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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Proves TV is Being Written for Binge Watchers

By 7.3.14

There’s a wonderful subplot in the new season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black that follows Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), a cranky, elderly cancer patient. A bit player in season one, she remains a marginal character with whom the show nonetheless elects to spend time. We follow her to her chemotherapy. We learn the story of her youth as a bank robber (she’s still unrepentant). We watch her grapple with her rapidly approaching death, which has become more terrible to her because she’ll be dying alone in prison.

To the other inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, Rosa remains “that person with cancer” (maybe most memorably demonstrated when somebody misguidedly recommends her The Fault in Our Stars). But because the show is so willing to spend time with a character so peripheral, Rosa is opened up to the viewer in a way she is not for her fellow inmates. She goes from being a joke to being a person. The joke begins to be on the other inmates.

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The Good Wife: Confidence and Paranoia

By 6.6.14

May marked the end of the fifth season of The Good Wife, the CBS legal procedural/political drama/soap opera. Produced by Ridley Scott, The Good Wife is the kind of show that tends to be recommended as “the best show you’re not watching,” because it is, well, good. And while somebody is certainly watching it (me; those article writers; you?), it doesn’t have the inescapable cultural presence that Mad Men or Game of Thrones seem to.

For though The Good Wife is good, it’s in a way that makes for bad proselytizing. In its first season, it could be summed as “politician’s wife discovers affair, struggles to make her way in the work force after years as a stay-at-home mom”—a premise I have yet to repeat to anybody without watching them tune me out. But over its five seasons, The Good Wife hasn’t really stuck to that initial conceit—by season five, in fact, it’s become a different show entirely.

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‘Penny Dreadful’ Is Pretty Dreadful

By 5.16.14

For the past month or so, ads for Showtime’s new television show Penny Dreadful have been a constant companion on my commute: posters and posters of beautiful people in Old Time clothes, who stare at me seriously as I waited for the train.

Recently, the ads for Penny Dreadful have gained some neighbors: ads for A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth MacFarlane’s upcoming Western comedy movie. These ads are almost identical to Penny Dreadful’s: yet another series of posters of beautiful people in Old Time clothes. These two sets of advertisements blended together to the point where I can no longer recall, without checking, whether or not they are both still hanging up. They are advertising the same thing.

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The French Zombie Show You Didn’t Even Know You Needed

By 4.17.14

There’s a scene in the second half of the Peabody Award-winning French TV show The Returned (Les Revenants) where two characters are swimming across a reservoir. One cries out and disappears. The other dives under the surface and searches for him, but with no luck. Eventually, he gives up. The first person is gone, apparently without a trace.

Give or take a few traces (a body, say), this is how death is supposed to work, particularly if you don’t believe in an afterlife: you swim along and someone around you disappears. Then the water closes over them and life goes on, until it doesn’t. And even if you do believe in an afterlife, you do not expect the sudden resurfacing of your lost companion to be any time soon.

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