Displaying items by tag: Insiders

Review: 'Insiders'

21 October, 2021

You've probably read a lot of hot takes from media and television reporters trying to explain the reasons why the Netflix series Squid Games has been such a massive success. Aside from the obvious factors - such as the quality of the show - a number of theories seem to center around the anti-capitalist slant of the series and the fact that the show seemed to just explode virally. Netflix didn't appear to send out screeners of the series ahead of time and even the company's executives have admitted that they didn't "get" the show.  The company surfaced the show through its email blasts and via its app interface. But Squid Games ultimately broke through because it is one of the shows that viewers finish and then instantly think "what the F%^k did I just watch?" Squid Games has a unique feel and that goes a long way in today's overcrowded entertainment environment.

Insiders is the first original Netflix reality series from Spain and if enough subscribers sample it, I can see the show quickly building an audience of stunned fans. Produced to be quickly consumed in a frantic binge, this batshit seven-episode roller coaster ride of crazy is the Squid Games of reality television: a show that has to be experienced to be completely understood.

Hosted by Money Heist actress Najwa Nimri, the show is a bit like Big Brother, if that show was produced by a psychopath with ADHD. A group of twelve participants are brought into a studio after auditioning for a reality series they are told will hopefully be purchased by Netflix. The set is a 17,200 square-foot studio that is completely covered by 250 hidden microphones and 70 hidden cameras. The contestants are told they are finalists for the show and are given a Big Brother-style living space to stay in while the final auditions take place. They aren't told they are being constantly filmed and that they will be psychologically tortured like tattooed hipster lab rats.

There isn't one aspect of the show that is predictable. The entire first episode is basically setting up the sting and it's clear early on the show is going to be emotionally brutal on the participants. The contestant interviews are interspersed with later footage secretly recorded inside the house. So as one contestant talks in her screening interview about her unshakeable love for her boyfriend, we see her later sleeping with one of the other houseguests. Another contestant claims to be "easy going, but passionate" in his interview, as we see him later having a screaming, obscenity-filled meltdown. It's clear these interviews are less of a screening process than a way for the show's producers to hone in on everyone's emotional weaknesses. And they take full advantage of every single one throughout the experience. 

It's difficult to fully explain the insanity of Insiders without giving away some of the best "what the F%^k did I just watch?" twists. At one point, the contestants are told they are actually in a competition and the eventual lone surviving houseguest will take home €100,000 ($117,720). But literally ever other aspect of the show is a lie. The "producers" are really actors, the methods used to decide who is eliminated are just made up by producers and there are so many layers of twists and turns that you couldn't keep track of them all with a giant white board and a set of twenty colored markers.  Even after the winner is chosen, there is one last twist as the cameras fade which was so nuts I literally screamed out in surprise. 

I'm not sure why Insiders wasn't promoted more before its release. Part of the problem seems to be that there isn't a lot of promotional coordination between territories on lower-profile global shows. Every country has a limited PR bandwidth and a lot of things just slip through the cracks. This isn't a problem limited to Netflix, by the way. But it is one that affects the company more simply because of the large number of local productions it has going on around the globe.

I know this might be the first you've heard about Insiders, so all I can tell you is that if you enjoy slightly insane reality TV, then this is the series you've been waiting for. The contestants are memorable, the production values are first rate and I can guarantee you won't see most of these twists coming. 

Insiders premiered Thursday, October 21st, 2021 on Netflix.

Today's Song You Should Know: 'Little Miss Information' By Insiders

16 November, 2020

If you're a rock music fan, you're likely familiar with the story of Big Star, a Memphis-based band that created three albums of music that are still regarded as highly influential even though the best-selling release - the debut album entitled "#1 Record" - likely only sold a few hundred copies when it was released in June 1972.  But the band's music has been re-released continuously over the ensuing decades and you can now buy pretty much every track and live show the band ever recorded. Their music matters because not only were they talented, but their songs captured the zeitgeist of what was to come in music. Every one from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck to Paul Stanley have cited the band as an influence. 

There are a precious few bands like Big Star that just seem to capture a specific moment in time. More often than not, the bands aren't all that successful at the time, but as the years pass, their talent and influence become clear. Which brings me to the Chicago band Insiders.

The band was part of a massive wave of talent that exploded in Chicago in the 1980s. You could go to clubs seven days a week and not catch all of the talent playing on a regular basis. And for whatever reason, the scene never took off the way it did in L.A. in the late 1980s or Seattle in the 1990s. A number of bands were signed by major labels but for the most part, the exercise was more frustrating than starmaking.

One group that nearly everyone thought would break big was the Insiders. Imagine Lennon and McCartney backed by Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Their songs were ear candy, the band was incredibly tight live and they were one of the few bands that didn't have a weak spot in the lineup. After being initially courted by Warner Brothers, they signed with Epic and released their debut album, "Ghost On The Beach" in 1987. The title track became a Top Ten modern rock track and the album reportedly sold about 100,000 copies. 

But like a lot of bands, the follow-up album turned into a bit of a nightmare. They recorded a bunch of tracks in Memphis, which the label apparently decided didn't include a hit. They recorded another group of tracks and eventually were dropped by the label. The entire story is much too long to get into here, but it's worth noting that Chrysalis Records wanted to sign the band, but wasn't willing to pay Epic's price for the recorded tracks.

The band later released several albums through the independent label Monsterdisc, including "Live At Fitzgerald's," an absolutely smoking live album that included tracks from their debut album as well as ones that had been slated for the follow-up.

There are a number of great unreleased tunes from the Epic period, but I wanted to showcase "Little Miss Information" here. In part, because it's just a song with a hook as powerful as a cannonball. And also because a member of the band posted this live clip on YouTube, which gives you an idea of just how good a band they were live.

"Ghost On The Beach" has been out of print since the early 1990s and it has never been released digitally. I love the band enough I spent some time trying to shake loose tracks from Sony to release independently, but wasn't able to make it happen. But if you like their sound, a collection of unrleased tracks called "Back In Memphis" is floating around on some torrent sites. And you can listen to a couple of live tracks and well as songs from their unreleased Epic album on this Soundcloud page.