The Middle [2009-2018] (TV Series Review)

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Rating: 4.5/5

Seasons: 9

I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a show so much like this one. I haven’t watched many sitcoms as my interest is mostly into crime thrillers. But wanting a break from my favorite genre, I was browsing through to find a good-feel show and The Middle smashed it out of the park. I am so glad to have found this show. 

The Middle follows the lives of the Hecks- a middle class, perfectly dysfunctional family and their struggles with every day life. It doesn’t take you much time to connect to the characters and warm up to them. Every character is written with so much substance. Each one has their own strengths and flaws which are so common in the real world. You can identify yourself to one character or different characters at different situations. 

Mike Heck is the man of the house- a man of few words. He is easy going and doesn’t take things too seriously. He likes his sports and can sit in his couch watching sports all day. He struggles to express his feelings and the times where he uncomfortably speaks his heart out are the best moments of the show. His relationship, with Sue in particular is so heart warming. He and Frankie make a great team and have a great understanding. 

Frankie Heck is the mother of the house. Yes- her main role is of the mother which she loves to be but at times wishes she didn’t have to. She is loud, hysterical at times, but loves her children a lot. She is lazy and irresponsible, keeps forgetting her children’s school activities and does everything at the last moment. Nevertheless, she is a wonderful mom who craves for her children’s love and attention. She always works very hard to make her family as a normal family- a family who shares their day with each other, sits together for dinner, etc. But it just doesn’t happen. 

Axl Heck is the first of the three children. He symbolises the teenage boys of today perfectly. Lazy and careless with no discipline but with high self esteem, Axl always gets what he wants. But once he gets into the college, reality strikes and he slowly learns that the real world isn’t easy. He has little respect for everyone but deep down loves his family a lot. I wish Axl had more character growth but his character was in a good spot at the end.

Sue Heck is the middle child- happy and excited at all times and full of hope. She is the most positive person in the world. With no talent of any sort, she tries out almost every club and competition meeting failure, but nothing affects her. Even though I found her irritating in the first 2 seasons, the character slowly started growing on me and became sort of an inspiration at the end. She is more like Frankie, who wants her family to do normal things- celebrate birthdays and other festivals, etc. 

Brick Heck is the youngest child and is occasionally mentioned as the mistake. With at least 4 to 5 years age gap between him and Sue, he gets left out of the siblings group all the time. Even from his parents, he gets the least attention. Being a voracious reader, the negligence matters very little to him. Probably after Mike, he is the wisest of the lot. The growth he has from being a weird kid to a slightly less weird teenage boy is great. 

The supporting cast which includes the neighbours- Donoghues, Norwoods and Glossners are great as well. 

What makes The Middle work are the realistic situations and struggles the characters face. Be it problems with the homework or a tap leak or an out of function washing machine- everything is so relatable. Every Thanksgiving, Birthday, Christmas and Anniversary celebrated are memorable. I love how Sue is the only one to take initiative to arrange a party while the boys just put their hands up doing nothing. Also, the series shows how parents aren’t perfect. They try but they fail. They get impatient with the kids just like how kids get impatient with them. They also crave for some good free time, doing things they love. Whenever the show takes the emotional path, they nail it. A funny scene effortlessly turns into an emotional one and you see what family is all about. Below are few of my favorite moments. 

  1. When Mike and Sue has a heart to heart conversation after Mike feels he hasn’t been a cool father to his daughter. Sue reminds him of all the small but great things he does for her- depicting how the gestures needn’t be big but even small ones get to the kids. 
  2. Sue and Axl always have a tom and jerry relationship but whenever Axl does small loving things for his sister, it just brings a smile to your face. 
  3. When Brick sits down to advise his mother not to expect anything from others and start loving herself as she is the best person in her life. 
  4. Sue always has the tendency to dream big and when she dreams for the big colleges, it puts Mike and Frankie in worry as they wouldn’t be able to afford it, forcing them to work more. When Sue realises, she tells them that she dreams big because she loves that feeling but she knows the reality and doesn’t want her parents to worry or stress themselves. The mature Sue. 
  5. When the neighbours come in for help to fix their house’s roof.
  6. The entire Brad track was so sensibly and sensitively handled. When he enters the show as Sue’s boyfriend when they are about 12 years old, Mike and Frankie instantly knows- Brad is gay. But they leave it to Brad to figure it out himself. After Sue and Brad decides to be just friends, and after 7 years of great friendship, Brad after realising it himself, decides to tell Sue. That scene is wonderfully executed. It was all understood. 

There are so many more moments- funny ones like Frankie becoming hysterical because the kids chose Mike over her, the family’s trip to Disneyworld, all the road trips the family takes and the bickering, the forgetting of the blue bag, all the disastrous mother’s day gifts, kids conducting an intervention for the parents, Mike and Frankie taking the house and their lives back from the kids, all the sports meet and competition…the list can go on. 

The cast plays a huge role bringing so much fun to the characters. Every actor plays his/her part so well that you actually connect to the character so well. I can’t pick one- all 5 of them are great. 

The writing is the star of the show. Wonderful storylines for each character and nicely written dialogues and screenplay makes the show so light and comfy. 

If you want to watch something light, heart warming at the same time very relatable, The Middle is the show to go for. 


A Spot of Bother [Book Review]

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Rating: 1.5/5

I read A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time a year and a half back and felt aghast and guilty for not liking it just because it was so well acclaimed by many others. I felt I had the problem for not understanding the story. I didn’t have the brain to get the inner beauty of the book. I always vowed to change this feeling by reading another work of the same author, and get what he is saying. Hence, A Spot of Bother. It breaks me because I still didn’t get it. 

One of the reasons I pick up books from this genre in spite of my favorite and comfort genre being crime is the fact that I need a break from murders and mystery. Want something light to read. Want to follow someone’s life, want to be part of their life. Feel their emotions of happiness and pain. A Man called Ove pulled me into this genre and I am still waiting for some other character to engross me to that extent. A Spot of Bother follows the life of George, a retired man, wife, two grown up kids, working on building his own studio as his retirement mission. His only problem- he gets highly paranoid about his life, his health and fears death. His paranoia is deadly to such an extent that he loses control of himself, behaves erratically, violent- or  moves to the other extreme- closes himself, and attempts suicide unintentionally. His wife, Jean, is in a place where she wants to do something exciting in her life. Her life with George hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been what she always wanted. George was not what she wanted. She wants someone like David, and hence an affair, an affair she keeps hidden from everyone but the truth is, everyone knows and they keep their knowledge hidden from her. 

Coming to the kids. Jamie- stable in life financially, a mess in a personal life. He is in a relationship with Tony, but fears commitment. Lacks confidence in admitting being gay. Tony loses patience and breaks the relationship resulting in Jamie becoming more serious and sensible. Katie is engaged to Ray to be married, but is confused if she loves him. Ray is a great guy, gives her a secured life, loves her son Jacob as his son, but will he be a good husband. Katie is on and off her decision throughout. The interactions between Ray and Jacob, Jacob and George are endearing. 

As characters I felt each one of them intriguing- Jamie was irritating and dull in the beginning but became the best character at the end. Their lives were interesting enough to keep me engaged as well. But the length of the book is too long. George is more or less the central character. His paranoia is funny and even relatable at some points initially but later it just becomes too much. I couldn’t get deep into his character. The melodrama takes stage and the tracks become repetitive. The wedding drama brought back some color to the story but at the end I couldn’t see the point. I can derive my own conclusions of the story, but I couldn’t get the author’s perspective. Was it about George and his turbulent mind or was it about his family’s way of tackling him? I liked the troubled relationships between the family members and how it blooms exactly at the right time needed but- I just kept searching for good moments in the book which were so little. I think the problem I have with Mark Haddon’s books is I have trouble entering the minds of the central character as they are very different. To look from their eyes is way too complicated. Just like I had/have/will always have trouble reading Room. 

Conclusion- The book isn’t for me. The guilt of not having enjoyed the book stays. But I move on…

Keepers of Kalachakra [Book Review]

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Rating: 2/5

Having set a very high bar with his previous works- Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna’s Key and The Sialkot Saga, popular writer Ashwin Sanghi is back with Keepers of Kalachakra, a grand mixture of History, Mythology and Science (HMS). Dan Brown is the master of this combination and Ashwin Sanghi has tried to pull a Dan Brown here. Was he successful?

