Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pop Journal: Roku; Jessica Jones

New Roku

I was an early adopter to Roku, the pioneering manufacturer of set-top streaming video players.

Like most Americans, I like sitting on my couch in front of the TV, and the Roku allowed me to stream Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime right onto my set - much nicer and more comfortable than sitting in front of a computer screen.

Seeing as how those three services, plus over-the-air free TV, provided me with everything I'd ever want to watch - plus way more - at a much lower cost, I cut our cable service for good.

For the most part, the player worked great. The only issue it seemed to have was occasionally with Hulu, where the picture would freeze up and pausing and rewinding didn't work well at all. I'm not sure whether the problem was due to the player or Hulu's stream, but it was minor in the grand scheme.

Over the past year, however, it became clear that my old Roku wouldn't be able to handle new offerings such as HBO and Showtime's new streaming services. The prospect of being able to watch "Game of Thrones" or, eventually, the new "Twin Peaks" without going through the middle man of the cable company - and paying for tons of channels I'd never watch - is tremendously appealing.

So, I got a new Roku a few weeks back. There are few different models, but I figured the Roku 2 provided everything I needed. And, since hooking it up, I really like it.

For starters, Hulu works great. No crashes. No problems pausing or rewinding. I also like that you can use the player to search across all platforms. Say you want to see whether a movie is on Netflix, where it won't cost anything extra, versus Amazon, where you might have to shell out a few book to rent it, the machine tells you.

There's also a "feed" feature, which you can set up to alert you if there are new episodes available of a show you like, or if a new season of a series has been added to Netflix or one of the other services you use.

I haven't subscribed to HBO or Showtime, yet. At the moment, my household is too caught up watching reruns of "Seinfeld," "Parks and Rec" and "Doctor Who" to even bother. But eventually I'll try them out.

Streaming is such an efficient - maybe too efficient - way of watching TV and movies that it's sometimes cool to watch something when it's actually "on." We did that recently while tuning into the State of the Union Address and to the new season of "Downtown Abbey" (yes, I'm hooked) and it was kind of fun to have that experience again. But I really like being able to watch what I watch, when I want.

 Jessica Jones

While I'm a streamer, I'm not a binge watcher. I rarely take in more than an episode or two of a show in the evenings. But I finally finished watching Marvel's new Netflix series a couple nights back.

"Jessica Jones" is darker and more thoughtful than the rest of Marvel's TV and movie universe. It forces us, via a story involving comic book tropes such as mind control and super strength, to comment on issues of gender, trauma and power.

The show is violent and grim and I sometimes found it hard to watch, let alone enjoy, but it's also smart and, at times, quite funny. I'm very glad I stuck it out.

While I didn't read Alias, the Marvel Comic "Jessica Jones" is based on, I had the impression, back when it came out, that it was just another grim'n'gritty enterprise - a comic making novel use of graphic sex and violence to attract a mostly male audience of aging superhero fans. After all, it's not like Marvel and DC weren't doing a lot of that sort of thing at the time. But if the comic was anything like the TV series, my assumption was unfair.

The character of Jessica, as portrayed in the series by Krysten Ritter, is one of the most important and compelling female genre characters to come along since Buffy. Strong, yet damaged, victimized, yet powerful, she helps us understand how too many men in our society excuse away or attempt to justify intolerable treatment of women.

The rest of the cast, which includes Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Rachael Taylor as Jessica's best friend Trish, is also very good, though I must warn you that if you love David Tennant on "Doctor Who," you may never feel the same way about him after watching him play the villain in the series, the despicable, slimy and utterly creepy Kilgrave.

The only thing about the series that didn't really work for me was a trite subplot involving Jessica's unlikable attorney friend Jeri Hogarth (played by Carrie Ann-Moss). It was tiresome, lacked the freshness of the rest of the series, and didn't go anyplace interesting.

I don't know if it's possible, after this initial season, to tell a story about Jessica that's as moving and meaningful as this one, but I do hope there's more. Ritter, her co-stars and the show's creators have shown they are capable of work that will stick with viewers long after they've finished viewing the final episode.

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