‘What happened to Monday’ is good, but could have been better

I’d like to think that Tommy Wirkola’s new Netflix original film, “What happened to Monday” (2017), is the product of a 48-hour film project — as if the writing and directing team were given four mandatory prompts to work with and were ordered to produce a film in a relatively short time frame. 

Written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson, “What happened to Monday” feels like the type of caffine-fueled delusions produced under these hypothetical circumstances. 

In this case, perhaps they were given the line: “Seven minds are better than one.”

The character: Karen Settman, a woman who works in finance.

Genre(s) to choose from: Sci-fi/Action.

And prop: Sauce pan.

The result is good — if they were working under these hypothetical constraints that probably didn’t exist. Without these limits though, it’s much easier to see “What happened to Monday’s” imperfections. The confusing and rushed plot. The underdeveloped characters. The way the film feels like many books or movies that came before it. (Think: Margaret Peterson Haddix’s “Shadow Children” books meeting the movie “Blade Runner” meeting an extra long “Black Mirror” episode.)

The world Botkin, Williamson and Wirkola envisions is that of the future. The year is 2073, when the world’s biggest threat is overpopulation.

For the past 30-plus years, politician Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) has attempted to control this problem by strictly enforcing the one child policy. Any siblings are seized and put to sleep indefinitely by the One Child Allocation bureau.

But Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe) couldn’t separate his seven identical septuplets grandchildren (all played by the wonderful Noomi Rapace). Instead, he raised them to follow three basic rules:

  1. The girls could only go out one at a time on the day of the week in which they were named after (i.e. Monday would go out on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday, and so on and so forth).
  2. The girls would each share the identity of Karen Settman when they left their flat.
  3. The girls could never mention they had siblings.

This ruse kept all seven siblings alive well into their thirties, but one day, Monday goes missing.

The rest of the movie revolves around the siblings trying to find out what happened to Monday without being discovered by the One Child Allocation bureau.

There’s at least seven things to like about “What happened to Monday.” Rapace is phenomenal as all seven Settman sisters, who share the same name, face and screen time, but also have very distinct haircuts and personalities. They’re the reason you like “What Happened to Monday” and why the sisters are more than Sporty Sis, Sexy Sis, Responsible Sis, Techie Sis, Rebellious Sis, Boring Sis and Spiritual Sis. Thanks to Rapace’s acting and some creative special effects from editor Martin Stoltz, you have no trouble believing that there are seven Settman sisters, who squabble and tease each other as sisters do. Without Rapace’s acting (which includes many scenes involving clever green screen work), “What Happened to Monday” would be just as forgettable as its title.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t good. (I still gave it a thumbs up on Netflix.) But you can’t help wanting this movie to be better — to be one of those things that takes up more brain space and changes the way you think. That’s what you expect from a good sci-fi movie.

Instead, the movie feels a little stiff and off — as if the writing and directing team were also trapped within the confines of the rules they’ve created.

“What Happened to Monday” was directed by Tommy Wirkola and written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson. 

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How the ’13th’ Amendment of United States perpetuated modern-day slavery

The 13th Amendment of the United States constitution was taught as a law of liberation: the one that freed slaves from servitude; however, Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated Netflix-original documentary, “13th,” reminds us that the blade that protects us can also maim us.

Yes, the 13th Amendment proclaimed that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States,” but the amendment also provided an exception — a clause that calls slavery by another name and makes it perfectly legal.

Inserted within the fine print of the 13th Amendment is the clause that explains how African Americans are still persecuted today. Convicted criminals don’t received the protection of the 13th Amendment. And so the 13th Amendment became a economic and political weapon that ensnared blacks through mass incarcerations.

DuVernay enlists the help of activists, historians and politicians to explain more than 150 years of American history. Interviews with figures like Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Jelani Cobb, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Angela Davis, James Kilgore, Newt Gingrich, Charles Rangel, Van Jones and Cory Booker explain how blacks continue to be criminalized.

“13th” is a disturbing and sometimes overwhelming portrait of how people of color have been wronged, but more frightening still, is how people of color continued to face persecution through legislation and the media. Stereotypes perpetuated in D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” have been mirrored in modern political ads and news segments. However, like how a blade can simultaneously maim and protect, DuVernay also offers a weapon for the Eric Garners, Philando Castilles, Sandra Blands, Trayvon Martins, Oscar Grants and Emmett Tills. 

