House of Cards (Netflix): Season 5

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming series. Fun fact: My dad also doesn’t like “sorry” (like Claire). 

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“I will not yield!” Frank (Kevin Spacey) declares to Congress.

“You don’t want me to stand for something,” Frank states to the viewer late in season five. ‘You just want me to stand.” But, uh, reality would beg to differ. We increasingly want politicians to push back against the bland, corporatist kind of politics Frank and Claire represent, to elevate outsiders. House of Cards is a show about the ultimate insiders, and it can’t overcome that central fact. -Vox

Frank’s “war on terror” has deadly consequences for ICO-inspired Joshua Masterson. With a little help from Asst. Dir. Green (FBI), Underwood had stashed the homegrown terrorist in an underground/high-tech prison. Frank tells Green “to get rid of the asset.”So, did you think that Frank was upset re: the reaction of the Millers’ teen daughter at the funeral? It’s like that girl saw through Frank, though she was SO young and grief-stricken (b/c of her father’s murder). 

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Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) drink a toast.

…the name of Frank’s secret society can be traced back to Greek mythology. “Elysian Fields” is said to be a true paradise where gods who are gifted immortality are sent. Basically, only the most favored gods got to go to this place and live out their endless lives in bliss. This is especially fitting for a reference point because on House of Cards, Elysian Fields is essentially a place for important men (and only men) to hang out together in the woods. -Bustle

It was one of the most talked about ep of the season, as I learned from Twitter (and later on- few articles). Viewers wondered: “Is that real!?” once it was revealed that prominent men were behind the masks at the weekend retreat (or shall we call is “glamping?”)

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Marc Ursher (Campbell Scott) and Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman)

Will Conway, the Republican presidential candidate was clearly modeled on Obama (w/ a side of Kardashian-level status on social media, as we saw in S4). We learn that he has PTSD, which he keeps hidden from even Marc Usher (Campbell Scott- still slim and handsome) and retired Gen. Brockhart (Colm Feore- one of Canada’s best theater actors). The CEO from Pollyhop, also Conway’s old pal, knows about the PTSD.

Marc finds out what’s up when Conway loses his cool on a small jet, demanding that pilots let him fly (“I’m going to be the president and you’re going to flip me those motherf****ing controls!”) This rant is caught on tape, then later leaked to the Underwoods. The tall telegenic family man is a damaged individual (after serving in Afghanistan after 9/11). 

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Eric AKA Augustus Underwood (Malcolm Madera) comes to the White House.
At the peak of Frank’s unpopularity, it seems that Eric [who role plays Confederate soldier Augustus Underwood- Frank’s grandfather] is just about the only person left who truly believes that the man could make a great president… -Bustle
Eric never openly states why he thinks Frank could be a good president; I think it’s his youthful naiveté. Eric and Frank get closer over his visits; he starts working as a personal trainer (his day job). Over talking about the world and laughing about how Eric actually made up Augustus’ backstory, the two become fast friends (something rare/unexpected for Frank). Things eventually get VERY intimate (which I expected) and also a BIT scary (nope, did NOT see that).  
Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) decides to testify to the senatorial investigation into the President’s misdeeds. She goes to the White House and delivers the news to her frenemy Frank (VERY bad idea). “You need to take a fall,” he says, before pushing Cathy down a flight of steps. She’s alive, but won’t be testifying any time soon. Poor Cathy- she was one of the FEW good characters on this series! 
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Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson) in the Oval Office.

Something terrible always happens when I go to a party. -Jane tells Claire

…I’m more interested now, going forward, with how this murder [Tom Yates’] will wind up compromising Claire since Mark Usher knows about it and – perhaps Jane Davis too! The two people Claire’s now relying on to steer her forward have a big advantage over her, and she doesn’t fully trust them. -Mark Fowler (IGN)

Some of you on Twitter thought that Miss Davis was NOT a believable character. Is she a war profiteer?  She has created this unassuming personality, BUT under it all, is a force to be reckoned w/, no doubt.

Claire turns more to Jane over time, shutting out LeeAnn (Neve Campbell), who is worried re: her old friend Aiden Macallan (Damian Young). It took me a BIT of time to figure out what was going on w/ Mac! I felt bad for the guy, even though he was NOT the most exciting character.  

