Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar — prestige television has a new address today. The golden age of TV has seen shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad rule prime-time networks, but the move to digital platforms has afforded a comfort that did not seem possible earlier. Gone are the days of recording your favourite programmes, watching censored content, and even fighting for the remote control. The idiot box has married the smartphone. If awards are any indication, the last few years have witnessed HBO’s domination getting challenged by Netflix. In 2017, the streaming website’s original Stranger Things won the Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes, while Hulu’s offering, The Handmaid’s Tale triumphed at the Emmys. In India, Hotstar has emerged a big player, syndicating programmes such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, whilst also providing the ease of watching live sports matches anywhere, and letting fresh content emerge.
With the prospect of spending the upcoming weeks tucked snugly under quilts and blankets, #DSSCRecommends some binge-worthy series that went under the radar this year.
The Girlfriend Experience
Creators: Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
A spin off of the 2009 movie of the same name by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (who is also the executive producer), the first season was hailed by several eminent critics, such as Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich, as the best TV series of 2016. It’s a slow-burn, and breaks the most conventional rule of TV storytelling, which is just that — telling a story. Almost all the content on TV relies on withholding information, on cliffhangers, on exposition. Both the seasons of The Girlfriend Experience steer away from such narrative tropes as they examine the lives of high-profile escorts from a distance. Season 1 saw Christine (Riley Keough) as a bright law student, who enjoys the authority and money that prostitution brings her. The second season of the anthology series follows two parallel plotlines, ‘Erica & Anna’ and ‘Bria’, which lends a sense of playing a game of connecting the dots. Where many forms of media associate sex trade with victimhood, this series makes no attempt to psychoanalyse its characters and rationalise their thrill at being agents of their desire.
Creators: Bryan Fuller and Michael Green
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, American Gods is visually sumptuous and thematically dense in equal measure. Shadow Moon, an ex-convict, gets hired by Mr Wednesday, whose motives are as unclear as his mannerisms are charming. Together they embark on a journey through America to enlist Old Gods of various mythologies (Nordic, Slavic, Egyptian) for an upcoming war against the New Gods that America now worships — media, capitalism, and technology. After NBC’s Hannibal, Bryan Fuller once again offers a drama that renders violence aesthetic. The episodes are interspersed with glimpses from the past which dwell on the country’s troubled relationship with race, religion, and identity, which in turn makes us wonder how much (or if at all) America has progressed since it first started worrying about the American Dream.
Creators: Sarah Polley and Mary Harron
Where to watch: Netflix
For fans of adaptations of Margaret Atwood’s novels, Netflix released a six-part mini-series based on her 1996 novel. While the colossal success of The Handmaid’s Tale is a strong indictment of Trump administration’s conservative stance on women’s rights, Alias Grace casts a chilling look backwards in time when women were brutally abused by men in power, but were expected to remain silent. Sarah Gadon stars as Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant in Canada in 1843, who is tried for the murders of her employer and his housekeeper. As the discourse on sexual misconduct by powerful men gains momentum in popular culture, the relevance of a series like Alias Grace cannot be emphasised enough.
Creators: Misha Green and Joe Pokaski
Where to watch: Hulu
Set in pre-Civil War American South, this John Legend-produced series received critical acclaim for displaying racial oppression from varying perspectives of both enslaved and freed Blacks. It focuses on a group of plantation slaves in Georgia, who try to escape their white masters through the Underground Railroad (a network of secret routes) that would lead them to the free states in the north or Canada. What sets it apart from most other period dramas is its use of contemporary music (Hip-Hop, R&B) in a historical setting. This anachronism has the effect of creating a Brechtian ‘alienation’, wherein we are not absorbed into the lives of the characters, but are able to engage our critical faculties and analyse the oppression from a distance. In spite of a staggering 96% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Underground was tragically cancelled after just two seasons, when the broadcasting network had a disagreement with the producers regarding the show’s content.
Creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
This 6-part British dark comedy is centred on the life of a depressed woman who is trying to navigate her life in London whilst dealing with the death of her friend. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who stars as the eponymous character, wrote the screenplay based on her 2013 one-woman stage play of the same name. Fleabag is entirely narrated from the perspective of its broken protagonist, who often breaks the fourth wall in an attempt to engage with someone, anyone — even the viewers — to make sense of her complicated inner self and, thus, fix herself.
So ensure an uninterrupted, high-speed broadband connection before you sit down with your devices, bring out the popcorn (or pizza), and binge to your heart’s content!
Featured Image Courtesy: theatlantic.com