Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekend Stream for 11/01/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service for you to watch each weekend. Just search for the bolded titles on your preferred Netflix-watching device, and you're in business! Since content can disappear from Netflix with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, see?!

Weekend Stream for 11/01/13

TV shows sometimes get short shrift here in the Weekend Stream, so I thought it'd be fun to leave movies out of it and pick out a few TV titles for you to stream.

First, there's Fringe, the weird sci-fi show that aired from 2008-2012. I've written about the show before (SPOILERS), doing a "Seasons in the Sun" post about its second season a while back. If you don't want to read that and get spoiled, here's the gist: Fringe concerns the exploits of Fringe Division, a secret FBI branch dedicated to looking at The Pattern, a series of strange events involving technology, bio-terror, and outright paranormal-seeming activity. Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) leads the team, joined by fellow agents Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and their boss Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick). Also working with them is Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), a bright-but-cynical con man who comes along to help reign in his recently-let-out-of-the-asylum father, mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble), whose genius provides the solution to (and, possibly, the cause of) many of the "Fringe" events. Over time, the show went from a "case-of-the-week" procedural to a far more tightly serialized story, building everything from parallel universes and shapeshifters to time-traveling future humans into its complicated mythology. It gets off to a slow start, and things really don't get cooking until the second season, but it's definitely worth trying. Over time, the show's humor and the chemistry and camaraderie of the characters begin to work their spell and keep you engaged even on down weeks, and its (often quite gross) sci-fi and horror elements do the rest.

I've tended to focus on fictional shows, here, in part because Netflix is great for the kind of binge watching that works best with serialized plots or characters you enjoy spending time with. But there ARE other kinds of TV on Netflix. For instance, who doesn't love the nature documentaries of David Attenborough? One of my very favorites, The Life of Mammals, is among the Attenborough shows available on Netflix. Like all of his programs, The Life of Mammals shows Attenborough traveling to all sorts of far-flung places, where he meets the world's mammals. It features incredible wildlife photography that puts us a whisker away from these creatures as they hunt, play, get freaky, and live their lives. Throughout, he appeals to evolution to chart the fascinating history of mammals in all their forms, explaining it all in his usual intelligent, soothing tone. This makes The Life of Mammals a perfect thing to watch when you need to veg out and relax, but not put your brain entirely to sleep. Highlights include the episode about omnivores and the one about carnivores (thanks to liberal doses of big cats, unequivocally the best animals ever invented). While all of Attenborough's shows are great, I particularly favor this one because not only are mammals cute, but most of my favorite animals happen to be mammals. I'm one too!

Finally this week, I'm going to recommend an episode of one of my all-time favorite television programs. Throughout its long history, across at least three channels, a theatrical film, and a legacy that lives on today in spin-off groups, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made an art form of snark. It turned laughably bad movies into fodder for rapid fire jokes, running gags, and obscure references. If you're not familiar with the show, its theme song describes it better than I ever could, but the basic gist is that a man on a satellite is forced by villains to watch horrible movies, which he does with two wisecracking robot puppets, their silhouettes obscuring the lower part of the screen. Whether in the Joel Hodgson–hosted era or the later Mike Nelson years, the cast and crew maintained a high standard of hilarity. At any rate, the episode featuring Pod People is one of the best. It's a crazy film about alien beings, a vacationing band, a poorly dubbed child, some hunters, and a rascally, magical baby alien called Trumpy. If that made no sense, well, I'm afraid the film won't clarify anything because it's awful. But between their riffing, skits, and recreations of scenes from the film, Joel and his robots Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu) will keep you entertained anyway.

That's all for now. Next week I'll probably go back to the usual balance of films and TV shows, I suspect. I hope you'll join me. Until then!

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