Snowbound and Binge Watching

“Blow high, blow low, not all its snow/ Could quench our big screen’s ruddy glow.” With apologies to John Greenleaf Whittier.

Up North they had twenty, thirty, forty inches of snow. Down here, y’all, we got maybe three inches. But it was the usual mix of snow, then sleet, then freezing rain, then more snow. The result, in a place with one snowplow per 100,000 residents and a teacup of road salt, is stasis. The roads ice up and everything stops, except for a few stragglers who speed up to get home, hit the ice, and crash into each other.

In a matter of hours, the North shoves the snow to one side and life goes on. In the South, schools close, airports close, and in a sure sign of cataclysm prayer meetings are cancelled, everyone stays indoors and waits for the ice storm to bring down trees and power lines. Then its lights out, no heat and a return to the 19th century, huddled around the fireplace if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Luckily our lights stayed on, and with them the internet, Wi-Fi and cable TV so we weren’t forced to read prose, eat cold beans from the can, or converse. Instead we were able to carbo-load and binge watch the days away while waiting for the thaw, pausing occasionally to strain our backs trying to chip away a bit of the ice from front walk and driveway.

More luck came in the form of a recommendation from fellow TV-and-movie obsessive Charlie Elkins. He aimed me at “River,” a six part British series about an eponymous police detective played with full-on Swedish depressiveness by Stellan Skarsgard.

River has reasons to be miserable. His partner has been murdered in front of his eyes, as we learn in a flashback. She’s played by Nicola Walker, familiar to fans of “Last Tango in Halifax” as the farmer daughter of Derek Jacobi whose life is a worse train wreck than Amy Schumer’s. Here, she comes from a lower class family often on the wrong side of the law, so her becoming a cop has led to estrangement.

Yet she is filled with life and joyfulness. She is at the opposite temperamental pole from River, who is a recessive, socially inept introvert who loves her from afar while she sings karaoke disco songs and is the life of every party. The problem is, she’s dead, except in the grief-stricken head of River where she’s alive and kicking.

River goes around talking to her, which tends to his alarm his diffident new partner, Adeel Akhtar, and his boss, played by the wonderful Lesley Manville. At first you think it odd she is wasted in a bit part, but by episode five you realize the plot has propelled her into the middle of a case that has turned horribly personal, and her response is something to see.

The richly layered tale centers on solving the murder of Walker’s character, but it leads to a widening pool of crime, corruption and deceit. With River, we discover a compromised legal system, crime families, an illegal immigrant scam, office politics, grief counselling, lonely despair and true love. A fantastic mini-series in which every part is beautifully cast and played, with Skarsgard, Walker, Akhtar and Manville masterful.

Still snowbound, I recalled being bemused that Amazon had just won Gold Globes for “Mozart in the Jungle” and its star, Gael Garcia Bernal, as Rodrigo, the young tyro conductor brought in to save a financially shaky New York orchestra. It’s a backstage story of a cultural institution with the full complement of backstabbing, ruthless competition, desperate fund raising, arrogant patrons, sex, drugs, and cameo roles by actual classical superstars like Joshua Bell and Emanuel Ax.

We watch the hijinks through the eyes of Hailey (Lola Kirke), an aspiring oboist who fails an audition but is hired as an assistant by Rodrigo, who pronounces her name – jai alai. The supporting cast is full of skilled performers. Malcolm McDowell is the aging conductor replaced by the kid who is supposed to breathe new life into the institution he loves. But McDowell was as reliable as Bernal is flamboyant. Saffron Burrows is a sadder-but-wiser cellist and former mistress of McDowell. Debra Monk is the first chair oboe player who fears Hailey as a possible usurper. Gretchen Moll is a scorched earth labor negotiator brought in to fight the long-suffering symphony’s manager, Bernadette Peters, for better pay and benefits for the musicians.

“Mozart in the Jungle” is a hoot, and we cheerfully gulped down the 20 half-hour episodes of seasons one and two and are anxious for three to come streaming our way. All in all, a delightful way to pass a long weekend before signing off and going out to hack the remaining ice away. I close with this fond memory of yesteryear.

The aging Groucho Marx and a statuesque, lightly-clad starlet appeared at an Academy Awards broadcast years ago to present an award. Groucho delivered a few clever remarks. The starlet gushed in response. “Oh Groucho, you’re so witty.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“Of course you are. Who’s wittier?”

“The guy who wrote ‘Snowbound.’”

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