Binge-r #101: 10 Under the Radar Netflix + Stan Series
AMERICAN VANDAL Comic critique (one season)
Hear me out: this high school mockumentary has a torrent of dick jokes, but not only are they classroom funny they also tie into the investigation of the school idiot’s suspension that forms a genuinely compelling mystery. This compact comedy makes the very stupid play as very smart, capturing the visual tropes of the true crime documentary while mixing in teenage minutiae. Seriously, it’s Beavis and Butt-Head meets Serial.
THE EXPANSE Gritty science-fiction (two seasons)
I do bang on about The Expanse a bit, but only because there’s so little for science-fiction fans to stream and this is by far the best of those limited options. Set in a 23rd century where our solar system has very familiar issues – rampant inequality, xenophobia, perpetual conflict – the multiple strands of intrigue always stress the human element over gadgets. [full review in BINGE-R #1]
THE FALL Crime thriller (three seasons)
A drop-off in plausibility means that not all viewers follow this British procedural through to the end, but there’s certainly consensus that the first season is addictive. Gillian Anderson, coolly commanding of both the investigation and her physical desires, is the English police officer sent to Belfast to catch Jamie Dornan’s serial killer. The narrative is intimately divided between the pair and their respective motivations, creating an obsessive link and unblinking crimes.
THE HONOURABLE WOMAN Political thriller (one season)
Set against the intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine, this one-off British series is a knotty, oblique descent into the personal cost of international conflict. The uncertain centre of this Machiavellian realm is a business mogul with a torn family history, played by the great Maggie Gyllenhaal with a mix of steely power and personal vulnerability. Few answers are comforting here. [full review in BINGE-R #43]
THE KEEPERS True crime investigation (one season)
There’s a surplus of true crime series (and podcasts) these days, but this is a standout. The starting point is the unsolved 1969 murder of a Catholic nun in Baltimore, which reveals a tragic history of systematic abuse and institutionalised suppression. It’s grounded by the dogged amateur investigators – ageing former students of the victim – and the care it affords survivors. It’s compassionate and gripping. [full review in BINGE-R #49]
DEADWOOD Western (three seasons)
Devotees still lament the 2006 cancelation of David Milch’s celebrated revisionist western, which turned a burgeoning, ungoverned 1870s gold rush town into a microcosm of America’s evolution, full of interlocking narratives and era-specific male and female roles. Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant, as a cunning saloon owner and righteous former lawman respectively, headline the terrific ensemble cast.
THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE Psychological drama (two seasons)
It’s not the Stephen Soderbergh movie. Independent filmmakers Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have created an anthology series about high-end escorts whose first season (I haven’t seen the second) is a beguiling study of an ambitious law student and escort, perfectly played by Riley Keough. Beneath the chilly veneer is a torrid examination of the pliability of identity, the power in transactions, and the control exchanged through sex.
THE RETURNED Supernatural mystery (two seasons)
Fusing dread-filled camera pans, horror’s skewering of mortality’s grip, and an underlying mystery that slowly but surely unfolds, this magnificently eerie French series (it’s real title is Les Revenants, and you need to avoid the bad American remake that also goes by The Returned) is set in a mountain town whose history is exhumed when the dead calmly start returning to their former lives.
SMILF Unvarnished comedy (one season)
Like Donald Glover’s Atlanta, this is a sitcom that redefines the familiar format into something new and invigorating. Creator and star Frankie Shaw is Bridgette, a struggling actor and single mother from working-class South Boston whose questionable moments are excruciatingly funny, but then also honest and revelatory. The best gags here linger with bittersweet sustain.
WOLF HALL Period intrigue (one season)
Costumed period dramas about royal intrigue are Britain’s last viable export, but this withering, brilliant adaptation of two acclaimed novels by Hilary Mantel is something far, far more. Set in the court of Henry VIII (Damian Lewis), it’s concerned with the cruel application of power that is mastered by lawyer Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance). How did Claire Foy get cast as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown? Marvel at her Anne Boleyn.
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