Note:This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for Man’s World.
You could say it was after true crime series The Jinx in January 2015 or the Serial podcast in October, 2014, or with the satirical Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in April 2014, but no matter at what exact point of time you got sucked into the world of narrative non-fiction, there’s a good chance that there is, at this point, at least one piece of immersionist style documentary filmmaking that you are wholly obsessed with.
There’s been something for everyone in the age of ‘Peak TV’, over the past few years, with the most unusual channels or platforms making a foray into fiction, so as to not be left behind in the moment in pop culture, where nothing says prestige than making a TV series. Everyone from gaming platform Playstation to e-commerce site Amazon to tech giant Apple to the History Channel has put their fingers into ever-expanding pie and so it was only a matter of time where someone decided that it was time to move beyond fiction, into other realms of storytelling.
Not surprisingly, it was HBO again that was the harbinger of change, giving audiences, yet again, a taste of something they never knew they wanted. HBO had been producing or broadcasting documentary features for a good many years, with a focus on news-making content. But it was in April 2013 that they changed the game for TV for the second time since The Sopranos ushered in the era of golden TV in 1999.
In April 2013, HBO launched Vice, a documentary TV series that brought new media entrepreneur Shane Smith’s VICE magazine and digital news channel to TV. Produced by Bill Maher with Fareed Zakaria as Consultant, the series captured public and media attention alike, through the finale of its very first season – when it sent one of its journalists to document a basketball game with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. It was the first time any American TV show got access to Jong-Un, a man most famous for basically wanting America destroyed.
HBO again led from the front in 2014, when it launched a weekly news comedy show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, with a one-of-its-kind format that focused not only on satire about the week’s political or cultural absurdities, but also on one 10-15 minutes long main story that the show’s producers believe must be talked about. That story is essentially a satirical documentary-meets-rant about a hot topic of the week or the month, or even a long-standing problem, and from net neutrality to tax-exempted religious organizations to the American prison system, Oliver has taken on each with a cheeky grin.
But the narrative non-fiction storytelling device exploded into the collective conscience when Sarah Koenig’s began a weekly podcast, Serial, later that year, documenting the true crime story of the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee by her then teenage ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who was convinced and has been in prison ever since. As Koenig unraveled the case each week, interviewing the witnesses, the prosecutors, the family and friends of both, as well as Syed himself, she opened up a Pandora’s box that revealed a life-size hole in the prosecution of Syed and a legitimate doubt on whether he had committed the murder at all. The show has since been download a whopping 80 million times and the case has since, reopened.
Two more true crime serialized documentaries have since cause worldwide sensation. HBO’s The Jinx became watercooler conversation when the accused serial murderer it followed, Robert Durst, confessed to the crime on camera. After Netflix’s Making a Murderer was premiered last December, a petition of 128,000 signatures to free murder accused Steven Avery, was sent to President Barrack Obama. Amazon has now entered, what is being called the ‘prestige documentary’ business, by premiering The New Yorker Presents, a weekly series that will bring to life some of The New Yorker’s most acclaimed stories (both fiction and non-fiction).
The success of the immersive non-fiction narrative has led to many other documentaries being developed across TV and streaming media (but obviously), even as season 2 of Serial, season 3 of Last Week Tonight and Season 4 of Vice are on air currently. With VICE taking this success a step further and launching a 24-hours documentary channel in partnership with A+E Networks called ‘Viceland’, and additionally tying up with HBO for a weekly primetime news show, you only need to choose your poison now, but there’s enough of it to go around for everyone.
6 Unscripted Series to Follow Immediately:
VICE (HBO) – Multi-season documentary series covering one or two political, economic or cultural news topic in each episode, in gonzo style on-ground journalism.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – Multi-season news comedy show featuring a main story in each episode that often puts center stage a systematic American problem.
Serial (Free Podcast) – Twelve-part true crime series following the case of convicted murderer Adnan Syed trying to determine if he indeed did the crime.
The Jinx (HBO) – Six-part true crime series following the case against accused serial murderer Robert Durst, with a sensational twist.
Making a Murderer (Netflix) – Ten-part true crime series following the allegedly wrongful conviction of accused murderer Steven Avery.
The New Yorker Presents (Amazon) – A recently premiered video magazine bringing to life some of the most talked about and acclaimed stories of The New Yorker.
Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) forMan’s World Magazine in December 2015 and is the fifth article of a monthly column on international TV.
It’s early days yet but 2015 could be the year that changed the game for Indian actors in mainstream American media. This is the year where Indians have been part of three of the top five performing movies globally: Irrfan Khan had a meaty supporting role in the worldwide smash hit Jurassic World, which is sitting at a pretty global box office of $ 1.6 Billion, Ali Fazal had more than just a blink-and-miss-it appearance in another blockbuster, Furious 7, that’s raked in $1.51 Bilion, while Mindy Kaling was among the lead voice cast of Inside Out, the Pixar animated film that’s made. $831.7 Million. Nargis Fakhri-starrer Spy didn’t rake in as much money as the rest, but at a $236.4 million box office, she’d have certainly been well-noticed in the comedy herself.
And then there’s television, where Indian actors have played prominent supporting roles in cult shows over the last few years, including Nimrat Kaur and Suraj Sharma in Homeland, Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory, Hannah Simone in New Girl, Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife, Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Danny Pudi in Community. Comedian Mindy Kaling has long been the first and only Indian to front her own show, the sitcom The Mindy Project, but by the time this year ends, she’d be part of a considerable list.
