It’s no wonder we rarely consume episodic TV the old-fashioned way anymore. I mean, what’s the point of stringing ourselves out from week to week waiting for all those bogus cliffhangers to resolve (usually with a thud) when we can polish off an entire season of a show in the time it takes to slow-cook a pot roast?
And as far as content goes, the universe has no bounds. Just invoke Siri on your Apple TV and say, “I’m in the mood for a Finnish remake of a 70s Israeli sit-com filmed on location in Antarctica by the BBC,” and she’ll come up with seventy-three suggestions.
Laid up with the crud over the holidays, we had an opportunity to elevate the art and craft of binge-watching to new heights and in the process discovered a few standouts we deemed worthy of sharing. In no order of importance whatsoever, here they are:
A Place To Call Home (Acorn). This is the soap opera to end all soap operas. Set in Australia in early 1950s (you won’t believe the cars), it’s a cross between Doc Martin and Downton Abbey, with a generous dash of Murder She Wrote. GREAT female characters. Sarah Adams, played by Marta Dusseldorp (move over Meryl Streep) is the most kick-ass female character to trod the earth since Catherine of Aragon. And her sneering antagonist, Regina Standish, played by Jenni Baird, is a character so twisted and morally defunct you find yourself pacing the room waiting for the inevitable scene in which all the characters she’s wronged over four seasons queue up to smash her face in with a cricket bat. (4 seasons available, still running.)
Stranger Things (Netflix). Remember the 1980s? This will take you back, without having to endure a single reference to Iran-Contra. It’s John Hughes (Weird Science and Sixteen Candles) meets Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) and Steven Spielberg (E.T. and Close Encounters). A more authentic, loving, and downright scary tribute to a recent decade, its youth, and its music (Moby! the Clash!) is hard to imagine. There’s a mad scientist, a monster, and sniveling class bullies galore. Its ensemble of young actors deserve to be cast in platinum and preserved forever. And then there’s Wynona Rider! Never has a character so pathetic and annoying made me want to give her a hug, tell her everything was going to work out, and offer her a shot of tequila and a Xanax. (1 season available, still running.)
Fleabag (Amazon Prime). Sex, a spiteful stepmother who sculpts erections, guilt, the high price of sandwiches in London, and… did I mention sex? This is the creation of the brilliant Pheobe Waller-Bridge, who writes and stars as the title character. I’ll take her over Lena Dunham and Girls any day. Not that these two shows are all that similar (save for their female POV). It’s just that, to me, Fleabag is as evocative and gritty and true to its milieu, but thrice as funny. Warning: don’t watch this with a twelve-year-old. Depending on the youngster’s level of precociousness you’ll either have some major ‘splaining to do OR you’ll sit there wondering why he/she gets it and you don’t. (1 season available, still running.)
Smash (Amazon). Okay, we know what you’re thinking: “How can I possibly trust Ron or ever want to read his sorry blog again for putting this train wreck on his list.” Well, first off, we didn’t watch THAT MANY shows over the holidays plus we WERE running a pretty high fever. We confess there’s a lot in this Steven Spielberg produced series that would make the most devoted Broadway fanatic wince, BUT there’s also a lot to love. Really love. In case you haven’t heard, Smash was a 2012-13 NBC experiment to see if a scripted musical series (about the making of a musical about Marilyn Monroe) could fly in prime time. Given that a good amount of the dialogue in Smash was written by chimpanzees I think that remains an open question, but boy, just try prying those Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman show tunes out of my skull. Never gonna happen. (Cancelled after 2 seasons.)
O.J.: Made in America (Hulu) 2016 was definitely the year of The Juice. Last winter many of us were glued to the ten week run of The People v. O.J. Simpson: an American Crime Story on FX, which swept the Emmys (with nine wins) and has been nominated for five Golden Globes. If you haven’t seen this, trust me, it’s riveting (especially Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran). Then a few months later along came O.J.: Made in America, an eight-hour documentary produced by ESPN that, because it was given a limited theatrical release, is being touted as the first ever TV series that may conceivably win an Oscar (for best documentary feature). O.J.: Made in America is the perfect complement to the scripted FX series. It’s a comprehensive biography of O.J. from his early youth in the projects through his present incarceration in Nevada juxtaposed with an eye-opening history of race relations and police malfeasance in Los Angeles. An amazing achievement, it even presents a rare opportunity to watch Mark Furman and eventually O.J. (after his conviction for kidnapping and armed robbery) look directly into the camera and betray their self-loathing. (Limited one-season series.)
© 2017 Ron Dulaney