New on Netflix: Meanwhile, back at The Ranch it's all drama
* The Ranch, Season 1, Part 2, Available from Friday
Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson from That '70s Show are reunited as siblings in The Ranch, which appeared to decent reviews earlier this year in the US.
It's an appropriate vehicle for both of them, with veterans Sam Elliott and the incomparable Debra Winger providing the support. Kutcher, fresh from the closing seasons of Two and a Half Men, plays prodigal son Colt Bennett, a former hot-shot, small-town high school football player who's now a 34-year-old washout. Returning home to his family's up-against-it Colorado ranch in search of a tryout with a nearby semi-pro team, Colt again gets clotheslined by his cantankerous, conservative father, Beau (Elliott). The old man has no use for either the present day or his youngest son's layabout wayward ways. So the laugh track roars in Episode 2 when Beau asks his other son, Rooster (Masterson), "What the (bleep) is Netflix?" This show doesn't quite achieve the mixture of blue collar humour and pathos we saw in, say, Roseanne (to which it also nods) but it has its moments and Debra Winger is always watchable.
Season 1, Available now
Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is an upstanding member of the American cabinet. He's having a bad day: On the morning of the President's State of Union address, he's told to step down. His last act of duty will be serving as the "designated survivor," a member of the Cabinet who remains absent from the State of the Union in case something really, really bad happens. And boy does it. In 2001, Sutherland helped bring in a new era of thrillers that responded to terrorism with 24 and took the measure of the moral cost. Those shows largely focused on the ground level foot soldiers; Designated Survivor relocates this drama upstairs to the White House, which, as we all know, is where the real action is these days. It doesn't overtly reference the current election but Sutherland is supposed to be everyone's dream president. Sutherland is incredibly appealing and credible in a change-of-pace role for him.
This is a tough but rewarding piece of film about end-of-life care and the dilemmas families and medics face. Director Dan Krauss focuses on one intensive care unit and mostly on two patients - Donna and Selena - who have been brought in and placed on breathing machines. There's no overarching point or agenda here but the conflicts and issues are very real. There are medics who have to make decisions that have little to do with medical facts. There are patients who have to summon their deepest wisdom while in great distress. One patient's daughter speaks with great clarity about the dilemma she and her family are facing: That making the decision to stop breathing machines would feel like taking an active role in their mother's death.
Season 6, Available now
When this series first appeared there were complaints that it wasn't quite as bad, that is as good, that is as fabulously trashy, as its source material - a series of bestselling young adult novels. but it has to be said Gossip Girl overcame this tepid reception to churn out six much-watched seasons, and make a huge star of Blake Lively. She plays Serena van der Woodsen, a 19-year-old who carries herself with the self-assurance of a 35-year-old with a great alimony settlement. Serena is returning to Manhattan's Constance Billard School after a year in exile at boarding school. The mean girl whose bitchery will prod the series forward, the adversary brunette is Blair Waldorf. Once Serena's closest friend, she's now her best nemesis. As we learn via hazy flashback, after Serena got busy with Blair's man one Champagne-fueled night, the queen bee declared Serena persona non grata. This is the basic setup for the sixth season that follows, and it's all soapy good fun, with the greatest product placements this side of Sex And The City.
Catch up now
Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope
RTE Player, until Oct 19, episodes 1-3
RTE’s much-talked about new comedy drama was two episodes in before I got to it, so I caught up with a double dose on Player. Written by Stefanie Preissner and directed by Cathal Brady, this is the story of two young Cork women living in Dublin. One, Aisling, works in finance, the other, Danielle, is an art student. Really though, what they both do is party — hard. The drink flows — double vodkas, shots of tequila, flaming sambucas — the nights are long and, in Aisling’s case, often end up back at some guy’s. Hence her need for the morning-after pill for the second time in two weeks. “Wouldn’t you go on the pill,” asks the chemist. “No,” says Aisling, “I’m not sexually active. I’m not in a relationship.” Except perhaps with booze. By the end of the first episode, it’s pretty obvious that for all the fun, the partying, the shouty dancefloor anthems and BFF hugs, there are bad things bubbling below the surface. Funny, smart, relatable, this is well worth a watch, both for the Millennials who will recognise themselves, and for the rest of us who watch with equal parts horror and nostalgia.
Trump V Clinton Live: US Presidential Debate
Channel4 OnDemand, until Oct 27
This was the first of what are three planned Presidential debates, a chance to watch Hillary and The Donald go head-to-head, rather than the back-and-forth call-and-response of recent weeks. Divided into three clear segments — Achieving Prosperity, America’s Direction and Securing America — the debate was set up to minimise the potential for off-road tactics, keeping both candidates firmly to the point. It was a structure that ended by favouring Clinton over Trump, playing to the strengths of her experience and achievements. Despite a strong start, Trump quickly began working himself up into something of a frenzy, chasing the hares released by Hillary rather than staying on-message, and delivering out-of-place rants. On the evidence of this engagement, Trump is still the evil of two lessers.
The Guilty Feminist
Gemma Arterton recently big-upped this podcast in an interview, and we can see why. Presented by comedians Sofie Hagen (pictured right) and Deborah Frances-White and recorded weekly in front of a live audience and with a buzzy selection of guest stars including Cariad Lloyd, Sally Phillips and Sara Pascoe, this works on the premise that most us feel a guilty secret twinge that we could be ‘better’ at feminism. Under discussion are the kinds of topics all 21st century feminists agree on, such as kids — to have and have not — the problem of trying to be ‘likeable’, and shoes, but engaged with in a way that is funny, enlightened, and real. Hagen and Frances-White are great at confessing their insecurities, hypocrisies and the fears that underlie their lofty principles, meaning the rest of us can too.
Food52 is pretty much a one-stop website for recipes, food features, useful kitchen tips, and interiors/utensil shopping, along with plenty of foodie-focused cheerleading, set up by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Burnt Toast is the podcast arm of the site, where the duo, along with various guests, chat, advise and experiment on our behalf, tackling such must-knows as which food hacks actually work, and how to make a wedding toast. Right now, Burnt Toast is in greatest hits mode, with a series of favourite moments from the past two years — including an interview with Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of the Los Angeles Times — prior to returning with a hot new version of the weekly format. So, now’s the chance to catch up.
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