I’ve been playing more games over the last two months since it became necessary to stay at home all the time, but lately I’ve found myself gravitating towards TV series again. It’s been months since I last watched anything, simply because I’m a gamer above anything else when it comes to entertainment. I value an interactive experience over linear storytelling, but lately I’ve just felt a little burned out from playing video games every single day. So I decided to pick up where I left off with several shows and I’m in the process of trying to finish all of them.
Admittedly, I’m very picky about what I watch, but that’s because time is valuable and there are countless options to choose from these days. I can’t stand a mediocre narrative though. Or perhaps I’m only fascinated by a good one, because that is the most important aspect of film to me. I think set design, camerawork, costumes, casting, sound design, etc. are important without a doubt, but the quality of a narrative is definitely the selling point for me when deciding whether or not to become invested in a series.
As I mentioned, there are a few established shows with new seasons that I’ve picked back up, because I feel that they are all really well written. There are also a few new shows that I’ve started simply out of curiosity. No matter the reason, I think the shows I’ve included on this list are all worth watching, and I’ve always felt compelled to recommend them to people. With things going the way they are, we are all in need of some good entertainment and distraction, so here is a list of recent shows that I think are worth investing in! Some of these are certainly underrated.
Peaky Blinders - (Netflix subscription or purchasable from other retailers)
My Score: 8.75/10
This excellent series has been around for years now, but it seemed to fly under the radar for a lot of people. Peaky Blinders is the story about a notorious Birmingham (UK) street gang that came to power after World War 1. This series dramatizes their story.
The gang was made up of former soldiers, and they were a rowdy bunch to say the least.There are no tea sipping, aristocratic Brits here. The Blinders like whiskey, street brawls, shootouts, back-room dealing, and most of all, power. The story progresses in parallel to a lot of political conflicts going on at the time, which makes it incredibly interesting already, but it also tells a very personal story about the Shelby family who runs the Peaky Blinders. The series has a strong cast, memorable cinematography, and a whole lot of punchy style. For those who like mafia gangster shows, this one is right up their alley.
This was a show that I accidentally stumbled upon one day when I was trying to find something new to watch. I had never heard of it before and the name sounded a bit silly. Frankly a show about a British street gang didn’t sound nearly as exciting as The Sopranos or Narcos, but for whatever reason I gave it a chance. Look, this is a really well executed show. My preconceptions were completely wrong.
Peaky Blinders has its own distinct style, and it was clearly produced by an experienced and passionate team. The characters are very well written, and they all have their own distinct attitudes and styles. Tommy Fucking Shelby will show you how to rock a two piece suit and blackmail a British lord. Inspector Campbell will turn a blind eye to cruel and unusual punishment if it means getting the information he needs. There’s also a lot of grey-area morality that goes on in this show, and while it certainly glorifies violence at times, it also values family relationships and the strength of an individual to back down from something that is blatantly immoral. It also reminds us of the consequences that result from a life of crime and violence, and shows how the characters slowly come to realizations of their missteps.
Peaky Blinders tells a good tale, with plenty of wild moments along the way and is great to watch with anyone. The characters can be a bit over dramatic at times, but it’s not the worst problem to have. Their big personalities bring most scenes to life and make the series all the more enjoyable. As a cautionary note, if you try to play a drinking game and keep up with these lunatics every time they drink on screen, you won’t remember much the next morning. I certainly never tried doing such a thing...
The Witcher - (Netflix subscription)
My Score: 8/10
Video game series don’t often get film adaptations, but when they do, they usually turn out pretty bad. This common recurrence has nothing to do with the series themselves in my opinion though. Bad project management and limited budgets are usually to blame for any project going bust. Luckily that wasn’t that case for the Witcher series this time. Everyone here at Destructoid should be well aware of this series, so it needs no introduction.
This television adaptation is based off of the books, and follows Geralt during some of his earlier days as a witcher, prior to the events of the games. It’s not exactly an origin story for Geralt, but rather a prequel to the games. Many of the characters we know and love meet Geralt for the first time including a young Ciri. There are several conflicts at work in the greater narrative, and it should come as no surprise that the infamous Nilfgaardian Empire is a major player in it all. Despite the greater forces at work, the show manages to include personal stories and simple, memorable moments that make for a charming experience.
Ciri is in danger.
