woensdag 1 april 2015

My last year's favorite reads & sees - part 3 (series)

Okay guys, this is the last part of my ‘2014 favorites’ blogpost series. If you missed out on the books or the movies, go check them out to see if there’s anything you might like! Today it’s time for the series…so all you fellow serie-junkies: settle down for a moment with a hot cuppa, and don’t forget to leave your own recommendations behind in the comments!


This series was just perfect for us to watch last year, at the end of 2014: it takes place in the beautiful area around Queenstown, the city where we spent our first week in New Zealand (and lived only about an hour away from for the subsequent 4 months). The director of this series did an absolutely fabulous job in capturing these breathtaking surroundings (because they dó take your breath away, believe me!), and turning them into the mysteriously serene backdrops for a not-so serene event: the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year old girl named Tui. 

Main character Robin Griffin is called in to investigate the case. Coming back to the area where she grew up, she quickly finds herself submerged in the secrets of a tight-knit community, while at the same time some ghosts of her own past start showing up. Elisabeth Moss, who plays her, definitely knows how to act and gives her character exactly the right amount of guts and fragility. She’s not your average perfect photo model actress (enhanced by the fact that Robin is not really a make-up kind of girl), which I always find refreshing, often adding to a series' (or movie's) credibility. 

Another storyline that’s neatly woven in, is that of the women at Paradise (a small place at the ‘top of the lake’ Wakatipu), under the seemingly unaffected guidance of GJ (another female role that's played só well in this series!). These broken women, searching for love and direction in their lives, add a bit of humour to the dark story. They have the weirdest backgrounds and often reminded me of a big bunch of helpless, lost and slightly dumb sheep. But beware, looks might mislead…

All in all, I highly enjoyed the six long episodes of this miniseries, it was almost like watching six good thrillers. I discovered it got some critique as being too feministic, but I never actually noticed that while watching it. I'm not sure if I just ignorantly missed a feminist agenda here, so I just asked Mark: he must have missed it too then. Yes, there are some very nasty male characters...but then there are good ones too (I absolutely loved Johnno, for example (not an unpleasant actor to look at neither ;)), and the series just deals with a couple of issues that unfortunately are a reality in current society, mainly seen through the eyes of the (female) main character. I don't know if I would call that 'feministic'... Either way; every episode’s ending had me expectantly waiting for the next, looking forward to seeing more of the mystery unravel in such eye-pleasing surroundings. Wonderful, really! 

Mark and I watched all 5 seasons of this series in the second half of 2014, starting just after we arrived in New Zealand. I can still remember the first episode, in our tiny bedroom in a hostel in Queenstown…we were hooked from that very start!

Breaking Bad has been a very popular series over the last couple of years, and scored high critiques all over the world. I’m not gonna say too much about it, chances are high you saw it already anyway :) But, in case you haven’t: go give it a try! I always was a bit afraid it might be more of a men’s series, a bit of action and crime and drugs, male main characters…you know, all the standard presumptions. Nothing turned out to be less true though, the characters are all very human, real and vulnerable in their own ways. The series is full of universal themes, emotions and different types of motives. It doesn’t exactly promote drugs either, if that’s what you’re worried about…it just takes a bizarre situation as its starting point (a chemistry teacher starting to produce and sell meth after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer) and then, very intricately, shows the viewer all the complex consequences on smaller and bigger scales. All the while  excellent insights in the temptations of money, of power and of escape are provided; different motives that are all somehow woven together, sustaining each other. 

See? Not just plain stupid men’s series shit :P Walter's wife Skyler actually has quite a prominent role in the series. Anna Gunn, who plays her, definitely earns her spot in the list of all the female actresses I’m raving about in this blogpost with her powerful performance in Breaking Bad. A lioness, that’s what she kept reminding me off throughout the series. Oh, and did I already mention that I really liked the setting of the Breaking Bad? It takes place in New Mexico, with excellent screenshots of this dry, stifling area. Maybe not America’s most beautiful place, but definitely unique in its own way. 

The mobile 'Meth lab', under NM's beautiful wide skies.

I love how series can open your eyes for new things (like a geographical place, in this case).
Breaking Bad came to its glorious end and is sadly over (at the right moment though, admittedly), but…we just found out that the annoyingly optimistic lawyer in Breaking Bad: Saul Goodman, got his own spin-off: Better Call Saul. We haven’t watched any episodes yet, but will surely give it a try! I'm always a bit afraid of bad rip-offs with these kind of things…but who knows: maybe it’s actually worth watching, Vince Gilligan surely proved his talent for making a highly enjoyable series before!

I must honestly admit that this series is on the verge of what’s really too bizarre for me. I started watching Hannibal because I loved ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and the other Hannibal movies when I was younger, and because I find Mads Mikkelsen terrific, fascinating actor (okay…and I don’t really mind looking at Hugh Dancy for 50 minutes at a time *grin*). But where the movies were a bit disturbing already, the series take this ‘disturbingness’ to a whole new level. Which, at the same time, probably also secures the series' tension and shocking effect that keeps me coming back after each previous episode. 

‘Hannibal’ the series takes place somewhere before 'Red Dragon', and explores the growing relationship between forensic profiler Will Graham and his psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Both of them have a brilliant mind, but the conflicted Will is being more and more haunted by his imagination and his ability to emphasize with serial killers. In his vulnerability and confusion he forms the perfect prey for Dr. Lecter's subtle manipulation. Hannibal's methods are sophisticated and misleadingly elegant, but oh-so dark, slowly bringing Will deeper and deeper under his control and leading him into the shadows of mental torment. 

The series could probably best be called 'psychological horror'. It has it's fair amount of gory scenes, but personally I find the twisted, perfectly hidden ways in which Hannibal abuses Will's mental instability more unnerving than all the gore, and I believe that the relationship between them is where the real horror aspect of the series takes place. But no matter how you put it, you have to like this kind of stuff to enjoy the series. If you don't, I can relate to that too...I sometimes even wonder myself why I'm fascinated by a tv series that can be so distorting at times.

One last thing: if you liked the movies and maybe even read the books, and are afraid this series will somehow be a poor rip-off: don't be. Besides the fact that the series don't really follow the continuity of the books or movies and has some (un?)pleasant surprises in store for its viewers, the directors also did an exceptional job with the casting. Even the biggest Anthony Hopkins fan will - maybe reluctantly - admit that Mads Mikkelsen has taken our era's most notorious monster killer to a whole new level.

I can’t believe I actually had the guts to put this one on the list (I’m a little bit ashamed) but yes…I really do like it, despite every single episode being complete and utter nonsense. Anger Management is the series Mark and I watch when we’re not in the mood for anything serious or complicated (come on, you have a favorite series for those kind of moments too, admit it!). 

No one can beat Charlie Sheen, and his little anger therapy group consists of some hilariously stereotypical personalities. I must say I do miss Kate a bit, I love Selma Blair as an actress anyway, and the chemistry between her and Charlie was quite good. However, her successor Jordan (a recovering alcoholic and also a therapist) does not a bad job at all. So yeah, not too proud of this one, but it deserves its place in the list.

I know, I’m terribly late with this one. This series ended, what, five years ago? It’s all my bestie Eef’s fault really, she started watching Lost back in 2013 (only just thréé years after it finished :P ) , and kept on telling me how good it was and all that. In the end, I had not much of a choice but to see it for myself…and of course she was right. 

