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SaltWire Selects: Our weekend entertainment picks
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 21, 2020
It has been a wild year for streaming.
Reflecting on this massive year is no easy task, so to make things easier I’m limiting this best-of list to new content (either a new TV season or movie).
With that in mind, here’s the best streaming content I watched in 2019:
10. Game of Thrones, HBO
Yes, HBO’s Game of Thrones’ dramatic, twist-laden final season didn’t satisfy all of its legions of ravenous fans, but it still captivated people enough they were salivating for every new episode, despite its shorter, six-episode run.
I’m probably what people would consider a season-eight apologist, as I actually kind of enjoyed the disruption of expectations and stark (hehe) settings. It certainly had its issues, but my wife and I signed up for Crave/HBO solely to watch Game of Thrones each week as it came out and it was a thrill every time. Also pouring over analysis and reviews after each episode was a great way to process all of the grim fantasy violence. Sure HBO’s flagship epic didn’t end perfectly for a lot of folks, but it was definitely a fun ride.
9. Stranger Things, Netflix
I was starting to worry about Stranger Things after a somewhat meh second season. Especially following its incredible debut in 2016, evoking E.T. and The Goonies, saturated with mid-'80s nostalgia. Luckily in season three, which released in July, Stranger Things went back to what made its debut so captivating: its ‘80s aesthetic, hard. Much of the plot is focused around a mall, full of references and call-backs to a different era. New Coke, Back to the Future, the hair! It’s all replicated meticulously and with care.
The characters are also dealing with that awkward middle school adolescence while sci-fi monsters wreak havoc on their home, again. Hoping season four wraps things up in a satisfying way.
8. The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Prime Video
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name TMITHC is set in an alternate history where the allies lost the Second World War and Nazis rule in eastern North America, while the Japanese Empire holds dominion over the west. The plot focuses on a few characters doing what they can to resist the dueling fascist regimes through mysterious films that show alternate realities, but what makes the show sing is highlighting how close the world came to dystopia and toying with what our world could have looked like. Although probably not Amazon’s most well-known show, its slow-burn approach keeps me coming back for more.
7. Star Trek: Discovery, Crave
I’ve been a Star Trek nerd for a while, so watching anything Trek-related is an easy sell for me. Luckily, Star Trek: Discovery delivers beyond its tropes. It pushed the genre into some interesting places, while also staying true to its roots.
Yes, there are strange stellar phenomena that need to be investigated and bad guys around every corner, but it’s the relationships the crew develops that makes the show so strong. Sometimes you have to send people thousands of lightyears away to explore what they’re capable of.
6. Queer Eye, Netflix
This year saw some pretty dark, trying times: mass shootings, corruption, hatred, racism and homophobia. What a joy it is to sit back and watch five kind, gentle, caring gay men take care of a person who is likely dealing with physical or emotional trauma.
I’ve realized that Queer Eye isn’t just a makeover show about new jackets and leather sofas, it’s about healing. When things get overwhelming we sometimes put ourselves on the back burner, the Queer Eye’s Fab Five reminds us that sometimes we need to take care of ourselves and that’s OK. Also, I cry like a baby during every episode, so thanks for that.
5. Schitt’s Creek, CBC Gem / Netflix
Ah, what an absolutely wonderful surprise Schitt’s Creek has been. I pretty much binged the entire series this year after I kept hearing how fantastic this show was and I do not regret it. The chemistry of the chief characters is perfect as this once-wealthy family comes to terms with their new life in a rural town.
One of the absolute funniest moments was watching David (Dan Levy) and Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) attempt to make enchiladas (season two, episode two Family Dinner). Just fold it in. Dying. Season five is out this January.
4. The Irishman, Netflix
There’s something to be said about watching masters of their craft at work. Martin Scorsese directs as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci tell the tale of union boss Jimmy Hoffa’s demise and involvement with the mob. It’s everything you want it to be: cinematic, musical, De Niro’s iconic squint, it’s all here. Throw in some themes of coming to terms with ageing, legacies, loyalty and betrayal. It didn’t hit the highs of The Goodfellas but it will take its place in the pantheon of great crime dramas.
3. The Good Place, Netflix
Holy forking shirt what a great comedy. What happens when you die? Well, it’s actually a lot more complicated than you think. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) discovers this after finding herself in heaven, but under false pretenses, maybe, uh, you’ll see.
There are a lot of unexpected and clever twists and turns throughout. It’s just so damn smart and funny with infinitely likeable, flawed characters. Janet (D’Arcy Carden) with her deadpan, smiling delivery is one of my favourite characters of the year.
2. Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Disney Plus
It might be the fact that The Child (better known as Baby Yoda) is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen on film, or it may be the Western themes strewn throughout a sci-fi setting, with its strange, thumping score, or maybe it’s that it’s still shiny, new and exciting and I can’t wait for the next episode. Regardless, I can’t get enough of what might be my favourite Star Wars thing, period.
1. Chernobyl, HBO
‘What is the cost of lies?’ is the question posed by Chernobyl’s chief character, nuclear scientist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) in the opening episode. He is sent to fix one of the worst nuclear disasters in history and that question hangs ominously over the entire series.
In the initial episodes, I watched with horror as nuclear material rained down on the Ukrainian city of Pripyat and took this as a warning of the potential risks of nuclear power, but as the show went on I realized I couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not nuclear power that is the threat, but lies — lies we’re told and lies we tell ourselves. A human element, not a chemical one that is corrupt and mismanaged down to its very core. The tragedy of the event at the Chernobyl nuclear plant is just how preventable the entire mess was. But a push for influence and blind faith in a broken system leads to a feedback loop of errors that put millions in danger.
The best thing I watched this year.