Made in Heaven, Chernobyl, Russian Doll, Delhi Crime: Best shows of 2019 so far across streaming services
While there have been international hit shows like Chernobyl and Russian Doll, India has offered great content in the form of Made in Heaven and Delhi Crime.
(We're halfway through 2019, so what better time to take stock of what this year brought to us in terms of entertainment and pop culture? Firstpost is rounding up the best films, web series, songs and albums so far, and also looking at what else is in store for the rest of the year.)
The first half of 2019 has already seen some great follow up seasons of shows like Fleabag, Barry, Veep, Killing Eve, and The Handmaid’s Tale. There were the obvious misses too, none bigger than Game of Thrones and the slightly disappointing new seasons of Black Mirror and Stranger Things. Here is a list, though, that focuses on the best international and Indian content to debut through streaming services this year.
Sex Education (Netflix)
Sixteen-year-old Otis (Asa Butterfield) lives with his intrusive single mother, a prominent sex therapist (Gillian Anderson), and the story just writes itself into the halls of hilarity. If you think having conversations around sex with your parents are uncomfortable, imagine having to pretend-masturbate just so that your mom thinks you are normal. When Otis inadvertently discovers his own sex counselling skills, he gets taken under the wing of badass classmate, Maeve (Emma Mackey), to start a sex therapy business at school. This British show could so easily have suffered from its stereotypical characters — the embarrassing mother, the nerd, and the hot street-smart love interest — but it doesn’t. The writing is effortless and the cast dazzles in what is easily the best comedy to have dropped this year.
Russian Doll (Netflix)
Natasha Lyonne was the gift given to us by Orange is the New Black, which slowly has slipped into wearying indulgence. Russian Doll, co-created with Amy Poehler and director Leslye Headland, is Lyonne’s gift to the world. The premise is not new — it is Groundhog Day. The major difference in this time loop is that Nadia (Lyonne) has to die for a reset, and it is in this trope that the show finds a unique brand of dark comedy. While the seemingly endless cycle of Nadia dying in the most random possible ways brings the humour, the show has deeper layers at its core. There is addiction, mental illness, and some way bigger existential ideas if you want to look for them. And if you do not, it is still thoroughly engaging fare.
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)
When Netflix cancelled Sense8, it left a bit of a hole for a small bunch of die-hard fans. But what they lost there, they more than made up with what they learnt about making good commercial, young adult content of the superhero ilk. Super powers aside, there is time travel, a dysfunctional family, and lots of ‘save the world’ situations. When 43 babies are simultaneously born to unconnected and quite un-pregnant women across the world, a billionaire industrialist adopts seven of them and trains them into a well-oiled fighting unit. They disband during their teenage years, but come back to solve the mystery of their foster father’s death. The show is highly slick and entertaining, and has a stellar cast led by Ellen Page.
Some stories need to be told, but doing justice to them is a whole other ball game. Writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck took the word’s biggest nuclear disaster, and told this story through the eyes of characters so compelling, you would be forgiven for thinking they were real. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson produce performances of lifetime, while the gore and body horror create an almost dystopian effect for the viewer. While the five-episode miniseries makes for grim viewing, it also achieves what it set out to — to bring to light the deceit and lies that amplified a disaster through a culture of institutionalised obedience. Chernobyl exposes a failed political system but also pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of unnamed heroes that saved millions of lives. Already being dubbed a classic, it would come as no surprise if, decades from now, people called it the Schindler’s List of miniseries television.
When They See Us (Netflix)
This four-episode miniseries, helmed by Ava DuVernay revolves around a 1989 assault and rape case in New York, where five young African Americans were incarcerated despite contradictory evidence. Dubbed the Central Park Five, this is their story from the first interrogation to their exoneration in 2002, and ultimately reaching a settlement with the city of New York in 2014. The show examines systemic racism in US law enforcement, making it one of the biggest political statements to come out of Hollywood this year. But make no mistake; this is great content on its own. The fast-paced writing is lifted by some very powerful performances; expect this one to have a field day at the Emmys.
Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video India)
This could so easily have been just another piece of content revolving around ‘The Big Fat Indian Wedding,’ but it is so much more. The show follows the lives of two wedding planners in Delhi, as they go about lying and scheming to get stuff done. And there are characters, each one more memorable than the next, hand-painted with exceedingly sharp details. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti gave us Gully Boy this year, a film that dared to be different in its writing and approach to presenting a subculture. Made in Heaven uses those very talents to throw the viewer into the world of one-percenters; it is honest, it is fun, and keeps one hooked for its voyeuristic appeal.
Delhi Crime (Netflix)
Delhi Crime is an above-average cop show and probably one of the best in its genre as far as desi content goes. It might have gotten a kinder reception if that was all it claimed to be. The fact that it is based on the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case makes it problematic because it raises the expectations of viewers. This is not the victim’s heart-wrenching story, nor is it a soul-satisfying tale of justice. Director Richie Mehta, instead, aims his focus on a small group of police officers putting aside their lives to ensure the capture of the criminals. Walk into this one knowing this, and you begin to see the show in a new light. Shefali Shah delivers a riveting performance and so does Rajesh Tailang.
Hostages is a thrill-a-minute home-invasion drama that is based on an Israeli show of the same name. The plot revolves around a renowned surgeon (Tisca Chopra) who is scheduled to perform a surgery on the chief minister of the state, but gets gets taken hostage along with her family. The ransom, expectedly, is to kill the politician by dipping her scalpel in an undetectable poison before she operates. It is a predictable plot but the show gets lifted by the numerous sub-plots surrounding the family. There is the husband with gambling woes, a pregnant teenage daughter, and a hacker-son who runs a side business leaking exam papers. The kidnappers themselves have interesting stories, and all of it comes together through a very tight screenplay. It makes for some great binge-watching.
All images from YouTube.
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