Archive for the ‘Tv Recco’ Category

Disclaimer: Mild spoilers for Season 4 Finale.

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“Don’t be sad, be happy for me.”

“My name is Nathan Fielder and I graduated from one of Canada’s top business school with really good grades.” is how Nathan Fielder introduces himself before each episode of his cult docu-reality show Nathan For You which has been airing on Comedy Central since 2013. He offers struggling small businesses assistance in exchange for nothing but the permission to record the unscripted hilarity that ensues to create installments of this uniquely preposterous show.

The above premise sound harmless and if you have not watched the show you would be fair to assume that it’s another wacky prank show where the host (and us, the viewers) have fun at the expense of the helpless business owners who simply expect a weird stranger with a camera crew to help them grow their business but things get interesting when Nathan reveals the solutions to achieve the same.

Saying that these ideas are outlandish doesn’t even begin to cover the magnificent bizarreness of this show which is often described as an extremely difficult watch for you don’t really know if you are being a sadomasochist when you laugh at all these innocent people ‘getting help’ from a (sometimes) lying, manipulating Nathan who wouldn’t stop at anything to service his craft. This man is borderline psychotic when it comes to committing to an idea, and I mean it as a compliment of the highest order.

To start with, in the S01 pilot, he tries to help a Yogurt parlor by introducing a new ‘Poo’ flavored yogurt to get people talking about the yogurt shop.

From here on, it just gets insaner with this man pulling gobsmackingly brave stunts, like inventing a robotic claw of shame that would pull his pants down in front of a bunch of kids and render him a registered sex offender if he isn’t able to uncuff himself within 90 seconds! (S01E07),

or re-branding an LA realtor as a ‘Ghost Realtor’ (S02E01) who ends up having a seizure upon being exorcised by a demon hunter!,

or leveraging a legal loophole called “Parody Law” to launch a Dumb Starbucks to help a local coffee shop! (S02E05, the stand-out episode which got Nathan global fame.),

or manufacturing his own ‘a cop pulled me over’ talk-show story and making sure that he is not lying when he narrates it on Kimmel for the promotion of his own show (how Meta!). [S04, Anecdote, changes everything you ever believed about Talk show anecdotes and leaves you unable to trust these pop culture vignettes ever again].

There are comedians who tell jokes, there are comedians who act jokes/sketches, and then there is Nathan Fielder who is awkwardness/cringe/deadpan all rolled into a human form. He conjures up insanely farcical ideas and commits himself fully over to the flawless execution of them even if that means that he has to train for nine months to LEARN TO WALK A TIGHTROPE between two seven-story rooftops while pretending to be SOMEONE ELSE, which he miraculously accomplished in Season 3 finale (aptly titled The Hero) two years ago. At that time, I genuinely thought that this would be his swan song and nothing he does next will be able to top this episode but then I saw Finding Frances, the S04 Finale.

During the above super amusing retelling of the Talk Show story on Meyers’ show, Nathan humbly compared himself to The Beatles, and I super-humbly disagree with that. He isn’t The Beatles. He is the freaking Beethoven of comedy and Finding Frances is not one bit less great than Symphony №9. Just like Beethoven’s compositions, each of his immensely WTF, carefully thought-through and meticulously crafted episodes are masterpieces, but Finding Frances is such a precious, almost-philosophical, (and mostly UNSCRIPTED!) study of regret, love, false identity, and above all, kindness that Nathan can now legit be called an auteur.

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‘You are one decision away from having a completely different life.’

This feature-length episode documents Nathan helping Bill Heath, a professional Bill Gates impersonator with whom he’s previously worked in Season 2 (E02, Souvenir Shop), find his long-lost love, Frances Gaddy. Bill is a 78 year old lonely man who admittedly left Frances for a career in Hollywood 60 years ago, never married, and is now regretting the decision. Nathan, upon seeing this man‘s agony, embarks on an ambitious quest to find Frances which leads him to Arkansas, Bill’s hometown.

In Arkansas, among other hilarious attempts to find Frances, he poses as a member of the crew for Mud 2: Never Clean (a made-up sequel to Mud, which was shot at Frances’ alma mater, Dumas high school) to stealthily obtain the 1957 yearbook which might help them get a clue about Frances’ whereabouts. He even organizes a 57 year reunion for her batch, in hopes that her old classmates might offer a clue or two, but all his efforts elicit zero returns.

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We have seen Nathan interacting with women in a perfectly normal, non-creepy, not at all awkward fashion in earlier seasons, so things take a very interesting turn when around the halfway mark, Nathan hires an escort, Maci, for Bill to just talk to (only talking, no touching). Bill still refuses to meet her (“You gotta know what you’re sticking it in”) despite Nathan telling him about the No Touching clause. Since her time is already paid for, Nathan decides to meet her himself and instantly falls for her infectious bubbly laugh.

Over the next hour, we see both these men grapple with their loneliness while they look for love in unexpected places. One old, who regrets not being able to hold on to something that could have changed the course of his life, and one young, who doesn’t have anything to hold onto in his life except his elaborate pranks.

Does Nathan see Bill as a cautionary tale? Is he scared that he too would end up a lonely man who got so busy chasing his dreams that he did not have anyone to share the success with when he finally achieved it?

Nathan has a lot of free time in Arkansas which he spends visiting bars and watching TV. He calls Maci again to hang out with him. She agrees because at $350/hour, Nathan isn’t bad company.

After a few meetings, Maci asks Nathan if he would like to see her in a more private setting. He agrees and invites her to his hotel room. The juxtaposition of the tenderness of the above moment with ‘WTF am I seeing? hilarity of the next, an ultra cringe-worthy kiss between these two is what makes this show absolutely one of its kind. Nathan, whose TV personality is a mildly amplified version of his real self, is at his most vulnerable when he is with Maci (or is he?). Given that he also directed this episode, his willingness to put himself in these excruciatingly uncomfortable moments and to not edit them out is what sets him apart from his peers. He wears his awkwardness on his sleeve with pride.

As the episode progresses, we find out that Bill is a flawed man. He hasn’t been completely honest with Nathan about his history with Frances. He is a Trump supporter (the episode was shot before the election results) and an entirely different man (read borderline creep) around women. Despite all these revelations, Nathan refuses to back off and goes out of his way to see the regret-filled human side of this old man who is pining for closure. THAT is what makes this episode so much more special than anything Nathan has done so far.

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This thesis-worthy documentary, brimming with compassion and a steady undercurrent of loneliness, blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Is Nathan really falling for Maci, or is he pretending because it’s great material? Does Maci also feel the same for him or is it just the money that keeps bringing her back? Did Bill really love Frances or is he just a desperate old poser?

Errol Morris, the revered documentary filmmaker, answers these questions in his beautiful New Yorker piece where he calls it his new favorite exploration of love.

Bill’s arc closes with an incredibly symbolic ‘Bee hunt’ and during the final two minutes of the episode, we become aware of the surprising level of depth Nathan and Maci’s relationship has acquired when Maci finally acknowledges the cameras and this exchange happens,

Maci: “It’s kinda weird having cameras around, right?”

Nathan: “We could turn them off if you want.”

Maci: “Could we?”

Nathan: “Do you want to?”

Maci: “I feel like that… Does that defeat the purpose?”

Nathan: “Of what?”

Maci: “I don’t know.”

Nathan: “What’s the purpose?”

Maci: “You’re filming something. That’s kinda the purpose, right?

He momentarily looks at the camera as if toying with the idea of ‘FADE TO BLACK’ (which still would have been a great ending) but then, decides to use the drone the production crew has to capture a cool aerial shot. A masterful split-second decision that manages to separate us from them and serves his artistic ambition as well.

As the drone flies up and far above and we see them holding hands, surrounded by the camera crew, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible genius of this man who could either be the loneliest artist who has created 2017’s singularly greatest work of reality TV or the biggest poker-faced troll of our generation.

Something we will never be able to know.

– Avinash Verma

(Avinash‘ full time job is to watch movies and in his free time he pretends to be a Digital Marketeer. He occasionally writes on Medium as well.)