With two months to go in this year, there’ve already been four TV shows to feature Indian actors in the lead. Tina Desai in Sense8, Avan Jogia in Tut, Karan Soni in Other Space and Raza Jaffrey in Code Black have all been starring roles, but it is Priyanka Chopra and Aziz Ansari, two of the biggest global icons in their own right, who are all set to make the kind of impact that the others didn’t so far: to finally entrench Indians truly and deeply in international pop culture.
Chopra, who plays the feisty and self-assured Indian-American FBI Agent Alex Parish, in ABC network’s big fall TV series, Quantico, has had a slow but steady rise to being a global icon. She was already a National Award winner and a superstar in India before she looked west, to perhaps truly be the Miss World that she was crowned back in 2000. Debuting internationally as a pop singer with the single, In My City, for which she worked with Will.i.Am, Chopra then collaborated with Pitbull, sang live at the NFL, voiced a character in the Disney movie, Planes, and also became the first Indian brand ambassador for Guess internationally, featuring in a campaign shot by Bryan Adams.
When she decided to do a TV drama instead of looking for a movie, it was looked upon by Indian critics as a misstep. But Quantico was a script that the sharp actress had handpicked from 26 scripts that were pitched to her by ABC, and a month since its debut, the thriller series about a terrorist attack on New York soil, has proved all naysayers wrong by turning out to be one of the channel’s big hits this season. And the American public and critics can’t have enough of her: The New York Times called her ‘charismatic and commanding’, Variety called her an ‘arresting lead’ while The Wrap said she had a ‘poise and sexual spark as FBI agent Alex Parrish’.
Where Chopra is only just finding her calling as a global sensation, comedian Aziz Ansari has already been there, done that. He made his way onto the radar of American audiences with the sitcom, Parks and Recreation, where he was able to hold on to his own in a cast featuring the who’s who of comedy, including Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza. This led to roles in movies Funny People, Get Him To The Greek, 30 Minutes or Less and This is The End and made him a force to reckon with.
But it was his comedy specials, Dangerously Delicious and Buried Alive were runaway critical and commercial hits, and his stand up tours that really got the American public to sit up and take notice of the quirky, weird, and fiercely original first generation American-Indian comedian. His success has already led him to many laurels, including a BFF in Kanye West, but 2015 is the year he’s really taking it to the next level.
In June, Ansari came out with a book called Modern Romance: An Investigation that explores how the internet and technology have affected modern relationships. And in November, Netflix will premiere the comedy Master of None, which Ansari has written, produced and starred in, and that follows the romantic travails of his alter ego ‘Dev’ in modern day New York.
The clout of Ansari will be on showcase in the show, where his own parents have been cast in supporting roles, and where a bunch of celebrity cameos are to be expected. But more than that, along with Quantico, the show will also be a testament of changing times in American media, where race and colour are only functions of background. As more Indian actors get hungrier to find wider canvasses and bigger platforms to showcase their talent, expect your television screens to be crowded with familiar faces sooner than you’d think.
Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) forMan’s World Magazine in November 2015 and is the fifth article of a monthly column on international TV.
It’s been a few years since critics declared ‘TV as the new film’, and rightfully so. Nobody can claim Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men or Game of Thrones to be any less cinematic than any feature film in theaters today. But with the budgets of TV shows going bonkers, and with any film that does not have the word ‘super’ in its description steadily failing to find audiences, more and more movie stars are now embracing TV as their medium of choice.
In only two years, we’ve seen Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective, Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards and Halle Berry in Extant enthralling television audiences with their magic. With fall TV premiering tons of new programming in the final months of the year, here’s looking at some more of the biggest stars coming to TV, and where you can watch them:
Priyanka Chopra in Quantico Priyanka Chopra is one of the world’s biggest movie stars and ABC has ensured that she’s been on billboards plastered across New York, appeared on the biggest US talk shows and has received a prime time slot on TV for their new thriller series fronted by her, Quantico. First few episodes down, the show is a runaway hit, and Chopra a legitimate international star.
Bradley Cooper in Limitless Limitless is among the most buzzed about movie-to-television remakes this year, which also include Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and the upcoming Rush Hour. The reason? Executive producer Bradley Cooper, who starred in the movie, also makes a recurring appearance on the TV series.
Wesley Snipes in The Player Blade is back! One of the first and most watchable comic book heroes, Wesley Snipes, one the world’s biggest action movie stars of the ‘90s, comes to TV in an action thriller designed to use his skills – being cool, suave yet badass at the same time.
Kirsten Dunst in Fargo The original Mary Jane Watson – the girl on the other side of the iconic Spider-Man kiss – and one of America’s sweethearts of the early 2000s, Kirsten Dunst has been recently finding her feet in independent cinema. Last year, Fargo got the affable Martin Freeman to do some very twisted things… will Dunst be going grey this year?
Aziz Ansari in Master of None One of the world’s funniest comedians, known of late for being BFFs with Jennifer Lawrence, is coming back to TV after his long stint in Parks and Recreation that propelled his career as an international star. On the back of a bestselling book and hit films, Ansari has created, produced and stars in Master of None.
Clive Owen in The Knick If you missed the Steven Soderbergh-directed The Knick, you may have missed some of the best looking television made over the last decade, and a class act by Clive Owen, who may have finally found his calling as Dr. John Thackeray, a drug-addicted genius doctor in racially sensitive 1900s New York.
