BINGE-R #5: Easy + Amazon Arrives + 2016 Top 10
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
An anthology series, especially one as supple and entertaining as Joe Swanberg’s Easy, is a great fit for this time of year. While some of the characters who populate these eight episodes recur with a different perspective in a subsequent episode, you can essentially dip in and out of the show with ease. It’s an outlook that reflects the protagonists who populate these diverse Chicago-set pocket universes, whose lives have a lived-in quality that allows emotional undercurrents to reveal themselves in an organic way. At times you feel like you’re eavesdropping.
A prolific writer and director who was a foundation filmmaker in the American mumblecore scene, Swanberg loosely focuses on couple in times of transition, whether it’s a husband (Evan Jonigkeit) who secretly throws himself into a backyard brewery operation with his brother (Dave Franco) while his wife (Aya Cash) is pregnant in episode three (Brewery Brothers), or the ageing, self-centred graphic novelist (Marc Maron) who meets a young digital artist (Emily Ratajkowski) who gives him a taste of his own creative medicine in episode five (Art and Life).
Running no longer than 30 minutes, these self-contained stories often end in unexpected places. Swanberg is alert to each character’s distinct foibles, fears and even failings, so that the realisations they reach are rarely pat. And the best episodes have a subtle wallop, particularly the seventh (Chemistry Read) where the reality of single life is seen through opposing eyes by two actors starring in a play. The younger, just separated Sophie (the always tops Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is feeling her way towards independence, while the older Annabelle (Jane Adams) yearns for companionship. Their philosophies have a bruised intermingling, and the final sequence of shots is sublime.
Swanberg has a talent for getting expressive performances out of his actors (it’s a shame Netflix doesn’t have any of his movies streaming for easy confirmation), and here he captures the unease in Franco’s bro-ish enthusiasm and even makes good use of one time Middle Earth elf Orlando Bloom, whose last decent role was Naked Dude Paddle Boarding With Katy Perry. Bloom and Malin Akerman play a happily married couple who toy with Tinder, and then a friend, out of love instead of boredom in episode six (Utopia), which is also one of several pieces here that features sex scenes seemingly shorn of directorial tampering.
Swanberg’s anthology series is well worth watching, although my one edit would be to start at episode three and subsequently come back to the first two. As Easy repeatedly depicts, a minor tweak can really matter.
Yes, we have a new streaming service. After the uncertainty of a soft launch that was more about the loosening of existing geo-blocking, Amazon Prime Video is now officially available in Australia. A few logistical basics: you require an Amazon account to sign up, but the streaming happens through a separate website at www.primevideo.com. There is a week-long free trial, then the first six months cost $US2.99 per month, which will increase to US$5.99 per month. You’re paying purely for the streaming service – none of the ancillary benefits that Amazon Prime includes in the United States are currently applicable here.
What’s available for BINGE-R readers? At this point Amazon Prime Video is primarily a delivery system for The Grand Tour, the new motoring show from the former hosts and producer of Top Gear. As scripted as parts of it are, The Grand Tour is outside BINGE-R’s remit, but it has a sizable global audience and it’s Amazon’s international calling card. Other Amazon original series are available, but the most recent season of those shows already licensed in Australia are not available. For example, Amazon Prime Video has the first two seasons of Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle, but Stan has all three seasons of both programs.
Other Amazon titles are new to Australian streaming services. There’s the first series of the alternate-history thriller The Man in the High Castle, which was one of my favourite shows this year (see below), but annoyingly the second season isn’t available here despite the Americans getting it earlier this month; the Billy Bob Thornton legal procedural Goliath and the cult drama The Path with Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan are also of interest. The movie selection is narrow in focus but runs deep, mainly encompassing Hollywood releases from the last two decades.
BINGE-R recommends shows, not streaming services, so the choice to subscribe is yours, but as the selection on Amazon Prime Video grows I will write about their applicable titles and keep you in touch with what’s available. Hopefully that starts very soon with the second season of The Man in the High Castle…
Update added 17/2/17: It took six weeks or so, but after a quiet start Amazon Prime Video is now worth considering. Recently I’ve written about Amazon’s Sneaky Pete [review here] plus the biting, brilliant Fleabag [review here], and now there’s the excellent second season of The Man in the High Castle [review here]. I’m not saying you should get Amazon, but it deserves to be part of the conversation if you’re thinking of adding a new streaming service.
TOP 10 SHOWS OF 2016
Since BINGE-R is just three weeks old, the rest of a busy year for Australian streaming services has gone unreviewed. So please consider this list less my statement of chest-thumping intent than your January checklist. Any of these 10 seasons/shows is a top summer option.
1 – Transparent S3 (Stan)
2 – Stranger Things S1 (Netflix)
3 – The Man in the High Castle S1 (Amazon)
4 – The Girlfriend Experience S1 (Stan)
5 – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S2 (Netflix)
6 – Billions S1 (Stan)
7 – Lady Dynamite S1 (Netflix)
8 – The OA S1 (Netflix) [review here]
9 – No Activity S2 (Stan)
10 – Chewing Gum S1 (Netflix) [review here]
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