My Top 10 Binge-watches
Dear reader, I have a confession to make. When lockdown started this time last year, I was full of promises which have turned out to be empty.
I promised to learn a foreign language, I promised to learn a musical instrument and I promised to learn lots of DIY things to knock the house into shape.
Some 12 months on, aside from reading a few books, I haven’t got a lot to shout about in terms of broadening my mind, aside from discovering the delights of listening to Adele and Stevie Nicks (making up for lost time, thanks to my daughter).
That’s mainly because I’ve been watching a, erm, Stew-pendous amount of football on the television thanks to fixtures popping up here, there and everywhere since the sport made a comeback after the first lockdown.
However, despite all this there’s one area where I do think that I have excelled over the last year of being stuck at home, and where I’ve broadened my mind a bit and that’s when it comes to watching television shows.
The quality and the breadth of choice just keeps on getting better and better these days and I’ve been lapping it up. Now with lockdown hopefully a thing of the past, I thought I’d share in no particular order, my top ten binge-watches.
1. The Last Dance
When you turn the spotlight on one of the greatest sportspeople to ever walk the earth you’d better come up with something special and that’s what they did with this Netflix 10-parter on basketball legend and Nike fashion icon Michael Jordan. His off-court story is almost as amazing as his on-court feats which is really saying something as he defied gravity and it’s all here, warts and all, with in-depth interviews with His Airness and fans such as Barack Obama.
2. Top Boy
Some things are worth waiting for like the third series of Top Boy which came to our screens thanks to Netflix and Canadian singer Drake. The Sunday Times TV columnist Camilla Long described Top Boy (starring Ashley Walters and Kane “Kano” Robinson as drug dealers Dushane and Sully) as a ‘rich and self-confident show this is, a lurid, violent, sprawling, sinuous underground morality tale,’ which sums it up nicely, I think. Roll on series four.
3. Your Honor
Cometh the hour, cometh Your Honor. Perfectly-timed as we lurched towards the end of the third lockdown, this eight-episode drama was a real belter. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston was back at the top of his game in a humdinger of a series which would make parents everywhere question how far they would go for the sake of their own children. While bits of the plot are far-fetched, the way they ratchet up the tension right till the very end gets you on the edge of your seat.
Not one, not two, but three brilliant series charting the rise of the Latin American drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico and America’s war on drugs, which are almost as educational as they are entertaining (in the loosest sense of the term). I don’t know how they do it but making a monster like Pablo Escobar someone that you struggle to despise is a work of art. It’s also useful for anyone wanting to learn a bit of Spanish before heading to the Costa del Sol.
5. The Test
Amazon may have won plaudits for their Leeds, Sunderland and Tottenham documentaries but this one which focused on the Australian cricket team raised the bar for fly-on-the-wall television. Not only did it follow their journey from the cheating scandal to Ashes victory in England (via the World Cup) but it provided extraordinary insight into what goes on in the dressing room and what goes on in between the ears of players who do combat in a gladiatorial sport. Coach Ricky Ponting is the star of the show, closely followed by the eccentric batting genius Steve Smith along with lots of great sporting drama.
In some households, lockdown may have pushed family ties to the limit but whatever has happened over the last year can be nothing compared to the dysfunctional unit that is the family of media tycoon Logan Paul. With its liberal use of swearing, Succession, written by Peep Show creator Jess Armstrong, isn’t one for the easily offended, but this story of a Murdochesque family power struggle is also punctuated with lots of laughs, especially thanks to British actor Matthew Macfadyen. Thankfully, a third series is on its way thanks to HBO/Sky Atlantic.
This adaptation of Deborah Feldman’s memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, is a poignant mini-series of a story about a young woman’s rebellion against her closed religious community. Sensitively told and full of tension, this mesmerising Netflix gem provides fascinating insights into the Satmar community (a Hasidic sect characterised by extreme religious conservatism and rigid gender roles), especially on wedding day, in Williamsburg, New York, before the drama shifts thrillingly to a more liberal Berlin.
8. True Detective
Okay, I could hardly understand what was being said for large parts of this HBO crime thriller but that didn’t stop me enjoying every minute of it. Both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both captivating as the stars of the show in a dark, intense, menacing tale of a hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana, which like lots of communities I’ve seen in the UK, has been left behind, as summed up by McConaughey’s character: “This place is like someone’s memory of a town and that memory’s faded.”
9. The Crown
I’ll always be biased in favour of a television series that has someone from Huddersfield featuring so prominently and that was the case here thanks to Harold Wilson, played brilliantly by Jason Watkins. Who’d have thought that him and the Queen could have become buddies, certainly not me. Anyway, this is as entertaining as it is educational, even though there may be inaccuracies. Diana, Meghan and Harry are sure to star in future series. Box office.
10. When they see us
Oprah Winfrey will go down as one of the stars of lockdown thanks to her Meghan and Harry interview but she was also partly responsible for the most moving bit of television I saw in lockdown. When They See Us told the story of the Central Park Five who were wrongly accused of rape in New York back in 1989. This Netflix mini-series is just as heart-breaking as it is infuriating and also flagged why Donald Trump, then just a New York property mogul, was a menace to society as he took out four full-page adverts in New York newspapers titled: “Bring Back The Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police!”. Luckily, they were acquitted before he got into power.