Confinement. Quarantine. Shut in. Whatever you wish to call it, we are all doing our part to stay safe during this tough time. For many of us, the arts are the key to keeping our minds stable through any issue, let alone being stuck in our homes for months. We have novels, music, films and television to see us through.
The world now lives in the age of bingeing thanks to the major streaming services. No longer are we content to wait a week until the next episode of our favorite show or miniseries (now referred to as “limited series”) when Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, et al. release complete seasons, all at once. With a little less sleep and lots of snacks, viewers can finish two or three entire seasons in a week or sometimes less.
Netflix has been the most consistent in quality as far as content goes. Amazon has some excellent programming and contains more than a few of the best original shows/films out there, but Netflix seems to put out even more original programming of high quality that almost dares the other services to keep up.
To help us through this strange and isolated time in our world, here are ten suggestions of my favorite original series, miniseries, and films from Netflix that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.
“Marc Maron: End Times Fun” (performance piece)
Marc Maron is the smartest comedian out there. His comedy has always been personal, honest, and unapologetic. Something that makes Maron so special is the fact that he chooses to do intimate stand-up sets with smaller crowds rather than bigger venues, a smart move that makes his sets even more intimate. His latest special (directed by Lynn Shelton) is his best, yet. His observations on getting older, staying woke, and the country’s current political madness are spot-on and infused with his attainable wisdom.
“She’s gotta have it” (original series/two seasons)
It is a shame that Netflix canceled this fantastic series after only two seasons. Spike Lee’s update of his 1986 breakthrough film is smart, funny, sexy, powerful, and alive. DeWanda Wise leads a great cast as the modern version of Nola Darling in this truly unique and wonderful show.
“The King” (original film)
David Michod’s extremely well-done film regarding a prince and heir to the English throne who is crowned Henry V received a mixed reception and not anywhere near the fanfare it deserved. The film features a strong cast (Timothy Chalamet, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Joel Edgerton all do fine work) and a well-designed screenplay from Edgerton and Michod. Just sweeping enough, this is a film that focuses on strong characters over pageantry.
“Lady Dynamite” (original series/two seasons)
For my money Maria Bamford is one of the funniest comedians working today. Her unique take on the pitfalls of her own life and her struggles with depression and social awkwardness have made for strong comedic monologues that she infuses with truth and soul. Her latest series is a strange and hilarious candy-colored headtrip into the way she sees the world. Bamford plays a semi-autobiographical version of her personality that makes sharp observations on the absurdity of an ever-changing world.
“Unorthodox” (limited series)
A great new drama that follows young Esty, who escapes an arranged marriage by her Orthodox-Jewish family and travels from New York to Berlin. Directed by Maria Schrader and starring a true find in Israeli actress Shira Haas, this miniseries (based on the memoir by Deborah Feldman) is a deliberately-told tale about one young woman’s liberation from religion and tradition that finds a soulfulness in its melancholy.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return” (original series/two seasons)
The original “Mystery Science Theater” was a cult hit that became one of the most beloved series in television history. When Netflix brought it back in 2017, there was a new cast (Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day) but the characters and format were the same. Jonah and his two robots watch bad films and riff their way through them. The show was as comical as ever and never lost a beat regarding what made the original series so special (SEE ALSO: “Netflix announces it is cancelling the popular “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” revival after two seasons”)
“The Land of Steady Habits” (original film)
Nicole Holofcener is one of the great purveyors of independent-minded cinema. Sadly, Hollywood makes it more and more difficult for filmmakers of any stature to get their smaller projects off the ground. Thankfully, Netflix has come to the rescue of smaller filmmakers and Holofcener’s latest is a winner. Ben Mendelsohn is a man navigating his relationship with his son during his divorce. Along with Edie Falco, Mendelsohn gives a layered performance in a film that is sharp and honest while completely sidestepping the trappings of melodrama.
“When They See Us” (original film)
I’m not saying they are all going to be fun! Ana DuVernay’s masterful and career-best work was one of the finest films of 2019. In its powerful examination of a racist and broken “justice” system, this film (an honest and warranted indictment on the botched cover-up of the Central Park Five case) told an epic tale of corruption that was astonishingly well-cast and directed with an undeniable anger and palpable emotion. It is a sobering and important watch.
“Ozark” (original series/three seasons)
AMC’s “Breaking Bad” was a critical darling and a show that the world entire appears to love. Its story of an everyman thrust into the violent and dangerous world of drugs was groundbreaking and well accomplished. But, truth be told, I never fully got on the bandwagon with it. However, a Netflix show that I believe one-ups “Breaking Bad” is “Ozark.” Thematically on a par with AMC’s award winner, this expertly-designed Netflix show has great fun with subverting our expectations. Taking Jason Bateman’s dramatic career to even greater heights and giving Laura Linney her best role in over a decade, this is high-class television where every single episode is consistently intriguing. A series that gets better and better with each new season.
“Master of None” (original series/two seasons)
Aziz Ansari created, writes, and stars in this delightful show about a man navigating relationships in New York City. The show’s scripted stories are complemented by Anzari’s naturalistic style. His performance is sweet and witty, as are his relationships with his friends and family. Inside each thirty-minute episode is a comment on our country’s heart. Season 2 is set in Modena, Italy and filmed in black and white. This is Anzari & Co. tipping their hat to the films of Woody Allen’s heyday. ‘Master of None” is a persuasive series that wins its audience over through wit, style, and charm.
Featured image: actress Shira Haas in “Unorthodox”