Bates Motel: it’s all in the atmosphere


The beginning of summer is a very exciting time for Netflix viewers, as a bunch of new seasons of great shows opens. In the past month only, we’ve had the launches of Bloodline (season 2); Orange is the New Black (season 4) and Bates Motel (season 3).

When the latter first came out, three years ago, many critics had serious reservations about it. They wondered what they were going to see after all. What was pitched to the press sounded like an easy, unnecessary and, more than anything else, disrespectful product to the memory of the great Hitchcock. Why write a prequel to one of his most famous and popular movies – Psycho – made more than 50 years ago?

The critics were in for a pleasant surprise, though. The show turned out to be great fun. One of the most entertaining and well-written horror shows currently available on the streaming service.

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Bates Motel

The actors

Of course, the main actors, Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland), who play, respectively, the domineering Mother (with a capital letter!) Norma, and her tormented younger son, Norman, deserve most of the credit for the show’s success. The near-incestuous relationship between Mother and son – which the writers have been tasteful enough not to make explicit so far – is the throughline from which a number of interesting subplots branch out every season.

Vera Farmiga’s performance is nothing less than dazzling. She portrays every possible nuance of this plagued woman with a terrible past, trying to make a fresh start after her husband’s accidental death, by moving to a small town in Oregon and opening a motel. The town, however, and the strange guests that keep popping up at the hotel seem determined not to give her a break.

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British Actor Freddy Highmore

 

Highmore’s Norman, the son – who has probably become mentally unstable not only for sharing the experiences his mother went through, but also because of her obsessive love – is portrayed very sensitively, giving us a very convincing idea of what the original Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins in the iconic movie, must have been like in his youth.

The subplots

Despite being a prequel to Psycho, the story takes place in modern day America. Through seasons 1-3, we have followed, among other things, the busting of hidden plantations of weed – whose commerce is the staple of the town’s economy; the mysterious murder of a high-school teacher who had tender feelings for the sweet Norman; and the return of Norma’s estranged brother – who fathered her oldest child. There seems to be a lot more in store.

More than the dark and, sometimes openly weird, storylines, however, what seems to draw viewers to the show is the constant atmosphere of suspense maintained in each episode, the stunning photography, and the charismatic supporting cast.

Writers versus producers

Shows like Bates Motel, which do not play safe, are, of course, the realm of great writers, not producers. Their freedom to take risks makes all the difference, constantly raising the bar for TV/Streaming products, which seem to be on an irreversible course towards excellence, unlike what has been happening to Hollywood movies. The viewers are grateful!

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

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Why “Orange is the New Black” will make TV history


We had The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. All these shows made history by breaking new ground in televison,  focusing on the excellence of scripts, stunning acting and great premises.

The Sopranos dared to show in our living rooms  how disturbingly  “normal” a Mob family could look as seen from the inside, and thus struck a powerful blow on corporate America by likening the lifestyle and “business” methods used by Mob leader Tony to those commonly employed by CEOs of huge companies throughout the world.

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Mad Men is all about contrasting society’s habits and especially womens’s  position in the workplace by focusing on a a group of advertisers in the 1960s – the coolest professional category at the time  –  and having us analyse the context with today’s eyes. Has it changed that much? Do men, although behaving more subtly, still have the same demeaning attitudes towards women in the workplace?  Food for thought. In addition to that, for those who work in the area of marketing, as I do, it’s fascinating to see how simple and direct it was for those Madison Avenue guys to lure and entice customers back in the sixties, when companies kept all the power of communication, especially through television,  as opposed to the shift and landslide caused but the Internet and social media these days, which have given the customer a lot more voice and power in dealing with product/service sellers.