Every time I heard about this show during production, I groaned. It struck me as a potential cash grab that was targeted at ex-Game of Thrones fans who didn’t have anything new to watch in that genre. I assumed this would be a total flop, and I think most people thought the same. I did hear about Henry Cavill playing Geralt though, which I found very interesting, because he is a high-profile actor. Still, I dismissed the possibility for this series’ success. After it was released and a friend told me it was good, my reaction was both surprise and skepticism to say the very least.
While this show does attempt to introduce new audiences to the series, it will come off as confusing for new viewers. My experience with the games made a world of difference for understanding everything, and from my perspective this was a great series. I had to give this show a lower rating though, because it feels like the show relies too much on the assumption that the audience has experienced the books and the games. There are a lot of little details that go unexplained, and some of the costumes and CGI were lackluster. I’m excited to see this series grow, because I think it has the potential to improve and become really great. The real question though, is which witcher to watch first? (Say that five times.) It seems weird to watch a prequel last, but I think audiences are better off playing or at least watching the cutscenes from all the games before they begin this series.
The Mandalorian - (Disney Plus)
My Score: 7.5/10
This was a show eagerly anticipated by fans after the first trailer released and showed the world how good a Star Wars TV show could look. It also showed that Disney was finally willing to change their approach towards making Star Wars content. “The Mandalorian” shows the galaxy from the perspective of a bounty hunter, which varies tremendously from the ideology of the traditional Jedi protagonists. The story is also largely a personal one, though it has far reaching consequences.
Time for a quick Star Wars history lesson. The protagonist is as the title suggests, a Mandalorian bounty hunter. They are a culture of human warriors bound by tradition, and the pursuit of money. The reputation of the Mandalorian people was originally made famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) by the character Boba Fett, who appeared in the original movie trilogy. His signature armor and villainous role made him popular and fans cosplayed him and demanded spin-offs for years. Lucas eventually decided to include them in the prequel trilogy, and created Jango Fett to once again show off how badass the Mandalorians could be on the big screen. If that wasn’t already enough attention, the clone army was even modeled after the Mandalorians in several ways.
It’s really no surprise that The Mandalorian TV series was well received by fans. With decades of demand already on record, it was clear to Disney that the show would do well if they made a decent attempt at it. It’s not a bad show, but it’s not phenomenal. There’s just a lot of hype around it, because it’s one of few decent Star Wars productions we’ve had in the last fifteen or so years.
The plot in season one is actually quite simple, but that's fine. Great stories need time to set up climactic events and establish relevant characters. It will be interesting to see how the tale progresses in future seasons, but it’s enjoyable so far. I’ll avoid mentioning any spoilers, despite the fact that most people have probably already been exposed to them. Instead, I’ll say this. The story takes place ten years after the collapse of the Galactic Empire (the events in “Return of the Jedi” resulted in the collapse.), and journeys around the outer rim of the galaxy during dangerous times. We get to see The Mandalorian take on several dangerous contracts and navigate his way out of various fiascos. The show feels like a proper Star Wars story, and that’s a big deal for fans.
There were several things this show needed to nail, and I’m all the more happy that it did. There were plenty of instances of humor, but the show knew when to take itself seriously in most cases, unlike the Skywalker saga. Star Wars has always been infamous for its plot armor too, but in this tale, the Mandalorian was actually covered in armor and got shot numerous times, all to no effect. This simple detail made his survivability so much more believable, and I can’t stress that enough. The heroes did manage to get out of several rough situations a little too conveniently, but overall it wasn't a big deal.
This series loses a few points to plot holes and unbelievable situations though. For example there is a bounty tracking device that never gets explained, and seems ridiculously convenient. The Empire is utterly incompetent as usual too, and it makes it hard to ever regard them as a threat. Several of the character relationships are a bit lackluster too, but these are things that could improve in future seasons. Overall this is a fun and likable series, and the production quality is phenomenal. I hope we get more Star Wars TV shows in the future.
Kingdom - (Netflix subscription)
My Score: 7.5/10
This is another zombie show, but with a twist; it takes place in medieval Korea and the style of the series benefits from the perspective of a very different culture. The series was produced for a Korean audience, but it has resonated with a lot of westerners not only because of our love for zombies, but because it fixes one of the major problems with The Walking Dead. The slow pacing was a major turn off for a lot of viewers in The Walking Dead, and I was one of them. I liked the emphasis on character development in The Walking Dead, but there were way too many episodes where literally nothing happened. Kingdom is quite the opposite.
