Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Television’

What TV shows do CEOs watch? Deutschland 83, Narcos and others

September 28, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 1 Comment →

Based on these recommendations, I looked up Deutschland 83, a German mini-series by Anna and Joerg Winger that aired on the Sundance channel. I started watching the first episode late at night, which was a terrible mistake because it makes a compelling argument for abandoning sleep.

Deutschland 83 invites comparison with The Americans: both shows are set in the early 1980s and their protagonists are Communist moles working in the West. They also feature a lot of pop music from the ’80s, though Deutschland 83 leans towards the cheerful Eurotrashy synth-pop that was presumably popular behind the Iron Curtain. The opening theme is “Major Tom,” Peter Schilling’s tinny rejoinder to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and if you guessed that Nena’s “99 Luftballons” would be in there, how clever you are. On the other hand, the show also uses New Order and The Cure, and you can guess what happens next based on the musical cues. (They’re playing “Our love’s in jeopardy”… could it be that their love is in jeopardy?)

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

TV Therapy: Watch your way to better mental health

September 18, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 2 Comments →


Are you anxious, stressed-out, neurotic? Are you haunted by the past, overwhelmed by the present, and worried about the future? Do you fear that you are losing your grip, your hair, or your mind? In short, are you a normal person?

The solution I prescribe is not only simple and accessible, but it’s entertaining and slots perfectly into your schedule. I recommend you watch television. Thanks to technology, watching TV is no longer an activity that requires you to plonk yourself in front of the set at a specific time. You can watch TV anytime, anywhere, as long as you are not driving a car, operating heavy machinery, or crossing the street. You can watch shows on an old-school TV set, on a computer screen, on a tablet, on a phone. If you’re extremely busy, you can watch a few minutes between appointments. If the traffic is bad enough, you can watch an entire season of Jonathan Norrell and Mr Strange or Silicon Valley while sitting in a car.

Here are five very common situations and the TV shows that might make you feel less wretched about being in those situations. If they don’t work, at least you will be diverted or distracted. (In which case I recommend reading 19th century Russian novels. Not only are they magnificent, but they will make your life seem cheerful in comparison.)

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Mr Robot: The show that hacked the news

September 11, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Technology, Television 2 Comments →

The revolution is being televised, in the form of a cyber-thriller on the previously unheralded USA Network. Written and produced by Sam Esmail, Mr Robot is so plugged into the zeitgeist that you could watch it instead of the nightly news. In the series premiere, an anarchist group called fsociety hacks into a conglomerate’s systems and makes confidential information available to the public. In the real world, a website for cheaters was hacked and sensitive personal information made available to the public.

The airing of Mr Robot’s season one finale was postponed because of its distressing similarity to an actual event: the on-air murder of two journalists in Virginia. This is not the first time that the real world has borrowed its script from television. Sixteen years ago, an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was pulled from the air because it featured a student who was apparently planning mass murder. The episode had been shot before the Columbine massacre, but was delayed due to concerns about school violence.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Going Clear: How to make tax-free billions in the religion business

September 04, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Money, Television 3 Comments →

L. Ron Hubbard was a prolific science-fiction writer of the 1940s and 50s who wanted more than the dollar per word he was paid for his pulp novels. It occurred to him that the fastest way to gain fame, fortune and power was to start his own religion. This was well within the skill set of a man who’d published over a thousand novels about space aliens with superpowers (Anyone see Battlefield: Earth?). Hubbard wrote a book called Dianetics, which became the founding text of Scientology.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is the fascinating HBO documentary about the religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard. Writer-director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) looks into the personal history of the founding father, who styled himself “Commodore” because he had served in the navy during World War II (and was relieved of his command when he mistakenly shelled Mexico). Gibney traces the rise of the cult, talks to high-profile apostates such as filmmaker Paul Haggis (Crash) and high-ranking ex-members of the cult, and also answers the question, “Why did Tom Cruise suddenly divorce Nicole Kidman?” One of the documentary’s producers is Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. Wright mentions his fascination with religion, why people choose to believe what they believe, and their crushing certainty that eliminates all doubt.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Vicious: Revered thespians behaving badly

August 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television No Comments →

Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi are two of the most esteemed British actors of stage and screen. Theirs are the careers that young thespians aspire to. Between them they have played Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Uncle Vanya, Cyrano, Alan Turing, Magneto, Claudius and Gandalf. They have played just about every great role we can think of, and now that they’re in their 70s, what is left for them to do? Well, they can play two flamboyant old queens who have carried on a love-hate relationship for 50 years.

It seems disrespectful to refer to these esteemed thespians and LGBT rights campaigners as queens, but that is exactly what makes Vicious entertaining. The audience is urged to disrespect these icons. Jacobi plays Stuart Bixby, who used to manage a bar, and McKellen plays Freddie Thornhill, an infrequently-employed actor, on the British sitcom Vicious. The ITV series created by Mark Ravenhill and Gary Janetti, and directed by Ed Bye, is unrepentantly retro—its theme song is the cover of “Never Can Say Goodbye” by The Communards (If you can remember The Communards, go slather on some moisturizer).

Read our review of Vicious in our TV column The Binge, tomorrow at BusinessWorld.

The raw truths and heart-rending hilarity of Transparent

August 21, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Television No Comments →

In the pilot of Jill Soloway’s amazing series Transparent, the former Mort Pfefferman prepares to come out as a trans woman to his three grown children, Sarah, Josh and Ali. The children, being unused to sudden dinner summons from their divorced father, expect him to announce that he has cancer. They have a boisterous family dinner in which they talk over each other, make rude jokes (When Sarah tells Josh to wipe the barbecue sauce off his face, he retorts, “Why don’t you wipe the barbecue sauce from inside your vagina?”), and talk about everything but the reason they’ve been asked to dinner. Maura—the former Mort—loses her nerve and announces instead that she’s moving out of the family house. This triggers a noisy argument over who should get the house.

Later, Maura tells a friend of her failure to reveal herself to her children. “I don’t know how it is that I raised three people that cannot see beyond themselves,” she sighs. Having read of its op-ed-ready premise, I tuned in to Amazon’s breakout series expecting a comedy-drama about a man in his 70s adjusting to his new life as a woman. It is that, and it is also the most intimate and unfiltered look at family I can recall seeing on television.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.