Netflix Recommendations- Archer seasons 1 – 3

Can you ever be too old to watch animated TV shows? Not when it’s naughty, like seriously naughty like this!

I was starting to run out of stuff to watch on Netflix, resorting  to randomly asking Google to play this or that, working my way through my list of 471 shows to watch. But to little success (finding that many programs were no longer available on the Australian Netflix library). Boo! But what Google did locate was Archer.

Oh boy, this animated series contains adult themes. Like really bad, can’t be repeated jokes in public kind of bad. And after the first couple of episodes, my wife told me that she was out. It was too crude for her.

So I resorted to watching it in secret, before she came home from work each night. Guilty!

Until one night when she came home earlier than anticipated and caught me watching cartoons which make   Futurama, American Dad and Family Guy seem utterly family friendly!

The premise of the series focuses on Sterling Malory Archer, a self-obsessed but highly capable secret agent; his mother who runs the spy agency he works for; and his fellow spies and support staff who keep the International Secret Intelligence Service running. It’s like James Bond meets ‘The Office’, it’s as much espionage as its workplace shenanigans.

The themes are all inappropriate, politically incorrect, and offensive to many……. But it is humorous though.

After being found out (due to kick-starting an episode later than usual, and wifey coming home earlier than anticipated), But I only had 5 minutes to go so I continued watching, aiming to get to the end of the episode before I had to explain myself…… But as she was going about her own business I heard her chuckle from hearing some of the dialogue (you find yourself laughing, even though you know you ought not to).

But to cut a long story short, let’s just say we’ve now finished season 3 (of 10), but I’ve heard from season 4 onwards it’s not as funny as it used to be so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep following………..

But if you haven’t watched Archer before, and you’re curious to know how bad can it be (and how inappropriately funny), check it out at your own risk- just ask your smart speaker to “Play Archer on Netflix”.

Lana: “Don’t say it Archer!”

Archer: “Whoo!!”

Podcast Recommendation- Life Kit All Guides

Don’t you love ads? Podcast advertisements, that is. This latest podcast was introduced to me by in-pod advertising, I was happily listening to ‘How I Built This’ when they cross-promoted another pod by NPR. And it sounded so interesting that I had to stop what I was listening to, so I could immediately search for and start listening to this pod!

What caught my attention, was the promise of examining how to get a better night sleep! And this is very intriguing for me, as I’ve been a slave to insomnia for the past 18 years.

Life Kit All Guides- NPR

Life Kit All Guides is a new podcast, where each fortnight they delve into a different life topic under the categories of Personal Finance, Health, and Parenting- dedicating 3 episodes (spread out over 2 weeks) to examine all there is to know about the topic in question.  Scanning over their past episodes, they have covered the financial topics of budgeting, being a better saver, avoiding unnecessary fees, and developing Credit Card IQ; the health topics of sleep, nutrition, and healthy weight loss; and the parenting topics of how to discuss adult topics with young kids, teaching kids self-control, and showing kids how to love math etc. And there’s only going to be more Life Kits scheduled to drop as the weeks go by! Each topic is hosted by a different NPR journalist who usually reports on said topic, and they conduct interviews with experts in the field for their expert insights.

What I’ve learnt in regards to getting a better night sleep, is how 20 minutes of natural sunlight each morning resets our 24 hour body clock which ensures that by bed time we’re feeling adequately sleepy; how we shouldn’t consume caffeine 7 hours before bed time; how regular exercise is critical to a good night’s sleep; how alcohol-induced sleepiness is actually not good for us; and how we should leave our smart devices alone 60-90 minutes before bed. Since I’ve listened to the pod, I’ve actively made some changes in my habits and for the past week I’ve been sleeping better and have felt more alert during the day! Fingers crossed that I can maintain this, as this is actually life-changing stuff!

So if you’re interested to check out how you can improve your quality of life with Life Kit All Guides, click HERE!

