(REPEATED FROM PART 1): I watch a LOT of television. Putting it more crassly, “a LOT” could be replaced with “Shit Ton.” I watch so much television, this column may have those who know me questioning what they always thought to be my outgoing nature. And while nothing beats being out of the house with a crowd of friends, let’s face it – I’m a “born indoorsman.”
And why would I want to change this fact? The quality of content is at an all-time high. We’re living in a 2nd Golden Age of television, where between original programming from the traditional movie channels like HBO and Showtime, networks like AMC, FX, TNT and USA, and an unending amount of original programing from streaming giants Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, many journalists now use the term “Peak TV” to describe our current era. And this is all before we consider the few shows we still love on traditional network TV. So, I say to you, friends – join me in this call to arms… for sitting on the couch! Watching along with me will make you the “king of pop culture” in the office, and convince your friends that you now only do about as much reading as Donald Trump.
Here’s a short blurb of what I’m watching, or just finished watching, this spring, along with why you should be too, Netflix Edition:
NETFLIX – DRAMA
13 Reasons Why – Season 2 of the controversial teen drama that surrounds the aftermath of a popular girl’s suicide is, critically speaking, very poor. Characters like Skye and Courtney are completely underused, and some newer characters are over prioritized. And Kate Walsh wears a really bad wig! The sophomore effort – which now goes beyond the source material of the novel – is fueled by flashbacks that expand our understanding of Hannah Baker’s relationship with several familiar characters, most notably Zach. Many of these flashbacks are brought about through the main storyline, a wrongful death suit brought by the Bakers against the School District for failing to protect their daughter from bullying, harrassment, and rape. One task Season 2 does accomplish is evoking more connection and sympathy with many of these characters. I caught myself during several episodes saying, in a dull whisper, “I care far too much about some of these kids!” In creating additional connection to several characters, Season 2 also makes several characters more sympathetic than their Season 1 selves. Cases in point – Justin, Zach, and Mr. Porter.
Why to Watch – Only if you were a big fan of Season 1 and want to stay connected to these kids and their fictional (remember that, Todd!) lives.
Occupied – The little known and hardly promoted show, recommended by a friend, tells the tale of a near future Norway that has discovered an abundant new natural resource. This special mineral can produce tremendous amounts of energy. As such, the progressive and ambitious prime minister, Jesper Berg, announces with great fanfare that Norway will no longer be an oil producing country. The EU, and especially the Russians, flip out. What transpires is a fantastic drama about a steady and increasing invasion and occupation of Norway by the Russians, who on behalf of the EU are there to enforce an international order to force Norway to keep the oil extraction coming.
Why to Watch/”Read” (subtitled) – Great characters and storylines both inside and on the periphery of politics, and an ample serving of tense geopolitics. Overarching themes of patriotism and peace, and whether they can coexist, make this my strongest “underdog” suggestion. Now through 2 season (18 episodes).
Safe – I covered this British thriller (starring very American Michael C. Hall) in this column: https://toddflora.com/todd-and-krisd-discuss-netflixs-safe-with-michael-c-hall/
Luke Cage – Netflix’s share of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) gives us Season 2 of the story of “Powerman,” or “The Hero of Harlem,” as he’s also known. Having staved off threats to Harlem in Season 1, and contributing to saving New York with his other “New York Street Heros” in Season 1 of “The Defenders,” Luke Cage comes into Season 2 as a known quantity now in Harlem. He’s a “famous” super hero now. As such, everyday punks want to challenge him, but more dangerous is a new gangster in the form of John “Bushmaster” McIver, who can physically battle Luke to equal measure. Luke’s relationships with Rosario Dawson’s “Claire Temple” and Simone Missick’s Detective “Misty Knight” continue as well. Alfre Woodard continues in her role as an ethics-bending crook / political power-player.
Why to Watch – Because as a good American, you love the MCU… and Mike Coulter is a total badass as Luke Cage.
NETFLIX – DRAMEDY
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction – David Letterman conducts an in-depth interview each month with a major celebrity or newsmaker. The interviews are held in a rather unassuming and modest theater with a small live audience, and are peppered with cutaways to his travels home with the celebrity and interactions with other people in the celebrity’s life.
Why to Watch – Dave’s magnificent Santa Claus beard is one bonus. But what should really grab you here is a more earnest Letterman trying for real connection with movers and shakers, conducting interviews in a style that says ratings don’t matter. And that’s a good thing.
NETFLIX – COMEDY
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Now in its 4th and final season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has Kimmy working in HR at a hot, startup tech firm. She knows nothing about HR, and as we somewhat witness but soon clearly learn, she’s a walking, talking harassment machine (in all the right, well-meaning but overly honest ways possible) who scares everyone at the company when she enters the room. Titus’s brand of subterfuge is aimed at a talented young black man, very reminiscent of him as an adult, whose talent he buries all for his own self-aggrandizement as he takes over directing a school play. Lillian is, as always, crazy. And Jacqueline seems to be relishing her new role as a fake talent agent who pretends to be making money representing Titus. This is the kind of wacky but “smart” humor — all written and executed with the palpable influence of Co-Creator Tina Fey — that one can always rely on from a show ending well before it’s time.
Why to Watch – Kimmy’s ignorance and naivete are buttressed perfectly against the cynicism and cutthroat antics of those closest to her. It’s hysterical.
The Break with Michelle Wolf – Comedian Michelle Wolf has been funny for years now. But has only recently hit it big with her (not in my opinion) “controversial” gig at this spring’s White House Correspondence Dinner. Netflix has given her a half hour reminiscent of the Daily Show and Sarah Silverman’s “I love you, America” on Hulu (we’ll get there). She starts with standup set, moves to a desk routine, and finishes with a guest. It’s very funny and timely, as Netflix streams new episodes every Saturday/Sunday at midnight, making the hot topics of the week that was front and center.
Why to Watch – Michelle Wolf is a legitimate top tier comic talent. She mixes political humor with traditional stand up motifs. The woman also has tremendous sneaker game.
GLOW – Strong reviews are piling up for Season 2 of the based-on-a-true-story tale of the “Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling,” which ran for 4 seasons in the mid-to-late 1980s. One critic even claims Season 2 bests its introductory season. It begins streaming June 29 and I’m really looking forward to more of this dramedy (mostly comedy I would say), which stars Alison Brie as aspiring actress Ruth, who has adopted the villainous Soviet character. Other top line cast members include Betty Gilpin’s All-American counterpart to Ruth, “Debbie,” and comedian Marc Maron, who shines as a moderately unsuccessful producer/director of cheap horror films turned producer/director … coach, mentor, occasional flirt and date for the women of GLOW. His “Sam Sylvia” is reminiscent of mustachioed handymen or pool hall characters from 1970s TV. Chris Lowell’s “Bash” rounds out the cast as the rich kid GLOW investor with an early prototype robot and lots of money and vision whose family doesn’t approve of his wrestling dreams.
Why to Watch – Brie and Maron are a terrific pair. The humor is good and the women of GLOW are a real riot. A series of less glamorous actresses mixed with some actual ones that make an interesting brew for comic and more tender moments.
The Standups – This series offers somewhat familiar but still “up and coming” comics their own half hour showcase episode. The comics have been really hysterical, particularly Amy Schumer gal pal Rachel Feinstein. Don’t miss her half hour.
Why to Watch – Great comedy in half-hour chunks. This allows you to see whether you would want to eventually invest in a full hour-long special from a variety of comics trying to put their stamp on the industry.
Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here – I had never seen Tig Notaro’s standup, believe it or not. But what a gem. She’s dry and clever and tricky, a world class comic talent. She’s able to turn seemingly 1-liner topics into long-form stories with gut-busting results.
Why to Watch – Worth it for no other reason than the bit she does about the Indigo Girls. Trust me.
Can you tell our household likes standup comedy?
Next Up in Part 3 — Shows from Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Cable / Network TV!
You have to check out “Nanette” by Hannah Gadsby, on Netflix. It took me a few days to process what I had seen, but it is funny, and cathartic all at the same time.
Jonn, we tried it. My wife was loving it, but I could NOT get into Hannah’s cadence and pacing at all. I asked her if we could watch something else. We had heard good things and she’s getting rave reviews… I guess I’ll have to go back and sit through it. Maybe it will sit me better if I let it marinate like you did… and it’s only fair to Erin that we finish it.