Because TV Thursdays now appears regularly, today’s post will be the final of four annual lists of recommendations. In 2020 Glen (a fussy viewer) and I may have turned off as many series as we watched, including several praised by TV critic John Doyle of The Globe and Mail. Still, the following shows on Netflix, a few suggested — thank you — by family and friends, preoccupied us during a year in which we probably spent more evenings than usual in front of the TV.
TOP FIVE SHOWS
- “Bad Blood” (Canadian) Set in the 2000s in Montreal, Vito Rizzuto, the boss of the real-life Rizzuto crime family, attempts to bring peace to the criminal world. After he’s arrested for multiple murders of 1981, he turns control over to his top man. And we watch the empire slowly collapsing. The first season is based on actual events but not the second.
- “Criminal” Police investigators interrogate suspects, intensely, in an interview suite. Season one examines different crimes by different suspects in each of three episodes set in four countries: UK, France, Germany and Spain. This drama of dialogue is engrossing, even with its limited action and claustrophobic set. To whet your interest: in season two, episode two of “Criminal UK”, the suspect — a good looking, somewhat arrogant, business leader — gets drunk with a female employee who hopes to learn how to advance in the company. The two have sex at his apartment, and a week later he’s accused of rape. Thus ensues a pointed interrogation as police try to determine the man’s guilt or innocence. No spoiler alert.
- “Fauda” (Israeli), meaning “chaos” in Arabic, is a political thriller in which Arabic-speaking Israeli soldiers pose as Palestinian civilians to apprehend suspected terrorists in the West Bank. We don’t necessarily gain a new understanding of this long-standing conflict, but the motive of revenge, on both sides, seems to be an impediment to peace.
- “Giri/Haji” (British/Japanese) Previously disparaged critic John Doyle turned us onto this highly original series — translated as “Duty/Shame” — set in London and Tokyo. He writes: “[this show] is nothing like a conventional British drama. It breaks the mould deliberately by stretching traditional aspects to the point where it becomes a unique hybrid of stock British gangster epic and Japanese mob drama, complete with sequences of anime and even what might be called an interpretive dance intermission… It is gloriously different.” Regrettably, the BBC and Netflix canceled this series after a single, albeit successful, season.
- “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (American, Prime) I laughed aloud, often, in this 1950s musical dramedy about a young Jewish woman who breaks from convention when her husband deserts her for his secretary. The music is marvelous, as is Miriam’s story of going from an upper class housewife in Manhattan to … No spoiler alert. The three seasons start and end strong, with some questionable episodes in between. Stay the course: it’s entertaining to accompany Mrs. Maisel on her adventure.
- “Five Came Back” (American) Five accomplished Hollywood directors — Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler — served overseas during WWII and returned home irrevocably changed by their experiences. For instance, George Stevens, who was among the first group to discover the unbelievable horrors of Dachau, never made another comedy. Frank Capra felt compelled to make pictures with strong moral messages. In this documentary, modern filmmakers — respectively Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola, Lawrence Kasdan and Steven Spielberg — discuss some movies of the five. You will recognize the voice of Meryl Streep, who won the Primetime Emmy Award in 2017 for Outstanding Narrator.
- “They Shall Not Grow Old” (British) This documentary by New Zealand director Peter Jackson (e.g. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) appeared in theatres in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the ending of WWI. Transforming original footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, Jackson gives human faces — and real veterans’ voices — to the anonymous men who fought in the terrible conflict. It’s an emotionally and technically rich homage. (Readers: can you name the poet who inspired the title?)
Please add your viewing recommendations in the comments below. •
P.S. Many thanks to readers, commenters and guest writers for participating in my blog over the years. Your engagement ensures Sunset Years will celebrate a fourth anniversary on January 23, 2021 and work towards a fifth in 2022.
P.P.S. I wish a joyful and healthy New Year to one and all!