Even if you ignore the hyperbole in the header, you shouldn’t miss the show. BBC’s Planet Earth II has come at the end of the year, and it straight goes to the top of my list. You probably have already seen this video of snakes chasing baby iguana, it went viral few weeks back. This is Mad Max on steroids! If this isn’t the best of the year, I am not sure what else can top this one.

And if you are addicted to gifs, you must have seen the funny gif of the bear scratching its back on the tree, too. That’s also from the same show.

I love reading year end lists. To see who has discovered what that i might have missed. And these days it’s more difficult to keep track as we are bombarded by content in different forms across various platforms. Strangely, i didn’t see too many people putting the show on their list. I quickly did a search on my twitter feed, too. Hardly any mention. And that’s why this post.

This show comes ten years after the original one was aired. A decade is a long time. Shooting technology has advanced, more natural habitats have been destroyed,  and David Attenborough is 90 now.  But what the show has achieved this time is unparalleled. Shot in 40 different countries, with crews making 117 filming trips, this is the result of four years of hard work.

The series is divided into six episodes – Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, Cities, and a compilation titled, A World Of Wonder. As you sit down to watch the first episode, you wonder two things simultaneously – what an ambitious show this is, and how the hell have they managed to shoot all that. Remember the docu, March Of The Penguins? This one is like a march in every sequence.

It’s breathtakingly immersive as the narrative glides from one sequence to other. Set to Hans Zimmer’s music, it’s the story of survival in extreme conditions. The story is the same in ever sequence – either struggling to find food to survive or a mating partner to produce babies. But shooting in the extreme conditions, and looking for elusive animals, interesting patterns, funny behaviour, rare breeds, and heart-stopping footage is what makes this show great. Add to that Attenborough’s voice-over. That’s not all, the shooting Diaries at the end of every episode tells you how they achieved those amazing shots.

The show has received some criticism for the way it has shot/put together some of the sequences by using archival footage in few places. But you will find genuine emotion when you watch it. I was on the edge of the seat cheering for the baby iguana to survive.  A sequence where baby tortoise struggle to survive or the one involving penguins on Zavodovski island is heartbreaking. It also makes you realise that as humans our life is such a luxury compared to these animals who struggle everyday just to survive. As predators turn prey in few seconds, it’s frightening to navigate through the wild.

Episode 4 and 5 seems bit weak compared to the first three. Maybe because of the terrain it explored. But the show gets its groove back in the last episode, Cities. Remember the picture of Leopard that was caught on cam in Mumbai, that sequence is in the last episode. Almost every episode has sequences from Indian terrain. As i try to rewind all the six episodes, too many astounding moments come flashing back – sloth looking for a mate in an island, bobcats diving into snow, wasp attacking eggs of glass frog, birds flying miles just to collect water for their babies, sequence of langurs, bowerbird with a red heart, and ibex climbing mountains, to name a few. Watch it. Because when nature is the showrunner, every drama is dazzling. This is the unscripted stranger things.

@notsosnob

(ps – watch it only in the best video quality. It’s out #ykw if you can’t find a legal streaming site)

(pps – it’s the only show that my cat watches, too. completely mesmerised.)

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 <Mild Spoilers. DO NOT watch the embed links if you haven’t seen the show.>

The Emmys got concluded today. A lot of great shows and people won (including my personal favorites such as Courtney B Vance and Sarah Paulson from ACS: People Vs OJ Simpson and Rami Malek for Mr. Robot) And now is the time, like every year, when the less informed TV fans will sit up and start making a list of all the new shows, nominated and winners, to binge. But amidst all this Emmy noise, there are a few shows which don’t get nominated and lose out the wide audience that they so richly deserve. One such show is Rectify, which, not surprisingly, is Sundance Channel’s first wholly owned scripted series. The fact that none of its cast or crew members were nominated (especially Aden Young and Abigail Spencer) for anything proves that the world is not a fair place.

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Rectify’s 4th and final season starts 26th October. I have been watching this show from the year it premiered (2013) and every time I have thought about writing about it, I have fallen short of words and ways to describe the overwhelming beauty contained in this show’s every single frame. I re-watched all three seasons recently and it made me realize that it would be a tragedy, perhaps even bigger than the one this show deals with, if this show is not seen by people who appreciate great television.