Only media and technology can change the narrative.

“13th” was written by Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary. DuVernay’s film “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture in the 87th Academy Awards.  

Returning to ‘Orange is the New Black’

At one point in the fourth season of Netflix drama “Orange is the New Black,” Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) differentiates the meaning behind pain and suffering. “Pain is always there because life is freaking painful, okay,” she says, “but suffering is a choice.”

Even though pain has always been a part of “Orange is the New Black,” the suffering’s more prominent in its fourth season. In this season, several characters are noticeably absent in solitary confinement, maximum security prison and the psychiatric ward.

What’s left of Litchfield Penitentiary feels like a different place, privatized by MCC and run by harder and fiercer correction officers including new captain of the guards Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke) and also a host of sadistic and inexperienced recruits including Thomas Humphrey (Michael Torpey), B. Stratman (Evan Hall), Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) and Charlie Coates (James McMenamin).

Under their command, racial tensions and human injustice burn hotly in the tight and dangerously overcrowded corridors of Litchfield. Women are bullied, groped, humiliated and tortured. Male guards stalk female inmates in the showers and strip search women in the halls.

The only strength now comes in numbers and numbers gather and disseminate into different gangs: Dominican Republicans, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

These ingredients make the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” its most dangerous season yet.

“Orange Is the New Black” was written and created by Jenji Kohan.

‘House of Cards’ season 4 returns with more political show business

Amidst an election season where a reality TV star is literally alluding to his penis size on national television, the fourth season of “House of Cards” couldn’t have come at a better time.

Beau Willimon’s popular Netflix drama, which was released earlier this month, is a brilliant satire of the election cycle.

“Politics isn’t just theatre, it’s show business,” says its star Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

Like Sen. Ted Cruz, President Underwood wasn’t “born wealthy, or handsome, or charismatic, or nice, or likable, or even fine.” He’s the type of guy who would suggest that an opponent was dropping out the election if he would get more votes.

Despite how much you wanted to punch him in the face after the third season, President Underwood is a masterful chess player and writers Willimon, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs, Bill Kennedy, Laura Eason, John Mankiewicz, Melissa James Gibson, Frank Pugliese and Kenneth Lin manipulate his image so that even though we don’t quite like him, we’re curious to see what Underwood would do when faced with ghosts from his past.

And there are plenty of spurned ghosts — Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), Democratic Whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), The Washington Herald journalists Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), to name a few. (Some of them even make cameos in Underwood’s spooky hell dreams.)

But that’s not all that haunts Underwood. There’s plenty of former presidents who roam the hall of the White House. There’s Bill and Hillary Clinton, who aren’t mentioned directly, but it’s hard not to see the parallels between the Clintons and the Underwoods. Frank is a man who’s still haunted by an affair with a younger woman and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) is a woman with her own political aspirations.

Then there’s the ghost of a young JFK. He comes in the form of New York Gov. Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), a tall, young and charismatic republican presidential nominee. He and his wife, Hannah (Dominique McElligott), look like the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — donning the covers of glossy magazine spreads and sharing their fairytale marriage in viral online home videos.

Opposite Kennedy, of course, is a Nixon, and this Nixon has been orchestrating an unorthodox and illegal game of political dominoes since even before he was a democratic whip in Congress.

In one telling scene, Underwood and Conway even acknowledge how their story lines appear. “If you were a democrat, you’d be unstoppable. You’d be the new JFK,” says Underwood.

“And if you were a republican, who’d you be? Nixon?” Conway counters.

Willimon and crew bludgeon you with analogies, splicing in with as many current event parallels you can possibly think of — the threat of a powerful and tech-savvy Islamic group of terrorists invading from home, what might happen if there was a brokered convention to select a presidential or vice presidential nominee, search engines predicting elections, politicians releasing their emails to the public, a candidate’s connection with a member of the KKK, how impossible it is to pass legislation through congress, how even more impossible it would be to approve a Supreme Court nominee through Congress, and you get the idea.

It’s as if Willimon and crew threw everything into a blender and mixed it together. The result’s awful and outlandish, one step removed from a melodramatic episode of “Glee.” But it doesn’t matter that the plot doesn’t make much sense or that raw eggs doesn’t sit well with pickle juice. We’ll drink it anyway.

Season 4 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs. 

Committing to ‘Master of None’

When we first meet Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari) in “Masters of None,” he’s the quintessential self-entitled millennial. A 30-year-old bachelor living in the Big Apple, he has the world at his fingertips: Uber, Yelp, Google, Tindr, and dozens of other modern conveniences.

But at much as he’s the master at finding the best-reviewed taco trucks, Dev’s also the victim of other first world problems plaguing the millennial generation: awkward one-night stands, spotty Wi-Fi in his apartment, and the paralyzing possibility that there’s always something better out there.

Consider this: Rather than go to the closest taco truck, every decision (no matter how inconsequential) is throughly researched. Dev consults reviews from Yelp and Google to find the very best-reviewed tacos he could possibly consume; however, by the time he finishes his research and arrives at his destination, the best-reviewed taco truck in New York City has sold out of tacos.

This two-minute montage showcases creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s (“Parks and Recreation”) writing prowess. The addictive 10-episode Netflix original hilariously illustrates the modern hangups of today’s 20 and 30-something year olds as if they were happening to our best friends, rather than characters in a TV show.

“I asked this girl out three weeks ago; she said nothing,” Dev says. “They give you silence. Why?”

His friend Denise (Lena Waithe) responds, “Dude, if she hasn’t texted you in two days, it means she doesn’t want to go. This is a very clear and unambiguous situation.”

Of course, Ansari knows why its easier to ghost someone rather than respond. “We all have the same nightmare,” Ansari said once during a stand-up special at Madison Square Garden. “The nightmare where you do commit to the thing with Phil…. and then you get that phone call: ‘Dude, where are you? Biggie and Tupac faked their deaths! They’re doing a show right now! I have an extra ticket!'”

By that same reasoning, a having a kid is the ultimate nightmare: the commitment which always prevents you from going to that Biggie and Tupac concert, from going to that bar or club and from taking home that random stranger to have an awkward one-night stand with.

“Luckily we got one of those Plan B things so two people who barely know each other will not be raising a human child together,” Dev tells his friends Arnold (Eric Wareheim) and Denise.

Many of the ideas in “Master of None” have already been explored in Ansari’s stand-up, which topics range from how people communicate to how creepy guys approach women.

These points are expanded into sketches featured in “Master of None.” In “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Ansari and Yang illustrate gender inequality by juxtaposing Dev and Arnold’s trip home from the bar with that of one one Dev’s female co-workers. He steps in dog poop; she has to call the cops because a creepy guy follows her home from the bar.

In “Parents,” Ansari and Yang compare how much easier life is for first-generation Americans like Dev and his Taiwanese American friend Brian (Kelvin Yu). Dev’s dad (Shoukath Ansari) wasn’t allowed to play games; Dev grew up with computer games and iPads. The episode stars Ansari’s own parents, Shoukath and Fatima.

“Master of None” packages these powerful social critiques in a neatly wrapped comedic burrito. The salsa blends with the beef and the cheese touches the lettuce, but even ideas that aren’t kosher are easily digestible 30-minute episodes.

In “Indians on TV,” Dev fiercely campaigns for more well-rounded Indian American representation in media. “There can’t be two — because of course, two Indian people would make it an Indian show,” a TV executive says when Dev questions why the studio can’t cast both him and an Indian American actor in a “Friends”-style sitcom.

“Master of None” smartly ribs on covert racism in American culture, pointing out that while blackface is wrong, white actors are still cast to play Indians.

“That’s Fisher Stevens,” Dev points out in a still of “Short City 2.” “They used brownface make-up.”

“Master of None” isn’t like any other show out there, delving into the psyche of the modern 20 to 30-something. As much as its a satire about indecision, this, of course, is one commitment we can easily make.

“Master of None” was created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. The 10-episode first season is available for streaming on Netflix. 

