New feature in The Express will offer viewing tips, reviews and insight into streaming world
It was late July 2022. The new school semester was a week or two away, near enough that all of my closest friends had begun their journeys back to college. Since I stayed in town for school, it was just me against the world again.
This night was like most of them — alone, conquering solitaire on my laptop and looking for a show to binge. I had just finished “Love Island UK” and still had hours to waste away. I had nothing better to do this long summer night than explore what streaming services had to offer. So I scrolled through Netflix, sprawled out on my bed surrounded by a mountain of pillows.
I recalled a show my dad raved about for the past month. Some show called “Ozark” I had scrolled past on many occasions. I found it through search and started the first episode. Since Jason Bateman was the star actor, I was half expecting a silly little comedy centered around life at the lake.
It had a bit of a lull in the beginning as it was setting the story of the Byrde family. I often stop watching a show if the first episode doesn’t immediately pique my interest. But I had time to spare and an undeniable admiration for Bateman’s acting and brand of humor. So I pressed on. Soon enough, the suspense hooked me. About six episodes in, my eyes were begging for mercy, but I was too engrossed in the drama to stop. I had to force myself to go to sleep.
The next day, I woke up knowing exactly what my day would entail. An all-day, binge-watching expedition. Switching between computer and iPad, “Ozark” rarely left my field of vision. I was locked in for over a week. Cooking. Eating. Cleaning. Finalizing my summer school assignments. I did it all with Jason Bateman right there with me.
This drama series is a great mix of familial responsibility and crime. The Byrdes, an unassuming traditional nuclear family from the suburbs of Chicago, find themselves working for a Mexican drug cartel in the Lake of the Ozarks. They go from a relatively normal family to one riddled with dysfunction while laundering money to avoid being riddled with bullets. Somehow, Bateman’s hilarious dry humor still shines through in this setting.
It’s four seasons of sheer chaos and skin-of-their-teeth survival, the plot twists keep you captivated, and the series finale is spectacular. It’s no wonder people are still hoping for a Season 5 at some point.
Wow, did my dad ever hook me up with quite the recommendation. I was missing so much drama, suspense, action and amazing production. The acting was impeccable. It’s rare I so quickly add a show to the “Best Movies and TV” list in my notes app. “Ozark” was everything I didn’t expect.
There is nothing like discovering a great show. Finding something good to watch in the saturated world of streaming is a constant struggle. Many know the trial of scrolling through endless options. Passing up good shows you recognize because you want novelty. Skipping some obvious selections because you’re in a particular mood. Wanting to be pleasantly surprised, to get acquainted with new genres and new actresses.
I would have been on one of those hunts that night. But my dad plugged me. Turns out our parents might have a little taste.
This week’s edition of our new column — “Kicking and Streaming” — is devoted to sharing some hidden gems from Netflix’s original series collection. “Ozark” is a gem, for sure. But it wasn’t necessarily hidden from all. It’s one of the most popular shows in Netflix history. Its greatness, however, seems to be unknown to a significant portion of the younger audience. I’d never heard of it, and neither had anyone I knew. Which just goes to show some gems are hidden in plain sight.
Genre: True Crime
Primary actors: Toni Collete, Kailyn Dever, Merritt Wever
Fun fact: Marie Adler, the woman this series is based on, was fined $500 for filing her police report but was able to get a refund and later was awarded $150,000 after suing the city because of how her case was originally mishandled.
While “Unbelievable” is only one season, it remains criminally unrecognized. Based on a true story, we are led through the investigative story of an 18-year-old girl who was raped in her home. When Marie Adler, played by Kaitlyn Dever, originally filed a police report, it was seriously mishandled. In an unlikely pairing, two female detectives join forces to track down the rapist.
It is a gripping miniseries that recognizes a reality that many have gone through. Not only that, but the acting, production and writing are incredible. If you don’t mind a heavier watch, this one is fantastic.
