NetFlix, Part Two
The amount of content available to a citizen in 2017, in print, online, on broadcast and streaming television as well as streaming podcasts and music, is far more than any individual can keep up with. So, we have to edit and “curate” (one of my least favorite, most overused “trendy” terms in circulation these days) what we read, watch, listen to, etc. That said, if we only focus on streaming television services --- Amazon, NetFlix, Hulu, Crackle, Vevo, etc. --- there’s still too much to review, critique, or provide information about. So, as begun yesterday, the Blast is only going to focus on what NetFlix has to offer --- and maybe get to the other streamers another time.
Yesterday’s quick reviews of Get Me Roger Stone and Dear White People touched on two of NetFlix’s greatest strengths: documentaries and series. Like any network, there are hits and misses, but I would contend the best work they do is excellent and deserving of a wide audience. In the documentary category the Making a Murderer's 10-episode series is gripping television, providing insight into small town law enforcement as well as the larger criminal justice system itself. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a fabulous story about Kurt Russell’s dad, Bing, taking over a minor league baseball franchise in Oregon in the mid 1970’s, thumbing his nose at the baseball monopoly/establishment and successfully bringing baseball back to Portland after the big guys left. What Happened, Miss Simone received an Oscar nomination for brilliantly telling the story of a classically trained African American female pianist who became a revolutionary artist and social critic in the late ‘60s and early ‘70’s. If you are not familiar with Nina Simone’s story, you should definitely see this. Another sports oriented documentary, Last Chance U., is the story of a little known junior college in Mississippi where aspiring NFL players go, hoping to transfer to a “big-time” university and catch the eye of professional scouts. Who knew about this layer of our “education” system? Informative and entertaining, it focuses on a handful of players and their coaches (including an “academic” coach) to tell a compelling story. There are other commendable documentaries (Chef’s Table, Chelsea Does, & some rock’n’roll stories spring to mind) and I recommend you surf the NetFlix documentary menu to find the films that speak to you.
When it comes to 10 to 12 episode “series,” NetFlix is King of the Hill. Despite some clunkers (Fuller House, Wet, Hot American Summer, The Ranch, and Haters Back Off--- all of which are as bad as anything on the broadcast networks) there are some really excellent stories worth a look. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a hilarious satire about a former cult hostage set free in New York City --- a charming Rip Van Winkle yarn, updated for our time. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None has garnered huge critical acclaim --- deservedly --- spinning an autobiographical tale about making it as an “outsider” comedian in New York City. It’s funny and touching, in turns, and powerful, too --- “must see TV.” One of my favorite new offerings this year was the Timothy Olyphant/Drew Barrymore Santa Clarita Diet --- a bizarre tale about a suburban real estate agent who becomes a flesh-eating zombie (Barrymore), to the dismay of her loving husband (Olyphant). Criticized for some of its graphic scenes, I found the show original, wonderfully satiric, and just good fun to watch. Finally, I have to highlight --- and highly recommend --- the Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston vehicle, Grace and Frankie --- a fabulous show based on a bizarre premise: two male law partners (Sheen & Waterston) inform their wives (Tomlin & Fonda) that they are not only going to divorce the women but they are also going to get married --- to each other. The husbands have been carrying on a 20-year homosexual affair behind the backs of their wives and have finally decided to live honestly. The twists and turns the series takes from that first episode on are clever, engrossing, topical and features a sterling cast of geriatrics, a perfect show for Baby Boomers! The extended families (daughters, adopted sons, grandchildren, sons-in-law) add to the colorful landscape and storylines. If you are a viewer of a certain age, this show should be right up your alley --- and if your parents are a certain age, you should watch, too.
Finally, NetFlix has a stunning list of Stand-Up comedians with dozens and dozens of some of our best-known performers (Dave Chappelle, Amy Schmumer, Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Colin Quinn) and many of the lesser-known (but equally funny) young talent out there (Anthony Jesselnik, Mike Birbiglia, Chelsea Perreti, Demetri Martin, John Hodgman, Chris D’Elia). It’s another menu you can spend hours perusing --- and bingeing on.
Beyond that, NetFlix brokered a deal with Marvel and has already produced four Superhero series --- Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist ---so, if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. And, bless their hearts, they have brought back a 2017 version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 --- one of the great satire shows of all time (if you're not familiar with it, watch once & you'll be hooked). In all, NetFlix has a vast and interesting line-up that offers the gamut --- documentaries, comedy, dramas, fantasy --- and is worth our attention and our time.
See you on the couch, Potato.