I think I began watching 'Lost' myself around the beginning of 2014, and came to halfway season 4. In that period, our big trip came closer, and preparations took over…leaving me with not much time for more Lost episodes. When I finally wanted to pick it up again in New Zealand, I realized I had completely 'lost' (sorry, bad joke) its storyline! So I developed a strategy to trick Mark into starting the series as well (just like Eef did with me). It really seemed like the perfect solution: shared fun = double fun, and by starting again at episode 1 (which I absolutely didn’t mind…did I already tell you I really like Lost?), I would pick up on the storyline once again, hopefully with even more attention to all the wonderful layers and details.

Getting Mark into watching Lost costed some effort, he didn’t think he would like it. And I must admit, I can’t blame him…if you’re surfing channels and end up in the middle of a random epidsode of Lost, chanches are it might make no sense at all and will look kind of weird and unrealistic. But, I managed to make Mark promise to give at least the first season a try, and if he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t push him any further. We’re almost at the end of season 4 now :) 

Some of the strongest points of Lost are, in my opinion, the characters, and how incredibly realistically and well they are worked out. No matter what type of person you are, you’re bound to recognize yourself in at least one, but probably more of the ‘islanders’. Sometimes (or maybe often…) fictional characters stay quite stereotypical and flat, lacking the complexity that would make them human…but not in Lost, I find. Enhanced by the flashbacks and later the flash-forwards you will feel like you get to know the main characters – such a diverse group of people – quite well. They could be real. And that’s probably exactly why all the mystery and weird stuff and not-really possible things the series is indeed full of, are very easily accepted (in contrast to when you accidentally happen to see a random episode and didn't got to know any of the characters at all). 

I hope this doesn’t sound like I don’t really like that sci-fi, mystery aspect of the series though…because I do, tremendously even! I’m just blown away by the balance between science-fiction and reality, by how perfectly they complement each other. One adds to the credibility, the other to the suspense and enchantment.

Since I haven’t seen more then four seasons just yet, I can’t really say anything about the whole series… All I can say is that if you haven’t watched it already (read: if you’ve been living under a stone for the last decade, just like me :P ), go give it a try! It’s not out-dated, nor will it be for another long time I think, the themes are just tóó universal and timeless. As is surviving on an island, for that matter… I must say that some of our own adventures in New Zealand made me vaguely feel like an ‘islander’ myself, does that sound silly? We hiked for 10 days through the bush, slept in a handmade driftwood hut on the beach…I’m just glad we can get off this island though (if we would ever want to ;)). 

This can by no means be an official Lost photo and must be some kind of
fan art...but I thought it's quite hilarious either way.

If you’re a bit of a pop-culture fanatic and like analysing the storylines and episodes of your favourite series: Lost can be taken to that next level and will offer you plenty of food for thought. There is só much going on in this series in terms of hidden references, philosophy, easter eggs and symbolism, you’d probably have to watch it at least 5 times to notice it all. The makers really put a huge effort in this aspect of the series, hence the impressive amount of online discussions, blogs, groups and websites dedicated to it. I myself found it quite a shame to let all that stuff go unnoticed, so I recently purchased the book ‘Lost – Humanity’ for my Kindle, to guide me through these hidden gems. I can’t wait to explore more, and to ultimately find out how the whole Lost-story will end!

Okay, this one’s my guilty pleasure. It’s very girlish, might be lacking some real depth and Miss Hart can be quite annoying at times. But I just need one series like this in my life, a little escape when I need some simple, feminine distraction :) I already wrote a review about the first season of Heart of Dixie a little while ago, you can read that one if you’re unfamiliar with it. 

I’m in the third season now, still enjoying it despites its flaws (or maybe not flaws, just despite the fact that it’s quite different from the other stuff I like to watch). I just can’t believe how much more I came to like Lemon during the second and third season! And another silly thing: it took me a little while to connect the dots and recognize Dr. Breeland’s girlfriend Shelby as Charlie’s therapist colleague Jordan in Anger Management. I must admit: this girl (Laura Bell Bundy's her name) doesn’t get to play the smartest, most world wise girls…but she definitely pulls off her ‘blondie’ characters with flair!

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