Written by Polly Bowden
Illustrated by Prince Pretzl
If, like me, you’ve been batted from lockdown straight into tier three, or even if you haven’t, Netflix has been a godsend in these trying times. The streaming service has successfully monopolised the best of both worlds in recent years coming up with its own original content as well as attaining the rights to several brilliant broadcast box sets. Netflix’s budget is rumoured to be a whopping £750m on its UK content alone (just under half of the BBC’s entire budget across all of its channels).
Admittedly, I confess myself surprised at the budget and reach of Netflix’s Original Series which I’ve often found underwhelming compared to that of the big broadcaster’s counterparts. I must admit, like reading a book, if I don’t get involved with something straight away – I just don’t bother with it and that’s ultimately how I’ve felt about a lot of the shows that people have recommended to me (Umbrella Academy, Schitt’s Creek & Stranger things chief among them). However, there’s always a few notable exceptions that have cropped up in the past month or so which I’ve found an absolute tonic to the times.
The Queen’s Gambit
Normally, if my mum tells me to watch something then I tend to give it a wide berth, but in spite of myself I watched The Queen’s Gambit on her recommendation. Truthfully, I’m not even sure if I’m enjoying it. In many ways, I think this is what the show does best, you’re never quite sure what you’re watching, it’s very mysterious. It’s neither a story about chess nor a story about an orphan, the beginning episodes are neither miserable nor warm and it leaves you feeling neither heartened nor hollow. Either way, I’m intrigued and will definitely be continuing. Plus, excellent cameo from Dudley Dursley.
How to Get Away with Murder
Admittedly, I’ve tried to watch serial killer docs and murder conspiracy shows and with How to Get Away with Murder, you’ll find that corner of your mind satisfied straight away. If you want something to get into within the first 30 seconds this one is it. The drama and tension builds episode on episode which ultimately lends the show a pretty perfect structure and story. Fair warning, while gritty, suspenseful and satisfying – How to Get Away with Murder has a very sinister side, a side that will leave you enraged at the woeful inadequacies of the American justice system and thoroughly disconcerted – karma certainly knows your address. I’m scared for the recently released series six but I’ll be watching avidly for perhaps my next 12 waking hours.
I came to The Crown largely because of its media traction and having started it, I’m not sure why it hasn’t got even more attention. Frankly, I’m surprised the writers have not yet been jailed for treason and that the production hasn’t been taken down. I’ve not even got to season four (where the tempestuous relationship between Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, that many folks today can recall in their own lifetime is played out). I’ve been finding the first and second series zesty enough!
Perhaps both the best and worst of The Crown is that the subjects are real people. Real people that you can Google afterwards and verify what you’ve just watched but also real people who have had unflatteringly, even tragically fictionalised versions of themselves splashed on screen for all to see. What’s most compelling is that even though it has been extensively revealed that The Crown is a work of fiction, the action, sets, costume, props and writing leave very little room for the imagination. Even if you want to watch with an open mind and ready to give the benefit of the doubt, it’s next to impossible. If you’re after something to make you angry, regardless of how or why, The Crown is the way to go.
Emily In Paris
I went in to Emily in Paris blind, and to be honest, lucky I did because if I’d had to sell it to myself, there’s no way I’d have given it a go. The prevailing attitude I had while watching was “this is so bad, it’s good” – for example, the premise of the first few episodes rely on some hefty American-stereotyping of Emily failing to get to grips with the concept that there’s a ground floor in European countries… To be honest, I loved to see it.
Despite feeling for the most part that I was watching against my better judgment, I finished it and found I was nothing short of bereft and went to watch it all again immediately. Perhaps self-consciously, the show appeals to my 24 year old self, like Gossip Girl appealed to my 16 year old self – a magazine on a screen full of songs, outfits, places to go and people to meet that I could spend my time daydreaming about. Emily in Paris is about as good as escapism gets. Perhaps its charm is not so much the fact that it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good but rather it’s not bad at all – it’s harmless, fictional fun.
Shows that Slipped Through the Net
If you’re after an old, forgotten favourite that is guaranteed screen-based comfort, there’s a good few Netflix mainstays that I don’t think got enough credit. If you fancy something new but without the worry of whether you’re actually going to like it or not – here’s my top picks.
The Thick of It
The perfect show through which to vent your frustration at our currently political landscape and government’s seeming incompetence. Armando Iannucci has written what is quite possibly the most perfect parody of the inner workings of Westminster. It’s tremendous fun to watch retrospectively and even more fun to imagine the cast and storylines if the sitcom were set now.
It took me way too long to get to Pose but I’m glad I eventually did. The time investment is absolutely worth it for the music and outfits alone. Pose displays the struggle between belonging and identity struggle more seamlessly than any other show I’ve watched, leaving you with nothing but an edifying warmth and joy.
Think Peep Show but better, funnier and with less lazy writing. The references to cult media are absolutely spot on, but even if they pass you by, the quirky performances and charming banality make Spaced a comforting sitcom well worth the watch.
An oldie but a goldie, glorious nineties fun and very much jacuzzi-for-the-mind type watching. The ultimate for background TV to have rolling on when you need a bit of comfort and time to switch off. Theme song is a massive bonus too.
I watched this way back during the first lockdown and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s a fantastic drama which brings to life Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiography about living and ultimately fleeing a Hasidic Jewish community. I was gripped and fascinated throughout and at only four episodes long, it’s a short yet wholesome binge.
I hope that something in this list has caught your eye and that you have a happy, comfortable time binging.
Polly Bowden is a Birmingham-based TV enthusiast currently applying for roles in digital and broadcast production. Her interests include UK politics, cooking and crochet.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous