My Netflix Marvel TV marathon continues but I’ll write about that separately in a month or so when I’m done. Here I wanted to lay out a few recommendations that might help you get through whatever flavour of hell COVID-19 has brought to your life. They are mostly comedy shows but I’ve thrown in a dimension jumping science fiction show for good measure. In the UK, it looks like we might be heading for a second national lockdown, but at least there’s still a bazillion shows on Netflix to keep our minds off the chaos. Also, please note I will attempt to make this post spoiler free unless otherwise indicated.
So in no particular order (well actually roughly in chronological order in which we’ve watched the shows since my previous post: Five binge-worthy Netflix shows) I’ll start with the US comedy Space Force. As you might expect this is based around the newly commissioned branch of the US military whose rather lofty mission is to protect space. The show carries with it a kind of Catch-22 vibe in terms of its mockery of military bureaucracy, and boy do I wish I could spell that word without autocorrect helping me!
The chemistry between principal actors Steve Carell and John Malkovich as general and chief scientist on the Force is undeniable and the writing is good. Thankfully it’s not done in a mockumentary style (haven’t we seen enough of those?) although the creators might have been tempted and there’s enough interesting peripheral characters to support the rather ‘tropey’ storylines. What I liked most about this show is that it has heart. The characters, however silly, have valid and engaging motivations and desires that are relatable and therefore you do end up emotionally invested in the events portrayed despite the farcical nature of most of the 10 episodes in the debut season.
Living With Yourself is an 8-episode comedy show that went undetected by us last year despite it starring a favourite of Siggy’s and mine – Irish comedian Aisling Bea (who gets on many a comedy panel show in the UK and recently had a comedy series on Channel 4 called This Way Up which I gave an honourable mention to in this post: 2019 Retrospective – top TV comedy) – and Ant-Man‘s Paul Rudd. The premise is fairly outlandish in that Rudd’s character Miles who is a bit of a loser gets cloned and his clone is far more of a go-getter and full of the joys of life.
Miles’ marriage to Kate, Bea’s character, is rather strained and so the comedy comes from both his reaction to trying to keep his clone a secret and/or under control, but also from Kate’s reaction to his seeming sudden change of outlook on life. There is also a strong theme of aging in the show – both of people and relationships – with a small sprinkling of regret, questionable compromises and unrealised ambitions. There are some fun twists and turns along the way and to say any more would be in breach of my spoiler-free promise. Siggy and I enjoyed it a lot, although I felt in the first few episodes that Bea wasn’t given enough lines.
Chewing Gum which I think was originally shown on youth-orientated channel E4 in the UK is a comedy show spread over two six-episode seasons. It was a fairly divisive show in our household and at times I thought I was having to convince Siggy to bear with it. It might be best described as a more farcical version of Fleabag for a younger and more urban generation, and does seem to revolve around the mostly sexual misadventures of Michaela Coel’s central character Tracey. Here’s a fairly typical clip from the show:
Coel’s fourth-wall-breaking asides are generally very funny but the situational comedy at times did feel rather forced and most acting was cartoonish rather than the straighter style of comedy acting on show in Living With Yourself or Fleabag for instance. However we stuck through two seasons so it can’t have been that bad. I tend not to write about shows we’ve ditched off (and there have been a few that haven’t got past more than one or two episodes I assure you). What I liked best about the show was its approach to testing and mocking racial stereotypes, and the fact that it’s based very much around the lives of people in a block of flats which makes a change from big American houses, coffee shops and fancy loft conversions.
Warrior Nun looked like my cup of tea from the trailer. It’s a graphic novel conversion of a rather obscure and maybe slightly controversial manga style Canadian comic if I remember rightly and as the title implies features a band of killer nuns bent on protecting the Catholic Church’s secrets. Obviously for any drama to occur we have to have some baddies bent on uncovering the secrets and in this show we have the scientists and insiders trying to expose a conspiracy in the church. I convinced Siggy to watch episode one with me and she stayed with me for the long-haul.
I say long-haul because the show suffers from a malaise that seems to be spreading among this type of show. Maybe the deal the creators make is for a certain amount of episodes of a certain length despite them not having the required amount of story to fit. I think a good example of this was Season 1 of The OA and I’ll say more about that show further down this post. The problem is that despite the cool characters and the interesting plot each episode of Warrior Nun drags. It could have been more exciting to have more tightly edited shorter episodes than so many frankly dull bits. Also there are a number of inconsistencies in the plotting that don’t help and a couple of weak performances, neither of which I’ll get into here because I’m being nice today. You can make your own mind up. Essentially, I liked the show but would’ve liked it more if it had a shorter total runtime – which kind of sums up every Marvel TV show too!
The Umbrella Academy has some similarities to Warrior Nun but none of the weaknesses. The two seasons of this comic book inspired show move along at a fair old pace and there are some great performances and a bit of humour along the way. The story revolves around a dysfunctional ‘family’ of young superheroes with a variety of interesting talents. As such it has elements of Channel 4’s Misfits, Amazon’s The Boys, and of course Justice League and The Avengers. Indeed it actually stars one of the Misfits in the form of Robert Sheehan. As I type this, I realise I’ve already written about the show here – A quick catch up – misfits, puzzles and sand – so you can read it about there and I’ll move on.
Drifters is another UK comedy that we had seen some episodes off before on terrestrial TV but it is available in all it’s binge-worthy entirety on Netflix. It’s only slightly less ludicrous than Chewing Gum and spans four seasons of six episodes each. Fleabag writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge did have a hand in writing at least one episode but most of the writing was done by creator Jessica Knappett.
The premise is as simple as it gets. After graduating from university, Meg (Jessica Knappett), her posh actor wannabe cousin Bunny (Lydia Rose Bewley) and their chav friend Laura (Lauren O’Rourke) initially work together and share a flat on and off in Leeds. Storylines revolve around Meg trying get laid, Bunny getting laid and some acting gigs, Laura getting laid and her on/off relationship with boyfriend Gary (Bobby Hirston). Desperate parties, late night drinking, toxic relationships and trying to eek out a living are all themes and it’s a very funny show in a long line of typically white British shows which always appeal to me more than similarly premised US shows which tend to be written by committee.
Talking of which, after finishing Parks & Recreation, we were after a US show with a lot of short sharp episodes and we chose the critically acclaimed comedy show with an MCU connection Community. I’ll let you figure out the MCU connection. The show is set in a community college and revolves around a group of misfits which tick almost every comedy box you could want.
It’s early days yet (we’re only in the middle of season one) but the ensemble cast including comedy legend Chevy Chase, Donald Glover (Solo), Alison Brie (GLOW) and Gillian Jacobs (Mickey in Netflix’s Love) is excellent and the writing (yes probably by committee) is excellent.
Santa Clarita Diet is another show we’re in the middle of watching and this is unusual in that it is a comedy horror starring Drew Barrymore as Sheila Hammond zombie wife of Joel played by Timothy Olyphant. I’ll let the trailer for season 1 do the talking on this one.
My only caveat with this one is that it is gory so don’t watch it if you have a weak stomach. Apart from that is funny as fuck.
The OA Part II is something we had been putting off watching for ages because of how slow the first season was, but I was told on good authority that this second season was much more dynamic and interesting. We binge watched it over the course of about ten evenings and I’m so glad we did. I really enjoyed it. It is so much better than the first season, which had some really interesting and novel ideas, and builds on these ideas and the story really well – introducing new characters and fleshing out the workings off Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s imaginative creation.
I can’t say much more than that without providing spoilers. I would say to grin and bear Season 1 so you can get to Season 2 which in places is gloriously good. One scene in particular, on stage in a secret club, will probably stay with me for some time and seemed more inspired by manga than a lot of The Matrix style tropes also explored.
And last, but by no means least, is Staged. This is a six episode BBC comedy recorded during lockdown and starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen as themselves trying to rehearse a play over online sessions on their laptops with director Simon Evans (who co-wrote the show with Phin Glynn). There are a couple of great cameos from other well-known actors and a rough-and-ready vibe to the show that looks like it was filmed mostly on mobiles or laptops.
The writing is witty and clever, the homemade feel in sync with our current COVID-19 situation, and the show is very much binge-worthy. It is great to see the actors’ other halves and domestic situations, and experience the genuine chemistry between Tennant and Sheen which came across clearly also in the Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman adaptation Good Omens which we enjoyed watching on Amazon Video in January before the shit hit the fan.