Netflix and Laugh

I’ve had Netflix for years. I don’t watch many movies using the service, but I do watch quite a bit of TV on it. I’ve been catching up on shows I never watched when they were first on, or re-watching things that I saw (but not all of) and now shows that Netflix produced itself.

I’ve not watched every Netflix produced show yet (the list of shows is more expansive than I thought), but the ones I have seen I’ve quite enjoyed. Some more than others, obviously, though I’ve managed to find something enjoyable about almost all of them. The only show I didn’t particularly like was Sense8, from the Wachowski siblings (and J Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame). That was visually quite stunning, but the plot and story were rather boring and confusing. Other than that, however, I’m enjoying them.

Recently I’ve been watching both Grace & Frankie and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between the two shows, though they are quite different. The former is about the adventures of the titular characters, two 70-something women who move in together after their husbands leave them to start a homosexual relationship with each other. The latter is about a woman who escaped from underground captivity after 15 years and moves to New York to begin life anew. On the face of it they obviously don’t seem very much alike at all. Yet both shows have a strong feminist stance and impeccable comic timing.

Grace & Frankie

I’ve just finished watching the second season of Grace & Frankie, and am in the middle of season two of Kimmy Schmidt. Like the actresses who star in the show, Grace & Frankie got better with age (and the second season). Whilst I enjoyed the first season, I felt it took a few episodes to really get in the swing of things. The first episode did a good job of establishing the characters and their personalities — as a good pilot episode will do — but felt a bit awkward for much of the first season. Grace (Jane Fonda) is the uptight, stressed-out, aristocratic woman who has spent her whole marriage never getting to know her husband or living. She’s cold — to family and friends — and, by the time of the show, a high-functioning alcoholic. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is the polar opposite, the free-spirited, hippie-esque artist with a caring soul. The two play off each other well and learn from each other. The show makes it clear that they are (or have become since their divorce) avowed feminists who fight for their own bodies, creations and rights. I’ve never heard the word ‘vagina’ said more often than in this show. It’s always hilarious how uncomfortable ‘vagina’ makes people in the show (even Grace, to start). The second season finale was one of the funniest episodes of anything I’ve ever watched. Not only were the women talking about vaginas, but also death, children, masturbation and marriage. These are not topics that generally come up in sitcoms, especially those on network television. Nor are characters of their age dealt with in a realistic way in network shows. I can’t imagine Grace & Frankie airing on any network (maybe Showtime or HBO, maybe) even five years ago because of the issues it raises. Such is my respect for Netflix that they have chosen to embrace such a show; and for the stars, writers and producers in performing in such a show. I’ve learned more about growing old gracefully (or perhaps not, depending on your point of view) from the show than I had in all of my previous experiences watching TV.

The other comedy, Kimmy Schmidt, takes a completely different approach to comedy. Kimmy SchmidtFrom the fertile creative mind of Tina Fey and starring Ellie Kemper (of the American version of The Office) as the optimistic title character, the show had great promise in the first season. After spending the 2000’s in an underground bunker after being kidnapped as a teenager, Kimmy is basically a 30-year-old woman with the mentality of an innocent child. This of course leads to much hilarity, as she struggles to live in the cynical world of New York and remain positive in the face of constant adversity. Kimmy’s got newfound independence and freedom and is determined to use it. As the theme song for the show goes, ‘Females are strong as hell’. The first season was very quirky and funny, showing that Kimmy is experiencing life for the first time. The second season, however, seems to have lost some of its charm. There are tons of 80’s and 90’s pop culture references, befitting someone who grew up in that time period and hasn’t seen anything else since. But as Family Guy has proved, pop culture references don’t necessarily hold up over time and aren’t funny in-and-of themselves (especially if you don’t actually understand the reference). Unfortunately, Kimmy Schmidt didn’t take those lessons to heart. Whilst there are still funny moments, it’s not as funny as the first season.

Still, Netflix definitely has two bona fide hit shows on its hands. I find myself watching more Netflix originals than network shows. In part that’s due to their binge-watching appeal (due to the whole season being available at once) and another part due to the fact that there are no commercials. In other part it’s because Netflix allows for a bit more risk in their shows than networks. There’s swearing, nudity and adult content (in some of their shows like House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black) — though never much of anything in any of them. I imagine Amazon shows are a bit similar, though there are quite a number fewer. The future of television is definitely moving to online content providers (which is why CBS is getting in on the plan with the new Star Trek series I imagine). I’m glad Netflix is there providing it for me. Maybe one day I can join them in providing content. That’s a dream, at least.


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