Sharon Stone in Agent X The original femme fatale, Sharon Stone makes her TV debut with a straight up thriller this year, playing the Vice President of the United States in a series that she’s also executive producing. No Basic Instincts on display in this one.
Rob Lowe in The Grinder Rob Lowe’s had a successful career managing both TV and movies jobs. The star of The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire and The West Wing, has no paucity of roles, so when he’s doing TV now, you know it’s handpicked. The Grinder teams him with another former TV star, Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) and as comedy’s new odd couple, they make for a must-watch show.
Jamie Lee Curtis in Scream Queens Freaky Friday star Jamie Lee Curtis has been flirting with television with guest arcs in NCIS and New Girl over the past few years, but Ryan Murphy, the showrunner behind Glee, American Horror Story, has managed to pull her in as the lead of a comedy horror show, Scream Queens, opposite Emma Roberts. It will be freaky, alright.
Tyrese Gibson in Empire On the back of starring in one of the most profitable franchises in movie history, The Fast and the Furious series, Gibson is coming to television in a recurring role to lend his support to the most talked about television show of the year, Empire, against episodic arcs by Chris Rock, Mariah Carrey, Pitbull and Timbaland.
Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) forMan’s World Magazine in September 2015 and is the third article of a monthly column on international TV.
Will it be Mad Men’s Year?
When the curtains roll down on 2015, it may well be the year when the world bid farewell to two Jons from two cult TV shows. We are still not sure if Jon Snow is gone (by which we mean he’ll totally be back on Game of Thrones) but Jon Hamm has definitely left the building, with Mad Men having ended its seven season run in May this year.
So when the TV industry’s biggest night – the Emmy Awards – takes place on September 20, 2015, all eyes will be on one Jon and only Jon only: Jon Hamm. Nominated twice this year, his 11th and 12th nominations overall (one for Best Actor for Mad Men, and one for Best Guest Actor for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), if Hamm fails to win the 12th time (he’s been nominated for the 8th time for Mad Men!), these awards will possibly go down as possibly the bigger dampener this year than what happened to the other Jon.
But while we keep our fingers, toes and all else crossed for Hamm, here’s a look at all the big categories this year:
DRAMA SERIES Better Call Saul (BCS)| Downton Abbey |Game of Thrones (GOT) | Homeland | House of Cards (HOC) | Mad Men | Orange Is the New Black (OITNB)
SHOULD WIN: Mad Men, for the perfect send-off. WILL WIN: Mad Men, unless there’s a deliberate sabotage. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): The Americans, snubbed for the third time, Sense8 and Manhattan.
LEAD ACTOR Bob Odenkirk (BCS) | Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) | Kevin Spacey (HOC) | Jon Hamm (Mad Men) | Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) | Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
SHOULD WIN: Jon Hamm, all the way! WILL WIN: Jon Hamm, all the way! SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Matthew Rhys (The Americans), James Nesbitt (The Missing), Dominic Cooper (The Affair)? Come on, Jeff Daniels again?
LEAD ACTRESS Taraji P. Henson (Empire) | Claire Danes (Homeland) | Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) | Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) | Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) | Robin Wright (HOC)
SHOULD WIN: Tatiana Maslany, for being kickass, or Taraji P. Henson, for being badass. WILL WIN: Viola Davis, for clout, or Elisabeth Moss, for sentimentality. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Keri Russels (The Americans)… sigh. And Hayley Atwell for the sassy Agent Carter.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) | Lena Headey (GOT) | Emilia Clarke (GOT) | Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) | Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) | Uzo Aduba (OITNB)
SHOULD WIN: Lena Headey, for the walk of shame in *that* episode. WILL WIN: Christina Hendricks, because it is time. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Vera Fermiga (Bates Motel), who cannot possibly do more.
SUPPORTING ACTOR Jonathan Banks (BCS) | Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) | Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) | Peter Dinklage (GOT) | Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) | Michael Kelly (HOC)
SHOULD WIN: Jonathan Banks, because he deserves it from Breaking Bad days. WILL WIN: Peter Dinklage, because everyone else is too new. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Mads Mikkelsen aka Dr. Hannibal Lecter is probably getting furious, but quietly.
COMEDY SERIES Louie | Modern Family | Parks and Recreation | Silicon Valley | Transparent | Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt | Veep
SHOULD WIN: Parks and Recreations, for respect, although Silicon Valley was funnier this season. WILL WIN: Veep, because Transparent is too acclaimed for the Emmys. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Jane The Virgin, at the least, because About a Boy and You’re The Worst never even stood a chance.
LEAD ACTOR Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) | Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) | Don Cheadle (House of Lies) | Louis C.K. (Louie) | William H. Macy (Shameless) | Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth) | Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
SHOULD WIN: Will Forte, for being ROFL funny. WILL WIN: Jeffrey Tambor, because no one from Modern Family is nominated. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Randall Park (Fresh Off The Boat), Chris Geere (You’re The Worst) and Mark Duplass (Togetherness) really deserved shoo-ins.
LEAD ACTRESS Lisa Kudrow (The Comeback) | Lily Tomlin (Grace And Frankie) | Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer) | Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) | Amy Poehler (Parks And Recreation) | Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
SHOULD WIN: Amy Poehler, really now. It’s been seven years. WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, although Amy Schumer could really ride on her Trainwreck wave. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Golden Globe Winner Gina Rodriguez for Jane The Virgin, to begin with! Plus Minnie Driver (About a Boy), Aya Cash (You’re The Worst) and Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness).