The show is set in Paulie, a small town in the southern state of Georgia. The show starts with the release of one Daniel Holden who was incarcerated 19 years ago for the rape and murder of his girlfriend Hannah Dean. He is on death row and about to be hanged in a few days when, miraculously, new DNA evidence comes to light and introduce enough reasonable doubt about his involvement in the crime. Sounds a lot like Netflix documentary series ‘Making a Murderer’ and the famous podcast ‘Serial’ (remember Adnan?) but rest assured, its unique treatment sets it miles apart from these two.

His younger sister Amantha Holden (played by an absolutely feisty and incredible Abigail Spencer) was 12 when he went in, and has since made it her life’s mission to get her brother out. No surprises that she is the happiest when he walks out.

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His mother Janet, who Daniel fondly calls ‘Mother’ is played by J Smith Cameron. She married again after her first husband’s death and Daniel now has a step dad, Ted Sr (a very intelligent and smart man whose wife walked out on him years ago leaving him with his typical southern alpha male son Teddy Jr.) Together, the father-son duo run the tire shop which belonged to Daniel’s father.

Teddy Jr (a brilliant & standout Clayne Crawford), has a wife named Tawney, a typical southerner church going housewife who after meeting Daniel starts developing feelings for him and in turn starts questioning her faith and morality.

Then there is Jon, Daniel’s empathetic lawyer who (a very restrained Luke Kirby), over the years of fighting his case, has gotten romantically involved with Amantha. Their beautiful & very mature love story arc deserves its own spinoff TV show.

All these nuanced and complex characters make up Daniel’s world who is having a hard time adjusting to his new reality. He is damaged goods. He spent 19 years inside an 8×6 cell reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Camus and memorizing Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” (coz he found it ‘calming’ and it helped him ‘bend time in a way’) & now he is out and lost.

The first season (6 episodes only) shows you the first 6 days of this man’s post prison life who went into solitary confinement at a time when teenagers were making mix-tapes for their loved ones and is released in the era of iTunes & EDM. To borrow a thought from S02E04 “Donald The Normal,” we’re watching this man at a point when the paint is still drying on his canvas.

When Daniel is not busy listening to his old Walkman or remodelling the kitchen for his mother or riding his brother’s BMX bike or lying naked plucking the feathers out of a pillow, he roams around & bumps into people. Some nice, some nasty. Some invite him to parties to smoke up with them, some want to click selfies with him, some even have sex with him out of pity/sense of adventure, while some beat the shit out of him, and some are just happy discussing art with him in an art gallery mistaking him to be a ‘normal guy’. “I believe we should reinstate wonder and banish expectations.” one fine lady tells him in Atlanta while he is on his way to meet the mother of his prison cell neighbour and the closest thing he’s had to a friend, Kerwin, who wasn’t as lucky as him. The lady from the gallery invites him to have lunch with her and her girlfriends, which Daniel reluctantly accepts and, in one of the show’s countless poignant moments, wonders out loud how good Panini bread tastes, much to the ladies’ surprise who have gotten over Panini by now. They, of course, aren’t aware that Panini didn’t even exist in America when he went in.

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Much of the flashbacks focus on Daniel and Kerwin’s time together in the cells. Kerwin’s presence helps Daniel remain sane and once he is gone for the gallows, he loses it badly. So badly that a priest has to be brought in to intervene to get him out of the darkness. So when he gets out, he goes to see Kerwin’s mother which becomes a beautiful meeting between perfect strangers who all loved a man who had an irreplaceable place in their lives. Daniel’s meeting with Kerwin’s mother and his younger brother gives you a sense of the amount and strength of will it takes for people to go on after such tragedies fuck their lives up so irreversibly.

None of the characters are more mysterious or unpredictable than Daniel himself who, in the 19 years that he was inside has amassed a wealth of knowledge and clarity by reading literary giants and he often uses that knowledge in his encounters with imaginary and real people. This knowledge has also enabled him to be really funny and sarcastic when the situation or the character demands him to be (and at times when it doesn’t). It is no exaggeration when I say that it is an absolute fucking treat to see this man talking to someone, anyone in this show. One scene in which he is eulogizing his ex-lawyer who used to send him books (three on French revolution alone!) is an exceptionally profound piece of writing.

