While I’m stuck in that meaningless space between Amazon deliveries, I thought it was time to fill you in on some of the many TV shows I’ve been watching this year. This post is dedicated to some of the riches available on Netflix and arranged in the order in which I watched the shows as opposed to any particular ranking system. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to state which was my favourite comedy and drama from this batch then I’d enthusiastically say Schitt’s Creek and The Queen’s Gambit.
Disenchantment is a fantasy animation for adults from same people as The Simpsons. It’s now in it’s fourth season and able to start coming up with in-jokes and references to previous events. The action revolves around Princess Tiabeanie aka Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a demon Luci (Eric André) who is often mistaken for a cat until he starts talking, and Elfo (Nat Faxon), a naïve elf who hates it when people try to drain his magical blood or touch his bum-bum. There’s a cast of very good voice actors including some British comedians such as Noel Fielding and Matt Berry and the animation is pretty slick.
The show does take some dark turns as Bean tries to find her role in life and deals with her father the King, her step-mother who we soon discover isn’t altogether human and her real mother who was supposed to be dead. Sorry spoilers! Siggy and I have been watching the show since it launched and consistently enjoying it rather more than The Simpsons but perhaps not as much as Family Guy.
Family Guy is a kind of ‘given’ in our household and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the show on this blog. I regard it as by far the funniest animated show for adults because it’s willing to go to places and touch subjects most others shy away from. We’ve been buying DVD boxed sets to keep up with the show, but now I am happy to see the complete series is available on Disney+ by virtue of Disney buying Fox I presume.
The Job Lot is one of those rare things – a comedy from ITV which is actually quite funny – UK residents will know that it’s usually the BBC or Channel Four who commission the best British comedy. It ran originally from 2013 to 2015 with three six-episode seasons, so it’s not a difficult one to binge watch if you get hooked. I guess you do have to be really into British sitcoms to want to watch it, but if you are I feel you won’t be disappointed.
The sitcom is based pretty much exclusively inside a local job centre and on the interactions of the various office staff. If you have worked in an office environment then there will be a character you recognise despite most being larger than life and perhaps less nuanced than in the classic fly-on-the-wall original UK version of The Office.
History of Swear Words is a short Netflix documentary series with a keen sense of humour hosted by Nicholas Cage. I’ll the trailer do the talking:
I am very interested in etymology and swearing. I’ve been a fan of swearing since I was about 10 years old and it doesn’t ever lose its appeal. In fact this blog has been criticised in the past for my language – some guy on a holiday site said something like “his reviews of Skaithos are quite useful but his language can be a bit much”, to which I say go fuck yourself shitface.
Schitt’s Creek is a modern Canadian sitcom with inclusive values based in a small town of the same name where the Rose family now live in a motel after losing all their riches. It seems that most people overlook this gem on Netflix until they hear about how good it is from friends. As such it is a word-of-mouth cult classic and it is quite a special thing – it treads of an expertly fine line between being overly sentimental and making you really care about the idiosyncratic members of the Rose family. These include the father Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) who is more or less the straight man to everyone else’s antics, mother Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) who was once a popular TV actor, their son David (Dan Levy) who ‘likes wine regardless of the label’ in his personal relationships, and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) whose awful taste in men slowly evolves into a very touching relationship with local vet Ted (Dustin Milligan).
There’s a wealth of very good supporting characters and actors, and the scripts are generally tip-top. I have to admit to struggling with the show for about the first three episodes and then something just clicked either in my head or in the scripts and the show just got better and better. They did bow out after 80 episodes (6 seasons) in 2020, while the show was still firing on all cylinders and garnering critical acclaim and awards, which is a shame but I’d rather that than it run forever and get increasingly worse – which has happened in the past with comedy shows, but maybe not so much these days of the ultra-competitive TV landscape.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a long-running American sitcom which started so long ago that the aspect ratio is square and the definite standard for at least the first three seasons. Siggy and I are only up to the middle of season three and we’re only making slow progress as the improvisational shouting style, like rich chocolate brownies, can only be consumed in small quantities – we call it It’s Always Shouty in Philadelphia. We’re more used to seeing an older beefed up Rob McElhenney in the excellent AppleTV+ show Mythic Quest and he stars alongside Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and the diminutive legend Danny DeVito.