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Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) and Claire (Robin Wright)

Stamper has never made peace with killing Rachel Posner – shouldering the responsibility for Barnes’ death is his penitence. –The Telegraph

Lisa (Rachel Posner’s girlfriend) turned to drugs, and also became a threat, BUT Doug (Michael Kelly) decided NOT to kill her. The story of Anthony Moretti being bumped off the organ donor list, then dying to save Frank, is found out by Sean, Seth, and Claire. Back in S2, then VP Underwood murdered Washington Herald reporter, Zoe Barnes, by shoving her in front of a metro train. Over dinner, Claire and Frank share their plan w/ the ever-loyal Doug: “We need you to implicate yourself in the death of Zoe Barnes.” 

Tom, don’t cheat on my wife. –Frank tells Yates (after seeing photos of him w/ a White House tour guide)

Yates’ death cannot be considered a surprise. He had persisted in writing thinly-disguised accounts of the Underwood’s double-dealings and, as his ill-considered interview with a journalist early in the season confirmed, had a big mouth to boot. Applying patented Underwood logic, he had to go. -The Telegraph

Now, I was NO fan of Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), BUT I was troubled by his death. Claire poisoned him; like Lady Macbeth, there is “blood” on her hands now. Did she ever love Tom? We see that Tom became possessive over time, which she was turned off by (duh). 

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Claire (Robin Wright) as the Acting President

Hauled before young/upstart Arizona Congressman Romero (James Martinez) and his House Intelligence Committee, Underwood snaps and says he is resigning- WHOA! 

In real American politics, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is composed of 75 representatives, led by co-chairs Rep. Raúl Grijalva (a Democrat from Arizona) and Rep. Mark Pocan (a Democrat from Wisconsin). There’s a good chance Alex could be loosely based on either of the co-chairs of the caucus or any of the 75 representatives who are members, though the the House Of Cards showrunners have not indicated that there’s any real inspiration behind the character. -Bustle

What is this job? -Angela asks her boss

Not what it used to be. Tom Hammerschmidt replies

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this is that Frank has himself become a leak to Tom Hammerschmidt as the Washington Herald, revealing insider secrets to add press interest on the crumbling administration and justify monitoring of the entire White House and its staff…  –Screenrant

Frank will walk away from it all, so that Claire will step in as the new President, and pardon him for his crimes. Then, in the private sector, Underwood will become a source of power, working in tandem with his wife, to “own this house.” It turns out that Claire will NOT be pardoning him too soon!

If she doesn’t pardon me, I’ll kill her. -Frank states in his last monologue

But while he’s thought of every possibility, like the constitutional loopholes he took advantage of to get here, there’s one eventuality not accounted for; while Frank is functioning on a higher sociopathic level than seemingly anyone else in Washington D.C. and able to connive his resignation and transition of power, he doesn’t consider his wife’s fury. Screenrant

Claire also breaks the fourth wall (NOT a total surprise, as it had been hinted at before). I think MANY of you enjoyed those moments. Did you notice how Claire’s outfits became more conservative, buttoned, and (somewhat) militaristic as the season went on? 

 

Catastrophe (Amazon): Season 3

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A poster for Season 3 of the series.

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

…“Singles in America” study that I do with Match.com, we ask them, “What must you have in a relationship?” And, “What’s very important?” And they must have somebody they can trust and confide in. They must have somebody who respects them. They must have somebody who makes them laugh, which actually is very important biologically.

-Dr. Helen Fisher (Biological Anthropologist)

…Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney can communicate so much with raised eyebrows or a sour expression.

Catastrophe has given this couple so many chances to wash their hands of one another, but one of the show’s underlying strengths is that they so clearly don’t want to. Because they’re connected in so many different ways…

-AV Club

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Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) with their son in the ER.

Rob Morris (Rob Delaney) and Sharon Norris (Sharon Horgan) are back for Season 3 of their irreverent, funny, yet still romantic, comedy. By this time of life- Rob is 40, while Sharon is 44- the romance is in the commitment; this something that Dr. Helen Fisher noticed from an esteemed Chinese relationship expert, NOT unlike herself. In America, we value falling in love, BUT in China, they focus on the long-term. 

