ChatGPT vs Me: Yellowstone and the inevitable march of progress

Since Yellowstone is a show about a man standing firm in the face of progress, I thought I would let this blog post take a similar theme. Below you’ll find my human-written post and two posts written by ChatGPT. What do you think: Is The Wandering Lostie at risk of losing out to the robots?

I binged Yellowstone so I can have a chance to hold a conversation with my parents over the holidays. They—like a large swath of America—are obsessed with the western drama. I gave it a raised eyebrow when it premiered. Kevin Costner on a horse is worth a try. But early reviews were not good. I wrote it off as a lame attempt to plug a famous movie star into a trashy TV show. 

Then mom and dad would not shut up about it. They needed the clothes. (Surprisingly hard to find back then. Now you can shop by character.) They discovered other people who watched and talked about it with them in person. This must have been what it was like to live in the J.R. Ewing era. And somehow they found it without the kids having to tell them what channel is Paramount Network. That’s when you know a show is popular.

When I found out my Comcast internet package includes Peacock Premium, I figured this is the right time to catch up. Wait, what? You just said it’s on Paramount Network but you’re catching up on Peacock? Yep. Because of a massive oopsie, Paramount Network’s biggest show streams on Peacock. The business of Hollywood is a spaghetti mess, and selling the rights to Yellowstone might bring more money than Paramount would earn from new and recurring subscribers.  But as all streamers desperately search for profitability, the execs at Paramount can’t be thrilled about their smash hit streaming somewhere else. As a brand marketer I’m dying inside over it. Their excuse is Paramount+ didn’t exist when Yellowstone premiered. Remember CBS All Access? It already included other Paramount/CBS/Viacom content. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I digress. 

I sat down for episode one expecting to see cheap, shallow television. I was wrong to assume. (Cheap in the narrative sense, not financially. One look at the sweeping ranch setting tells you this show costs money.) Yellowstone doesn’t try to explore characters like Breaking Bad or weave complexity like Lost. No one is going to come full circle on or end the show a different person than they began it. They’re all caught in a loop of anger and unhappiness.

Instead it blends universal themes other modern shows succeeded with:

Messed up kids and a bad dad. Yellowstone is Succession on a ranch. Jamie, Kayce and Beth Dutton are Kendall, Shiv and Roman Roy. Children of an bad father they can never please. None of them are happy. Jamie always thinks he’s one act of paternal service away from the approval his father will never give him. Beth stopped maturing the moment her mother died. Kayce is a real man with emotions struggling to live in a culture of Stetson men. Now that I think about it, Beth and Kendall would make a great couple. Hideous human beings deserve each other. 

Detestable characters like these (except for Kayce, who you could hang with and not feel dirty about it) can only succeed if the acting is too damn good to ignore. Both shows deliver. These six actors perform at the peak of their craft.

The inevitable march of progress. 

“I want everything that John Dutton has. I want the Yellowstone.” — Thomas Rainwater, Chief of the Broken Rock Reservation. 

“I don’t know how to kill cattle. You stupid fuckinging redneck. I’ll tell you what I do know how to do. I know how to crush empires. And I will crush your father’s.” — Dan Jenkins, California real estate developer, to Kayce Dutton.

“I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall it bashes against. And I will not be the one who breaks.” – John Dutton, owner of Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

This is Downton Abbey on a ranch. Robert Crawley isn’t the stubborn bastard John Dutton is, but they both face the reality that their families’ way of life is incompatible with where the outside world is going. The Earl of Grantham does his best to make the transition easy. John Dutton would rather die (and damn near has). He may beat back Dan Jenkins, but there will always be another Malcom Beck. Another Market Equities. Progress never relents. I think we’ll know which Dutton inherits the ranch by the end of this show. Maybe it’s him, maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s grandson Tate. John’s loss of what family truly means makes certain they will be the one who breaks.

Money and power. Wealth is subdued on Yellowstone. The Duttons are extremely comfortable, and I think it’s smart for the show to not give them an opulent Roy-like lifestyle. John Dutton eating caviar would feel off. 

