Song Joong-ki as Vincenzo Cassano, in ‘Vincenzo’ (screen grab). Episodes dropped once a week, from February 20 - May 2, 2021.
We laughed at mums, aunts, grannies watching TV shows, night after night, week after week, knowing channel numbers by rote. We made memes about dads losing remote control rights. And suddenly I find myself watching episodic shows on Netflix like ‘them’. How did this happen? Why am I suddenly invested in the lives of an elderly man and a young lad who want to learn ballet (Navillera) even though I have watched the brilliant Sooni Taraporewala film called Yeh Ballet? What pleasure do my friends derive by being fascinated by the lives of bitchy friends (Real Housewives) in Beverly Hills or Manhattan? I never thought I’d say it, but this pandemic has turned us all into our TV-watching mums. And I have a smile plastered on my face every time the bell icon dings on Netflix.
“How hawt is this Song Joong-ki!’ I gushed over the phone, telling my bestie the story outline of Vincenzo on Netflix.
The bestie on the other end of the phone, ‘Bobby Deol already reprised this role.’
‘What?!’ I spew chai out of my nose and search for the movie.
How can anyone compare Chor Machaye Shor (2002) to the awesome Korean show Vincenzo? A show that everyone I know was watching obsessively.
I looked online for the dual tone lipstick the heroine Jeon Yeo-been uses in the show. (And I pride myself for being immune to impulse-buying makeup.)
I started learning how to cook Korean food (follow Emily Kim or Maangchi on YouTube!) and ordered Gochugaru (Korean mirchi paste, a little like the Marathi Thecha) from Amazon.
So obsessive that I joined not one but two WhatsApp groups: one just fangirling and the other discussing possible plot twists and whether he enunciated Italian words correctly. For those who still haven’t seen or know what Vincenzo is, here is the trailer:
We waited for Vincenzo to drop every week religiously (a designated friend would ping us all when it did). We watched each of the 20 episodes (every episode an hour long) surrounding ourselves with flasks of tea and coffee and ramen. And felt lost when the season ended. Most of us loved the story. I personally don’t like slapstick comedy much, but I adjusted, and thankfully there isn’t too much of it. The story does take over the odd characters living in the building. I loved, loved the action and how the character arcs changed, not just for the principal characters, and the good guys, but even for the villains. The bad guy got badder and badder, and his end was extremely satisfying.
Before I go down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos of the actors and their personal lives, let me tell you about how I’ve loved an older Kate Winslet who plays grandma with such fabulousness, Guy Pearce as well as Evan Peters want her. The show? Mare Of Easttown on DisneyPlusHotstar.
(When did Disney grow up? What brought the change from Bambi to Mandalorian? Time to confess here: I resisted watching Mandalorian week after week because I thought it would be lame. Because social media was cooing about baby Yoda. But when the series was done, and a Star Wars geek dropped his phone when I told him I hadn’t watched, I had to watch. And got my parents to watch it too - they were fed up with the reruns of the TV shows during this pandemic!)
Back to Mare of Easttown. There are seven episodes to this intense, disturbing show (the seventh one streams today; May 30, 2021). But I bit my lip, and was so shook after the fifth episode that I have decided to watch the last two episodes together. The show has taught me to savour the joy of watching a female cop who wears her troubles well. She’s single-minded and dedicated to her work, like we usually see only male cops display. Yes, Fargo has the same feel, but after watching Frances McDormand in Nomadland (plays on Amazon Prime Video) I realise that Fargo was just nothing more than her saying, ‘Yeah’ with all punctuation marks and feelings.
Mare of Easttown is set in small town America, but the crime is universal. Mare is good at her work, but the failures in her personal life seem to get in the way of remaining a good cop. Her obsessions become ours and I don’t even realize it until I found myself saying, ‘No, no! Don’t steal…’
I also cheered when she chose to go out with her co-worker Detective Zabel (Evan Peters) and ditched the writer Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce); I laughed when she hid the awful hors d'oeuvres in the sofa, and I got mad at the teenagers who lied about… I'll let you watch it on DisneyPlusHotstar.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that this show needs a bigger fan base. The mood of the town is at once scary and yet there’s something sweet about the neighbours. Jean Smart as Mare’s mum is a delight (I’ve watched her on the American show Designing Women years ago!) and I loved the drive home after the funeral scene with mother and daughter so much, I was grinning for hours afterwards. Twitter is aflame with reactions to this amazing show and I have had to mute conversations simply because people tend to share…
MARE OF EASTTOWN: Not convinced that Billy killed Erin. I have a suspect in mind. Tellya next week if I'm right. Great show. Kate Winslet is killing it.
When my bookworm friend called out of the blue, my first thought was Covid. But no, this crazy human rights lawyer was calling across weird time zones to tell me to watch a show on Netflix called Law School. It reminded her of her own law school even though laws in Korea are different. The suave Kim Myung-min is a professor charged with murdering a colleague and the students too have motives that have fabulously entangled me in solving the murder. The metal-toothed Cho Jae-ryong is not someone you’d want anywhere near you, let alone in a show that drops every Wednesday evening.
I love the show because I have seen so many of these students in real life, seen friends who are like them - some good, some single-minded studious, some so ambitious they will betray friends to get ahead - and in my parallel life as an educator, taught some of the students too. I love the kids as though they were mine and even though none of us are lawyers, my high school group is addicted to this show on Netflix.
Amazon Prime Video, Sony Liv, Zee 5, Alt Balaji, Voot, MX Players all offer home-grown shows that drop weekly as well. But when you’ve been spoilt by French shows like La Mante, German shows like Dark and Dogs Of Berlin and romances like Crash Landing On You (oh my gawd, just like Iris, this too has Veer Zara vibes), will you remember what time the same ole wannabe Gangs of Smalltownpur type shows drop on these platforms?
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.