In Isolation: What We’re Watching While We Weather COVID-19

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Introduction: Yeah, we know that most have a lot of time on their hands and are gravitating towards the TV in all its fashions in the downtime. And there are those who are in an essential job and just might appreciate stealing time to watch something to get their minds off of it all too. As a consequence, lists have been generated everywhere to get you watching so & so’s content.  

We here at HBOWatch are guilty of a list too, but instead of telling anyone what they should be watching our list consists of HBO content that we have watched or re-watched ourselves while we shelter-in-place. We hope you like the choices some of our staff have been binging and hope you can find ways, whether HBO or not, (though HBO is offering free content right now) to while away the hours.

Ele likes Big Little Lies

HBigLittleLies_thumb02-300x229aving read the book and then watched the series on HBO, it was a real pleasure to return to Big Little Lies. I’m going to focus on season one. At the heart of the first season are five female characters: Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata and Bonnie. Each woman is married (except for Jane) and they all have children. The series tackles themes like motherhood, working outside the home, wealth, status, relationships and unresolved trauma. There’s palpable friction between Madeline and her ex-husband Nathan. Madeline is a firecracker; she is witty and sarcastic and has a response for everything, especially when it comes to her oldest daughter Abigail and her ex. Renata is a wealthy woman who is a workaholic and resents that the other women don’t like her. Celeste was once a successful attorney who quit her job to stay at home to raiser her twin sons. Bonnie is a very Zen, calm and gentle soul who is married to Nathan. Jane is the new woman on the scene, a single mother trying to navigate her way through the steep waters of Monterey.

The school is another battleground of sorts; it sets the stage of strife between Renata and Jane, due to a bullying incident between their children. Madeline, who had befriended Jane, takes up the call to arms and is often seen going toe to toe with Renata. Madeline and Celeste are best friends, very different in personalities, parenting ideas and temperament. Jane is a nice medium, as she’s calm and sweet but tough when she needs to be but keeps to herself and appears to be keeping her cards close to her chest. As if she were hiding something. Renata is an alpha female, a workaholic self-made woman who shows a keen intellect when it comes to business. Bonnie has a yoga studio, makes her own jewelry and grows her own herbs and garden.

The husbands of Madeline, Celeste, Renata and Bonnie are very different. Nathan is still full of piss and vinegar towards Madeline and is confrontational towards Ed on many occasions. You could say that Nathan is prone to making things bigger than they need to be. The current husband of Madeline, Ed is low key, non-confrontational and very likable; works from home and is a wonderful stepfather to Abigail and father to Chloe. Perry is everything a woman would want in a husband: good looking, a successful businessman and athletic. Beneath the surface, we find out that Perry is hostile, controlling and abusive – physically and emotionally. To other women in Monterey, they look like the golden couple, making Celeste the topic of gossip and jealousy. Gordon Klein is a wealthy guy and a bit insensitive to his wife at times, but the two of them are content in their accomplishments.

running-1024x571Each of these women deals with relationship issues and unresolved trauma of one form or another. Some of these women deal with it head-on and others bury it deep. Here’s the problem with trauma: it can keep coming back to affect your life; your mental and physical health; your everyday friendships and relationships.

These women and their jobs, hobbies, friendships are seriously affected when a vicious murder takes place on the night of the Otter Bay Elementary School fundraiser. Season one is told in fractured narrative, seeing events that have happened to each of these women in their past, and how it’s helped or hindered their present-day status. The police maintain a heavy presence in investigating all the parents at the school the night of the murder. We soon find out that motherhood is not for all these women and the struggle to parent your children, whether young or old, will always be a challenge. We also find out that marriage and motherhood aren’t always what they seem and that each of these women must do what they need to do, in order to survive in life.


Good news! You can watch Big Little Lies Season One and Two for free right now, thanks to HBO…and the coronavirus.

 

Alexandra Mitchell likes  The Newsroom, Oz, & Room 104

Welcome to my 3-part series of HBO binge-watching, starring me and all of you and the coronavirus. It’s not easy to pick what to watch these days being stuck at home for the foreseeable future and knowing that you could quite literally start anywhere. Doesn’t that have a name?  When you’re overwhelmed by your selection choices?  Overchoice, I googled it.  Anyway, I think we can all admit that we’ve seen Tiger King (and some of us are returning for a rewatch). So now is the perfect time to suggest a few titles and indulge in a binge or two.

MV5BZjg5OGU2OGMtNTM3ZC00YTEzLWFmZjMtOWQ3NGI5YjIzODJlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE1NjY5Mg@@._V1_UY1200_CR89,0,630,1200_AL_The Newsroom Hi, my name is Alex and I love Aaron Sorkin. Okay, love is a strong term. I worship at the shrine of his film making abilities. My favorite movie as a kid was The American President. I grew up watching his shows. I saw myself as the Donna Moss, Natalie Hurley, Lucy Kenwright, Sloan Sabbith type. Cute but not a leading lady. Sassy but not enough to be unlikeable. Occasionally awkward as all hell. And smart.  His women are smart, capable, ass-kicking individuals who hold their own with the men (and often beat them into the ground). Here’s why I love Aaron Sorkin. He writes shows about what is real in the world, but he tells it as a way to inform people first and tell stories second. His shows all feature a setting based on world events. The President of the United States, a newsroom, a sports newsroom; a variety of TV shows are all places based on what’s going on in the world. He wants to have a conversation with us about what’s going on in the world in a funny way most of the time and sometimes in very serious ways because very serious things happen in the world. It’s not all Cosmo and cosmos. It’s real life and how we as real people deal with it.

This show has an absolutely amazing cast led by Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda are fantastic (they are also amazing together in Grace and Frankie). There are so many names that I feel like I’ve missed out on until now and need to look into them more.  Alison Pill, Dev Patel, and Olivia Munn are wonderful and I’ve added them to my list to research. The dialogue is quick and funny, but incredibly relatable. Who hasn’t sent an inappropriate email to all of the staff or fallen for a guy and then recommended him for your best friend because you’re currently seeing someone? Sorkin’s good at that will-they-won’t-they, long drawn out courtship. But the best part of the whole binge was when my boyfriend came out of his office to get something and asked, “Why are they all shouting at each other?” To which I responded, “It’s an Aaron Sorkin thing.” This happened more than once.

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Oz How best to fill yourself with gratitude when in this stressful situation: Remind yourself of all the freedoms you still have. As a show, Oz had crossed my radar back in undergrad while studying criminal justice. It wasn’t until a bit down the road that I finally had access to any HBO content and now is the moment I currently have unlimited time to watch. You can definitely tell that this was made at the end of the 90s though it’s still plenty relevant to incarceration today. In fact, I think you could argue it’s even more relevant. Especially considering the growth of the private prison system, but I digress…

Harold Perrineau as the frequent narrator is engaging and funny. I love seeing so many names that I know from other things, especially J.K. Simmons and Christopher Meloni who are two of my favorite actors. I don’t think I’ve seen them act in anything and not liked their performance.  Not to mention Dean Winters and B.D. Wong. It’s practically a Law & Order: SVU party! Right now is an uneasy time and while it sucks that certain freedoms need to be given up for the greater good, I’m grateful I still have the freedom to sit on my couch and watch TV. Others don’t have that.

Room 104 When I decided I needed some pure escapism, I came to this one.  I like weird stories, thriller stories, what the ever-loving f*ck stories. Welcome to Room 104! The anthology series has been around a long time, but American Horror Story and Black Mirror brought the genre back to the forefront of modern TV. This show follows up with some of its own weird, twisted, and occasionally heartwarming stories. I appreciate the half-hour format for these episodes.  It’s the perfect digestible bite of the story, especially when it gets freaky!  And having all the stories based out of a single hotel room provides an amazing cohesion but also leaves you wondering…what happened on all the other days?  I want to track down a timeline of all the stories so far because I’m so curious how all the dates span or if one even exists.  Season 4 is slated to return this year in September, but we’ll see if the coronavirus has any impact on that.

That’s all I have for now.  I’m guessing that as this situation continues for the foreseeable future that I will have another chunk of shows to suggest and breakdown for you.  For now, stay safe, tuck in, and turn on some entertainment.

 

Dvir Ben Asuli likes True Detective Season 1

As the everlasting debate on which TV network is the most relevant these days intensifies and as streaming services become more and more prominent, I stand tall with HBO as always, for the unrivaled high-quality content they keep on providing. One of the things that I used to say a lot in these kinds of discussions is that you should probably not expect to see anything as groundbreaking and unique as the first season of True Detective was back in the day outside of HBO. You won’t find me blindly trashing the show’s second season as the Internet trend dictates, and by all means, the third season was great. But, there’s no denying that specifically, the first season is a landmark on TV, one of the best productions ever made for the medium. You can see it from the very beginning when the HBO static logo appears and then this glorious opening titles sequence starts… I mean, what the hell is that? The music, the visuals- just perfect.

