by Darren Clarke, March 28, 2021
The year we almost ran out of things to watch on TV. Almost.
I don’t know about you but I wondered a few times during the pandemic- “Am I going to run out of TV?” And while on many occasions I had to recognize it was time to step away from the TV the numerous streaming platforms available provided a surprisingly deep reservoir of shows to get a good kind of lost in.
Let’s talk about the best of those and a few of the worst.
I’m going to list my Top 30 binge marathons along with six shows that caused me some pain having to watch. It’s worth mentioning before I begin that I do not consider myself a TV/Movie expert. I have a whole whack of viewing prejudices that I have honed over the course of my lifetime and am comfortable with. Yeah, I try and challenge myself, yeah I try to explore and push my boundaries but there are a few hard stops for me and a few gratuitous, indulgent, shows I am always easy prey for. So let’s talk about those tendencies.
On a general level I like the good hearted, the thoughtful, the intelligent and dislike the petty and bland, the boring and banal. But really, who doesn’t? Taste is sometimes almost better defined by bias- good, bad and in between. So here’s me and my bias- Too many mean people- I’m out. Too many overly clever people- I’m out. Too many amoral people- done. If I sense the writers are just doing whatever they think will shock me- show me the door. On the other hand if it’s the right kind of cheesy, a little bit whimsical, a little bit lost from the crowd, if it has beautiful, charismatic, things to look at- places, people, ideas- I’m in.
The show Longmire would be the perfect example of a show that I started to watch for a variety of reasons of varying merit but had to check out on as the seasons progressed. It’s the all-purpose illustration of my biases in one show. I was first drawn to Longmire because, well, Katee Sackoff was in it. And Katee Sackoff is to a pair of blue jeans what coffee if to your average morning- it just feels right, it just helps everything else, if not make sense, at least be more tolerable. And the early episodes were perfect escapism- big Montana skies and tracking shots of empty peninsulas, quirky story lines, some likeable characters and a little bit of small screen action sequences. I knew it wasn’t great but you don’t always need great, you don’t always want great. Right?
Then it went bonkers. And the more bloated the storylines became the more the writers forced me to realize what I hoped not to- Almost every storyline is predicated upon Walt Longmire being the worst sheriff ever. Nobody picks the wrong horse more than Walt Longmire. Nobody gets the wrong man more than Walt Longmire. Nobody is more tiresomely glum while flailing than Walt Longmire. And for God sakes man, get a cellphone guy, you’re not a blogger you’re a police officer, you need a phone.
Now that we have calibrated generally how my mind discerns entertainment to consume lets dive into the binges that have helped me get through the past twelve months.
#30 Worthy Binge– Sex and the City
One of the things I have tried to do the past few years is take a look at the cultural entities that I have most disliked/been uncomfortable with over my life and explore why. Not things like fascists and bullies etc. I get why I don’t like them and am comfortable being aligned fully against them. No, I was more curious about my discomfort with things like pop music, disco, and more feminine leaning shows like Sex and the City. So I cast aside my traditional ranting and raving about how annoying I found my wife’s Sex and the City marathons and asked her if we could start from the beginning and watch the whole series from show one through the two movies.
Here’s what I found.
Once you get past the gross fetishization of Donald Trump (who makes multiple appearances), once you get past that Big is clearly modelled after him to a degree, once you, well, make that me, once I recognized a lot of the calamity and melodrama is simply a device to provide some lively plot twists- the show is pretty fantastic. Yeah the four women aren’t perfect but that’s kind of the point. Why should they have to be?
What did I learn about myself attempting to watch Sex and the City through an unbiased lens? I learned that my earlier reactions were based on the kind of Peter Pan, male fragility, women have commented on for ages. I was scared of the fact these women were people with particular tastes, particular likes and dislikes and a particular knack for unapologetically expressing themselves.
It’s disappointing that I chose to be threatened by strong women but that’s life, you live you learn. In this case my fresh viewing of Sex and the City allowed me to appreciate, hey, Carrie’s got great taste in heels, good for Samantha for desiring a big dick, Miranda grew more as a person in six seasons that most people do in a lifetime while still retaining kind of who she was, and Charlotte is a sweetheart who nailed the show’s entire premise over breakfast one episode in opining (amidst some lamenting of broken romances) that maybe they were each other’s soul mates.
