With Christmas just days away, the news cycle is slowing to a trickle. There's a few news stories around, so there's still some value in the newsletter for the rest of the week.
Today in the ABW newsletter is the usual news and trailers, but I also have a mini xmas gift guide. Tomorrow the newsletter will feature my Top 10 movies and TV of 2021. Friday is a bit TBA. That's a future Dan editorial problem. And next week there will be a newsletter, but probably just on two days while it is a bit quiet and I'm busy being passed out under a Christmas tree with some egg nog breath.
- Comic creator Brian Michael Bendis (best known for creating Spider-Man Miles Morales) is working on an adult-focused Legion of Superheroes cartoon for HBO Max. Read: The Playlist
- And Just Like That / Sex & The City co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon have released their HBO PR and Legal approved show of support of the women who have accused their formal co-star Chris Noth of sexual assault. Read: BBC
- Jeff Garlin will remain in at least one more episode of The Goldbergs, using previously recorded audio and video of him. Garlin will be paid for this. Read: The AV Club
Yellowstone: 1883 a hit!!!!...(?)
The biggest show in the US right now is a show that none of the cultural tastemakers have had on their radar. You almost never hear critics or culture writers talking about it. It's the Kevin Costner-led Yellowstone and it attracts a huge audience from middle-America. The show is good and unlike, oh, say, Kevin Can F**k Himself, it is a show that audiences actually want to watch. (Go compare the coverage of both of those shows and see how over-weighted Kevin was once you remove all the stories about Yellowstone's ratings from the mix).
If Yellowstone is a hit, what happens when ViacomCBS launch a prequel series? Will audiences turn out for it in the same numbers? The answer seems to be yes.
The debut episode of Yellowstone: 1883 was broadcast on cable network Paramount Network directly after the most recent episode of Yellowstone. 4.9 million viewers watched it. Now the show will run the rest of its episodes weekly exclusively on the ViacomCBS-owned streaming service Paramount+. What we don't know is how many viewers who checked out the show on cable TV will now follow the new show over to Paramount+. But for now, ViacomCBS will be able to trumpet that the show is a success - even if audience viewership reporting now that it is happening on their streamer will be self-reported.
Is the show actually a hit series? Or is it just that one episode that aired on TV was a hit?
I've watched the first two episodes of 1883 - it's mostly pretty good and compelling enough for me to want to stick with it for the first season. Yellowstone: 1883 tells the story of some Pinkertons hired to protect some immigrants as they move cross-country to their new home in Montana and the family travelling with their hired-hand father.
The cast, which includes Sam Elliott, Billy Bob Thornton, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill, is dynamite on screen and a big reason why the show works. It gets bogged down a bit with some heavy-handed narration at the start and end of episodes, but mostly it's a gritty, traditional-feeling cowboy action drama.
2021 defined by stories of black boyhood
One of the themes running through a number of shows this year was black boyhood. Coming of age stories of young black men. This includes series like The Wonder Years reboot (which is good - annoyingly it hasn't seen a release here in Australia yet), Netflix's Colin In Black and White, and Swagger. In a year following 2020's protests in the US, this feels like somewhat of a corrective.
These new series, in contrast, insist on depicting Black boyhood as spaces of innocence, possibility and political awakening. They are defined as much by our recent racial reckoning as they are by the original catalysts for Black Lives Matter: the murders of the Black teenagers Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. As a result, they function as correctives to the racist stereotypes that made those boys vulnerable to such violence.
Salamishah Tillet at the New York Times has an interesting feature story talking with the showrunners of these series about their efforts to bringing these stories authentically to the screen.
One of the most compelling episodes is about his search for a Black salon where the young Colin (Jaden Michael) can get his hair braided into cornrows — and his parents’ fear that such a style makes him look like a “thug.”
That label becomes even more heartbreaking because of how difficult it was for him to find a stylist. But the salon, which is also a clothing store and hangout for young Black people to check out the latest rap album or streetwear, is a revelation for young Kaepernick because it gives him a sense of both what he has been missing and what might still be culturally possible for him.
Devotion: A Story of Love and Desire debuts on Netflix Feb 14.
The xmas gift of television
Something I have been thinking a lot about recently is not just the technology gap that exists for, particularly, younger and older viewers, but also the financial expenditure gap that limits older viewers on a fixed income from being able to access streaming services.
It's all very good and well for there to be a bunch of different streaming services at $7-15 a month, but for older viewers who have retired and need to consider where every dollar is going, it can be a financial burden just to be able to watch something good on their TV.
The radical thought I want to propose is this: For Christmas, consider the gift of streaming. Think of it as a replacement for a token gift. You're not only giving the gift of television (what greater gift could there be), but you're also removing some of the financial cost built into enjoying good viewing.
Gift cards for most of the major streaming services are available at your local supermarkets and department stores (or online). In Australia, you'll easily find cards for big services like Netflix, Stan, BINGE, Amazon Prime, Disney+, etc. There are also a number of smaller, niche streaming services that you might want to consider:
- UK TV streamer Britbox have a gift option through their site - AU$89.99 for a year
- Curiosity Stream is a fairly high-brow factual/documentary service which offers annual plans at just US$11.99 a year (it charges in US dollars regardless of where you are, but it is a global service).
- I'm a big fan of DocPlay, which is a really great documentary streaming service which does annual gift cards for AU$79.99.
I did also mention the technology gap that exists. Most new TVs have smart TV functionality, but not every smart TV has every app that you might be after. Yes, big services like Netflix and Disney+ are on pretty much every device under the sun, but it's actually fairly expensive for streamers to develop apps for every TV and connected device. My recommendation is always to use a connected device which is developed for by pretty much everyone.
(Last night I realised Paramount+ isn't available for my parents LG TV).
If you do have a family member with a cheap brand TV, or even one that isn't a Sony or Samsung, they may find value in a connected TV device. My strongest 2021 recommendation is for the Chromecast with Google TV. They're one of the cheaper devices out there at AU$99, they have a remote control that is easy to use, and being built on Google TV (formerly Android TV), almost every streamer is available.
That's me done for today.
What's next? Festivus for the rest of us.