Entertainment has become an important part of pandemic life, and binging television shows has been a key component to getting through the hard times. Miniseries like Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You moved audiences by exploring addictions, trauma, and the difficulties of self care; documentary series like Cheer motivated millions of viewers to give it 120% when pursuing their passions; and some have even catered to our conspiracy theory-loving tendencies, like Amazon Prime’s Utopia. This year has felt like a lifetime, and here are the one-off shows that kept us going.
I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You follows Arabella, (played by Michaela Coel herself) as she navigates trauma while fulfilling a book contract. The HBO series is loosely based on Coel’s real life experience while writing season two of her popular show Chewing Gum. The writing and storytelling style gives a realistic view of living with trauma and the reality of relationships and addiction (a trigger warning is definitely necessary for this show). Expertly done, it’s a must watch, preferably with a watch partner.
Starring John Cusack, Sasha Lane, and Rainn Wilson, Utopia is set on the eve of a worldwide pandemic where a group of comic book aficionados attend a convention in order to get a glimpse of an underground graphic novel titled Utopia. The comic book followers are forced to uncover the secrets hidden within the novel, leading to a possible conspiracy to release a deadly disease.
To say the premise is timely would be an understatement, and the motivation for finding the truth will have you binging all six episodes. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after one season, but it stands alone and can be viewed on Amazon Prime. If you are feeling the need for more, catch two seasons of the Original UK version, also available on Prime.
Next in Fashion
Fashion reality series Next in Fashion features eighteen up-and-coming designers from around the world. Designers compete for the chance to win $US250,000 ($338,775) and their first collection featured on NET-A-PORTER. Hosted by Queer Eye’s Tan France and fashion model and writer Alexa Chung, the show is an exciting exploration of today’s fashions and the designer’s innovations on current trends. Although it was a popular program, Netflix decided not to renew the series for a second season. You can still binge all ten episodes on Netflix.
I Am Not OK With This
Stephen King’s IT (2017) star Sophia Lillis is just trying to get through life as high schooler when she discovers she has telekinetic powers connected to her emotions. Between losing her father, puberty, and awkward love interests, the show is a very grounding take on dealing with the supernatural, mixed with teenage life. Sadly, due to COVID-19, there is only one season, but there’s a lot packed in here to enjoy.
Based on the 2000 movie High Fidelity starring John Cusack, this modern day retelling features Zoë Kravitz as Robin “Rob” Brooks. Kravitz effortlessly takes us through relationship after relationship, breaking the fourth wall just as Cusack’s character did in the original. The series is slow to start, but draws you in with the dynamic characters and emotional baggage, and a great soundtrack. This Hulu original has not been renewed and will end with just one season under its belt.
The Queen’s Gambit
With a 100% rating on rotten tomatoes, Netflix’s The Queens Gambit mini series is sweeping the globe, as Anya Taylor-Joy plays chess genius Elizabeth Harmon who is determined to be the best. Orphaned as a young child, Harmon grows up fast using chess to feed her addictions, and sometimes to fend them off. The competitive nature mixed with chess logic make for a riveting viewing experience, and you might just find yourself finishing all seven episodes at once.
I Know This Much is True
Mark Ruffalo plays twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey in this dramatic limited series on HBO. Dominick must care for his brother Thomas, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The series is a realistic account of caring for family members with mental illness, and the past that affect everyone’s circumstances.
“I Know This Much Is True may not be an enjoyable watch,” says AV Club’s Ines Bellina, speaking to the series’ somber tone and intense subject matter. “But it still manages to be an arresting one, thanks to the stellar performances of an impeccable cast.” The performance landed Ruffalo an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a limited series or movie, and both award critics and viewers attest it was well deserved.
In small town Corsicana, Texas lives the fourteen-time national champions of cheerleading, the Navarro College cheerleaders. Netflix went inside the operations of the undefeated team to see what makes them so good, and so difficult to beat. The hit documentary Cheer aired in January of this year, stealing our hearts with the character of each participant and the dedication to craft. Coach Monica Aldama leads with fierce love and high expectations, putting kids on track and training them to be winners.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second instalment of the Netflix ‘Hauntings’ collection. The first series The Haunting of Hill House aired in 2018 to rave reviews, and although it is part of a collection, the one-off series The Haunting of Bly Manor is not connected to its predecessor.
Starring some of the same actors, including Victoria Pedretti and Henry Thomas, this iteration tells the tale of the Graves’ family manor in the English country side of Bly. The home is cursed in an intriguing way that pulls the viewer deeper as the story unravels. You’ll feel more tense than scared, and it will be well worth it to watch through the end.
We Are Who We Are
Capturing teen life of an army kid, “We Are Who We Are” tackles gender identity, sexuality, and fitting in, with intriguing cinematography and unique style. Based on an Army base in Italy the story follows the friendship of Fraser Wilson played by Jack Dylan Grazer and Caitlin Poythress played by Jordan Kristine Seamón, exploring their identities while existing within the confines of family values and army life. The program is listed as a mini series currently with only eight episodes. It is unclear whether a season two will be a reality, but fans are hopeful.
The Midnight Gospel
The Midnight Gospel is a psychedelic view into philosophy and provocative thought, as a character named Clancy travels across dimensions and worlds to conduct interviews for his podcast. Created by Duncan Trussell, who plays the main character Clancy, and Pendleton Ward, creator of Adventure Time, each episode contains conversations coupled with vibrant and absurd imagery. The concepts and animation are hard to wrap your mind around, but they also illicit a deeper understanding for life, love, and curiosity. Netflix has yet to clear a second season for the original production, but creators are hopeful a second season is in the cards. For now, this series exists with one season and eight episodes of trippy exploration.
The Last Dance
Named after the title of coach Phil Jackson’s last playbook, The Last Dance docuseries details Michael Jordan’s rise to fame to become arguably the best basketball best player of all time, and his last tour with Jackson as coach. See the full scope of Jordan’s career through personal stories of fellow players and his dedication to the game — for better or worst, Jordan set out to be the best, and The Last Dance chronicles much of what came with that journey. Originally produced on ESPN, all ten parts of the documentary can streamed now on Netflix.
Starring Cate Blanchett as conservative party member Phyllis Schlafly, Mrs America tells the true story of the efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s as feminist leaders Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Bella Abzug fought for equal rights while Schlafly rallied against them.
Mrs America dons a powerful cast, with Steinem being played by Emmy-nominated Rose Byrne, Chishom by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Uzo Aduba, Emmy winner Margo Martindale playing Bella Abzug, Emmy-nominated Elizabeth Banks playing progressive Republican Jill Ruckelshaus, and Emmy and Golden Globe winner Tracy Ullman as activist Betty Friedan.
This limited series manages to grasp the essence of the fight for women’s rights and equal opportunity. The Hulu original is described as “…maybe the first great television series of 2020″ by writer and critic Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic. “A project that manages to capture the complicated essence of real characters while telling a story at both micro and macro levels.”
Immigration Nation tells the raw stories of mistreatment of human life by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the laws that support their tactics. Following both immigrants affected and the ICE officers executing orders, it’s a hard-hitting documentary that “…offers a more complete picture than anything we’ve seen before on immigration in the Trump era,” says writer Brian Tallerico with rogerebert.com. There’s much to be learned in this six-part Netflix original series that can, hopefully, motivate a change for the future.
Starring Shira Haas, Unorthodox chronicles the journey of a young woman who leaves her Hasidic Jewish community and travels to Germany to avoid an arranged marriage. With remarkable performances by Haas, the four-part Netflix series shines a light on the life of Hasidic Jewish women and their trials and tribulations of leaving it behind.