That second movie though…
#29 Worthy Binge- Big Bang Theory
This pick is almost purely for our cat. Big Bang Theory is the go to show to keep him company when we leave him alone in the house. Why? Well, according to my wife our cat, London, has very particular viewing tastes. First, London really doesn’t like hockey games or action films. Second, he loves quiet, quirky things. That my cat’s taste is so neatly aligned with that of my wife is, you know, curious, but she wouldn’t lie… would she?
Big Bang Theory is more than just comfort viewing for my cat though. I wouldn’t have suspected that a show revolving around gifted, nerdy, academics would be comfort viewing for our entire family but it is. As odd as the show’s central character may appear at first glance Sheldon Cooper is entirely relatable. We all know someone who’s a bit of a genius and more than a bit awkward socially. We all are a bit of a genius at something most people don’t care to know about and all of us are a bit protective of our particular version of what we think the world should be set up like. We all find ourselves often tilting wildly between the Sheldon Cooper like extremes of, “Oh Gravity thou are a heartless bitch,” and, “Bazinga.”
#28 Worthy Binge- Queen’s Gambit
There’s a bit of the Grand Budapest Hotel to the Queen’s Gambit in the cartoonish embellishment of a bygone time. That is mainly what I love about Queen’s Gambit– how it looks. The series’ reimagining of 70s Mexico City, Las Vegas, France, Russia, are all sublimely realized fantasies. That sense of wonder and the show’s channeling chess via soda-pop Buddhism is best manifested in Anya Taylor-Joy’s quiet take on a quiet game with a complex undercurrent. Taylor-Joy’s riveting cross chess table gaze best captures the slightly off kilter but completely relatable nature of the show’s attraction.
#27 Binge Worthy– The Mandalorian
Because of the Star Wars franchise knack for bloated, overcooked, wildly convoluted, creations attempting to cater to absolutely everyone I have become pretty jaded of their ability to create anything I’d want to watch for more than 17 seconds. The Mandalorian though surprises. It’s solid escapist fare that taps into the best part of the wonder that the franchise originally tapped into. I just wish they would have enough confidence in themselves to not feel the obligation to drag aged characters from mothballs to run amok at critical junctures in the story telling. Star Wars would do well to resist the temptation to trot out tired characters from four decades ago to appease their aging fanboys but in the meantime The Mandalorian is at least a step in the right direction.
#26 Worthy Binge– #blackAF
Most of the critics complaints about #blackAF revolve around it not being up to par with Kenya Barris’s past work. The good news for me was I hadn’t seen any of his other work prior to watching #blackAF. So I could love it without being haunted by what could have been, what had been, etc. Ignorance once again being bliss. Kenya Barris and Rashida Jones (who is brilliant in absolutely everything) are a fantastic couple and the deadpan, self satire, often resonates on a bit of a larger scale than you might expect. Loved this show.
Family can mean obligations. For instance, The Crown is never a show I elect to watch on my own yet I have seen every show of every season. But if Season Three of The Crown taught me anything it’s that it could be worse, I could married to a pouty, bore of a prince. Ordinarily I don’t have much of a problem with my obligation to watch The Crown. The first couple seasons I thought the show was fine, even interesting at times. Season Three though, with the focus squarely on the tedium of a forever pouting prince and his fashionably discontented princess was painful. It should be mentioned too that while Olivia Coleman generally seems like a wonderful actress the change from Claire Foy playing Elizabeth to Coleman is a jolt.
#25 Worthy Binge– Victorian Farm
There’s any number of Victorian Farm seasons tapping into living in various eras of English life. They’re all good. While it certainly wasn’t my idea to watch the show I have to admit that however clumsy a manner it accomplishes it, it’s seductive. Victorian Farm lures you in with a quiet trip back to simpler less complicated times of managing farm animals, planting crops, working long, hard, full, days and reveling in the simple pleasures. All delivered accompanied by a warm and friendly British narrator.
Victorian Farm is my wife’s favourite show to nod off to and while I at first was annoyed by the earnestness of the main characters, they grow on you. In the end the absence of technology and noise and the presence of more humble endeavors within the quiet British countryside is a fine thing to fall into a deep and peaceful sleep while watching.
#24 Binge Worthy– The Expanse
Now I am going to be the first to admit that my rating system has all the precision of cool spring breeze rummaging through the trees but placing The Expanse ahead of The Madalorian? Well, I thought about that. The difference? Cheese. In that The Expanse has more cheese to it and it just kinda works. There’s something about cheese that is entirely impossible to predict. As if it is somehow attached to a project like a divinity, born of some zeitgeist of creation that is neither about normal conventions- good vs bad, smart vs dumb, hard working vs lazy but instead attached to such wonderful ambiguities as fate and circumstance, how you felt when you woke up on on as particular day vs how you felt when you woke up on another particular day. Lots of times I totally forget what the point of The Expanse is and no doubt it is often overwrought and muddy however David Houghton’s review of the show nails its’ greater possibilities, “The Expanse is such a wonderfully realized, affectingly believable, deceptively smart, and really damn engrossing show that it’s far too easy to forget that you’re watching a piece of speculative fiction.”
#23- Worthy Binge–Westworld, Season 2
Man, what an amazing season Season Two of Westworld is. Westworld accomplishes so much in Season Two, managing to tap into its’ most beguiling possibilities. It is dazzling, epic, sexy, disturbing, profound. Following a compelling but uneven, at times tedious, first season, the second season of Westworld is to abstract sci-fi renderings what the Beatles were to psychedelia in that however grandiose the narrative and effects are at its’ heart it still Strawberry Fields Forever candy. Now why, with so many great characters, enthralling plot twists, gorgeous landscapes and people would this be #25? Well, let’s go there-
Season Three of Westworld. What to say? It’s the moment in the Wizard of Oz where you realize there is no Wizard but rather just a sad man behind some curtains pulling levers. Season Three of Westworld is the last couple seasons of Willie Mays, the end of Muhammad Ali’s career, it’s Elvis, the Vegas Years, laying waste to the sublime talents of Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Ed Harris.
#22 Binge Worthy– The Chef Show
There’s a limit to the amount of fiction I can take before I seek something a little less orchestrated. Cooking shows are a perfect antidote to feeling overly coerced by even the best writing. The act of cooking in and of itself rings a primal bell within all of us. Dinner conversation, presaged by cooking conversation, that dates back to the age of the caveman. Against the backdrop of social distancing its’ also important to note that the show also provided the opportunity to quietly hang out with some good people doing good things. Full credit to Jon Favreau, Roy Choi and their guests for inviting us into their kitchen at a time we really needed it.
If the answer to the question, “Are drunk people tedious as hell to have to spend time with?” is still unclear to you Drunk History will straighten that out for you right quick. But hey, maybe you like obnoxious inarticulate people. If you do, Drunk History is for you.
#21 Binge Worthy– Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
A simple premise that works pretty much perfectly- Jerry Seinfeld and a fellow comedian go for a coffee and chat. It’s a breezy, fun, watch because Seinfeld is genuinely funny, his guests are genuinely funny and the cars and locations tend to be great. I found after binging seasons of the show that I grew weary of Seinfeld’s whining about political correctness making comediens have to actually work harder on their jokes and that he could at times veer into being a bit of a narrow minded dick but who among us could allow the camera to follow them around without betraying some flaws in character?
#20 Binge Worthy– The Mary Tyler Moore Show
I had a crush on Rhoda when I was a kid. I forgot about that. It was fun to be reminded. My wife got back into this show over the pandemic and it’s amazing how it holds up. The writing is great, the 70s fashion, particularly in the early seasons, outstanding. Mary Tyler Moore is a delight at the center of the show with the rest of the cast just being dynamite.
#19 Binge Worthy– Sunderland ‘Til I Die
It’s hard to write about Sunderland ‘Til I Die without providing spoilers because one of the most compelling reasons to watch is the one thing I can’t tell you… but I’ll move on.
Sports documentaries always veer towards self-indulgence and grandiose self importance and Sunderland ‘Til I Die is no exception but there’s a realism captured in this series that makes the trials and tribulations of the Sunderland football team must binge streaming. I don’t know if they capture that realism on purpose or entirely accidentally- but it’s there. You don’t even really need to know much about soccer/football to appreciate this show, it’s all about the people, ending up being a subtle look at work politics, ego, cooked by uber fandom and and the limelight.
#18 Binge Worthy– Tales From the Loop
I think I love this show because it’s just such an uncluttered sci-fi excursion on the surface. The ramifications of events and characters can leave you quietly pondering long after an episode has ended but while you are there the wonder comes easy without being bogged down by a need to over explain how you got to where you are. You are just there. The acting is top shelf, the writing light and imaginative, the world relatable but curious.
#17 Binge Worthy– Imposters
Imposters sneaks up on you. Cheese is a full on part of the recipe here and that’s okay. Imposters arrives with a wink. And just when you are about to dismiss it you find yourself just continually pulled in by a clever turn of plot. This is the thing about discovering there really isn’t a Wizard of Oz and instead just a man pulling levers behind a curtain- if he’s fun, fine. I really don’t need a WIZARD most times. Give me some cheese, some fun, some compelling characters and I’m all for it. Imposters executes that simple recipe perfectly.
It’s the advent of the world wild web. A technological marvel to entirely reshape the world. Imagine the story telling possibilities! And then imagine those possibilities being entirely ignored in favour of endless moping. Halt and Catch Some Sleep would be a more appropriate title for this mopey ass piece of non-drama-drama. The only one who appears more amazed by the obese storytelling is the main character, Cameron, who is to wallowing in the kind of non-epic-epic, self-absorbed, tedium, what Tucker Carlson is to disingenuous trolling, in that, they both know exactly what they are doing and cannot get enough of it. Sadly, while the navel gazing beat goes on Halt and Catch Fire wastes a lot of cool Replacements posters and fabulous 90s alternative music.
#16 Binge Worthy– Superstore
The early seasons of Superstore are too much fun. It’s laugh out loud funny. It’s not rocket science funny (perhaps see Big Bang Theory if that’s your preferred style of humour) but it’s got a great modern blue collar vibe to it. Kind of a poor man’s Office, Superstore reminds you that you don’t always need the most expensive cut of steak to have a good meal.
#15 Worthy Binge– Undone
I started watching Undone on a couple occasions. I’d watch a few episodes of the quirky, half-animated (the actual process, like that used by the same people in the movie A Scanner Darkly, is called Rotoscoping) show and then it would just sort of slip my mind to pick it up again. And it was really no failing of the show itself, it was actually, strangely, a compliment. I wanted to take my time with the series and let the episodes marinate but my brain, unable to find a pre-made spot to file it under in my memory kept letting the show sift through my fingers. Having just finished watching the series I can report though that my challenges to place a remarkable event align with the show’s focus on how tricky memory is, how clever our imaginations are, how challenging separating the truth from lies can be, how daunting it is to sift through the magic in the daylight, how challenging it is to fit ambiguous sized pieces in assembly line compartments.
#14 Binge Worthy– Last Week Tonight
Season Seven of Last Week Tonight may have been John Oliver’s finest work all largely brought us from the, “white void,” Oliver was forced into in the wake of the pandemic chasing him out of his studio. Out of that white void Oliver was his usual self deprecating, whimsically cerebral self, continuing to half-gleefully, half-exasperatedly filet corrupt politicians. In one of the most important years in American history though he offered much more. Oliver’s shows shed light on the realities of the coronavirus- How it came to be, why America was particularly vulnerable and the criminally inept and petulant response from the Trump administration that was increasing the body count. Oliver also tackled the protests in the wake of another wave of police shootings of members of the black community and the continued racial injustice in America. He did so clinically and humbly providing keen, easily digestible takes, on issues that has plagued America for hundreds of years.
Oliver also clearly picked a side. Not so much a political side as human side. Because 2020 wasn’t a year that choices could be simply a matter partisanship as much as a matter of your core belief systems. In this context Oliver picked the side aligned with truth, justice, thoughtfulness, decency, humour, kindness. A side warred against for four years by a criminal enterprise disguised as a government leveraging an increasingly vast propaganda network (see- Fox News and OAN just for starters).
What Oliver and Last Week Tonight did in Season 7 via a medium increasingly leveraged to misinform the public was wildly important. The show was not only a champion for truth and decency, it did more than that, it challenged viewers to be better, more informed, more engaged citizens.
#13 Binge Worthy- Wanda Vision
Marvel does a lot of things- fun isn’t always one of them. Wanda Vision though is all kinds of fun, its’ cup runneth over, from the kitschy premise, the rotating takes on popular TV shows from various era and the plot twists inserted in almost every nook and cranny of the show against popular convention. The creative process was clearly a lot of fun for the people who make the show and its’ palpable, even contagious, for the viewer. The sense of fun is so overwhelming, you, like me, might not really notice that this comic book type enterprise’s central theme is seemingly the only theme ever used by a comic book movie/series, that of a superhero riddled with doubt with what to do with their superpowers.
Again though, you don’t have to notice that and even if you do, you won’t care. You’ll be having too much fun.
#12 Binge Worthy– The Office
“I just want to lie on the beach and eat hot dogs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
I feel like you don’t need me to talk a lot about The Office. You’re probably familiar with the popular series. We watched the series in full from the first awkward season, through its’ sweet spot from seasons two through eight, into its’ muddy, awkward, end in season nine.
Those seven absolutely brilliant seasons though make The Office the benchmark for all work place satire.
Man oh man oh man, this show. First, Lily Tomlin has never ever, not once, been funny. How is that possible given that’s supposed to be what she does? Jane Fonda I have liked in various movies, Sam Waterston I loved in Law & Order, Martin Sheen, sure, his kids are a trip but you have to like Martin Sheen. Lily Tomlin? No idea what the allure is there. The writing on Grace and Frankie is similar in that you know there are some good elements there but they are drowned out and disfigured by the overall lack of touch.
#11 Binge Worthy- The Circus
As mentioned in the Last Week Tonight review the four year reign of the Trump crime syndicate was distraction as a means for extraction. The often cruel, always petty, pillaging of America, the manipulation of fear, hatred and prejudice for personal gain was a tough, emotional, follow. More than anything it was tiring. Serious things were happening with real life and death circumstances. Emotions then were understandably high. What The Circus provided in this context was a thoughtful documenting of what was happening, trying their best to navigate the inflammatory waters and provide some objectivity and insight. It wasn’t easy but Season Five in 2020 and the initial episodes of Season Six in 2021 proved it could be done and done well. Season Six begins in the wake of the January sixth insurrection orchestrated by the Trump administration. A real, live, coup attempt by a weak man masquerading as a strong man who managed to manipulate millions and millions of Americans to fully embrace their worst tendencies. If you aren’t sure of how dangerous, how important a year it was in America sit down and watch seasons five and six today. The Circus is an important document to an a real and ongoing threat to the state of man in North America right now.
#10 Binge Worthy- Ted Lasso
“I have a real tricky time hearing folks that don’t believe in themselves.“
Nothing would surprise me less than the next season of Ted Lasso being an absolute pumpkin. Often when watching Ted Lasso I found myself in awe of how much more easily it could have been absolute trite, hard to watch, crap. But it wasn’t. In fact it was beautiful. Why? I don’t honestly know. Maybe it’s that it believes in itself and that conviction provides it with an ease, a confidence that is contagious, maybe it’s simply the charm of the actors, maybe it’s that it is such a nice counterpoint the current state of the world- A man who refuses to surrender to the cynicism around him and just keeps on making and sharing the most delicious shortbread cookies ever until the world relents.
#9 Binge Worthy– Home Before Dark
Aland Sepinwall of Rolling Stone Magazine said of the series, “The contrast between this precious girl and the dark story she’s reporting can at times feel out of whack… But as anyone knows if they experienced The Florida Project with Prince as their guide, she’s a compulsively watchable actor.”
And that’s it really. The main attraction for Home Before Dark is Brooklyn Prince. Prince as Heidi Lisko lights up the screen leaving you hanging upon every slight emotional change she effortlessly seems to channel. The great casting doesn’t end there with Lisko’s gang of friends, her mother as played by Abby Miller, everybody, just seeming perfect for their role.
There are critics who take a healthy run at Home Before Dark’s storytelling but they are many of the same critics who will tell you how great Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is, a movie whose attraction is almost entirely predicated on the charisma of its’ main actors allowing you to enjoy the subversion of the way reality generally works (and indeed, how it historically worked). But maybe those critics need a flame thrower and a few more cleverly ironic lines to appease their inner critic and yeah, Home Before Dark, doesn’t have a lot of that. Similar to Ted Lasso Home Before Dark has and underlying, relentless, pursuit of decency that while some may scoff cooly at has never been braver than right here, right now.
#8 Binge Worthy- Community
Troy- That’s one of my biggest fears. If I ever, like, woke up as a dounut…
Abed- You would eat yourself…
Troy- I wouldn’t even question it!
Community may be the perfect show. For me the gateway was to paying attention to the show was Britta (Gillian Jacobs), one part of the modern Ginger vs Mary Anne comp beside Annie (Alison Brie). I’m sure I’m not alone in this as I can’t imagine how many woman have had lively debates about who is hotter- Troy Barnes or Pierce Hawthorn. But however you get pulled in, be it Senor Chang’s mastery of Spanish or Chevy Chase’s chin dimple there are so many gorgeous layers to Community. You can delight in the physical comedy, the random recurring characters, the flailing egos but the sublime absurdity has just the right level of intellectual undertones and ridiculously imaginative overtones to keep you delightfully engaged from season to season. Somehow Community may just have more to say about the state of humanity than a full year of CNN. The recurring paint gun episodes are brilliant, the Christmas special centered around Abed, genius. It goes on and on.
#7 Binge Worthy– Glow
Glow’s first scene features Alison Brie as Ruth at an audition. She immediately tears into the meaty dialogue, “In this world there are good guys and bad guys. And we are the good guys.
You see that name on my door? That’s my father’s name, sonofabitch. But this isn’t about him. This is about justice. This is about holding on to what is ours. This is about my firm, and my name.” Ruth then pounds the table for emphasis and pauses for effect before continuing, “And I will not be bullied into submission.”
Thinking the scene complete Ruth compliments the casting people on the role she was reading for, “There aren’t parts like this for women right now. It’s great. Really powerful.”
The casting director then dryly informs Ruth that she was reading the wrong part, she was in fact reading the man’s part.
The two restart the scene with the casting director limply reading the dialogue Ruth had just read, finishing with a more monotone delivery of, “This is about my firm and my name and I
will not be bullied into submission…”
Ruth waits a beat then delivers her characters lines in entirety, “Sorry to interrupt. Your wife is on line 2.”
So much of what makes Glow great is right there. It’s super clever, super subversive, super well written and acted. Glow knows stuff. It knows some really basic, often ugly truths. But it’s got a heart of gold. Which is why it is Top Ten binge material for me… and wait, wait, I know I’m already knee-to-kneck deep in hyperbole here but how damned amazing are Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin in this show? The opening to Season Three with the two in their wrestling character personas, one the All-American girl and the other the Anti-imperialist Russian, going through their routine on TV as the Space Shuttle Challenger takes off is a high wire act of writing and acting pulled off masterfully by all involved.
Virgin River is like a commune for characters with tragic back stories. If you are in Virgin River either things haven’t been going well for you in your life or you’re working on the drug farm in the middle of nowhere. Those are your two options, and really, it’s only one option. Trauma River is just so full of angst and flashbacks it’s like seven soap operas crammed into one Bass pro Shop-eque stretch of fictional wilderness.
#6 Binge Worthy- Fleabag
I have to respect the brutal level of honesty provided by Phoebe Waller-Bridges character in Fleabag. As a middle aged male, I’ll be honest, it kind of scares me at times but that’s my issue more than the characters. The world changes kid and sometimes that’s a great thing. In a way the Fleabag character is kind of the 2020 version of Erroll Flynn, young Elvis or 70s Burt Reynolds but better in that you get to see that underneath the uber charisma, the lights out smile, the overt sexuality, is, much like those early male icons, someone who can be shallow and petty. And you get to see it because these lines that Phoebe Waller-Bridges writes for her character she is often saying directly into the camera. Fleabag effectively cuts out the middleman to give us the privilege (however daunting at times it may be for middle aged men) of her undiluted perspective. And it’s riveting as hell.
There is a telling moment in Season One where Waller-Bridges shows up at her fathers house at 2 AM, slightly drunk, slightly lost, slightly in need of comfort, yelling through the mail slot in the front door to get her father to answer the door. After disregarding her father’s warning to not go upstairs and visit her artist/pill mother in law, she finds herself back downstairs with her emotionally distant father whose only reaction to her frazzled state is to call her a taxi. Leaving for her taxi Waller-Bridges turns back to her father and says, “I have a horrible feeling that I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.”
After a slight pause her father responds, “Well, um… you get all that from your mother you know.”
And its at that moment after the thrilling opening of wit and candor and this massive gravitational pull of charm that now we can relate to her. Only a true psychopath, a true asshole never considers these damning things about themselves seriously, only someone with a basic sense of decency would even worry about these things.
Fleabag is two extremely potent, seasons, of one wildly complex and entirely captivating character navigating the world outside and within. And it’s pretty much perfect at what it does.
#5 Binge Worthy– Anthony Bourdain
At various times over the past twelve months we have dove into all the various Bourdain franchises- No Reservations, Parts Unknown, A Cooks Tour, The Layover. It’s like therapy in our house. It’s the breaking of bread, the challenging of ideas, the exploration of different cultures and different sensibilities. That Anthony Bourdain is the conduit for this therapy can seem odd to me on its’ face. Bourdain being equally genuine and pretentious, brave and clearly fragile, curious and open minded but insecure and open to certain prejudices (Anything remotely resembling a hipster always get a rough ride from Bourdain who quite often, with his 70s punk name dropping, verges on hipster territory himself). But maybe that’s why he was perfect in his role as our roving statesman, he was flawed, but he knew it and was okay with you knowing it. Whatever his imperfections Bourdain was transparent about them while he sought and shared the truth. And give me a flawed man celebrating brilliant people, places, food and art around them over a perfect man on top of the mountain all day every day.
#4 Binge Worthy- The Morning Show
There’s so many great performances in The Morning Show. It’s a lot of great actors doing really great things with an on point, timely, super smart, look at where our culture is right now. So it feels wrong to single out one person. Buuuuuutttt… Billy Crudup man. Billy Crudup is so out of the park, so- would you look at that guy! great on The Morning Show I can’t not mention it. The Morning Show is a fun show, a smart show, and on a certain level, a truly important show. Watch it.
#3 Binge Worthy– Fargo
Every season of Fargo is intensely woven brilliance- the music, the settings, the acting, the time period. It’s the kind of immaculate genius that makes you appreciate the myriad of things that can be offered to your imagination via a TV show but almost always aren’t. My personal favourite installment of Fargo is Season Three with Ewan McGregor (playing dual roles) along side Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The chemistry between McGregor and Winstead is lights out and Winstead in particular is a revelation. Like every season of Fargo though there’s always way more than one or two or three aspects to revel in so Carrie Coon as Officer Gloria Burgles, the single mom who can’t get motion detectors to recognize her existence, the slow and steady wins the race force for humble justice might just be the most satisfying part of the show.
But hey, pick a season, pick a character, there’s just so much that is so great about this show that offers almost Biblical levels of reckoning, folksy story telling, ambiguous twists and next level mythology.
#2 Binge Worthy- Normal People
“You just always know what you think. I’m not like that.”
We are 60-some-% water. The idea that the matter of who we are would manifest in brick and stone, in something solid and absolute as opposed to something fluid and everchanging, something so in flux it could never even be sure of itself- any suggestion we are easy to capture is pure wishful thinking. We are influenced by season, by temperature, by time of day by the slightest movements of shadow and light by the merest movements of the brain, the body, the world around us. That’s how normal people work and that’s what Normal People captures.
I will tell you exactly how much I love this show- I haven’t finished watching Season One. Why? It’ll break my heart if they mess it up and I suspect on some level they may. Because how could they keep on crafting deeply compelling, deeply intimate, renderings of these two captivating young people without ever coming off as manipulative or cheesy? It can be a lonely trip sifting through this world and what Normal People captures is that abject, blurred, loneliness against the palpable excitement, the electricity of a vivid connection between two remarkable human beings. The show is written and filmed gorgeously, lingering on moments that few shows linger on effectively- those little crazy moments we remember for no reason at all at important junctures in our lives like being on a bus absently looking out the window, walking down and empty street at dusk. Yes this is a graphic show but the overall frankness of the visuals combined with the good hearted spirit of the truth telling provides a context that lends itself more to genuine appreciation than leering. This is beautifully engrossing stuff charged by the potency of who these two characters are and the crackling, combustible, relationship between them that makes this the most consuming and rewarding watch of the year for me… and it would be number one if I wasn’t too afraid to keep watching.
#1 Binge Worthy- Long Way Up
Long Way Up like Long Way Down and Long Way Around, succeeds on such a simple premise- Take two sweet, curious, good humoured, human beings and have them travel across often lost, gorgeous, landscapes, meeting people and trying to appreciate their reality. That’s it really, it’s that simple, it’s that great.
Who Charlie Borman and Ewan McGregor are as individuals, as friends, is clearly sincere, their affection for everyday people completely genuine. In a time where travel is a challenge living vicariously is definitely part of the charm here but the bottom line is this is a truly heart warming show that consistently doles out vivid slices of dreamy South American geography painted by moody sunsets, endless sunrises, and the most insanely blue skies you ever did see.
If you need to feel better about the world. Long Way Up is the place to start.