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Our Dark Summertime Binge: HBO’s “Chernobyl”

Chernobyl!

Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, and Jared Harris handling the truth.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. Veronica Mars season 4 had its mad-bomber mystery and its upsetting finale. Season 2 of Hulu’s Light as a Feather made teen horror out of a slumber party game. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars reminded us Russian history is more fatalistic than many of our TV stories. Season One of Chopped revealed its secret origin as a parable of man’s inhumanity to man.

I had expected this special MCC miniseries to conclude with the Chopped entry. Then one unexpected August day our cable TV provider announced their next annual or semiannual “preview weekend”, that generous time of year when all subscribers are allowed to watch HBO free for a limited span to see what pop-culture touchstones they’re missing. We haven’t subscribed to any premium channels in ages. We live on, find other things to do, and satisfy ourselves with the money that our uncoolness saves us. But we will occasionally brake for free prestige TV when opportunities intersect our path and trip us up.

Apropos of too many things, we ran right back to the subject of Russian history. This time, though, it was ripped from the headlines within our own lifespans.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: “Chopped” Season One

Chopped season 1!

Aphrodisiac or poison? YOU make the call!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. Veronica Mars season 4 had its mad-bomber mystery and its upsetting finale. Season 2 of Hulu’s Light as a Feather made teen horror out of a slumber party game. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars reminded us Russian history is grimmer than many of our TV stories, and trying to cheer your audience up with cult orgies doesn’t help.

This summer we’ve even managed to find oppression and despondency in the things we’ve loved and watched for years. We expected nothing less from Veronica Mars. It paled before the dark side of Chopped.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Seven “Black Mirror” Shards

Black Mirror!

Toby Kebbell watching his own lifelong YouTube channel inside his artificial second eyelids in a Black Mirror oldie.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. The second season (part 1) of Hulu’s Light as a Feather broadened its scope and tightened up its ensemble interplay, but still had Death lurking around every corner. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars was a downbeat bummer in its subject matter as well as its various letdowns.

I’ve been selective about which new shows I add to my docket. I’ve skipped many a popular show over the years, which means I stay ostracized from all the best online discussion groups. Among those I’d been procrastinating till now was Black Mirror. The base concept of “Twilight Zone, but cutting-edge and extra nihilistic plus F-bombs” wasn’t an easy sell for me. Also, I heard about that first episode. My son, aghast at the repressed memory of it resurfacing, recommended I skip it and just watch the rest. The suggestion was wise and tempting.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Hulu’s “Light as a Feather”

Light as a Feather!

Once again McKenna (Liana Liberato) faces DEATH FROM ABOVE! OR AT LEAST SCARINESS!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars couldn’t help but depress with its take on Russia’s traumatic early-20th-century history, though it would prove the most unintentionally funny show we’ve seen in ages about war, revolution, murder, and gloomy orgies.

Meanwhile on Hulu, I caught a supernatural thriller in its second season that was easily the youngest-skewing show I watched this summer, possibly this year. But I had a pretty good reason.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Netflix’s “The Last Czars”

Last Czars!

Rasputin (Ben Cartwright) and Alexandra (Susanna Herbert) oblivious to Russia’s coming vicissitudes.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. Shocking developments notwithstanding, it wasn’t the gloomiest show on our scorecard.

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“Veronica Mars” Season 4: Part of Our Dark Summertime Binge

Veronica Mars!

Are you there, God? It’s me, the annoying tiny blonde one.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: 2014 saw the release of the Veronica Mars movie, an unexpected follow-up to the acid-tongued detective show that undiscerning Nielsen families treated as persona non grata during its three-season run on UPN and The CW. The movie was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign made wildly successful by a fan base eager to see more, more, more. Honestly, every second of VM beyond the first season has been a sort of gift. Back in the day, shows with its kind of shaky ratings were often stood before a firing squad in five episodes or less. Fans appreciated the film as a Happily Ever After that we needed after season 3’s funereal cliffhanger, but we also assumed it was The End. We moved on, so sure that life in the complicated oceanside town of Neptune, CA, would remain copacetic forever as long as we all agreed never to look back again.

Apparently like Orpheus, someone must have peeked. Thanks to the magic of Hulu and a reunion of principals — creator Rob Thomas and some of the original writing staff, as well as stars Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, and quite a few more — the titular teen detective and her equally-detective dad Keith Mars are back with an eight-episode fourth season that, of course, once again has Neptune in chaos, death at hand, and Happily Ever After wrested away from more than one beloved cast member. Though Hulu had announced a release date of July 26th, they uploaded it a week early amid the fun and busyness of San Diego Comic Con. It was either a pleasant surprise or a shocking downer, depending on whether or not you actually watched it this weekend.

With several weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife and I sped through all eight episodes on Saturday, because free time abounded for some of us who’ll never get to attend SDCC. Over the past few weeks we’d been bingeing a few other shows, each of which had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. We set all those aside for one day and, by the end of said day, realized Veronica fit right in with all that bleakness.

Courtesy warning: spoilers ahead for thoughts after some 400+ minutes of viewing. Not everything is revealed here, but several tidbits yearn to be explored. The spoiler-free capsule-review version is: season 4 is far better than season 3, possibly better than season 2 (I need more time to evaluate this), and definitely not here to deliver more of the movie’s too-eager-to-please fan service.

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