SUPPORTING ACTRESS Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory) | Julie Bowen (Modern Family) | Anna Chlumsky (Veep) | Gaby Hoffman (Transparent) | Allison Janey (Mom) | Jane Krakowski (UKS) | Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live | Niecy Nash (Getting On)
SHOULD WIN: Anna Chlumsky has a win long due now. WILL WIN: Allison Janey because six Emmy wins are not enough. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Kether Donohue (You’Re The Worst), Jenny Slate (Married) and Amanda Peet (Togetherness).
SUPPORTING ACTOR Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) | Adam Driver (Girls) | Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) | Ty Burrell (Modern Family) | Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) | Tony Hale (Veep)
SHOULD WIN: Keegan-Michael Key, anyday. WILL WIN: Ty Burrell because Emmys can’t see beyond Modern Family. SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Steve Zissis (Togetherness), Desmin Borges (You’re The Worst) and everyone on Silicon Valley.
Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon)for Man’s World Magazine inAugust 2015 and is the second article of a monthly column on international TV.
Half the year’s over and if anyone was keeping track of the war between the big and small screens, a decisive winner has finally emerged: Where cinema is rehashing formulae or making sequels of everything that’s worked, television has whooped it’s ass with the most creative, original and cinematic storytelling, propelled with charismatic stars at its helm. TV has won over movies in 2015 so far, and here are the 20 shows that have made the feat possible:
The Americans –Three seasons in, The Americans curiously continues to be critically lauded as the best show on TV, and yet stays utterly under the radar, quite like the undercover Russian spy family in Cold War America in the series. Watch this for sure, if only for the gorgeous Indian-origin Annet Mahendru and Rahul Khanna’s super cameo.
The Jinx – This year’s ‘The Serial’ in terms of pop culture impact as well as for the fact that it is a non-fiction documentary about an alleged murdered (who happens to be multi-millionaire Robert Durst), which may have a bearing on the actual court case.
Better Call Saul – It may be because we so love Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut or because Vince Gilligan has cultivated a team of the greatest drama writers ever, but either way, Better Call Saul, a prequel to Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and featuring the duo from the show, is brilliant TV.
Bates Motel – Before Wayward Pines came along and swiftly took up the mantle of a modern day Twin Peaks, there was – and is – Bates Motel, the origin story of Pyscho’s Norman Bates, which is just as creepy, atmospheric and unpredictable in tone and as good in writing.
Mad Men – We may not ever be fully able to measure the impact of Mad Men on what we wear, but the series finale had a singular impact on what we think: a thousand think pieces proclaimed it as amongst the best-written. Don Draper’s gone but we are not Lost looking for resolution.
Agent Carter – Yes, Agent Carter is the best Marvel TV show of the year, over Netflix’s much-talked about and deservedly acclaimed Daredevil. Because where Daredevil is tonally reminiscent to Christopher Nolan’s gritty Dark Knight trilogy, Agent Carter is a wholly original and refreshingly sassy hero, who is, for once, a heroine.
Sense 8 – Andy and Lana Wachowski may have pulled off what is truly the world’s first global TV series. Spanning four continents and shot across eight countries, with starring characters from each, there is no show better poised at addressing questions about identity than this sci-fi series.
Fortitude – A fantastic cast (Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Sofie Grabol) in a fantastic locale (the unexplored arctic vastness of Scandinavia) with fantastic writing makes for a one-of-its-kind psychological thriller.
Empire – Can a soapy drama also be really good TV? Can a hip hop musical have enough of a story? Can a show with an entirely black cast break through the mainstream? Empire has answered all these and many more questions with a resounding ‘YES!’
Game of Thrones – Because you probably live under a rock if you’ve still not watched Game of Thrones and because no TV show in history has sent global fandom into a tizzy with a reel life death.
About aBoy – An entirely unmissable show went entirely missed by pop culture as a whole. About a Boy was a small comedy with a huge heart, and had a great cast (including Minnie Driver) deliver several laughs and a few tears too. Cancelled too soon, the show was better than the movie.
The Last Man on Earth – Chris Miller and Phil Lord are the guys behind 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie and are helming a Han Solo movie next. Before that happens, they teamed up with Will Forte to create the funniest and most original comedy of the year about the adventures of the last man on earth. Forte is nominated for an Emmy, and you’ll know why.
Broad City – Much like The Americans, Broad City has managed to stay under the radar of award shows, giving way to its spiritual cousin Girls, but unlike it, the show enjoys the kind of cult fan following Inside Amy Schumer did before Schumer broke out. Soon enough, this will too.
Togetherness – The Duplass Brothers have been carrying the torch of mumblecore indie dramedies for a while now. Togetherness, their HBO take on dysfunctional relationships, is the most mainstream their indie efforts have gotten, and a second season’s already on the way.
Jane The Virgin – A romcom satirizing Latin telenovelas, and featuring a cast of unknowns, managed to win its lead actress, Gina Rodriguez, a Golden Globe, and for good reason: with the unique backdrop of a kooky Latin family, the laughs are as big as they are fresh.
Silicon Valley – If you thought HBO recently paid tribute to Entourage with the new Mark Wahlberg produced NFL comedy Ballers, you’d have completely missed the fact that Silicon Valley is actually Entourage for Geeks. The success of the hilarious show also proves that the geeks have, in fact, inherited the earth.
