Category Archives: The Weekend Binge

The Weekend Binge: Sex Education

Over a decade ago, when I too was navigating the hotbed of hormones, puberty, and wanting to smush my face against other peoples faces, the only thing I had for reference was Skins. And the guys in Skins were cool. Too cool. Far too cool. They popped pills, drank themselves silly, went on holidays, and shagged like pro-porn stars. They weren’t figuring out their bodily bits whilst awkwardly starring at popularity as though it were a cat just out of my grasp.

Embarrasing behaviour in television series didn’t seem to really come to me until The Inbetweeners and seeing as girls were treated as mythical fit creatures, that didn’t seem to appeal to me too. It is only recently that has been great developments in truly looking at the intimacy and idiocy of sexuality and all the nasty feels that come with it with in shows such as Big Mouth, Awkward and this brand new British comedy show Sex Education.

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Created by Laurie Nunn, and directed by Ben Taylor (episodes 1 – 4)  and Kate Herron (episodes 5 – 8,) Sex Education is a brilliant whirlwind of pubescence and growing up. It revolves around Otis, the 16 year old boy whose mum Jean is a sex therapist. Trying to navigate through Sixth Form, he is approached by Maeve who suggests that he uses his learned expertise to help the gawky teens of their school for a price.

Blending eighties and seventies fashion and music into a modern day setting, Sex Education is a stylish romp with British pulp. The comedy is a fresh beat of a show that gets into the details of what’s brooding underneath.

Asa Butterfield makes a brilliant lead character in the gangly Otis who has never masturbated due to a repressed fear. Getting comfortable with his new role as the school’s sex guru, he also has to tackle the openness of his mother Jean (played amazingly by the effortless Gillian Anderson and, despite her being somewhat ), her own complications, and his secret attraction to Maeve. Who, by the way, is played greatly by Emma Mackey, deeply diving into the “social outcast” stereotype and pulling out a full dimensional character with soul. Otis’ openly gay best friend Eric is genius and Nccuti Gatwa gets to delve into the morsels of being homosexual whilst coming from a conservative and religious family.

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What Sex Education does phenomenally well is shape it’s characters with their abundance of diversity and sexuality. Whilst also teaching the audience about difficult sexual behaviours such as vaginismus or how your emotional map can affect your downstairs area, it fleshes out each and every role here. Not one person is cast aside as the show dives deep into LGBT issues, how pressure at a young age can impact, and life without the support of a family. It is earnest in it’s depiction of Sixth Form students and masterful in making us care for each an everyone.

Yet the show doesn’t hesitate to grapple with darker themes such as abortion, consent, and homophobia. Happily, it doesn’t showcase these issues with graphic depictions in an misguided attempt to be “honest.” It is exactly that but it is subtle, sensitive, and enriched with a deep understanding. Sex Education is perhaps one of the best written TV shows about teenagers out there, replacing melodrama with hilarity and earnestness.

It is alarmingly nice to watch a television series about teenagers where they aren’t popping pills and coolly having the best sex they’ve ever had. It’s a gloriously open and honest portrayal of what teenagers actually get up too when their trying to figure out their sticky bits. An impressive must-see show that ticks with great rhythm, fantastic emotion, and seriously hilarious comedy.

Sex Education is available to watch on Netflix! 

The Weekend Binge – Parks and Recreation

I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Office, both UK and US versions. It’s not that I hated it completely but I could never really get into it. Perhaps it was the characters or perhaps it was the set up. See I could never completely grasp the idea that a film crew, unseen, is following some lowly office workers around and they are interviewed after a certain event happens. It seems like a cheap trick. But while I couldn’t wrap my head around The Office, I most certainly dived head first into Parks and Recreation without a second thought. Why? Because of Leslie Knope and her collection of incredible characters who lifted this show into exceedingly good comedy.

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Parks and Recreation revolves around the small town of Pawnee. Leslie Knope is in charge of the titular committee, meant to bring more character and leisure activities to the town. When local resident Anne Perkins tells her of the massive hole behind her house that her boyfriend Andy Dwyer fell into and broke both his legs, Leslie makes it her mission to turn it into the town’s best park. With the help of her team which includes intern April Ludgate, the entrepreneurial Tom Haverford and the stoic anti-government director Ron Swanson. Through seven amazing seasons, the team will battle bureaucracy and the weird townspeople who’ll try to cut April down at every turn.