They are, however, rich in power. Political nepotism is not a concern here. John controls the Montana Livestock Association, which Jamie and Kayce both commissioned and everyone just kinda went along with it (his dead son, Lee, was also an agent). When Montana’s Attorney General wanted to step aside, there was no real debate about Jamie Dutton being next (until John changed his mind, which got ugly). Governor Lynelle Perry (who John is fucking) had no problems shepherding John to be her replacement. 

No one in fictional Montana seems to care about this, and that’s just as well. I don’t think this show would be very good at telling political stories. It does enough to establish that John fortified his thus far impenetrable wall with as much political power as he could tolerate. Season five shows him as a miserably bad governor, and I hope they don’t spend too much time making that a problem for him. His challenges should come from outside, not inside. 

Parents. Progress. Power. They’ve driven a lot of great television. They have another hit on their hands with Yellowstone. And this year I’ll have something to talk to my parents about on Sunday nights. 


ChatGPT Prompt 1: Write me a blog post comparing Yellowstone to Succession and Downton Abbey.

Yellowstone, Succession, and Downton Abbey are three popular TV shows that have captivated audiences around the world. While they may seem very different at first glance, they all share some common themes and elements that make them interesting and engaging to watch.

First, let’s take a look at Yellowstone. This show follows the lives of the Dutton family, who own and operate the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. Set in the beautiful and rugged landscape of Montana, Yellowstone showcases the struggles and triumphs of the Dutton family as they fight to protect their land and legacy from outside forces.

Succession, on the other hand, is a show about a wealthy and powerful family who own a global media and entertainment conglomerate. The show explores the cutthroat world of corporate politics and the dysfunctional relationships within the family as they fight for control of the company.

Finally, there’s Downton Abbey, which is set in the early 1900s and follows the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in a fictional English country estate. The show explores the societal changes and challenges that the family faces as they try to maintain their traditional way of life in a rapidly modernizing world.

Despite their differences in setting and time period, all three shows share some common themes. First and foremost, they all focus on the dynamics within wealthy and powerful families. The Duttons, Roys, and Crawleys are all dealing with their own internal struggles and conflicts as they fight to protect their interests and maintain their positions at the top.

Additionally, all three shows explore the challenges that come with trying to hold onto power and wealth in a rapidly changing world. The Duttons must grapple with the encroachment of outsiders on their land, the Roys must navigate the cutthroat world of corporate politics, and the Crawleys must adapt to the shifting societal norms of the early 20th century.

Finally, all three shows feature complex and well-developed characters who are struggling to find their place in the world. The Duttons, Roys, and Crawleys are all dealing with their own personal issues and flaws, and the show does a great job of exploring their motivations and desires.

In conclusion, while Yellowstone, Succession, and Downton Abbey may seem very different at first glance, they all share some common themes and elements that make them engaging and interesting to watch. Whether you’re a fan of the beautiful Montana landscape, the cutthroat world of corporate politics, or the opulent world of English country estates, these shows have something for everyone.

ChatGPT Prompt 2: Write a blog post about how you overcame your initial reservations to enjoy watching Yellowstone. In the post, identify other televisions shows with similar themes and compare them to Yellowstone.

When I first heard about Yellowstone, I was hesitant to watch it. The premise of the show – a family fighting to protect their land and way of life in the face of outside pressures – didn’t seem all that interesting to me. I was also put off by the fact that it was a modern-day Western, a genre that I had never been particularly drawn to. But, after hearing some positive buzz about the show, I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did, because Yellowstone ended up becoming one of my favorite shows.

One of the things that I love about Yellowstone is the way it portrays the struggles of the Dutton family. They are constantly facing challenges – from hostile neighboring landowners and greedy developers to environmental activists and government bureaucrats – and are forced to make tough decisions in order to protect their land and their way of life. The show does an excellent job of portraying the complex issues that the Duttons deal with, and it forces the viewer to think about the difficult choices that people have to make in order to survive in a rapidly changing world.

As I continued to watch Yellowstone, I began to see similarities between it and other shows that I enjoy. For example, the family dynamics on the show are reminiscent of those on shows like This Is Us and Friday Night Lights, where the characters are forced to overcome obstacles and work together in order to achieve their goals. The themes of family, loyalty, and perseverance are also present in shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, where the main characters are caught up in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Despite these similarities, however, Yellowstone stands out as a unique and compelling show. The beautiful cinematography, strong performances, and well-written story all come together to create a show that is both engaging and thought-provoking. If you’re someone who enjoys shows that tackle complex themes and feature richly drawn characters, then I highly recommend giving Yellowstone a try. You may find, like I did, that it quickly becomes one of your favorite shows.

