Monday, April 15, 2024

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

After I hit Publish on last month's post about not being able to watch the third and fourth seasons of Roswell New Mexico, I did what I said I might do and re-upped to my VPN of choice, which happens to be Mullvad. It's very cheap, has no registration process to speak of and happily supports ad hoc comings and goings with no need for any kind of subscription. 

Also, it has a cute logo of a mole wearing a hard hat. Not that I'm saying that influenced me in any way.

The only drawback is that Mullvad doesn't support Windows operating systems older than Win10, as I found out when I went to use it on my laptop, which stills chugs along on Windows 8.1, partly because I had the disk but mostly because it's too ancient to run anything newer. Luckily, Mullvad supplies its own work-around, which just requires some cutting and pasting so it can piggyback on a third-party service, the  name of which I forget and which I'm too lazy to look up.

Have we been here before? I feel like I'm getting deja vu.

Doesn't matter. The point isn't to discuss the nit-picking details of how I'm passing myself off as a New Yorker these days. It's to say that, as I suspected, no amount of digital camoflage was ever going to let me watch those two missing seasons, which I still haven't seen, for the simple reason that no-one is streaming them for free anywhere.

They are for sale as digital downloads and, courtesy of my spoofed IP address, I could theoretically buy them from Amazon and a few other places but I'm neither ready to pay that price yet nor certain how it would go with my UK payment credentials if I tried. It might come to it eventually but for the while I'm holding off to see if the show returns to a streaming service I can access, one way or another.

Since I'd paid for a month anyway, I thought I'd see what else was available that previously hadn't been, when I was geo-locked to my genuine physical location. The first show I thought of was...

Housebroken (Season 2)

Housebroken, for those who neither know nor likely care, is an American animated sitcom made for an adult audience, featuring a poodle called Holly, who runs therapy sessions for animals in her neighborhood out of the front room of her owner's home, while she's out at work. Holly is voiced by Lisa Kudrow, who you will certainly know from shows like Friends and... well, just Friends, really, although god knows no-one needs another show on their resume if they have that one.

I really enjoyed the first season of Housebroken. There are only two but a third has been commissioned so it must be doing okay, even though it has no more than a mediocre 6.4 on IMDB. I'd give it something closer to an 8, I think. The best episodes are very funny but it does lack a little in consistency. 

The second season is noticeably more cartoonish than the first in that it makes more extensive use of the freedom of animation to stretch the boundaries of a supposedly realistic setting (If you can call anything where cats, dogs, hamsters and pigs sit peacably in a room together without tearing each other apart "realistic". Oh, and they talk and some of them run businesses and... you know what, forget I ever used the word...)

There are also several of those set-piece episodes where characters meet versions of themselves in dreams or perform musical numbers in the style of a broadway show or parody other shows and movies. Sometimes all of those at once. Also, there are a surprising number of scenes - even whole episodes - where one or more of the animals is on drugs. 

At times I thought it seemed a bit much for one season - especially the second. You don't usually get too much of this sort of thing until later in the run, when the writers are either running out of ideas or the show is so popular they feel they can get away with anything. 

That's not to complain, though. Mostly, the more surreal it gets, the funnier it is. I particularly enjoyed the episode with the Thelma and Louise parody. And there's really not much point making an animated comedy about talking animals if you don't lean into the possibilities. 

The voice acting is uniformly good. There's a plethora of famous guest voices but none of them unsettle or unbalance the gestalt of the regular ensemble. The writing is sharp enough, although the comedy can also be also very broad. It's a difficult trick to match those two approaches. Mostly it comes off but  even when it doesn't, things generally move fast enough you're past it before you notice.

The animation is fine. Better than functional, not spectacular, always in the very recognizeable, American made-for-TV style. It sits well in that tradition, not surprising when you find the studio behind it is Bento Box Entertainment, best known for Bob's Burgers, a show I have never watched but which, from the title alone, sounds like it must be the most American show ever. 

It is mildly ironic that such a US-oriented studio should name itself after an iconic Japanese artefact. I'm sure there's a story in that, which leads me neatly, if unexpectedly, on to...


Toradora,  as I'm sure someone reading this already knows, is an anime in which male lead Ryuji's ability to put together a perfect Bento Box features heavily. I wasn't going to talk about that show today. I had other ideas but when the universe gives you that kind of nudge it'd be crazy to ignore it.

Not just the anime but the whole IP is a big deal in Japan. It began as a series of light novels, a concept I wasn't familiar with a year ago but now know quite well from work, where we seem to be selling more and more of them. 

We don't currently stock English translations of this particular series. They do exist but they don't seem to be in print at the moment. If they were, I'd order the first in the run to see if it matches up to the anime, which is one of the best I've seen. 

Of course, my minimal exposure to the form makes that a judgment of limited value but don't take my word for how good it is. Here's another opinion. Or just google the reviews. They're uniformly excellent. 

It's widely considered a classic in the high school romance/coming of age genre but it's considerably more nuanced, thoughtful and just downright odd than that pigeonhole would suggest. The cast isn't huge - there are two central characters and something like half a dozen close supporting roles - but everyone, even the minor, recurring characters, gives a strong impression of depth and solidity. 

The narrative throughline, which meanders chronologically through the school year for the full twenty-five episodes, somehow manages to be at once coherent and sprawling. The show opens with a fairly defined concept: Ryuji and Taiga both have ferocious reputations and/or appearances that make their classmates fear and/or respect them. Naturally, over the course of the series, it will be revealed that they are nothing like as scary as everyone thinks and of course they will be revealed to be made for each other.

