What a good and generous thing it is for Netflix to offer a month’s free trial. But then, also, how devious. You think you’ll be in and out like a seasoned bank robber, binge-watch your series of choice and ride off into a blank screen. Not so. For once you’ve watched your series of choice – House of Cards – there’s another series – Better Call Saul – that’s released weekly; then there are all those others – Lillehammer, Orange is the New Black – that you’ve never had chance to see and had better stick around to see what the twit-crits having been raving about; and, finally, there are the future enticements, such as Marvel’s upcoming Daredevil.
It’s a racket, all right.
I might well take over a month just to get through the third season of House of Cards, which disturbs me, not because it isn’t good, but because I raced through the first two practically unable to breathe. Frank’s ascendency to the presidency has meant a loss of momentum to the plot – an inevitable consequence, one supposes, of desire fulfilled. Build-ups and breakdowns are always more interesting than stability, even when it comes to a most unstable presidency.
But what are Frank’s aims now? Whether it’s his rather Keynesian full-employment programme or the long-term machinations leading to a run in 2016, he seems lacking in the uncompromising Underwood fervour that we’ve previously witnessed. Nevertheless, perhaps the opportunity to see Kevin Spacey gradually unhinge his composed character should be welcomed. As for his former majordomo, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), I think I’ve predicted his plans to get back into his master’s graces, but that depends entirely upon how far the writers are willing to stretch the concept of loyalty.
Netflix’s newest hit – at least I hope it is – Better Call Saul (AMC) has, to my mind, no debits, only credits. It is a thing of beauty. We all know it’s a spinoff of Breaking Bad, but from the first episode it was evident that this programme could be discussed as an entity entirely within itself. It takes the small-town, everyday charms and desperation of the early episodes of that latter show and extends our sympathy even more because, unlike Walter White, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) isn’t a genius and must hedge his cunning with dumb luck.
McGill’s optimism (and he is an optimist – a career in law requires that much) and easy charm is just as watchable as the admittedly rather bleak enterprise of its sister programme. And for those who insist upon darkness to make a drama credible, the return of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is equally welcome. Mike is a man of cynical tolerance and stoicism, making him a perfect foil/companion to McGill’s hectic manoeuvring. It has been said of Better Call Saul that it is one of the great comedies, because it doesn’t make you laugh; well, that’s a good rule of thumb, but it does make me laugh and ten episodes doesn’t seem like nearly enough.
Sporting Highlight of the Month: Let’s Play Darts for Comic Relief (BBC 2) – more exciting than the whole of last year’s World Cup, more entertaining than a BBC 3 comedy.