Top 5 TV Shows on Netflix and Amazon
There is little better (for me, and perhaps a good chunk of the population) than thinking about the day winding down and knowing that at home a plethora of quality filmic and televisual creation awaits you. Thanks to the miracle that is online streaming, whilst(!) chopping your onions and carrots (take extreme caution) you could be stewing on some of the most sought-after stimulating sights and sounds the Interwebs has to offer. Knowing that can be enough to get you through answering those crippling client emails or making those last-minute lattés.
There is so much out there though and everyone has their all too easily forgotten recommendations and it’s easy for the usual suspects to keep cropping up.
“Oh have you seen Breaking Bad? I didn’t believe the hype way back when but it is really good!”
Moreover, unless you watch with an overly critical eye, which can take the fun out of it, it’s hard to get a coherent reason out of the person making the reccommentation as to why they recommend a given show.
“I dunno…it’s just really…you know…just watch it!”
“Oh yeah I’ll definitely have to give that a go…” *whispers internally* “not”.
It’s not all about 4K video this and 3D that, as many people might have you believe. Yes, beautifully crisp video can be great, and things will continue to evolve, but most people’s TV screens and laptops right now can’t give you a true depiction of the quality of the camera’s capabilities. For instance, did you know that acclaimed director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network…) typically shoots his films and now series (as I’ll go on to discuss) in 6K! 6K! Imagine how that must look!
Well exactly, imagine…because it is never seen in that resolution…(yet). Most of the time we watch in 1920p x 1080p – ‘HD’. Fincher actually uses all those extra ‘Ps’ to have more in the frame than he needs so that when it comes to picking the perfect shot, the ‘camera’ can always be re-positioned to where it needs to be and there are many extra ‘Ps’ to draw from. That way, he can focus on selecting a shot based on the actor’s performances and not precision perfect camera movement or framing.
Since we’re now on the topic of David Fincher, I’d like to introduce the first of the TV shows I would recommend you watch.
1. Mindhunter (Netflix)
With episodes directed by David Fincher (who also is an executive producer of the show), it is no surprise that the show has so many of the trademark Fincher-esque characteristics: mostly locked-off (on tripod) camera shots, a dark colour palette, much of the frame being in the shadows, eerily perfect ‘omnipotent’ camera movement on the odd occasion it is used and the use of practical, visible lighting.
I have read that Fincher himself wants to make the audience feel uneasy and it is for these reasons that he does much of what he does. For me though, it makes the viewing experience gorgeously easy and drops me into the world without a second thought. Maybe that is what makes people feel uncomfortable – you’re now right there. Rather than a more documentary-feeling handheld camera show, where you are aware of looking into someone’s life through a lens.
Mindhunter is a crime drama set in the 1970s, based around two FBI agents trying to get to grips with the psyche of a criminal by exploring the minds of serial killers via never-before-held interviews. It provides fascinating and disturbing viewing, primarily because the psychopaths themselves are scarily charming yet (with the exception of one) by their own admission gruesomely murdered many innocent people, with overtly sexual motivations. Perhaps it hits so disturbingly because of the contrast between how much of a blasé manner in which many of the acts are discussed and the shocking images shown on screen of photographs from the crimes.
In short, Mindhunter is a beautifully shot crime drama, with strong performances from all cast members ensuring that you are kept firmly within the world of the show and subsequently witness to the perturbing minds of multiple criminal minds, all based on true accounts and crimes investigated in the late 1970s.
2. Stranger Things (Netflix)
For you eighties and before babies, the recreation of that the time in the US, complete with some tasty electronic sounds to match, this sci-fi TV series may be one for you. The early disappearance of one of the show’s established main characters, preceded by a ‘strange’ chain of events sees the rest of the cast desperately searching for him. It doesn’t take long for those people to realise that there are greater and more peculiar forces at work. The show is carried astoundingly well by it mostly very young cast and they have experienced a very rapid rise to stardom. Tension is held throughout but I would claim that being a real fraidy-cat the show has never properly scared me so it makes for very wide viewing.
3. Transparent (Amazon)
I don’t know if any of you remember family drama, Brothers and Sisters back in the day. Transparent blows it out of the water. As the title may or may not suggest to you, it has a lot to do with the as yet little broadcasted world of the transgender community. It’s a family drama centred around ‘Mort’, who has raised three frankly pretty spoilt children with now divorced wife, Shelly. Mort has a long-held secret kept from the family and near enough everyone else. The show’s catalyst is the divulging of this secret and Mort’s gradual transition towards becoming on the outside, who she has always known she was on the inside – Mora. I would welcome thoughts from the community about how sensitively the writers have handled various aspects of the storyline. The show explores many different aspects of life; particularly sexuality, relationships, religion, trust, sibling rivalry, secrets, abuse, drug use and many more. It is shot predominantly hand-held and gives a real sense of a documentary/real life (caveated by the fact that this is a very wealthy family living in California). The petty arguments and seemingly minor details of life it exposes makes me remember and be reassured at how imperfect we all are and how helpless and useless we can often feel behind closed doors. It’s a firm favourite of mine and makes for some decently challenging watching.
4. Better Call Saul (Netflix)
More of an oldie (in this day and age anything older than about 6 months is ancient) but a pure, 100%, 24 carat goldie. For anyone who did Breaking Bad and misses the almost painstakingly slow pace of the good old New Mexican show, this is right up your street. It follows the life of ‘Saul Goodman’, Walter White’s miracle working not-so-straight-down-the-line lawyer.
“A spin-off” you say, “Trust me” I retort. It’s more of a trip back in time, as, unusually, it finds Jimmy, later ‘Saul’, at the early stages of his career towards becoming a professionally practicing lawyer and all the sh!t he has to go through along the way. I would say that in terms of cinematography it’s ‘better’ shot that Breaking Bad. The mundanity of life of its predecessor has not been ditched but as with Breaking Bad it is so engaging to witness. There are some brilliant montages too. There are so many uniquely creative composition and framing choices it would be silly to try and list them but I very much recommend giving this a chance if you’re still feeling empty after Breaking Bad and need your fix.
5. Mr Robot (Amazon)
How not to give too much away? This show really is a gem. It follows the life of Elliot, a mastermind computer programmer/hacker. He is socially awkward and hacks all of his friends (of whom there are few), acquaintances, co-workers, his therapist etc.. The show runs with a frequent commentary from Elliot that you would assume is directed at the audience.
We explore with Elliot, via flashbacks during his therapy, or more randomly throughout his days, elements of his upbringing, it quickly emerges that it is difficult to be certain as to what is real and what is not.
With a serious anti-corporate, anti-establishment feel, Mr Robot is exactly what many people would enjoy and feel catharsis or hope in seeing now. The show’s writer and director Sam Esmail has been reported as explaining that he, being part of an immigrant family in the US, has found himself inadvertently and unintentionally writing and gravitating towards stories about those feeling on the outskirts of society, unable to fit it. Mr Robot is no exception.
Go watch (them all).
These are just a handful of some of the high quality shows I have had the pleasure of watching of late. Many others would be on the list on another day.