So, like the rest of us, you have been stuck inside the house for the past five or six weeks. If you normally work at home you’ve been stuck inside even more. A trip to the supermarket – either ShopRite or Stop & Shop – is like a journey into a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is wearing plastic gloves and a safety mask. Even the free food samples and cheap hotdogs and Costco are gone until all of this craziness is over.
Usually, we would reserve this column for reviewing movies when they are released into local theaters. And, quite frankly, we can't wait for that to happen again when we can all get back to a regular movie watching schedule. There is something about watching a movie in the dark with 100 or so other people, eating popcorn and drinking soda that I still love. Hopefully, we will return to those days very soon.
So, until then we are all catching up on binge-watching television shows recommended by our friends and family on social media. In the last few years since we become binge-watchers, I have reluctantly discovered that some television shows were just not meant to be watched in a binge fashion. For example, I love just about every episode of "Law & Order". However, after watching seven or eight episodes in a row I've come to realize that every episode is exactly the same. You can tell who the criminal perpetrator is going to be in about the first 10 minutes; and exactly when Capt. Olivia Benson is going to get all emotional with fellow police officers or crime victims.
But, the good news is there are many shows on television if you have Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, CBS All Access, etc that are definitely good for binge-watching. Here's a list of five of the top shows that you should not miss that are indeed being binge – watchable.
1- Parks and Recreation
We never caught Parks and Recreation when it ran on broadcast television on NBC. Quite frankly, I don’t know why. Perhaps I gave it a shot, and it all seemed ‘too quirky’ - the odd characters, the ‘interview technique’- or perhaps it was during a time I just stopped watching broadcast television. And, boy, was I wrong. It’s drop-dead funny.
And yet another show like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm that benefits from no laugh track. I know that TV classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy, Seinfeld and The Honeymooners all were very funny and had a laugh track---that invasive sound prompt that tells you when something a character said is funny. But Parks and Recreation needs no such prompts.
Star Amy Poehler (as the insufferable government bureaucrat Leslie Knope) is a Phd graduate of the Upright Citizens Brigade, the premier improv theater in New York. She, and many other of their grads, studied with improv guru Del Close - and the entire structure of Parks and Recreation is based on an improv game where the players break the “fourth wall” by talking to the audience. Throughout the show, characters are given the opportunity to share thoughts (almost like it’s a documentary) with the viewers---always revealing some ‘inner truth’ or detail that changes the context of the scene they’re in. It is an acquired taste, but very very funny.
2- The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
If you’re a fan of stand-up comedy and the wackiness of New York Jewish families, this is a show you’ve got to try out. Maisel stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a Jewish housewife with the perfect husband, perfect apartment and the perfect life in late 1950s New York City - who unintentionally discovers she has stand-up comedy talent. The way her talent is brought to light is a bit hokey: she’s on a drunken binge after she finds out about her husband’s affair, and wanders on to a Greenwich Village comedy club stage. I wish I could get spots that easily at the Comedy Cellar.
While the actual world of stand-up comedy at that time in New York City was not quite as one-dimensional as the show portrays, Maisel does jazz it up with real-life comedy legends---Lenny Bruce (Luke Farrell Kirby) makes an appearance now and then to spice things up. The rest of the regular cast is stellar: Alex Borstein, Kevin Pollack, Jane Lynch, and the always marvelous Tony Shalhoub.
The show also benefits from guest appearances from Jason Alexander (as a writer who was blacklisted); David Paymer (as a top-flight comedy manager), the previously mentioned legendary comedian Lenny Bruce and the addition of real-life comedian Moms Mabley (wonderfully played by Wanda Sykes).
Al Pacino stars as Meyer Offerman, a Holocaust survivor who now leads a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters who have discovered that there are war-criminals with plans to organize a “Fourth Reich” in the United States. The series intertwines real-life occurrences like Operation Paperclip (the American government secret operation to repatriate Nazi scientists to the United States to help with our burgeoning space program) and actual Germans like Wernher Von Braun, who headed up NASA programs, but was loyal to Hitler during World War II. If you like intrigue, plot-twists, and like to never be sure who the real enemy is, HUNTERS is for you.
The writing and plot lines can sometimes be a tad hard to follow, and we had to ‘rewind’ to rewatch scenes every now and then. But it will leave you breathless once you suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the ride.
Pacino has never been better in his older age and shares screen time with no one less talented than Lena Olin, Saul Rubinek, and Carol Kane.
4- Black Mirror
I never thought any show could measure up to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, but Black Mirror does. In the 1960s, Serling’s anthology series introduced us to the use of science fiction to provide sly social commentary ---with such classic episodes as To Serve Man, Eye of the Beholder, and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.
Black Mirror updates the same basic subject matter and social commentary as The Twilight Zone - using updated themes the obsession with social media, dystopian societies, virtual reality, and standard science fiction. Like Zone, it’s an anthology series with different characters, settings, and plot lines to each episode. Although, every once in a while there are ‘Easter eggs’---a very well hidden feature or element from a previous episode----only found if you’re watching very carefully.
Also, like the Serling series, there are plenty of surprises, reframes, and plot twists that turn the viewer inside out or upside down. You’ll keep on guessing at the ending, but most times you will be completely surprised.
I read where Patrick Stewart is being paid more for the first season of Picard thus far, than he did in all seven seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation. Not a bad take for an actor who is 79.
At the ripe old age of 90, Jean-Luc is still a bald-badass. Now an Admiral, Picard is retired and a legend----which means he’s been relegated to running his family winery in France. But he has nothing more to do than sit on the porch and watch his robots take care of the Picard family vineyard. Picard is at odds with Star Fleet---whose current leadership regards him as a necessary curmudgeon.
But when a “synthetic” (the new name for what Data was) shows up with a warning that threatens the Universe, Picard feels compelled to commandeer a starship with a ragtag crew to help save the day.
Along the way, we see some old friends (Data, Seven of Nine, the Borg, Will Riker and Deanna Troi (now Mrs Riker, with a daughter); and a new cast of sneaky Romulan villains. Unlike when other now-older actors are called back to play popular roles they once played as younger, more active men, Stewart definitely plays Picard at the right age. He still has his 24th-century integrity intact and his loyalty to the Star Fleet mission knows no bounds. But he’s not above sharing that he has no idea how to fly the new-fangled starships.
Honorable Mention: Unorthodox
The world of Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn reflect traditions that are hundreds of years old. In that world, the Papa, the Mama, the son and the daughter each have their well-defined roles. This is a four-part miniseries about one very young wife who decides to take the perilous journey not only outside of her ‘role’ but outside the entire insular Orthodox Jewish world. I hope there is a Season Two.