“The Crown” Season 4: All Ten Episodes Ranked According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth!

Queen Olivia Colman looks upon Margaret Thatcher and just doesn’t know what to make of her.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last spring my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her ruled subjects, some of whom are incidentally also her family:

Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.

So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…

Season four may be its best yet. Olivia Colman gets comfy enough to have fun on the throne, Tobias Menzies bemuses and is bemused from the sidelines (for a while, anyway), Helena Bonham Carter selectively empathizes with other outsiders in their own skewed orbits, and Josh O’Connor triples his screen time as Prince Charles, the put-upon whiner who thinks he’s aged into a thwarted hero, doesn’t see himself becoming the villain. They’ve managed to survive into those lovable ’80s, when two new names emerged to take places for themselves in the British pantheon. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher, the uncompromising Prime Minister who inspired thousands of destitute punk bands and numerous low-budget films about the political rage and hopelessness she instilled; and Emma Corrin (Pennyworth) as young Diana Spencer, who inspired thousands of tabloid reporters, paparazzi, impressionable little girls, and fabulous fashion mavens.

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Alex Trebek, 1940-2000

Jeopardy graph!

A souvenir from that time Anne wrote him a fan letter in 2013.

I caught the news about the passing of Jeopardy!‘s own Alex Trebek an hour after it hit the mainstream press. An hour after that, I had to be the one to inform my wife. I let her finish her nap first rather that spring a rude awakening upon her. If there’s any emotion that should never be associated with Trebek, it’s rudeness.

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Just watched all 103 episodes of “Person of Interest” in 30 days, AMA

Person of Interest!

“You are being watched,” said I to Our Heroes.

Once upon a time in 2011 I was in the mood to follow a TV show on CBS, of all channels — Person of Interest, the latest project from Jonathan Nolan, best known for writing or co-writing many of his brother Christopher’s films. The first seven episodes were one part above-average hard-boiled CBS procedural, one part very-near-future SF drama. Then the show began skipping weeks, returned without notice, and skipped more weeks. When I realized new episodes were airing, catching up was impossible because some miserly executive forbade it from being available On Demand, on CBS.com, or anywhere else for streaming after the fact. I gave up on following along as it aired, but vowed I’d catch up one day when the time was right.

At the end of 2013 our household joined the Netflix achievers. I added PoI to my queue as soon as I saw it was available, and looked forward to catching up at long last.

Then, because I’m old and forgetful and surround myself with far too many hobbies and to-do lists and internet distractions, seven years blinked by.

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The 10 Best Episodes of “The Crown” So Far According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman and The Crown!

From Hot Fuzz to Broadchurch to The Night Manager to The Favourite and more, Olivia Colman has already been ruling for years.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: a while back I spent an entire weekend watching the first episodes of twenty different series across multiple platforms. That experience provided us a blueprint for our binge-watching over the subsequent months. I haven’t written about everything we’ve watched, but since that entry my wife Anne and I have gone through Netflix’s Unbelievable (harrowing and unforgettable), Wild Wild Country (surprising and at times Too Much, by which I mean too much padding, but altogether illuminating), the first two seasons of House of Cards (despite potentially tossing fifty cents into Kevin Spacey’s tin cup), a wholly unrelated and regrettable detour for Tiger King (now we get all the references, but at a steep cost to our souls), and, far less dishonorably, all three seasons of The Crown.

My brief thoughts on the latter’s pilot:

Some early reviews had led us to believe writer Peter Morgan’s longform follow-up to his Best Picture nominee “The Queen” amounted to “Royal Sexytime”. Perhaps later down the road, the sight of Queen Elizabeth II snogging Prince Philip may be lying in wait to drive us to the brink of horror, like that one Marvel miniseries that dared readers to visit Aunt May’s heyday as a horny teen. Mercifully the first chapter didn’t go there and seemed much like any other British costume drama, save a few expletives and the Eleventh Doctor’s bare butt. Bonus points for casting consummate professional Jared Harris to take over for Colin Firth as King George VI. A pity Elizabeth herself hardly figured into her own story at first. Presumably Claire Foy has more lines later?

Thankfully she did, except in scenes where she consigned herself to historically accurate silence for the sake of burying feelings like true British royalty. Thirty episodes later, we’re caught up with other viewers and ready for more. Until season four presumably hits the broadband waves later this year, all we can do for now is ruminate on what we have on hand.

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Our Ten Terrific Tricks for a Stay-at-Home Comic Con

Quarantine Jazz Hands!

With your host, Dr. Bane-ton Forrester!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: for the past several years my wife Anne and I have made a tradition of going somewhere — anywhere but home — for each of our birthdays. One-day road trips and events, such as last year’s tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, give me the gift of new experiences and distract me from the physical decay at hand. It was a nice tradition while it lasted.

For my 48th birthday we had hoped this weekend would see us returning to Motor City Comic Con up near Detroit. Our first trip to Motor City in 2017 was a fantastic experience, and this year’s guest list had a few larger-than-life personalities we would’ve loved to meet. Then, much as has happened to You, The Viewers at Home, our best-laid plans gang agley. In the wake of COVID-19, businesses closed or severely restricted their services, workplaces were scuttled, my employers enacted strict rules about out-of-state travel, and any and all events involving two or more people were canceled. All one-man events, such as the worst YouTube channels ever, were allowed to continue on schedule. I haven’t had a birthday party in years, but the state of the world has derailed our road-trip tradition for my big day. Whether we can resume our practice on Anne’s birthday in October will hinge on a number of variables, none of them within my personal control, though I’d totally be on top of that for her sake if I had Dr. Manhattan’s powers.

Anne and I were determined to line up an enjoyable weekend for ourselves anyway. Between the two of us we made the most of these past two days with the resources safely available. We found a way to recreate ten (10) commonalities we’ve encountered at various entertainment conventions over the past several years. Welcome to what I nicknamed “TakeoutCon 2020”, which included the following comic-con-esque features:

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A Peek Inside Peacock

Peacock!

We named it after the old NBC mascot, but instead of a bird we thought a cooler image would be…this glow stick?

Our family prides itself on not being early adopters of new technology or services. We prefer to let upstart projects and products get up and running, figure out their processes, work out their bugs, set a price point that’s worth the venture, and build up a reputation, preferably a favorable one. Then we might give them the time of day. Maybe. Sometimes.

Streaming services are subject to the same vetting procedure. We ignored Netflix until the advent of the Google Chromecast (later renamed “Googlecast”) dramatically improved our streaming capabilities. Also motivating us: we reached the point in our newfound Doctor Who fandom at which the only episodes we hadn’t yet watched up to that point were in their clutches. For years we likewise lived well without Hulu despite a few temptations, until an outrageous Black Friday sale in December 2018 (99¢/month for 12 months!) lured me into their den.

The internet’s Baby Yoda obsession notwithstanding, we have yet to pull the trigger on Disney+. Star Trek in and of itself is not enough to justify CBS All Access. I refuse to pay a monthly price for shopping privileges and am therefore one of six people nationwide who doesn’t have Amazon Prime. Every single detail I’ve heard about Quibi implies it’s my exact anti-matter opposite. And as for YouTube Red…is that still a thing? Not for us, it isn’t.

The next contestant up in these highly competitive lockdown-era streaming wars is Peacock, a product of the NBC-Universal-Viacom multinational conglomerate. In a world where “cord-cutting” has been the trend because everyone thought that would be cheaper, Peacock is my favorite kind of service: bundled.

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“McMillions” and McMemories

McDonald's pins!

Just a few of the souvenirs we still have from our years with the Golden Arches. All of these are from Anne’s old pin collection.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our family doesn’t subscribe to HBO, but from time to time our cable provider will offer free preview weekends that let us watch all we can within 72 hours that are meant to entice us to add it to our already overstuffed lineup. Instead we save up our HBO watch-lists, pace back and forth waiting for those rare weekends, then see how much we can speed through whenever we’re granted the opportunity. It’s a bit like composing lunches entirely from free samples handed out at the grocery, but in the proper frame of mind, satisfaction can be found in limited quantities.