Mad Men

Mad Men

Walter White, the iconic protagonist of Breaking Bad, taught us that not all human beings are stable enough to maintain a solid and permant state of sanity and acceptable social behavior intact when exposed to extreme circumstances and under brutal pressure (in his case, the fact that cancer would eventually kill him and leave his family – wife and two kids – financially unprotected, after years of slaving away as a chemistry school teacher). He decides then to use his brilliant knowledge as a scientist to start a new and illegal business, becoming the fearless and cold-blooded  drug dealer Heisenberg. Again, it’s been said that watching the show would easily substitute for a formal business course at Harvard! More than that, however, it demonstrates the lengths a person will go and the changes in personality that may occur as the result of one’s feeling abused and wronged by the institutions of one’s community.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

Now we are watching another one of these groundbreaking series American TV has been lavishing upon us for the past 15 years or so. They are becoming even more daring as they stand on the shoulders of previous giants. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, for example, under the pretext of depicting the life of the inmates of a women’s federal prison, explores the feminine universe in all its details. The prison reflects of course what goes on with women in the American society as whole. With a lot of humor and irony, but also delicacy and poignancy, the show discusses the nuances of real (as opposed to stereotyped) lesbianism and homophobia, the violence and prejudice against minorities (women, blacks, latinos, homosexuals, immigrants, religious cultists and transexuals) and, not less interestingly,  how power is gained, maintained and lost at different times in a community. The show is very political in bringing to light the different kinds of negotiations and shady deals one has to strike at all hierarchical levels to survive and keep one’s dignity and rights in society. I will not say anything about the ensemble of great actors who compose the cast. Suffice it to say that the acting is superb and the actos’ looks are initially revolting – until you grow accustomed to them and realize that’s what real people look like. Unlike the fake ” ugly ” looks worn by the likes of Meryl Streep in Ironweed or Charlize Theron in Monster, the women in OITNB look rather common, it’s just that we are not used to seeing them on TV. I have just read an article on the Internet pointing out that the show is effectively changing peoples’ negative opinions and attitudes towards the minorities it featured. Besides great entertainment, what more can you expect from a TV show? Well done!

Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black

Do you watch Orange is the New Black? What do you think of it? Please leave a comment in the appropriate section of the blog before you move to another page.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Mad Men: the end of an era


No, I’m not making any references to the famous John Lennon phrase in the beginning at of the seventies (“the dream is over”), although this historical  period will coincide – I suppose  – with the historical time in the series when the storyline will be over.

I have not seen the second half of the last season of MAD MEN yet (it’s currently on). I’m in fact talking about the imminent end of one of the best and most revolutionaries TV shows of all time.

Mad Men

Mad Men

I clearly remember the first episode  of MAD MEN – it was already more than 10 min into the show when I switched on the TV, and, already in the armchair, took a punch in the stomach by what I saw: I had no idea what I was seeing. Could not label or classify it in any of the common categories we use for TV shows and movies.  Could it be the rerun of a famous movie of the nineteen sixties (the image looked too crispy and glossy for that, though), a soap opera, a miniseries? It all looked so strange and new.  Regardless of what it was, I was immediately hooked by the vivid colors on the screen,  the nuanced dialogue, the strange and depreciative way the women characters  were treated in the workplace, the out-of-place boyish and silly behavior of grown men in what seemed to be the setting of an advertising agency, the glamour of the characters’ wardrobe. What was going on?

I remember clearly that the first scene I saw showed the character Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) in the process of  being hired for a job as a secretary (what else were women allowed to do back then?), but the atmosphere of the workplace seemed totally weird: men were being rude and sarcastic to women to their faces (some still do that today, but usually behind that backs), employees were chain-smoking at the office and nobody bothered. All the offices themselves seemed to have a fully stocked bar for whoever wanted to get smashed during work hours. Sexually inappropriate jokes were being thrown right and left among the male employees.

After hired, Peggy was given pointers by one tough Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) who seemed to be the personification of a sixties beauty – when women were supposed to be curvaceous, have a huge bust and impossibly narrow waistlines. Joan enhanced her looks by wearing stunningly colorful dresses for work, topped by a shiny updo of red hair, carrying an authoritarian  dominatrix look about herself, exuding sexuality and power: I had just met one of the most original and nuanced characters on TV history.

