Best Binge-Watching Shows (That You're Probably Not Already Watching)
As I write this post, I'm currently seated at my desk, a space heater at my feet and snow blowing literally sideways and up at the same time right outside my window.
Yeah, I shan't be going outside anytime soon.
Luckily I have a stack of books by my bedside (Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and The Power by Naomi Alderman), but I'm also planning to clock some major binge-watching hours a la Netflix between reads. Because, what are snowstorms for besides avocado toast and staying in bed?
She's Gotta Have It
She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee's 2017 remake of his 1986 film by the same name, is stellar binge-watching show, and an all-too-rarified portrayal of a young, black, sex-positive woman in Brooklyn. (Girls, you had your chance...)
There was a lot to love about this show, but frankly, I think it was the show's flaws, and flawed characters, that made it worthwhile for me - it gave me a lot to think about and question about the false notion of "perfection," "confidence" (keeping that in quotation marks for now), gender roles, age, and race, and about my role in all of that as a white woman and what I can and should be doing/thinking/saying better.
Some of the writing in the show really missed the mark in a way that suggest the writers still don't really understand what it means to be a young but strong, independent and sexually fluid woman today. There were some attempts at current themes such as calling out cat-callers and street harassers, a few rather accurate digs at gentrification, the Black Lives Matter Movement, coping with past trauma and abuse, and working as a freelancer while trying to achieve career goals. But a lot of it felt, at least to me, really insincere, like a group of middle aged writers with a check list of trending topics they needed to address to create a character that millennial would binge-watch. (This last point is something I kept thinking with an eye-roll as I watched the show, and in reading reviews of it later, it seemed to be echoed by many other writers and reviewers, too.) As a result, much of the dialogue was also very syrupy and oozing sexuality in a way that felt forced - think Samantha on Sex and the City.
While the main character, Nola, refuses to play wifey, or even girlfriend, to any of the three men and one woman she's seeing despite some rather persistent, borderline obsessive requests to do so the men, she's incredibly insecure, emotionally needy, and something of a control freak. She seems to be fueled not by the approval of the men, but by their frustrated longing for her, and her refusal of them is her way of gaining and maintaining control. The three men's obsession over her is also really unrealistic, a la There's Something About Mary. - like, she's great and all but this is New York, this is Brooklyn, there are plenty of fish in the sea!
And, the male characters in the show are so subpar, personality-wise (except maybe the inimitable Mars Blackmon!) that one wonders why such an intelligent, talented and smart woman bothers to keep them around except for the confidence boost that comes with having three men obsessed with her?
I'm still trying to unpack the fact that she can only, in her own words, "make loving in my lovin' bed." I see this almost as a "tell" that she's not so sexually confident as she would like to make people believe, that at the end of the day she can only have sex on her own turf, in her safe space. I by no means think that a woman should be ready to have sex anytime, any place, but for someone who describes herself as sex-positive, only being able to have sex in one's own bed seems dysfunctional, so I am still pondering what this means - with regards to Nola and with regards to the way I view sexuality and sexual positivity. (See what I mean? The show makes you question what and how you think, and that's why it's on this list.)
Nola does admit to her therapist that she is feeling "confused" lately, so perhaps she's just figuring it all out, while wearing a mask of confidence. Or, perhaps again, the writers didn't do a stellar job of writing a multi-faceted female character that, unfortunately, has only been relegated to side-character until recently.
Lastly, the ending of the show was anything but empowering. I will say no more at the risk of spoiling it, but I will say that the entire last episode made her seem manipulative, flippant, needy, and, worst of all for her character, afraid to be alone.
Still definitely worth a binge-watch - it'll give you lots to think about.
Season 1 on Netflix now. (Just renewed for a second season! Season 2 TBA.)
This show is a beautiful fever dream that also happens to be a period piece, and yes, based on a historical figure. A tough sell, I know, but if you're like me, you'll get so swept away in the gorgeous scenery, regicide attempts, upstairs-downstairs drama, jilted lovers, a beheading or two, and lots of gratuitous sex scenes that remembering that this stuff actually happened IRL will only make it that much better.
Oh, and the opening credits song "Outro" by M83, along with the shows strangely abstract, ethereal visual intro, is absolute perfection. Watch it here.
Here's some of the cool trivia I learned about Louis XIV through the show:
1.) He built Versailles as a way to control his court - by moving them out of Paris, the capital, they not only became his captive audience, but they were also obliged to dine, sleep, and fête when the palace schedule dictated. They couldn't leave without permission, and even if they did, the road between Versailles and Paris was relatively new and mostly unguarded, so it was extremely dangerous; more than a few nobles were robbed and killed making the short, by today's standards, journey, making Versailles somewhat of a gilded cage.
2.) His younger brother, Philippe the Duke of Orléans was openly gay, and had a long-term male partner, and everyone seemed pretty okay with it.
3.) Louis had a wife - a Spanish noble - but his true love was his brother's wife, a childhood friend who he ordered his brother to marry to keep her close, relatively chaste (the brother wasn't too keen on sleeping with her, as he had other interests) and to keep her progeny (which may have been Louis', as well) in the family.
That's the most I'll say without giving too much away. Enjoy soaking up any and all facts and trivia from the show and furiously scouring Wikipedia between episodes to learn more about the crazy/beautiful life of Louis XIV.
Season 1 (10 episode) is on Netflix. Season 2 has aired abroad, but has yet to come to Netflix. (It's available for purchase on Amazon, though.)
I'm slow-clapping over here for Kelsey Grammer, who effectively killed Frasier off forever with his a little too real portrayal of the fictional, wickedly nefarious Chicago Mayor Tom Kane.
Historically, Chicago is known for having a steady stream of corrupt politicians at its helm, and this show gives (admittedly dramatized) insight into how political players rise to power (usually illegal "favors"), keep their power (murder, sometimes), and try to thwart each other's rises.
Kelsey's Kane, however, is frustratingly unthwartable, and makes it his mission to ruin the lives, careers, and families of anyone who has ever tried - including his own wife and daughter. Oh, but the catch? He's dying. (He is diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies, a degenerative neurological disorder, in Season 1/Episode 1, so that's not a spoiler.) The diagnosis, and knowing he has limited time left to spend with his wife and try to patch things up with his estranged, recovering drug addict daughter doesn't soften him at all; rather, it makes him more determined to solidify his legacy - by any means necessary.
There are three seasons, and each one unveils something inconceivably horrible he's done, and much like Game of Thrones, main characters aren't safe, so don't be surprised to see anyone killed off at any time. Come to think of it, he's not unlike some GOT villains - Kane is as rotten as Joffrey, as smart as Cersei, and as pure evil as Ramsay Bolton. But, unlike GOT, which, we are sometimes reminded, is a made up place, this is all going down in the very real urban landscape of Chicago, IL and revolves around people and events that could, just maybe, be real.
Seriously, this is an edge-of-your-seat, "I'm so mad," "I hate this fictional person with a fiery passion," Next Episode, skip intro show that you'll devour. Oh and did I mention it was directed by Gus Van Sant?