What to watch on Netflix now: the best shows and documentaries
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Five hours into a beautifully shot but otherwise pointless Netflix documentary series about babies, Griselda Murray Brown took to our culture podcast, Culture Call, with a warranted gripe: Netflix is not serving us the good stuff.
We are oversaturated with mediocrity at a critical time in history. So to get past the recommended titles, Gris and co-host Lilah Raptopoulos put out a call to listeners: what are the best things streaming now?
Below is a curation of responses. Our listeners have excellent taste.
Victoria Amico in London emailed us to recommend three documentaries on the subject of race in America:
- LA 92 (Netflix, Amazon Prime) “Archive footage is woven together to tell the story of the 1992 LA riots which were ignited when four police officers were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King, a black man.”
- Flint Town (Netflix) “This fly-on-the-wall doc following the Flint Town Police Department provides an insight into the racial tensions between police and black communities. It’s set against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election, which makes it particularly interesting to reflect on now.”
- 13th (Netflix) “Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary will leave you feeling informed and outraged. The film features academics, activists and politicians who take you through the legacy of slavery feeding in to America’s justice system.”
Lilah highly recommends I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon Prime). Raoul Peck’s documentary creates a narrative out of notes and letters written by James Baldwin in the 1970s. It discusses the lives and deaths of his three close friends: civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. It is extremely moving, and a crucial education to help understand the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
Martha O’Neil tweeted us to recommend four Netflix documentaries: Circus of Books, about a famous LGBT+ porn shop in LA; A Secret Love, about a former baseball player who kept her decades-long lesbian relationship a secret; Wild Wild Country, a docuseries about the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his cult of followers, who built a utopian city in Oregon; and Three Identical Strangers, the true story of triplets who were separated at birth and found each other in their early adulthood (which Lilah also highly recommends).
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix): “It’s horrific, but you absolutely should watch it if you can stomach it.” — Kerri McEvoy, London, via Instagram
The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson (Netflix) explores the mysterious death and possible murder of a black transgender activist who had a meaningful role in the Stonewall Riots and LGBT+ rights movement. On Pride Month, this film maintains Johnson’s legacy and role in history. It was highly recommended by listener (and colleague!) Hannah Sarney.
Our producer Lina Prestwood recommends Kingdom of Us (Netflix) which tells the story of a woman and her seven children after their father’s suicide. Lina calls it “a thoughtfully made documentary about grief, memory and family. It scooped up the Best Documentary prize at the 2017 London Film Festival for good reason!”
Drama, sitcoms and easy-to watch TV
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Netflix) is a Japanese anthology series that listener Jon Bonesteel described on Twitter as “snippets of life around a dish at a diner in Tokyo. Sweet and fun.”
Better Things (BBC iPlayer, Hulu) is “by far my favourite find of the last 12 months. This sitcom is created, directed, written and starred in by Pamela Adlon. Like Normal People, it manages to tap into an enormous wealth of emotional nostalgia for me. I grew up in a household where it was just girls, and that love-and-fierce-hate relationship between girls in puberty with your mum is evoked so beautifully and acted so insightfully here. Not to mention the fact that it is bloody funny. Half-hour segments that you can escape into.” — Jennifer Macdonald, South London, via audio note
Upload (Amazon Prime) is “sublime. There are 10 episodes in total and it’s created by Greg Daniels, who made Parks and Recreation. It’s a beautiful love story that explores the afterlife, love and technology. Highly recommend if you like sci-fi.” — Amirah Valu, London, via email
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix), “because the family lost everything but come through it better . . . and I hope we as individuals and as a country will come through this better!” — Renee Burns, Boston, via email
Call My Agent!, or Dix pour cent in French (Netflix), is “based on a talent agency in Paris. It’s very watchable, very witty and the episodes are half an hour. I’ve found watching something with subtitles quite soothing at the moment, because you have to actually watch it to tell what’s going on. You can’t be on your phone. (Full disclosure, I am Griselda’s cousin!)” — Chloë Webster, London, via audio note
Giri/Haji (Netflix, BBC iPlayer) explores the effect of a murder in Tokyo and London. Listener Anna Simons calls it “original, witty, lyrical, dramatic, culturally sensitive. Great to see two handsome, sexy Japanese male leads (first time perhaps in a western production).”
The Korean series Stranger (Netflix) is “a crime thriller equal to the best Scandi / European series out there. It’s highly rated in Asia, but, even among Korean drama fans, seems to have been overlooked in Europe.” — Rebecca Hallam, Copenhagen, via email
The Honourable Woman (BBC iPlayer, HBO Max) is “with Maggie Gyllenhaal, about the Israel-Palestine conflict. I’ve just finished it and am still amazed by how well it was done. It gets harder and harder to watch. The cinematography is amazing.” — Carolin Meyer, London, via audio note
This piece has been amended since publication to clarify that the 1992 LA riots were sparked by the police beating of Rodney King