Then enter Dan Draper (Jon Hamm), from a classic stock of handsome movie stars from yesteryear, not very fashionable nowadays, incredibly seductive with his square chiseled jaw and deep dark eyes, a man’s man, who seemed to seduce all the women around. With eyes glued to the TV and ears attentive to every bit of non-naturalistic but expertly crafted dialogue, which exuded excellence, humor, insight, and irony, I wondered if that was one of the Oscar-winning movies I might have missed from previous years,

The last scene of this first episode was very eloquent, and gave away this was a new TV show I was not allowed to miss: Don Draper gets home. Despite all the unashamed flirting he exercised  during the office hours, he comes to a serene household in the suburbs, where a loving wife and two kids await. The spouse is blond and almost a caricature of a fifties housewife in the bland and domesticated way she looks, except you can immediatey tell from those eyes that Betty Draper (January Jones) is in reality a lot more complex psychologically than she lets on at first sight and more fitting for a jaded woman of the XXI century. Don walks up the stairs heading to the kids’ bedroom, tucks them in,  and kisses them good night in their sleep, as we hear the beginning of the beautifully evocative chords of My Fair Lady’s song ON THE STREET THAT YOU LIVE. We immediately sense  something is awfully off in that supposedly peaceful household. The credits begin to roll.

For the next 8 years or so,  I haven’t missed one single episode of MAD MEN (I tend to buy the DVD sets with the complete season, and spend wonderful weekends binging on it, never ceasing to be amused, surprised, awed and moved by the beauty, sophistication, elagance of dialogue, pathos, superp acting and general charisma of Mathew Weiner’s show.

Well, all good things come to an end. Let’s just hope that in the near future American producers and writers will fight hard to put out modestly successful shows, by the standards of American movies and TV anyway – like MAD MEN, and THE SOPRANOS, which preceded it – undeniably too refined to be appreciated by the barbaric masses who crowd the theaters with their stinking huge bags of  popcorn for the next installment of THE AVENGERS. In the case of Brazil, let’s hope TV people learn and try to shake and shape the sensibility of tired workers who get home after hours in the traffic to nagging wives and whining kids, and, beer in hand, can do nothing but resign themselves to watch catatonically  the pathetic episodes of the latest prime time soap opera or Reality TV show.

Streaming TV (Netflix and Amazon) is the future – we need more shows that push the envelope and, through fiction and documentaries, provide us with unusual angles and insights into life, which, for now, only good literature can impart.

Mad Men

Mad Men

I say goodbye to Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan, Betty,  Sally (the extraordinary child actor who plays the Draper daughter) and all the exceptional ensemble of the show with a deep pain in my heart. They will live in my mind forever, like characters of a Philip Roth novel.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

OUR BLOG “LINGUAGEM” HAS HAD A GREAT FIRST YEAR!


HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE.

Please find below some official stats sent by wordpress.com on the blog LINGUAGEM. We’ve had a great first year. Thanks for the support and we will back stronger than ever in 2015.

BLOG LINGUAGEM: 2014 official stats

BLOG LINGUAGEM: 2014 official stats

 

 

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Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Why is TV becoming better than the movies?


It all started when a mob family guy began to have panic attacks after a flock of ducks flew away from his backyard  leaving him with an irreparable sense of loss and despair. He started seeing a psychiatrist. We also noticed an uncanny resemblance between the way he conducted his mob activities and the way big companies operate in the real world.  Was this possibly a metaphor of corporate America? Then there was the focus on his family – unusual in mafia movies (except for The Godfather). We had hardly ever seen a mob wife on the small screen before, with all the details of her lifestyle, including a sense of how her ambition blinds her to the criminal work of her husband. As long as she is able to afford the nice house in the suburbs of Newark and the espresso machine, she is not complaining. If you add to these ingredients the fact the the husband is played by the ultra charismatic late actor James Gandolfini and the wife by the remarkable Edie Falco, you begin to understand why TV is changing into a medium of great content and art work. Of course I’m talking about The Sopranos in this case, the show that basically changed the way cable TV producers, liberated from the pressure of sponsors, started to want to experiment with new formats. The revolution is continuing in streaming video now.

The new TV

The new TV

Almost ten years after the end of that seminal show, we have now an offer of excellent series and made-for-tv movies all over the place, competing in quality of content and presence of great actors in the cast. The bar is being raised continuously.  Movie stars don’t think twice before crossing the bridge to the former lower land of television, when the invitation is tempting enough. Some of them, such as academy-award winner Kevin Spacey even bring their own projects to new media channels (which is the case of the successful House of Cards on Netflix.)

I’ve always been a lover of the movies, but I must confess these days I’d much rather watch an episode of Downton Abbey or Mad Men from the comfort of my couch than struggle to park at the nearest mall to watch a superhero blockbuster or a silly Brazilian comedy on the big screen. Besides, there is the new pleasure of binge watching on weekends, that is, covering sometimes a whole season or two in less than 48 hours. I’m aware of the perils of addiction, don’t worry. Look at the tragic end that befell most of the Candy Crush Saga players…

I forced myself to think why it is that TV is so much better now. Could I pinpoint some of the main differences between Charlie’s Angels in the seventies and The Shield? They are both cop shows. Therefore, they’re basically about catching the bad guys, right? So what’s new? Well, for starters, the protagonists in the new shows are not saints, but multifaceted human beings. They all have a dark side and are badly flawed somehow, like the heroes of Greek tragedies. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), one of the main characters in The Shield, for example, doesn’t think twice before partaking in the spoils of war the drug dealers he chases accumulate. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) of Mad Men has  a compulsive infidelity drive, despite the nice and caring women who love him. He also hides a dark secret from his past. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from Breaking Bad or Dexter (Michael C. Hall) from the show of the same name are both hardcore criminals! Walter runs a meth lab and is the kingpin of an international drug operation. His family knows nothing about it at first, but then his wife gets coopted and starts working for her husband. Dexter carves his victims with sadistic pleasure: OK, they only get submitted to the horrific ritual if they’ve committed crimes themselves but then again… Nurse Jackie, also played beautifully by Edie Falco in the show of the same name, is a committed nurse, who loves and cares for her patients, always going the extra mile to help them. Only she has sex with a coworker, jeopardizing the stability of her nice family structure, to have access to the painkillers she is addicted to.

 The new TV

The new TV

In addition to the flawed heroes, you will notice that most of these shows are about ensembles. There’s of course the main hero and his journey, but all the other subplots are as interesting or sometimes even more enticing than the main one. Supporting roles are usually played by very accomplished actors, so even a small scene played by a guest star can be a little gem.

Last but not least, there is the superb writing. If movies are the domain of directors and producers, as they have total control over their work, TV or streaming video is the realm of writers. They run the show there.  And surely this is a very strong reason why plots, structure, dialogues, and subtext have gained a lot more prominence over their big screen counterparts. A lot is not said in these shows’s plots. The subtlety of the dialogues, the importance of silences and the facial expression of great actors add a lot to the the depth of a scene. Also, the fact that sometimes the storyline or specific scenes focus on very small things of everyday life, and yet highlight unusual details and reveal interesting motives of a character make for great entertainment: the theft of a bottle of wine by a gay footman (Downton Abbey) or the puberty troubles of a girl (Mad Men) add a lot to the attraction of a show,  illuminating areas of the human experience that in the past were limited to literature or art movies.

If you have not watched any of the shows we discussed above, I strongly recommend you have a go at them. Let us know what you think by sharing your thoughts in this space.

In the meantime, check out my Pinterest board on BEST TV SHOWS (click on the picture below):

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

10 Marketing Lessons from Mad Men, the TV Show


This is what it takes to succeed in advertising in Madison Avenue:

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Mad Men

1. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (this could have come from Kubrick’s The Shining as well).

2. Clients need to be wined and dined to the point of stupor to close a deal.

3. As an employee – especially a secretary – you will get in trouble resisting the sexual advances of superiors or VIP clients. Give in. Homosexual advances must be turned down, however, and the proponent is allowed to be called a pervert.

4. Count on Don Draper to save any campaign presentation at the last minute by changing his tone of voice. It gets lower, and the speed of his delivery slows down. He will also look deeply and meaningfully into the clients’ fascinated eyes. It helps if the musical score rises at the climactic moment.

5. Getting stoned and drunk at the office makes creative work a lot more productive, although most of it turns out crappy in the end.

6. Chain smoking or coping stoically with second-hand smoking is a strong indication that you are on your way to stardom. Wives of marketing executives will not hesitate to reward their thirteen-year-old daughters with a cigarette to celebrate school accomplishments.

7. Get a good-looking wife or husband if you are in the business of advertising and be unfaithful to them. A necessary step to further your career.

8. Take 4-year-olds to watch Planet of the Apes and don’t worry if they start having constant nightmares afterwards and wish to get rid of the family dog because they can’t stand getting near fur any longer. These little family problems should not concern a senior executive any way.

