Things You Should Watch on Netflix

If I could have any job in the world (and pretty much the opposite is true for me actually) I would choose to be a professional recommender of programming for people who watch Netflix and other streaming services.  I am really good at it and it’s something that I enjoy doing way more than anyone should enjoy doing anything.  That’s why I decided to add it as a feature to the blog.  I read a lot of crap online where media outlets try to suggest stuff for you to watch on Netflix and they are way, way off.  It’s not even close most times.  I don’t really buy into the whole “if you like this then you’ll like that” idea and you know what?  Neither did Netflix!  That’s why they got rid of that feature.  Now, I don’t know if I’ll update this page regularly or whether this will develop into a kind of “master list” since Netflix changes up what they have available, but I will update this concept of telling you what to watch somehow, so enjoy!

Shows

Halt & Catch Fire

I don’t have much interest in the history personal computers.  I don’t have much interest in the history of any technology really, which is one of the reasons that I was so shocked when I found myself really liking this show.  It’s about a guy who puts together a rag-tag team of talented computer programmers to build “the machine;” a new personal computer.  What makes the show interesting is the character interplay between Joe/Cameron, Gordon/Donna and Joe vs. the universe and conformity.  If you like character driven shows then I strongly urge you to binge watch this show.

Luther

The best show on the BBC from 2010-2013 was this detective drama written by Neil Cross and starring Idris Elba (you know him as Stringer Bell from The Wire.) Like many shows the first season is the best of the three seasons, but the other two seasons do not disappoint either continuing to delve deeper and deeper into Luther’s psyche and showing us how a deeply flawed man handles day-to-day life as a detective in the London Metropolitan Police Department. The only disappointing aspect of this show is that it lasted a mere fourteen episodes.

House of Cards – Season One

It’s important that you only watch the first season of this show. If you watch any more than that you’re going to be disappointed especially if you make it all the way to season four. The first season of this show really is interesting because it tests how far Frank Underwood is willing to go without losing his humanity in the process. By the beginning of season two his humanity is gone. Whatever was left of his soul leaves his body almost as quickly as he shoves Kate Mara in front of a train. And it continues going downhill from there. He pisses on his father’s grave in season three, spits in the face of Christ on a crucifex and then manages to upset his wife to such a degree that the only way she will campaign with him is if he offers her a spot on the ticket. It’s that last point that was the height of stupidity for me. No one is going to consider voting for a ticket where the President and Vice-President are married.

The Office – Seasons 1-4

Probably the perennial comedy of my generation, The Office when it was being written by B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling was the funniest, most original show on TV. It’s in season five that things really go downhill. But, enjoy the first four seasons of the best written show on television during the period. This was the one comedy that redefined the genre and nothing has measured up ever since.

Dreamland

The best show to come to Netflix from Australia ever. I can’t think of another Aussie show that made me laugh as consistently as this one did. It’s basically the Australian version of The Office. If you liked Parks and Rec, but thought it needed a bit more bureaucratic humor then this is definitely the workplace drama for you. This is easily the show that I recommend most and at the same time the show that the fewest people have heard about. This is a show that is so well-written it deserves a much bigger following.

Louie

Although it’s not nearly as original as it seems to think it is, Louie is still one of the funniest shows on television. Granted that’s not saying a lot considering the competition, but that is saying something. When you look at where powerhouses like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have gone you obviously need to turn your attention elsewhere if you want to really laugh and this FX comedy is certainly worth it.

An Idiot Abroad

If there were one show I would love to resurrect it would be this one. The premise is simple: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send a lehman (Karl) to visit tourist destinations around the world. His insight is the reason to watch the show. He goes to China and watches a woman beat a chicken to death, he goes to Jordan and rides a camel. These are ordinary things, but they turn into hilarious bits of television because of the way the protagonist in the story reacts to them.

Broadchurch

If you missed the awesomeness that was season one of this show, I’m sorry. Feel free to binge watch the whole show all the way through, but the cool thing about this BBC show is that you can watch each season on their own and it will still make sense. What makes Broadchurch a level better than it’s detective show counterparts is the performances by David Tennant and Olivia Colman. If you’ve seen any of the versions of Wallander and are a little hesitant that’s understandable, but give it a few episodes because it differentiates itself fast.