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Mia (Carrie Fisher) talks on the phone with her son Rob.

Fisher appears in only a handful of episodes overall, her appearances are extremely memorable.

-Collider (on actress Carrie Fisher’s last performance)

The themes and events in this season are the darkest yet, though there are still laughs to be had (no matter if the viewer is single, married, or something in between).  In the first episode, Sharon wonders what exactly happened w/ that younger man in the Season 2 finale. She thinks of returning to her teaching job. Rob is still a stay-at-home dad, BUT financial reasons could compel him to get back work. 

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Rob (Rob Delaney) is shocked by his own behavior to one of the other parents.

Their families and friends are going through some issues of their own. Sharon’s younger brother, Fergal (Jonathan Forbes), moves his family to Spain (where his wife is originally from). Sharon’s close friend, Fran (Ashley Jensen), is feeling lonely and insecure re: aging. Fran’s ex-husband, Chris (Mark Bonnar) is one of the MOST quirkiest, BUT also most loyal/dependable, friend characters in modern TV. I esp. LOVE how he is there to listen to Rob, BUT doesn’t judge. There is a LOT more going on (including some notable guest actors), so do check this show out yourself! (FYI: Season 4 has been confirmed.)

Stranger Things: Season 1 (Netflix)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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We looked at 1,000 kids. Most kids, you can turn off their auditions after five seconds, because there’s nothing authentic about it. -Matt Duffer, co-showrunner (w/ his twin brother, Ross)

There’s this idea of this Cold War, this looming threat, and everyone’s going about their business with their families and living their lives.  When we were kids, the reason we responded to this stuff so much is because we could relate to these characters, these families, the kids.  -Ross Duffer, co-showrunner

I wanted to see this show for a LONG time; I finally binge-watched ALL 8 episodes today (w/ my little brother).  I highly recommend it, even if you’re NOT a big fan of sci-fi!  It’s mainly a character drama, BUT w/ doses of suspense and danger.  The actors did a GREAT job, esp. the pre-teen boys (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin) who go out looking for their close friend, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), after he goes missing in the wood of their small Indiana town. (FYI: The show was shot on location in Jackson, Georgia.) 

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It was cool to see Winona Ryder (who plays distraught single mom, Joyce Byers) after a LONG time; she’s now 45 y.o. BUT still a petite dynamo of an actress.  The actor who played Joyce’s responsible, quiet, older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) was a standout among the older (high school) kids. 

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I liked the character development of the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbour); before I’d seen him in Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit playing shady/villainous guys. Veteran actor Matthew Modine has a pivotal role, too.  

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The Showrunners: Twins Ross & Matt Duffer (NYT)

…tribute to classic ’80s fantasy, sci-fi and horror, with nods to “Alien”; “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”; “A Nightmare on Elm Street”; and Stephen King’s 1986 novel, “It.”  -New York Times

If there is one word to describe this show, it’s be “authentic”- note the hairstyles (yikes), clothes (pastels, cords, etc.), bikes, and houses.  The kids/teens are dealing w/ real-life issues (bullies, confidence, dating, parties, parental/school rules), yet also deeply concerned re: the disappearance of one of their peers in such a peaceful, tight-knit community.  Try and check it out SOON, b/c there are spoilers everywhere out there re: this show!  I heard MANY positive things this Summer/Fall (on Twitter and several podcasts), BUT I wasn’t spoiled much.      

Luke Cage (Netflix)

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the series.

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Pops (Frankie Faison) talks with Luke Cage (Mike Colter)

Intro

Do YOU need a hero?  You may have seen Luke Cage (Mike Colter, in a breakout role) as the V strong FWB of the title character in Marvel’s Jessica Jones last year. The events of this series occur about a year afterwards. Luke has been working in Pop’s Barbershop in West Harlem and generally keeping a low profile. When a pretty single mom/law student takes an interest in him, Luke thinks he’s NOT good enough.  Pop (Frankie Faison) says that Luke is “hiding” from relationships and has so much potential.  He could be “out there helping people.”