Big Time in Hollywood, FL – If Fargo was a stoner comedy – yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like – the result may have been this series. The hilarious black comedy about two halfwit brothers trying to make a movie has laughs, blood, twists, and cameos from Ben Stiller and Cuba Gooding Jr too.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Even Jon Stewart, John Oliver’s erstwhile mentor at The Daily Show, did not possibly have as much a real-world impact and as quickly as Oliver’s had. His hilarious but well-informed rants have already changed legislations, and it may not be long before they change outlooks too.
Happyish – The most cynical, anti-consumerist, anti-technology and anti-people show of the year may also be its most profound. Originally starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s got Steve Coogan at its reigns now, as a disillusioned creative director of an ad firm, who calls bullsh*t to the pursuit of happy-ish-ness.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Netflix did not choose this series as its first sitcom merely because it is Tina Fey’s sophomore TV comedy as creator, but also because it’s equal parts heartwarming and equal parts mental and has a winning lead in Ellie Kemper, who may just be the next Fey.
Note: This piece was written byNikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon)forMan’s World Magazine in July 2015 and is the first article of a monthly column on international TV.
Usually, the time to plonk yourself on your couch opposite your idiot box (or your laptop) for endless hours is an yearly event called ‘Fall TV’, when every American channel puts up tons of brand new programming for your viewing pleasure. But with the rise of premium cable channels like HBO and showtime, as well as streaming media like Netflix and Amazon, summer time, which was typically reserved for blockbuster cinema, out of respect and some fear, has now become the most fun time for TV addicts, with ‘Summer TV’ being the breeding ground for some of the most amazing original series we’ve seen over the last few years.
Summer TV has given us Mad Men, True Detective, Fargo, Orange is the New Black, and many other cult shows in the past. This year has already thrown up interesting shows in the form of Lana and Andy Wachowski’s sci-fi drama Sense8 and Manoj N. Shyamalan’s twisted suspense drama, Wayward Pines. 2015 promises several other contenders for what could turn out to be the best of this year’s original content.
Here are the NEW SHOWS to watch out for:
Ballers – Missing Entourage much? HBO’s giving us the next ‘show for bros’ to get addicted to, and it’s new (a comedy about professional footballers) and improved (stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a high profile agent – Ari Gold, anyone?) and yet will probably be more of the same old awesome (created by Entourage EP Steve Levinson & produced by Mark Wahlberg).
Fear The Walking Dead – If The Walking Dead hasn’t served up enough zombies for your liking so far, a spin-off set in Los Angeles that revolves around the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, will ensure year-long horror only for you.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp – 15 years after Wet Hot American Summer became an underground hit, Netflix has rebooted the movie into an 8-part prequel So 35+ stars Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and more play younger versions of their 2001 movie’s characters.
The Brink – Jack Black’s been missing from action for a while now but his career is set for an HBO injection. The Brink brings Black with Tim Robbins and Pablo Scheiber as goofy American diplomats in Pakistan who find themselves in the middle of a military coup and an impending nuke war. Sound like fun?
Blunt Talk – Sir Patrick Stewart heads to American TV as a coke-snorting nightly Brit news anchor who joins American cable news to guide the country on how to live. The 10-part half-hour comedy is produced by Seth MacFarlane but it had us at Sir Patrick.
Tut – Another British legend, Sir Ben Kingsley stars as the top advisor to Avan Jogia’s titular legendary Egyptian King Tutankhamun, in a limited six-part series about the rise of a young boy king into one of the most powerful leaders in human history.
Deutschland 83 – ‘A coming of age spy darkly comic spy thriller set against the backdrop of the East and West German rivalry in the ‘80s’ is possibly the most curious logline of the summer. And with a young protagonist forced to be a reluctant spy at the height of the cold war era, this series could be the year’s breakout hit.
Here are some of the RETURNING SHOWS you *cannot* miss:
True Detective – If you thought HBO and creator Nic Pizzolatto couldn’t top last year’s McConaissance, they’ve got Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams to frontline season 2. Expect more darkness.
Orange is the New Black – The girls are back and according to creator Jenji Kohan, season 3’s theme is ‘faith and motherhood’. Expect less Jason Biggs’s Larry and more Laura Prepon’s Alex. There’s also a new potential fan-favourite in Ruby Rose. To know why, google her.
Masters of Sex – Disclaimer: Not porn. In fact, the Martin Sheen-Lizzy Caplan show possibly has less gratuitous sex than Game of Thrones. About two pioneering researchers of human sexuality, the underrated drama explores sex in a way you’ve never seen before.
Hannibal – Hannibal is the origin story of the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, explored through his friendship with FBI investigator Will Graham. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy star, season 3 additionally stars Gillian Anderson and Richard Armitage. Do you really need to know more?
Rectify – Another drama you’ve not been watching but most definitely should, Rectify is the most beautiful and gut-wrenching show you’ll see about the exploration of morality. About a man who is released after 20 years on death row, this show is pure, unadulterated drama.
You’re The Worst – An exceedingly enjoyable and exceptionally toxic take on love, relationships and everything that the heart holds sacred. An anti-romcom, if Satan’s minions had to fall in love, the characters of this show would fit right in. Much fun guaranteed.
Manhattan – This could be the breakout season for last year’s best new show that few saw. Manhattan is Shakespearean drama in the garb of a series about the invention of the atomic bomb. With the stakes that high and the consequences knows only too well to us, watch this to have bragging rights before the rest of the world discovers it.
Sometime last year, Indian-American actor Kal Penn (The Namesake) tweeted, “Creepy Australian Guy: Whoa, are you Russell Peters?! Me: No, I’m Kunal Nayyar. Creepy Australian Guy: I love Parks & Rec! Me: High 5!” It was a joke alright, but Penn, who is arguably the best-known Indian actor in Hollywood, having starred in the hit Harold and Kumar trilogy, made a strong point about how brown-skinned actors still have a long way to go before a white-skinned audience gives them the acknowledgement they so deserve.
Less than two years later, Creepy Australian Guy may as well be the minority audience, because one look at the current film and TV landscape, and it’s all but clear that young Hollywood has a new mantra: diversity. This could perhaps be because of the tremendous talent that South Asians have to offer, or this could simply be sound business sense – as the world continues shrinking, South Asian audiences need to be appeased because of their enormous numbers and their healthy buying power.
But if, at the time they went about finding a foothold in Hollywood, Penn, Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory), Peters (stand-up comedian) and Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreations), along with a handful of others, most prominently writer-actor Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), subverted the norm, they may well part of the reason that diversity is the norm today. Of course, Hollywood may now grapple with other kind of absurdities – like which minor community talent (among Asians, South Asians and Latinos) to go with in which project – but the good news is, the door of opportunity is now wide-open.
And so, as young Indians in Hollywood firmly make their presence felt in mainstream American projects on every creative turf, from writing to acting, the challenge has now shifted from finding a voice for the community to finding bigger platforms for the voice to reach a global audience. “I think it is the responsibility of every generation to improve upon the ways and perceptions of the last one, and I want to do that with India in Hollywood,” says Adi Shankar, 29-year-old producer of films like Mark Wahlberg-starrer Lone Survivor and Liam Neeson-starrer The Grey, who was recently voted among the most influential global Indian men in a men’s interest magazine.
“Korean films compete on an Indian level, why can’t ours? I’m committed to putting our films in the international spotlight,” he adds. Actor Tiya Sircar, who has acted opposite comic legends Owen Wilson and Matthew Perry in Hollywood blockbusters, is excited about the evolving cinematic landscape of India too. “You look at a Kalki Koechlin, who is not necessarily from India, being accepted purely on talent, or The Lunchbox working just as well in India as it did internationally, and as an actor, that’s such great news for me. I want to contribute to the change too,” she says.
Indo-Russian actor Annet Mahendru, who is a series regular on spy drama, The Americans, on the other hand, is miffed that she loses out on Indian roles because she looks “ethnically ambiguous’, and this conundrum is echoed by actor-director Natasha Chandel too. As Hollywood becomes cosmopolitan and moves beyond stereotypes, this urge among young Indians to artistically express the Indian side of their blood is perhaps going to be the driving force of the global Indian identity over the next decade.
Director Shripriya Mahesh puts things in perspective, “I may not have lived in India for a long time now, but I consider myself very Indian. I have many stories inside me, but the one that I feel like I have to make is set in India; it is never possible to truly move away from your country.”
Here’s a look at some of the young Indians in New Hollywood:
ADI SHANKAR, 29 Creative Producer, Multi-Hyphenate, Rebel with a cause Claim to Fame: Producer of Dredd, The Grey, Lone Survior, Killing Them Softly What he’s upto next: Producing the all-female ‘Expendabelles’, the Dredd animated miniseries and acting in five-odd films. Check out his Power/Rangers Unauthorized Bootleg Universe short film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw5vcUPyL90
He is a creator not a businessman or producer. It blew my find finding out that at the time of the homoerectus, there was another humanoid species. They didn’t survive because our ancestors were creators: when it rained, we created shelter; when it got cold, we created fire. Creation is the reason our species is alive so the fact that there are dudes who want to chill behind a desk all day makes me sad.
He was inspired to make his own rules. I was misdiagnosed with cancer when I was 18. Three weeks after that the doctors said, ‘We are sorry! We screwed up!’ I realized that no one really knows what they’re talking about. Before, it was like, you would go to one place, you’d learn what’s cool, polite and right, and then, at another place, you’d be asked to adapt again. But after that, I stopped giving a f**k.
The West welcomed him with open arms, when his people didn’t. I don’t spend a lot of time in India because they people there used to think I’m a screw-up, and they’d ask me to give up films. But I never gave up. I was discouraged by other brown people that they don’t like brown faces in Hollywood, which is just bullsh*t. Me being brown has had absolutely bearing, I was accepted here completely. You know what’s a problem? Being White and from Ohio, because then you are competing with everybody.
His eyes are set on India now. I’m presenting Gangs of Wasseypur internationally because I’m committed to taking our people into global spotlight. We have very interesting stories to tell beyond couples who can’t get together because of their fathers. Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala and others are doing some fantastic stuff in the independent scene. I want to deconstruct the stereotypes about our people and I will sure as hell do that from here. I even want to cast an Indian actress in Expendebelles!
ANNET MAHENDRU , 25 Actor, Indo-Russian, 20-something, stunner Claim to Fame: Playing Nina Sergeevna Krylova on Cold war spy drama/thriller, The Americans You can see her next in: Penguins of Madagascar, Sally Pacholok & Bridge and Tunnel in movies; and Season 3 of The Americans on Star World Premiere
[Read a larger interview I have done with Annet Mahendru for The Sunday Guardian here: https://tanejamainhoon.com/2014/11/10/annetmahendruinterview/]
She considers herself to be a ‘gypsy girl’. I remember hiding in the bathroom in Afghanistan as war went on outside. In Russia, during the cold war, people were fascinated with me because I was the rare foreign-looking kid. In Germany, I picked up Indian culture from my father’s siblings. In New York, I grew up having friends from all ethnicities. I got cast in The Americans because the creator thought I had the background of a spy!
She wants to do transformative stories. I thin human beings are capable of anything and I would like to access that in my work and in my storytelling. I want to have the ability to transform beyond me and my personal beliefs. Nina is a KGB officer and yet she’s able to connect with people across the world even when she’s being a double agent, because ultimately it’s about being human.
Hollywood doesn’t believe she’s Indian. It’s hard to get people to break stereotypes and look past your appearance. They think Russians have blue eyes and blond hair so pre-The Americans, I’d not get cast as a Russian. I never get Indian roles because they have a certain idea of what an Indian looks like and they aren’t able to ethnically categorise me. I want to move beyond ethnicity in casting.
She is dying to work in Bollywood. When I was 5 and guests would come to our house, I’d put on my Indian dress and dance to ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’ for them (laughs). I love Shah Rukh Khan and everything from Devdas to Chennai Express. I have explored my Russian side now, so I’m thirsty to explore and express my Indian side. Help me!
KARAN SONI, 25 Actor, funnyman, future sitcom star Claim to Fame: Jurassic World director’s Sundance-award winning film Safety Not Guaranteed and IT comedy, Beta Watch him next in: Paul Feig’s sitcom, Other Space, and Jack Black-starrer Goosebumps, among others
He went to school in LA because of The OC. I would watch The OC and think, ‘Wow! What a magical world!’ I secretly applied to colleges here after watching it. When I did tell my parents, they thought I was doing business studies here! I kept tricking them until I had to tell them that I am studying theatre, and even then I lied to them saying I’ll be a producer because they never thought I could be an actor. But now they’re super on board, and even have google alerts on me.
His worst audition is definitely is definitely one of the worst auditions ever. In my first audition, they asked me to play a terrorist, gave me a plastic AK 47 and a scene where a white woman is crying, ‘Why are you doing this’ and there’s a bomb about to go off. I was asked to pray *anything* in Hindi that sounds scary and them my character is shot. It was the most horrifying experience of my life (laughs).
Safety Not Guaranteed’s Aubrey Plaza is his cool friend and Jake Johnson is his weird uncle. Working with Aubrey and Jake was like the best acting class in comedy ever. Aubrey is so cool, she once called me to her house for a board game night and I walked in to find Michael Cera there, and the three of us played ‘Apples to Apples’ all night long. And Jake’s like this cool, weird older uncle, who I’d have discussions on life with and who’d force me to drink whiskey and stuff and I’d refuse!
He’s ultimately a Delhi boy who likes Karan Johar movies. I’m a big Shah Rukh Khan fan. I love Bollywood and I love Karan Johar kind of movies; my favourite is Kal Ho Na Ho. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do a song-and-dance movie, no one will buy me as a Bollywood hero. I’d love to continue working in TV because I love playing the same character for a long period of time, and of course, having a job for 9 months of the year too.
NATASHA CHANDEL, 30 Actor, Host, Digital Creative, Multi-tasker Claim to Fame: Her web series Mumbai Chopra that she created, produced, directed and starred in, and hosting MTV News What she’s upto next: Directing and produced the web series, The Can Check out the full series, Mumbai Chopra here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MumbaiChopra
Her first short film won awards everywhere. My very first camera gig when I was a 17 year old in Canada. It was a short film called Pria, about an Indian girl who uses her love for the movies to tell this boy that she loves her. The film went to over 15 film festivals worldwide and won a lot of awards and got me my first meeting with NBC in the US. People would even ask me to quote lines from the film all the time. It was surreal!
She did everything on Mumbai Chopra. I grew up watching sitcoms and Russell Peters and I have always just preferred comedies because I’m a happy person. I created Mumbai Chopra as a spinoff of Paris Hilton. She is a socialite with a good heart, who could be the daughter of a spiritual guru. I was working with MTV News at the time, so had to write, produce, direct, fund, and act in this in my off time.
Casting directors find it hard to think of her as an Indian.
I’ve been going to a lot of auditions for Hispanic and ethnically ambiguous roles because casting directors don’t believe I am Indian. They usually think an Indian is a dark-skinned or quirky looking person. Once, a casting director said, ‘How can you be Indian? You are pretty!’ I was so angry… I mean, have you even seen our people? They are some of the prettiest in the world!
She wants to be a comedy showrunner. I made Mumbai Chopra because I wanted to make a show where people would realise that Americans and Indians are not all that different. I wanted to create someone who’d be funny for American audiences. Also, the only way to change the status quo for Indians is to write our own stuff. I love creating and I love comedy, so my dream is to be the next Mindy Kaling or the next Tina Fey.
SANJAY SHAH Writer, Producer, Occasional stand-Up comedian, All-round storyteller Claim to Fame: Writing/producing Courtney Cox’s Cougar Town He last worked on: Military comedy Enlisted. What he’s upto currently: Producing and writing on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat
He started off in politics! My dad was an engineer for 25 years before he decided to be a small businessman and get a Burger King franchise. I started my career as a legislative aide at the California State Capitol. I worked for a state assemblyman. But I really wanted to be a stand-up comedian, and I also wanted to have a family. Writing for comedies on TV was a pretty good compromise.