The Fall

Falling into much the same category as Broadchurch is this Irish show, which eventually got a second season courtesy of Netflix. The first season is compelling for the issues it raises and the second season is worth watching to see how everything actually plays out. It’s rare that a show delivers on all the promises that it makes at the beginning, but this is certainly one of the few that does.

Rectify

If you like those indie/kind of marose shows about questionable subject matters then this is the show for you. It’s about a guy who has to re-adjust to society after being incarcerated. What’s interesting about the show is that you really don’t know if the main character is guilty or innocent. Some say that’s not enough to stick with the show and I have to admit that I reluctantly made it through the second season of the show, but I am looking forward to seeing where this goes in season three.

Black Mirror

I was highly skeptical of this show when I read the synopsis as a new “Twilight Zone,” but found myself oddly captivated after the first season of the show. It’s unconventional and certain episodes may take some time to get into (The sixty minute episode two especially,) but ultimately I did find that the rewards were worth it when I found myself explaining it to friends. It’s a show that gives you things to talk about and ideas that should be talked about and not just because they’re weird, but because they have an odd relevance to today’s society.

The L Word

I’ve been a big fan of this show for awhile and though I’ll admit that the later seasons definitely did not live up to their earlier counterparts this is a show that was so ahead of it’s time that it’s still teaching us lessons today. This is a show that I think about a lot because that’s what the characters in this show do to you. There may be a generational gap with this show. My mother can’t watch this show for instance she says it’s too “eww” those are her words not mine. This gap is similar, at least in my mind, to the gap in polling those who support gay marriage. I do think that we would be a lot better off as a culture however if we simply took the time to try to understand those whose lifestyles are different than our own rather than tacitly endorsing or shunning them based on secondhand knowledge. This is one of those shows that definitely informs it’s audience.

Documentaries

I love watching documentaries on Netflix.  I even enjoyed doing this before Making of a Murderer came out which I realize is kind of like saying “yeah, I liked the Black Eyed Peas before they added the girl,” but half of you are wondering who the Black Eyed Peas are and no, it’s not a new disease like Ebola so settle down.

Making of a Murderer

This has to be the first recommendation, but I recommend this show with one caveat.  If you know that seeing blatant injustice and corruption in our judicial system is going to upset you then spare yourself the agony of watching this.  As someone who has been through the system I can testify to the accuracy of a lot of the central claims in this documentary.  I actually live about an hour away from where this took place, so it wasn’t that shocking to me and because I lived through the whole trial here in Wisconsin I knew the background of the case and a lot of the evidenciary claims that were made by local news outlets during the trial.  There are message boards and even podcasts that are devoted to this documentary, so it’s kind of become a pop culture phenomenon, but if you don’t live in a world dominated by Facebook you might not have a ton of pressure on you to watch this, but trust me it is worth your time even if it’s just to see the lengths law enforcement will go to in order to extract a confession from someone.  At the same time, there is a podcast called True Murder and on that podcast they had the author of the book The Innocent Killer, Michael Griesbach on to talk about some of the liberties that were taken by the filmmakers.  I think that’s definately worth a listen if you have any level of fascination with this case because they touch on some things that aren’t common knowledge if you’re not a filmmaker.

Trophy Kids

This is an amazing documentary that even people who don’t like documentaries should be able to enjoy.  The great thing about this is that you get to see how truly crazy kids’ parents can be.  Parents go nuts about everything related to school these days, but the folks that are at the heart of this really take the cake in terms of insanity.  At one point in the film, after a basketball team loses a game one of the parents comes out and says: “I don’t want to compare this to the holocaust or anything, but…” and then proceeds to do exactly that.  There’s another parent whose daughter is a golfer and he winds up throwing his daughters golf clubs at one point.  It’s something you just have to see to believe.

