Deciding Whether 5 New Netflix Shows Are Worth Our Time
Save some time and research before you watch.
Nobody has time to watch everything. Not anymore. Not if they ever did. Netflix, by itself, pumps out whole new original TV seasons at a fantastic clip. Then it adds dozens more from channels all over the world. Who can keep up? Nobody normal, which is why I'm here to offer my abnormal thoughts on a few new series. I binged them all, just so you could have a life.
1. The End of the F***ing World
Starring: Jessica Barden, Alex Lawther, Gemma Whelan
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, or "loosely based" I should say, The End of the F***ing World still works as a kind of millennial version of Youth in Revolt crossed with Bonnie and Clyde. High schooler Alyssa (British Audrey Plaza — Jessica Barden) shows an interest in James (Lawther), a budding psychopath looking for his first victim. They begin an awkward romance that turns into a full-fledged crime spree.
See it? Yes.
Barden is the big reason to see the show. The 25-year-old actress handles the teenage role with tenacity, racing through her lines to keep pace with the jillions of thoughts running through her head at any given time. She's the motor to Lawther's slack-jawed straight man, who's less a psycho and more a "needs friends" type. He mostly just stares at her. You won't find any grand revelations here, but it's a funny series and entirely unpredictable (mostly). (2017, eight 20-minute episodes)
Starring: Michelle Dockery, Jack O'Connell, Jeff Daniels, Scoot McNairy, Merritt Wever, Kim Coates, Sam Waterston, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Tantoo Cardinal
When a mine collapses and an entire town loses all of its men in the accident, their widows must band together to stop a ruthless gang leader (Daniels) and his posse from wiping them out and taking everything. That's the setup for Godless and it's a good one, stoked in the fires of westerns past. Meanwhile, the ex-protégé (O'Connell) of Daniels' big bad strikes out on his own and finds solace with a single mother (Dockery) with a haunting past.
See it? Yes.
Strong writing and directing from Scott Frank (The Lookout) pushes the production to cinematic levels here. Throw in an all-star cast and it's hard to argue against Godless. The town of women is a compelling concept. Frank spends time telling everyone's story and every other actor is from one of your favorite shows (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead). Fans of Deadwood will also appreciate the wit here. (2017, seven one-hour episodes)
3. Black Mirror: Season 4
Starring: Jesse Plemons, Jimmi Simpson, Andrea Riseborough, Rosemarie DeWitt
The first episode of Season 4, "USS Callister," is the best thing Black Mirror has ever done. In fact, it might be the best movie Netflix has ever produced. At 76 minutes, it's essentially a feature film. Set in a world where DNA can be used to clone a person inside a video game, a marshmallow of a CTO, Robert Daly (Plemons), becomes a ruthless version of Captian Kirk inside a virtual Star Trek-type world. Daly creates clones of his employees from work and toys with them like pets inside the game, where he has complete control.
See it? Yes and no.
See "USS Callister," but Black Mirror Season 4, as usual for me, is a hit or miss sci-fi anthology. We'll stick with the good.
"Arkangel," directed by Jodie Foster, is another standout. It's the story of a mother who implants a tracking system in her daughter that also allows behavior control. Years later, the daughter is a social misfit because of the tech. It's a scary look at what could plausibly happen someday.
"Metalhead" was my other favorite. It's a clever spin on the stalker trope as a post-apocalyptic scavenger is hunted by a robotic "dog" that never gives up. The black and white episode is a bleak portrait of a robotic future and a chilling one. (2017, six episodes of varying lengths)
4. The Punisher
Starring: Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah
The Punisher was one of my favorite comics growing up. Materialized in live-action, he's less impressive. That's disappointing considering the stellar casting of Bernthal in the lead. He's good in his brief introduction on Daredevil. Given an entire series, however, the Punisher fails to reach any heights. The story of Frank Castle, an ex-military badass-turned-vigilante after the deaths of his wife and daughter, is one of pain and darkness and The Punisher is very bleak.
See it? No.
Darkness comes with the territory with the character, but there's also very little dominance, which was always the Punisher's best trait. He could drop into a room full of mobsters and wipe them all out single-handed. He's too normal on the Netflix series. Created by Steve Lightfoot and directed by a host of one-timers, the authentic tone of the show isn't a bad decision, it's just a safe one. The Punisher needs to be bigger than life, or at least bigger than this show. (2017, 13 one-hour episodes)
5. Manhunt: Unabomber
Starring: Sam Worthington, Paul Bettany, Keisha Castle-Hughes
Mindhunter fans will appreciate this FBI procedural starring Sam Worthington as a hotshot grunt tasked with finding the elusive Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. While not as polished as that show, and featuring lesser performances, Unabomber still manages to stay compelling if you don't know the details of the case. Kaczynski, who's currently housed at that supermax Colorado prison, is a certified genius who mailed package bombs to different targets over 17 years, killing three people and mutilating 23.
See it? Yes.
If you don't mind the violence, Unabomber feeds the procedural hunger with a scrutinizing investigation led by an obsessive agent. Worthington is solid if unspectacular in the role of Jim Fitzgerald, who sought to create a unique behavioral profile of Kaczynski, an untested method his superiors doubted. But it was Fitzgerald's ideas that caught the man the FBI couldn't touch for nearly two decades. How? You've gotta watch Unabomber, or read Wikipedia. (2017, eight one-hour episodes)