While maintaining a fine balance between being a profound spiritual drama and a murder mystery, the show never loses sight of the fact that Daniel is free but not exonerated. Everyone around him, including his step-brother Teddy Jr, has an opinion on whether or not he really did commit those crimes. Daniel’s own memory of the ‘incident’, however, is hazy. There were other people there when all that happened but he was the one who was found with Hannah’s body, sitting there with flowers, crying. But even after 3 seasons, we don’t really get to know the “truth” as to what exactly happened that night. We gather information from the police investigation, old testimonies, confessions and Daniel’s meeting with old acquaintances. After all these years, even Daniel is not sure if he did it or not. The show makes it amply clear that he is well capable of doing it and Daniel knows this too. The 19 years of isolation and solitary confinement have familiarized him with his own darkness but they have also blurred his memories. It’s all unclear, but the show never really tries to become a whodunit. In a lesser show, it would have been the central theme.

But Rectify is not worried about the mystery. It is worried about Daniel. A man who is best described by the title of Second Season’s finale, Unhinged. It’s more concerned with what Daniel’s time in prison did to him and how his and the people’s lives around him have been forever changed because of it. Would he ever be able to recover from this and be able to have new beginnings?

It is also worried about Amantha, a bright young woman, with a peculiar name which is neither Amanda nor Samantha, who could have been living a normal life having a career in a big city instead of working at Thrifty Town, a local grocery store because she can’t move away while her brother is still on trial.

It is worried about Tawney, who is not sure if she wants to be with Teddy Jr anymore given that she now has feelings for Daniel which are in direct conflict with what her church has taught her. Adelaide Clemens is frustratingly great in this part.

It is worried about Daniel’s mother who on one hand is extremely happy to see her son out of prison, but on the other hand is extremely distressed about his survival options in the free world.

Heck it is even worried about Teddy Jr who isn’t really that likable a person to start with but the show doesn’t shortchange him and shows us what insecurities lies beneath that made him so. (Pete Campbell from Mad Men comes to mind when I see Teddy’s character in this show.)

The writing on this show is extraordinary. It deals with themes which, among many, include the nature of truth, God, spirituality, religion, existentialism, capital punishment, the biases of the judicial system or rather people who are a part of that flawed system, and depression, and it does it so humanely that it leaves you feeling like a tangled ball of emotions. It is one of the most intelligent show on TV and you can gauge that from some of the episode titles like Plato’s Cave (from the allegory), The Great Destroyer (from the Tome of Rubicon), and Sown with Salt (from the ancient practice of Salting the conquered earth to leave it unusable), each one hinting at the superior literary knowledge of its writers and their vast understanding of the complex human emotions.

For me, Rectify is the closest that any show has ever come to the experience of reading a fine book. It is not a show to binge watch. Every episode stirs something inside you and you have to give it time to sink in. It is the most human show on TV and its poignancy will break your heart into a million pieces. For Daniel, for Amantha, for the lives lost, for what could have been had he not gotten entangled in this mess.

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I hope that this show gets its due. It deserves to be talked about with the all-time greats such as Breaking Bad & Mad Men. I, being a huge fan of Walter White and Don Draper, proudly admit that Daniel Holden has surpassed them and has become my most favorite TV protagonist of all time. Daniel Holden doesn’t exist in the real world, but if he did, I would have loved to meet him and give him a tight hug.

Don’t get scared though. This show is not all tears and emotions. It has its moment of joy and sometimes, absolute hilarity – most of which involve Daniel and Amantha in various situations dealing with weirdos. Their stinging sense of humor proves that they are cut from the same cloth.

There is still more than a month to go before the final season premiere. Enough time to soak up 22 episodes (6+10+6).

In perhaps one of the most surreal sequences of the show, an unknown man tells Daniel –  “It’s the beauty, not the ugly, that hurts you the most son.” And then goes on to wrestle with him like a pig.

Go for it, let this show hurt you.

–  Avinash Verma

It addresses the construct of gender and trans identity while shining a light on the messy journey of self-discovery.