Why I didn’t hate the Dexter ending

It took incredible effort on my part, but I made it to the end of Dexter. Normally I won’t binge a show this hard during the baseball season, and in truth I didn’t intend to crush it as fast as I did. But some extra time on planes and the All-Star break opened the door and, boy, did I run through it. Seasons four through eight in barely one month. 

I can’t honestly credit the show’s quality for the rush. The first season after Rita died was good, then things got wobbly. Unlike a lot of fans, I did enjoy the way the show took Debra apart in season six. She needed to evolve after Lundy and making her realize her true feelings toward Dexter helped sell seasons seven and eight. 

The real reason I raced through this show was to get to the end. I wanted to see what people so thoroughly hated. That sentiment stayed in my head throughout the last episode and to the very last scene when I thought…that’s what people thought was so awful? I thought the show ended fine. Not great, but fine. 

Why didn’t it piss me off? I can identify four reasons. 

Reason one: Will he or won’t he?

Season eight put this question to bed in the first episode. After Deb shot Captain LaGuerta to protect Dexter and the end of season seven, the show could have come back for a final run that saw Miami Metro turn on both Morgans.* Skipping ahead six months and bringing on new characters proved that wasn’t going to happen. Fans who wanted the finale to answer this question weren’t paying attention to the show telling them to forget about it.

Reason two: Season 8 lacked epicness

A great final season feels like it’s barreling towards the finish. Every episode makes you more excited to see how this will all come together. The second-to-last episode dismisses with the secondary storylines so the finale can end the series. This season of Dexter never had that feeling because we were just chasing another run-of-the-mill bad guy.

The introduction of Dr. Vogel really drives this point home. Revealing that Harry had help coaching Dexter into a serial killer would have been—should have been—really cool. In an alternate reality where the world knows the truth about Dexter Morgan, she could come forward to Miami Metro as the only person who can help catch him. 

Instead she played Dr. Phil to Dexter and Deb, and it did not make for compelling TV. Putting her in danger fell flat, too. Why should we care about the fate of a character we just met? Her son being a somewhat lackluster bad guy didn’t help. Season eight had a low ceiling with that as the main storyline. There’s nothing there that could build up to an incredible finish, so about two-thirds through the season I stopped expecting it to.

Reason three: I’m okay with Deb’s death

Some people were upset we didn’t get to see Deb suffer her stroke. I’m not. It might have had punch to see it happen while talking to Quinn about their future. It would also have been cliche. 

Her death sits well with me because, in the end, I think she got the death she would have wanted in that situation. Debra Morgan would not have chosen to be a vegetable. Dexter making that decision for her was bittersweet and the first time he’s killed for mercy rather than vengeance. A nice bit of character evolution in the show’s closing moments. 

Reason four: I’m also okay with Dexter’s outcome

This is what got people really fired up. Throwing Debra into the ocean, faking his death and running off to the woods is not the ending fans wanted. But it’s an ending true to the show and to Dexter’s belief that he’s a danger to everyone around him. Bingeing the show helped drive this point home because it all happened for me in rapid succession. Rita died because he didn’t kill Arthur Mitchell in time. Zach Hamilton and Dr. Vogel died because he didn’t get to Oliver Saxon. So did Deb. Would Hannah be next? Would Harrison? 

Dexter couldn’t take that chance. Standing on his balcony lamenting what it felt like to finally have human emotions showed him he couldn’t risk being in the lives of the people he loved. So he ran. What did you want him to do in the context of the previous four seasons? 

What I really loved about this was it is not a happy ending. That’s okay! Lesser shows would have given Deb and Quinn a life together or showed Angle making Captain. Dexter went a different direction. In a way it’s the ending I wish Revenge would have had.

I can’t put Dexter in my Pantheon of prestige television. It’s probably Showtime’s greatest show ever, but that’s grading on a curve because, well, Showtime is kinda lame. It lands firmly in that second level of shows I enjoyed watching, but can’t quite obsess over. We’ll see if that changes when I get to New Blood.

*This may have helped bring some epicness to the final season, but I think the show would have really struggled. Bautista, Quinn and Matthews were effective supporting characters for Dexter and Deb. They weren’t great supporting characters; they couldn’t have carried the season without help. A stronger Dr. Vogel could have been that. 

5 ideas for NBC to stop the Olympics TV ratings decline

The 2022 Winter Olympics are over, and once again NBC is dealing with headlines like these:

Winter Olympics end with smallest audience ever

Beijing Olympic ratings were the worst of any winter games

Winter Olympics deliver smallest viewing audience ever

The persistent “worst Olympics ever” narrative is even leading to articles questioning the business case for NBC’s long-term multi-billion rights deal. 

Declining broadcast TV ratings are nothing new and certainly much of the Games’ plummet is due to factors not deriving from the competition. But that doesn’t make NBC blameless. I think it’s missing the mark on how to view its Olympics deal in the context of the modern entertainment landscape. As I’ve said before, sports are just another type of content now. It’s not “sports and Netflix”, it’s “content”.

NBC stood up its own streaming platform—Peacock—so I’m certain its corporate brass understand it at least part of the way. To put a stop to headlines like these the network’s suits need to treat their Olympics deal as an exclusive library of content no different than they do the Law & Order franchise.

Here’s a look at what great content factories do versus what NBC does with the Olympics.

Great content factories: Have a single platform for delivering content with personalized recommendation engines.

NBC has: Three different apps that present the same content to everyone.

The NBC app hasn’t worked on my Apple TV in more than a week covering the last two days of the Olympics and the Law & Order return. At first crashed after the logo screen. Now it sits on the logo screen indefinitely.

But all was not lost because I can also stream on the Peacock and NBC Sports apps. Wait, why is NBC streaming across three separate apps? There aren’t three Netflixes. There’s just Netflix. What sense does it make to spread your audience across multiple platforms and dilute your ability to scale technology? Do they have a cross-platform profile of me so NBC Sports knows what I was watching on NBC main? This is as dumb as if Hulu separate apps for OTT cable and its owned content library.

I don’t understand NBC’s failure here. If the network wants advertisers to believe its streaming platforms can deliver value that makes up for the decline in linear TV ratings it has to do better.  

(I should also note this is a bigger problem for NBC than the Olympics. Did you know there’s no Golf Channel app for Apple TV? Or Roku. Or Fire TV. You have to find Golf Channel buried in the NBC Sports App or deep in the on-screen guide in the NBC app. This is golf we’re talking about. A sport with obsessive fans. NBC boasts more than 2,200 hours of live golf coverage with no dedicated OTT streaming app. Unreal.)

Great content: Follows a formula the audience is familiar with.

NBC Olympics coverage: Presents Olympics events differently than any other sporting event.

We hear this all the time: “Sports alone won’t draw an audience for the Olympics. You have to tell the human interest stories behind the athletes.” That’s not wrong, but I think declining broadcast ratings show this approach to covering the Games has failed.

Because here’s the thing: Americans watch sports. A lot. That’s conditioned us to receiving sports content in a certain structure. We expect a beginning, consistent action, innings or halftimes to mark key points in the contest, and drama that builds toward a definitive conclusion. 

In my viewing experience NBC consistently fails to present Olympic events in that structure. It spends too much timing cutting away to other sports or sandwiching features throughout the actual game play. That’s jarring for viewers because it clashes with our conditioning. Imagine if Amazon made you watch 15 minutes of backstory on Rachel Brosnahan in the middle of Mrs. Maisel. You’d tune out.

NBC has gone so far down this road that sports don’t look like sporting events anymore. Its broadcasts are too often weird mashups of multiple sports with no dramatic flow, as if the network treats the 3 hours of primetime coverage as the event instead of, you know, the actual competitions. How are we supposed to be engaged with figure skating when there’s a 30-minute half-pipe qualifying segment in the middle of the men’s short program? 

(Side note: I never want to see qualifying on primetime Olympics coverage. Ever. We tune in to see people win and lose medals, not to see them advance to the next round.)

