By Don Gillette
Should you really be binge-watching TV shows or series on Netflix? Absolutely—it’s the only way to fly. Don’t you have anything better to do with your life right now? Nope—house is clean, bars are closed. How are your eyes? Fine—and there are some drops in the medicine cabinet.
You’re good to go; you pass the test.
Now, if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Nurse Jackie, or Orange Is The New Black, I’m afraid I can’t help you. But if you’re looking to settle back and discover some new shows you might have missed or visit some long forgotten, old friends, please read on…
The original, the masterpiece. First four seasons. The show won an Emmy for Best Writing, it featured some of the biggest stars of the day along with some not-so-big newcomers at the time (Robert Redford, George Takei, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Burt Reynolds to name just a few), and its creator, head writer, and narrator, Rod Serling, was about the coolest, spookiest dude to ever grace early television. If you’ve never watched this series because you thought it might be old-school or irrelevant, you’re in for a real surprise. From Where Is Everybody? to Walking Distance to The Lonely, this is quality television all the way.
I know you’ve watched some or all of Breaking Bad. I know you have–everybody has. And I know you love Saul Goodman, ace attorney for chemist-turned-meth dealer Walter White. Well, Better Call Saul is the history of how attorney Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman and it’s what you’d expect, but a lot funnier. Comedian Bob Odenkirk reprises his role for this series (Season One is on Netflix) as well as a few other characters from Breaking Bad (specifically ultra-bad Mike Ehmentraut). If you couldn’t get enough of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is your ticket back into the game.
If you’re a fan of best-selling author Craig Johnson, this series will be right up your alley. It’s based on the Walt Longmire mystery novels and stars Robert Taylor as the wise-cracking sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. He’s had a rough time of it lately, but he pulls himself together and with the help of his friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), the crime-fighting and mystery-solving business is in full swing. This modern day western is full of fast action, dry humor, and interesting story lines. It’s lean, it’s mean, it’s not too far between, and the scenery is spectacular. This is a show that’ll make you believe there’s better stuff coming out of television than there is coming out of the big studio productions.
Three seasons of Crossing Lines are available for binge-watching and we’re talking a big name, high energy thriller here. Donald Sutherland, William Fichtner, Gabriella Pession, and Tom Wlaschiha work for a special law enforcement unit that investigates serial crimes that cross European borders. Think Criminal Minds in Europe with better scripts written for grown-ups.
This 4-show series is based on the latest book by Michael Pollan (who also stars in the show). He walks viewers through the 4 main “ingredients” necessary for cooking: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. He also jumps right in and learns to cook with various ingredients and with a variety of instructors. This isn’t a cooking show; it’s more of a nature special that just happens to focus on things we eat. In short, it’s educational but interesting—two things that don’t often fit together as well as they should. If you’re interested in what you stuff into your mouth, you’ll like this one.
About 40 years ago, ABC put out a couple of “made for TV’ movies about Karl Kolchak, a reporter for the Independent News Service in Chicago. Kolchak had a real nose for news, but his news stories were of the vampire, werewolf, zombie, and ghost type. Nobody believed him, his editor thought he was insane, and yet the spooks just kept coming. Realizing they had a hit on their hands, the network gave Kolchak a weekly series that took him from Jack the Ripper through Aztec human sacrifices and everything in between. Darren McGavin was great as Karl Kolchak—funny, persuasive, and every bit as scared of his stories’ subjects as the victims. Okay, it’s a little dated, but still great fun in a campy sort of way.
This show should be required watching for people like me who obsess about bad air travel, crappy hotels, getting ripped off when I buy a mattress, and how to watch Netflix without paying Comcast $200 a month. The host, Brian Brushwood, is pretty funny–and some of his tips are actually quite helpful. Some of them are ridiculous, too, but even the ridiculous ones are amusing. I don’t, for example, ever expect to need to escape from the trunk of a moving car… but I did enjoy learning about the techniques criminals use to steal a car and how to make my car less of a target. As if anybody would want it.
If there’s one thing American television does well, it’s rip-off European television ideas and keep them around for much longer. This show is based on a Danish TV series, Forbrydelsen (not a clue how you’d pronounce that without hurting yourself) so if subtitles aren’t your thing I’d recommend you stick with the US version. It takes place in Seattle (which is damn near as depressing as Denmark) and you should be prepared for the fact that it’s slow. I mean sloooooow. What that does is make it realistic as hell—real cops have few “Eureka!” moments where everything falls together and the criminal confesses on a whim. The entire first season focuses on a single murder case, the main players are “real people” in that we get to know them, warts and all, and within two episodes you’ll either care enough about what’s going on to be hooked or you’ll walk. Either way, it’s well worth your time.