At the centre of Parks and Recreation is Amy Poehler, and, oh my gosh, aren’t we happy about that? As the perky Knope, Poehler’s leading lady is certainly no wallflower and brings a fresh beat to the television screens. Smart yet loving, tenacious but endearing, Knope is a remarkable woman and an icon for viewers. Poehler’s talent marvellously brings her to life and it is an epic and consistent performance. Surrounding her and each bringing a extraordinary character that you cannot forget. Aziz Ansari’s Tom brings metrosexual to the team, Rashida Jones’ earthier best friend Anne is complex, Chris Pratt’s silly man-child Andy is a fan favourite as well as Aubrey Plaza’s droll and sullen April. Not forgetting Adam Scott as Leslie’s counterpart Ben that brings the geek to the show, Retta’s mysterious but dynamic Donna, Rob Lowe’s fitness and optimism, Jim O’Heir’s big sap Gerry (or Garry. Or Larry) and not forgetting Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson who is simply epic (and has the best giggle ever).

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After a few slow episodes, the mockumentary style sitcom begins to flourish, much like Leslie’s career. The comedy becomes more honed and rambunctious, with each character fleshing out their role, the seasons heighten with this flare and humour unmatched. As Leslie rises through government and marriage, her storylines don’t squander that of those around her. Throughout her journey, the Parks and Rec department evolve too and through slapstick, sarcasm and some unbelievable yet realistic moments, Knope and her team create one of the best television shows of all time. I’d like to sit here and pick out highlights but from Bye Bye Lil’ Sebastian to the Snake Juice effects, Leslies campaign for councilwoman to Ron amd Tammy, this is a series filled with excellence, exuberance and spirit.

The show may have ended  but luckily Amazon and many VOD hosting sites still have all the episodes for your perusal.  Honestly, with Amy Poehler at the helm, creating one of the most beloved characters on television. With each new adversity that she must tackle, you feel very much part of the team. And there are poignant moments here too (including a beautiful wedding and Ron Swanson getting emotional), so you aren’t without your character development either. Parks and Recreation is entertaining, wholly and completely.

Parks and Recreation is available on Amazon Video! 

The Weekend Binge: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Every now and then, there are television shows that come along that sweep nearly everyone up into the frenzied world. Series that are heart-felt, hilarious, and honest. Shows that filter through the drudgery of life like beacons of hope, cupping your heart in their beaming world, and making you smile. Even if it was just for 20 minutes at a time. There are television shows such as Parks & Recreation or Community, that would bring you so much unbridled joy.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of those shows.

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Sadly, Fox have deemed it unworthy of continuing, choosing to cancel the show after five seasons, much to the dismay of countless fans across the world.

So, if there was any way of another studio picking it up, we’d have to flood them with viewers and figures. Which is why I’m here to convince the those of you who haven’t seen this show (I’m assuming you have other important things to do) to get watching.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy cop procedural show starring Andy Samberg as police detective Jake Peralta. Die-Hard obsessive, lazy, and wishing his life were an action film. In the workplace, however, there are enough hijinks with an abundance of characters that populate his life including the food connoisseur and over amorous Charles Boyle, the deadpan and tough Rosa Diaz, the eccentric Gine Linetti, the hard-working Amy Santiago, and the soft but muscular Terry Jeffords. Their world is shaken when they get an uptight boss Captain Raymond Holt yet could he be the right fit for the Nine-Nine?

Yes. Yes he can. Because everyone in this show has their moment to shine and then some. The series may be filled with hoopla and whacky situations but the strives in it’s character development and how exactly this team fit into one another. The stunning writing adds depth to the hilarity and bounces with exuberance. Every actor is having the best time with their roles; giving each other room to breathe and transform with the show. Andy Samberg is an impossibly charming lead but it really is everyone’s efforts that craft it into an impossibly delightful show. An impeccably ensemble.

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the perfect balance of silliness and street smarts. It knows how to work a scene with amounting tension or sugar your soul with sweet sentiment. This is one of the shows that’ll spark within you. It’s diverse – filled with POC and LGBT characters that share the screen simply because they are. It’s progressive and powerful, a highlighted episode is when Terry gets stopped by a police officer and the show intricate depicts racism within the force, as well as the effect it has on Terry as well as Captain Holt. There’s also an arc where Rosa comes out as bisexual. This visibility makes the series that much more impactful for fans worldwide.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the most brilliant shows around, with side-splitting cold opens, fantastic character development, and absolutely great story-lines.

So Fox, TELL ME WHY…..

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is available to watch on Netflix. 

Unpopped Kernels: Frances Ha (2013)

There are movies out there that just speak to you. It’s like they pull up a chair beside you and huskily whispering into your ear, “Hey little mama, don’t you want to be spiritually affected tonight?”