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Show creator Cheo Hodari Coker with Colter

Characters

It turns out that Luke is NO ordinary man, striving to make rent. He has bulletproof skin (thanks to an experiment which we learn about later in the series).  Luke is a man of FEW words, BUT we get to know some verbose (and well-developed) villains is this show.  There is owner of The Paradise club, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali from House of Cards), a man who speaks well, dresses impeccably, yet is prone to violent outbursts.  He is a noted gangster who has stayed clear of the law.  His older cousin, Mariah Dillard (veteran actress Alfre Woodard), is a calculating councilwoman who is trying to stay clear of her grandmother’s criminal legacy.  However, she is NOT against using the manpower/money which Cottonmouth can provide. 

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Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick)

Aside from Mariah, there are several other capable, single, professional black women in the story. (HOW rare/refreshing is that!?)  Det. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) flirts w/ Luke at The Paradise when we first meet her, BUT she’s not looking only for fun.  She has been staking out the club to get some concrete evidence against Cottonmouth.  Later in the series, I was esp. glad to see nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson- also guest star in Daredevil).  Inspector Priscilla Ridley (Karen Pittman) plays a smaller (yet pivotal role). 

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Luke walking with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson)

There are several characters w/ different jobs and backgrounds (white, latino, black) who operate in shades of gray.  They are trying to make money easily, protect themselves, etc.  Go see the show (don’t want to reveal TOO much here)! 

Diversity in MANY forms is built-in on this show.  Luke’s landlady (Connie) and her hubby are Chinese immigrants operating a restaurant.  Claire’s (Latina) mother is played by Sonia Braga, an internationally-renown veteran actress originally from Brazil. (HOW cool is that!?) Braga co-starred in Kiss of the Spider Woman (w/ William Hurt and Raul Julia) in the ’80s; younger viewers may know her as Samantha’s gf in SATC.

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Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) is one of the fascinating villains on the show

Setting

Yes, this show is set in West Harlem, which serves as a character in itself.  We also get to learn about some of its history (MOST of which I didn’t know about).  This info is  passed on via the characters in the story, so (in MOST cases) it seems organic.  

The Crown (Netflix): Coming NOV 4th

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Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) wearing her famous coronation jewels , sash, and gown.

The Crown focuses on Queen Elizabeth II as a 25-year-old newlywed faced with the daunting prospect of leading the world’s most famous monarchy while forging a relationship with legendary Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. The British Empire is in decline, the political world is in disarray, and a young woman takes the throne….a new era is dawning. Peter Morgan’s masterfully researched scripts reveal the Queen’s private journey behind the public facade with daring frankness. Prepare to be welcomed into the coveted world of power and privilege and behind locked doors in Westminster and Buckingham Palace….the leaders of an empire await. -Netflix Summary

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Matt Smith, Claire Foy, and John Lithgow

Lead Actors: Claire Foy (Queen Elizabeth II), Matt Smith (Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh), & John Lithgow (Sir Winston Churchill)

Supporting Actors: Jeremy Northam, Eileen Atkins, Victoria Hamilton, Harriet Walter, Ben Miles & Alex Jennings

Director: Stephen Daldry

Writer/Producer: Peter Morgan

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Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II and the real queen in wedding clothes.

This highly-anticipated series will be available on November 4th. Two seasons with a total of 20 episodes are planned (so far), as noted in Variety.  Daldry was the director of Billy Elliott and The Hours.  In 2006, Peter Morgan wrote The Queen (starring Helen Mirren).

Rather than finding this woman and this predicament less and less interesting it becomes more and more interesting.  The Queen’s story is a good way to examine the modern history of England because she is so intertwined with the British constitution and the British soul. -Peter Morgan

I’m excited to see Foy in a starring role; she was great in the miniseries Little Dorritt.  Matt Smith (best known for Dr. Who) can handle both comedy and drama.  Maybe he will get a chance to do both? And it’s so cool to see the film/stage veteran, Lithgow, in good shape and working regularly!  The official trailer (below) gives us some hint, BUT not too much, re: the crux of the series- how a young woman manages different roles (daughter, queen, wife, and mother).