By Jan Nielsen
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What to watch under the lockdown

This article is over 4 years, 3 months old
Culture Under Quarantine
Issue 456

If you have bags of time and are relatively new to Netflix you could gorge on the blockbuster series. Most are made and set in the USA. A bunch of them focus on difficult, screwed-up white men though their imperfections contrast with some amazing female characters.

Mad Men runs for 92 episodes over seven seasons, originally screened from 2007 to 2015. Its fictional time runs from March 1960 to November 1970, set in New York City. It is about the advertising industry located on Madison Avenue. Only its central male Don Draper has any backstory thus he is the pivotal character. Like the best drama no single character is perfect. Stories intertwine like soap opera. The script is always surprising in terms of dialogue and plot. The acting, sets, music, camerawork and editing are all magnificent. Creator Matthew Wiener makes many tantalising political and cultural comments along the way—he is clearly familiar with Freud and Marx.

The Sopranos ran for 86 episodes across six seasons from 1999 to 2007. Everything revolves around New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano. His labyrinthine, uber-macho dealings with various mobsters in his own and enemies’ crews is balanced by his regular psychotherapy sessions with Dr Jennifer Melfi, and his family life with wife Carmela.

Breaking Bad ran for 62 episodes across five seasons originally from 2008 to 2013. Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico the narrative motor is provided by a dying science teacher who turns to crystal meth production as a way to secure his family’s finances when he’s gone. In its final year it entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.

Orange Is The New Black by contrast is set in an upstate New York women’s prison with brilliant characters wrestling with complicated lives. 91 episodes over seven seasons were broadcast from July 2013 to July 2019.

Narcos deals with the life of Columbian drug boss Pablo Escobar and the Cali cartel. It is violent, informative and wholly entertaining across 30 episodes in three seasons from August 2015 to September 2017.

Queen Sono is a brand new cop series featuring a South African superhero. It is fast, corny and creaky but set in and peopled by figures rarely seen on English-speaking TV.

Babylon Berlin. Just starting a third series based on Volker Kutscher’s Weimar-period novels.

Thieves Of The Wood is about a true social revolt in 18th century Flanders. 10 episodes.

Good Girls is an excellent dark comedy about three mums who rob their local supermarket’s cash. Stars Christina Hendricks from Mad Men. Started 2018. Now into its third season.

The Kominsky Method is a brilliantly written and acted comedy-drama series about an acting coach played by Michael Douglas. Co-starring Alan Alda there are guest spots for vintage stars like Danny de Vito, Ann Margaret and Elliott Gould. 16 episodes in two seasons 2018/19.

The Alienist. Crime drama set in 1890s New York city. Cops investigate series of child murders. Mixes in historical characters. Veteran socialist film-maker John Sayles is one of the writers. 10 episodes from 2018.

Greenleaf is an Oprah Winfrey produced soap opera about a Memphis church patriarch and his community. Highly praised for its quality acting. Lead Keith David made his name in Vietnam movie Platoon in 1986. 52 episodes across four seasons from 2016-19.

Godless is a seven-episode western from 2017. Unusual narrative twists.

Virtual Tours
Frida Kahlo Interactive Exhibition

Museum and Gallery Tours

National Gallery

Museum of Modern Art

Van Gogh Museum

The Louvre

American National Parks

Great Wall of China

Explore Mars

Nasa picture library

This American life is a weekly radio show hosted by Ira Glass.

Radiolab is devoted to investigating a strange world.

Death In Ice Valley is a true crime podcast about a mysterious body found in Bergen, Norway, known as the Isdal Woman. The case, dating form the 1970s, has never properly been solved.

Athletico Mince
Comedian Bob Mortimer’s take on football and pother matters.

Inside the Comedian
David Reed talks with some of comedy’s most available exponents and delves deeper than anyone has ever delved inside the comedian.

Beef & Dairy Network
Bizarrely hilarious and deadpan dispatches from Benjamin Partridge

St Elwick’s Neighbourhood Association Newsletter
Comedy by Malcolm Durridge

Crowd Science The BBC’s popular science show.

Philosophy 247
Interviews with leading philosophers about pressing moral, political and social questions.

Answer Me This
Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer questions submitted by their listeners.

Adam Buxton Podcast Interviews, comedy

Philosphy Bites Philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics, including metaphysics, Simone de Beauvoir, and free will.

In Our Time Melvyn Bragg anchors this popular discussion program

Do The Right Thing
Panel show where the teams must work out the right thing to do in any given situation.

Kermode & Mayo’s Film Reviews
What’s on at the cinemas, interviews with actors and other guests

Witness History BBC archives including the Fall of the Wall, Iranian History, Anti-estasblishment Protests.

Film Noir
With 60 free films on line Open Culture is a trove of “the most American film genre” of hard-boiled crime fiction.

These films were set in dark locations and shot in a black & white during the 1940s and 50s.

There are many excellent documentary films on Netflix subscription channel.

Who Killed Malcolm X?
Like the Birmingham 6 and Guildford Four in the UK, it seems that the actual murderers of Malcolm X in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in 1965 were not those that were imprisoned. The main man remained free while two innocent people did time in prison.

When They See Us
If you needed any other reason to hate Donald Trump this story of five young black lads fitted up for a brutal rape in Central Park will make your blood boil.

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke.
The writer and singer of A Change is Gonna Come died of gun shots in a motel aged 33. Why and how investigated here.

The brilliant explanation of how the US’s constitutional 13th amendment is used to consolidate institutional state racism to this day. Directed in 2016 by Ava DuVernay who also produced the 2014 Martin Luther King drama Selma.

What Happened Miss Simone?
Childhood classical piano prodigy Eunice Kathleen Waymon was barred from continuing her studies at conservatory because she was black. She assumed the stage name Nina Simone in order to shield her family from the shame of playing in nightclubs.

Knock Down The House
The story of radical New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortes features the team behind her election success.

Music Documentaries
Rolling Thunder Review Martin Scorsese commemorates the 40th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s 1976 tour.

Miss Americana
The phenomenal career of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.

The life of Quincy Jones, the Seattle-born trumpeter, writer, arranger, producer, company boss and social activist.

I Called Him Morgan
A poetic tale of the life and death of Blue Note trumpeter Lee Morgan.

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
A biography of music promoter and friend to the stars.

27 – Gone Too Soon
Remembering the string
of musicians who died aged 27 — Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

Uncut Gems.
Controversially shunned by Oscar voters, this should have won a string of awards.

Marriage Story
Exceptional central performances by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.

Two Popes
Intriguing insight into Vatican personality politics brilliantly acted by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce.

The Promise
A love triangle set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide.

Aus dem Nichts/In The Fade
A Berlin family struggle to cope with neo-Nazi murder of a Turkish dad.

The Endless Trench
Based on a true story, a Spanish Republican hides out from Franco supporters for thirty years in own home.

The Circle
Science fiction look at new tech mogul’s sinister intent. Tom Hanks in an unusually unlikable role.

The Coldest Game
International tensions around Cuba in 1962 played out in context of a US-Russia chess match.

Wonderful performance by Sheila Hancock as confused, spirited elderly widow.

A Private War
Rosamund Pike plays war photographer Marie Colvin reporting from the 2011 Syrian uprising.

Still not widely enough seen, aimed mainly at baseball fans, but a look behind the scenes of the money men in global sport. Staring Brad Pitt.

Gerard Depardieu as mayor of this sprawling town.

Made In Dagenham
Story the 1968 strike where women workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination at the Ford Dagenham car plant.

Blue Velvet
David Lynch’s masterful and disturbing psychological horror film.

12 Years A Slave
Adaptation of the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

The Post
Steven Spielberg thriller, stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the first women publisher of a US newspaper.

Based on true events, this is riveting story of how a team of journalists at the Boston Globe’s uncovered and exposed widespread and systemic child sex abuse by Catholic priests.

Coming-of-age comedy about a teacher searching for a new life.

Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold.
The life and work of this esteemed journalist and fiction writer.

American Factory
An infuriating but vivid account of the takeover of a closed car plant in Dayton, Ohio by Chinese entrepreneurs producing car windscreens. Funded by Barack and Michelle Obama it displays deep class instincts among the workers but despicable exploitation by the new owners.

El Pepe: A Supreme Life
The charming story of former president of Uruguay Jose Mujica — a remarkably humble man.

A series of in-depth looks at random fascinating factual topics.

Our Planet
David Attenborough. What’s not to like?

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