Which Series Shall I Binge-Watch Next?
Mr Patrick Wilson plays intrepid State Trooper Lou Solverson in the second season of Fargo. Photograph courtsey of FOX
Suffering from <i>House of Cards</i> cravings or <i>The Wire</i> withdrawal? Here’s how to satisfy your need for episodic entertainment.
I have a friend who, despite being obsessed with The Wire, has never watched the final episode. It’s not that she doesn’t care what happened. Quite the opposite, in fact. Partly, it’s because she became so heavily invested in the characters that she had her own ideas about how their stories should end. But mainly, it’s because she just can’t bear the thought that it’s over. Accordingly, she goes through life knowing that one more fix is always available.
The drugs analogy is appropriate here. If compulsive shows like The Wire and _The Sopranos _were the gateway to small-screen addiction in the DVD era, the streamed and available-all-at-once likes of Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black are the medium’s Class As. The effects of consumption can be real and visceral. And when the credits begin to roll at the end of a 12-hour binge-watch, what do you get? Withdrawal.
But fear not – if you’re feeling bereft after finishing your favourite show, there are many ways in which you can offset cold turkey. Arguably too many, in fact – to scroll through Netflix or Amazon Prime is to be gripped by a bewildering excess of choice. It’s amazing how quickly bespoke selections fuelled by data mining have become the new normal.
Still, with the cold outside and the relatives inside, it’s during the holiday season that television really comes into its own. And now, there’s really no need to put up with the endless cracker-pulling cheese that is the Christmas Special. The streaming sites know what you like and they’ve got what you need. So however much you’re missing Walter White or Piper Chapman, take courage. A new, instantly bingeable hero or heroine is just waiting to save your festive season. Here are some suggestions about where you should start looking.
From left: Mr Christian Slater and Mr Rami Malek star as hacktivists bent on wreaking financial chaos in Mr Robot
“There’s a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world.” It feels delightfully ironic to be warned about this by, of all people, Amazon. Still, it’s reassuring to know that our algorithmical preferences are being put to such good use. If you’re struggling to replace the edge-walking intrigue and conspiratorial black holes of Netflix’s political thriller House of Cards, Mr Robot has your back. Or does it? Who knows anymore, in this crazy, mixed-up world? This taut, paranoia-inducing drama eavesdrops on the tormented life of Elliot Alderson (Mr Rami Malek), a haunted, morphine-addled cyber-security expert who’s a next-level genius with the zeroes and ones, but a bottom-of-the-class dunce in every other facet of life. When he repels an invasion of his company’s security systems, he finds himself invited to join the anti-corporate hackers – a slightly more telegenic version of the Anonymous organisation, led by Mr Christian Slater, expertly channeling _Fight Club’_s anarchist-in-chief Tyler Durden. But will Elliot take the bait and help them to destroy the financial underpinnings of the modern world?
Watch season one of Mr Robot_ on Amazon Prime now_
Ms Kirsten Dunst stars as beautician Peggy Blumquist in the second season of Fargo. Photograph courtsey of FOX
With _Breaking Bad’_s Walter White having synthesised his last batch of meth (for now), your best bet is the Coen Brothers’ spin-off TV series of their acclaimed 1996 movie Fargo. Both shows are bleak but darkly funny. Both are stylised but prone to moments of graphic violence. And both are mainly concerned with people under duress, finding that there are limitations to conventional morality. The first season of Fargo – in which Mr Martin Freeman’s brilliantly furtive Lester Nygaard tangled with the sinister and terrifyingly efficient Lorne Malvo (Mr Billy Bob Thornton) – was a triumph. The second – in which we find ourselves back in 1979, visiting the nearby town of Luverne, Minnesota – is in a similar league. It introduces another monstrous set of villains in the shape of the murderous, backwoods-dwelling Gerhardt family, more conflicted ordinary folks gone bad (the Blumquists, whose marriage is being pulled apart by a deep, dark secret) and the charming, vulnerable State Trooper Lou Solverson (played by Mr Patrick Wilson). Oh, and lots more lovely visuals involving trickles of deep red blood across virginal white snow.
From left: Mr Ben Mendelsohn and Mr Kyle Chandler are brothers who are reunited in epic family saga Bloodline
Amazon Prime’s _Transparent _is the crowning achievement to date of the online TV revolution. Pitched at the precise midpoint between bleak sitcom and dark drama and dealing with a Los Angeles family’s reaction to its transgendered patriarch, it was rightly garlanded with Emmys and Golden Globes in 2014. The second season of Transparent drops in December so, if you’re feeling bereft, the wait isn’t going to kill you. But if there’s an itch for a dark family drama that you just have to scratch in the meantime, you could do worse than have a look at Netflix’s Bloodline. As they prepare for a joyous reunion, the Rayburn clan are happy in their Florida Keys idyll. But there’s a blot on the landscape in the shape of the run-down, penniless and troubled black sheep Danny (played by Mr Ben Mendelsohn), who has decided to return to the bosom of his family after a long absence. Will the Rayburns slaughter the fatted calf? Not so much, as it turns out. After all, where would be the fun in that?
Watch season one of Bloodline on Netflix now
The Man In The High Castle
Mr Rufus Sewell stars as John Smith, a ruthless SS Obergruppenführer in The Man In The High Castle
Imagine the Nazis had won the war. Yes, it’s a well-trodden fictional conceit, but it’s always an intriguing one – particularly when it comes from the mind of Mr Philip K Dick. Besides, if you’re a _Game of Thrones _maven, you’ll probably be ready to roll with the odd outlandish piece of conceptually speculative history. So, how does Nazi America shape up? The Man in the High Castle, an adaptation of Mr Dick’s chilling 1962 novel is set at the time of its publication and its creators have done a beautiful job of marrying authentic period touches with the ugly pageantry of the Third Reich. But to add to the intrigue, this America is partitioned down the middle with the west coast belonging to Japan. And the Germans and Japanese are distinctly not friends anymore. Let a thrilling, brutal three-way battle between the former allies and the internal American resistance commence.
Watch season one of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime now
From left: Mr Craig Roberts and Ms Jennifer Grey go back to the 1980s for retro coming-of-age comedy Red Oaks
Set in a country club in a lovingly recreated 1980s America, _Red Oaks _is an homage to the classic American coming-of-age comedy. If you are missing the detached, slightly flippant air of women’s prison saga Orange is the New Black, this tonally compatible series should plug the gap. And they’re both fish-out-of-water genre pieces, so it’s fun to compare the archetypes – which, in the case of Red Oaks, include a pushy dad, a vain, oversexed tennis pro and a stoner in a Pink Floyd T-shirt. Can main character David Meyer – a sensitive Jewish outsider and tennis ace played by Mr Craig Roberts – hold his own in a monied, WASP world? Red Oaks is definitely light relief, though – its knowing wit and eye for period detail make it a must for lovers of vintage teen comedy and vintage sportswear alike.
_Watch season one of _Red Oaks on Amazon Prime now
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ms Ellie Kemper plays the eponymous heroine of NY-based comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Netflix is becoming a one-stop shop for smart, self-aware US sitcoms. It oversaw the triumphant return of Arrested Development, a show for which the term “addictive cult classic” might have been invented. But Ms Tina “30 Rock” Fey and Mr Robert Carlock’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is equally compulsive and uproarious. Mixing a heavy dose of 30 Rock’s snark with a fresh, breezy open-heartedness – mainly courtesy of magnetic lead Ms Ellie Kemper – it tells the delightfully implausible story of the titular Kimmy, a young woman trying to make a life for herself in cruel, cruel New York City, after having spent 15 years imprisoned underground in a nuclear bunker by a cult leader (Mr Jon Hamm, enjoying himself immensely). Look out for Kimmy’s room-mate, the magnificent, deeply eccentric resting actor Titus Andromedon (Mr Tituss Burgess) whose Euro-house ode to “black penis” is arguably the highpoint of TV comedy in 2015. Titus deserves a spin-off series of his own every bit as much as Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman did with Better Call Saul. But in the meantime, this is an embarrassment of comedy riches.
_Watch season one of _Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix now