If you’re like me, Eid is a time to disconnect from the rest of the world, unwind at home, and catch up on all those films and TV series you’ve missed. There’s just too much on TV these days, so here are a few favorite picks worthy of a visit to a balad DVD shop of your choice.
Medellín drug cartel kingpin, Pablo Escobar, has been the subject of many a movie, including last year’s Escobar: Paradise Lost featuring Benencio Del Toro. But Narcos is on another level. It delves deep into Escobar’s rise to infamy, as well as the DEA’s mission to bring him down. Portrayed by the wonderfully talented Brazilian actor, Wagner Moura (who you might have seen not too long ago in Elysium alongside Matt Damon), whose character evolves darkly, creating moments so tense that it gets to a point where you fear for the life of every character he comes in contact with. The first season is 10 episodes, and just enough to tell a good story while leaving you wanting more.
2. Mr. Robot
Imagine the revolutionary anarchy of Fight Club with hacktivists bent on reshaping the world by bringing down a tech giant that’s too involved in our lives. It’s a cyber-thriller, and one that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence with faux-tech references. Instead, it feels technically accurate enough that it makes you feel these characters might be able to pull of the revolution the global capitalist system has been begging for. American Egyptian, Rami Malek plays the lead role and narrates the story so well that you’ll think you’re just a voice in his head. This is one of those series that was built for binge watching.
3. What We Do In The Shadows
If you’re in to mockumentaries, this one takes the cake. The New Zealand horror-comedy from the incredibly funny minds that brought us Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows doesn’t just poke fun of vampire flicks, but deconstructs the entire genre. It swims against the currents of the vampire craze we’ve been tortured with in recent years, and manages to breathe fresh air into a film tradition that’s been hijacked by cheap storytelling and bad acting. This is possibly one of the best mockumentaries I’ve ever seen and had me rolling with laughter within its first 15 minutes.
4. Documentary Now!
Another one for the mockumentary category – but this one kind of demands that you also dig documentaries, generally. Designed to look like a serious journalistic program – a la Frontline – and even hosted by the graceful Helen Mirren – every episode is actually a spoof of a well known documentary (so it helps if you get the references). An episode titled DRONEZ, for instance, is a funny take on VICE News and features smug, hipster reporters from Brooklyn, led by the group’s founder, played by Jack Black. The Eye Doesn’t Lie is a spoof of the 1988 Errol Morris documentary, The Thin Blue Line, in which a wrongly convicted man awaits his fate on death row – except in this version, you really don’t mind if the protagonist dies. Not at all. Led by SNL alum, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, the duo are insanely good and absurdly versatile, playing different characters in every episode, each of which mimic the style, format, and cinematography of the films they’re parodying.
Humans is a series that feels like it took an episode from the Black Mirror series, and extended the storyline just to really dig into the evolving relationship between technology and human beings. Set in a not-to-far-off future where robots are designed to look like normal people, and built to serve them like any technological appliance, Humans really examines the blurring lines between machine and wo/man. It might leave you fearing the inevitability of artificial intelligence, but also wondering about the possibility of technological transcendence, and how that might reshape both the world and our own humanity, as we’ve come to understand them. The eight-part series is perhaps one episode too long, but manages to weave a great story that’s perfect fodder for philosophical conversations with friends.
6. Show Me A Hero
“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy,” said Scott F. Fitzgerald. This aptly-named David Simon (The Wire, Treme) 6-part HBO miniseries chronicles the true story of Yonkers, New York mayor Nick Wasicsko’s short-lived time in office in the midst of a battle for public housing. After a federal judge issues a desegregation order that would allow for 200 public housing units to be built in the mostly white middle class neighborhoods of east Yonkers, Wasicsko finds himself facing off with angry constituents that fear the influx of a mostly poor, black population. Unable to overcome the order without facing legal repercussions that would bring the entire city to a standstill, Wasicsko takes a position of compliance, and in the process sets off a firestorm of controversy. The ensuing story is more than just about a legal battle. As the complexity of the city is unraveled, and the political correctness dissolves, a story about race boils to the surface.
Like all David Simon shows, Show Me A Hero tells the story of a city from a kaleidoscope of angles – the politicians, the activist, the struggling single mother, the reporters, the judiciary, and the residents of the projects that are in the grips of the 1980’s crack epidemic. It’s a talented cast led by the unstoppable Oscar Issac, and backed by the typically superb writing of David Simon, and direction of Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash).