Lead Writer, Rachael Cheeseman, with contributions from Simone le Roux, Grae Westgate, Leah Nichols, and Chad Echakowitz
Netflix has really come into its own these days. When people invite you over for "netflix and chill" you're actually hoping for some good quality binge watching - that's how good it has become. The secret to this success? Original content. Netflix has opened its arms to some of weirdest and most wonderful writing out there, and while it doesn't always hit the mark, it's still a refreshing change of pace, and when they do get it right... oh my god. So in order to really embrace the huge variety and diverse appeal of the original content on Netflix I have invited my fellow writers to tell you about what they consider to be the best of the "must see" viewing on Netflix.
1. Lost in space - Rachael Cheeseman
I am putting forward Netflix remake of the age old classic Lost in Space. This reboot of the 1965 original tells the tale of the Robinson family who have left Earth as part of a crew of the best and brightest to start a colony on a new planet. Needless to say, the mission doesn't go entirely to plan and the family finds themselves stranded in an extremely hostile environment that requires all of their skill and know-how to survive.
The show wastes no time pulling you in with some incredible action sequences and pulse-pounding tension. The very first episode left both my husband and I staring slack-jawed at the television thinking that this was nothing like the hokey sci-fi show that is so often parodied and mocked in modern media.
I can't pinpoint exactly why I loved this series as much as I did, all I know is I am not usually one to binge watch until Netflix is sending me the little "hey buddy, you still watching? Everything ok?" messages but with Lost in Space, I couldn't help myself. Washing up went undone, dust gathered, pages flew off the calendar in a bizarre passage-of-time-montage and I remained glued to the TV. Maybe it was the sexy robot - seriously, there has been a weird obsession with the robot and his physique. Or perhaps what made this show compulsive viewing for me was how well it modernizes the rather cheesy but beloved original story. Gone is the good, old-fashioned, and all-American family, but they don't lose any of the fierce loyalty and love that holds families together. Their bond was totally convincing and heart-wrenching on more than one occasion, but above all filled with all the complex, messy difficult emotions that real relationships are made of. The way the show handled the action/sci-fi aspects was just the icing on the cake. Add into this some truly remarkable acting talent and nail-biting cliffhangers and it really isn't surprising I devoured this series. And with an audience rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes it seems I'm not the only person who fell in love with the new and improved Robinson crew... and their sexy sexy robot.
2. Dear White People – Chad Echakowitz
Season 2 was released a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t believe how much I missed this show. Season 1 had me laughing, in tears, and just downright angry over things I had never even thought about. Dear White People follows multiple black protagonists as they navigate the white minefield that is Ivy-league University in America. But this show isn’t a pity party or propaganda piece to highlight the problems people of colour face every day. Instead, it takes a real look at the difficulties of being part of an eco-system that labels itself as progressive, and highlights how unprogressive it is. It does so while still managing to be hilarious and well-paced, not getting bogged down in racial politics to the point where it feels like a lecture. It is not wonder that this show scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
I walk away from each and every episode having learned something, and saying to myself, “Damn, things have been really fucked up, and I didn’t even notice it.” And that’s what makes this show important. It teaches while still being easily digestible. You feel for the characters because they are incredibly human, and through empathizing with what you can relate to, you also sympathize with what you can't.
The acting is exceptional, all from actors and actresses who aren’t very well known. The writing is brilliant, mixing between teen-speak and colloquialisms, and philosophy and economic theory. The soundtrack is superb, marrying classical, hip-hop, and modern music into a sea of seamless elegance.
I came for the education, I stayed for the heart, I’ll be back for more because I can’t get enough.
3. Riverdale – Leah Nichols
I relented to watch this tour de force about four months ago. I went into it thinking it would be your typical small town, teenage sitcom. Oh how naïve I was!
Episode One sees the start of a police investigation and the town is in total chaos, there is nothing I like more than drama, so instantly I was hooked. By the end of the day I was on Episode 10 wondering what had gone wrong.
This series has it all; gangs, mobsters and hooded people who want to biblically cleanse the town of sinners.
The protagonist, Betty Cooper - played by the beautiful Lili Reinhart - runs the school newspaper with the help of Jughead Jones, her kind-hearted, writer boyfriend; ‘the boy next door’ Archie Andrews; and the typical rich girl, Veronica Lodge. They make for an amazing quartet for crime solving when the town is thrown into disarray.
Fortune really does at least try to favour the brave in this series but luckily the writers were not afraid of giving its leads a hard time. One of the brilliant things about this show is that it isn’t scared to yank the emotional rug from under you. And that is reflected with a Rotten Tomato score of 87%. The amount of episodes that end on a cliffhanger is, quite frankly, uncalled for but it keeps you watching.
The second thing this show does so well is portray its characters and their relationships. I really grew to care about the outcome of their poor teenage lives, the gang of four in particular, because love and loyalty is rewarded with love and loyalty being returned. They are all so different and bring their own skill set to their consistently cursed lives.
This show makes it so painfully easy to love each and every character, which makes it worse. When the world comes crashing down around them, you feel it too.
I recommend you watch it and feel the emotional turmoil I did. It’ll be the best thing you ever did. You wont regret it. And if you don’t fall in love with Ceryl Blossom’s sass and amazing archery skills, you’ll stay for one of the other amazing three-dimensional characters, whether it’s Jughead’s amazing loyalty, Betty’s kind heart or Archie’s kick-ass skills, you’ll find something to your taste!
4. Aggretsuko - Grae Westgate
You would have had to have been living in a box contained within a locker smothered in lead somewhere at the bottom of the Mariana Trench to have managed to avoid the international powerhouse that is the adorable Japanese cat (recently retconned to actually being a girl who looks like a cat…) that is Hello Kitty. The major bread-winner for Toyko-based toy company, Sanrio, Kitty-Chan boasts not only her face on every little girl in the world’s stationary sets, but also her own theme park, as well as a place on Paris Hilton’s bed-stand in the form of the Hello Kitty “neck massager”.
As times changed, however, and consumers grew up into the nostalgia-fuelled millennials we have all become, Sanrio began to notice that demand in older audiences for cutesy knick-knacks was somewhat waning.
Cue the arrival of Aggretsuko, a new animation from the commercial masterminds behind Kitty, Keroppi, My Melody and all their pastel-coloured comrades.
At first glance, Retsuko, a darling little red panda, fits comfortably amongst her innocent Sanrio brethren. In actuality, however, the show is a smart allegory for the crushing mundanity of Japanese office life. Our hero is an accountant at a typical Japanese firm; she does that wonderful “I’m so very busy” Japanese office walk (seriously, it’s a thing… office workers in Japan feign a run everywhere they go in order to make themselves look more productive), she worries about what her colleagues think of her shoes, and she puts in massive amounts of overtime behind her desk whilst her chauvinistic boss (an actual pig) demands tea and deadlines as he polishes his golf clubs. Every instance in her daily life is so horrifically true to the daily grind, the show might be soul-crushing if it weren’t so damned cute.
What makes Aggrestsuko different from everyone else in her office, however, is that behind her subservient compliance, her rage constantly bubbles, releasing itself in her nightly visits to the local karaoke box, where she vents her anger through some hilarious renditions of death metal tunes. It’s ridiculous, it’s jarring, and yet somehow it works.
Throughout the first season, Retsuko deals with relationships in the workplace, finding self-belief, and, ultimately, learning not to be a doormat.
Awash with endearing characters, Aggrestuko (with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%, might I add) is a smart and funny look at the horrific reality of adult life, as seen through the eyes of the Hello Kitty generation. From Sanrio’s point of view, this is one of the cleverest moves a long-standing company could make; a series for adults deliciously seasoned with the flavours of childhood. It’s like Stranger Things, but instead of just spoon-feeding you Member Berries, it actually makes you think. And want to go scream out some karaoke.
5. Queer Eye – Simone le Roux
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard the hype around Queer Eye. A reboot of the old Queer Eye for the Straight Guy from the early 2000’s, this show does it even better, as evidenced by its 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes. As with the previous show, each new member of the Fab Five has their area of expertise, consisting of Karamo Brown (culture), Tan France (fashion), Antoni Porowski (food and wine), Jonathan Van Ness (style and grooming) and the insanely hard-working Bobby Berk (interior design). Don’t go thinking this is just a makeover show with great eye-candy, though: these guys are all about sustainable change.
They know that a nice haircut and a new wardrobe won’t change somebody’s life, and they work accordingly. Get ready for Tan to explain why he’s giving the IT guy fun prints to wear, and for Karamo to have a heart-to-heart talk with a policeman about why black people in America live in fear (spoiler: they become friends and it’s magical). Sure, your home is a mess, but let’s talk about why you’ve stopped trying to make your space nice. Yeah, your diet sucks, but why do you believe you don’t deserve delicious food? This show has made me cry every episode. I have grown-ass man friends who have unashamedly told me they cried as well. Each member of the Fab Five is both talented and extremely empathetic, sharing their own stories with the men they help.
And the men they help aren’t the easy-pickings struggling artists of New York. This season, their HQ is in Atlanta, Georgia. These five gay and flawlessly coiffed men strut into ultra-conservative towns and easily befriend self-professed Red Necks, Trump supporters and conservatives without batting an eye.
Queer Eye is well-produced and some of the most cathartic content I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s not just weepy girlfriend content, either. I think it has a very specific message for all men out there, too: It’s good to look after yourself, to be open about how you feel, and to take time to do nice things for just you. Also, organize your damn cupboards and throw out your jorts.
So, there you have it. Just a brief glimpse into the extraordinary breadth of original content Netflix has to offer. If you haven't already changed into your slouch pants and got the pizza on order, ready for some serious binge watching, what the hell is wrong with you? Go, glue yourself to the sofa, but don't think you're in for some mindless viewing, be prepared to think, feel and learn a whole hell of a lot. By the time you're all caught up with our great recommendations they'll have brought out a whole new bunch of shows for you to get addicted to. You better go get started.
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