Sometime in the past, we wrote our first post about shows we loved to binge watch. We only did six shows, and that was so long ago, so we are back for part two. It’s impossible to keep up with the steady stream of shows that are getting released by the online services combined with the cable networks. So if you want to know what’s worth watching you need to get some good recommendations, so here we go with ours. What are your favorites?
I have had a ton of time lately to binge: older films, newer series, anything I could find that I was told was good. Some were a “cut” above like Amazon Prime’s newest documentary Lorena, and others were left me wanting a little something more as in I Am the Night. For the three I recommend, there are two more recent picks and one throwback. None of these will disappoint.
The Crown (Netflix)
I had completely no interest in the modern English Monarchy – I like much older history- but when I saw Claire Foy win an Emmy for her portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth II I decided to give it a chance. Just a tryout. The Crown proved my theory that any movie or television show can be good despite the topic if it’s done well. It also made me completely interested in 20th-century British history. The production values for this show are amazing, the show looks beautiful, the locations, the sets, the dress, all of it. The stories are tight and well written. They just don’t focus on the queen, we get episodes about Churchill (a better-than-Oldman performance by, strangely enough, American John Lithgow), the London Fog, Princess Margaret, Prince Phillip and deep into season 2, Prince Charles. The acting is brilliant. Claire Foy can do a ton with just a look. Matt Smith, who I didn’t know could act outside of Doctor Who, is also very good as the Queen’s put-upon husband Prince Phillip. Vanessa Kirby as Prince Margaret often steals the show. The supporting cast is filled with some great British character actors, such as Jared Harris and a couple of Game of Thrones actors. Season one is more cohesive but season 2 has a couple of the best episodes by far. I only have one quibble with the series and that is the portrayal of the Kennedy’s in season 2 is dreadful, caricatures at best. I blasted through the first season and slowed down for season 2 because I didn’t want it to end.
Bonus: Season 3 will be out soon but unfortunately there is a complete cast change as Oscar winner Olivia Coleman takes over for Claire Foy as an older Queen Elizabeth. I still expect it to be good.
MG: I too was initially hesitant to watch this show, and gave it a try due to the widespread acclaim and your recommendation. As you said, everything about the production of this show is top-notch (supposedly it is the most expensive television show ever made – I’ve heard in excess of 150 million pounds.). As a kid I always scoffed at the Brits love of the royal family, but between going to London last year and watching this show, I now have an appreciation of the importance of the monarchy to England’s identity and history.
The Staircase (Netflix)
I have been hooked on real crime documentaries lately. There seems to be a new trend where these streaming services and/or pay cable have multiple part documentaries. Some are pretty good like Making of a Murderer (Season 1) and some are a slog that could be told in much less than 8 parts (The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann). The Staircase is a little bit of both. It started as an 8 part documentary in 2004 by a French filmmaker (as the case progressed it got two more episodes in 2013) and in 2018 Netflix produced the final three episodes. The story revolves around author Michael Peterson who was accused of pushing his wife down a staircase in 2001. The filmmakers had unprecedented access to the Peterson family and for a short time the prosecutors. I had not seen any of this until it arrived on Netflix and it was recommended to me. It’s extremely well-done. There are twists and turns and one part that involves an owl. You will probably think he is innocent or guilty multiple times. One major concern I have is once the prosecutors refuse to speak to the filmmakers the view goes towards a heavy Peterson slant. I was so interested in this case because of this documentary I watched a Forensic Files and an American Murder Mystery on ID TV and I found out one thing left out is Peterson’s romantic involvement with the editor of the film. Whatever you think, it’s a fantastic look at a truly bizarro murder trial and worth a watch to come up with your own conclusions.
Bonus: If this is your bag, ID Destination has a great series called An American Murder Mystery that along with this includes, Jodi Arias, Casey Anthony, Scott, and Drew Peterson, JonBenet, and Natalie Wood.
MG: The first half of this series mesmerized me. When the defense team goes to Germany, what is revealed on that trip was a plot twist you wouldn’t believe if it was in a fictional story. The last half of the show does slow down and drifts into a different direction, becoming a bit reminiscent of Making A Murder. With these true-crime series I find I am less interested in “did he or did he do it?” and more interested in the slice of human nature that is showcased in the families, lawyers and investigators.