Yep. There are films that just speak to you, slowly seducing you with their characters, story, and heart. For me, as a young becoming film journalist, Frances Ha was a movie that captured me, spinning me around with this sense of resonance and empathy. I saw myself in Frances Ha, I feel in love with Greta Gerwig and Baumbach, and I have rabbited on about this movie ever since as it circles my soul and mind.

Now Gerwig is on the cusp of history with her Academy Award nominated Lady Bird, we’re celebrating Frances Ha again.

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Directed by Noah Baumbach, and staring Gerwig, who also writes,  Frances Ha is about the titular character who, ia twenty-something haze, is struggling through the ups and downs of life like a pre-mid-life crisis. Living in New York with her best friend, Sophie, Frances is content with her simple and close life, even after a break up However, when Sophie announces that she is leaving to move in with another friend, Frances world is turned upside down. Causing her to reassess her life, Frances realises that she hasn’t much and doesn’t do much. The modern dancer soon flits through the city and a series of moments, ever optimistic at what little she has on the place just hoping to reap the rewards of her positivisty.

This is a stylish yet affectionate piece. Frances Ha is a beautiful and warming movie that feels for its characters. Set idealistically on the outskirts of New York life and culture, Frances Ha could really fall into cliché hipster characters that a more caricatures. Put thanks to a refreshing partnership between writer Gerwig and director Baumbach, Frances Ha is  delightful. Our leading lady Frances is a “glass half full” girl despite the fact most of her glasses are empty. As she struggles to keep her head a float and connected to the city, as well as earning money, Frances is a wonderfully unique spirit who is constantly on the edge. Her determination is much her detriment; the more she tries to connect is the more it slips out of her fingers.

With not much going for her, it could be very easy to slip in a romance to “give her meaning”. But even with her non sexual relationship with the similarly impoverished Levi and Benji, it is Frances alone that has to earn the validation of her self. The best relationship Frances has is with Sophie and the only time Frances is wounded is when that friendship is in trouble. It is a stunningly realistic portrayal of a woman getting her life together and on track despite society’s views against her.

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Frances Ha has some bittersweet moments; a solo trip to Paris is particularly vexing as it mirrors just how lonely Frances’ life has become. But this movie is never bogged down by overplayed emotions. Some may find this movie tiresome but it is definitely refreshing. Baumbach keeps the narrative as troubled yet breezy as Frances. And she is a character that most can relate to. Immature yet trying, Frances Ha is a warming portrayal of those on the outskirts of their life attempting to reach stability. Poignant and endearing, Frances Ha is a brilliantly written, acted and directed indie flick

Frances Ha is available on BFI Player 

The Weekend Binge: Seinfeld

Is there a kind of TV show more comfortable than a sitcom? Some people relish reality TV because they know it’s terrible, and some never feel more at home than when they’ve got their teeth sunk into a crime-of-the-week detective show. But sitcoms transcend them all; a compact package of laughs that you can fall into no matter what time of day, no matter what episode of what season, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. We’ve all seen every episode of Friends a million times. We all have our favourites, and I thought I’d seen it all, until I made the impromptu decision to start watching Seinfeld.

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Seinfeld is the iconic adventures of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, playing a fictionalised version of himself alongside his bizarre group of friends; ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), eccentric next door neighbour Kramer (Michael Richards) and hilariously pathetic best pal George (Jason Alexander). Four terrible people, making their way through life in New York, and something I truly couldn’t believe.

To maybe oversimplify the show a little, it’s humour consists of almost entirely observational pieces on people, life, love, all sorts of topics. In other words, it’s very easy to see that it’s written by a comedian. But it’s well known that Seinfeld is a show about ‘nothing’…It took me longer than I should have to pick up on this. Over the course of the show’s nine seasons, it very rarely contains any kind of important narrative, and almost entirely does away with the concept of consequences. It wasn’t until the fourth’s season when the show starts getting a bit meta – Not something that lasts – that it truly hit me, and I was blown away. Where shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother base it’s comedy and emotion on the ever developing relationships of it’s main cast and consistently come back to it for the progress of the show, Seinfeld takes pride in being exceedingly detached, and seriously makes it work.

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And yet, for a show so detached and so uncaring, how can it mean so much to so many people? This was question that hit me in the face when I found myself close to tears at it’s unsurprisingly non-event of a finale – Saying that, it wasn’t quite as uneventful as many claim – and I realised, it was because there just isn’t anything like it. It feels so unique, yet it’s set up and execution seems so simple. It’s a strange feeling to be so entranced with four objectively awful people, another trait that this show takes pride in, and for every episode to move on from disaster to disaster simply because these characters refuse to learn their lesson and grow up, a strict rule in the writing of the show. Like most sitcoms, it takes a little while to find it’s feet, but once it gets there it’s unstoppable. It lead to some of the best supporting characters and quotable lines that TV had to offer. The four leads are perfect; Jerry is charming, but is ultimately not that dissimilar to his real life persona. It’s the effort of his co-stars that really shine, in particular that of Michael Richards’ almost entirely physical performance and Jason Alexander’s constant anger, depression, desperation, over the top, and just about anything else that George requires.

For a show about nothing, it truly is something; Seinfeld is one of the best TV shows of all time. To quote the Green Day song used in it’s final season, “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right”. It’s one of the most consistently funny and undeniably impressive shows around, and it may take you several weekends to get through. Trust me, it’s completely worth it.

Seinfeld is available on Netflix! 

The Weekend Binge – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I remember when I was first introduced to Rachel Bloom: It was during University where a friend  urged me to watch an insane yet brilliant music video.

It was this one.

With subversive, sexual lyrics and a top video about a prolific science fiction writer that was also filled with ludicrous puns and hilarity, I was sold. I knew I was going to love this artist  for a very long time.

After becoming popular on Youtube, Rachel Bloom and co-creator  Aline Brosh McKenna presented us with  a musical television that was, I have to stress, absolutely nothing like Glee. That television series was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Two Golden Globes, any live shows, and a whole legions of fans later, the songstress  and producer have created a massive hit with their intricate, emotive, and lovable television series.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend revolves around Rebecca Bunch who is a successful lawyer in New York City. When offered a promotion, her emotions come crashing down and she realises that for all the work she has done, it has never been enough. Whilst having a panic attack in the street, she sees a sign pointing to Josh Chan, an ex-boyfriend from her teenage years. Feeling he is the answer to her problems, Rebecca moves across country to West Corvina to start afresh….and to fall madly in love with Josh Chan. With help from new friends and a musical number or two, can Rebecca get the guy?

Bloom and McKenna are goddamn geniuses. I won’t take anything less. They have overturned all stereotypes and crafted an immutable and unforgettable show. What they have  has created here is a mastery of song, colour, and important character development.

With Rebecca, Bloom is unafraid to portray her every single faults in an complex and human way. The lead character is relatable in her unravelling and, yes, heinous in other difficult places. Bunch inhabits a woman in the midst of a breakdown but who can fool herself into falling in love whilst making very realistic mistakes. Her character is so incredible because she is flawed, and Bloom portrays her in such an engaging and empathetic way.

Bloom is helped by some impressive side-players. Donna Lynne Champlin as Becca’s best friend Paula goes through her own strife (and also has some of the best moments,) whilst Santino Fontana, Scott Michael Foster, and Vincent Rodriguez III as her turbulent lovers are superb additions to the show. The deadpan Vella Lovell, the love to hate Gabrielle Ruiz, and the adorable Pete Gardener equally have stellar roles.

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Let’s talk about the songs. The songs! THE SONGS!

The songs are pure gold. There is not a genre that isn’t mimicked in some appealing way with lyrics that play mockery to the situations Bunch & Co are in. From the pop/dance anthem of Heavy Boobs (my ringtone, by the way,) which slices down the difficulties of being “blessed” with a heavy set to the incredible epic After Everything I’ve Done To You which involes Gypsy‘s crashing crescendo, each musical outing is a parade of mischievous talent. That being said, Bloom also uses her skill to pen heart-wrenching moments that capture self-deprecation, loneliness, and more. Working with themes and lyrical brilliance that resonate so deeply, Bloom and a team of composers (Adam Schlesinger, Frank Ciampi, and Tom Polce,) have crafted some of the best songs of all time. And no, I’m not being hyperbolic.

I could spend this time listing all the best songs but it’s best to head over the the Youtube Channel. I do have to add; I Go to the Zoo is a revelation. 

The latest episodes in Season 3 have switched the tempo, and without spoiling too much, it is a defining moment for the characters that can help others in equal distress. Bloom pours her heart and soul into this vivid world and it shows. Entertaining yet emotional, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the best series on television.

I’ll end this review on the song that made me go from like to obsessed. Which is fitting….

P.S. As I don’t have the words to talk in depth about each and every Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode, please head over to the AV Club to see Allison Shoemaker’s thoughts because they are beautifully written and often on point.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available on Netflix