What to Watch- Lego Masters

I still clearly remember saying to my wife when we stumbled on Lego Masters, “This is the most pointless show ever! There is absolutely no purpose in this!” – as I was annoyed that TV was truly running out of new concepts, that they were resorting to throwing money into a competition which was purposeless – adults playing with toys? Like what the! But not having anything else to watch that night, we just found ourselves sitting in front of the TV and watching the first episode. And after the first ep, we were utterly sucked in! Hook, line, and sinker!

For the few people who haven’t watch Channel 9’s Lego Masters (Australian- there has already been 2 seasons of the original British series), essentially it’s a competition made up of pairs of adults, creating things with Lego. Yes, the little bricks and inch-tall yellow figures! With the winning pair taking home their share of $100,000! Not a bad pay-day from doing something that you love?  And calling the creations as ‘things’ is an under-statement, as the end creations have been EPIC! You have to see it for yourself to believe it! And if watching people build miniature cities/scenes isn’t compelling viewing enough, the show is hosted by comedian Hamish Blake! Which increases the entertainment value by at least three fold! 1:3 scale anyone?

The competition consisted of 8 teams of 2, from pairs of friends, husband & wife partnerships, to even a Grandson-Grandma duo! The challenges were out-of-this-world! – ranging from 6 hour builds for each team to create a level of a skyscraper, to a 28 hour build for the grand finale, which saw a team build an entire amusement park with moving mechanized parts! And with a web-site with extra footage and information to support the show, you can totally geek right out on Lego Masters!

Lego Masters has actually been quite refreshing actually, instead of another Reality TV show with ridiculously good looking people; or with contestants being too conscious/aware of the cameras at all times; or with overly b*tchy/back-stabbing grating contestants – the Lego Masters contestants were just guys and gals who clearly lived further to the left (or should that be right?) on the nerd/geek scale! Which is absolutely cool! The show was also different because the host of the show actually added to the entertainment value of the program – not just a talking head to keep the show moving, but Hamish has emphasized to many why he is one of the funniest Australian comedians at the moment (he’s no ‘stand-up comic’, but what he is, is quick witted and adorably child-like). Which fits in perfectly with a show about adults and toys! And the last thing which stood Lego Masters out from the rest of the Reality TV shows, was the Judge; initially I was annoyed with the judge ‘Brickman’ (Ryan McNaught) because he was this middle aged man who was known by a childish title of ‘Brickman’. However in the end I found him to be an extremely fair judge, he was never cutting with his criticisms, and always tried to highlight what was good about each team’s creations! And in the end as much as the Internet has blown-up about the outcome, I personally thought the judging was fair and the best team won? And not to mention, the show employed a clever use of sound-effects which added to the whole audio-visual experience!

From all reports, Lego sales has sky-rocketed, even I who haven’t thought about Lego in over 25 years has had bricks and little yellow men on the mind. And where adult colouring books was the fad in 2014-15, I’m sure building Lego creations to de-stress after work will be the latest fad for 2019-20!

I think it’s near impossible to watch the show now, without already knowing who won the series (as it’s all over the internet and Ch 9); but if you’re still interested to watch the epic constructions emerge from nothing (mere bricks), and if you’re like me and you like watching Reality TV to psycho-analyse people, please by all means click HERE! It’s a fun 12 episodes, guaranteed to bring-out your inner child!

Netflix Recommendations- Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Hey, I want to recommend this sports documentary to you, as it’s wholly unexpected!

It’s a given that motor racing fans and dudes who are into sports will naturally watch this (released on Netflix on 8 March); but the surprising thing was that people who aren’t into F1, who don’t know anything about the sport, and viewers like my wife, actually really got into the series!

I noticed ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ listed as a new release on Netflix, then a friend (female) asked me if I’d watched it, because she had just finished the 10 part series and thought it was great! So when we sat down to experience it for ourselves I was surprised that my wife was just as into it as I was. After watching a couple of episodes, she quizzed me from interest about the format of races, the characters behind the sport (or under those helmets), who ends up winning the 2018 championship, and when I asked her if she would consider watching a real F1 race on TV, her answer was ‘Maybe’- when previously she would’ve looked at me like I was asking the most ridiculous question.  And when we were down to the final half of the series and we were well and truly sucked in, my wife would ask “F1?” when we set-up for a night in, in-front of the TV as it had become like a binge-worthy drama which we couldn’t get enough of! So what was it about this macho sport which captured the attention of such a diverse array of viewers?

Was it the young handsome F1 drivers? Was it the glitz and glam of race weekend? Or was it the need to find out who wins the championship in the end? It was none of these things! But it was just the amazing way the producers (James Gay-Rees, Paul Martin, and Sophie Todd) were able to weave in the stories of the drivers, the teams, and make it a compelling narrative which unfolded like a drama throughout the doco series- which actually unfolded that way in real-life during the 2018 F1 season. For example, the cameras were there to witness the collapse of a team; the retirement of a 2 time World Champion; and the defection of our boy Danny to a rival team. The 2018 season naturally unfolded in a dramatic way- the producers couldn’t have scripted it any better than this!

What made Drive to Survive a next-level doco- was the unbridled access that the camera crews had to the teams and drivers (when previously F1 operated behind closed doors), where we were able to glimpse behind the curtain and learn about what drives these men, the insecurities each driver possessed, and also the uncertainty that each lived under- not knowing if they would be competitive that week, if they would have a job by the end of the season, or could they become the next transcendent superstar in their sport! It was this human aspect to the sport which I think connected with the viewers, so it wasn’t all just cars and dude-stuff, but it was the people and the emotions behind the sport.

But from a sporting point of view, the production was slick and immersive. The actual audio volume levels when people were speaking were quite low, so you inevitably crank up the volume on your TV so you can hear them better. But when the scenes cut to the track, and the sound of the exhausts and the screaming engines shoot across your screen, these action scenes were at normal sound volumes thus it felt like you’re actually track side – right there as these majestic machines go hurtling down the tarmac and cause your TV to shudder under the decibels as you had the volume cranked up to 70! It seriously gets your heart racing and adrenaline pumping just viewing it from the comfort of your couch!

Initially I thought I already knew most of the drivers, as I’m a bit of a F1 fan and subscribed to a couple of F1 podcasts who base their shows on interviews with drivers,  but Drive to  Survive were able to uncover stories and approach them from an angle which I hadn’t heard of before, so that was refreshing. I understand that Ferrari and Mercedes did not agree to be filmed for this season, so the behind the scenes stories for the 2 most competitive teams weren’t told in season 1. However the documentary didn’t suffer much as a result of this, not having the voice of the front-runners and ultimate winners of the championship there.  Instead we got a healthy dose of our local hero- Daniel Ricciardo (surprisingly he had a bit of a potty mouth on him) and it was good to see some of the more ‘unsung heroes’ from Formula One get their time in the lime-light.

So if you haven’t yet watched Formula 1: Drive to Survive, place all of your preconceptions of sports documentaries aside, and approach it with an open mind- I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and you’ll enjoy it!

To watch now, click here! Where you’ll see how these young men really need to ‘Drive to Survive’ in the most cut-throat and fickle profession in all of professional sports!

TV Recommendations- Employable Me

Please allow me to stray away from our regular posting cycle just for a week, as I’d like to recommend this 3 part documentary series which can be accessed from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) free streaming service iView.

At work we’re embarking for the first time to actively seek candidates with disability, which is fantastic! As everyone in society deserves the right to have access to equal employment opportunities, thus they can realise their full potential and make a livelihood for themselves. Yeah? Agreed?

So I was more open minded to watch ‘Employable Me’ when my wife suggested to watch it as she had seen a TV advert teasing the release of series 2, while series 1 was available right now on iView. To be honest with you, in the past I would have been hesitant in watching this, as these topics are always confronting and challenges your pre-conceptions; and in the evenings when I’m chilling, I just want to be entertained by shows, I don’t want to be made uncomfortable, with the truth. But since I was performing some tasks at work to assist the team tasked with achieving our Equity & Diversity goals, I thought it prudent that I watched this to get into the right head-space.

