BINGE-R #6: The Last Panthers + Netflix Essentials
THE LAST PANTHERS S1
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
A European co-production with a terrific cast, spotty storytelling skills, and a structure that has the potential to be illuminating, The Last Panthers is a crime drama whose virtues just outweigh its flaws. Inspired by The Pink Panthers, a real life Serbian crime gang responsible for a series of lucratively brazen heists, it begins with the sleekly shot robbery of a Marseilles jeweller where the white-clad thieves get away with €15 million in uncut diamonds but inadvertently create headlines that leave them without an illicit buyer.
The stones reach the Serbian capital of Belgrade, where they serve as a magnet for three pursuers. One of the thieves, Milan Celik (Goran Bogdan), is a veteran criminal who needs the stones to save his brother and leverage his place in the city’s powerful underworld, while Marseilles police detective Khalil Rachedi (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) sees them as an excuse to tackle crime on the housing estate where he grew up, even as insurance investigator Naomi Franckom (Samantha Morton) wants to recover them because few others can. The symmetry of the characters is too obvious, but the performances are first-rate.
If you want a change from insular European murder mysteries, the scope of The Last Panthers is welcome. The multiple storylines are intertwined, but each reveals a different corner of Europe, growing increasingly grim as the narrative moves eastwards. With buildings still in ruin from the NATO bombing two decades ago, Belgrade is a pungent setting (with the most abysmal men’s haircuts on the continent). “Is he in guns?” Milan asks an associate upon spying a new business contact. “Cement,” comes the reply, with infrastructure the new earner for criminal enterprises that have outgrown armed robbery.
The region’s history is hinted at in flashbacks that place Naomi in the Balkans as a U.N. peacekeeper during the 1990s, although her possible connection from that time to Milan is worryingly implausible. Swedish director Johan Renck is good with abrupt action scenes, but his conversations can be desultory – he does let John Hurt, as Naomi’s manipulative boss Tom Kendle, deliver lines such as, “I hate the Flemish. No guile,” with Cheshire Cat-like pleasure.
It’s a show about flawed people, ready to transgress to get what they want, but The Last Panthers is more attuned to plot. There are sharp twists, but also a sense that you’re being ripped off in terms of the character development. The true insight has been stolen away.
In BINGE-R’s epic journey to being three weeks old the focus has been on reviewing the steady flow of new shows appearing on Australian streaming services. But there are other approaches to pursue and in January, for example, you’ll start to also read about the movies that are worth streaming. Today I want to go back and cover some old ground to help those who are new to Netflix, since the breadth of choice is dauntingly wide.
Consider the five shows listed below, plus the extra recommendation, your Netflix building blocks (I’ll be doing the same for Stan in BINGE-R #7). It’s a subjective list – House of Cards, the show that is the introduction to Netflix for many, didn’t make the top five because it lost me four episodes into the second season – that’s meant to be diverse. If you don’t know where to start, one or more of these series should get you bingeing.
1 – Jessica Jones S1: If you’ve never cared for superhero blockbusters, this Marvel-derived drama may well change your mind. Krysten Ritter plays the title character, a woman whose extraordinary powers are no stronger than the immense trauma she’s suffered. It’s a show about recovery, revenge and the ways we cope, with a chillingly memorably turn from one-time Doctor Who David Tennant as a villain whose very words lead to anguish.
2 – Master of None S1: Few expected Aziz Ansari, the livewire MVP on Parks and Recreation and stand-up comic, to create, along with Alan Yang, such an emotionally nuanced and culturally vibrant sitcom. But Master of None is tender, funny, and incisive – and Homeland fans will not believe Claire Danes’ guest spot.
3 – Orange is the New Black S1, S2, S3 + S4: One of Netflix’s first original series, Jenji Kohan’s comic-drama about a privileged New Yorker (Taylor Schilling) unexpectedly sentenced to 15 months in a minimum security jail has steadily widened to become a study of marginalised women, systematic corruption, and race in America. It’s powerful, but without the prestige veneer.
4 – Stranger Things S1: Unheralded upon release, addictive upon first viewing. Perfectly paced at eight episodes, this science-fiction mystery married dead-on 1980s screen nostalgia – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, John Carpenter, Poltergeist – with adolescent wonder and Winona Ryder to create a compelling supernatural adventure.
5 – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S1 + S2: The rat-a-tat brand of humour that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock perfected on the mighty 30 Rock hits deliriously funny heights in this sitcom, which trades on the survivor’s pluck and irrepressible performance of Ellie Kemper as a young woman fresh to New York after 15 years in a cult leader’s bunker. It’s both silly and smart, and each quality enhances the other.
(P.S. All five of the selections above have new seasons on the way.)
WORTH TRYING: Bloodline, Bojack Horseman, The Crown, Lady Dynamite, House of Cards, Love, Luke Cage.
DO NOT BOTHER: Flaked, The Get Down, Marco Polo, The Ranch.
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