Yeah. Right. Good luck with that! It's true we get there in the end but as with all the best trips, it's the journey that counts, not the destination. Pretty much every cliche is overturned. Every plot twist you see coming goes somewhere else. Every major character has their own journey to take and all of them end up being more complex than you'd imagined.

I never knew from one episode to the next what to expect but I found the whole thing so emotionally involving I literally pumped my fist in the air and yelled "Yes!" at one crucial moment and threw both my arms in the air with a despairing "FFS!" at another. This is unseemly behavior for anyone but especially someone about to hit retirement age. 

I watched it with the English (American.) dub and I rate the voice acting very highly. I've long been an advocate of V.O. with subtitles but in the case of anime I think I'm definitely leaning towards the dubbed versions. Or maybe I've just been lucky so far.

It's fair to say this is my kind of show but I would recommend it to anyone. It's heartwarming in the best way but also thought-provoking and challenging. The ending, which remains controversial, takes some getting your head around, I'll tell you that for nothing. I was all "Wait! What?" until I had a good long think about it but I'm cool with it now.... I think...

In keeping with my comments from the last time I wrote about stuff like this, I'll be getting Toradora on DVD. Anything you want to watch again needs to be on hard copy now, as I think we can all agree. Which brings me neatly back to where I was going before, and ...

The Conners  (Season One)

Thanks to my VPN I am finally watching the Roseanne follow-up that began all the way back in 2018. Really? Was it that long ago?

I wanted to watch this from the moment I heard of it. Roseanne was one of those shows from the '90s that benchmark the decade (Even though it actually started airing in the very late 'eighties.) Roseanne, Friends, Frasier - whatever ran in the 10PM Friday slot on Channel 4. It's weird to think it now but in the UK, at the time, those and more like them were considered niche viewing only suitable for the minority channel, at least at first.

Of all of them, the only one I have never re-watched is Roseanne but my memories of it, more than a quarter of a century old, remain surrisingly clear. It must have made an impression. The final season, which aired in 1997, I have pegged in my mind as The End Of TV, mostly because it came just two years before I started playing EverQuest and gave up watching TV for a decade and a half. Not because it was... not great, to put it politely.

Apart from that last season, though, I loved Roseanne. Not Roseanne the character, or Roseanne Barr the actor, both of whom I always found annoying, but the rest of the cast. (Okay, not Martin Mull either. He was even more annoying than Roseanne...) so I was naturally interested when I heard the show was getting a sequel. 

That happened in 2018 and everything was apparently going jut fine until Roseanne torpedoed her own show with an exceptionally ill-advised Twitter rant. That looked to be it for the revival until she magnanimously opted out of the show she'd created under her own name, leaving the rest of the cast to carry on under the family banner. When I learned that it would be coming back without the titular character my interest actually increased.

And then I somehow never managed to watch it. I mean I could have. I think it came out here on Sky originally. It's now on Sky Go, whatever that is. Also Apple TV for some reason. It just hasn't appeared on any of the channels or services I'm registered with or subscribed to or can get for free so I kind of forgot all about it.

The Conners is, however, on Netflix in the USA and now, thanks to my VPN disguise, it just shows up on my Netflix account as if it was always there. Which is weird. You'd think there'd be some code to stop that.

I'm very glad there isn't because I'm really enjoying The Conners. It's stagey and occasionally awkward but it's all the characters I remember, behaving like they should. Everyone looks suitably older and more shop-worn although I'd have to re-watch the original series to judge just how far to the left the politics has shifted. It feels like it must be a long way, especially since it seems that in the one, short revival season made before she dropped out, Roseanne was written as a Trump supporter.

John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalfe are all as good in their familiar, familial roles as you could hope and Lecey Goransen is better as Becky than I remember, although maybe I'm thinking of Sarah Chalke, the other Becky. There were famously two Beckys...

As an actor, I don't think Laurie Metcalfe has a setting below "Over the Top" but she's counterweighted by Sara Gilbert, playing Darlene with perfect, dry understatement as always. Amusingly, Michael Fishman's DJ is as bland and underwritten as an adult as he was as a child, to the point where it has to be an in-joke.

Of the new characters, I really like Ames McNamara as Mark, the cross-dressing, gay middle-schooler. Child actors can be awkward but he seems astonishingly natural in what must be a very challenging role. His elder sister, Harris, played by Emma Kenney, is winningly reminiscent of her mother, Darlene, at the same age, while somehow looking, sounding and acting completely different. That's a hell of a trick.

The rest of the newbies I'm still getting used to but I'm only in Season One. The show has a very poor rating on most of the review sites I've checked, some of which might relate to residual loyalty to Roseanne Barr or to the show's unexpectedly liberal political stance. I broadly approve of the politics on show but even I was surprised by just how "woke" Darlene has grown up to be. I remember her as more of a Daria-inspired nihilist than any kind of social justice warrior.

I'll have to go back and re-watch Roseanne to see if I'm mis-remembering that. I guess I could faff about, trying to find out if and where it's streaming and whether I can access it but I just checked and you can get the box set of the whole nine seasons for under £35 on Amazon so I think I'll just save myself the hassle and buy it.

Of course, then it'll just sit around on a shelf, unopened, like all the other box sets in this house but at least I'll have the comfort and security of knowing I could watch it, if I wanted to. 

That's got to be worth the money all on its own.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide