If you get Xfinity or Comcast, or whatever they are calling themselves these days (I can't keep up) you'll know there is a premium station "Watch-a-thon" going on through this week. Anything on the premium stations (HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, etc.) is available On-Demand for no additional fee. They are encouraging binge watching (of course) and are sure to sign up new subscribers to continue viewing when the event ends.
I don't have a lot of time for TV in April, but that's relative—since you all know I LOVE TV.
I often agree with Emily Nussbaum's articles on Television in the New Yorker, and because of this linked article I started watching "Outlander."
She sucked me in by comparing it to "The Americans," which I have enjoyed watching in two-episodes-a-day increments as I cycled through winter on the indoor bike.
Nussbaum was very wrong this time. "Outlander" is a show about a 1945 era woman transported back in time to 1743 Scotland where she meets her husband's ancestor (a sadistic captain in the British army) and falls in love with a Scottish man. Sure there is war, and a little bit of spying, and a lot of gender politics, but isn't like "The Americans" at all.
First there is the level of acting: Yes, Tobias Menzies is fantastic in his dual role as husband in 1945 and Nasty Piece Of Work Ancestor in 1743, but Caitriona Balfe spends all her time demonstrating how difficult it is to breathe in wardrobe from 1743 (i.e., heaving bosom) and looking flirtatious with all sorts of people at the most inappropriate times. She is not behaving in the way a woman who was a nurse in 1945 would behave. It's painful to watch. (Also fun to watch but not worth the overall time investment because of low volume screen time: Graham McTavish, Duncan Lacroix, Lotte Verbeek, and of course Bill Paterson—shouldn't there be a law that he should have a bit part in everything???? Really!!!!!)
Tip: Watch "Comfort and Joy" starring Bill Paterson, just to cleanse your palette after all this historical romance!
Next there's the story line. "Outlander" is simply an historical romance, a bodice ripper. It's soft porn dressed up with stunning scenery (the cinematography is fabulous) and people running about in 18th century garb. (I have to admit to a certain fondness for the costumes as they are so close in time to the American Revolution.) The story line—she wants to travel forward in time to get back to her husband in 1945—is still simply the standard "heroine in love with two men who have varying degrees of 'bad-boy' in their character" story. The results are predictable.
Besides the cinematography which is lovely and the music which is an interesting mix of folk song and 1940s standards, it is rather fun to spend time in a land where everyone speaks like Sir Sean Connery. But even that isn't enough to hold my attention.
Contrast all this to "The Americans" in which the stunning Keri Russell convincingly acts her way through all sorts of dilemmas as a capable undercover KGB agent living in Carter- and Regan-era Washington, D.C. with her agent husband, played equally well by Matthew Rhys. You won't even understand why you spent any time on "Outlander."
In "The Americans" the story lines deal with political events in the 1970s and 1980s and provide an interesting perspective (since the two protagonists are Soviet spies). The production is rich in setting and period clothing and hairdos, which only brings more fun to the party. When an episode is over you feel you've actually been asked to think about something while watching the characters work out their interpersonal relationships and get out of "scrapes."
The Americans is on FX so you don't have to wait for a special promotional week to watch it. And if you subscribe to Amazon Prime you can watch the first 3 seasons for free.
Now how should you spend the rest of your "Watch-a-thon"?
Well, after several episodes of "Outlander" (I couldn't believe it wasn't going to get better) I pulled the plug and hopped to HBO where I am watching the third and final season of "The Newsroom." (I'd watched the first two seasons on Amazon Prime for free.)
I feel as if I can breathe again! Great writing sparkles through the efforts of a fantastic ensemble cast headed by the incredible Jeff Daniels. The smart, snappy dialog keeps coming right at you, demanding that you think. Aaron Sorkin created and wrote most of the episodes of this engaging and exciting series. You’ll find yourself laughing one moment, trying not to cry the next. It's worth every minute you spend on it.
If every show on TV were this quality everyone would be binge watching everything.