This is sort of understandable when the Games are in a timezone that allows them to be carried live. NBC and the other global broadcast partners have to work with the International Olympic Committee on this. Olympic Games are made-for-TV events, not made-for-in-person events. The IOC must be willing to manipulate the schedule and timing of its events to produce the most compelling sports content possible or it simply won’t provide viewers a compelling reason to tune in.

It’s different when the Games are held in Beijing or Tokyo and primetime is mostly tape delayed. When that’s the case there’s zero excuse to not edit the events together into a format American viewers are used to. Who cares if a sliver of the audience saw the result online 13 hours ago? Without seeing NBC’s internal data I venture to guess the vast majority of the primetime audience watches tape-delayed events not knowing the outcome. Build content for them. The glorious thing about media in 2022 is you can stream the event live for people who want to get up at 3am and air it all again in primetime. What a time to be alive.

Great content factories: Build our bond with actors and writers.

NBC: Has too few endearing broadcasters.

How can NBC create connection with viewers when Olympic athletes come and go? By giving us consistent broadcasters. Voices like Jim McKay, Bob Costas and Al Michaels are part of Olympic history precisely because we repeatedly associated them with the Games’ biggest moments and brightest stars. 

Just like having great writers helps publishers build a loyal user base, great broadcasters can help NBC build a connection to viewers that endures from Games to Games. We should want to tune in for Mike Tirico or Ted Robinson (who’s buried on short track speed skating) as much as we want to see the athletes. We’re never going to have that connection with Bill Doleman, Shane Bacon, Leigh Diffey, Steve Schlanger, Jason Knapp, Trace Worthington or Todd Harris. I devoured primetime content for the past two Winter Olympics and still had to look up those names. Hollywood content studios already know viewers will watch a show just because it’s from Shonda Rhimes or stars an actor who they locked up in a first-look deal. NBC has to approach its broadcasters the same way if it wants to build an audience that will tune in every two years. 

But here’s the problem: Unlike FOX, CBS and ABC/ESPN, NBC lacks the pro and college sports deals necessary for discovering and grooming new voices. Instead the network focuses on marquee deals with the NFL, USGA, Notre Dame football and Triple Crown horse racing. You’re not going to put green play-by-play announcers on those properties. Without a farm system there’s really no way to find someone new without poaching them from one of the bigger sports networks.

I think there’s a way out of this though, and it leads to my next obstacle for NBC to tackle…

Great content platforms: Keep you coming back for more.

NBC: All but ignores Olympic sports outside the Games.

In a world where sports are just content you can’t rely on drawing a massive audience with infrequent tentpole content. I’m aware of no television show or publisher who succeeds putting out content once every four years. Yet that is exactly how NBC treats the Olympics. No wonder it’s hemorrhaging viewers. You can’t expect anyone to be loyal to that content calendar. TV shows put out new seasons every year for a reason. 

Fixing this is where things get serious and expensive for the network. 

Most of us pay no attention to Olympic sports outside of the Summer and Winter Games. NBC needs to change this behaviour and view the cost as a necessary investment to get a return on the $7,750,000,000 it spent buying Olympic rights. NBC Sports Network would have been—should have been—the perfect platform for this. Heads should roll at NBC HQ for that failure because it directly relates to being unable to build a stable audience for the real Olympic Games. The stakes are too high to fall on your face this hard and keep your job. But it happened and it’s time to figure out how to use its remaining properties to help these sports earn a bigger piece of our sports consciousness. 

The IOC has a role to play here, too. To keep itself relevant it needs broadcasters. Broadcasters need advertisers. Advertisers follow viewers. The IOC has to understand all of that is downstream from expanding the fan base of Olympic sports. It should view this similar to MBL’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities or First Tee, a joint nonprofit funded by some of American golf’s most prominent governing bodies.

Great content platforms: Make it easier to find what you want.

NBC: Does anyone know when curling is on?

The last obstacle NBC has to solve should be the easiest: Offering a clear broadcast schedule. We’re living in the age of apps. We should be able to download the NBC app and set up custom schedules with alerts when a broadcast goes live (and just for when a broadcast goes live, not with the results). If there’s a way to do this, I couldn’t find it. 

