A year ago, we covered the best of Netfilx and Amazon streaming. Now, since another “Best of” list would mostly be an update of the shows covered in last year’s column, let me instead assure you that Bosch, Bloodlines, Narcos, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Man in the High Castle, Red Oaks, Catastrophe, BoJack Horseman, and Longmire all followed up with seasons that were worthy of the praise I gave them. Master of None returns in April, and I covered The Crown here.
Now, onto new recommendations for your binging pleasure.
10. Mad Dogs (Amazon)
Okay, Mad Dogs isn’t exactly new, but point of privilege here, as it should have made last year’s list. Shawn Ryan (The Unit, The Shield) produced this incredibly addictive story of four college buddies (Ben Chaplin, Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn and Romany Malco) who are summoned by their friend (Billy Zane) for a reunion party in his Belize mansion.
Before long, however, the party is over when they find themselves caught between drug cartels, crooked cops, the feds—and a midget gunman who wears a Mardi Gras-style oversized cat mask.
You might think you know where this is going—but you don’t. And you will have a superior thrill ride getting there.
9. Goliath (Amazon)
Goliath has all the strengths and fewer than normal of the weaknesses that plague most David E. Kelley (Boston Public) legal dramas. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent, as usual, as a once-prominent attorney taking on the firm he founded with his best friend turned nemesis (William Hurt) and where his ex-wife (the underemployed Maria Bello) still works. The defendant is a corrupt defense contractor played by Dwight Yoakam, whose reckless violation of federal law may have led to the death of an employee.
Goliath is a combination of The Verdict and Better Call Saul. While not as good as either, good acting and sheer narrative propel you past the plot holes all the way to the end.
8. Patriot (Amazon)
You have to think “quirky” is a positive thing to enjoy this espionage dramedy. It probably also helps if you give points for never having seen anything quite like it before.
Patriot stars Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as a patriarch and CIA spymaster. His two sons are Edward, a pudgy, mild-mannered congressman, and John, a CIA agent. Dad’s mission is to stop Iran from going nuclear. John is supposed to deliver money to that “moderate Iranian” that D.C. insiders are always sure exists. But instead, the money goes to the most militant faction; and John’s mission is further complicated by the fact that he really, really stinks at his cover as an engineer for a pipe company.
Kurtwood Smith (the dad from That ’70s Show) also shines as John’s exasperated boss. You will either laugh out loud or turn the channel, but you won’t be bored by Patriot.
7. Fauda (Netflix)
Netflix likes to package up foreign TV as “Netflix Originals,” including this dynamite Israeli show about a counter-intelligence unit that appropriately takes its title from the Hebrew word for chaos.
When a supposedly dead master terrorist shows up in the West Bank, the Israeli commando who thought he had killed him comes back to the unit to finish the job—and of course, breaks a lot of rules in his obsession.
The locations, acting, and taut writing and direction give a sense of ultra-reality to this fast-paced show that defines what critics mean when they use the word “gritty.”
6. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
This is far better than the passable kids’ movie of the same name in every way—from the acting, with Neil Patrick Harris as a far better Count Olaf than Jim Carrey, and Patrick Warburton giving hilariously deadpan on-camera narration instead of Jude Law’s voiceover; to the direction by Barry Sonnenfeld, which gives the two-parter episodes the feel of a Wes Anderson movie; to the pitch-perfect deadpan scripts by Daniel Handler, who now has the room to improve on his work from the film.
For parents looking for streaming shows for kids in the adult-oriented streaming world, this superior offering is a very fortunate event indeed.
5. Luke Cage (Netflix)
Just because it merited two entries in my 2016 issue of Most Politically Incorrect Moments in TV doesn’t mean the show is any good … but it is. Really, really good.
Part of the Marvel universe that includes Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist in New York City recovering from the devastation in the wake of the Avengers defending the city from Loki and his alien army, the show finds Luke in Harlem battling a corrupt politician, Black Mariah (Alfre Woodard), and her gangster brother, Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali).
Luke Cage spots a retro look and feel, from the music, to the colorful cinematography, to (most importantly) its traditional integrationist view of civil rights, which comes up in his discussions of authors and his historical references to black heroes—and a few unsubtle slaps at Black Lives Matter.
The first few episodes, while fun, make you wonder how there is going to be much drama with an indestructible Luke hero—but stick around, a worthy villain soon raises his ugly head.
4. Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
Okay, I am officially on board with anything Graham Yost produces. The man who brought us Boomtown (seek it out, you’ll be glad you did), Justified, and The Americans took over what looked to be a standard gimmick premise (con man on the run from gangsters, takes on his cellmate’s identity and ends up working for the family bail bond company) and quickly took it from a bail-jumper-of-the-week template to something with character depth and suspense.
The great cast includes Giovanni Ribisi as “Pete,” Bryan Cranston as the gangster he’s hiding from, and the great Margo Martindale and Peter Gerety as the real Pete’s long lost grandparents.
3. Daredevil (Netflix)
Daredevil Season 1 narrowly missed making my first list, as I thought making the rich guy who wants to force the poor out of their housing for gentrification a super-villain opposed by an attorney who stands up for the downtrodden still wasn’t much of a variation on a boring old chestnut.
Plus, Daredevil himself was a result of Marvel saying, “Hey, we need a Batman, too.” And I could never figure out why it’s an advantage that he’s blind … but I’ll quit applying logic to Marvel and never again wonder how every classmate of Spiderman who is exposed to toxic chemicals gets super powers from them.
Anyway, Season 2 really kicked up the pace by adding The Punisher as another vigilante—but one that even Daredevil thinks goes over the line—and greatly expands the storyline into something pretty special. I just hope that by Season 3 Matt Murdock and his law partner Foggy stop with arguments that belong in couple’s counseling.
2. The Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
I haven’t laughed this long and hard since the Hillary Clinton election night party. The Santa Clarita Diet is the funniest thing to hit television since Kimmy Schmidt, though it’s not for all … tastes.
Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore are absolutely perfect as suburban southern California realtors whose idyllic life is upended when she dies—but doesn’t realize it. Then she begins craving human flesh, and her devoted husband just decides he needs to deal with it.
Like the best comedy/horror, you will laugh out loud at the same time you are exclaiming at a gruesome moment. Barrymore’s signature wholesome innocence is a perfect contrast for the role, while it’s funny seeing Olyphant as the least macho guy on his block (both next-door neighbors are cops).
1. Stranger Things (Netflix)
The biggest—and best—surprise of the streaming world is this suspense/horror/sci-fi hybrid that takes its cues from ’80s classics like E.T., Poltergeist, Stand by Me, Firestarter, The Thing, and It.
As an added bonus, you can enjoy it with kids who can stand a scare or two.
When their friend goes missing after a game of Dungeons and Dragons, a crew of geeky friends in small-town 1980s Indiana decide it’s up to them to find him when the adults fail. While looking, they meet a mysterious girl with powers, and of course, it’s all tied to the secret government research facility on the edge of town.
Stranger Things is far far far better than the movie Super 8, which attempted the same kind of nostalgic suspense. Everything about this incredibly addictive series feels like it was made in the 1980s—or at least like what was attempted in the ’80s. Even the soundtrack has a John Carpenter feel, and with Winona Ryder starring as the crazy mom of the missing boy, you might feel like you fell into a time warp.
But if you really could harness a time warp, you’d probably jump ahead so you could watch Season 2.