into a world of crime, pleaded with her once -lover to perjure herself on the witness stand, to prevent Alex from receiving more jail time.  Piper did as she was instructed, only to later find that Alex had dimed Piper out to buy herself a get-out-of-Litchfield free card, simultaneously earning Piper an extended sentence in the pokey for her trouble.   But then Piper turned around and ratted out Alex right back to her parole officer, ensuring that Alex Voss’ days wearing orange are far from over . . .

couple

Still with me?

In other news, Piper’s SUPER boring fiancé Larry had an affair with her EVEN MORE BORING best friend, Polly.  Their tepid “forbidden” romance was the only downside to an otherwise awesome season.  Fortunately, neither will be back for Season 3.  So, those two scumwads can live boringly ever after, while we focus on the good stuff going on with our resident bad girls . .  .

jason biggs dancing

Larry was so much more fun, back when he was having sex with pastries . . .

So what’s on tap for Season 3?

Well, if the above-posted trailer is any indication, we can expect the following:

(1) Lots of Drama with a capital D, following Alex’s surprise return to Litchfield.

already there

(2) A potential love triangle between the aforementioned ladies and androgynous newbie Stella.

skinny hot girl not hot legs up to

(3) Black Cindy beginning a possible new career as a rapper? (“January, February, March, April, May and June” is officially my new jam.)

puff out

(4) Mama Pornstache?

ass haunts me

(5) Speaking of mothers, Dayanara Diaz will, hopefully, finally give birth to the spawn of That Guy from How to Get Away with Murder . . .

hall monitor

. . .  seeing as how the poor girl has been pregnant for over two years . . .

five different baby

(6) More inmate flashbacks for those not characters not yet highlighted during the show’s first few seasons, like the quietly loyal Norma, the animal loving, new hairdo-having Boo, and Flaca, who is featured heavily in the trailers and YouTube sneak peek.

never late late today

(7)  Hopefully, a chance to read Crazy Eyes’ heart-warming alien orgy love story. Now that’s a tale that needs to be on my Kindle, like, yesterday!

two people connecting

four other people aliens

(8) Musical interludes like this fabulous gem, complete with matching hand gestures!

If you haven’t been sucked into the vortex that is OINTB, fear not, you have two weeks to gorge on the first two seasons, which are currently waiting for you in your Netflix queue.  (It helps if you avoid doing unnecessary things like sleeping, showering, and going to work.)

binging

For those of you who are already fans, what are you most looking forward to in Orange’s junior year?  Whose back story are you most interested in seeing?  Are you as thrilled to see the back end of Larry as I am?  And most importantly, how long until Crazy Eyes’ Alien Orgy Porno becomes a NY Times best seller?

See you June 12th, ladies and gents.  Until then, try to stay out of the pokey . . . (They don’t have Netflix there .. .)

dont go to prison live hear with

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