‘House of Cards’ topples down: season three review

“You don’t add up and I’m intrigued,” novelist Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) tells President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

We might have shared Yates’ sentiments when we were first introduced to one of Netflix’s top moneymakers, “House of Cards,” two seasons ago, but the narrative’s changed. We’ve grown out of the honeymoon phase and fallen out of love — realizing a man we were infatuated with is a cruel and violent monster ruling with a Machiavellian fist. Once upon a time, he charmed us with his witty Shakespearean asides. Now, he leaves a coldness in our hearts and an uneasiness in our bellies.

It’s not pleasant. Which is why the third season of “House of Cards” is difficult to swallow.

Before season three, “House of Cards” followed the first of two major story arches: the one where a man has nothing and remakes himself from rags to riches — the Horatio Alger myth that America’s so fond of. For two seasons (and 26 episodes), we watched “House of Cards'” Frank Underwood’s ascent — from majority whip to vice president and now POTUS.

Now, the narrative’s evolved. Frank may have initially sought respect and revenge. But now he has what he wants and he has everything to lose.

When “House of Card’s” third season begins, President Frank Underwood’s visiting his father’s grave.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice,” Underwood tells us, “but I have to do these sort of things now. It makes me seem more human and you have to be a little human when you’re president.”

While we may have been charmed and intrigued with Underwood’s confidence in us (after all, every time Spacey breaks the forth wall, he’s confiding in us — even as he fooling others), President Underwood scares us. We’re not alone. No one likes President Underwood.

His polls are lower than former President Garrett Walker’s (Michael Gill). The Democratic Leadership don’t want him to run for re-election in 2016. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), has her own political agenda and doesn’t think he’d win a re-election bid. In one scene, she even recoils from his touch.

Meanwhile, his Chief of Staff Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) still has feelings for his former fling, the ambitious democratic whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker). And Underwood’s esteemed henchman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), is out of his inner circle and consulting with troublesome opponents: hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) and democratic presidential candidate Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). There are a lot of Brutuses and Cassiuses in Frank Underwood’s court.

But friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears. While President Frank Underwood is ambitious, he is an honorable man. He wants to revolutionize entitlements and create more jobs — implementing a new piece of legislation, America Works. Everyone one who wants a job will have one. You just won’t have social security, medicare, medicaid, universal health care or anything else.

Sure, that’s a frightening prospect, but President Frank Underwood promised you a job. And President Frank Underwood is a smart, calculated and honorable man. He doesn’t want to be a seat filler. He wants to revolutionize America — and he doesn’t care who or what is in his way (even if its his own wife or inner consciousness). He will leave a legacy, he says.

Underwood’s greatest accomplishment, though, is twisting words and re-packaging them. Like Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, Underwood’s a skilled orator — who’s greatest gift might include fooling himself.

“Is this how you live with yourself?” Attorney General Dunbar questioned him. “By rationalizing the obscene into the palatable?”

Underwood’s pills are tough to swallow though — despite how much sugar he coats them with. Underwood’s a bully and a tyrant — who shields his not-so-hidden agendas under a thin veil of threats and pleasantries. Like the current slew of politicians, he’s fluent in double-speak and dancing around a presidential bid. 

Meanwhile, he makes satirical cracks at the other dysfunctional branches of government — especially this year’s Republican-controlled Congress. (“I’m not declaring war on Congress,” he says. “I’m declaring war on atrophy. But these days, who can tell the difference.”)

While “House of Cards” was a smart commentary on the rotten underbelly of Washington, this season doesn’t add up. The plot’s unbelievable far-fetched as if the show’s creator, Beau Willimon, is courting scandal — aiming for shock value rather than substance. While president, Underwood pees on graves of dead men and spits at the image of Jesus on the cross. We always knew that Underwood is ruthless, but this Frank Underwood seems more controversial, sacrilegious and taboo.

After another 13-episode season, Underwood’s exhausted our sympathy and curiosity. And while Spacey’s deep voice still carries gravitas, his words hold no meaning; his likability suffers; and we’re no longer intrigued by his story.

Instead, we long for the good old days — when American TV presidents were idealistic and inspirational as “The West Wing’s” Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen). At least back then, America seemed to work.

Season 3 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs. 

‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Gets on TV!

