One could say that 2018 was a banner year for Netflix. Sure there were some misses along with the many hits, but there was truly something for every taste imaginable. In fact, there was just so much new content on that it was impossible to keep up with at times. And it’s no surprise considering that at least one, if not several, new movies, series, or specials drop weekly. The following are not only some of the best that Netflix had to offer, but are also ones that for one reason or another, hadn’t been reviewed by me yet.
- Everything Sucks!
Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan’s brainchild debuted on Netflix on February 16th of 2018 to generally favorable reviews from audiences while getting more of a mixed reaction from critics. Set in 1996, the show chronicles the lives of several high school students in both the A/V Club and the Theater Program as they navigate all the typical high school drama in their small town of Boring, Oregon. Everything Sucks! most certainly didn’t live up to its name. It was a great show about growing up in the mid-90s that captured both the nostalgia of the era and the feelings of being a teenager trying to survive high school. In fact, the teenage aspect was highly relatable whether you grew up in the era or not. While it may have had it’s over the top moments and dug a little too hard on some nostalgic 90s references, the series was heartfelt, and the story grew on you as you go to know the characters. While Everything Sucks! doesn’t have a central mystery that keeps viewers clicking “next episode” when the credits roll, it does have a lot of drama. It’s not intense as in involving life or death situations, but it’s relatable because we’ve all been that age and know what it’s like to have those awkward teenage years. It’s just a small slice of life in a little town. And that’s perfectly fine. Another great thing about the show was the diverse cast. While media, in general, is getting better about representation, especially with people of color and those who identify as LBGTQ, it’s still not at a level where it matches the real world. Everything Sucks! wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to be a step in the right direction. Especially considering that the actual 90s seemed to either ignore those populations, pretend like they didn’t exist, or horribly stereotype them. Sadly, this series won’t see a second season because Netflix canceled it before it really got to shine. Netflix doesn’t release its viewership metrics, so it’s uncertain how the series performed but my best guess is that it did impact their reasoning. It has its fans, but certainly wasn’t a smash hit like other series on the platform. It’s quite tragic that this show is not getting a second season because it really left off in a place where questions needed to be answered.
- The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
October brought the debut of the controversial darker adaptation of the Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics. Season one chronicles the titular character’s struggle with balancing her commitments to The Dark Lord with her desire to remain with her mortal friends. When I first heard about this series and who would star as Sabrina, I had really low expectations. Kiernan Shipka hasn’t exactly excelled in the other vehicles she’s appeared. Her acting is often very stilted with awkward line readings. That being said, this show was surprisingly delightful. Shipka really shined as Sabrina and seems to have really grown as an actress. As great as Sabrina is, the ensemble really makes this show come alive. While her aunts Hilda and Zelda a great, her cousin Ambrose is the true standout. He always has a witty quip at the ready adding some charming humor, especially in contrast to the stark Zelda. Sabrina’s schoolmates at the Academy of the Unseen Arts are also quite interesting. The Weird Sisters start off as complete antagonists and morph into unlikely allies. On the other hand, Nick Scratch is an immediate ally and a curious fellow who makes Sabrina question a lot of what is going on around her. Certainly not to be forgotten are Sabrina’s mortal friends. Susie and Roz have a certain charm about them and the show gives them plenty of development outside of being Sabrina’s friends. Harvey is a breath of fresh air compared to his original series counterpart. He is a sensitive guy who has a really hard time dealing with the revelation that his girlfriend is a witch. The new series is not without flaws as delightful as it is so far. They tend to generally swap Christian expressions with more hellhound counterparts. For instance, instead of saying they’re “hellbent” to do something they’re now “heavenbent.” Those moments are very minor for the most part and not enough to write this series off wholesale. The best quality of the show has to be its evergreen feel. It doesn’t saddle us with a finite year, and all of the set pieces and props are a charmingly retro. The blend elements of the past and present give the time and place an other-worldly quality that I think will hold up well. The story of a witch torn between two worlds as she comes of age is well told, perfectly paced, and leaves audiences wanting more.
- Sierra Burgess is Loser
Netflix debuted his coming of age story just in time for a new school year. Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a retelling of the French classic Cyrano de Bergerac which has been modernized for the screen on many occasions, both theatrical and television. This version not only swaps the genders of the leads but swaps out the gargantuan nose for a body type that Hollywood deems unadaptable for women. Sierra doesn’t seem bothered by her body type one bit, which was very refreshing. She’s unabashedly nerdy, involved with her school, and aspires to attend Stanford University. She doesn’t try to do anything extremely drastic to change herself or her appearance, which is the route usually set for teenage girl protagonists. While Sierra is completely confident in herself, she’s not very popular and is targeted by Veronica, a girl who is as pretty as she is mean. Veronica is the impetus of the plot because she gives out Sierra’s number to Jamey, a guy who wants to go on a date with Veronica. Much like its classic counterpart, Sierra gets entangled in an increasingly difficult situation where she’s the words and Veronica, now turned unlikely ally, serves as the face. This is especially tricky to deal with in contemporary times because teens frequently use video chat services to interact with one another. I felt that they could have been a little more creative in these moments of the film. Before the conversations escalate into video chats, they engage in a lot of text conversations. You have to really squint to see what they’re talking about, and it would have been nice if they had displayed these conversations in a creative way for the audience to better engage with them. The film itself had a classic 80s teen film vibe, especially with the music by Bram Inscore and Brett McLaughlin. It just may be that music is going back to that sound again as everything that was once old is new again, but it made the film feel a bit more timeless than some of its contemporaries in the genre. I went into this one believing I would enjoy it and came out absolutely adoring it more than I thought possible. If teenage coming of age stories are in your wheelhouse, or you just like a modern interpretation of classic literature, then be sure to check this one out.
- Latin History for Morons
Netflix brought John Leguizamo’s one-man show from Broadway to our tv screens in November. It serves as a crash course in the often untold history of Latin America by way of teaching his son to stand up to racist bullies who claim that Latinos have no place in American history. It’s not as polished as other stand-up specials on the platform, meaning that it looks more gritty and unrefined compared to the clear glossy look of its contemporaries, but that adds a charm to it. Leguizamo has a lot to get off his chest and literally schools the audience on the true history of the Latin conquest and colonization of the Americas. You won’t find this information in your high school history class for sure. And Leguizamo goes so far as to cite the actual texts he gathered his information from. You can even find the reading list here if you wanted to learn more. The through line of the whole special is helping his middle-school-aged son find a hero who reflects his culture. In fact, the most important point Leguizamo makes is if you don’t see heroes who look like you, then you feel invisible. In this era when so many people still don’t understand why representation matters, I was glad to see it reiterated here. A chalkboard features prominently in his set as well as some costume additions. He even acknowledges at one point that his costume doesn’t quite pull off the historical figure he was intending and in fact looks much more like someone else. These lessons are peppered with conversations not only between Leguizamo and his son and, but also with Leguizamo’s own teachers. Teachers who apparently found it difficult to pronounce his last name or didn’t care to learn to as the teacher in the special always calls him “Le-Gizmo.” These moments serve to remind us of the systems that allow the history of Latin America to be told through only one perspective, a perspective that doesn’t care about honoring or respecting the cultures it’s commenting on. Overall the special is highly informative while being absolutely hilarious. Leguizamo pulls no punches when targeting the system that has denied Latin American people a voice in the United States. Definitely worthy of a view if you love history, comedy, or both.
Kodachrome premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2017, and was acquired by Netflix for distribution, finally being released in April of 2018. It tells the story of Benjamin Ryder (Ed Harris), a photographer who is dying and his estranged son Matt (Jason Sudekis) as they journey across the country to get Ben’s last rolls of film developed. Only one lab in the country can still process the now out of production Kodachrome film, and it’s running out of stock, so the service will be shut down permanently. The time crunch is two-fold as Ben’s condition is precarious and deteriorates as they get closer to their destination. Elizabeth Olsen plays as Zoe Kern, Ben’s nurse who does her best to keep him comfortable and broker healing between father and son. Kodachrome is an extremely heartfelt yet comedic film. It’s a beautiful balance between those emotions because it never crosses into the overly saccharine territory such a story could venture into, nor does the comedy reach preposterous heights that the tone of the movie is lost. The back and forth between Harris and Sudekis is often heartbreaking relatable. It’s easy to see why they had a falling out and avoided each other for a decade. Ed Harris really makes Ben seem hard to love at all, yet he has so many admirers that were inspired to be photographers because of him. There is something quite ironic in those stranger’s relationship with him and his own relationship with his son. The most impressive element of the film is the fact that it was shot on 35 mm stock. It looks absolutely stunning. Because of the stock it was shot on, it has a warmth to it that modern digital film lacks. Surely it would have cut the production costs down to show digitally, but the choice of 35 mm film here feels just as artistic as it is for certain films to be in black and white. If any film on Netflix deserved a limited theatrical release, it should have been Kodachrome. Not only because it was shot on actual film stock, but every element worked so beautifully together to create a true work of art. From the scene composition, the acting, to the music choices, nothing ever felt out of place or over the top. This is the high water-mark of what this platform is capable of and I hope we get more films like this in the coming year.
What were your favorite offerings on Netflix in 2018? Leave a comment with your list.