Good luck finding anything like these on Hulu…
by Scott Saffran
With a deluge of titles coming and going from the world’s most popular streaming service every month, it is a little difficult to sort out what is worth watching on Netflix. Distilling countless recommendations from friends and family, trending TV shows, and Netflix’s own suggestions is time consuming and needlessly stressful. So, I have taken it upon myself to offer my own top two picks for your monthly binging.
Documentary Now! is an IFC series that spoofs the documentary style by parodying various famous documentary films in short, 22 minute episodes. The series stars SNL alums Bill Hader and Fred Armisen and features a writing team that includes Seth Meyers and John Mulaney. Each season consists of seven episodes: five standalone stories and a season finale that spans two episodes. Both season 1 and 2 are available now.
The series itself is modeled on a long-running television show, and is hosted by Helen Mirren, which showcases the best films of the documentary genre. The series launches in its supposed 50th Season with one of its best episodes: “Sandy Passage,” which spoofs the famous Grey Gardens. It carries on with parodies of Nanook Revisited, The Thin Blue Line, Hollywood, History of the Eagles, and VICE News. After hitting “Sand Passage” out of the park, Documentary Now! slips a little around the middle of the season, but finishes incredibly strong with the superb “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” pair of season finale episodes.
Season 2, added earlier this month, continues on with a pseudo 51st season, again hosted by Mirren. With another DocNow season, comes another killer opening episode – this time “The Bunker”, a take on The War Room. Hader goes back to the impression well here, resurrecting his popular James Carville alongside Armisen’s George Stephanopoulos. The season fills out with Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Swimming to Cambodia, Salesman, Stop Making Sense, and The Kid Stays in the Picture. Like the first, Season 2 plays a lot with various styles, but has a better understanding of its strengths this time around. Music is, again, the strongest suit of the cast, as “Final Transmission” showcases Armisen’s often ignored musical prowess to much success.
Documentary Now! is excellent short form spoof comedy, pulling from the diverse zeitgeist of documentary filmmaking to parody the genre and its various tropes and practices. The show, only still in its infancy, rides high on the immense talent of its cast and crew. I feel fully comfortable calling this must-see TV and an absolutely perfect binge watch.
BETTER CALL SAUL
Better Call Saul is a prequel series to the critically acclaimed, phenomenally popular Breaking Bad. This series focuses primarily on Breaking Bad regular Bob Odenkirk and his Saul Goodman character. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is also featured in often-intersecting storylines. The show chronicles Saul’s journey from young con artist Jimmy McGill to sleazy ambulance chaser, beginning with his first cases as a barred attorney and flashing back (and sometimes forward) to various points throughout his life. Both Season 1 and 2 are available for streaming now.
The genius of Vince Gilligan made a pair of despicable drug chemists into deeply complex and sympathetic characters. He does not fail to deliver again with his spinoff; in fact, I would argue that he and his team succeed to an even greater degree. Season 1 introduces the future Saul Goodman as newly minted attorney James McGill and his older brother Chuck. Additionally, we meet Jimmy’s friend/lover/aspiring partner at Chuck’s firm, Kim Wexler, Chuck’s business partner, Howard, and Nacho Varga, member of infamous lunatic Tuco Salamanca’s gang. Jimmy spends much of this season chasing a promising case from a quirky family accused of embezzlement, but parlays his luck into an opportunity litigating on behalf of exploited elders at a local nursing home. The season ends with a gut-punch twist that made the wait until Season 2 interminable.
The recently added second season kicks right off where Season 1 ended, a personal crossroads for Jimmy as he begins his slow descent into the seedy underbelly of the law. Not to spoil Season 1, but the perennial antagonist from the first season continues his crusade against Jimmy throughout the ten episodes. The flashbacks this season reveal less major moments, but play towards subtle motivations that drive Jimmy and his supporting cast. Season 2 is considerably less bombastic, but a lot more cohesive and focused. The final episode delivers a double-edged cliffhanger that sets up a surely explosive Season 3.
As a cable drama, this is a bit of bigger investment time-wise, but surely worth the payoff. Fans of Breaking Bad must add this to their queue, but first-timers should not be too wary. Generally speaking, there are no barriers to entry or required viewings. For my money, this is one of the best shows available on Netflix.