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One of the best things to come with the proliferation of superhero storytelling, across both film and television, is the growing complexity around the concept of heroism. And thus one of the best things about “Marvel’s The Defenders” is that it’s actively engaged with this, while still managing to deliver ninja fights, comic book in-jokes, Jessica Jones day-drinking, and more fun.
“The Defenders” unites the previous four Marvel/Netflix series — “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “Iron Fist” — for an adventure that spans not just New York, but the mystical realms. All four of the heroes from these previously established shows find themselves facing a New York in chaos thanks to the actions of the evil, ninja-esque organization The Hand (led by the mysterious Alexandra, played by legend Sigourney Weaver); after being drawn together by their individual investigations, they’re forced to acknowledge that the battle can only be won together.
Going into “The Defenders,” the most important thing to know is that Marvel is betting on viewers’ binging instincts in a big way — meaning that it takes a while for Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) to all appear together on screen. Their worlds begin to blend right away, but the emphasis early on is in establishing each character; not necessarily spent recapping the full extent of their adventures in previous seasons, but at least setting up the emotional state of each person, as well as those who matter most to them.
An initial, and totally fair, reaction to the resulting slow pace is that it is so actively devoted to not being like other superhero team-ups that it subdues all the fun anticipated from this particular edition. There were many things audiences were looking forward to: Jessica Jones rolling her eyes at Daredevil’s theatrics; Luke Cage and Danny Rand battling with fists in an alleyway and with words over Danny’s privilege — not to mention Jessica and Luke dealing with their complicated romantic history.
Those moments do come. They just require some patience, and in the meantime, there are added benefits to this mega-crossover. In fact, one of the most exciting aspects of “The Defenders” is perhaps the most unexpected.
While officially, there’s only one lead “hero” in the bunch who’s a woman, the side effect of drawing together all the supporting characters from all the other Marvel series is that they all get opportunity to interact. And most of them are women — like Claire (Rosario Dawson), Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), Misty (Simone Missick), Colleen (Jessica Henwick) and more — who are well-defined enough to offer interesting color to the plot and occasionally even drive it. On the side of good, Jessica isn’t the only woman who dives into action, and women take just as many lumps as the men.
The main cast also seems to benefit from getting to play off each other. For fans of “Jessica Jones,” there’s not quite enough Ritter, but she does get some standout moments, and Cox is a little lighter than he can come off during “Daredevil’s” predominantly gloomy moments. Colter provides some essential punches (literally and figuratively), especially when paired with Jones, who seems to benefit the most from being part of an ensemble, able to lean into Danny Rand’s puppy dog edge in a way that invokes his most endearing scenes from “Iron Fist.”
There are also complicated and compelling women and men on the side of “evil,” and, more importantly, there are definitive sides. “The Defenders,” which was in production months ago, is odd to watch during a week when America is experiencing a major internal conflict lacking in grey tones. But while “The Defenders” exists in a New York City where the good guys do bad things, and the bad guys are given moments of empathy, there’s no question who we’re rooting for — which is just one of the things that superhero stories offer us, with the added benefit of that aforementioned complexity.
That’s the nuance which helps serve as a contrast to the real world we’re dealing with. It’s a reminder that on the side of light, flaws are allowable. It’s also a reminder that evil truly exists in the world.
On the technical side, “The Defenders” feels on par, budget-wise, with past Netflix/Marvel installments, but there’s some impressive production design here beyond the established worlds of these characters, especially in creating a unique look for new locations like the Hand’s inner sanctum. Also, forget the Emmys: Costume designer Stephanie Maslansky deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for her work dressing Weaver, who wears some truly stunning ensembles.
There are spoiler-y things to say about this season that would reflect why its grade is lower than fans would hope. The ultimate weakness of “The Defenders” is found in its plotting, especially the way it indulges in one massive superhero storytelling cliche towards the end. But when the show focuses on character, it’s at its best, especially when the secondary characters, — the women! — get a chance at the spotlight.
The Defenders themselves might shy away at the term “hero,” but they’re here at the exact time we need them.
“Marvel’s The Defenders” is streaming now on Netflix.
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[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for “Marvel’s The Defenders.”]