Trying to deduce the schedule for a particular sport through the OTT apps brings us back to the first problem: The apps are terrible. They’re hard to navigate and there’s almost no consistency between NBC, Peacock and NBC Sports. But for the peacock logo you wouldn’t even know they’re from the same company. If you’re not compelled by the announcer and you haven’t watched it in four years, are you really going to work this hard to find when rhythmic gymnastics is going to be on? Well okay maybe yes because it’s the best Summer Olympics sport. But you get my drift. At some point if content is too hard to find you move on to something else. I can tell you right now new episodes of 1883 come out on Sundays, Mrs. Maisel on Fridays and Law & Order on Thursdays. I should be able to tell you when the ski cross final airs.

Thank you, loyal reader, for sticking with this incredibly long post. The moral of the story boils down to this: NBC seems willing to buy the rights to broadcast Olympic content, but unwilling to invest in making it successful. It will continue to face recurring stories about historically low TV ratings until it recognizes that sports are just content and figures out how to deliver the Games in a way that’s relevant to the modern audience.

Yellowjackets: My thoughts plus a bombshell theory

Yellowjacket’s creators said they “get very irritated with shows that drag everything on forever and don’t give you any answers” but that’s exactly what they did with Showtime’s most recent hit series. Questions raised in a thrilling pilot go unaddressed for seven lackluster episodes until the final two installments finally begin to deliver the show’s promise to tell us how a team of high school soccer players turned to canabilism in the Canadian wilderness.

The pilot opens with an unidentified girl running through a snowy forest, clearly frightened for her life. We learn that’s for good reason when she falls a hidden pit lined with spikes. Later she’s hung upside down, bled out and eaten by a bunch of costumed weirdos. Okay sweet, we’re gonna get the payoff for that this season. Wrong! After its first 10-episode run we don’t know who fell in the hole and only have a hint toward who ate her.

Talk about irritating.

My first note during the pilot was “Something obviously happened to these girls beyond a plane crash. They mystery is what.” That’s easy enough to understand and watch for, but I spent most of the season wondering what they were exploring within that construct. I guess the story is how these four adult women cannot escape a horrible experience they all shared as girls. I get all of that, and it’s well done because of the excellent acting. But until we start to see the truly awful things they did to survive I can’t really buy into it. 

Speaking of surviving, there’s precious little story devoted to how they manage to get by day-to-day. Like La Brea, Yellowjackets gives a cursory explanation for how they get food and that’s about it. Why not use the survival requirements of living in the woods to show us who these girls are? That would have been more compelling than using the Canadian wilderness as proxy for a high school, which is basically what we got. Other than a few references to “weeks” there’s no concrete sense of how much time is passing either. We give TV a pass for having stranded characters with great hair and clean shaves, but it needs to give us at least some sense of the passing time so we can understand how much ordeal the characters have been through. 

There is a lot of good here though. Like I said the acting is strong. The casting of actors who look so much like their older and younger counterparts is downright eerie. We also get a few really solid spook moments that will make you question why you decided to watch this show alone in the dark. 

There is apparently a five-season arc for this series, in direct violation of my YOBO principle. Yellowjackets is full of strong acting and that’s why I’ll be around for season two, but it needs to do better to earn those last three.

Some more annoyances:

The reporter shows up in episode one and I’m thinking great, that’s who they will use to mirror what the audience is thinking. Similar to how Hurley became the voice of the fans on Lost. Wrong! She spent most of season one chained up in Misty’s basement. Why? We don’t need that to know Misty is a psychopath. If this is part of the five-season plan that will flare up later when the adult survivors learn Taissa is the one who hired her then great. But parking her character in chains for the season was a complete waste.

After a werewolf bites Van’s face through to the bone, her friends throw her on a stack of wood and start her on fire WITHOUT CHECKING TO MAKE SURE SHE’S DEAD. It’s completely implausible to me that no one would say hey maybe check her pulse before we burn her corpse. I know we’re teenagers stranded in the woods here but come on. This is Showtime, not daytime. 

In the same episode as they nearly burnt Van, adult Shauna and Taissa have a long talk about what they thought their futures would be. Shauna revealed she was going to Brown, Taissa laid out a plan that largely came true. Wait a minute. These girls were stranded together for 19 months and never once talked about this? I cannot buy it.