A few days before I gorged on the second season of the American TV series, Transparent, I happened to read a column that made a case for turning away from fictions of the self. The writer went on to say that you must write what you know but if you have a story to tell, tell it like you know it is not your story alone. It was a fitting coincidence. Jill Soloway manages just that with the semi-autobiographical, Transparent – to tell the story of a transsexual parent, in a way that is so universal, that not only transgender people but anyone in the midst of transitions, living their truths and rocking a few boats in the process, would relate to. The scrutiny that comes with the act of ‘coming out’ is true not only of the transgender community in India, but also of someone who is gay, divorced, in a live-in relationship and others, to varying degrees, who dare to disturb the status quo. Soloway explores the tapestry of oddities that make the institution of family, and distills the alchemy of weighty philosophies through the prism of gender.

Season 1 begins with Mort Pfefferman, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family and a 60-year-old retired college professor, publicly transitioning to Maura Pfefferman. The family comprises three adult children – Sarah, Ali and Josh and an ex-wife, Shelly. Coming out to the kids is not depicted as heroic, as much as honest, taking into account the emotional universe of the family rattled by the admission. Transparent acknowledges the collateral damage caused while being unabashedly honest to oneself but selfishness is still hailed, over living a lie. The children’s reactions range from denial to reluctance to a gradual acceptance – a very real portrayal of an unconventional family experience. The uphill task of getting to know a person anew begins with something as mundane as the question of what to address the parent as. Ali, the youngest of the Pfefferman siblings coins an endearing term for Maura, ‘Mopa’ – a blend of Momma and Papa.

Maura’s confession fuels the process of self-discovery in the family members grappling with identity crises of their own. While in Season 1, the characters wave the flag of liberation as they attempt to find their voices, in Season 2, they are at their lowest ebb in their quest for personal truths.  Soloway plunges headlong into the evolution of these characters, where their ugly obsessions and dysfunctional reflexes are front and centre. The series deftly dispels the assumption that brave moments of confrontation dovetail happiness. Flinging open the closet of skeletons and following our truth is only the first of many challenges. Transparent shows how being at home within oneself is an ongoing struggle, which also opens doors to a newer world with lesser and sometimes fleeting, but authentic bonhomie. With wisdom, comes a peculiar loneliness.

The series intelligently illumines that gender and sexuality are not synonymous and that both can be fluid with a range of queer female relationships. A fascinating observation about the distinction between personal anguish and male advantage is highlighted by an instance, where we find out that Maura as a man has a slightly misogynistic past. We also see Maura stumbling into her gender identity like a teenager discovering her body, straddling a sense of adventure and confusion. This is evident in a conversation in a clinic, where the doctor asks Maura, “Do you plan on getting breasts?”, and Maura quips, “Two please.” When the doctor further inquires if she’s planning on undergoing a gender reassignment surgery, she takes a lengthy pause before replying, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Maura also vehemently declares that she loves vaginas, a communication seemingly at odds with being transgender. While Ali tries to academically understand the constructs of gender, heteronormavity and patriarchy, Josh still refuses to come to terms with the loss of a father – the loss Mort to Maura. Also, Sarah, the eldest of the Pfefferman kids finds a sense of redemption in her kinks during her lonely phase following a heterosexual marriage, a lesbian relationship and a breakup. The scene where Maura pleasures the ex-wife Shelly, illustrates with masterly tenderness, their fiendishly complicated relationship and the yearning of the elderly, spurred by loneliness.  Long habit and a firm sense of belonging in case of ex-spouses can lead to a self-defeating return to the old, familiar ways, irrespective of gender.

The character of Leslie Mackinaw inspired by the legendary lesbian poet Eileen Myles says, “I don’t really teach. I like to talk about things I care about to people, who are ready”. Steering clear of a didactic treatment, Soloway has adopted a similar approach in her storytelling, tackling characters with a rare balance of objectivity and compassion. She presents to us the wonderfully weird Pfefferman clan with a healthy irreverence and hilarity; therein lies the triumph of Transparent.

Dipti Kharude

(Dipti just quit her corporate job and is having fun dipping her toes in a ton of stuff like binge watching TV and web series, doing movie marathons, gallivanting, and writing about her escapades. She tweets @kuhukuro)