Now that everyone has been home for nearly a year and spending more time on Netflix, I feel like at least once a week someone I know is looking for recommendations for their next best show. It can sometime be hard for me to think of all the great ones we’ve watched, and so in lieu of my annual 2020 Movie round up, I thought I’d offer a quick recap of some of our favorite shows and documentaries for streaming. (Most of these are on Netflix, but a few are from Amazon Prime.)
Ozark: I can’t imagine you haven’t heard of Ozark, but here goes. A man gets involved in laundering money for a Mexican drug lord and moves his family to the Ozarks in order to take over a failing resort as the primary cover. I think the writing for Ozark is better than Breaking Bad, which is saying a lot. This is all the more interesting for us because a significant portion has been filmed near our home and there are many locations we recognize. This has enough sex, language and violence that it is not parent-friendly.
Dead to Me: This dark comedy took us by surprise in how much we liked it. Judy and Jen meet in a grief support group – Jen having just lost her husband in a hit and run and Judy having lost her significant other after a miscarriage. As it turns out, they are connected in a much more bizarre way.
Schitt’s Creek: It took us way too long to get on the SC bandwagon. An over-the-top wealthy family looses its fortune and ends up living in a rundown motel in a town the father bought as a joke. The show ran away with the 2020 Emmy’s – being nominated for sixteen and winning nine. It is quirky, and may take some time to get used to. That said, it has the best comedic drama I can remember. We’ll be watching reruns of this series forever.
Queen’s Gambit: A orphan turned chess prodigy takes her game to the biggest stage on the globe. Don’t be put off by the subject of chess, but the show is credited for E-bay experiencing a 215% spike in chess set sales. This six-part series is strong on all fronts – character, theme, plot – but also interesting sets, a fantastic soundtrack and amazing costumes. This one is 100% parent-friendly. (And my parents binged all six episodes in one marathon viewing. Yes, it is that good.)
After Life: Comedian Ricky Gervais is a husband grieving the death of his wife. Unsure of the point of carrying on, his plans for his demise are continually interrupted by his co-workers, caring for his dad, his fellow citizens and his beloved dog. This dark comedy is heartwarming in its honest approach to life and death and the grief that connects the two. Rated not-parent-friendly due to language.
The Kominsky Method: Another comedic-drama – this one about two men who have may have aged out of their careers, but not their lives. Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin make a likable and entertaining duo – Douglas, an actor turned coach and Arkin, his agent. I think this one will appeal most to those who can appreciate fall/winter-age humor.
Imposters: This one we stumbled upon. And it was amazing. Another dark comedy (seeing a trend here) that originally aired in 2017, this two-season series is about three people who have been duped by the same femme fatale. They track her down, only to become ensconced in her next ruse.
Documentaries or other Non-Fiction
When They See Us: This four-part Netflix docudrama tells the story of five young Black teens – victims of systemic racism – who were coerced into false confessions and found guilty of the assault and rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989. Directed by Ava DuVernay, their story exposes the gross injustice that prevails when politics and opportunity meet race and disadvantage.
When They See Us Now: This interview by Oprah of director/producer Ava DuVernay, the actors who participated and the real Exonerated Five is almost as good as the original series. Both are essential viewing.
Waco: A six-episode dramatization that retells the standoff between the FBI and religious leader David Koresh at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. Both of us remember the event but didn’t know as many of the details, so this felt entertaining and educational.
The Woman Who Wasn’t There: (Prime) A true story about a woman who faked being a survivor of the 9-11 World Trade Center attack. She became so immersed in the survivor’s group, she gave tours of Ground Zero and eventually was President of the WTC Survivor’s Group.
Athlete A: A documentary about the US gymnasts who survived physician Larry Nassar’s abuse as well as the toxic culture that allowed his behavior to go unreported for decades.
The Social Dilemma: For anyone the least bit skeptical of social media, this documentary will send you over the edge. Through interviews of a handful of programers and social media executives who are responsible for developing key features of social media, this documentary delves into the power of social media and the psychology behind it.
The Crown: This is another that took us too long to embrace. There are currently four seasons and my biggest criticism is the jarring effect of changing actors between seasons two and three. That said, it doesn’t take much to adapt. Depending on which source you read, this spares-no-feelings portrayal of the British Royal Family – from just before Elizabeth’s coronation to the present – is pretty accurate. I felt like each episode needed the intro, “And now, for the rest of the story…” Incredibly entertaining and enlightening – I’ll never think of some members of the Royal family the same.
Diana: In Her Own Words: An interesting watch after or alongside The Crown, this documentary based on the book that, when first published, was scandalous for its revelations. The unnamed source was vilified by the Royals, but in the end, was revealed to be Diana herself. This movie serves to corroborate its parallel storyline in The Crown.
The Royal House of Windsor: We probably wouldn’t have liked this much had it not been for the previous two series. With just six episodes, its interest outweighs the investment.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich: A four-part mini series that goes behind the scenes on how Jeffrey Epstein lured young girls for abuse and how is wealth and connections allowed him to get away with it.
Lenox Hill: The first (and only) season includes nine episodes that follow four physicians and their patients at Lenox Hill in New York, a Northwell Hospital. It is interesting in its own right, but made all the more so because the final episode chronicles the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Challenger: The Final Flight: This docuseries provides an inside look at the NASA space program, specifically the Challenger and all that went into selecting the crew, preparing for voyage, and the aftermath of the disaster. A strong recommendation for those who remember the fateful day.
American Murder: The Family Next Door: A docudrama that tells the heartbreaking story of a Colorado husband, Chris Watts, who murdered his wife and two daughters in 2018.
Manhunt (Prime): We watched the season that focused on the search for the 1996 Olympic Park bomber. The 10 episodes alternate between Richard Jewell and the search for Eric Rudolph. While it was entertaining and the character portrayals were well done, the series interweaves the timelines much more than what they were in actuality, which drove my husband nuts.
Last Breath: Documentary about the true story of a deep sea diver who lost his umbilical cord while working nearly 100 meters underwater and became trapped with only a few minutes of oxygen. The story is told using original footage and interviews with his crew. Amazing story.