Much of Marvel’s highly anticipated Netflix umbrella series “The Defenders” went so well. The four unique stars gelled together nicely as a team (albeit a non-hugging one), the supporting characters from the four shows united as a complete ensemble in their own right, and Sigourney Weaver wore some fabulous draped blouses and dresses.
Not only that, but the tightness of only eight episodes meant that when watched as a binge, the show managed to avoid dragging the way other Marvel series have done in the past with 13 episodes.
But then, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) said the fateful words heard in at least a dozen other stories of this type: “I can reach her.” The “her” in this case being Elektra (Elodie Yung), who has been leading an army of ninjas against him and his friends.
Their ensuing fight clarifies just why this is not a healthy relationship for either of them, especially the part where they’re about to be crushed under a building armed with explosives. As the timer hits zero and the building collapses, Matt and Elektra kiss, the ceiling above descending towards them…
…and there are still at least 15 minutes left in the episode, as things fade to grey. What ensues in that time is everyone else proceeding to mourn Matt’s loss, process the lessons they’ve learned as a result of these events, and attempt to move forward with their own lives. There’s no full funeral, but Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) lights a candle for him and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) perches on a rooftop, as the Empire State Building lights up bright red in Matt’s honor.
The next, and final scene: Matt is — of course — still alive. It’s an ending that’s hugely frustrating for any fan of comic books, or narratives driven by heroes, for a number of reasons.
It Was Obviously Not Real
If, in the moments after the building collapsed, you were a viewer who reached for your nearest internet device and Googled “Daredevil Season 3,” you were not alone. (If you didn’t, know that it was greenlit in 2016, and starts shooting this October.) In the nine years since the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, very few established characters have ever truly kicked the bucket, and certainly not the lead character of a flagship series.
But for an extended period of time, “The Defenders” chose to embrace the notion that Matt Murdock was really and truly dead. Which leads to the next point…
It Cheapens Real Grief
The only real, permanent tragedy experienced at the end of “The Defenders” is Misty Knight (Simone Missick) becoming an amputee, losing her arm above the elbow after a freaking ninja cuts it off. Misty losing her arm is perhaps the most genuinely shocking moment of the season, largely given the fact that the show didn’t go back on itself and reverse it. (Though it would be incredibly cool if Misty ended up with a badass robot arm, down the line.)
Otherwise, we get to see characters we like put through the ringer over a death that the show completely fails to sell as authentic, even before it reveals that Matt survived. The tribute paid to Matt as a hero and as a man would have worked if he had been truly martyred for the cause.
But his reasoning for staying behind as the others rushed to safety was motivated entirely by his love for Elektra (which also made it all the sadder to see an oblivious Karen grieve for him). And once again, any savvy fan of this genre knew it wasn’t real, and knew better than to assign any genuine emotion to the moment. Because…
We’ve Seen It So Many Times Before
Rather than dig down into the many, many examples of characters presumed dead for dramatic effect and then miraculously revived, let’s just focus on one: “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” [spoilers ahead] which made the bold move of introducing a wider universe of superheroes, and then killing off the most famous one of them all at the end of the film.
But it stretches back for years — how many times did Buffy or Mulder kick the bucket, after all, during their shows? Perhaps it’s a relief that “The Defenders” doesn’t end on an uncertain cliffhanger and does confirm that Matt is still alive. That still doesn’t excuse such a large portion of the episode being devoted to a false tragedy.
There is another bright spot to the final scene: It’s not a complete waste of time, as it sets up what will undoubtedly be a key component of “Daredevil” Season 3. [Spoilers for the “Daredevil” comics follow.] Longtime Matt Murdock fans know that Matt waking up in (supposedly) a nunnery, with another nun mentioning the name “Maggie,” means that fans can look forward to the introduction of Matt’s mother in the next season.
Oh, and of course, fans can also look forward to finding out just how in the hell Matt survived the building’s implosion. But ultimately, that doesn’t matter quite as much. There was no doubt that he would.
“Marvel’s The Defenders” is streaming now on Netflix.