Friday Night Tykes

Since I’m talking about how crazy adults can take kids sports I feel like it’s extremely important to mention this show which focuses on a football league for eight year olds.  This is Trophy Kids taken to it’s logical conclusion: chaos.  The coaches regularly encourage their kids to physically harm members of the opposing teams and lobby for kids who have clearly sustained major injuries like concussions to get back in the game.  Basically, it’s the competitive aspect of sports gone haywire.  If nothing else you should watch the pilot where coaches encourage kids to puke during practice because that shows that they’re giving it their all.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried and that’s saying something because I’m a fiction writer.

Restrepo

The greatest film about the war in Afghanistan.  This film looks at a platoon of men who have to guard a single line of defense in a very active war zone in Afghanistan.  If you really want to see what we’re fighting for over there this film shows in a very powerful way just how meaningless it all is.

Freakanomics

One of my favorite books was turned into a documentary and a podcast if you’re really into finding economic answers to real-life problems.  This is kind of like a Brain Games version of how one train of thought can be used to unlock a whole different way of looking at the world.

Art & Copy

Another favorite of mine.  This documentary looks at – wait for it – art and design.  You’d never guess from the title, right?  What’s really cool about this documentary is that it really gives you an inside look into how artists operate and as a fellow artist I had a ton of takeaways from this film.

Best of Enemies

This one is only for political junkies.  The Vidal v. Buckley debates during the 1968 Chicago conventions set a precedent for how politics should be covered basically ushering in the era of cable news.

The Stuff Other People Tell You to Watch

There are a lot of things on Netflix that frankly are not very good.  There are even more that are just straight up bad.  For reasons passing understanding certain reviewers will recommend shows that aren’t very good.  Every reviewer has their reasons and I don’t have the will or the time to get into each and every reviewer’s reasons for recommending something.  What I can do is tell you what I don’t like about a lot of the shows that get recommended to you, but aren’t worth watching.  I hope you take this as more of a counter-argument than a full on argument against the opinions of others because I cannot argue tastes unless I disagree with just about everything they recommend.

Jessica Jones

Why you shouldn’t watch it: comic books and super heros are full of cliches.  If you expect your shows to be original don’t watch anything to do with comic books or super heros.  That was the big lesson I took away from this show.

Why you should watch it: if you love all the superhero stuff and comic book reboots then this is probably a winner for you.  In fact, I’ll take it one step further and say that you would troll me on Twitter because I disagree that this is high brow television.  The only original thing the show does is it takes a female and puts her on the arc of the typical male protagonist.  That’s it.

The rub: this isn’t a show that grabs you unless you go into this show with the mindset that it is already great based simply on it’s premise.  This is what is known as a confirmation bias.  I have this when it comes to James Bond movies.  I’ll love the movie regardless because it’s James Bond.  It could be awful, but it’s James Bond therefore I love it (until the next movie comes out of course.)

Bloodline

Why you shouldn’t watch it: it’s so slow.  It’s so cliche.  It’s so average Netflix at this point.  Let’s face it: it’s tough to love Coach Taylor when he’s not being Coach Taylor.  So, this idea that he’s going to come in and headline this new show and it will stand on it’s own would need to be supported by a very strong script, which it does not have.

Why you should watch it: there’s this show I watch called Hart of Dixie (don’t judge.)  I watch it because it’s a mindless procedural with a likeable enough main character.  The characters in Bloodline never struck me as all that likeable, but if they strike a chord with you then you might think it reasonable to stick with the show. Let me warn you however that this is a show that will disappoint you unless you’re totally braindead. The characters you think will die tend to die about ten minutes after you’ve said: “oh, just kill this guy already.” By the end of the show, which seems to end three different times: at the end of episode nine, towards the end of episode ten and then again at the very end of the episode when a supposed bombshell is dropped (but it’s really just unnecessary at that point.) I could do the whole spoiler alert thing and talk about this in more depth, but frankly the show doesn’t deserve that.

The rub: the show wants to have fast-paced moments with very slow developing character arcs.  If this is something that doesn’t distract you then it might be fine with you, but if you’re used to watching a character develop at the same rate as the story it’s going to seem weird.  You might be watching it and saying: “I don’t know what it is, but it’s just not moving along.”  That’s what I mean when I say the characters don’t move as fast as the plot.  You want their to be good character interplay, but it’s just not there at the point in the story that it should be at.  This is what we call in writing missing a beat.  On a beat sheet one (or all) of the writer(s) seems to have missed several beats along the way.

Person of Interest

Why you shouldn’t watch it: the single most compelling element of the show is that dude from “Lost.”  Jim Caveziel (I think I spelled that right) simply is not capable of showing any sort of real emotion on screen in any capacity whatsoever.  It’s a painful thing to watch him try to care.

Why you should watch it: because you’ve run out of Law&Order and it’s many spinoffs to watch or Criminal Minds was too high brow for you.  Look, I’m not knocking you if you’re in this camp.  You just like procedural television.  It’s like comfort food.  You go for what you’re comfortable with.  I tend to go with shows that have things like good characters, good acting, and a well put together script, which is why I’m not a fan of this show, but hey, maybe you’re different.

The rub: sometimes we just want a different kind of show and when we hear that there might be one on network television we freak out because let’s face it: network TV has been mostly LCD (lowest common denominator) programming for some time now.  The thing is that some people actually like things that they don’t have to think very hard about and if that’s you then chances are that you’re a fan of this show.

How to Get Away with Murder

Why you shouldn’t watch it: it’s not in any way, shape or form realistic or even remotely plausible.  I’d like you to imagine that you hold a job of some distinction and who knows? Maybe you do hold a job of distinction in real life.  Imagine a judge asking a bunch of undergrads to help him write a legal brief and decide a case.  Imagine a doctor inviting some students in to help with a potentially life-saving surgery.  Seem unlikely?  Yeah, kind of like asking a bunch of kids from college to solve criminal cases involving the most serious offense you can be charged with short of treason.

Why you should watch it: because Shonda Rhimes can do no wrong.  Seriously, I don’t know anyone who watches this show that isn’t a huge Shonda Rhimes fan and believes that she and she alone is the future of television.  It’s great that we have some minority-centered entertainment out there, but the reason that we promote diversity in the arts is so we can have a wider range of ideas to choose from.  Where this poses a problem (particularly in entertainment) is that you’re relying on an audience sympathizing or at least understanding where your characters are coming from.  If you can’t get a large enough draw from the core demographics you’re targeting then the gig is up.  This is why you see Romcoms on network TV have just about every target demo imaginable in the ensemble cast.  It’s like a kitchen sink strategy for poorly written sitcoms.  If you throw enough minorities in there maybe someone will relate with one of them.

The rub: either you love Shonda Rhimes or you don’t.  Either you believe that diversity in programming is the only thing worth fighting for or you believe that art is the best piece available regardless of all other factors.  Granted, it’s hard to write a show any whiter than Downton Abbey, but it’s even harder to write a show that’s better than Downton Abbey.  I’m not saying that good writing and diversity are mutually exclusive, I’m merely suggesting that sometimes that happens to be the case because that’s where the audience is.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Why you shouldn’t watch it: because yes, 30 Rock was an overrated show that was never fully pushed to it’s potential.  Yes, Tina Fey is funny, but that does not mean that her work is.  I’ve worked with some amazing people who when I read their work I cannot believe that they list “writer” as their actual vocation.  This is a very basic prime time sitcom with the same basic tropes, jokes, and material that everyone else is using.

Why you should watch it: because you love Tina Fey and everything she has anything to do with.  There are writers I love like Aaron Sorkin where I’ll watch anything they do.  Seriously, I sat through Steve Jobs and wanted to jump off a cliff afterwards, but it’s Aaron fuckin Sorkin man.  Don’t get me wrong there are funny moments in the show and the show’s lead is amazing in her role.  The problem is that it doesn’t do anything to distinguish it from the crowd and that is ultimately what does it in.

The rub: unless you’re a Tina Fey purist this is going to be a bumpy ride for you.  The show is not neat and squeaky clean like the aforementioned 30 Rock and there is no Alec Baldwin character to save it.

The Honorable Woman

I’m not sure what was supposed to be appealing about this show. It just sort of drags and drags and drags until you’re so bored you want something, heck anything of importance to happen. Unfortunately, I never made it to that point. I don’t find it gripping when you have someone fighting from inside an ivory palace and I don’t know anyone who does. This is like a documentary about the United Nations told from the perspective of someone who knows far too much about it. Imagine watching a golf match on television and you’ll understand how it feels to sit through this show. The only difference being that in this particular show there are no real “winners,” which makes matters even more frustrating.

