Snowed in? Us, too. So we asked Matthew Gilbert for advice on what to binge during our bonus couch time. Here are his picks.
“Modern Love,” Amazon. While the eight half-hours of “Modern Love” have the sparkling feel of urban romantic comedy, they’re about the very many faces of love out there in the world — between lovers, yes, but also between friends, between people tossed together by circumstance, between a birth mother and the gay couple adopting her baby. The adaptation of the New York Times column of the same name was created by Irish writer-director John Carney of “Once” and “Sing Street,” and he brings just the right touch to almost every episode. OK, so there’s a bit of corniness here and there; the charm of the whole project makes its excesses tolerable, as does the swiftness of the storytelling.
“The End of the [Expletive] World” (season two), Netflix: It’s true to the spirit of season one, which made the two messed-up central characters, Alex Lawther’s James and Jessica Barden’s Alyssa, sympathetic against all odds. It has the same gonzo tone and darkly funny writing. And it has a decent plotline that’s linked to the action of season one in a not-forced way.
“Back to Life,” Showtime. A six-episode British series about the interior journey of an anguished but buoyant woman and her peculiar family, “Back to Life” has a very different, more suburban rhythm from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” and the tone is a bit more somber overall, but it shares the same kind of lovely and simultaneously painful intimacy toward its lead and her struggles. Daisy Haggard, who co-wrote the show, is the perfect lead as Miri Matteson, who has just gotten out of prison after 18 years, for a crime whose details are carefully parsed out across the season.
“My Brilliant Friend,” HBO. If you’re looking for a beautiful and difficult story to binge, don’t forget about this tale of two friends. “My Brilliant Friend” features four extraordinary actresses, two as the younger friends and two as the teen versions, and it perfectly captures their entwined interior lives. Their working-class world is brutal, as mothers suffer silently while their husbands act out violently and teen girls cope with sex-obsessed, macho boys; there’s nothing romanticized about any of it. But the friendship at the center of it all – even with its ups and downs – is redemptive.
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," Netflix. Written and directed by “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, “El Camino” is not an essential addition to the intimate epic that’s is one of the best TV dramas of all time. But it’s good enough to offer two solid hours of pleasure to anyone who loved the mother ship. We jump right into the action in “El Camino,” as Jesse Pinkman, now a well-known fugitive, desperately begins a dark adventure that, he hopes, will get him out of Albuquerque alive.
“Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh,” HBO. The sad clown is ensconced in our culture, even romanticized, so that their deep pain is seen as essential to their comedic gift. Stand-up comic Gary Gulman brings a fresh layer of realism to that trope, as he chronicles — both onstage and behind-the-scenes — his own life-threatening depression. The laughs are consistent. But it’s a hybrid production, as it connects Gulman’s stand-up to personal scenes from his life, and in that way it’s special. It’s a portrait of an ordinary man, his well-earned triumph, and his desire to make living easier for others who are in despair.
“Unbelievable,” Netflix. “Unbelievable” is unbelievably good. If you like procedural crime dramas, it’s top-notch, on the level of season two of “Mindhunter.” The eight episodes of the limited series flew by, and left me wanting another series built around the same two central characters. The show is about a series of rapes in Washington and Colorado, and the dynamic detectives — played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette — who join forces to investigate it. It’s also very much about the victims of these rapes, one of whom — touchingly played by Kaitlyn Dever — is treated so poorly by male detectives that she ultimately denies the rape.
“Years and Years,” HBO. The six-episode miniseries plays out like a perfectly detailed production of one of my anxiety dreams, as the ice caps melt and kindness and democracy drown in the overflow. The HBO-BBC co-production steadily jumps ahead in the life of a British family, the Lyonses, condensing some 15 years in six hours, and in the process it brings us into a world of authoritarian governments, environmental disasters, banking crises, and high-tech compromises to our humanity.
“The Crown” (season three), Netflix. The series from Peter Morgan is extraordinary historical TV, as it takes one of the more colorless British monarchs, Queen Elizabeth II, and turns her life into a lens through which we can watch a busy century unfold. It’s also a profound look at what it means to be royalty, and how that meaning changed — and didn’t change — across the 1900s. This time, Olivia Colman plays the queen, and she brings a darker and more distant energy to the role than Claire Foy did in the series’ first two seasons.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” HBO. There’s a smart symmetry to “Mrs. Fletcher,” the superb new limited series from writer-producer Tom Perrotta. The contemporary story, based on Perrotta’s 2017 novel, takes on the empty-nest phenomenon, as divorced 45-year-old mother Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) watches her only child, Brendan (Jackson White), fly off to college. It’s tree-lined suburbia, it’s New England, and, you know, turn, turn, turn.
“Sex Education,” Netflix. After the middling first episode, “Sex Education” expands into a “Freaks and Geeks”-like exploration of innocence and experience in high school, hitting both comic and dramatic notes perfectly. As the sympathetic teen boy who’s sexuality is complicated by the fact that his mother is a sex therapist, Asa Butterfield is all aces. As his mother, Gillian Anderson offers wonderful comic relief.