Written by Brian James & Leigh Maynard
For those who know us, that by-line might conjure up visions of a messy night out downing far too many espresso martinis and tequila.
In the current climate those days are a fond memory, ones that will obviously be re-visited once we get the all-clear. Meanwhile , like everyone else, we are looking to fill these days of isolation. Given that there’s only so much Marie Kondo inspired decluttering and pants drawer re-arranging you can do, we thought we would share some of our favourite box set recommendations with you. Some may be obvious, some will be old-school but hopefully you’ll find something to entertain and maybe even educate, while we all isolate responsibly.
I would start by recommending that you don’t google this series or the true crime case it involves before watching. Available on Netflix and Sky this 2015 HBO made docu-series contains more twists and turns than a country road and a finale where the cliché – truth is stranger than fiction – doesn’t just shout but scream at you from the screen.
Spanning six episodes it revolves around New York real estate heir Robert Durst who is acquitted of murdering a neighbour on the grounds of self-defence and is also suspected of having murdered his wife and a female friend. A cause celebre, it spawned a fictionalised film based on those accusations. Narcissist supreme Durst contacts the film’s Director Andrew Jarecki to recount his side of the story and refute the allegations. The twenty plus hours of interviews between Durst and Jarecki form the basis of the series, with the episodes supplemented by interviews with other key participants, existing media footage and re-enactments.
Unravelling the contradictory evidence which runs through the three crimes and the contradictory behaviour and explanations which permeate Durst’s own narrative, dominate Jarecki and his teams struggle to reach the truth. Forensically disentangling that evidence strand by strand, invariably leads to more contradiction and confusion. Simultaneously distant and intense Durst displays all the characteristics of a sociopath but did he kill three people? Watch and see!
Very much the forerunner of the avalanche of true crime series which have flooded Netflix and countless satellite channels, this remains for me the one which overshadows all others. One with a denouement which elevates it beyond anything else I’ve watched in the genre.
Two series in, Pose tells the story of an invisible virus which discriminates against the most vulnerable sections of society. An invisible virus whose arrival was the subject of falsehoods, misinformation and a delayed response. A virus which demanded people change their lifestyles and health regimes to combat it. Sound familiar?
Set across the late 80s and early 90s in New York’s LGBTQ ballroom scene it’s a fascinating insight into a culture that many may not be aware of. A culture where outsiders became their own insiders and created their own fame; a fame as important and recognisable to them and their own community as the unattainable fame they saw on the Hollywood red carpet. Think 1990 documentary Paris is Burning (which if you haven’t watched you really should) and its commercial offspring the single Vogue by Madonna. Beautifully filmed, the show’s a joyful celebration of a club culture which immeasurably influenced all that came after it. The fashion is so then but so now as our continuing love affair with all things 90s testifies. The ballroom dance scenes are stunningly choreographed and the soundtrack is club camp at its disco best.
Of course it’s a celebration that takes on huge poignancy given that it’s set against the backdrop of the AIDS pandemic which decimated so much of New York’s LGBTQ and ballroom community. The series doesn’t shy away from laying bare the full horrors of the pandemic which it recounts in harrowing detail. It’s this fearless documenting of the disease which takes the experience of watching Pose to a much deeper level.
In these frightening times Pose is fabulous escapism. It is also an extremely prescient, heart wrenching and heart warming story of a community coming to terms in dealing with an invisible enemy.
From Richard Gere’s lycra-clad companion to environmental activist Erin Brokovich, Julia Roberts has crossed the spectrum of characters. Still, none is more captivating than her recent role as an OCD amnesiac in Homecoming on Amazon.
Based on the fictional podcast by Eli Horowitz and Mica Bloomberg, this psychological thriller centres on the developing relationship between social worker Heidi Bergman and Walter, a soldier at a U.S. ‘Support Centre’ called Homecoming. The post-combat facility assists military personnel in their transition back to civilian life, all under the watchful eye of Heidi’s hard-nosed boss Colin Belfast. Fast forward a few years, and she’s working as a waitress in a deadbeat diner-bar and living back at home with her mother.
As we contemplate the catalyst for this career one-eighty – enter stage right a stranger from the Department of Defence, who’s at the diner for more than the caffeine refills. Loaded with questions about her days at Homecoming, he leads Heidi down the rabbit-hole to a time she can barely recollect. And, so dawns the realisation that all is not what it seems.
The eerie Homecoming support facility with its clinical geometric interiors and subdued palettes make for a stunning yet sinister backdrop. Director Sam Esmail takes us on a Hitchcockian journey with fragmented timeframes and playful aspect ratios representing Heidi’s past and present. What happened at the facility and where is Walter? The lingering shots and slow pans down empty corridors, invoke a stillness akin to Hopper or Vermeer; bringing a sense that there’s something else, just out of sight, waiting to be revealed to her.
Homecoming is an exploration of trauma, paranoia, memory and conscience in bite-sized episodes of 30 minutes or less. But every short but sweet instalment makes for compelling viewing as we seek to discover the answers to Heidi and Walter’s narrative. This isn’t one for the impatient but trust me when I say it’s worth the wait, if not only for That. Ending. ….And this one is a whole lot better than Richard Gere in a limo!
Our final binge-worthy recommendation will take you to the courtroom in a constitutional game of cat and mouse. Running for five series from 2007 to 2012 this old-school legal drama centres around Patty Hewes, a merciless lawyer who takes graduate Ellen Parsons under her dark and sinister wing.
Fresh out of law school, Ellen is pursued by New York’s top legal firms. In the process, she turns down an offer to work with the defence attorney Hollis Nye before settling into her role as the infamous Patty’s ProtŽgŽe. But did she make the right career move? Nye’s power-play serves as a menacing hint when he slips Ellen a note reading, ‘I was warned’. The predominant storyline runs in the past with glimpses of the future interspersed. We alternate between the pristine and composed Ellen settling into her new employment and the present-day as she runs, bloodstained and naked through the streets. Surely no law firm could be this brutal, where did it all go so horribly wrong? The Enron-esque case at the heart of series one points to some clues, where Ellen begins to suspect she wasn’t hired just for her exceptional CV.
What makes damages so compelling is the building tension between Hewes and Parsons as the latter begins to heed Nye’s warning. As Ellen seeks to distance herself from her ever more sinister mentor, we see Patty’s unwavering composure threatened by her own inner daemons. And with each subsequent series, the central story focuses on a new case while the bitter rivalry between the lead characters plays out against it.
Noted for its outstanding writing and clever plot twists, Damages (available on Amazon) scooped up awards for several cast members, including the talents of the exceptional Close. There may not be a bunny or a saucepan anywhere in sight but don’t underestimate this lawyer’s cruel intentions.
And there you have it, four of our favourite box sets to keep you busy over the next few weeks. So, get comfortable, break out the popcorn…or the espresso martinis if you so wish, and enjoy!