Employable Me (methinks word-play on the Universal film Despicable Me) originally was a British program which aired on BBC2 to much acclaim; before Canada produced their own version which  aired on AMI-TV;  and the ABC joined the party by producing its own version in 2018, with season 2 dropping on 9 April.

Australia’s version of Employable Me is produced by Northern Pictures, which features stories from 9 young individuals (split into 3 groups of 3- 60 min episodes), with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, and Fragile X Syndromes. Within the given time, the show first introduces each individual so we the viewer can get to know them as people; before learning of their work/career experiences/histories/aspirations; then leading to an outing- to ‘cold call’ on some potential employers (often to little success); which segues to individual meetings with experts to either uncover their hidden talents, or collaborating with a  job coach to increase their chances to land a suitable role; until the final 15 mins is spent looping back around to another perspective employer who gives them a limited duration work trial. By the end of the episode, there is a sense of closure for the viewer, as when they show the final images of each person, in captions it updates us as to where each of them have progressed months after filming had concluded, i.e. landed full-time employment, or was still seeking.

For me I found the show incredibly insightful, as often times we have heard of these conditions, but realistically we don’t actually know much about them at all. Sure, rightfully or wrongfully so popular culture has occasionally brought to prominence some conditions, i.e. Deuce Bigalow’s depiction of Tourette Syndrome and The Good Doctor’s depiction of one on the autism spectrum- which in a way has shed light and generated conversations about these conditions; however obviously they have swayed us to think of  these conditions in a certain way. And it’s only when you meet real people with these lived experiences, that has now changed my understanding of how these conditions actually impact the individual, and how individuals are able to work around these conditions.

The show was put together wonderfully, as it really allowed for each individual’s unique character to shine through first and foremost; and it was both honest, while showcasing each of them in a positive and heart-warming light. There definitely weren’t any cringing moments here, if anything I found myself smiling for most of the show as the individuals were guys/gals you could really warm to, and see yourself getting behind. So the show Employable Me has both educated me, changed me, and surprisingly entertained me as well! Definitely worth viewing if you’re a person who is always looking to self-improve and to be more empathetic.

And trying to be objective, the two critiques of the show I had was that this season at least, the focus was only on neuro conditions; when other  overseas versions covered a wider range of disabilities- it would be nice to see a more diverse selection of people next time (although we might just see that in season 2). And the last critique, was that it was really interesting to see how autism and Asperger’s only means that the brain is wired differently from the norm. And who is to say that the way that their mental circuitry is wired, is wired incorrectly- when you watch the show you’ll see that each of them have incredible minds and an amazing ability to store and retrieve memories which puts the 99% of us to absolute shame.  For some, within their area of expertise, it was almost like asking ‘Google’, as they could tell you the answer straight away- so who is to say that they aren’t the top 1% and we the majority are the bottom 99%? Ok, ok, I’m coming to my point of criticism……… My critique of this, is that the show depicts that the vast majority of disabled people have a hidden skill- which off-sets and can be exploited by an employer. However what if you’re in that 99% of people, and then later in life you acquire an injury or disease which leaves you permanently disabled? If enough of us watch  Employable Me, we might be led to believe that every disabled guy and girl has this near super-power, but what if they really don’t have a special skill to begin with, and then become disabled? The show does set a very high bar for others to meet, which I’m thinking is a little bit unfair to set the expectations so high, when realistically the majority may not be able to meet this lofty pedestal. It just makes that task of finding work, that much harder when 8 of 9 were shown to possess near genius levels of mental power. I think this could have been avoided if the chosen individuals did represent a wider representation of disabilities, so I guess this links in with critique no. 1. 

So yeah, aside from these issues, the show is truly worthwhile! I’m usually recommending shows from Netflix, and I’m aware that not everyone has a subscription- but iView is totally free to use (if you’re in Australia), so no excuses for Sydney-siders not to be watching this! Definitely worth 3 hours of your time.

For more information about the Australian version of Employable me, click HERE! And to watch immediately from ABC iView, click here!

P.S. Since writing this post, Season 2 episode 1 has aired on the ABC, in this season they do follow a more diverse array of  people and the outcomes are probably more reflective of the reality for disabled job seekers i.e. that unfortunately there isn’t always a happy ending.

Netflix Recommendations- Instant Hotel/Stay Here

Instant Hotel (2017)

“Why do you always have to turn everything into a competition?”

I’m sure you’ve heard those words uttered before, usually by an exasperated woman, her exhaustion directed at an over-competitive husband or boyfriend. And it was that voice which kept playing through my mind when we were watching ‘Instant Hotel’ on Netflix (originally aired on the 7 Network in Australia). Because as much as we love reality TV shows, sometimes we just have to question, why does it have to be turned into a competition? As we all know, competitions/competitiveness often brings out the worst in people.

Ok, before I get all hot and bothered, getting fired up on my ‘high horse’, here is a quick summary of the show. Instant Hotel is a reality TV show produced by the same company who brought us fan favourites like ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘House Rules’; so you can expect that it’s going to be entertaining. (But are we being entertained for the right reasons?) The show is hosted by Luke Jacobz, where over 2 rounds, 10 pairs of competitors (split 5 and 5) travel around Australia, taking turns in hosting each other at their ‘Instant Hotel’ (an investment property or their own homes turned into a temporary place to stay for travellers). The 4 couples (partners, friends, siblings, or mother & daughter) all converge on the property, evaluating each element with a critical eye as both judge and guest. And after a full day’s stay, they give the accommodation a score out of 10 based on the property, location/available nearby activities, value for money, and the night’s sleep. And with an additional score from an industry professional (Juliet Ashworth) the usually low scores are puffed up a little bit like a fluffed-up pillow, to a semblance of semi-respectability. At the conclusion of the 2 rounds, the couple with the highest score meets their counterpart from the other round, and they do battle in a Grand Final round – hosting 5 couples (a mixture of couples from rounds 1-2) in a similar format – but this time their properties have been through a make-over, after taking on board the constructive feedback from the previous rounds. The winner of the series is flown to LA for an all expenses paid holiday, staying at a 5 star instant hotel, hinted to be owned by a celebrity.

With the growth of Air BnBs, this series taps into a growing interest and market for home owners wanting to make some extra cash, and economical travellers looking to save a few, so the show is very relevant at the moment. But the only thing that I really didn’t like about the show, was how ‘ugly’ the contestants became in the show, displaying bitchiness and poor sportsmanship, which reflects poorly on our otherwise laid-back Australian nature. Granted, we’re all competitive to a certain extent, and a competition and a prize brings out the worst in us. But perhaps it’s because we’ve now grown up watching reality TV competitions, therefore the younger contestants enter these competitions with a cunningness and  a strategy, so when the cameras start rolling, the claws are already out and stay out until it’s all over.

In the first group, there were 2 couples who were particularly bitchy, grating, and annoying. While in the second group there were also another 2 couples who were also bitchy, arrogant, and willing to do anything to pull others down, so they could step all over them in attempts to climb to the top. And the thing which I particularly didn’t like about this fact, was what it did to me, the feelings which it invoked? I found myself getting worked up, annoyed, frustrated, and frankly wanting to see them all ‘crash and burn’ when it came to their turns being the host. And I felt elated when they did do poorly, gaining satisfaction in their failure! And I had to stop and reflect on my own attitudes; if I was gaining satisfaction from their pain and humiliation, then aren’t I just as bad as them? So the feelings and emotions which arose during the filming of the show, then these ill feelings are shared in all the people who end up watching it (which is around the 650K mark), multiplying these ill feelings….Surely this isn’t a healthy thing? With all that is going on in our society at the moment (both in Australia/New Zealand and internationally) where there is so much hate, derision, and angst, we have to wonder, is all that is bad in this world, being perpetuated by shows like this? Broadcasting, and showcasing, and encouraging hate, when there really shouldn’t be any reason for hate?