Before going into the story, I have to say I was highly excited for this book. One, I love Dan Brown’s works. Two, I love Ashwin Sanghi’s works as well. When the ratings and reviews for this book were very positive, my hopes went up even more high.

Honestly, it was an agonizing experience. 

I feel really frustrated, sad and guilty for not liking this book. I could sense the immense hardwork and effort put in by the author to produce something miraculous. It may be something miraculous for many others, but not for me. From the word go, I couldn’t connect to the story. I couldn’t understand the base plot. To make things worse, every chapter seemed to introduce a character and the number seemed never ending. As I said before, I have read and enjoyed Dan Brown and I know his works had more complex descriptions (which I have skipped at times) compared to Keepers of Kalachakra. But the problem was, in every story using HMS, there is at least one main character who is ignorant about the subjects and the wise character explains the concepts in simple words to him/her. In KoK, every character is a genius and I, who is not very well versed in Science, couldn’t understand head or tail. It was like a school text book where scientists were quoted and experiments were discussed. I wasn’t ready to read the same page twice or thrice. Having said that, I applaud the author for taking so much pain to put everything together. It mustn’t have been easy and I get that.

I don’t know what I can say about the story. I completed the book, but I am still not greatly sure about the plot. So- I’ll leave it there. I am not going into it. It’s just that I am so disappointed for not enjoying this one.

Breathe [Web Series Review]

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Rating: 5/5

To what extent will a father go to save the life of his son??

That’s what Breathe is all about. Before I jump into why I absolutely loved this show, I need to first breathe a sigh of relief. Indian Television, even if it’s only web series now, is not all gone down the mud. Hats off to Amazon Prime India and Abundantia Entertainment for putting this amazing production together. 

Star power does help. With the likes of Madhavan and Amit Sadh, Breathe got the much needed attention. But it effectively proved that it’s not all about star power. At the end, it’s about the writing, screenplay, directing, music and all other technical aspects which makes a show stand out. Breathe scores in almost every category. 

Denzil Mascarenhas aka Danny (Madhavan) is a fun loving man- a successful football coach and a wonderful single father to 6 year old, Josh. Josh is suffering from a lung disorder (to put it in simple words) and need a transplantation to survive, a deadline of 6 months to save the little boy. Josh is currently at 4th place in the AB negative donor receiver list. Danny is desperate to save his son and realizes he needs to take matters into his own hands. He has to do something to push Josh up the list and get the much valuable organs. What can he do? In order to secure the organs, the organ donors have to die….right? And that’s what Danny plans to do. Does he succeed in saving his son? Can he live with his actions?

Kabir Sawant (Amit Sadh) is a guilt ridden, drunkard policeman, still unable to come to terms with the accidental death of his daughter, causing him his marriage subsequently. When he realizes his wife, Ria, might be a possible target in a series of killings (By whom? Have a guess?), he and his subordinate, Prakash, gets down to investigate. Slowly connecting the dots and identifying it’s all about organ donors, Kabir’s intuition gets him to Danny. He is sure Danny has something to do with all the deaths. But does he have proof? Does Kabir solve the case and end Danny’s mission? Or does he understand Danny, as a father, and support him? 

I just loved this ethical dilemma. Even till the end, I couldn’t figure out if Danny was right or wrong. He was right as a father but that didn’t justify his actions of killing innocent people, right? It also brought into light the significant need for organ donation, and all the issues that comes along. The writer did a fantastic job with a proper ending which kind off puts everything into perspective. The perfect ending I must say. 

Sequences to highlight. The asthma attack sequence was so thrilling that my breath was caught up for a moment, I swear. Those were the portions you are confused if Danny should succeed or not. The sequence of the bike accident when that young man dies, that was the moment when I felt a tinge uncomfortable with Danny’s mission. The suicide sequence, nice touch to begin the show with that, was scary. Kabir showed what policeman’s intuition is, how he could directly sense something was off with Danny and WOW he was so right. Loved the last revelation bit, wouldn’t give away much here. I wasn’t entirely convinced the need for Danny’s neighbor woman at the tattoo parlor. Seemed unnecessary. Also- Dr Aruna was so quickly forgotten. 

Astounding performances by both Madhavan and Amit Sadh. Madhavan is such a versatile actor who hasn’t really got the right roles to bring out his mountain of talent. He as Danny showed all kinds of emotions, with such perfection. Loved the scenes where he is traumatised by the murders he had committed, his beautiful scenes with Josh, the determination and fire in his eyes- Honestly, I didn’t know he could act so well. He just lit up the screen. Magnificent! Amit Sadh, to be honest I remember him only in Kai Po Che. Didn’t watch any of his other works. But he as Kabir, what an outstanding performance. Very powerful. His nightmare scenes were so impressive. Ably supported by all the other actors. Actors playing Josh, Danny’s mother, Prakash- all brought so much life to their characters. 

As I mentioned in the beginning, every aspect of the production scored well. Loved the title track. It was creepy and well suited the show’s concept. The background music, settings especially the police offices, the cinematography in the murder scenes were top notch. The dialogues were crisp and relevant. 

When I lost hope in Indian Television ever reviving itself, this show comes along. It’s sad that such shows don’t make it to the television, hence reaching many more people, but it’s a start and a very good startI wish GECs free up a slot from their usual meaningless melodramatic shows, to broadcast shows like Breathe.


Next of Kin [2018] [TV Series Review]

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Rating: 2/5

Number of episodes: 6

If I have to describe the feeling when high expectations and thrill sags into extreme disappointment and boredom, this series would be the best reference. Starting off as an intense thriller, a very predictable story and characters left me just wanting the series to end.

Next of Kin follows a Pakistani family settled in London. Mona Harcourt, a successful GP, lives with her husband- Guy Harcourt, son- Sammy and her mother- Mrs Shirani in London. Their lives crash down when Mona’s brother Kareem is brutally killed by unknown terrorist group in Pakistan, the same day when a terrorist bomb attack occurs in London. You feel so sad for the family who have been preparing to celebrate Kareem’s return home. Their plight to retrieve Kareem’s body from Pakistan amidst political and legal hitches, riveting sequences. Then we have Kareem’s son- Danny, who goes missing and the police instantly connects him to the attack and a hunt begins. Mona tries to pull her family together in this grief stricken moment, protect them from conspiracy and betrayal, putting her life and her family’s at risk in the process.

Everything is so convenient. Mona’s character, whom you actually like in the first 2 episodes, becomes so irritating and utterly unconvincing. What started off as a strong character just ended up being helpless and her bizarre decisions and actions just only make things worse. I understand and I don’t expect characters to be perfect, but at least some sensible action from someone is required to retain the sanity of the show. Mona getting shot, getting imprisoned, getting kidnapped- it’s all too much. There are so many family members, and the writer strives hard to give some importance to each one of them through unnecessary story lines, that your attention gets wavered off the plot. Honestly, I don’t think so many characters were needed in the first place. The investigation team or task force or whatever you call is a complete mess. They try to portray the tension and pressure behind every operation but by that time you just lose interest in almost every bit of the plot. I don’t want to start on their shooting aim. Danny is forced to go undercover and provide details about attacks planned. You don’t connect to the seriousness of the situation at all. The pace of the show doesn’t help matters either. No explanation on Danny’s creepy expressions till the end. I took a moment to think- What exactly is the plot of the show? Is it about stopping the terrorist attacks? Is it Mona’s plight to save her family? Is it about Danny? Without a clear purpose, the show fails to impress at the end.

The actors did their best to emote their characters. Was good to see Shabana Azmi on screen but her character didn’t have much to do. Archie Punjabi and Jack Davenport did their best to keep the show together. Fine performances from the supporting cast as well.

Next of Kin started off very promisingly. But messy writing in the 2nd half makes this show easily forgettable.

Tell No One [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Tell No One

This phrase appears so many times in the book but at the most appropriate places. Written by Harlan Coben, this story is so intriguing, so thrilling that this is the definition of unputdownable. 

