Much comes and goes on Netflix without so much as a whisper, but don’t miss out on these five shows and movies from 2019.
Netflix spent $15 billion on original content this year. That has plenty of financial ramifications, but it also means that the company made more stuff than even the most avid viewer could possibly watch.
Scrolling through Netflix has replaced flipping through channels. It has an equal amount of guilty pleasures and prestige content. It produces Nailed It! as well as The Irishman. You’re equally likely to find something you don’t ever need to think about again as something that makes you think for months. Yet the overall quality — in my estimation — is improving as the money flows.
In an effort to sift through my own experience watching Netflix this year as well (as shed some light on great content before it falls even further away from our collective memory), here are some of the best under-the-radar you must watch from Netflix in 2019.
1. Ghosts of Sugar Land
In Amos Barshad’s book No One Man Should Have All That Power, he quotes a scholar named Hind Fraidi on the efforts of charismatic preachers of radical Islam, who explains the power of the internet when it comes to radicalizing young men today. “You don’t see recruitment anymore in the streets,” Fraidi says. “It’s all social media and the internet… Without any authority, without any network, with just some little notions about jihadism, you just do it yourself.” Ghosts of Sugar Land, a 21-minute documentary directed by Bassam Tariq, brings one such story to life.
Ghosts never leaves one suburb of Houston, but goes so many places. The film is made up of interviews with high school friends of a young man whom converted to Islam and watched become radicalized at 18. Facebook posts of the young man and pictures of the buddies all together are cut into the interviews, but mostly what comes across the screen is anxiety.
Anxiety over identity, how identity forms relationships, and how they come unraveled. Anxiety over place and purpose. Anxiety over truth that is just out of reach.
2. Love Death + Robots
David Fincher works with Deadpool’s Tim Miller to craft an animated exploration of technology and connection. The series was initially supposed to be part of Fincher’s HBO deal that fizzled out before anything was greenlit. On Netflix, it crackles.
Episodes range from eight minutes to a half-hour. Artistic style fluctuates from story to story. It is a video game It is a comic book. It is a stage production. But it never drifts from its central focus of what family and love will be in the broken-down world it imagines.
3. Santa Clarita Diet
The third season of the underrated zombie sitcom starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant was not its high mark. Netflix seems to agree, as it canceled the series shortly after the last batch of episodes dropped in the late spring. But after a few years of jumping from fantasy to folklore to social commentary, Santa Clarita found a whizzing rhythm and satirical voice that for the first time gave it the appearance of a show that could go on forever.
Netflix moved on from other serialized comedies like Tuca and Bertie or One Day At A Time this year as well, despite their small budgets and popularity among critics. Perhaps Santa Clarita never even approached those shows in terms of viewership, but as Liv Hewson’s Abby rounded into a proper character, an absurdist family satire materialized that the show will never get to explore.
4. The Laundromat
As Netflix’s awards-season dominance continues, it’s worth looking back on The Laundromat, Steven Soderbergh’s second film of the year for the streaming giant and one of the best movies on the platform all year. A Soderbergh movie starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas seemed too magnificent to fail, but the movie came and went without much attention.
The story stacks intricate, devastating vignettes atop one another to reimagine the global eff-you of the Panama Papers scandal. Soderberg pretties up each sidebar in a way that muddies who exactly is the villain of the story. Streep is menacing. Oldman and Banderas are quippy and hilarious.
I was late to Easy but feasted on the third (and final) season. Writer-director Joe Swanberg, an early Netflix partner, wrapped up these stories as nicely as he put it together. Swanberg swings through modern adulthood and thoughtfully examines how people coexist heading into a new decade. Chicago is just as much of a character as any of the other handful of people whose stories sweep you up from the beginning.
In an age in which romantic comedies hardly exist (outside of Netflix, of course), Easy grappled with what adult relationships are and can be right now like no other shows I watched this year. The cast is quite diverse, and the subject matter is unexpected despite the format being quite familiar. Episode 5, “Swipe Left,” is one of the best episodes of television I watched in 2019, ending in a long, single-shot conversation between two people recrafting the boundaries of their marriage, asking one another for structure and partnership that they don’t have the proper words to describe.
What hidden gems did you watch this year on Netflix? Let us know in the comments.