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These days, two of the only forces keeping live TV viewing alive are “Game of Thrones” and sports. On a week to week basis, there are few topics that are guaranteed to generate a conversation quicker and provide an easier shorthand for making friends or small talk than how the Yankees are hitting or what’s up with the Lannisters.
While incredibly lucrative contracts are being built on the backs of live sporting events, be it the Olympics or regional deals for sports like baseball and basketball, there’s a reason that these kinds of spectacles get eyeballs. Over the past few years, for people who aren’t big sports fans, “Game of Thrones” has become the analog to generate the same kinds of conversations among those don’t necessarily care about whether Paul George and Russell Westbrook are going to have any on-court chemistry next year.
The relationship between sports and televised drama has always been a two-way street, but few shows have made the bridge between these entities quite as strong as the show that literally put a competition in its title. Winning is as central to the series as the dragons that occasionally swoop overhead, and that’s why millions are still making it a weekly ratings juggernaut.
Through the on-screen visual storytelling and via the apparatuses that promote and keep the show in the cultural conversation, this is a series that naturally pits people against each other. Take perhaps the most iconic quote from the whole series, Cersei’s pronouncement that “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
The show has transcended the palace intrigue DNA of other shows by making its battle for supremacy literal. This isn’t “House of Cards,” where wars are fought with words and backroom deals. Here, the only path to the crown is through combat, be it fought with swords and shields or giants and wildfire. This season especially, the focus has been on numbers and strength and the resources that any given side of this battle has at its disposal.
Cersei’s floor conquest map is her giant scoreboard, the Iron Throne her championship trophy. She seems to have forgotten that there’s always next year.
“Game of Thrones” is one of the rare shows that offers plenty of different ways to absorb its story. There’s a divide between casual viewers and obsessives that also mirrors the stat revolution that’s fundamentally shifted the way that sports fans see their respective games. a few players, teams and the game itself. Much like the analytics philosophy has infiltrated sports management front offices across every major sport, the theory-based parsing out of details, building coverage and discussion on hypotheticals and staying one step ahead of the people telling the story is changing how and what we prioritize when enjoying this show.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” became a phenomenon within a year of “Lost” premiering. But these two pieces in their respective worlds were fundamental in shifting the way the casual observer considers the elements of a show that provide the most value. Watercooler parsing of tiny TV details has existed at least as long as “Twin Peaks,” but “Game of Thrones” is the culmination of a post-“Lost,” internet-fueled decade-plus of online conversation, where “solving” a show’s trail of bread crumbs is just as central to understanding the show as divining character motivations.
Obviously, the World Series isn’t going to leak a few days before the players play the game. But the fact that the show breaks ratings records even when episodes leak ahead of airing shows that people want to experience this show in a communal way. There’s value in being able to celebrate the in-show victories along with everyone else. If you’ve been a devoted Targaryen fan since before Dany was struggling in AAA Essos, the true joy of seeing that character thrive isn’t going to come until it’s a matter of public knowledge.
In another way, the divide between book readers and people who have just watch the show is similar to the way that people who watch pro sports and ignore collegiate and minor-league developments. In the world of the books, there are a bevy of characters who are ripe for making their mark on the more familiar narrative that the TV watchers know. Gendry’s re-emergence on the show is just like calling up someone to the major league roster after spending some time toiling away in Flea Bottom, honing his skills.
Becoming immersed in the extensive elaborate mythology of the series, like draft day experts and talent scouts, surely give any viewer of each a better sense of what these characters can bring once they’re added to the fold. For every person worthy of their own pre-season poster, there are hundreds that remain off screen, ready to leap in and make their own contributions. As with Gendry, it’s almost more satisfying to see someone come in from under the radar and make a meaningful impact on how things unfold.
What are sports without villains? Just consider the tease for Season 7’s sixth episode. It looks like a Sunday Night football promo, filled with highlights, touting the meeting of two opposing forces who’ve been destined to collide all season. Building up to a season climax has essentially made the showdown with the White Walkers the “Game of Thrones” playoffs.
It’s a rivalry fostered and promised for weeks. Both sides have prepped for the occasion, acquiring new talent and sacrificing old teammates. Now the stage is set for each individual to prove their worth and see how everyone comes together as a team. (Beric, with his flaming sword and unkillableness, just has a great feel for the game, Jim.)
The concept of a squeaky clean classic athlete pitch man is dwindling with each successive generation. Increased access and growing public scrutiny has seen leagues double down on promoting the on-field game instead of purely making stars. In shaping these characters, “Game of Thrones” has shown that none of their major players are above reproach, either. Each have done unspeakable or unjustifiable things under the guise of self-preservation.
Though neither sports exist without people to play them (yet), the NFL in particular has sought to bolster the brand of the product itself rather than the people who play it. This way, athletes are interchangeable. No one individual can become bigger than the league itself when people are buying into the process as an overall experience.
Ultimately, that’s what “Game of Thrones” has done. It’s built an entire reputation on reminding audiences that no character is safe and that the show is better for not having most of them still around. For every viewer whose interest may wane in the wake of a major character death, there are 10 more fans who see that departure as a reinforcement of what makes this battle worth devouring more than an hour a week to. That’s the nature of team fandom. Players come and go, you root for laundry. This show’s just happen to come from IKEA.
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Even though Netflix has started to cancel its underperforming series in earnest, that doesn’t mean it lacks for programming. In fact, its slate of offerings is fuller than ever, which makes it difficult for viewers to choose when faced with an embarrassment of bingeable riches.
Netflix’s foreign series, however, rarely get promotion amidst all of the other American shows that have been produced. Although IndieWire has previously provided handy lists of foreign-language series a couple of times, including other imports, that is only a hint of all offerings available.
By now, you’ve already seen Brazil’s excellent dystopian series “3%” or the unforgettable “Chewing Gum” starring Michaela Coel, but what’s next? In an effort to continue helping viewers discover new or lesser-known foreign TV shows, we’ve compiled another list of those series worth bingeing below:
”Case” (In Icelandic: “Réttur”)
Premise: The body of teenage ballet student Lara is found hanging in a theater, but detective Gabriela suspects foul play, not a simple suicide. Many of those closest to Lara are hiding shady dealings. As the investigation deepens, another group of rogue snoops are looking into her death, complicating matters.
Why You Should Watch: This is classic Nordic noir in which dark secrets are uncovered and no one appears to be spotless, not even the victim. What’s refreshing about this series in which the usual misogyny is highlighted and the victim is of course female, is that Detective Gabriela (the excellently implacable Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir) looks like an ordinary woman, neither fetishized as a cop who wears heels nor gussied up to be the 10 but with hair pulled back “normal” for TV. Also, the first episode dispenses a lot of exposition or introductions, which can drag down a plot anyway, but if you endure a bit of flailing and trying to figure out who’s who, the plot gels by the end of the first of nine hour-long episodes.
Premise: In this Australian thriller, two aboriginal teens involved in a car crash go missing, and journalist Ned Banks (Dan Spielman) and his hacker brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) stumble across a horrifying and incriminating video. What it amounts to is a mounting body count and massive cover-up that leads to serious consequences for those who investigate too closely.
Why You Should Watch: The six-part season flies by with plenty of intrigue to spare, and mixes the slick cyber world of hacking with remote, uninhabited vistas. The series also co-stars New Zealand national treasure Lucy Lawless as the teacher of the two students, Adam Garcia as the editor of an internet news journal, and David Wenham as the Deputy Prime Minister. Engrossing and terrifying, Season 1 of “The Code” is currently available for streaming.
Premise: The Laguna Negra boarding school is set inexplicably out in the remote woods, and soon the students realize that there are dark secrets and danger afoot. Although most of the action follows a group of students, the adults in the school have plenty of action and sordid pasts themselves.
Why You Should Watch: A mix of mystery, romance, supernatural and thriller, once the show gets past the initial setup, it’s an addictive ride full of almost any sort of ridiculous but highly entertaining TV trope imaginable. Ghosts? Cloning? Evil parents? A former orphanage? Secret mothers? Nazis? All of that and more. Brisk and often hilarious writing, especially where the youngest kids are concerned, give the very game actors plenty to work with. All seven seasons are available for streaming.
”Hinterland” (In Welsh: “Y Gwyll”)
Premise: On his first day on the job in Aberystwyth, DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) investigates the disappearance and later the death of an elderly woman who is found dead in a ravine without her teeth.
Why You Should Watch: This Welsh crime series scratches that itch for Nordic noir like “The Killing,” while delivering the promised remote hinterlands as a backdrop. Dark, disturbing and occasionally depressing, the series unflinchingly delves into the human psyche and comes out the other side with grim purpose. A fun bit of trivia: The series was made as a commitment by the director of BBC Cymru Wales to to show more Welsh language life and culture on the mainstream BBC channels. Every line of dialogue was shot twice in order to create a Welsh and English version of the series. Sadly, Netflix only provides the English version for our shores, but certain portions of the series remain in Welsh with English subtitling. Three seasons are available for streaming.
Premise: Hjørdis, a fellow teacher seen in the hit Danish series “Rita,” spins off into her own miniseries. This time, she’s attempting to put on a show about anti-bullying with the misfit kids at the Islevard School with extra pressure from the school principal because the Crown Princess Mary is going to attend.
Why You Should Watch: True to Hjørdis’ less experienced, more gentle nature, this series is more family-friendly (read: no sex) than “Rita” is. That is not to say that its sweetness should be mistaken for shallowness though. Watching Hjørdis struggle and grow alongside the students she’s mentoring, all while sending a message of tolerance, may lead to a predictable outcome, but it’s heartening nevertheless. Performances, especially by Lisa Baastrup as Hjørdis and the kids, are top-notch. It’s a very welcome quick, low-commitment respite from adulthood and today’s politics.
”Tales by Light”
Premise: This Australian documentary series follows photographers as they explore remote and unfamiliar regions of the planet, capturing glimpses of other cultures and breathtaking nature and vistas.
Why You Should Watch: This should fill the “Planet Earth”-shaped hole in your heart, although it should be noted that this isn’t a nature program. Instead, it takes sort of the “Chef’s Table” approach by getting to know some of the inspirations and photographic techniques told through the lens (ha!) of top photographers.
Premise: It’s like the Japanese “Real World” but without the drama. Three young women and three young men live in a fabulous house and get the run of the city driving Toyota vehicles. They can leave the show whenever they want and are replaced by another young person. Midway through the episode, a panel of colorful people who are apparently watching the show comment on it, which adds a bit of spice.
Why You Should Watch: If you’re already embraced the gentleness of “The Great British Baking Show,” then this might be for you. On a show where nothing of consequence happens and there’s no competition, the house inhabitants are left to their own devices, and that’s just being cool, nice, and polite kids. The gorgeous house, the low-stress interactions, and a peek into the everyday culture of Japan is soothing and addictive all at once. Sugoi! (Amazing! Wow!) Start with the first iteration, “Boys & Girls in the City,” before moving on to the latest version of the franchise, “Aloha State,” set in Hawaii.
Premise: Vincent (Ed Westwick) is a total wanker and knows it. No really. In his narcissism, he breaks the fourth wall often in order to enlighten us mere mortals that he is one of “the show-offs, the posers, the ‘I’m better than you. Fuck everyone and everything,’ twat type of wankers. I prefer the term ‘ambitious.’” He leads a team of two other salesmen who are occasionally as unscrupulous and smarmy as he is in a glamorous life of overselling double-glazed windows and taking advantage of customers in 1980s Essex.
Why You Should Watch: New to Netflix, this BBC series is a disappointing follow-up to Damon Beesley’s “The Inbetweeners” and tries very hard to make Vincent a comedic anti-hero who’ll get his comeuppance, but falls short of actual humor. Why recommend it then? Westwick, whatever the hell he’s doing here, is always engaging, especially when he’s looking viewers straight in the eye, and former “Inbetweeners” stars James Buckley and Joe Thomas have great chemistry as warring salesmen. The nostalgia factor can’t be beat, with the a blaring 1980s soundtrack and cars and clothes to match.
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“Logan Lucky” and “The Knick” are one and the same. Yes, one is a new Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig-led motion picture — a brisk, lively, crowd-pleasing heist flick, opening this weekend. And “The Knick” was a TV show, set in 1901 with gruesome operations, low ratings, and a cancellation handed down by Cinemax after two seasons.
But beyond their shared director, both “Logan Lucky” and “The Knick” operate outside the norm. If the former succeeds, it could lead to more great TV like the latter; it could help build a world where ambitious shows — like “The Knick” Season 3 — could see the light of day.
Steven Soderbergh’s first and last TV show, along with his return from the filmmakers’ retirement home, are auteur efforts with a clear, creative vision, and their success is measured differently from blockbusters of both mediums.
“Logan Lucky” doesn’t have to earn “Wonder Woman” numbers to be a winner. Built on the same financing plan as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Tom Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” films, Steven Soderbergh has crafted an innovative system that sidesteps major studios entirely. He financed the film independently and his partnership for theatrical distribution through Bleeker Street is structured to keep all control with the creatives.
In this case, that’s Soderbergh (he’s handling the marketing himself). In the future, it could be anyone with the means, know-how, or who finds a way to collaborate with his production banner, Fingerprint Releasing. Soderbergh is setting up a future where he and other savvy auteurs don’t have to rely on studio interference. He’s in control of his movies. And as long as “Logan Lucky” makes money for him and the other profit participants (who include his cast), he could be in control for the rest of his career.
So how does that help TV? The television landscape is changing, and it’s changing quickly.
Big-time creators are fleeing broadcast for streaming services with the promise of unrestricted creative freedom. Look no further than Shonda Rhimes leaving ABC, where she’s thrived for decades, to build new shows at Netflix, and “The Walking Dead” mastermind Robert Kirkman ditching AMC for Amazon.
The TV industry is seeing a shift in power, and creatives have more control. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are leaping at the chance to let auteurs do whatever they want — even the Coen Brothers are “streaming motherfuckers” now — and they’re luring talent away from broadcast, cable, and premium cable networks, which have been slow to adjust.
Take, for instance, “The Knick.” Though it was never a ratings behemoth, it’s hard to argue “The Knick” put Cinemax originals on the map. It snagged nine Emmy nominations in two years (and one win), along with a Golden Globe nomination for Clive Owen in 2015. That’s more awards love than all its other originals combined.
But the only reason we’ve been given for the “The Knick’s” cancellation is speculative. In a reddit AMA for “Logan Lucky,” Soderbergh wrote, “Season 3 of ‘The Knick’ was set in 1947 and was going — at my absolute insistence — to be shot in anamorphic black-and-white. It’s POSSIBLE that may have contributed to its demise…”
Even if that’s true, it may not have been the only reason the series ended. Cinemax had been pretty good to Soderbergh up to that point, given the challenging material and an expensive production. (To allow for Soderbergh’s roaming camera and lengthy takes, the period decor had to be just right and appear, at least, to be never-ending.) The Season 2 finale was a bit of a cliffhanger, with Owen’s Dr. John W. Thackery possibly dead on his own operating table. That, combined with the proposed time jump, means the series may have been without its star in Season 3, which would have been another reason for Cinemax to cancel it.
But the divide implied by Soderbergh remains: He pitched an idea, the network got nervous, and Season 3 never happened.
The issue of trust between creatives and studios dates back decades. The Hollywood system as a whole still needs to learn to trust insightful creators like Soderbergh, and traditional television networks need to adjust if they hope to compete against the streaming behemoths that threaten to put them out of business.
It’s not always the right call, but learning who to trust to go down the rabbit hole, be it on the big or small screen, breeds success. (Cinemax parent HBO has done quite well in trusting David Simon, Armando Iannucci, and Damon Lindelof.)
TV networks and film studios are different beasts, but both (rightfully) fear what streaming services can do to their business. Trusting creatives is one way they can stand out.
The success of “Logan Lucky” would help build that trust. Its success could lead to better entertainment in all mediums. Given the right terms, Soderbergh and similar creatives could partner with Cinemax, HBO, Netflix, or, heck, even ABC, and that would mean a future filled with better programming for everyone.
Or, if Daniel Craig and his black-and-white prison pinstripes become a hit, maybe Soderbergh will fund his own TV show — in anamorphic black-and-white.
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