Netflix and Chill: Comedy

Sebastian Maniscalco: Aren’t you Embarrassed?

New York Times Review

Sebastian Maniscalco is a half-Italian, half-Sicilian American-born Chicago native, and, man, does all that show in this special. The honesty in his comedy and the pride he has for his upbringing comes through this quality set of jokes and stories. He looks like he belongs on set of MTV’s Jersey Shore with skin-tight clothes, spiked hair, and that amazing natural Italian tan, but the way he moves would suggest otherwise. He acts out his comedy with the best of them.  Nobody uses the stage and space around them better than he does.  From facial expressions to full-body gestures, the guy can move!  You also get a real “fly on the wall” feeling during this special. It felt authentic and intimate. Coming from an Italian immigrant family who also settled in Chicago, he was ultra-relatable at times. His comedy also brings in a ton of observational humor (if you’re on Instagram or Twitter he’s worth a follow for that single reason alone), and anyone who’s ever stepped into a Catholic church, or a Catholic family’s home, will get it. Overall, this is a great watch for anyone. I’d even challenge you to watch it with the sound off for a bit! Weird Movie Rating: A good cross between Saturday Night Fever and Saturday Night Live! (Reviewer: Nick Pignotti)

Sebastian Maniscalco: Stay Hungry

Chicago Tribune Review

Before you read any further, if you haven’t watched Sebastian’s Aren’t You Embarrassed? (reviewed above), go watch that first. For those who have watched…continue or proceed at your own risk. Stay Hungry is not Sebastian’s best stuff, but if you’re a fan of his already, you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into, and you’ll enjoy it.  He brings his typical facial and body expressions to his routine, although they did seem a bit over-the-top this go-round.  This special did have some personally enjoyable moments for me as someone who also just welcomed a new baby into the world, as part of the the first few years of the balancing act called marriage. He does stray from his harsh stance on things in this special, showing a small crack in that strong Chicago/Italian/Catholic upbringing. He pokes fun at how his harsher upbringing compares to that of his wife’s ultra-positive and encouraging Jewish one. Overall, good for some laughs, better for those who already like him, but not his best work. He also has a couple of cheap jokes, that could be misconstrued, I expect more from him, but this special was never going to be as good as Aren’t You Embarrassed?.  Weird Movie Rating: This is a good mashup of Father of the Bride and Married with Children. (Reviewer: Nick Pignotti)

Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable

Vulture Review One of the best at observational humor, Ellen DeGeneres’ new standup special Relatable shows she still has her finger on that late-night standup pulse, even with her daytime success. Her life has changed since her truly relatable (non-star, millionaire) days, but she delivers the same types of jokes that made her a hit early on in her career, while giving them the added new flavor of her new life as one of the most successful women in show biz!  As unrelatable as her new life may seem, her jokes and quips still feel relatable, just in a different way. She ends the special by answering questions from the audience. It seemed to pull away from the standup, and geared more toward Ellen fandom. So if you’re an Ellen fan, you might like that bit too, everyone else can stop a little early. Overall, very funny.  I highly recommend. Weird Movie Rating:  Huge cross between Trading Places and Godfather Part 2. (Reviewer: Nick Pignotti) Dead to Me NPR Review We watched this in two nights—and were sorely tempted to stay up late and get it all done in one. Christina Applegate’s Jen has lost her husband to a hit and run accident and meets her new best friend, Linda Cardellini’s Judy at a grief group. It’s an odd couple comedy, with the full suite of highly unsympathetic problems that SoCal upper middle class white characters are prone to in fiction, but this show manages to hang on to all the humor while also diving into some very real issues. While Jen’s handling of her grief is truly funny (heavy-metal screaming in her car), the broken sobbing is completely serious. The great thing about comedy like this is that it can tell you some really scary big truths about life, while also making you laugh out loud. It takes a lot of talent to deliver on this balance and the writers and stars completely pull it off. If you loved Santa Clarita Diet, and are waiting for Season 2 of Big Little Lies, this is the show for you. (BTW if you never saw Cardellini in Bloodline and want a dark family story instead of comedy, Netflix has all three seasons for you.) (Reviewer: Susan Lyon)

Foreign Adventures at Home

If your summer vacation was relaxing, but didn’t let you see the world in a big way, we have some Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime suggestions to fill the gap.

