Good TV: Binge Watching Edition, Netflix

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There was a time in my life I hated television – it was all reruns of CSI and questionable “new” shows with tired themes. The only things I liked – just got cancelled super fast – Firefly, I am looking at you.

Then, suddenly, the heavens opened up and Good TV became a thing again! That being said – there is still a lot of crap. Personally, I can’t stand very much “reality” tv programming. Bachelor/ette types shows make me cringe at the gender norms and militant anti-feminist rhetoric; the skeptic in me cannot believe in the psychics, regardless of how many teary eyed people walk onto the show; and tow trucking hording choppers or clippers – they all run into the same gambit for me. Not that dramas or comedies are the pinnacle of good television, either. I mean – have you seen Dads? Or Two and a Half Men? Or … let me just say, no. No television – we don’t have to do that whole crass, crude, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-decency thing to get laughs right? And police procedurals – can we stop with the trope of having victims only be female, and some sort of graphic sexual assault? Please? Never mind the dramas …

With the advent of Netflix and Hulu and “binge watching” comes also an opportunity to rediscover some old gems from the past and some new gems now, that take you out of the doldrum of same-o tv. I have latched onto a few and wanted to list them for you so that your next Sunday afternoon can involve you, in pajamas, yelling at the television while clutching a pillow and pint of ice cream, too!

*Note* Going with my general preference of tv shows with strong female leads … well, these are heavy in the “strong female leads” category is all.

My Top Twenty-Five Binge-Worthy Streamed TV Shows:

10. Miss Marple

I know what you’re thinking – Ammy, this show is about a nosy old woman who flits around various parts of England, sticking her nose and opinions (and knitting needles!) into places they ought not belong and then  manages to solve murder mysteries by applying local gossip to the people she encounters! How can that be entertaining!?

Well, my friends, it can.

Miss Marple is a busybody – never married, no children, lives in a cottage in St Mary’s Mead and in general, enjoys sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, she’s an entertaining character – and the adaptations of the Agatha Christie heroine that are currently on Netflix do her a great justice. I will warn those who loved the books – these adaptations are, for the most part, loose adaptations. That is, there are some mysteries that are very Miss Marple-esque in tone and delivery, and there are also a lot of elements not in a Miss Marple myserty. Further, the adapattions have usurped other Agatha Christie stories (and heroes) into the Miss Marple stories so that she takes over stories traditionally held for other detectives.

That being said – it’s still a collection of wonderful adaptations. Particularly for me, as with the adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, the modern sensiniloities of viewers are taken into account. So, spurned women are seen as something more than just harpies, LGBT folk are seen (like at all) and not just as pecularities, and women/minorities have a larger role. I think this fleshes out the stroies, roots them in a reality that doesn’t always come across in older works. Also, it’s just a lot of fun.

I would recommend this for that lazy Sunday when you’re content to sit by the tv, jammies and tea with maybe a plate of scones for company. Particularly if its raining out – like the quintessential English countryside.

9.  Dollhouse

This list, I warn you now, may be a bit Whedon-heavy.

Dollhouse didn’t really get a fair shake out the door. It lasted for two seasons – the latter which ended up shrilly cut off and hastily summed up in a way that still sets my teeth on edge. That being said, in those two short seasons, you could already see the moral/ethical dilemmas the show was going to explore (I am getting all angry all over again) with the very compelling starting off point of having “dolls” – humans who have their memory swiped (thus entering a doll-like state) and then reinstated with other memories for “rental” services to the rich and powerful. The issues of identity, sexual orientation and expression, sexual politics and dialogue of power and control – so ripe here. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned a time or two, the issues were never fleshed out, and all we’re left with is this short but good glimpse into what could have been.

I would say that you should watch this with someone – gives you the opportunity to argue about which point is being made in which episode.

8. Annika Bengtzon

I mentioned this series on FB a couple of weeks back when I was in the throes of this particularly good Swedish crime series. It follows reporter, Annika, who juggles family and work, and her own past and the expectations set for her, all while immersing herself in crime reporting. She’s a tough nut to crack, but not without her foibles – and her adventures are deep. The ending of the last couple of episdoes (there are 6 so far) had me screaming at the telvision in utter disbelief, but the stories themselves are compelling and you’re right along for the ride.

If you like crime thrillers – Annika is your girl.

I would recommend this for viewing on those late nights you come home for work and decide popcorn is a good dinner to be had.

7. The Returned

This is a French series that apparently will be remade for American audiences (re. those who hate subtitles) at some point next year, about a little mountainous town that sees the arrival of those long dead, at the same time that the reservoir (unfortunately a little town filled in during the 1970s when the dam broke) is seeming to empty itself. It’s not a zombie series … not really. The Returned (Revenants) don’t want to eat your brains and they’re not missing body parts – they’re human, and very fragile – most not understanding where they are, or how much time has passed. Each episode focuses on a particular Revenant, their family or friends and their story.

The stories can be heart breaking – sort of cruel, with that great French flare for takign the ugly with the beautiful. All in all, wonderful, if slow and methodical, story telling that gives you super complex issues to grapple with, without being overly overt at solving anything.

I would say that if you’re going to watch this, to watch it at night – it lends an air of sobriety to it.

6. Continuum

Reasons you should watch Continuum: It’s smart sci-fi (or syfy for those who prefer that) and time travel with very complex characters that speak to an issue that we are currently very much grappling with (that is, corporations and any duties corporations owe to the populace). Other reasons you should watch Continuum: Brilliant storylines that keep you guessing, and an ability to move towards resolution that is always just out of grasp, not to mention the shades of grey inherent in all the characters, their motivations and their outcomes. Still further reasons to watch Continuum: It’s Canadian. Really, that’s all I need to check a show out …

Continuum is a show based on a woman from the future – a particular future where the corporations basically run everything. There is good and bad to this – there are amazing innovations (the lick-a-pregnancy test from season 1 is something I think corporations need to get on, like, now) and yet huge gaping holes where dissent and violence are undertaken with tragic results. Anyways, this woman from the future, Keira, is a sort of police in that state, and during a Corporate-backed execution of specific anti-corporate inmate terrorists, she (and they) are sent back to 2012 Vancouver, where the corporate takeover movement is still in its infancy and the world is very different from what she remembers. This show has really compelling characters and really complicated storylines – but even The Boy (who is instantly suspicious of any television show I enthusiastically go on about) loved it when he watched it. Season 3 just ended, but the first two seasons are currently on Netflix and I think you should go watch them now.

Honestly – I recommend this for anyone who watched Looper and thought “Now, how exactly did that work?”

5.  Prime Suspect

Ah, Helen Mirren. This addition and the following one (The Fall) were spearheaded by the same person and fall along similar themes, though the stories are very different. In this case, Helen Mirren plays a dedicated London police officer who is attempting to rise in the ranks amidst cultural sexism, racism and other such things. The series has been on since the 1980s – but in true British fashion, each series (re. season) only lasts 2 to 4 episodes and there are breaks between the years we have a series at all. The cases are so on point – there is no subtly here, the show tackles overt and implied sexism, sexual harrassment, racial divides and the different treatment different people of varied races and socio-economic classes receives by police. It can be a tough series to watch, but it is so great.

Also, it’s Helen Mirren. Enough said.

Watch when you’re angry at the patriarchy. Seriously.

4. The Fall

Like it’s pseudo-parent above, The Fall concerns a female police person who is climbing the ranks – but in this case, it’s Stella Gibbons, and she’s in Ireland managing a serial killer situation amidst, most prevailing, the double standards of sex and sexual activity directed towards women – basically, the idea that a man can be a stud but a woman is a slut for the same activity – among other things. It’s a good study in female empowerment, the media and other more complex issues, like the role of authority figures on crimes against women, as well as taking on the serialization of female victims head on.

Watch this when you’re sick to death of all the murdered women on Criminal Minds.

3. Firefly

Great show. Such potential. One, very short, season.

This is about a group of rag tag shipmates in the galaxy that are trying to avoid detection by the big bad – the Alliance – as well as get on with their own lives. The characetrs are just so memorable and there is just so much to unpack in this one that I will say only this: This is a very short television show, ended way too soon – so after you watch this, know that the “conclusion” of sorts is also on Netflix: That is, the movie Serenity – and you should totally watch both!

I recommend watching this after you watch Buffy/Angel, Dollhouse and Cabin the Woods, a la this theory.

2. Lost Girl

I have spoken about Lost Girl before – At that post, you will find all the reasons you should want to watch Lost Girl. On top of that (since I just caught the first ever episode of LG a couple of days ago) I just have to say: these characters really do touch your heart, and I can all but guarantee, you will fall in love with them.

When to watch? Whenever. Seriously – who isn’t up for a romp in the faedom?

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel, the spinoff)

Yeah … Not sure where to start. I could link and quote from all those articles talking about how awesome these two shows are, or I could gush about how much I loved this show since it first premiered in 1997 (I was at my grandmother’s, and my sisters and I were glued to the screen) or how the Buffyverse has expanded through from a little known movie with Luke Perry through the tv series that lasted 7 series (and a spin off that lasted five) to comic books, novels, toys and honourable mentions in social media and the geekdom. Or I could just say that it is the one show I bought all the DVDs for, the one show I have pined for since I was in high school, and the one show I will definitely be allowing my kids to watch, for sure. Even The Boy – who had never watched Buffy until this year – agrees with me.

It’s a story about a girl – it focuses on her journey, and the journeys of her friends. It’s complicated – it’s not a simple story of good and evil, and no one ends up the same as they were at the beginning of the series. Angel, too is like that. As a teenager, I was more a Team Spike (this will make so much more sense to you when you watch this) but now, as an adult, I can appreciate the Angel spin off so much more.

This is the one universe you want to explore. It’s just that epic.

I recommend … watching it now. Like, now. Go!

Honourable Mentions

When I started this list, I thought to myself – ten. Nice, round number – ten shows. Then when I realized how many shows on Netlfix I was fixated on … well, the list expanded. Long lists are not always the best things, so I kept it at 110 shows – and told myself, the rest would go into the Honourable mentions, so here they are: Scandal, The X-files,  Witches of East End, Revenge, Better off Ted, Parks and Recreation, Luther, Twin Peaks, The Fosters, Dr.Who/Torchwood, The Guild, Sherlock, Haven (blogged about here), Supernatural, House of Cards, Psych Orange is the New Black, The Bletchley Circle, The Killing, Hit & Miss, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,  Orange is the New Black, Eureka, Warehouse 13,  Alphas, Call the Midwife, Murdoch Mysteries, Top of the Lake, Fringe, Being Human and Murder, She Wrote.

 

What are your favourite Netflix binge-watches?

 

 

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