My last post ended up with a misleading title (oops). When I started it, I planned to rag on more than just the Fargo TV series — figuring I didn’t have all that much to say about it — but the post become a total spleen vent about that one show (with a bit of shade for Hulu). Ah, well, better out than in.
This post, and at least two I’m planning after, will fall on the other side, my good side. To Yin the Yang of the previous two posts, these will be about shows I’ve really enjoyed (or even loved).
This post is about shows I’ve enjoyed that are produced by Netflix.
And that’s kind of a whole thing now: original content produced by a streaming platform, so you have to be a member to see it at all.
Even the networks are getting in on the act. CBS is only providing the new Star Trek on their streaming platform. (I’ll have something to say about that another time.)
For those of us cutting, or considering cutting, the cable, it does offer the chance to only pay for platforms of interest (like, why am I paying Comcast for the Oprah Winfrey channel or Bravo or other channels I never watch).
And, of course, best of all: no commercials!
One Netflix show I recommend to all my science-fiction-loving friends is Black Mirror. It’s critically acclaimed for good reason: It’s excellent.
It’s essentially The Twilight Zone (with a dash of The Outer Limits) done with a huge budget. The writing is generally outstanding, and — best of all — so is the science fiction.
The science is sometimes a little sketchy to me, but only in the most trivial of ways and well within acceptable bounds for science fiction (which is fiction, after all).
A basic premise of the show is that we’ve solved the consciousness problem, and human minds can exist and run on computer hardware. For me, this is a little bit like warp drive in SF spaceships. In fact, it’s doubly like that for me.
For one, it’s something I believe will never actually happen. I believe it is factually impossible for consciousness to run as an algorithm. I do not believe consciousness is algorithmic. (I wrote a very long series of posts explaining why. Start here if interested.)
On the other hand, warp drive (or algorithmic consciousness) is what I call a “gimme” in science fiction: a basic premise we simply accept in order to tell the stories we want to tell. The transporters in Star Trek are also gimmes.
And my lack of faith in algorithmic consciousness doesn’t deter from the stories any more than warp drive or transporters do. (In fact, algorithmic consciousness is a key premise in the stories of Greg Egan, who is one of my favorite SF authors.)
But then I also enjoy stories with wizards and magic, so… there ya go.
As with Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, horror and bad endings are part of the storytelling. Black Mirror examines many of the downsides and consequences of our technological lust. Each episode touches on some key aspect of how computers have changed our world.
Speaking of each episode, the series is an anthology, so episodes are not related to each other. Different actors, different times, different stories.
That said, the stories do seem to take place in the same reality. Some bits of technology (like “cookies”) appear in multiple episodes, and the final episode of season four, especially, seems to contain a bunch of callbacks (like the lollypop from the first episode of that season).
What makes this my favorite Netflix (original) show is that, in quite a few of the episodes, I’ve watched thinking, “Huh! They finally made an episode that I’m not digging that much!”
And then comes the denouement, and I’m like blown away at how good it actually was. This hit me especially hard in the second season episode, White Bear. Was actually kinda not enjoying the episode. And then… O!M!G! Also, holy shit!
I recommend Black Mirror without qualification. It gets my highest rating: Wow!
If you haven’t seen it, and plan to, make every effort to avoid spoilers. This is one show you want to have unfold before you. As I said, episodes that seemed to be going one way end up surprising you.
Another Netflix original I really enjoyed was Grace and Frankie, although there might be a bit of age-related love going on there. Regardless, the show is generally very well written and hugely engaging.
A big part of the fun is watching four accomplished and experienced actors do their thing. That’s Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen (Robert), Lily Tomlin (Frankie), and Sam Waterston (Sol).
And they are all a delight! The show frequently had me hooting with laughter.
The premise is that Robert and Sol were college best buds who became divorce lawyers and started a successful firm together. Grace and Robert have been married 40 years, and so have Frankie and Sol. The former couple is buttoned down while the latter couple are new age (aging) hippies.
The series kicks off with Robert and Sol revealing to their respective wives that they (Robert and Sol) have been homosexual lovers for the past 20 years. And now that California law allows them to marry, they intend to do just that (first divorcing their wives).
Of course, this comes as a total shock to both wives, who are thrown together despite their vast personal differences and despite not really liking or respecting each other. Naturally they end up living together.
It’s kind of a female version of The Odd Couple, and it’s a lot of fun!
Grace and Frankie, for example, end up creating a new business together: vibrators for older women (with considerations for arthritis and poor vision).
Meanwhile we also watch Robert and Sol create their new life together, and part of the sheer fun is watching Sheen and Waterston play a gay couple. They’re really good at it. As I said, experienced and accomplished actors at the top of the bill!
The show also includes their collective four children and various romantic interests along the way.
Recommended with only the tiniest qualification that it might appeal to older folks more than really young ones. It rates a low-level Wow! or an easy Ah!
Most recently, I watched the (only) season of Dear White People (based on the movie with the same name), which I really enjoyed.
It follows a group of black students at an ivy league university. Writer/Director Justin Simien is behind both the movie and the TV series.
One thing that interests me about social group interaction is the tension between identifying with your group and identifying with the society in which the group is embedded.
Women face this, as do all non-whites (and, in some cases, even whites of different nationalities — my parents navigated an admittedly very trivial path between their Norwegian heritage and being just generic Americans).
The show touches on this topic repeatedly and, per real life, doesn’t offer any easy or pat answers.
It’s a show about black identity and totally worth watching. I found it also interesting structurally in how it bounces among its characters. Rated Ah!
For just some sheer fun, check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which comes to us from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock.
Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was abducted by an insane “reverend” when she was 14 and kept captive in an underground bunker with three other women for 15 years.
Just before the show begins, the women are rescued and the reverend (Jon Hamm!) imprisoned. The show follows her attempts at learning how to live in the modern world.
That sounds like it could be dark, but the show is a comedy and pretty funny.
It also features Carol Kane, Tituss Burgess, and Jane Krakowski (who was so much fun in Tina Fey’s outstanding NBC comedy 30 Rock).
I give it an Ah! (with the understanding it’s mostly fluff).
Another bit of fun fluff: Chewing Gum, which was created by, written by, and stars (as Tracey Gordon) Michaela Coel. The show is very much her creation, being based on a play she wrote, Chewing Gum Dreams.
Tracey is 24, is quite poor, works in a shop, and was raised by an extremely religious mother.
The show follows her efforts to break out of the mold and experience life, love, and (especially) sex.
Later in the series, her uptight prudish sister (who has been following in their mother’s footsteps) also tries to make the same leap. Hilarity ensues!
If the series has any fault it’s in the conceit that Tracey is unattractive or not relationship material. She’s charming, funny, and quite desirable, but social standards of beauty being what they are… well, fooey. All I can say is that a guy should be so lucky as to have a gal like Tracey.
A definite Ah! along with regrets there will be no more seasons. The show is only two seasons long, and each season only has six episodes.
That’s a shame, as I’d like to see more. (FWIW, Coel has said in social media that someday she’ll create a third season. Hope so!)
Far more serious (which brings this full circle) and with slightly mixed feelings, the Netflix SF series Travelers. It comes from Brad Wright who was instrumental in the various Stargate TV shows.
(I didn’t think much of the Stargate movie, so I never checked out any of the TV series. No idea if they’re good or not.)
The show stars Eric McCormack (famously Will of Will & Grace), who I enjoyed in TNT’s Perception and, obviously, Will & Grace.
The premise is that “travelers” from our messed up dystopic future (which is never shown on the show; it all takes place in our era) come back in time to try to prevent the dystopia. The hitch is that only their minds can travel, and they need a contemporary body to inhabit!
Such inhabitation kills the existing mind, so they only target individuals who are about to die. Further, are about to die in situations where other choices would prevent the death. (Someone about to commit suicide, for example.)
What’s more, they need the exact GPS coordinates of the target, so all this time travel had to wait until the cell phone era when everyone is running around with a GPS device. They mine social media for targets and also learn how to inhabit the target’s life, because this is all covert.
As a further wrinkle, travelers can only be sent back to times after the most recent one sent. It’s a neat wrinkle, because it prevents the time travel notion of going further back to correct a mistake you made the first time. No do overs allowed!
The show is fairly grim and serious, even dark at times, and I had mixed feelings, especially during the first half-dozen episodes. But it did keep me watching, and I will certainly watch the third season when it arrives.
I give it a low-ish Ah! — it definitely rates more than an Eh!
There are many other shows I’ve been watching on Netflix, but they don’t belong here because they aren’t original to the platform. I may cover some of the ones I’ve really enjoyed in the next post (or not).
So far I haven’t found any original Hulu content that appeals to me, but I’m fairly busy watching shows I missed elsewhere on that platform. (And a lot of Japanese anime!) I’ll likely record some of those, too.
But for now, if you haven’t, check out Black Mirror or Grace and Frankie or Dear White People. They’re all very worth watching!
Total Thumbs Up!
January 26th, 2021 at 11:42 am
[…] The four seasons of the show aren’t the exception; I enjoyed the show. […]