The Best of the Mediocre

Sometimes a show doesn’t knock it out of the part or make you want to hang yourself in the closet either. Yes, there are shows that are just “meh” and some people like meh TV shows, so why not mention those? There are also people who think that these rather bland shows are high art, when in fact, they’re just geeking out over some arbitrary thing they like about the show. So, take these with a grain of salt and only watch these when there’s something not so riveting to watch instead.

Better Call Saul

I tried everything in my power to like this show. Anyone who watched Breaking Bad wanted Better Call Saul to be successful, but here’s the rub: there is no crossover appeal between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Yes, the writers think there’s some crossover, but they’re really two different entities entirely. Breaking Bad built a world of cause and effect, a world where there were always two sides to every character, and a place where fate played as big a part in the equation as luck. Better Call Saul creates a world for it’s protagonist Jimmy where nothing can go right regardless of how hard he tries. It’s a dark world that he sees as light because he’s seen worse. That’s not necessarily better or worse than the world created by Breaking bad, but I think we can agree that the two are different. It’s also really tough to root for Jimmy in this show because he’ll put up with just about anything. The guy is a doormat and although he does think about something bigger than himself towards the end of the first season his conclusion is that he’s tried that before and that’s failed him therefore he’s going over to the dark side. That doesn’t make any sense. Jimmy is a character who has no idea what he wants – not from himself, not from others, and certainly not from the world at large – and having a character that has no reasonable strategy for the future creates an exercise in futility for the viewer. We know that he doesn’t understand the grand plan and as viewers we begin to think that maybe there simply isn’t one. Maybe they’re just dragging it out to see how many paths they can have Jimmy cross with in terms of Breaking Bad characters. It’s not that the show is inherently bad, it’s that the show lacks a reason to keep watching. There isn’t anyone to root for and there are a lot of people to root against. This makes me feel like I don’t care what happens to anyone because I know what happens with Jimmy and Mike, so who really cares about the rest of it?

The Killing

This is a show that should have lasted exactly two seasons. It was a better than mediocre show for it’s first two seasons largely because of the Stephen Holder character. I haven’t met anyone who was really into Linden as a character. She’s just too blah for anyone to really get behind, but Holder actually goes out and does stuff. What made the show interesting to me was the political aspect of the first two seasons. That made it worth watching to me because it kept the pace moving quickly. There are episodes that really lag because they’re so focused on the victims’ family, which if you’re really into I’d recommend watching American Crime rather than sticking with this show. American Crime actually packs some punch with it’s characters rather than simply asking you to feel bad for them all the time. Had this been just a two season show this would have been a highly recommendable show, the need to push it out for an additional two seasons including a horrific fourth season that was laughably bad drag the stock of this show way, way down. Unlike The Fall which benefited from aditional fleshing out, The Killing suffered under the weight of it’s characters. The writers simply did not have anything interesting to say after the second season of the show and they were just milking the cow after that. My advice would be to watch the first two seasons and then be done with it. Don’t let your curiousity get the better of you because some things are better left unsaid and The Killing lays out a solid case for such logic in almost every conceivable regard.

Weeds

Stoners love this show. Gee, I wonder: why? After watching all three seasons of Orange is the New Black after watching the full run of Weeds I finally decided that I’m just not a fan of Jenji Kohran. I’m sorry that this is the case, but they just aren’t compelling shows. Neither is funny and when you take away the central premise of the show Weeds (which the writers pretty much do in season two) then all your interest in the show goes out the window. It’s like when the Laura Prepon character turns on Piper in season two of Orange is the New Black and accepts the plea deal. You can just see where an okay show goes south. Somehow though this is still a watchable show. It’s watchable for all the wrong reasons though. Weeds is watchable because Mary Louise Parker is awesome and great to look at. That’s essentially what the show has going for it after it’s first season. There simply wasn’t anything revolutionary about this show after it went through the motions in season one.

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