One Loser, Three Winners

As I’ve mentioned any number of times before on these pages, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video helped keep me sane during the days when the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc with humankind. Even though the worst is behind us, COVID-ly speaking, my addiction to the streamers hasn’t abated in the least. Man, five or more nights each week my wife Sandy and I tune in to one series or another for an hour or two. This practice pleases the hell out of me, an entertainment hound. Basically, I love it!

Sandy and I enjoy nearly all of the series we watch, partly because we do a fair bit of research before hitting a production’s Play button. We’re not about to look at anything that gets less than a strong rating on IMDB, for instance. Nevertheless, losers occasionally pass before our eyes, such as the Netflix series Marcella, a detective show whose first season we dialed up a few months ago. It’s beyond me how Marcella has garnered a 7.4 on IMDB. With way too many plotlines and riddled with ludicrous situations, it started rubbing me the wrong way in a very big way after two or three episodes. At that point I said “F*ck this!” and, with Sandy’s blessing, tossed the series aside. I’m not fabled for making good decisions, but saying bye-bye to Marcella was the indisputable proper move.

There were no complaints from me or Sandy, however, earlier this month as we polished off, consecutively, three series that kept our eyes glued to the TV screen and our emotions running high.

First up was season one of The Night Agent, released this year on Netflix. In this tale, Peter Sutherland (played by Gabriel Basso), a low-level FBI agent, becomes involved up to his neck in a murder investigation that in no time has him questioning whom he can trust. It all starts when Sutherland becomes the unwitting protector of Rose Larkin (portrayed by Luciane Buchanan), who has witnessed the assassinations of her aunt and uncle and is on the run from the killers. Why were the aunt and uncle killed? Who was behind the murders? Will Peter and Rose solve the mystery and not get whacked?  I can be a dumbshit, but by the end of the final episode I had a pretty good understanding of what the hell had been going on, which is not always the case with me and thrillers. Sandy and I hope that the already-promised season two will fly as high as the initial run does.

Next on the bill was The Diplomat, another new Netflix series (its season two also has been OK’d). A drama starring Keri Russell as Kate Wyler, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, the show deftly, and in a stylized manner whose wryness agreed with me, douses its viewers with political maneuverings and negotiations.

Wyler isn’t sure she’s cut out for her new job. But from the get-go she proves that she’s got what it takes. Adept at getting her points across, she helps to avert an international crisis and likely a war by convincing the U.S. president that Iran, the presumed culprit, was not behind the attack on a British naval vessel that killed dozens of sailors. As a result, the cagey British Prime Minister, for now neutralized, doesn’t retaliate against Iran. But murky waters lie ahead nonetheless. Things are not what they seem to be, Kate learns more than once. And a seemingly innocuous situation leads to a cliffhanger of major proportions, guaranteeing that Sandy and I will return for season two upon its release.

You know, I’m a rock and roller at heart. I would have loved living the life of a rock musician. There was and is one problem, though: I have zero musical talent. So, I’ve lived that life vicariously, and continue to do so even now at my ridiculously advanced age. All of which means that I was smitten with Daisy Jones & The Six, a ten-part Amazon presentation released this year and based on the novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The (fictional) saga of the titular band that, during the 1970s, rose to lofty heights and then fell apart, Daisy Jones & The Six has all that you might expect: sex, drugs and heaps and heaps of rock and roll. The series chronicles the group’s history and brings the story into sharper focus by including interviews — conducted 20 years after the band’s dissolution — with band members and their inner circle, none of whom had spoken publicly before about why the implosion took place.

Armed with good scripts and actors who do justice to the words written for them, Daisy Jones & The Six has a lot going for it. What’s more, much to my astonishment, the series made me think . . . about love’s complexities, for love in various stages of development and strength lies at the heart of the show. Billy Dunne and Daisy Jones (brought to life by actors Sam Claflin and Riley Keough, respectively), the leaders and vocalists of the band, have a contentious association at first, which mellows with time and then morphs into something far more nuanced and intimidating. I’ll say no more, except to reiterate that love and relationships damn sure can be complicated.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls. Sandy and I would be happy to learn about the shows you recommend. We’re always on the lookout for series to watch. We thank you.

A Puzzle Story

Almost every morning, while downing a couple of cups of coffee, I devote an hour and a half or so to numbers-based and words-based puzzles. Sudoku and crossword puzzles, specifically and respectively. Generally, I work my way through two sudokus and one crossword, a practice I’ve been pursuing for the last 11 years. The puzzles keep my brain limber, calm my nerves and provide a healthy dose of satisfaction if I complete them correctly. They are my pals.

Needless to say, I’m anything but alone in regularly attacking puzzles that revolve around numbers and words. Although some folks have no interest in sudokus, crosswords, cryptograms, Wordle, etc., or are interested but don’t have the time, legions of people are engaged with them. With jigsaw puzzles too. And there also are countless fans of the puzzles found in certain books, television shows and movies. To wit, the plots of mysteries, thrillers and the like in which it’s up to professional detectives or private individuals to identify and track down evil doers. I’m definitely drawn to that sort of fare. In recent weeks, for example, I watched the first three seasons of Unforgotten, a British drama series in which police detectives confront what they refer to as historical murders. In other words, newly discovered homicides that took place years before. Solving these crimes requires tremendous persistence and attention to detail. The members of Unforgotten’s police unit that take on these cases are up to the task, and I’m envious of their abilities.

And a few months ago I polished off A Mind To Murder, by the celebrated crime novelist P. D. James. It’s a good story with complicated circumstances, so much so that the lead detective, Adam Dalgleish, whose reputation for exemplary work precedes him, ultimately pursues someone who is not the killer. In the end, Dalgliesh is humbled by his errors and by the uncertainties that always surround him.

I hadn’t given this any thought before, but A Mind To Murder is more lifelike than most mysteries in that respect. Meaning, even the best detective might be thrown way off course. Man, if Adam Dalgliesh can blunder, what does that imply for the rest of us in the greater scheme of things? Oh well, what can you say? Life’s a big puzzle, for sure, one that’s always in flux and requires us to stay on our toes. We’re usually good at deciphering what’s going on, and consequently make appropriate moves to keep ourselves humming along decently. But it’s not always that easy, as we know all too well. Let’s face it, there are a lot of dynamics going on out there at every given moment, not to mention within us. Their interactions can be unnerving. Or worse.

With sudoku and crossword puzzles, though, you don’t run into unanticipated occurrences, emotional flareups, or anything of the sort. That’s because their components are designed to fit together precisely, unlike the components of life. Those are among the reasons why I enjoy sudokus and crosswords as much as I do. Which is not to say, of course, that they can’t be tricky. The most difficult sudokus are tremendously tricky, but can be untangled by applying rules of logic. And though some crossword puzzle creators adore tossing curveballs at us, via the sly wording of clues, that doesn’t change the fact that only one answer exists for each of those clues.

So, I feel as though I’m in a safe zone when I sit down in the morning to sudoku and crossword puzzles. I’m comfortable in their self-contained worlds where, intrinsically, everything is stable and exactly as it should be. What’s more, the peaceful hour and a half I spend with them makes me better able to deal with the noisy real world. Damn straight I give a big thumbs-up to that!