The show favors a fast and action-packed pacing, but it still manages to accomplish enough character development for audiences to build emotional connections with the characters. The plot is pretty straight forward, but I don’t feel like it needs to be complicated. The story goes that a prince is betrayed by a rival noble clan after the king’s death, and the prince must fight his way back to the throne, while uncovering a political conspiracy. During a zombie outbreak. There’s a lot going on. I won’t spoil how the zombie plague begins, but I will say that it’s a believable outbreak, and it’s pretty entertaining to see how medieval people attempt to deal with the undead armageddon. As one might expect from a show situated in medieval Korea, there are plenty of cool sword fights and sieges.
The action sequences are one of the best aspects of this series, but the costumes, cinematography, scenery, and music are all phenomenal too. The actors tend to be overdramatic, but keep in mind this is a Korean show, and they seem to value strong visual reactions in film. The overall quality of this show is superb, but the story does suffer from numerous plot holes. It still holds together well enough, but scrutinous audiences will need to lower their expectations so they can just enjoy what the show does well. The story also has a sizable amount of plot armor built into the characters. It’s not always predictable, but convenience does save key characters throughout the story from certain instances of peril. With all of that aside, it’s a clever show and definitely worth watching. Be ready for subtitles though, because they speak in Korean. I don’t mind subtitles personally, because I think dubs are often lower quality than the original voice acting, and the plot in this show is easy to keep up with while reading the subtitles.
Better Call Saul - (AMC, Netflix subscription, YouTube TV, Sling TV)
My Score: 8.5/10
Last on the list is a series about a rookie lawyer looking to make a name for himself. This is indeed the very same Saul Goodman that was made famous in Breaking Bad, and this series is about how he became the legal champion for miscreants and questionable businessmen that we know and love. Better Call Saul is somewhat of a prequel to Breaking Bad unsurprisingly, because many of the iconic characters from Walter White’s story make appearances in Better Call Saul and lay the groundwork for the relationships that develop once Walter steps onto the scene. This series is very different from Breaking Bad though, because it’s a lot more lighthearted at times, and naturally comical. Bob Odinkerk plays Saul Goodman, and does a fantastic job of bringing out all of the quirkiness in Saul’s personality.
It's reasonable to say that this show is fundamentally a psychiatric exploration of Saul Goodman. Much like with Walter White, we see Saul’s personality split into two different personas: Jimmy McGill, his legal and professional side, and Saul Goodman, his scandalous alter-ego. We also see a clash between Goodman’s low self-esteem and his hopeless ambition. Goodman does a lot of things out of desperation to improve his lot in life, and often finds himself in sticky situations of his own accord. His tenacity and brilliance are his greatest tools that help him survive and succeed though. Overall, he’s a very flawed character, and he’s easy to love.
The clever screen writing of Vince Gilligan is just as good as ever in this series, and just like in Breaking Bad, it’s impossible to predict much about this story. It’s very entertaining, quirky, and humorous, but I don’t feel inclined to binge watch it like I did with Walter White’s story. Better Call Saul is a little boring at times, but overall the character development is phenomenal and the style of the production is very good. Many of the fans of Breaking Bad will like this story, because it pays a fair deal of fan service, but it’s also a great personal narrative about Saul that stands on its own.
So that’s it! As a reminder, the shows featured on this list are simply a log of what I’ve seen recently and recommend. There’s still plenty of other great content out there that I haven’t seen and I’m not trying to say that these shows are better than anything else in particular. There were also some other shows that didn’t make the list, but I didn’t include them for several reasons.
I believe that everything included in this blog will provide good entertainment. The opinions are my own of course, and I try to be objective with my scores. If you disagree with any of my scores, or have something you'd like to add about a particular show, feel free to do so in a friendly or constructive manner! These aren't full reviews though, so don't take what I've said as my only reasoning for my final scores. If you do decide to watch any of these shows, I'd love to hear your opinions about them too!
So What’s Next?
Eventually I want to get around to these shows in particular:
If I think they are good, maybe I’ll include them on a list of recommendations in a future blog. I’m sure some other series will catch my eye on a whim too. I’ll try to post at least five shows next time. And that’s a wrap.