At least, all that had been our usual approach. Among the more recent developments in the interim normal is both Hulu and our cable provider are now offering access to the HBO libraries for a nonspecific “limited time”, presumably with an end date their corporate overlords can shift back and forth as the winds change. Until then, we plan to see what we can work in while we’re busy catching up on other watch-list materials.

Naturally for us, priority #1 was a recent show that brought back memories of our old jobs.

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Leaping Off the “Tiger King” Circus Wagon

I Saw a Tiger!

Out-of-context snippet from Netflix’s sing-a-long lyrics-video version of Joe Exotic’s “I Saw a Tiger”. Follow the bouncing tiger cub head. Yes, really.

I’m sorry, I just…I can’t with this anymore.

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20 Pilots Down: A Special Graze-Watching Weekend

Queen Sono!

Bond? Bond who? Pearl Thusi and Loyiso Madinga in the action-spy series Queen Sono, which premiered on Netflix last Friday.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: months ago my wife Anne and I had blocked out this past weekend on our calendars for attending C2E2, but ultimately bowed out due to a confluence of funding issues and insufficient guest-list temptations. We kept the weekend free anyway, determined to do something with it, even if it amounted to little more than watching lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of TV for the sake of saving on travel and leisure costs. Sometimes when your brain’s being crunched more than usual at work during a time of year that’s historically, inevitably rough, taking days off from the rat race and other responsibilities for mental health is a helpful, virtually medicinal move to recharge these flawed, fleshly vehicles of ours.

As someone who’s a bit too project-oriented when it comes to parceling out my free-time usage, naturally I spent days beforehand pondering what exactly to watch, which shows to binge or which movies to pull from various unwatched stacks, be they DVDs or streaming-media queues. Then I remembered an idea I’d had years ago: given the hundreds, potentially thousands of TV shows I’ve missed throughout my lifetime, why not have a marathon of first episodes only? Line up the pilots and premieres of various series and miniseries across the entertainment spectrum, watch them one by one, resist the urge to move on immediately to any episode 2 for the duration of the marathon, and see what happens? Create my own A/V sampler platter. A bandwidth buffet. A television Tour of Italy, for the shameless O.G. fans out there.

If “binge-watching” is sitting through several episodes of one show in a row, then sitting through one episode each of several shows might be “graze-watching”.

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The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” Midterm Report

Crisis Poster!

Shows will live! Shows will die! And The CW’s Arrowverse will never be the same!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the landmark 1985-1986 maxiseries Crisis on Infinite Earths left such a massive impression on me as a young teen who’d been collecting comics since age 6, it changed the DC Universe forever as promised and factored into the naming of this very website 7½ years ago. It wasn’t easy for older fans to watch fifty years of comics canon and continuity get shredded and/or remixed, but youngsters with less of an emotional investment had front-row seats for The End of, and the subsequent rebirth of, the DC Universe as we knew it. Between Crisis, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, 1986 was a grandly historic time for DC on multiple fronts. And I was there for it.

Fast-forward 34 years later: I’m a different, older, creakier guy, but I’m still at the comic shop every Wednesday, and still partaking in superhero fare, albeit decreasingly in moderation. DC is still here, still banking on superheroes and trying much harder than I am to stay young-looking. They’ve spent the past eight years unleashing hundreds of their characters onto The CW across six TV series and counting. Here in 2019 going on 2020, it’s their turn for a Crisis.

(Let me throw a courtesy spoiler warning up front: this entry isn’t a full recap, but remarks are up ahead about plot points, surprises, and possibilities in the fourth and fifth chapters that’ll conclude the major crossover event on January 14th. If you’re planning to catch up on your own between now and then, the exits are clearly marked on your browser.)

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