Of course, being weeks away from the end of the year brings some holiday films bobbing in and out of the Netflix Top 10. The new-to-Netflix action-packed blockbuster “Ava,” starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell, currently sits in top spot, but the end-of-year story has been about four Netflix original pillars that have eclipsed the bottom half of the list for weeks: “Big Mouth” Season 4, “Virgin River” Season 2, “The Crown” Season 4 and the most-watched scripted show on Netflix of all time, “The Queen’s Gambit.”
So the true new-to-Netflix originals this December have yet to peak. They are likely being watched by the first wave of Canadians who wrapped up “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Crown” in November. While the rest of us catch up, here’s a peek at the originals waiting to break through and the recommended viewing to follow them up.
“Selena: The Series, Part One” (2020), premiered Dec. 4 on Netflix
Here in Canada, “Selena: The Series” has been holding steady in the Top 10 but hasn’t broken through to the top five, and it’s looking unlikely that it will. However, it currently reigns in the No. 1 spot on Netflix USA. That is likely because Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the Tejano singer from Texas, was a beloved superstar who was tragically murdered at the age of 23 and has since become an iconic American figure who proved that American-Mexican culture was something that could be defined and for all Latinx people to be proud of. Many of the think pieces to emerge in the last week point out that this version of the Selena story is less about the legendary woman and more about the rest of the Quintanillas and mainly her father, Abraham. Still, the series is an in-the-making story that is irresistible to audiences.
Waiting for Part 2? Or want another how-to-make-it in America chronicle?
“Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men” (2019), Crave
What might have been a more apropos recommendation would be the Hulu original “Wu-Tang: An American Saga (2019)”, a 10-part scripted series that tells the origin story of the iconic rap group. Unfortunately, it is yet to be available in the Canadian streaming-sphere. Meanwhile, this four-part documentary is essential viewing to understand how the Wu-Tang Clan came to be and really should precede a watch of the fictionalized series. Structured around interviews with the nine living members of Wu-Tang Clan, family, collaborators, and added commentary from various cultural figures, “Of Mics and Men” is also brought to life with the incredible store of archival footage, particularly in Part 1.
Whether you are familiar with the back story of this group or not, the documentary will be fascinating for some of the same reasons audiences are tuning in to watch “Selena”: to get a sense of where she came from and how her heritage was intertwined with her artistic expression and her family’s idea of America. In “Of Mics and Men,” director Sacha Jenkins presents another version of America. He reflects on the music of Wu-Tang, the times in which it was born, and the impact it had on an industry and the world, while telling the story of how 10 young Black men who grew up in poverty made it in America. In the first one-hour instalment, Jenkins dives deep into the childhood of the crew and their Staten Island roots. We see the men, now in their 40s and 50s, return to the places they ran around in as children.
“Room 2806: The Accusation” (2020), premiered Dec. 7 on Netflix
Shortly after its premiere, “Room 2806” bumped “Alien Worlds” out of our home page Top 10. International scandal and intrigue trumps a blend of “science fact and fiction,” whatever that means.
It had to be one of the most high-profile and brutal accounts of a sexual assault case in the last decade, involving what one investigator described as the eighth or ninth most powerful man in the world, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who in 2011 was the head of the International Monetary Fund and hopeful next president of France. His accuser was Nafissatou Diallo, a housekeeper at an upscale New York City hotel who had emigrated from Guinea to the Bronx just eight years before that fateful day, May 14, 2011.
The doc is made up of talking heads, like the lawyers, investigators and journalists on the case and others, as well as archival news footage. It has already created a stir on Twitter for two reasons. First, many audiences were shocked by the French politicians interviewed for the doc, who were perceived to be normalizing sexual assault. In Part 3, a French presenter admits to not being surprised by these stories of politicians pouncing on young women, claiming “the libertinism and debauchery of the 18th century” is part of the culture. The other tweet to heed is from Strauss-Kahn himself announcing that he is making his own documentary to be released in the fall of 2021. And so the saga continues.
The he said/she said dynamic is nothing new. Learn about the case that permeated the zeitgeist in the ’90s for your next watch. This judicial hearing became a Saturday Night Live cold open.
“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” (2014), Amazon Prime Video and Kanopy
Looking back at the 1991 controversy surrounding the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States might remind you of a more recent appointee. But the reason you should revisit this case in Freida Lee Mock’s astounding documentary profile of Anita Hill, the lawyer who testified to the sexual harassment she endured in the workplace from Thomas when they were both at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is to learn why the testimony has left such a resounding echo in its wake.
To read that Hill walked into a lion’s den of advanced-in-age white men is one thing. To visibly see the juxtaposition of it and hear the cringeworthy and clumsy questions thrown her way makes this documentary a must-see. Even though we can all read about what happened, watching it is like witnessing history in the making. Twenty years later, Hill can contextualize the experience and make sense of the impact it had on her life personally and politically in America.
As the documentary points out, the senators at that time couldn’t make sense of sexual harassment in the workplace. Ultimately, Thomas’s appointment went forward — in part, one commentator says, because Joe Biden, chair of the Judiciary Committee at the time, did not call on three other women who were prepared to testify to their own experiences with Thomas. Aside from the Biden cameo (notably, Biden has since said, “I take responsibility that she did not get treated well”) pay close attention to the 2010 voice message that Thomas’s wife, Ginni, left for Hill. It acts as the prelude of the film.
“The Big Show Show” (2020), premiered April 6, new episode added Dec. 9 on Netflix
The latest series to enter the top 10 is a unique instalment for a few reasons. First, this Netflix Kids show premiered in the spring, early in our quarantine days. It did make it into the Top 10 then, but you can be forgiven for not remembering as “Tiger King” was dominating the list at the time. Second, it was cancelled in late August, despite being well received by viewers, according to some anecdotal Google audience review-research. Third, it stars WWE wrestler Big Show (a.k.a. Paul Donald Wight II), who plays a version of himself: a retired wrestler navigating life after the ring, with three daughters and his wife in Florida. According to Netflix, “despite being seven feet tall and weighing 400 pounds, he is no longer the centre of attention.”
From what that anecdotal research turns ups, this show’s sweet spot is with children nine to 12 and their parents, and most agree you should push through that first episode; it only gets better. Pay attention to Show’s gym pal, multi-cam sitcom hero Jaleel (he did do that) White.
If you are ready to get to know another multicam sitcom family, and you are over 12, this PG-rated series is high on family values and the first three seasons are also on Netflix.
“One Day at a Time” (2017—2019), Netflix
Like “The Big Show,” this series puts family first. But what distinguishes “One Day At a Time” is the subject matter. Based on the 1970s series (now available to watch on CTV throwback) of the same name, this remake revolves around a Cuban family living in Los Angeles — Afghanistan war veteran and single mother Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), her two teenage children (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz) and her mother (Rita Moreno) — confronting true-to-life challenges and social issues that create conflict but are not neatly wrapped up by the ends of episodes.
It is structured like a traditional sitcom, but nothing like any other half-hour out there. Each episode weaves in topics like PTSD, religion, sexual identity and addiction and, with three generations living under one roof, the show manages to express different viewpoints while being open, accepting and understanding of the times.
Unfortunately, Netflix cancelled this critically acclaimed series after Season 3. In the U.S., Pop picked it up for a fourth season, but it was cut short due to the pandemic and was officially cancelled on Dec. 8. The abbreviated Season 4 is not currently streaming in Canada. Watch out for some major guest appearances, including Danny Pino (“Mayans M.C.,” “Law & Order: SVU”), Stephanie Beatriz of “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine,” and Melissa Fumero and Gloria Estefan, who also sings the theme song of the series, which you will never want to skip.