The question comes to mind, do the creators behind ‘Instant Hotel’ and ‘My Kitchen Rules’, do they have a social responsibility to the public (and also to protect the reputations of the contestants), to step in when they sense that the show is sinking too far down a nasty path, and they need to intervene and tell poorly behaving contestants to ‘pull their heads in’? Or should they cut/edit the program in post-production to take out some of the bitchiness? And if they’re not going to do this, at least not encourage these behaviours? Or should contestants be more savvy, and understand when these shows go to air, and being depicted as vindictive, two-faced, and a general a-hole is not going to be good for their reputations, public profile, and/or future job prospects? But I think these calls will fall on deaf ears, as according to the viewer ratings – 3 of the 4 bitchiest groups, their episodes were all ranked in the top 5 most viewed episodes from the series (rank 1, 4 and 5 respectively). Which suggests that this is what the viewing public want to see? While the ‘nicer’ contestants, their episodes on the whole were watched by fewer people (it is true, nice guys do finish last! *headshake*).

And one other aspect which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me was the actual prize, considering each contestant probably devoted a number of weeks/months to the filming of the show. The actual prize seemed a little meagre? An all-expense paid trip for 2 to LA? Even if they fly first class and the trip is for 10 days, surely the entire value of the prize is no more than $25K? Considering some of these home owners were charging $1500 per night, the prize didn’t seem valuable enough to fight over, for me at least. If I was pulling $3K each weekend with my investment property, I can easily pay my own way to LA, and I wouldn’t be stooping that low, just to win a prize like that?

But in short, the show was entertaining enough but not recommendable, especially if you want to feel at peace and zen in the evenings after a stressful day at work. In my opinion, give Instant Hotel a miss. But what is recommendable, is:

Stay Here (2018)

On the other hand, a show in a similar genre as ‘Instant Hotel’ which was just as entertaining, but highly recommendable, is ‘Stay Here’!

‘Stay Here’ is a Netflix production where interior designer Genevieve Gorder and marketing specialist Peter Lorimer swoop into one of 8 home stay hotels, and through the duration of the show they make-over the property. Their home improvements start with renovating (from a fresh coat of paint, to knocking down interior walls); to redecorating (from purchasing a few new items, to replacing everything within with all new furniture and white goods, I think at the owner’s expense); to personalising (from visiting local establishments to obtain inspirations for guest welcome packs, to hiring a professional chef to test-run the offering of an on-site chef for hire, if holiday makers so choose). At the conclusion of each episode, a brand new listing of their property is uploaded onto the net, with professional pics and catchy copy designed to bring in more customers and more income for the individuals.

It’s like Queer Eye, but for tired properties! Over 8 episodes, Genevieve and Peter criss-cross the States, dropping in on a houseboat in Seattle, a beach house in Malibu, South to Austin Texas to a pool pad, a carriage house in upstate New York, and a historic firehouse in D.C. just to name a few.

Why this show is worth watching, is due to the fact that it’s both entertaining and heart-warming, it’s well produced, it has a meaningful outcome, and if you’re a viewer with your own B&B, it’s educational as there’s practical lessons you can take-away, and apply it to your own property to increase your returns! Seeing the expressions and excitement when the home owners come back, to see their properties utterly transformed, it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! And for us who are always looking for new places in the States to visit, it also put a few new places on the map for us, that we might want to check-out on a future trip. So it’s a win-win show for all! Unlike ‘Instant Hotel’, where basically everyone is a loser, 9 from 10 contestants, us the viewing public, and the Seven network (if you can base it on viewership).

So do yourself a favour, check out ‘Stay Here’, it’s a fun, heart-warming series, click here for more info, or click here to start watching immediately on Netflix!