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The five series you need to binge right now

HOME KINO! From sports documentaries to surreal cartoons, our film editor highlights the series you need in your life.

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Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new shows out there? Don’t know where to turn for your next marathon stream session? Look no further –  here’s a list of five new shows to binge.

So, until Normal People (the BBC Three adaptation of the novel of the same name by the wonderful Sally Rooney) finally lands on Hulu so that German viewers can watch what could be the must-see show of 2020, we’re (metaphorically) taking you by the (socially distant) hand on a trip through various streaming platforms to offer some advice on which series are worth your binging time.

And fear not, Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle hasn’t made the cut. (More on that soon – stay tuned.)

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The Last Dance

What? Netflix are rather good when it comes to the sport docuseries, as evidenced by their show Formula 1: Drive To Survive. The streaming giant – in association with ESPN – is airing this 10-part miniseries focusing on the iconic 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls season and Michael Jordan’s career. Directed by Jason Hehir, The Last Dance weaves unaired footage from a film crew that had an all-access pass during the season with archival material and present-day interviews. There’s tension, dysfunction, hissy fits, revelations, and all the ’90s fashion nostalgia your little heart desires. We’re currently four episodes in (two more come out every Sunday until May 17), so it’s not bingeable in one sitting – yet.

Where? Netflix.

Why watch? Definitely – it’s hands down the best thing on Netflix right now. This slam-dunk of a show is required viewing for both NBA fans and for those who don’t know their bounce passes from their blocked shots.

Far from a simple MJ story, it’s a well-structured chronicle of a pivotal season in basketball, a year that could spell “the end of the Bulls as we know them.” Framed around the end of a dynasty, we get flashbacks and detours that provide necessary backstories into the lives of the key players. What makes The Last Dance so special is not only the level of access – the fly-on-the-wall footage throws you into the action – but also the way it doesn’t shy away from addressing some less edifying behaviour (with the added bonus of the perspective of time).

The show treads a fine line: without belittling any sporting achievements, it offers glimpses into the highs and the many lows of the Bulls. We witness His Airness’ ball-busting manner, the less impressive off-court antics of several players, the lunatic proclivities for oversized suits and Kangol hats, some tabloid-revealed addictions, as well as internal conflicts that range from cheeky rivalries to vindictive score settling. Add some talking heads from the criminally undervalued Scottie Pippen, wildcard Dennis Rodman, zen coach Phil Jackson and many more, including former President of the United States and “former Chicago resident” Barack Obama (Will you just stop your retirement nonsense and come back already!?!), and you’ve got yourself quite the treat.

All in all, The Last Dance is a thorough history lesson, a fine compilation of human stories, and a gripping portrait of a legacy like no other. Even if you’re not a sports fan, give it a shot.

Useless trivia: Did you know that Michael Jordan has a phobia of water, stemming from childhood trauma? Well, now you do.

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What? Created, written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina; Annihilation), this atmospheric miniseries centres around a young software engineer named Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and her investigation of Amaya, a cutting-edge quantum computing company she suspects is responsible for the disappearance of her tech beau, Sergei (Karl Glusman). All roads seem to converge at Amaya’s Silicon Valley doorstep, and the closer Lily gets to discovering the truth, the more she’ll find out about the company’s ultra-secretive development division, Devs.

If the premise of this quest-to-discover-the-truth conspiracy thriller feels like an alluring mishmash of The X Files spliced with Fox’s underrated sci-fi show Fringe and Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle, that’s because it pretty much is.

Where? Hulu…lu lu lu luuuu *to the tune of The X Files theme song*

Why watch? Oh yes, as there’s no denying Devs casts a hypnotic spell. It’s always a joy to watch something that doesn’t play it safe and isn’t afraid to take some risks. Eight episodes-long, Devs goes beyond the initial murder mystery and fashions something more unsettling in the way it explores some of Garland’s favourite obsessions, chiefly AI and technology’s threat to free will.

However, it’s hard to deny that Devs is a show that often indulges in a metric shit-tonne of clunky exposition. A generous reading might consider the heavier info dumps posing as dialogue as a necessary evil to keep everyone onside when it comes to differentiating the Everett interpretation from the De Brogile-Bohm theory and exploring the broader philosophical questions prompted by the mind-bending central MacGuffin. More sceptical viewers will call the show out for being heavy-handed and a tad too self-important. Not necessarily terms you’d associate with the visionary talent that is Garland, whose genius we’ve waxed lyrical about in our previous recommendations for quarantine streams. To his credit, he manages to keep Devs consistently intriguing by subverting a fair few expectations.

As for the sonic and visual mastery we’ve come to expect from the director, his filmmaking flair is still there in spades – and here more obviously influenced by Kubrick. But Devs can be frustrating in the way a few identifiable tweaks could have made it a flat-out triumph. The main thorn in its side is the casting. As excellent as Nick Offerman is as Forest, the messiah-like CEO of the mysterious company (see pic), he still feels miscast in the role at times; as for Sonoya Mizuno (whose big break was in Ex Machina), her frequently lifeless performance completely sinks some potentially powerful moments. It’s a shame, because a recast jiggle could have fixed some clumsy script blemishes and elevated an already strong show. Thank the stars, then, for Zach Grenier and Alison Pill, who show up to save the day as, respectively, Amaya’s chief of security Kenton and Forest’s unnerving deputy Katie. Both Grenier’s controlled intensity and Pill’s frequently motionless demeanour work wonders when it comes to complementing and upping Devs’ eerie factor.

This may sound like we’re nudging you to skip this entry. Far from it. While Devs does drag in its second half and isn’t as accomplished as it could have been, there’s more than enough to admire in this thoughtful, formally dazzling and always audacious mystery. We guarantee you’ll be hooked from Episode 1; Episode 2 will yield one clever clue via a seamless bit of editing and a humdinger of an “Oh, fuck, they’re going there??!” moment about 20 minutes in; skipping ahead to the finale, it will polarize, but there’ll be no denying its haunting impact. Or will there be? After all, as you’ll soon find out, “we live in a deterministic universe…”

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High Fidelity

What? Need another reason to feel old – as if the sight of your scrupulously clean hands now looking like they’re aging more rapidly than the rest of your body because of all the hand-sanitizer wasn’t enough? Well, let this sink in: the John Cusack-starring break-up comedy High Fidelity turned 20 this year. To celebrate, here’s the spin-off TV adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same name. And, somewhat surprisingly, it’s a 10-episode reboot that’s worth your time. Quite the feat, especially when you consider how much it has to live up to. The iconic film adaptation by Stephen Frears still stands as one of the most entertaining and resonant movies about musical obsession ever made. This new, gender-flipped version stars Zoe Kravitz as Rob, the music and pop culture-obsessed record store owner who’s taking stock of her love life by reliving past romantic failures. Joining her journey of self-discovery and (hopefully) growth are her friends and employees Cherise and Simon. The former is played to perfection by a scene-stealing Da’Vine Joy Randolph, while the latter, played by David H. Holmes, is a touching figure trying to get over his own (heartbreaking) Top 5 worst breakups while navigating Brooklyn’s queer scene.

Where? Hulu.

Why watch? Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West’s adaptation isn’t vital by any means, and considering the broad strokes are still the same, some may rightfully question the merits of a revamp in the first place. That said, the show is a frequently relatable update on a familiar tune, a cover album that has charm to spare. So, yes.

Kravitz is excellent as mopey yet endearing lead, proving that some gender-reverses work (Oceans 8 and The Hustle had us doubting). Gone is the typical white man-child who lives in the past and who tracks down his former squeezes in order to gain some peace of mind. Instead, we get a portrait of self-absorption, sure, but also one of a biracial and bisexual woman, which allows for a new-palette exploration of heartbreak and arrested development. Kravitz manages to spark some sympathy for a stunted character who isn’t meant to be likeable, and is helped along the way by the solid writing, the threads she’s wearing (her gender-discarding style and surprisingly on-point quarantine chic makes old tees and vintage Hawaiian shirts look effortlessly cool) and the choice of songs that complement her inner turmoil. The writers behind the original movie apparently shortlisted over 2,000 tracks in order to handpick the right tunes; the same care and attention has clearly gone into the show, whose killer soundtrack features the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Beta Band, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie.

It’s worth warning that a handful of episodes feel a bit weaker in the show’s middle section. That said, the 10 episodes fly by and will make you want to make some mixtapes and come up with a few Top 5 lists of your own to brighten up your confinement hellscape.

Trivia: Lisa Bonet, the mother of Zoe Kravitz (who now plays Rob) appeared in the original movie. Her character (the singer-songwriter Marie DeSalle) was one of then-Rob’s flings. We’ll let the trivia-based psychosexual implications – which hint at the Freudian minefield that is Hollywood and their casting decisions – percolate. There’s also a wink to this in the shows many Easter eggs and callbacks, since the gang’s main hangout is a bar named DeSalle. Chilling.

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The World According to Jeff Goldblum

What? We previously mentioned this show in our piece on whether Disney+ is worth a subscription. The World According to Jeff Goldblum is a 12-episode series that follows actor and inquisitive soul Jeff Goldblum who… uh… finds a way to travel the US and find out some facts about things. It really is that simple: Jeff finds out interesting stuff about things. Each episode centres around one thing (ice cream, video games, coffee and tattoos are amongst this season’s topics), and Goldblum delves into the history and science behind the everyday elements we often overlook or take for granted.

Where? Disney+.

Why watch? Go on. You know you want to. Cheekily self-aware and wisely unscripted, this series allows Goldblum to unleash his bottomless zeal for EVERYTHING. He can be as eccentric as he damn well pleases, and this bears its fruits in the guest segments in particular, when the actor turns into an expectedly affable but very shrewd interviewer. The episodes clock in at 30 minutes each, so don’t expect a deep dive or any facts a Google search couldn’t unearth. That said, the show doesn’t just coast on the host’s quirkiness or boundless enthusiasm – several episodes have something to say about our consumer-driven culture, especially the pilot episode, which zones in on the sneaker business. It may not be up there with QI or the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast, but it’s still pretty damn delightful.

Trivia: While edible receptacles were mentioned in French cook books as early as 1825, the (oft-disputed) story goes that the ice cream cone became mainstream at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, when a concessionaire named Arnold Fornachou ran short on paper cups. His neighbour, waffle booth owner Ernest Hamwi, sold him some waffles, which Fornachou rolled into cones to hold the ice cream. Et voila!

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The Midnight Gospel

What? We end this list with the hardest one to describe. Brace yourselves.

Released on April 20, this animated series is the brainchild of Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward and comedian and host of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast, Duncan Trussell. The show takes place in a dimension known as “The Chromatic Ribbon.” Tthere, a spacecaster named Clancy Gilroy routinely sticks his head into the giant vagina that is his multiverse simulator, in order to universe-hop. He explores various trippy worlds, asking the strange creatures he encounters for interviews for his spacecast. From a zombie-apocalypsed version of Earth to a flooded world where a fish-man named Darryl captains a ship crew entirely composed of cats, the WTF concept is a combination of Ward’s trippy DIY visuals and audio segments from Trussell’s podcasts that address life’s existential questions and deal with meditation, death and drug use. Confused? You should be, but it all actually makes sense once you start.

Where? Netflix, proving they’re at their best when taking some risks instead of dishing out Too Hot To Handle-style dross.

Why watch? This Marmite oddity and cult-classic-in-the-making won’t be for everyone, but it’s a psychedelic cartoon that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s essentially Rick and Morty on the mother of all acid comedowns, and if you get on board, then it can be astonishing and quite profound. The episodes are chockablock full of brilliantly absurd and inventive sight gags, and the fact that it manages to corral its many mind-melting ideas is nothing short of impressive.

If you’re having trouble getting into its hallucinogenic groove, a few big tokes of a South African drugs-reefer-style spliff doobie should ensure The Midnight Gospel becomes the trippy highlight of your confinement. Our tip: power through the first episode, which may be the weakest of the bunch, and give it time to wash over you. However, if you’re still not with it after the wonderful third episode that features interview segments by Damien Echols, a death row inmate who was wrongfully convicted of a triple-murder and who preaches the merits of the occult, you can throw in the towel.

Love it or be baffled by it, well done Netflix – this is the sort of audacity we need right now. “ONWARD, CHARLOTTE!”

That’s it from us this week. Happy series binging, long live 90s fashion, be kind to each other, and if you’re still hungry for more, make sure to check out our previous Home Kino articles, recent ones including the Best Film Podcasts, the YouTube channels no self-respecting film fan should be without, and our curated evening of the very best horror shorts.

As always, stay tuned to Exberliner over the coming weeks for exclusive content and more Home Kino recommendations.