The Time In Between

NY Times Watching
We had a lot of fun watching this soapy Spanish show. The star, Adriana Ugarte, does a great job with this historical drama. She moves from a childhood spent in a working class neighborhood where she trains as a seamstress, to a pre-WWII Morocco, back to Madrid (as a spy for the Allies) running a clothing salon for society wives, and then on to Portugal. The clothes are amazing, the people are gorgeous, the Nazis are plentiful and easy to hate, so you’ll forgive a few silly plot devices. Episode one, being a lot less glamorous, makes the series effectively blow up into color as it takes off with Sira as a young woman on the move.

Nobel

This Norwegian political thriller seems to fly under the radar, perhaps because it was just one season, so more of a mini-series than a TV show. We couldn’t find a standalone review to give as a backup link! All the more reason to watch it. It’s set in the current day with the protagonist a soldier, recently returned from Afghanistan, who is married to a fast-rising government political player as the machinations of selecting a Nobel Peace Prize winner are kicking into gear. The show seems to really understand foreign policy and not to shy away from the tricky trade-offs that have to be made in any kind of government.

Bron/Broen (The Bridge)

IndieWire
This mismatched detective TV show has been remade in several languages, but this is definitely the most gorgeous murder location ever. The characters are terrific, with well-fleshed out back stories, and it’s got a good twist with the female detective somewhere on the spectrum, while the male is married with several children. We liked it so much, we’ve knocked out two versions in full already. There’s a murder on the Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden, exactly on the midline, so it’s tough to know which police force should investigate. We’re not going to spoil how they decide, but invite you to watch the show. The British/French is the same story for Season One only, then it goes a different direction. We found it amusing how good the serial killers were each season, not just at killing in service to a larger social agenda, but in the British/French version how really good they were at making short little horror animations as clues. To be clear, we’re not seeking any felons out as a new client base, but there’s clearly a market.

Call My Agent!

The New Yorker
If you enjoyed Entourage, Barry, or 30 Rock, you’ll enjoy France’s Call My Agent! Set in a Parisian talent agency with all the background character drama, you get to see behind the scenes of the running of the agency with a much less yelling than in Entourage and problems that seem very much the stereotypical French dilemmas (as Entourage was so clearly an LA show). As you would expect the people are stylish, whether young and casual or wealthy society, and the sets are all gorgeous–movie star houses or locations. We suspect if you actually had a strong knowledge of French actors, there are a lot more inside meta jokes that largely passed over our head. Even so, it’s impossible to miss Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche, clearly playing some funny variation on themselves. Each episode has a one-word, first name title so the named client is the focus of the self-contained episode, while the cast of regulars fail to work out their problems over all the seasons available so far. One of those shows that could be good not to binge and keep on the back burner for when you have less than an hour and need a laugh. As a side American recommendation, if you like this, you might check also out Party Down in which actors working a catering business host a different party each episode.

Hard Sun

The Guardian
While Hard Sun has some flaws, what SciFi work doesn’t? We didn’t want to leave the genre unrepresented and we were hooked, binge watching it all in two nights. Hard Sun shows its solid detective credentials, coming from the creator of Luthor, and it’s just hard to nail down an alternate world that makes everyone happy. While the inspiration is said to be a David Bowie song, detectives racing to solve a crime before the world ends has to owe a debt to Ben Winter’s excellent The Last Policeman trilogy, which has long been rumored to be in pre-production as an American TV show. Netflix doesn’t have any credible entries in apocalyptic TV, nor do they need to get it right with their lock on the Marvel TV properties, leaving the field open for Hulu and Showtime. Both networks do a good job, but just don’t make the volume of shows, so if you like this kind of stuff, Hard Sun is worth watching. And if you think times are dark now  as we live through the hottest year on record, hey, this might just cheer you up with the idea that things could be a lot worse.

Shetland

The Guardian
Another crime series, our one gripe is that it requires a significant suspension of disbelief—how many murders can you have on one tiny little Scottish island? (Shades of Agatha Christie and those little English villages.) The scenery is unbelievably beautiful, the accents seem to be pretty authentic–every once in a while we’d have to back up and put on the English subtitles, but if you binge watch, you get the hang of it. DI Jimmy Perez seems to be the best TV boss around–the right mix of caring, unselfish, and yet distracted by his own life just enough to be human.

Things we’re just going to assume you’ve already seen because they are so universally acclaimed:

  • Broadchurch
  • Money Heist (La Casa de Papel)
  • The Honorable Woman
  • Occupied
  • Catastrophe
  • Borgen