The opportunity to binge watch shows rarely presents itself. But times are different now. Most of us, depending on the sanity of our respective governments, are under some type of lockdown, and movie theatres across the world have been shutdown. Like all industries, Hollywood has ceased most of its production, and almost every movie release has been postponed.
To pass the time, we may start reading a book, exercising or get around to touching up that CV or tending to that loose doorknob we had been meaning to fix for a long time. And maybe we entertain ourselves in similar ways on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as well. But that still leaves too much time on our hands.
Fortunately, the industries behind the attention economy has been incessantly producing content for us as if knowing that a scenario like this would present itself. We have such an unbelievable range of choices to choose from it can almost be intimidating.
So, where to start?
It is usually that show everyone has been telling us about, but we have never gotten around to. Currently, this is probably Tiger King, a strange and unnerving movie about big cat owners in the United States with so many skeletons in the closet it immediately becomes clear why Reagan, Bush Jr. and Trump became president and how bad it can actually get.
It comes highly recommended, as a showcase of human cruelty, greed and bias. It is revolting but impossible to look away from. It is animalistic, focusing on supposed animal lovers and yet so uninterested in the actual animals.
But what next?
Tiger King is just seven episodes, and we still have too much time left on our hands. This will still be the case even after we obsessively read everything related to Joe Exotic and conduct amateur virtual detective work on whether or not Carole Baskin did murder her husband.
They say RuPaul’s Drag Race or Live Island is good, but for the sane among us, reality TV is too superficial. It says nothing about anything. It is addicting to some people, but we would love to learn something from anything we watch.
We Google “best TV shows to watch,” and most of the suggestions will include award-winning series. At the top of most lists will probably be Game of Thrones, but we have most definitely watched this show even if it became too unfocused for taste since the fourth season.
Killing Eve seems interesting, but we assume that we can do better since we have never heard anyone refer to it as a "knockout of a show." The same goes for The Crown or Big Little Lies. And then we settle on Fleabag, a critical darling.
But then we have a hard time getting through the first season. It is funny but only sometimes. It has its moments, but it quickly becomes clear that it is overrated. It tries to be dark and cringe-worthy so hard we can almost watch its creators sweat. We wish that it was a tad more spontaneous - playful, like a comedy is supposed to be.
We give up on professional film critics as proper arbiters of what can grab our attention. So we go with what the masses prefer. The best site for this is obviously IMDB, a movie aggregator where anyone can get a username and vote. Largely, we are persuaded. Many that come to this site are level-headed. True, they prosperously have voted The Dark Knight and The Prestige higher than Taxi Driver, but they have also heard of exquisite classics such as Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri and rightly believe that it is one of the top 50 movies of all time.
We go into the “Top Rated Show” section and, at the top, we find Planet Earth. We are glad for what David Attenborough is trying to do for the planet, we support it, and some of us may even have already become vegetarians. But we are not going to watch National Geography right now.
Scrolling down, we find the likes of Breaking Bad and Chernobyl. Since we have not been living in a cave for the past decade, we have already seen both of them.
We scroll down even further, and we come across The Wire, easily the greatest TV show that has ever been made.
Narrating from the perspective of the economic, political and criminal institutions that shape life in the city of Baltimore, it tells several interwoven stories with depressing accuracy and tact.
It makes us fall in love with Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), breaks our hearts at the prevalence of injustice in impoverished communities and gets us to sympathise with the drug dealer, the assassin and the gangster all the while acquainting us with the silent and sober cruelty of the rich and powerful.
It is five seasons of excellent quality, and its brilliance has been discussed, analysed and debated. It is a contemplation on the state of a poor American city and the institutions that affect people in their daily lives, as David Simon, its creator, has put it.
The Wire leaves us lost in the casual injustice that takes place in the world. It is too serious, too conscious and deliberative; we now need something a little more fantastical. Thankfully, IMDB voters have placed Rick and Morty only five places below, though strangely enough two places above The Sopranos.
If we have ever hoped that Goodfellas could be a series, The Sopranos is the answer. There is a lot of eating, cursing, sex and murder. There is also a lot of the late James Gandolfini, who excellently portrays the lead. It is a Freudian examination of the mobster life. It is more funny than dark, and we know we would for the next couple of days be gesturing, swearing and phrasing words like the characters in the series.
Very soon, we revert back to Rick and Morty. The show is not hard to describe. It is as if Doc from Back to the Future was a drunk, vulgar pervert and a million times smarter, and Marty was called Morty, unattractive, shy and lacking self-assertiveness. We were at first a little sceptical that it would actually be good given the barrage of animated shows that tried to emulate the success of The Simpsons and Family Guy to no avail. But this is worth it.
The show is extremely cynical, an atheist’s wet dream, but is conscious of this and never revels in the kind of reality it assumes exists. It is also brilliant, knowledgeable and excellent in its parody and critique of pop culture. All the while, we wonder how long such creativity can last but remain fairly impressed that the first few episodes of the fourth season retain the charm and complexity the series has come to be known for.
Influenced by Rick and Morty, we dig deeper. We ask, what else kind of philosophical science fiction there is. We get suggestions - Westworld. It is not bad, but it is also way too enamoured with a non-chronological narrative style, and we begin to hope that Jonathan Nolan did not always try too hard to be like his brother, Christopher.
But a search for a similar kind of series lands us on Black Mirror, a kooky show that is at times fascinating, at times “meh” but mainly terrifying in its depiction of the ways technology influences society and individuals. We then dig a little deeper for shows like it, and we find Love, Death and Robots, another fantastic anthology series dealing with the metaphysical.
And then we stop. One can only binge so much before a semblance of normalcy returns to the order of things in the world. But we leave the lockdown fairly insightful of the world around us and the feelings within us. Dealing with crisis could be worse.
PUBLISHED ON Apr 17,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1042]
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