They cleared an entire runway with little axes. Please. How amazing that the only spot in this vast wilderness with zero trees happened to be straight ahead of this little prop plane. 

I know 1996 was, like, eons of technology ago. But we seriously couldn’t track an airplane across Canada? I don’t believe that. The players ignored the pre-flight announcement about altering their flight plan to avoid bad weather but the writers clearly wanted us to hear it. This isn’t Oceanic 815 going astray over the open ocean. 

And finally, my bombshell theory: The girls are still out there. The four adult survivors—Shauna, Taissa, Misty, Natalie—share more than a fanatical devotion to silence about their ordeal. They seemingly live in constant fear of people finding out what they did “out there.” But if everyone else is dead, what is there to fear? Society frowns on canibalism but I think will give them a pass here. No, I think they fear the girls who are still out there. Still in the woods. Still eating…still surviving. 

That’s the kind of thing that would scare people this brave dead silent. And maybe make this show memorable. 

I got Netflix! Squid Game, Ozark and The Queen’s Gambit reviewed

You would think the author of a well-read television blog would have Netflix. You’d be wrong. My relationship with it (and all the streamers except Paramount+) has been full of one-month stands. Get caught up, get my clothes, get out by breakfast. That’s how we’ve been. But over the holidays I mooched my brother’s subscription and ended up getting my own so I could finish the list of shows I started.

Here then are my thoughts on three of Netflix’s most popular shows in recent years: Squid Game, Ozark and The Queen’s Gambit.

Squid Game

Squid Game is, without a doubt, the most difficult show I’ve ever watched. Not because it was hard to understand or bad (it was neither) but because I had to work so hard to find pleasure in it. 

This show is built around death. Rampant, unrepentant, graphic death. No one is coming to save the 456 players who bet their lives on a chance claim the $38 million prize. Misery is everywhere. Death awaits for all but one. 


There are no heroes in Squid Game. But there are sympathetic characters. It was seriously failing my who are these people and why should I care test for the first few episodes until I understood the characters were experiencing the same misery and dread I was as a viewer. Marvelous! I never felt stuck on an island during Lost or fighting for the crown on Game of Thrones. Knowing I would be hit with scene after scene of violent death gave me something in the characters I sympathize with. Not just that there would be more death, though. That there would be death for every character except the one who won the final game.

Squid Game’s creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, said expanding the story from a movie to a TV show let him “focus on the relationships between people [and] the stories that each of the people had.” That’s what made the show work. You watch players form relationships knowing they might have to look each other in the eye and kill each other in the next game. Building bonds with other humans is supposed to be joyful and exciting. Being in the Squid Game wouldn’t allow participants or viewers to experience any such thing. Even winning does not bring relief. How could you be elated to have all the money you could ever dream of if you got it this way?

Squid Game wants you to think the financiers who watch the players (quite ridiculously, I might add. Easily the low point of the series.) are the show’s villains. They certainly are awful people. But I nominate a different character: Oh Il-nam. This bastard played the game knowing they wouldn’t let him die. For that, I hate him. 

One last note: I recommend watching with the original Korean dialogue and English subtitles. That way you get the emotion the actors intend in their performance.  


Marty Byrde is the most pragmatic of bastards. Nothing phases this guy because he’s never thinking about what just happened, as if The Langoliers wipe the past from his memory. In Ozark’s first episode, he watches a Mexican drug lord shoot a woman through a bathroom door simply for knowing her boyfriend—Marty’s business partner—launders drug money. Does Marty Byrde dwell on this? No. He takes her murder, and the subsequent execution of his partner’s father and his partner, in stride. Instead of becoming the fourth victim of the night he convinces the drug lord to let him move to the Ozarks and continue to launder narcotics money by investing in unsuspecting businesses. 

Marty Byrde concocts this plan on his knees with a gun to his head. 

But it’s not a desperate plea. Jason Bateman is too good at this role to make you believe anything other than Marty Byrde had this plan in his back pocket for years to use in this exact situation. In reality he never heard of the Ozarks until his partner showed him a travel brochure earlier that afternoon.

And Marty is, by any measure, a bastard. He has no remaining affection for his wife, Wendy, after finding out she is sleeping with another man. But in an interesting and appreciated twist, Wendy knows Marty’s dirty deeds. In fact, she signed off on his initial decision to start laundering money for the cartel. 

I loved this, and it made me start to see Ozark in the style of House of Cards. Marty and Wendy do not have a romantic marriage. Maybe they once did, but his affair and the strains of money laundering squelched it. They are Frank and Claire Underwood now. It’s easy to envision Marty and Wendy as what Frank and Claire would have become if they children to worry about.

They also solve problems the same way the Underwoods did. Which is to say they don’t solve them at all. Instead of fixing whatever is wrong they patch over it with a new problem that itself will get “solved” with yet another problem. Marty launders money and Wendy manipulates politics but their real skill is managing this Ponzi scheme of problems they build around them. That was one of my favourite things about House of Cards and it’s my favourite thing about Ozark. The train goes off the track and keeps tumbling down the hill, picking up speed until it hits the ground with the force of a shot to the head. *wink wink*

Wendy is no slouch in the bastard department either. She spends zero time wallowing in having her life uprooted and gets right to work keeping her family alive. She turns on both of her children and her brother at different points in the story. Laura Linney deserves the awards. 

I suppose of the Underwoods had children they would be a lot like Charlotte and Jonah Byrde. Angry. Rebellious. Whip smart. Resigned to the destiny their parents’ poor choices fated on them. 

The rest of the show is just sharp. Hollywood is often guilty of reducing “rural” characters to being dumb as rocks so the “smarter” characters can coach them up or save them. Not Ozark. It gives its rednecks credit for the lives they’ve led and makes them the ability to control their own storylines. Introducing Jacob Snell first before revealing his wife, Darlene, as the true queen of their local drug empire is a fantastic misdirection. There is no such sleight of hand with introducing Ruth Langmore. You know from her first scene to be on guard anytime she cocks her shotgun at you. They’re women, they’re strong and along with Wendy Byrde they push the story forward just as often as the male characters. Good for Ozark. 

I’ve heard people compare Ozark to Breaking Bad. I sort of see it. Marty gives in to the temptation to use his brilliance at a very pedestrian skill for a life of crime; Wendy decides to go bad when it means keeping her family safe. But I think the comparison misunderstands Breaking Bad more than it understands Ozark.

To me, Breaking Bad was the story of what a proud father would do to provide for his family if fear was not an option, and it explored that question through Walt’s relationship with Jesse. Every aspect of its story was downstream from those two characters coming together. I don’t feel the same foundation with Ozark. Heisenberg was absolutely fearless, but the Byrdes live under the constant specter of what happens to their family if they fail. (I think this article makes a solid point about Wendy being more like Walt than Marty, but she’s not the protagonist of her own story until life forces her to be.) And while it’s true the events of Ozark are downstream from Marty and Wendy’s joint decision for him to begin working with the cartel, they do it initially out of simple greed. It’s a conscious decision less forced on them than Walt’s decision to go into business with Jesse Pinkman after realizing what losing him would mean for his family. To the extent anyone is really forced to become a drug kingpin, I suppose.

The Queen’s Gambit

If you fictionalized the real-life story of Tiger Woods I think it would come out looking like The Queen’s Gambit.

That’s what I kept thinking watching Elizabeth Harmon’s addiction lay in wait to derail her meteoric chess career. From the first moment 8-year-old Beth sat down at the chess board with basement-dwelling janitor Mr. Shaibel, she was destined to be the greatest in the world. She beat everyone older than her, better than her and especially everyone who underestimated her. She devoured the art and science of the game to become invincible. 

But like Tiger, Beth teetered on the edge of ruin for too long to avoid falling. The same obsessive personality that made her a chess prodigy made her an addict. It nearly cost her everything. 

All of that comes together because Anna Taylor-Joy is perfectly cast. It’s tremendous to see an actor and a role unite this well. My interest in the show waned as Beth’s arc became clear, so this is what kept me on the couch past the halfway point. She deservedly won a shelf full of awards. 

One last note: I would watch the spin-off with Beth’s friend Jolene.