Dr David Beck is still mourning the loss of his wife, Elizabeth. It’s been 8 years. Childhood friends turned lovers turned husband-wife, they were inseparable. One night at their cabin by a lake, their anniversary turns into horror when both of them are attacked with Elizabeth abducted. After 5 days, she is found killed, killed by a serial killer- Killroy. Case is closed but Beck never overcomes the grief. After 8 years, Beck receives an email which cites everything personal to him and Elizabeth making him wonder if Elizabeth was alive. With more emails, he is convinced his wife is alive. Two more bodies are found near the cabin which reopens the case. Beck questions Elizabeth’s father, a cop, about the body he identified and when he stammers, Beck is sure Elizabeth is alive and sets out to find her. Griffin Scope, father of Brandon Scope, sends his hitmen to close all loose ends connecting to the night at the cabin. Why? He wants to avenge his son’s death. Why? During Beck’s quest to find Elizabeth, he nearly gets arrested and later abducted only to be saved by his friends. Who wants to kill him? Same people who attacked him on that night? Why? And why has Elizabeth taken 8 years to contact her husband when she was alive? Elizabeth’s father- he has all the answers. 

This story has to be one of the best I have ever read, story-wise. Seriously. It is filled with mystery, thrill, suspicion and keeps you spinning theories. It’s fast and doesn’t waver from the plot. It has the occasional unnecessary description which I skipped as the story was too intense to waste time on descriptions. Sorry, author. The characters are simple and easy to connect to. You don’t have to turn back pages to understand who is who. The 2nd half of the book is the best. One of the best thrillers I have read in recent times. 

My first Harlan Coben wasn’t impressive, but this one compensates for that. A must read. 

Bosch [Season 1 Review]

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Rating: 2.5/5

Network: Amazon Original

Episodes: 10

There have been numerous TV series with the leading character in the title- Inspector George Gently, Inspector Lewis, Morse, Rebus- and mostly every one of those shows were based on novels. Bosch isn’t any different. Created by author Michael Connelly, the novels and the TV series follow the life of Detective Harry Bosch. An Amazon Original, this series scores high in certain areas and fails poorly in others. 

Just like most of the main TV cop leads, Harry Bosch is a middle-aged, serious, no-smile guy. Investigated for a shooting/encounter, all eyes are on his every move. When the owner of a dog calls to report finding human bones in the woods, Bosch and his team begin their investigation. The bones belong to a 12 year old boy (Arthur Delacroix) who went missing 20 years ago. A group of suspects is lined up, including Arthur’s father and the timeline is established for the cold case. On the other hand, patrol sidelines a truck for a search and finds a dead body. The truck owner- Raynard Waits is arrested and questioned. The story takes a shocking turn when Waits confesses to murdering Arthur and many others whom he has hidden in the woods. He later escapes from police custody and commits more murders. It becomes a game for him between him and Bosch. But why Bosch? What’s the connection between them? 

The cases are one of the most interesting, thrilling and grittiest cases I have ever seen. They are perfectly set in the first 4 episodes. But then happens the fall. The next 4 episodes practically has nothing to offer to the story. Yes, Waits murders more people and speaks to Bosch over the phone, challenging him. We get to see Bosch’s family and his equation with his ex-wife and daughter. There is internal politics, competition for promotion, elections and lot more. But with such a brilliant case hovering helplessly over the head, its impossible to focus on the rest of the things. 

Titus Welliver, as Harry Bosch, makes things even worse. I haven’t seen any of his works before but he just makes Bosch so dull and boring. He is so wooden in his dialogue delivery. Don’t get me started on his weird white bracelet (May be some backstory there? I don’t know) I understand the character is meant to be serious but still the actor could bring some life to the character. As a viewer, I didn’t feel for Bosch at any point of time. I didn’t route for him, or had confidence in him, that he would solve the case. I missed energy in the character. I didn’t care what happened to Bosch and that’s epic failure on the actor’s part. Hopefully, he does something different in the other seasons. 

Coming back to the case, I loved the profiler’s angle to the case, some historical significance to the name “Raynard Waits” and digging up Arthur’s past. The connection between the cases was well established. I wondered why no one recorded Bosch and Waits’ conversations? I mean- no outside perspective on that? As much as both the cases ended convincingly with no open ends, it didn’t end on a high note. It was a complete fizzle at the end. 

I don’t know if I would watch the rest of the series- 2 more seasons have aired- but I did love the cases. So may be I might give another season a try. Fingers crossed.