With the prospect of going back to work looming on the horizon at the end of this month (I have been working from home) I thought for my 700th post I would look back on what I have been watching since lockdown started, picking up a few choice items which have kept me sane over these weeks. One thing I can say about this time right from the start is thank goodness for Netflix, who really have come up trumps during this period with new programmes and easy access to things I missed out on when they first appeared. The main TV channels have become too coronavirus obsessed to give any lasting pleasure and although I have Amazon Prime I still struggle to find things I want to watch compared to Netflix (although they do have Season 3 of the excellent “This Is Us”). Of my five choices four of them I have watched through Netflix in the UK, although I think I will start with one which I watched through my Sky box.
Gangs Of London (Sky Atlantic 2020)
Looking back I’m fascinated as to how I responded to the lockdown situation. Reading wise I wanted comforting stuff, nothing too challenging as I was finding it hard to concentrate initially and was generally choosing lighter fare or books I had read before. However, TV viewing told a different tale. I wanted loud, violent more action-based choices than I would normally make. In rapid succession I watched the Gerard Butler trilogy of films in the “Fallen” serious. I watched movies with earthquakes and natural disasters (but not going as far as “Contagion” one of the big viewing hits of early lockdown which with its virus theme was too much too soon) and then from Sky Atlantic we got this. I wanted brashness and violence and they didn’t come more brash and violent than this. I never binge watch. I have never before streamed programmes before their actual transmission but I just couldn’t wait for the weekly episodes of this and did all ten in less than a fortnight. This was so good. A tale of a London crime family whose lead member is killed and those that are left struggle to fill a vacuum of power, this was heightened, almost Shakespearean drama. A great central performance from Joe Cole as the grieving son this was also very much an ensemble piece of strong acting in strong action. Occasionally, the violence became cartoonish but that actually give it a strength which made it watchable. Once I had finished this series my taste for seeing the darker sides of human existence waned so thanks to Sky for getting me out of this phase of lockdown when I needed to see people responding to the harrowing and extraordinary.
Toyboy (Netflix 2019)
This was my summer holiday. 13 hours spent in sunny Malaga in the company of the stunning Jesus Mosquera as male stripper Hugo who tried to prove his innocence of a murder he had already been incarcerated for. This is a gloriously tacky series, dubbed from Spanish with subtitles which do not exactly match the dubbing almost giving two separate narratives for the price of one. It was glossy, undemanding and yet totally involving and you’d know that at some point of the action the male dance troupe would at some point get together to gyrate and rip off their clothes. I really missed this series when I got to the end. I’m now watching another Spanish drama the earlier “Money Heist” (2017) which does have a couple of the same cast members, most notably the very watchable Maria Pedraza who goes from school girl here to love interest solicitor in “Toyboy” but its leisurely pace and incarceration theme isn’t cutting it nearly as much as this series did.
The Big Flower Fight (Netflix 2020)
“Bake Off” has had to be temporarily abandoned and who knows when filming will resume but “Great British Sewing Bee” has given us a bit of non-threatening competition but it’s still just sewing isn’t it. Atypical of much of Netflix’s fare is this really enjoyable format helmed by Vic Reeves and Natasia Demetriou where teams of two (supposedly worldwide pairings but that’s pushing it a little) flower- arrange gigantic outside structures with one pair getting knocked out each episode until one remains with the prize of the chance of building a floral structure for Kew Gardens. The format was fine, the hosts good, a fascinating resident judge in the form of Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht, some interesting choices as guest judges and people doing fairly extraordinary things in the big outdoors making it a perfect lockdown choice. It had the healthy competition and camaraderie and good interaction with the hosts which is what we are missing with no “Bake Off” around and filled the bill spectacularly.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix 2017-2020)
People had been recommending this Canadian comedy series to me for quite a while now, but I think I was put off by the title but it is a little character-based gem of half hour shows (just over twenty mins on Netflix without any adverts) which is now in its sixth and final series. I’m only on Series 2 so no plot spoilers please but this tale of a rich family fallen on hard times and having to live in a motel in a small town they bought as a joke because of its name and now having to survive among its residents is such a treat. Great performances from the family members and it is really a family based thing through and through as father and son Eugene and Dan Levy (Dad Eugene best known for his turn as the beleaguered father in the “American Pie” movies) created the series and appear as father and son. Dan Levy as pansexual David Rose is one of the best comedy creations I have seen for some time. I hang on his every line.
The Lovebirds (Netflix 2020)
A Netflix Original movie which probably would have opened in the cinemas if it were not for this pesky lockdown. I would never have gone to see this at the cinema but I laughed throughout at this mash-up between crime movie and rom-com with a couple of sparkling performances from Kumail Nanjiani (best known for the movie “The Big Sick”) and the real revelation of Issa Rae. It’s a combination of great chemistry, lots of laughs, a fairly outrageous implausible plot which makes this a home-viewing winner. It starts a little abrasive and I thought I might not enjoy it but it really drew me in and it kept me with a smile on my face for at least a day afterwards which in this current climate is very good indeed.
A couple of special mentions for outstanding forthright teen comedy/drama “Sex Education” which I came to very late and which when first appearing on the Netflix platform gave viewing figures so high that the company shared them which it had been reluctant to do for any show up until that point. (I think it was something like 40 million worldwide viewers in the first few weeks after its appearance). It depicts a British school which is unlike any other I’ve seen depicted with such strong American high-school influences that it might unsettle some but it is full of heart with jaw-dropping scenes from Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson and the break out star of the whole thing, the excellent Ncuti Gatwa (shortlisted for a Bafta) for his portrayal of black gay teen Eric. I also wanted to mention BBC 2’s “Charlie Brooker’s Viral Screen Wipe” which was shown at just the right time which gave us the permission and chance to laugh at some of the unprecedented events that have been happening. It seemed right to laugh at Charlie Brooker’s perspective as the virus had become this all encompassing thing that had largely stifled our ability to find anything even remotely amusing. There’s also the reassuring (although not as regular) visits to “Coronation Street” where the pandemic has not even hit yet, “Gogglebox” (the non-celebrity version) which gave us a view out of our living rooms into some other now very familiar living rooms which felt very reassuring and almost like a night out so thanks Channel 4 for that (even if it did stir up social distancing concerns for some viewers) and the before and after straddling of “Rupaul’s Drag Race” which began as normal, although with a more political edge and a disqualified drag queen who they couldn’t quite edit out as much as they may have wanted and culminated in a lockdown finale which was the best use of the Zoom based format I have seen and which worked magnificently.
These are strange times and I just wanted to use my 700th post to just anchor some of those feelings through the television I have been using to escape.
Thanks for all of you continuing to read my posts. Another aspect of this lockdown is that it has given me (and no doubt many other bloggers) my highest amount of readers ever so those who are new to reviewsrevues.com and those who have been following me over the last 5+ years and everyone in-between I send my warmest wishes.