If there’s a hole in your heart where “30 Rock” has been, fear no more. NBC-turned-Netflix’s sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the new and improved “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”

Created by Liz Lemon — I mean, Lemon’s real-life alter-ego Tina Fey — and co-writer Robert Carlock (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “The Dana Carvey Show”), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the type of show Lemon wanted to produce during her stint as a TV writer at 30 Rockefeller Plaza: the quirky feminist New Yorker comedy unapproved by the big corporate networks. In reality, the show was released by NBC because the network thought “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (like “30 Rock”) would be too niche.

They were right. But that doesn’t bother Netflix — whose micro-genres include “quirky TV shows,” “irreverent TV sitcoms” and “witty TV comedies with a strong female lead.” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is all these things — and delivered in 23-minute chunks (which makes it even more binge-worthy than “Orange is the New Black” or the latest season of “House of Cards”).

While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” would have been a pioneer a decade ago, Fey’s “30 Rock” paved the way for dozens of female-centric TV shows from “Parks and Recreation” (with Fey’s SNL co-star Amy Poehler) and “The Mindy Project” to “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,” “2 Broke Girls” and “New Girl.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is like an unofficial “30 Rock” spin-off, who looks and feels like its predeccessor. As the pilot opens, the show’s heroine, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”), is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the familiar set of NBC’s “Today” show. Sitting across from her is anchor Matt Lauer.

Schmidt and her sister-wives were snatched up by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) 15 years ago and forced to live in a religious underground cult in the fictional small-town of Durnsville, Ind. Its news threads resemble a cross between the “bedroom intruder” story and the Cleveland kidnappings. 

Fey and Carlock satirizes Amanda Berry‘s story among others, even auto-tuning the girls’ release. But the show isn’t about life locked up in a bunker. It’s about life after.

Approaching her 30s, Schmidt’s (like Kemper’s “The Office” co-star, Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project”) trying to navigate the Big Apple as a strong woman. That means living despite her past as an “Indiana Mole Women” — the adopted moniker for her and her kidnapped peers. So she lives with her sunny wardrobe and unbelievably bubbly optimism (which rivals Kenneth the Page’s).

Fey models Schmidt after her character in “30 Rock.” Once upon a time, Liz Lemon bought a whole cart of hot dogs because a guy cut her in line. Like Lemon, Kimmy Schmidt is a stickler for rules. Schmidt follows a kid (Tanner Flood) who stole a candy bar, returning him to his incompetant socialite mother, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock”). When she finds out that Mrs. Voorhees has no plans to punish her son, Schmidt takes it upon herself to punish him.

This leads her to her first job as Buckley (Flood) and Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula)’s nanny as well as Mrs. Voorhees’ assistant/personal slave. Meanwhile, she finds boarding with gay diva Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and his cat-lady landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane).

These characters rival the quirkiness of the cast of “30 Rock.” Like Lemon, Schmidt spends her days like a TV producer — trouble-shooting for her insecure friends (Titus has enough attitude to rival Tracy Jordan and Jacqueline can be as self-centered as her “30 Rock” persona Jenna Maroney). Unlike Lemon though, Schmidt doesn’t have a mentor like “30 Rock’s” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). Instead, girl power carries the show.

Fey and Carlock’s 13-episode pilot season showcases female empowerment. While Kimmy Schmidt isn’t a doctor like Mindy Lahiri of “The Mindy Project” or a politician like Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation” or a TV writer/producer like Liz Lemon of “30 Rock,” she conquers mundane everyday tasks like solving math, getting a GED, or breaking up with a guy. Despite her strange beginnings, Schmidt proves that anyone can conquer anything and that women are truly unbreakable.

It’s as Kimmy Schmidt says: “I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds… All you gotta do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey. Season one is available on Netflix. 

‘BoJack Horseman’: Netflix original comedy reining in the fun

bojack-horseman

He looks like a horse, but acts more like an ass (who can also be a pig and a snake). He’s BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), the surprisingly sympathetic star of the Netflix original adult cartoon about a wash-up ’90s sitcom actor.

BoJack’s claim-to-fame was as the parental figure of “Horsin’ Around,” a ’90s family sitcom about an anthropomorphic young stallion who adopts three adorable human orphans. The show’s about “good likable people who love each other, where, no matter what happens, at the end of 30 minutes, everything’s going to turn out OK,” BoJack drunkenly tells Charlie Rose in a TV interview.