The action in the early seasons mostly revolves around the Irish bar their characters run in Philadelphia and the comedy shows it’s age in some episodes which through Millennial lenses could be interpreted as misogynistic, homophobic and mocking anyone slightly different to a perceived normal. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to Schitt’s Creek in that sense, at least early on. However, much like Family Guy, it’s actually a breath of fresh air among shows that don’t dare say anything challenging for fear of cancellation, and I actually really enjoy the hyper-real angry debates that seem to blow up from nowhere in almost every episode (and often have Siggy with her fingers in her sensitive ears). I am expecting this show to get better and better as it shifts into the 16:9 format.
The Duchess is recent new semi-autobiographical comedy six-episode show starring stand-up comedian Katherine Ryan, as a single self-employed parent bringing up her daughter in London. Katherine debates whether she should have a second child with her estranged husband (Rory Keenan) a narcissistic ex-boy band member who lives on a narrowboat or commit more fully to her new relationship with a very patient Evan (Steen Raskopoulos).
Ryan is surprisingly good in this and I hope it’s gets another season, as I much prefer her comedy acting than her stand up, which I find frankly annoying at the best of times. Steen Raskopoulos is also excellent and it was nice to see him pop up again in Feel Good (see later).
The Windsors is an irreverent comedy soap opera from Spitting Image showrunners George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore based on the British royal family and not to be confused with The Crown. It’s full of quality comedy character actors, but standing head and shoulders above them all it comedy legend Harry Enfield as Prince Charles.
Originally broadcast on Channel 4 the series ran for three six-episode seasons and two special episodes. it was never something that really appealed to me when it was originally on, but we decided to give it a go one night after a few drinks and have quite enjoyed it. It’s completely farcical and low budget and while the storylines are usually really stupid it’s the characters’ accents that make you laugh – especially down-trodden Fergie (Katy Wix) and ever-so-posh wastrel daughters Beatrice (Ellie White) and Eugine (Celeste Dring).
The Queen’s Gambit perhaps needs no introduction as I think it has turned out to be one of the most popularly received shows on Netflix. The seven episodes tell the fictional story of orphan girl Beth Harmon who discovers and masters the game of chess in 1960s USA. She turns from introvert to chess master over the course of the story leaving her male opposition, including Russian grandmasters, lying by the wayside.
It’s perhaps the most binge-worthy show in this post and this is mostly thanks to Anya Taylor-Joy’s captivating performance. I’ve only really seen her before in Peaky Blinders and she didn’t really have a big part, but I expect we’ll be seeing her in a lot more shows and movies in the next few years. Co-creator Scott Frank wrote on the excellent Logan and co-creator Allan Scott has had a long career in film and TV, but I’d consider this a career highlight for him. It is important to note that the source material is actually from a novel by Walter Tevis who wrote the classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Hustler and The Color of Money, and on reflection I can see some similarities to the latter two pool-based stories.
Feel Good sees us back on the comedy circuit this time with stand-up comedian Mae Martin playing herself in a dramatic romcom alongside a firm favourite in chez magpie in the form of Charlotte Richie who we still refer to as Oregon after her standout role in the comedy drama series Fresh Meat. Mae expends far too much energy on trying to control her addictive behaviour that permeates her life – from drug abuse to complex over-romanticism of a fairly straightforward lesbian relationship with George (Richie).
I think the first six-episode series was first shown on Channel Four and then it moved over to being a Netflix production for the second series. Lisa Kudrow also stars as Mae’s rather distant but loving mother and Ritu Arya (The Umbrella Academy) is notable as competition for George in the first season.
Jupiter’s Legacy is rather less fun that The Umbrella Academy with no humour involved in telling the tale of a Justice League -esque band of superheroes fighting crime and trying to stay on the right side of the law. With the likes of The Umbrella Academy , The Boys, Watchmen and all the MCU TV shows on Disney+ it seems the wrong time to try and sell another show like this which frankly doesn’t have much going for it apart from being spawned by Mark Millar the originator of the source stories for the Logan, Kick-Ass and Kingsman movies.
Netflix should be commended for going after independent comic book stories to contend with the MCU and DC domination of TV and film, but despite some excellent visual effects Jupiter’s Legacy seems to fail where others have triumphed. There are some really potentially interesting characters to explore, but instead we get a very long-winded retelling of how the team got their powers in a kind of ponderous Citizen Kane style back story (although that’s doing Citizen Kane an injustice) mixed up with a contemporary story that feels like one of those early Netflix Marvel series and doesn’t really deliver any satisfying conclusions. This show got canned right? Maybe it’s for the best… and maybe this post should be titled ‘9 shows worth watching on Netflix’ sorry about that…