                                                                   
Woody Harrelson gives a wonderful performance and the cast is full of amazing actors in various roles- big or small, but for me this season, above anything else, is a masterclass showcase of acting by the unrivaled Matthew McConaughey. In these eight episodes, McConaughey managed to present the only showcase of acting that, in my opinion, matches and even surpasses Bryan Cranston’s performance on his five seasons of Breaking Bad. His performance is frankly one of the main reasons I go back to revisit this season every once in a while. This guy is incredible and charismatic and you just can’t take your 900x900bbeyes off the screen in every scene he appears in, even if the things the character says might sometimes get under your skin. I still can’t get over the fact he lost both the Emmy and the Golden Globe that year for Outstanding Actor, but I guess that’s mainly due to a wrongful submission of the show as a Drama Series instead of Limited Season. I mean, no one could have possibly beaten Cranston on his last season on the highly acclaimed Breaking Bad.
One of the other most outstanding aspects of this show has to be the writing- and by writing I mean mostly the actual dialogue and the structure of the storytelling itself. The story and plot are great but the way I see it they are not what makes this show so special. The way the story is constructed, the characters, the dialogue- a high form of art which I’m pretty sure you heard quoted once or twice during random scrolls on the internet. It has to be noted, though, that if you are looking for something fun and light-hearted to get your mind off these harsh times you should definitely pick another series. This mini-series is dark and pessimistic — perhaps too much for some people. But if you want to witness outstanding writing and gripping storytelling that is complemented by some of the most magnificent acting of all time, you should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Irene likes Girls
4f9ef59d69bedd3360000007?width=1100&format=jpeg&auto=webpBack in 2011, Game of Thrones was my introduction to HBO’s programming. But with winter overstaying its welcome and my world looking grimmer by the moment, I’ve found myself using the coronavirus-imposed self-isolation to discover what else HBO has to offer besides dragons and self-aware androids. On my search for a sense of escapism from the bleak reality of living alone in a basement apartment, I stumbled on HBO’s comedy-drama Girls. The title’s implied plurality and all of the frenetically comical interpersonal conflict that such plurality entails are a welcome substitute for the social interaction that many of us have abruptly lost. Starring Lena Dunham and the talented Adam Driver, Girls tracks the ups and downs of an aspiring writer with grit and humor. The protagonist, Hannah, is unyieldingly narcissistic and her life is equally unyielding in its endless and often absurd complications. Nevertheless, there is an endearing quality to the show and its flawed characters that will reel in GOT fans who find themselves in need of a respite from backstabbing, blood baths, and grey skies. With its cramped rooms, crowded city streets, and constant couplings and quarrels, Girls is a fun, sophisticated meditation on millennial aimlessness that offers isolated audiences a bright approximation of having a busy social life. Fun (?) fact: There is a memorable episode of Girls where Hannah leaves her regular haunts in New York to pursue an M.F.A. at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (which incidentally, Game of Thrones showrunner D.B. Weiss attended in real life). Having spent quite a few years lurking about Iowa City, it was disorienting for me to realize that not a single bit of footage from the episode was actually shot there. Girls is not to blame, however. Apparently, the show was not allowed to film at the University of Iowa. You learn something new every day!

 

Orr Ben Asuli likes Quarry & Chernobyl

 

Quarry Around 2014-15 I became a Greg Yaitanes super-fan after seeing his flawless work on House M.D. and Banshee. The next project he was working on at the time was a new show for Cinemax (HBO’s sister site) that looked very promising – Quarry. I followed the production right from the start. I kept up with it through Greg’s Twitter account (he was posting a picture a day as the production was underway), and later those of the show’s creators, Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy, as well. I also tweeted to them quite a lot. Michael and I even got to continue talking sometimes on Twitter about other shows and movies, which is great (he’s a great guy).

When the show finally came out, I was very excited and my expectations were met, it was something really big, so well made, so well written, the story is so gripping and interesting.

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The premise is this: It’s 1972 and two friends, Mac and Arthur, come back from the Vietnam War to their homes and wives in Memphis. It’s a different town from the one they left, and they are struggling to go back to living their normal lives and find jobs. Right about that time, they are both (separately) approached by the mysterious ‘Broker’ who has a job more “fitting” to their recently acquired skills as soldiers – a hit. Mac says no, while Arthur accepts the job, so Mac tags along with him to back him up, and when things go a bit sideways in some unexpected ways – Mac finds himself unwillingly drawn into a bigger duty, that changes everything.

Mac is played by the brilliant Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation, Upgrade), the Broker is played by Peter Mullan (Ozark, Westworld), Mac’s wife, Joni, is played by the talented Jodi Balfour. Overall the cast is so rich and great (no wonder, it’s Alexa L. Fogel’s casting work, she’s NEVER wrong).

Unfortunately, Quarry was canceled by Cinemax after one season. They were “taking a different direction of content” if I remember correctly. Such a shame if you ask me. Quarry was one of the greatest HBO shows (now mini-series), in my opinion. It has so many qualities, from the brilliant cinematography (handled throughout the entire season by Pepe Avila del Pino), great original music (Kris Dirksen from Methodic Doubt), the writing (mostly handled by the ultra-talented creators, Fuller and Gordy) to the fine work of one of my favorite directors – Greg Yaitanes, who directed the whole season. And besides all the technicalities, the story is so good! Trust me, you start binging the first couple of episodes, you won’t be able to stop. It’s not long, 8 episodes, and it’s worth the time. It’s art.

I really hope, someday, Quarry will be renewed somehow (although it probably won’t happen), but even as a mini-series – the ending works and you CAN look at it as a whole piece. Go start now, trust me. It’s the highest form of sheer quality entertainment.

Chernobyl: I won’t say a lot here because I think you probably already heard from someone, somewhere that you should binge Chernobyl if you haven’t already watched it.

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The 2019 HBO mini-series took me by complete surprise, mostly because I didn’t expect it to be THAT good. Created/written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, Chernobyl tells the story of the happenings around the explosion in the Chernobyl power plant. It’s April 26, 1986. At 1:23:45 AM, a mysterious explosion occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The people at the plant deal with not knowing what happened and try to minimize risks while firefighters are sent to the place (on the premise of an exploded control room, a minor fire), not knowing what they’re approaching, and that it will be one of their last days breathing. And that’s only the beginning, from there a story about an existential catastrophe, lies, their cost, consequences, and a lot of radiation starts unfolding. Through five gripping episodes, without one moment of rest, the story will leave you breathless. And the finale is perfect.

It’s one of those shows that will go down in history as a major TV event. What HBO, Mazin, Renck, and everybody else involved have accomplished here is monumental, and you will enjoy it. I also recommend the “Chernobyl Podcast” which is an official podcast that was released along with every episode, where Craig Mazin goes in-depth about the events and the making of every episode.

 

Jef likes Beforeigners 

Beforeigners-300x169I’m slipping into the last slot of the post because I wanted to showcase members of our staff first; because I work an essential job and wasn’t sure I was going to find time to binge anything and because if I did throw in a title I wanted it to be something nobody would pick. 

My HBO viewing never, and I mean never goes without checking out HBO Internation content. Someday I’ll catch you all up on what I’ve seen, but if I single out one right now it will be HBO Nordic’s Beforeigners. It is a six-part series in Norwegian that comes to HBONow/Go via HBO Europe and just came out in August of 2019 so, hopefully, there will be a Season two at some point. The series takes place in Oslo, where sudden flashes of light appear in the bay in Bjørvika. A large number of people from the past time periods suddenly have appeared in the present — people from the Stone Age, Viking Age and the 19th century – they are ‘timegrants’ or ‘beforeigners’. I picked it to view because I LOVE the title wordplay and taking HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS and flipping it on its head.  

It is cool to see another part of the world as our focal point and not really a chore, if you’re used to it, to follow the subtitles. You are drawn in by local Policia addressing the apparent murder of a Stone Age woman so it is a crime procedural as well a social commentary and a nod to Viking life and legend. The appearance of ‘timegrants’ has continued but it has been two years since the initial influx of the displaced. Now there are those you are trying to assimilate, those who stick to their traditional ways and, of course, those opposed to the immigrant’s presence at all. The visuals of grunting Stone Age clans living in Oslo’s parks clashing with 1800’s sensibilities are intriguing to see.  

And don’t forget the murder. The crime is solved by the end by Lars, an officer with an addiction problem and his appointed assistant an assimilated Norse woman named Alfhildr, once a shieldmaiden of the legendary Norseman Tore Hund. Quite an interesting world is drawn up here making this rough, raw entry another gem under the HBO banner. I’d love to keep HBO International content all for myself, but alas, I can’t so don’t forget to include it in your HBO viewing. 

Conclusion: This is just a simple sampling of what we are watching. Let us know what HBO content you are liking right now in the Comments below. We’d love to hear from you. Let’s enjoy HBO together – apart.

 

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Hey, what are you watching? Oh, and it is okay, you can take the mask off if you are sitting alone.

    

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