In contrast, “BoJack Horseman’s” the antithesis of the traditional family sitcom. His life since the show’s cancellation takes place in his bachelor pad in his secluded Los Angeles mansion (you can see the Hollywood sign from his window). His three kids are replaced with Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), his lazy freeloading roommate; and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), his cheerful frenemy who starred in a spin-off sitcom with a similar premise.

While being a celebrity certainly has its own benefits, we don’t know if everything’s going to turn out OK at the end of these 30-minute episodes. His “Horsin’ Around” co-star Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) just checked into rehab. The show’s creator, Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci), is dying of cancer. And when first we meet BoJack, he’s no longer a stud.

BoJack’s approaching 40 and suffering through an existential crisis. This means watching reruns of himself on TV, getting drunk on his couch, sleeping with his agent/on-again-off-again girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), eating a lot of carbs and trying to write a tell-all memoir to make people like him again.

“This book is my one shot in preserving my legacy,” says BoJack. “I’m a joke and if this book isn’t good, I’m going to be a joke forever. Everyone thinks I’m just this washed up hack, but actually… Oh God, what if they’re right?”

Banking on a success, Penguin (comedian Patton Oswalt) helps BoJack enlist successful ghostwriter Diane Nyugen (Allison Brie) to follow him around for the next 9 episodes. Like Diane, we’re there to witness BoJack steal muffins from a Navy SEAL (who’s literally a seal) on leave from Afghanistan; and we watch BoJack sabotage Todd’s attempts at a rock opera.

Sure, the hay’s a little stale. Like “30 Rock,” “BoJack Horseman” pokes fun at the industry. The Golden Globes are a “totally necessary awards show.” And character designer Cody Walzel creates anthropomorphic caricatures of Hollywood counterparts. Director Quentin Tarantino is a tarantula; Cameron Crow, known for his rock movies (“Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire”), is a raven who looks like a crow.

While “BoJack Horseman” is witty at times, the animated show spends a lot of time beating a dead horse. There’s some pretty bleak conclusions.

BoJack Horseman Meme“The universe is a cruel uncaring void,” Mr. Peanutbutter tells his girlfriend, Diane. “The key to being happy isn’t the search for meaning. It’s just to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually you’ll be dead.”

While binge-watching distractions like “BoJack Horseman” won’t ultimately make you happy, writer and creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s writing achieves what BoJack wants from story: to connect with people.

And as Netflix renews the show for a second season, it looks like it did.

“BoJack Horseman” was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg. 

The fault in Season 2 of ‘Orange Is the New Black’

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,” Cassius tells Brutus in William Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Ceasar.” That, too, seems to be a recurring theme in Season 2 of writer Jenji Kohan’s “Orange Is the New Black.”

The 13-episode second season of the highly anticipated prison drama — based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” — was released for streaming on Netflix last Friday.

After serving months in the Litchfield Correctional Facility for her association with her former drug-dealing girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is transferred to a Chicago prison, where she awaits trial.

Her new bunkmate’s (Rebecca Drysdale) an astrology nut who believes destiny’s in the stars. “Typically, people in prison are led astray by a powerful outside force,” she tells Piper.

But these women dug their own graves.

Kohan’s episodes feature flashbacks into the lives of the Litchfield inmates. There’s Miss. Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) — a terminally ill cancer patient who used to rob banks; Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) — an ex-communicated Catholic nun known for her activism; and Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) — an orphan whose closest person to a mother is Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a conniving criminal who’s back in jail.

But even if these woman are underlings, their faces and voices aren’t forgotten. We fall in love with Kohan’s characters — played by a wonderfully diverse and talented ensemble cast. It’s a smart, calculated formula. Kohan can seamlessly introduce and kill off new characters like George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thones.” And while we curse the injustice, we’ll still be binge-watching.

So it’s no coincidence, of course, that Season 2 of “Orange Is New Black” was released the same day as the film adaptation of John Green’s teen cancer novel, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Kohan (who also created Showtime’s “Weeds”) fills her script with pop culture references — from World of Warcraft to Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid.”  One of the inmates is even reading “The Fault In Our Stars.”

Like Green’s story, Kohan’s is hauntingly beautiful — filled with hope and heartbreak. Because no matter where the fault lies, prison’s supposed to be unjust.

“Orange Is the New Black” was written and created by Jenji Kohan.

‘Orange is the New Black’: addictive women’s prison drama for the middle class

“You’re a first-time offender with a short sentence, and you’re white,” says Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Feiner), the warden in “Orange is the New Black.”

She’s talking about Piper Chapman (Taylor Schiling), a white, middle-class, college-educated, recently engaged 30-something-year-old — which is also the prescribed audience binge-watching the new 13-episode Netflix original television drama.

But while Piper may be an anomaly in prison, she’s someone viewers can relate to — the type of person who watches “Mad Men,” listens to NPR’s “This American Life,” reads “The New York Times,” and  tries the Master Cleanse, a 10-day lemonade and pepper diet designed to flush out your system.

That’s the lens creator Jenji Kohan give us to view her fascinating and addictive prison drama, “Orange is the New Black.”

Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” the show follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who’s engaged to her journalist boyfriend Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). Chapman lands in Litchfield Correctional Facilities for 15 months after her connection in her ex’s drug operation becomes revealed almost a decade later.

Her ex happens to be Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, who played Donna from “That ’70s Show”), a lesbian heroin dealer who Chapman had a relationship with during her experimental post-college phase. And Alex Vause happens to be sentenced to the same female prison Chapman’s stuck at for the next 15 months.

For the liberal, college-educated middle-class audience following Piper’s journey, watching “Orange is the New Black” is like reading Nellie Bly’s New York World exposé, “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” The appeal is that we’re voyeurs to the sensationalism: getting starved for insulting the chef’s food, getting feet fungus from showers, being made someone’s prison wife and almost being killed. Oh, the horror!

Only Kohan’s pilot 13-episode season chronicles more than 10 days. It takes us through weeks and months, Thanksgivings and Christmases, births and deaths. All the while, time stays still. A day in solitary confinement can last nine months to a year. The lights never turn off; there’s no way of recording the passage of time.

No human contact or touch can make anyone crazy.

And if you’re crazy enough, you’re sent to the psych ward — where they strap you down and administer sedatives until you lose whatever sanity you may have left. No one get’s out of the psych ward.

Prison, Kohan’s drama narrates, is about survival. And surviving in Litchfield is like surviving “Girl World” and the high school drama and pettiness in “Mean Girls.”

And in “Girl World,” there are rules: everyone uses last names; you clean everything with maxi pads; you don’t eat the pudding; and the second you’re perceived as weak, you already are.

Chlamydia talks are replaced by suicide watches. The lessons are the same though: don’t do it.

Then there are cliques — your whites, blacks, Hispanics, Golden Girls and others: Red (Kate Mulgrew), the Russian honcho of the kitchen; Miss. Claudette (Michelle Hurst), who’s rumored to have murdered people and to have run a sex trade; Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning), a religious fanatic who thinks she’s performing the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; and “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba), who’s the only one to survive the psych ward and come back.

An eccentric, excitable and memorable ensemble cast of characters walks the halls of Litchfield. And through a series of flashbacks, Kohan has fleshed out their stories.

Women can be cruel, but there’s no Nurse Ratched in “Orange is the New Black,” which at times, resembles Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” more than Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest.” As intimidating as these bands of inmates are, the oppressive jailors are still a bunch of incompetent, racist and misogynistic pigs.

Counselor Sam Healy (Michael Harney) may act like a sweet old grandpa with a Russian mail-order bride, but he’s got a vendetta against gays. Meanwhile, Officer Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) perpetuates drug trafficking in prison, bartering pills for blowjobs while condoning rape.

Kohan makes sure you remember that humans live behind these bars. They, too, want love and laughter, chasing after parole like that elusive great white whale. And while life’s a cruel mistress, shuffling you from cell to cell, assignment to assignment, you can’t help but hope. One day, you’ll settle your debts. You’ll travel the globe. You’ll fly across that barb-wired fence. You’ll get out of prison. And somehow, tomorrow will be better. Now if you can only get through today… and the next 15 months.