9. Back-stabbing is a very normal and acceptable part of the business. You will have your chance to get back at your ex-best friend eventually.

10. The most important question to ask about an applicant if you have not seen them yet is: is she black or white?

Well, we are in the sixties after all. Jokes apart, the show is brilliantly written and should be watched.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

My 5 favorite TV villains and why I love them


Television is changing. Its shows, especially after the advent of HBO, Netflix and Showtime, are becoming more and more sophisticated and nuanced. I would  even dare to say that TV shows in general are a lot more fun than the average Hollywood movie, one reason being that they are shorter and therefore able to pack a lot more punch into their compressed 30 or 60 min length. Of course, you can, and probably will,  binge watch whole seasons of Breaking Bad on a single weekend, but the experience is usually more satisfying than spending 3 hours at the movie theater. I know, I’ve done it.

That’s why I’ve decided to narrow my choices and include only TV villains in this post. Maybe in the future I will have another go at it, and focus on the big screen baddies.

Here’s the list of my favorite TV villains. They are NOT listed in order of preference. All of them are contemporary, so the reader will hopefully know who I’m talking about. I also understand that my choices may not be terribly original, but I’m sure some of my reasons might surprise you.

1. Dexter Morgan (from Dexter): strong organizational skills, love of kids, sense of humor and irony are some of Dexter’s virtues I respect and relate to. He also cleans after himself and has an elegant method of avoiding leaving behind a messy crime scene. We could easily be flatmates. I also really like the cool thermal shirt he wears when he goes on killing jobs. I’ve been looking to buy one. I will have to lose a few pounds to fit into them though. Quote: “People fake a lot of human interactions, but I feel like I fake them all, and I fake them very well. That’s my burden, I guess.”

Dexter Morgan

Dexter Morgan

2. Frank Underwood (from House of Cards): yes, you love him too, I know. But I even love his wife better, she’s next on the list. Single-mindedness, strong sense of purpose, ability to focus and to design well thought-out strategies, in addition to a very keen sense of politics are all enviable treats of  Francis’s (as his wife calls him) personality. He is also a great reader of peoples’s feelings and emotions. He knows when to back off. Excellent at prioritizing his battles. Quote: “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”

Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood

3. Claire Underwood (from House of Cards): extremely beautiful, proving that you can still be stunning in maturity, Claire has a great sense of fashion and style. She also has total control over her feelings. Like Frank, she picks her battles carefully, has strategic vision, and doesn’t mind  being upstaged by her husband, as she knows she is really the boss. Besides, she goes jogging regularly: I wish I had that kind of determination. Quote: “Now tell me, am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?”

Claire Underwood

Claire Underwood

4. Walter White (from Breaking Bad): fearless trend-setter: he’s fifty years old and looks cool wearing only a long-sleeved green shirt, white underwear, socks and leather shoes. The ultimate entrepreneur.  Manages his business like a proper CEO. Highly intelligent. A perfectionist in every sense of the word: he is very proud of the purity of the the blueish product he puts out with the utmost care and dedication. I’ve read somewhere that watching the whole Breaking Bad series is equivalent to taking a business course at Harvard. I got my degree last month! Quote: “What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.”

Walter White

Walter White

5. Bart Simpson (from The Simpsons): you may not even realize he’s a villain, but don’t be deceived by his innocent looks and strange feminine voice. Bart Simpson is evil. However, I like the fact that he is very cold in his decision making process, when necessary. Outcomes are what really matters for him. He’s great at practicing his calligraphy (at the beginning of every show you will always see him writing the same sentence – a different one per episode- on the blackboard hundreds of times). Take Steve Jobs, for instance: didn’t he study calligraphy and allegedly applied his knowledge in the making of the beautiful fonts available on the first Mac computers? So, Bart deserves brownie points for his efforts too. Another career option for Bart would obviously be teaching, given all this expertise handling the chalk (not sure if this will be a widely sought-after skill in the profession in the near future, though). Finally, he’s one of  the few major TV characters who tries to speak Spanish: ¡Ay, caramba! Quote: (to his sister Lisa) “You got the brains and talent to go as far as you want and when you do I’ll be right there to borrow money.

Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson

Well, I hope I’ve been persuasive in explaining why I love these guys. Now it’s your turn. Share with us the list of baddies you care about.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette