It’s my second volume of Perusing Prime, as I look at what Amazon Prime has to offer. The first part is here and this second part is focusing on some of the non-film output.
So, after Dave’s first perusal last year (click here for a recap) I signed up for the month free trial, and I’ve definitely got my money’s worth! One of the greatest things about streaming services about Netflix and Amazon Prime is the ability to binge watch TV series. On Netflix, I’ve watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Office, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia from beginning to end, as well as getting around to watching Firefly, Luther, and Gotham. There’s also been the chance to rewatch stuff like Jonathan Creek and Still Game and discover the excellent Danger 5. Netflix also has plenty of quality original content – from the Marvel properties like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, to some real quality comedy output like Master Of None, BoJack Horseman, F Is for Family, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
However, Amazon Prime also has some equally exciting original and exclusive content. I’ve used my free month to catch up in seasons 2, 3, and 4 of The Walking Dead (a great show to binge watch, it overcomes the slowness of certain stretches), and I plan on blasting through The X Files (or as much as I can!) before I watch the new season.
But today I’m going to focus on some of the Amazon Prime exclusives. I’ve not got to Vikings, Mozart In The Jungle or House Of Alphas yet, or even Transparent, which looks fantastic. But here’s my thought on a couple of the series on Amazon Prime right now.
Originally airing on the USA Network, Mr Robot is exclusive to Amazon Prime on this side of the pond. It’s a show about a software security expert Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek) who gets involved in a group of hackers led by charismatic anarchist Mr Robot (Christian Slater). Over the course of the first season we learn more about the groups aims to cancel the world’s personal debt by attacking E Corp – which Elliot has programmed himself to hear as Evil Corp.
This is reminiscent to the story of Fight Club, and Tyler Durden’s plan to blow up a series of credit card companies to remove the records of the debts. Mr Robot is more interested in doing via his group of hacktivists rather than a militia of disenfranchised young men. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of the season, but it mixes this season long with some interesting little stories in each episode.
If I can divert for a brief minute, there’s a bit in the Ass Crack Bandit episode of Community where Abed rips on shows “using a social disorder as a procedural device”. In Mr Robot, Elliot Anderson has clinical depression and suffers from social anxiety. At first I was very uneasy about this, and “this character has mental health issues” is used ludicrously to explain away a couple of huge plot points. But the implied paranoia gives another edge to the conspiracy and talk of the shadowy figures running big business, and the segments with Elliot and his therapist are very enjoyable (although she does seem to be a terrible therapist when we find out some of the issues Elliot is dealing with later in the season).
Remi Malek is really good in this lead role, a slight blank slate at times, but the sequence where he tries to go straight (“was he drinking Starbucks?”) is legit funny. Christian Slater is great as Mr Robot, bringing some movie stardust to the show. The real strength is the supporting cast, with the female characters being surprisingly deep for a show like this.
At one point a couple of a characters at one point talking about how unrealistically hackers are represented on TV, and that right now someone is probably writing a show that will ruin hacking for another generation. This is the sign of a confident show.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable show, and I’m looking forward to season 2.
The Man In The High Castle
Secondly, the big drama offering from Amazon Prime that came out in late 2015: The Man In The High Castle. Ridley Scott had been trying to make a version of the Philip K. Dick book for years, having actually got to the stage of announcing a 4-part adaptation with the BBC in 2010… and then again with SiFi in 2011. After making Blade Runner from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott was determined to adapt this alternate history book. So, is it worth the wait?
Being an alternate history story, the divergent point from real history seems to be that FDR was assassinated in 1933, in turn leading to the Allies losing the Second World War. So, the show is based in a version of North America that has been partitioned with the Greater Nazi Reich stretching from the East Coast to the Rockies, with the Japanese Pacific States on the West Coast. We are in 1962, but obviously this isn’t the 1960’s as we know it, with only a small group know as the Resistance working towards a free America, although they only know about this in the vaguest of terms.
The Man in the High Castle is the name given to the person making films that depict a world where the Allies did win the war. And, when Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) sees her sister shot after being given a copy of one of the films, she sets out from San Francisco to try and deliver it to the Resistance in the neutral zone. She meets Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) when she gets to the rendevous point, a traveller from New York who has a secret. Her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) is tortured by the Japanese police (led by Joel de la Fuente’s Chief Inspector Kido) to find out where she is, and what her part is in the Resistance, since a visit from the Japanese President has them on high alert. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays the Trade Minister arranging the details of the visit, and Rufus Sewell is the SS Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith working in New York investigating the Resistance.
The last paragraph might seem like a bit of an info dump, but it is the rich world that these characters inhabit that is the real triumph of The Man In The High Castle. The main storyline moves a bit slowly at times, but there is real joy to be had in the small side stories and schemes that the characters living in this world come up with. Brennan Brown (Mr Dresden of the Orange Wednesday cinema adverts) has a small role as the owner of an American antique store, and who comes up with a little plan to earn some extra money. It’s a brief diversion, but it allows the audience to learn more about life in the Pacific States of Japan, with the occupiers love of Americana – but only the right type of Americana – being explored. The VA Day episode is another highlight, turning July 4th into a Nazi celebration of victory, as is The Marshall, a bounty hunter operating in the Neutral Zone played with relish by Torchwood’s Burn Gorman.
The Man In The High Castle isn’t perfect, but being able to watch all the episodes in one go allows me to forgive some of the (at times) slow storytelling. Rufus Sewell is absolutely excellent throughout, as is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, both playing conflicted, yet undeniably loyal, characters. Look out for some brilliant Easter Eggs (my personal favourite is American Reich, the equivalent of Dragnet in this universe), and there’s also a final scene that will both excite and worry you about the direction of the second season. But Amazon Prime have produced a very good show with The Man In The High Castle.
I definitely recommend you sign up for the free 30 day Amazon Prime trial. Even if it’s just to catch up on The Walking Dead or The X-Files, give it a go! You can cancel it after signing up to make sure you don’t pay anything, the 30 day free period still runs as usual.
I’ll be back soon with more Perusing Prime!