I’m well aware that my blog output has been fairly sporadic for quite some time now. There are too many excuses that all tie together in this silly game of life, but not the least of which is that when I do have time to write – usually late at night – I’m just too damn drained to do it. So, instead I find myself often falling into the black hole that is Netflix. So I figured, why not break out of a writing funk by writing about what I’ve been watching…and apparently I’ve been watching a lot…
This is my gift to you fellow person-with-not-enough-time-in-the-day-to-even-get-a-good-night’s-sleep. I’ve done the watching for you and below you’ll find a list of the series we’ve watched since the beginning of 2017, listed in reverse chronological order. I could have gone back further but wanted to keep it at least fairly relevant. Each one has a brief description, sans spoilers, and my overall rating. I’ve found some of my favorite pieces of recent entertainment from this list, and here’s to hoping you find some of yours.
I actually held off writing this post until we had finished this British murder mystery. Created by renowned author Harlan Coben, and starring Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) as a widower in search of his missing daughter, Safe reminded me of a slightly more intense version of the murder mysteries that PBS’s Masterpiece series occasionally offers up. That is to say it was well-acted, well-written, and well-produced. If you can work your way past Hall’s so-so attempt at a British accent the story plays out with some interesting twists and turns. Amanda Abbington (Sherlock, Mr. Selfridge) was exceptional in her role as Hall’s neighbor and local police officer. Dear BBC/PBS, I would absolutely watch an entire series of Abbington attempting to solve various mysteries, a la Grantchester.
Overall Grade: B
The trailer for this Danish series had me highly intrigued and my anticipation levels were way up about a month before its release. Being I’m a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic story line, the premise of this show was right up my alley. The bulk of the story picks up six years after a virus wipes out a vast chunk of the population via rainwater. Two siblings and their traveling companions search for answers that may or may not also link back to their father. This all should have made for a recipe for success, alas it did not. The acting was hit or miss and there were enough notable plot holes that the wife and I were calling them out as they happened. Never a good sign. I’m also not sure if this show was written under the guise that there would automatically be a second season, but if the writers were banking on it they may have made a mistake in doing so. The whole thing felt too disjointed and clunky pretty much from second episode onward. I often think about shows or movies after I’ve watched them and my opinion over time either continues to grow as I allow it all to sink in, or conversely my taste for it continues to sour. In this case it’s unfortunately the latter. While I’ve certainly seen worse (the first two seasons of Fear The Walking Dead and the last couple seasons of its parent show come to mind), this show was a missed opportunity at something potentially thought-provoking and lasting.
Overall Grade: C-
Hotel Beau Sejour
The second of two Belgian thrillers we watched successively, Hotel Beau Sejour begins with a young woman waking up in a hotel room to find she’s been murdered. Adding to the mystery of it all, there is a small handful of people who can still see her. It’s a roller coaster of a story with twists and turns galore as Kato, played by Lynn Van Royen, tries to uncover the secrets behind her final, fateful night. Part murder mystery, part supernatural thriller, I thoroughly enjoyed this series from start to finish and found myself highly invested in trying to uncover all the dirty secrets people surrounding our heroine were hiding. This show also delivered one of the single most goose bump-inducing scenes I’ve come across in quite some time. You’ll know it when you see it.
Overall Grade: B+
This is hands-down one of my favorites on this list. Another Belgian offering, Tabula Rasa is the story of a woman with amnesia (more specifically the inability to retain new memories) who winds up the key figure in a disappearance case. This was an intense series with gorgeous cinematography, which added to the overall claustrophobic feeling throughout. Tabula Rasa spends all nine episodes spinning web after web of intrigue. One part supernatural horror and one part mystery/thriller, this series will not only keep you guessing but take the occasional turn creeping you out as well. Fans of films such as The Sixth Sense and Shutter Island will find a lot to love with this series.
Overall Grade: A-
Will Arnett plays a recovering alcoholic living in Venice Beach who has to deal with not only his recovery but a life-altering event that put him on that road to begin with. The first season was a quirky, somewhat light-hearted dramedy that played off the strengths of the many secondary characters. Frankly, if the show had ended there it would have a higher overall grade but the second season ruins the curve. I couldn’t help but think that the first season was as much a show about a recovering alcoholic as it was Arnett creating a vehicle for himself to show off his good looks and boyish charm. From the first scene, season two takes on a much more serious tone. Secrets are revealed and the lives of every character on the show are seemingly contorted like poisonous pretzels. Not what I was expecting, nor was it what I wanted at that point. After completion, I’m not 100% sure the writers of this show ever really knew what they wanted it to be. You’ll find worse shows to binge on Netflix, but you’ll most definitely find better.
Overall Grade: C
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Don’t laugh when I tell you that even if I didn’t have kids I would have thoroughly enjoyed this show, and that when I was asked if we could re-watch the first season in anticipation of the second, I jumped at the chance. I will freely admit that I never read the books this series is based off of, having been released long after my young reader days were over. But my oldest child did read them and I had a pretty good grasp of the story line going in. Neil Patrick Harris plays the evil Count Olaf, hellbent on stealing the fortune of his distant relatives, the Baudelaire orphans. What follows is, of course, not just a series of unfortunate events, but a brilliant social commentary on the general idiocy and ignorance of adults and society at large. Harris as Olaf is one of the greatest roles I’ve witnessed in a long time. That’s not meant to be hyperbole either. He’s a one-man tour de force in this role. I’ve found myself literally LOL-ing at some of his antics, get-ups, and one-liners, all the while hating him with equal passion. This show is as endearing as it is amusing and I’ve enjoyed every second of it – even when I’m so frustrated by the actions of various adults I could reach through the screen and strangle them. Needless to say I’m highly recommending this series whether you have children or not.
Overall Grade: A
Twenty-three years prior a toddler in a small Welsh village disappears without a trace. Fast-forward to present day and the mother of world-renowned cellist, Matilda Gray, takes her own life in shocking fashion. What do these two events have in common? This is the genesis of the thriller, Requiem. It’s a tantalizing story that will keep you completely engaged from start to finish. The acting is exceptional with Lydia Wilson (Star Trek: Beyond, Ripper Street) giving a stellar performance as Matilda and the rest of the cast doing more than just holding their own. The story dips and dives into fantasy, horror, and psychological thriller territory with aplomb, never giving in too far to the basic tropes of each genre. The debate currently rages online about whether this series will (or should) get a second season. If it doesn’t I left satisfied and willing to simply re-watch it all again.
Overall Rating: A-
Wild Wild Country
I’m a self-confessed documentary junkie. I’m also slightly obsessed with learning about cults and all things related to them. So it would make perfect sense that this documentary about one of the most controversial cults in U.S. history would be right up my alley. But a lot can go wrong between idea and execution. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here. Wild Wild Country documents the arrival of a controversial guru and his hundreds of followers to a tiny little hamlet deep in rural Oregon. Who this group was and how they got there was fascinating in and of itself. But what happened afterwards is bonkers. The whole thing reads like the script for some sort of bizarre European film, frankly, and listening to first-hand accounts from former followers can be downright chilling. The producers have come under fire online for offering so much air time to a convicted felon, allowing her to tell her side of events. But I’d argue that giving this particular person this particular platform was one of the aspects that made this whole thing so compelling. Despite all the evidence presented you may walk away still not knowing who or what to believe.
Overall Grade: A
What happens when the DNA of a 5-year old who went missing twenty-five or so years prior shows up at a crime scene? That’s the mystery at the heart of this English series penned by Harlan Coben. This is one of the few series we’ve watched recently that didn’t come with the Netflix Original stamp of approval. There was a definite dip in production values from this series to the ones Netflix has either produced or picked up from overseas. The acting is also hit or miss right out of the gate and you may need to muscle through the first episode or two before you finally settle in. Once you do (if you do) the juice is worthy the squeeze. While I wouldn’t ever compare it to similar series like Safe or Hotel Beau Sejour – it just simply isn’t as good – it’s worthy of whatever time you are willing to give it.
Overall Grade: B-
Someone has spray-painted penises on twenty-seven cars in the faculty parking lot of the local high school. Who did it? That’s the heart of this satirical look at society’s obsession with the true-crime genre and crime in general. As the local high school bad boy (and dumb ass) fights to prove his innocence a couple underclassmen decide to take up his cause. While the overall premise of this series was interesting its execution was somewhat lacking. The mockumentary style worked to perfection but there was no reason for this thing to drag on for 16 episodes (ranging in times from 30-40 minutes each). While there were certainly plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout, by the tail end of the second season I found myself trudging through just to see it to a final conclusion – a conclusion that seemed to take forever to reach. Despite my overall enjoyment of this series I really felt like this thing could have been paired down to about ten or twelve episodes and still had the same effect.
Overall Grade: B-
The End of the F***ing World
A moody and wild-spirited 17-year old girl befriends another 17-year old who thinks he may in fact be a psychopath. She convinces him to go on a road trip to find her biological father and, well, it goes about as well as you can expect. I’m not a comic/graphic novel guy so I had no exposure to the original source material before viewing this. (With that said please don’t quibble with me about how the series was different than its source material. Frankly, I don’t care.) I went into this show with zero expectations and came away pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. Cleverly-written, well-acted, and one of the better dark comedies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It truly fit the description of a ‘dark comedy’ as well. I found myself giggling one moment only for it to be crushed by some unexpected turn of events more often than not. The two young stars, Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther, were absolutely perfect in their roles and I found myself rooting for them knowing full well that this probably wasn’t going to end on a happy note.
Overall Rating: B+
Nothing is as it truly seems in this sleepy German town as the disappearance of two young children exposes the secrets and hidden relationships between four families. For my money, this sci-fi/thriller has been the crown jewel of the Netflix Original Series experience, and despite my overall enjoyment of most everything on this list, one of the only times I’ve cried out for a second season the minute the first one wrapped up. It’s a brooding, shadowy affair, almost Lynchian in its delivery. In true Lynch-like fashion, every aspect of this series seems to hold some nugget of importance (even when it doesn’t necessarily). Every sound, every camera angle, every ounce of brilliant cinematography plays into this constant feeling of foreboding and imminent peril. The cast is filled with outstanding performances and the story itself is so damn compelling that I’d find myself thinking about episodes I had just watched for days after the fact, constantly turning them over and over in my head. The outright mindf*ck of certain plot points was almost too much to handle in the best way possible. While the second season hasn’t been given a release date yet, promo photos prove that production is underway and I, for one, could not be more excited for its return.
Overall Rating: A+
Full disclosure: I’m a history junkie, and even majored in it college. So a historical drama about the current ruling monarch of Great Britain is something I would normally be all over no matter who was producing it. The fact that this show is so well-produced just adds to my love of it. I’m also going to go on record here and say that I think Claire Foy is one of the most underrated actors currently working any type of major production. I first fell in love with Foy’s work when she starred as Anne Boleyn in the miniseries, Wolf Hall. She was brilliant then and is equally so now. The entire cast of The Crown plays up to Foy’s performance and they all have some excellent writing to work with. This is also one of the few series on Netflix that seemed to grow even stronger in its second season. Does this series exaggerate some of the marital woes of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh? Perhaps. I guess it depends on who you ask. Exaggerations or not, this series has been a joy to watch and I look forward to a third season.
Overall Grade: A-
Simply put, this is a Western of the highest order. Jeff Daniels plays the leader of a murderous band of outlaws in search of the man who supposedly wronged him. His search eventually leads him to a small mining town in New Mexico inhabited almost solely by women thanks to a tragic mining incident. It’s a gritty, tense story that leaves you constantly feeling like some very bad things are about to go down, and often times they do. Besides the fact that it took me a couple of episodes to get past seeing Michelle Dockery outside of her role as Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, I was hooked on this show from scene one. (That’s not a knock on Dockery either, as she held her own among a group of stellar performances.) The cinematography was gorgeous, the story was gripping, and Daniels was a villain you could love to hate.
Overall Rating: A-
Everyone is raving about a certain adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel, but I would argue they are possibly raving about the wrong adaptation. Alias Grace is based on Atwood’s 1996 novel of the same name. Set in 19th-century Canada, the story tells the tale of its title character, a convicted murderer, and the psychiatrist who is trying to figure out whether she should be pardoned due to insanity. I loved everything about this series – the constantly building suspense, the sordid and depressive backstory, the currents of doubt and suspicion that seem to penetrate every scene. To add to its brilliance, Sarah Gadon, in the title role, gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Overall Rating: A
What is there left to say about arguably the most popular thing Netflix has ever produced? The first season was worthy of every single accolade bestowed upon it. The retro-feel, the blatant ’80s callbacks, the obvious homages to various horror and sci-fi classics, it all came together in sort of a perfect storm delivered with aplomb by both the writers and those charged with acting it all out. The second season…not so much. Season two of Stranger Things wasn’t terrible. The issue is that the first season was so damn good that expectations reached levels that, in hindsight, were probably unattainable. Season two had some tangential story lines that were simply not good, but there was still things to like about it. However, whiffing on entire episodes after you delivered near perfection the first time around can leave a bad taste. If I’m rating just the first season, this would be an ‘A’ or ‘A-‘ show. However, the second season tops out at ‘B-‘ at best.
Overall Grade: B
Jason Bateman plays a Chicago-based financial advisor who is, let’s say, a little in over his head. His wife, played by Laura Linney, isn’t doing so hot either. They relocate their family to the Missouri Ozarks where trouble not only follows them but multiplies by about a thousand percent. From the get-go none of the characters on this show are meant to be likeable, the problem though is that as we get more invested in the story they remain completely unlikable. I found myself almost wishing for bad things to happen to certain characters when I should have been rooting for them, or at least felt nervous for them. It’s an interesting show nonetheless with a story containing enough twists, turns, and shocking moments to keep you interested.
Overall Rating: B
Maybe I should have kept watching? Maybe I should have simply forgotten the three episodes I watched and not included this show on this list? The answer to both questions is a resounding ‘no’. If I’m going to give you the good, I may as well include the bad. I’m a fan of dry wit and tongue-in-cheek humor. I’ve seen and been a fan of pretty much every movie Christopher Guest has made, and it should be noted that this series stars frequent Guest collaborators, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. But whatever magic Guest has woven didn’t rub off on Levy as he was co-creating this show. This is one of those series several people tell me I should have stuck with. I’m going to go ahead and say I’m all set with that.
Overall Grade: D
I purposely chose to extend this list to The OA because, as of this writing, Netflix is in production for a second season. Possibly no other show I enjoyed as much as this one am I as nervous about a second season. It’s not hyperbole to say that this second season is either going to be brilliant or terrible, and probably not much room for anything in between. The story revolves around a young blind girl who goes missing only to reemerge in her 20s with her sight fully restored. The story she weaves of her missing years is filled mystery, horror, and a pinch of sci-fi. Much like Lost, its ending left something to be desired, but also like Lost it doesn’t detract from the brilliance that came before it.
Overall Grade: A-
Note: I purposely held off on talking about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Season 4 is set to hit Netflix in a couple weeks. I’ll just say this: It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen and there have been multiple episodes where my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. Titus Andromedon FTW!