“What are you binging?” is the new “How’s it going?” Except people actually want to hear your answer, if only so they can tell you what they’re watching. I used to get asked “Seen any good movies lately?” all the time. Now it’s pretty much “What should I stream next?” and “Can you stop with all the rhetorical questions?” I can at least satisfactorily answer one of those.
What You Should Stream Next
Fleabag (Season 2)
As close as we’re likely to get to a new work from William Shakespeare, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s heartbreakingly hilarious exploration of one woman’s relationship foibles is absolutely perfect. I didn’t say good. I said perfect. Even if you’re not someone who gets your crumpet in a doily about British television, Fleabag is a divine blend of mundanity and profundity.
Following the tragic revelation at the end of Season 1, our heroine is drawn into a seemingly inevitably doomed romance that will tractor-beam you to your couch, forcing you to fly through all six half-hour episodes in one sitting. Supposedly, this is the series’ swan song, but I remain prayerful that Waller-Bridge finds the siren call from the best nameless character in history as irresistible as we do.
Black Mirror (Season 5)
I’ve read all the lamentations about the latest installments of everyone’s favorite “Smartphones Be Cray-Cray” anthology, including from The Reader’s own Judas, Mason Shumaker. Y’all are wrong! When considered with Bandersnatch, the interactive Black Mirror Netflix movie that was originally included as part of this season, this year’s offerings have an admirable narrative approach. Whereas previous episodes seemed almost abusively didactic and transparently in contempt of various modern technology use, this batch is intentionally vague.
“Striking Vipers” asks and refuses to answer various questions about sexual identity filtered through video-game avatars. “Smithereens” doesn’t so much hold Twitter’s feet to the fire as it suggests the users and creators of social platforms have worked together to muddle morality. “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” interrogates overly demanding fans as much as overly narcissistic celebrities. None is among the best episodes, but each is on the right side of good. And, yeah, they may be a bit long, but there’s a pause or fast-forward button right there.
Doom Patrol (Season 1)
Maybe the best “freak of the week” show in ages, Doom Patrol is a heavenly fried slice of bonkers. A motley crew of mostly grotesque quasi-superheroes grapple with their faltering mental health while engaging in varying plot nonsense. Said nonsense includes a farting donkey that contains a dimensional wormhole, a sentient street, a fourth-wall-breaking villain played by Alan Tudyk, and a very large cockroach that makes out with a very large rat.
Doom Patrol is as intentionally weird a mainstream show as I’ve ever seen. It is also more of a thoughtful character study than any comparable superhero TV series. The adventures in the first season are bound together by a meaningful quest for self that is frequently legitimately moving. How they managed to do that and introduce a character who tracks people by eating their beard hair is beyond me. You kind of have to see this …
When They See Us (4-Part Miniseries)
You know your dramatic retelling of events is good when it gets real-life people fired from their jobs. Ava DuVernay’s masterful examination of the torture and illegitimate prosecution of the Central Park 5, who are now the Exonerated 5, should be required viewing. As Roots did in its day, this series has the potential to help rewrite long-held, ignorant cultural narratives collectively defended by too many.
Like HBO’s Chernobyl, When They See Us is meticulous in its accuracy but not at the cost of captivating narrative storytelling. This is the most beautiful, haunting, painful work yet from DuVernay; that’s intended to be one hell of a compliment, given her resume. Too often, the inevitability of knowing how things play out sucks the oxygen from historical adaptations. You won’t be able to breathe at times during this one, but not for that reason.
What You Shouldn’t Stream Next
Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3)
Typically, you don’t get a lot of thoughtful recommendations for what to skip, as most people don’t bother watching multiple episodes of something they hate. I said most people …
As someone who is planning to take off work and read the entirety of Margret Atwood’s upcoming sequel to the original Handmaid’s Tale novel when it comes out in September, it pains me greatly that this show has become bad. Worse than that, it has become downright socially irresponsible. If you can get past the mind-numbing boredom that comes from the series pretzeling all human logic to keep our heroine (Elizabeth Moss) in stasis, you still must contend with the fact this is now partly a story about humanizing fascists.
When the show was conceived, it was intended to give an alternate reality as a warning about the brutal mistreatment of women. Since our reality now features exactly that in news headlines every single day, a noble show would have pivoted to celebrate those who resist such cruelty. Instead, the program, which is run by a dude and now largely written/directed by them, is just Sisyphean torture. Those working on it either do not understand how best to proceed or, worse still, would rather keep doing what has been profitable.
I watch each week hoping that the humanity that permeated Atwood’s original vision returns. You should probably just keep it moving.
Okay, I’m done. Now you can tell me what to stream.