Genre: British Dramedy
Primary actors: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey
Fun fact: Before filming, the cast took part in a workshop with intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, who helped develop industry guidelines for how TV and film approach nudity and sex simulation. The workshop included watching the mating rituals of animals and replicating them. The goal was to dissolve awkwardness and give the actors a variety of motions and behaviors to use so they didn’t lean on their personal sexual patterns.
Don’t let the title suppress your interest. This series is anything but your average teen drama. It is all about sex, but it touches on topics that are rarely highlighted among teenage audiences. It follows a high school student through his awkward journey at Moordale Secondary School. He finds himself in an odd situation when he brings it upon himself to help his fellow students with advice in their sexual pursuits. When provided the opportunity to be the school’s unauthorized sex therapist, he capitalizes on this new position.
Not only does this series have a real representation of teenage sex education, but it also highlights relationships, friendships and meaningful conversation. It is filled with witty and hilarious situations. “Sex Education” is everything you wouldn’t expect when it comes to the lives of sexually active high school students.
A fourth season is set to be released later this year.
Primary actors: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Glick, Jimmy Tatro
Fun fact: The first season of the show was partly inspired by a true story based on showrunner Dan Lagana’s stepson, who was accused of a penis-related crime many wouldn’t believe to be real.
In the search for laughs, do not scroll past “American Vandal.” It is the epitome of a “hidden gem.” This satirical spoof of documentaries perfectly blends the thrill of a criminal case and the hilarity of satire comedy.
It has the best of both worlds as this two-season series follows an aspiring student documentarian and his friend as they investigate “criminal” cases involving high school students. They treat what appear to be very juvenile and sophomoric cases as grave, hard-hitting exposés.
Unfortunately, the series ended in 2018. It will be clear why this is unfortunate when you finish the final episode.
My Unorthodox Life
Primary actors: Julia Haart, Batsheva Haart, Miriam Haart
Fun fact: The star of the show, Julia Haart, was the CEO of Elite World Group, one of the world’s first talent media companies.
This entry is for reality TV lovers. It showcases the life of Julia Haart and her family after their transition from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community into the fashion world of New York City.
Other Netflix original reality series are formed around the premise of relationships and sex. This is unique in highlighting a family’s transition and the complications of religion. While their circumstances are different, the Haart family is like many, full of drama, laughs, arguments and love.
The show’s entertainment value is high, but don’t overlook the educational aspect. There is something to be said for learning about other cultures and broadening horizons about humans from different walks of life. This show has it all: religion, culture, community, family, dynamics, social issues and even politics. However, the series has received blowback from Jewish communities. Some accuse it of perpetuating stereotypes.
This original series will for sure satisfy your need for a reality television fix — while you wait for a new season of “The Kardashians.”
Bonus recommendation: A poignant drama about this very topic is the Netflix original series “Unorthodox.” Nominated for eight Emmys, it follows a woman who broke away from a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn and fled to Germany to start a new life. But her husband in the arranged marriage tracks her down to try to win her back. It is a riveting show and more intense than “My Unorthodox Life.”
Genre: Crime Drama
Primary actors: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Michael Ward
Fun fact: Drake, the hip-hop superstar from Canada, is an executive producer of this series and was the one who advocated for a revival of the original “Top Boy,” which aired on the British television corporation Channel Four.
This is on the opposite spectrum of “Sex Education.” “Top Boy” involves teen drama but brings a much different vibe as it follows rival gangs warring to become ruler of the streets, or “top boy.” It centers on two drug dealers in east London who partner up to take their drug business to a new level. It also highlights tensions between drug-running gangs and local residents who want better for their community. The show gives a compelling voice to the honest, hard-working people trying to make a living who are endangered by the drug game.
If you liked the famed HBO show “The Wire,” this is a British version with a Caribbean twist on the urban culture. While fictional, this series accentuates real issues seen in impoverished communities around the world. The two seasons available on Netflix are the third and fourth of the entire “Top Boy” series. However, Netflix rebranded the series. It continues off the timeline of the first two series but it is made to be watched independently. A third season is set to release sometime this year.
Georgia Whiting is the managing editor and photo editor for the Express.
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