Dan Harmon’s sitcom about an American community college (widely regarded Stateside as a sort of low-rent vocational alternative to university) is packed with exactly the sort of knowing pop culture references, clever subversion of cliché and OTT characters that TV geeks adore. Little wonder it quickly became a cult favourite. You can now find out what all the fuss is about by binging the entire thing: all six seasons are available for streaming on Netflix.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 ensemble drama about a global pandemic and its effects on society has understandably found a new lease of life amidst the current circumstances, so Netflix adding it to the library feels like a timely and considered move. Phrases like “social distancing”, talk of R0 numbers and exhortations to wear masks and wash hands are all over today’s news, making their prevalence in this nine-year old film feel eerily prescient. Topicality aside, this is a brisk and chilling look into how quickly a deadly novel virus can spread throughout the world, how quickly it can change “normal” life and how authorities can fight it, packed with big stars and shot with an involving, engaging pace.
Sam Mendes made his big screen debut helming this unconventional, intelligent drama – which went on to win no fewer than six Oscars, cement Kevin Spacey as one of the leading actors of his generation and ensure none of us ever looked at a discarded plastic bag in the same way again.
A bleakly comic examination of contemporary life through the eyes of Spacey’s bored salaryman Lester Burnham, his wife and his daughter, American Beauty turns its spotlight on the US suburbs – a place of crushing conformity, banality and superficiality where, on rare occasions, one can still spot the pure, untarnished beauty lying just below the surface.
Based on the bestselling memoir by Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox tells the story of a young Jewish woman trying to escape the rigid restrictions of her strict Hasidic community in Brooklyn, only to find that getting out isn’t as simple as she hoped. Not only is this an involving, exciting tale of reclaimed identity and agency (carried wonderfully by lead Shira Haas), it’s a fascinating look into a community and lifestyle that goes largely ignored and unseen by outsiders, even those who live in the same city neighbourhood.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die (S2)
Fly on the wall documentaries are back, baby! In the case of this one, it’s back for a second series, affording viewers a rare chance to glimpse the goings-on behind the scenes of a struggling football club and the town it represents. Funny, touching and always interesting, this documentary about the less glamorous side of the beautiful game makes for an involving watch – but probably a tough one for fans of the Mackems.
Straight Outta Compton
Dr. Dre has become a household name (as much for his billion-dollar headphones as his music, perhaps) but back in the 1980s he was just another struggling DJ in South Central Los Angeles – until he linked up with Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and Yella to form NWA, who quickly became one of the US’s best-loved – and most-hated – musical acts.
Inventing gangsta rap and making white America extremely uncomfortable, NWA and its rise is documented in this wildly entertaining biopic which has just re-dropped onto Netflix. While it may gloss over or skirt around some of the more distasteful occurrences in the group’s history, it’s a quick and engrossing primer on one of the most important acts in hip-hop history.
This Netflix-production action comedy stars Mark Wahlberg as the titular Spenser, a tough ex-cop fresh out of jail for – yep, you guessed it – a crime he didn’t commit. Kind of. Well, to be totally honest, he did beat up his boss – but the boss deserved it.
Anyway, his post-prison plans to leave Boston and shrug off his past are put on hold when a pair of former colleagues turn up dead and he’s dragged back into the world of chasing down bad guys. This time without a badge. What he does have is Winston Duke’s aspiring MMA fighter as an unlikely partner in getting to the bottom of the mystery.
Spenser Confidential won’t win any awards for originality, but it’s a well-crafted crime yarn with some memorable characters.
Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader’s directorial career has had its ups and downs, but this drama starring Ethan Hawke as a troubled small-town priest is truly superb.
When a member of his parish gives him a wake-up call about the horrifying extent climate change’s impact, Hawke’s Reverend Toller begins to undergo his own Damascene Conversion – dramatically losing his faith while embracing a dangerous form of fatalism. To reveal much more would risk spoiling this wonderful film’s impact, but we guarantee it’s a movie that’ll have you pondering its meaning long after the credits roll.
Ugly Delicious (S2)
Like to gaze upon food porn but find Chef’s Table a little too sedate and respectful? Netflix has your back with this second season of Ugly Delicious.
Presented by award-winning chef David Chang (he of New York’s famous Momofuku), it celebrates comfort food rather than venerating fine dining. This second season is only four episodes long (the first was eight), but Chang takes a deep dive into what are, for him, uncharted culinary waters: steak, curry and kids’ menus.
Chang and a succession of guests make Ugly Delicious casual, irreverent, enjoyable and occasionally emotional, as well as an engrossing exploration of everyday eating. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach.
For readers of a certain age, this entertaining documentary about the rise and fall of Oasis will feel like nothing short of a nostalgia onslaught. 25 years or so on from the release of Definitely Maybe, it’s hard to think of another band that dominated mainstream British culture to the degree that the frères Gallagher managed – even if that dominance lasted just a few short years before egos and excess put an end to the band’s “classic” line-up, the tunes dried up and Noel and Liam decided to expend their energy sniping at each other in the media rather than attempt any sort of return to form.
Even if you were never a fan of their music, there’s plenty to enjoy here – both brothers being on typically candid form in the present-day interviews, which play over reels and reels of fantastic archive footage.