He’s had an eventful Hollywood career. In 2007, I wrote an episode of King of the Hill called ‘Grand Theft Arlen’, and threw a party because I was so excited. Since then, I wrote for Trey Parker and Matt Stone at South Park, became a writer/producer (which means you have more responsibility running the writers room on occasion, giving notes on cuts of episodes, communicating with executives and actors, etc), sold a semi-autobiographical comedy that didn’t get picked to series but helped me buy a house, and almost got run over by Mel Brooks once.
He’s never faced racism. People don’t care what you look like behind the camera. Every year that I’ve done this, Hollywood has gotten more diverse both in front and behind the camera. I think it’s a good thing. Why Indian actors may get stereotyped on TV shows just comes down to the writers. I think there’s lazy writers and then there are good writers. Good writers can nail the nuances.
He would love to write for Indian TV… or not. I’m very interested in writing for Indian television. I would love to write a show about a daughter who doesn’t get along with her mother-in-law. Do you guys have anything like that already?
SHRIPRIYA MAHESH Filmmaker, Entrepreneur, Mother-of-twins extraordinaire Claim to Fame: Directed a short film starring James Franco and Jessica Chastain that will release in December as part of an anthology, The Colour of Time What she’s directing next: Varenya, an international feature film to be shot in India
She’s used to manage a $400 million business for eBay before films. I wanted to be a photographer at 7, but growing up in Chennai, I realised that if I wanted to pursue something creative, I had to first find a way to support and sustain myself. So I got into Harvard Business School, then eventually into eBay. Only when I got engaged to someone in New York, I decided to do a three month intensive filmmaking course at NYU. I loved it so much that I got into filmmaking.
She believes working in tech is a lot like working in films. In tech, I was doing something creative too – coming up with an idea for a product and making it happen, which is like films. Also, like films, in tech, the last 10% takes up 60% of the time. It can get overwhelming but you push towards perfection, because millions will sample your product. That training has helped me in films.
She took a James Franco class on Directing Poetry at Tisch School of Arts James insisted that we shoot our entire short films with temporary locations and actors, in the exact same way, before shooting the actual film. He does that with every film he directs too. So you get to see what works, what doesn’t, what angles need to be changed; and you save time, effort and money on the actual shoot.
Dev Benegal is producing her first full-length feature film. We became friends through an acquaintance, so when I wrote Varenya, I coerced him to produce it. He loved it, read each draft, came to every pitch session, and has been a fantastic producer. The film is personal so I want to make it right. I would rather take time and make a good film than make an average film fast.
She has worked for legends like JJ Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron and David S. Goyer already. They are all legends and so different from one another! I think the biggest thing is that they all have strong points of view and a vision that they are able to communicate with confidence. The idea-generating part of their brains is also very strong. It’s like a muscle that has been strengthened with years of practice.
She is fascinated by the dark side of things. I am a happy person but I’ve always been attracted to things where the stakes are raised to life and death. I like exploring what makes human being be and do bad. My family had to emigrate from Kuwait because of the Gulf War so perhaps it is to do with hearing stories about that. It’s become a joke in The Americans writing room now that I love writing action and torture scenes.
She’s made it even as an Indian in a white male-dominated TV writing environment. People tend to hire who they know and usually its white males because they can have a boys club in the writing room, where they don’t have to be politically correct when making jokes. However, people are also more accepting that diversity provides the kind of perspective needed for complex writing. Eg. I got hired on The Americans because my parents had an arranged marriage just like the spies on the show.
She is looking towards India next. India is a rich setting for stories. I’d love to do a coproduction between two countries; a story about a clash between two cultures, or that involves an interweaving of the two cultures, would best represent me, since I’ve grown up in the U.S. but I’m still connected to my Indian heritage.
TIYA SIRCAR, 32 Actor, comic star, next big thing Claim to Fame: The Internship with Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn, 17 Again with Zac Effron and Matthew Perry You can see her next in: Sabine in the animated series Star Wars Rebels and the lead in movie Miss India America
She was cast as the female Barney in How I Met Your Dad. (Laughs) If you had to draw parallels, that’s the closest one I guess. I played Juliette Banerjee, a no-holds barred, unapologetic and sassy girl, who was such a departure from the sweet and cute roles I get to play because Indian women are usually not given roles that are too ‘liberated’, right? It was a really fun character and I wish the show had been picked up, but it was a privilege to get to play it.
She’s worked with comic legends Robin Williams, Owen Williams, Vince Vaughn and Matthew Perry. When I was sitting opposite Matthew Perry in the first table read of 17 Again, I almost got a heart attack! And Robin Williams (in The Crazy Ones) was obviously such a legend. I mean, these guys are the best at what they do. To get to actually do comedy with them and get a free master class in improve comedy from them was surreal.
She’s made it big by overcoming a lot stereotypes. Hollywood at present is more willing to make a male character on a TV show Indian than a female. I was once finalized for a supporting role in Whitney but it had come down to whether they should make the male best friend Indian or the female best friend Indian and they went with male because that’s more user friendly. There are more Kunal Nayyars and Aziz Ansaris than Mindy Kalings.
She has a good head on her shoulders. Getting my family to come to the premiere of The Internship was a special moment for me. I just hope it made my father feel that her kid has a legitimate career and isn’t just chasing a pipe dream. My mom’s proud of me but always asks me not to get into trouble by putting my thoughts on issues out on social media. I think social media can be used for a lot more than just selfies and what you eat for breakfast so if I see any injustice or believe in a cause, I would definitely talk about it on Twitter.