Chuck (Amazon Prime)
Before Zachary Levi was Shazam! he was Chuck. This series from the late aughts was always an underappreciated NBC show. I watched every episode as it aired and recently wondered if it was as good as I remembered it. I forgot about it until I saw the trailers for Shazam! So I decided to just watch the pilot and I was hooked again and preceded to binge the hell out of it. Levi plays Chuck a self-proclaimed nerd that works at the Buy More as a nerd herd computer geek who gets a super spy computer downloaded into his brain. After that adventure ensues. The spy team that watches over him are played by the breathtaking Yvonne Strahovski as Sarah and Adam Baldwin as Casey. He has a best friend Morgan, a sister Ellie and her husband Devon, “Captain Awesome”. Most episodes have a spy mission intercut with either Chuck’s home life or his time at the Buy More. It’s part spy show and part workplace dramedy at least for the first few seasons. It’s an incredibly funny show and the actors have great chemistry. The fight sequences are done extremely well. It has enough nerd humor and comedy for some people and enough action for others. It also has an A-list of guest stars some who have recurring story arcs like Scott Bakula, Tony Hale, Linda Hamilton, Brandon Routh, Timothy Dalton, and Lauren Cohan to name a few. I will say the first two seasons are gold, three is good, and it starts to slide in seasons four and five as NBC stopped caring and production values dipped. NBC really seemed to give up on the show moving it around and getting lazy with the writing, maybe it should have ended sooner.
Bonus: Chuck won two Emmy Awards for Best Stunt Coordination, more proof that the action sequences were dynamic.
MG: I know you and another friend always gushed over this show, but I did not catch it when it aired and wasn’t aware it was available for streaming. I liked Zachary Levi’s supporting role in season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and he looks good in Shazam!, so I will add this to me list to check out sometime. Plus I need another comedy to watch.
Streaming shows have been an amazing advance in home entertainment. Besides the breadth of content, just being able to watch shows at your own pace, and without the annoying interruption of commercials, is huge. I literally can’t stomach sitting and watching a network show with commercials if it’s not DVR’d so I can skip them. Still, not everything on Netflix/Prime/Hulu/etc. has been excellent. Some disappointments in the past year or so include Homecoming, Castle Rock, the later seasons of Bloodline, and the second season of Jessica Jones. Here are a few I’ve watched since our first post that I really enjoyed.
I love the pure originality of this series – an 80’s-set, half-hour comedy based on the real life show The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. If this had been on network TV it would have been saturated with overplayed 80’s pop music and equally tired 80’s tropes. On Netflix, the show is allowed to explore it’s characters, story and themes with the 80’s setting in the background – so much so that you even forget what decade it is. Alison Brie goes all-in for both her character, Ruth Wilder, and wrestling alter ego the Russian “Zoya the Destroya”. She carries the first season, with the strong support of Marc Maron as Sam, the resisting-being-washed-up director of the show with a gruff exterior and drug problem. Betty Gilpin, as Ruth’s former best friend/former soap star Debbie Eagan, comes into her own as the show progresses, and the relationship between the two of them is more complex than you expect. In season 2 the showrunners and Brie wisely allow the rest of the supporting cast more storylines and screentime to develop their characters. Some might be disappointed by the lack of actual wrestling sequences in the series, although there are at least two episodes that are heavy with matches. The last episode of season two is almost a cliff-hanger, and smartly leaves you wanting more. The good news is it feels like this story and fun cast has plenty of room to run.
Bonus: Episode 8 of season 2 is a brilliant imagining of an actual show from the 80’s, complete with an evil/good twin plot for Zoya and various cheesy storyline set-ups for wrestling matches. The part about re-animating a mannequin as an “ideal” mate for one of the women was a great nod to 80’s films (like Mannequin!).
DJ: I am about 4 and half episodes deep and I find it well done, I do enjoy Marc Maron and saw him in his own IFC show and listened to a couple of his WTF podcasts. It hasn’t gotten me to the point where I need to get to the next episode right away but I will keep going.
The Punisher (Netflix)
The Marvel “defenders” shows on Netflix started out very strong. The first one to air, Daredevil, was a phoenix rising from the ashes of the awful and much maligned 2003 Ben Affleck film. It set a dark and realistic tone and established the Hell’s Kitchen setting for these characters to seek justice. The second Daredevil season introduced Frank Castle/The Punisher, who was well cast with Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal. Bernthal brought a menacing edge and earnestness to role, with a dash of desperation and a smaller dash of heart, setting him up for a full season. You’d expect some extreme violence with The Punisher, which for me nudged the boundaries at a few points, but it was more than just a revenge piece (or a “there’s-more-to-live-than-revenge” piece). It has a solid supporting cast, particularly Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a former NSA analyst on the run and Homeland Security agent Dinah Midani (Amber Rose Revah) both of whom become allies of Frank Castle in their own way. The role of the heavy Billy Russo is sleazily played by Ben Barnes, who is a believable opponent for Bernthal’s avenger.
Unfortunately, these great supporting characters end up as a liability in Season 2, as the writers try to give substantial storylines and screentime to everyone returning, while adding another villain, The Preacher, and a teenage girl that Castle is constantly trying to protect. It quickly starts to feel stitched together like a Frankenstein’s monster of separate stories that don’t work together as a whole. Bernthal still puts his all into the role, mentally and physically, but he’s less impactful when part of an ensemble. Eventually, the disparate parts come together in the last few episodes, but with so much other good content out there, it’s hard for me to recommend the second season, unless you are a diehard fan.
Bonus: Frank Castle did not appear in The Defenders series, nor did any of the other superheroes appear in either season of The Punisher. However, I enjoyed seeing the crossover of Karen Page, played by Deborah Ann Woll, who became much more interesting and independent without the love interest baggage in Daredevil.
DJ: I’m almost done with season 1 and its pretty strong. I like how it’s bad ass and it tops any Punisher movie. It is a shame that some of these Netflix Marvel series put out weaker second seasons and now they are gone. The Punisher and Daredevil may be the best two.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Netflix scores a sweep of all three spots for me. While I do lean towards darker material, I love the ability on streaming services to bounce between adventure, comedy, drama and other genres. Outside of American Horror Story, I have not watched much horror, so I thought I would give this a try – hoping it was more creepy/scary and less gory/slasher material. I was pleased to see this was the former type of horror, and ended up as a hybrid of family drama and horror (I’m always intrigued by material that defies easy categorization). Some viewers I’m sure will want a higher ratio of horror to drama, and I’ll admit I longed for the same in a few episodes, but the show will still hit you with a jump scare when you least expect it. The mother and father are played by the underrated Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (E.T.’s Elliot all grow’d up!), while the children, both young and old versions, are played by relative newcomers. As a whole the cast is solid, with only a few acting off notes here and there. The story is well written and plotted – bouncing between the kids being children and then adults – roughly a 20 year gap. When I saw the old version of the father, I was amazed at how much the old person make-up on Henry Thomas made him look like Timothy Hutton – then in a hand-to-forehead-smack moment realized it WAS Timothy Hutton. I’m glad they opted for different actors instead of old-age make-up (something that rarely looks authentic), and Hutton brings a certain life-weariness and gravitas that ultimately helped pull the story tighter together as it picked-up speed in later episodes. This is one of those series’ that dangles the carrot of the “truth” of what is going on, which can be dissapointing, like in the Amazon Prime show Homecoming when there was virtually no payoff. For me, I felt like Hill House did ultimately reach a satisfying conclusion. I was actually glad there was no “sixth-sensish” twist thrown in, just a wrapping up of all the loose ends in the last half hour of the final episode.
Bonus: I was thinking afterward it would be a stretch to make a second season out of this story, but I discovered that this will be an anthology series, like American Horror Story. The series is simply The Haunting, with the next installment set for 2020 titled The Haunting of Bly Manor.
DJ: This is going to be a theme but I am almost finished with this as well, and I do this when I read books too. I like this a lot, although I’m not sure I am loving Henry Thomas. I thought he was the weaker of the actors. Timothy Hutton is as good as ever. My big thing on whether I end up liking it or not is how it will end.
MG: I agree Thomas can be somewhat blank in some scenes. As the older version, Hutton really defines the character, which is crucial in the final episodes.