Saturday, February 5, 2011

Things to Watch on Netflix

We're all about Netflix Instant Watch these days.  With DVD rental being what it is (essentially obsolete), and the fact that mail is tricky when you live in a hotel, we're glad that watching things online has been an option.  And, thankfully, there have been some pretty great things to catch up on.

Doctor Who

The Premise: The Doctor, a 900-year-old Time Lord, travels through time and space to keep universal peace.  He is joined by an assistant; there are adventures.  The show will appeal to viewers ages 13+, particularly ones who enjoy shows by JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon.

My Take: I didn't think much about watching this BBC production until I found out the writers responsible for the new Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock Holmes series were writers for Doctor Who.  It took me a few episodes to get into it, but once the plot started coming together, both Danny and I were completely hooked.

The writers are great at setting up future plot points and making sure the pay-offs work in the end.  They also have a better sense of sequencing and remembering what happened in earlier episodes than most other sequential shows.  They also are incredibly skilled at writing characters you love, even when you start out thinking this isn't going to go so well.  The Doctor's Assistant Donna in the fourth series? Incredibly annoying.  But...she grows on you.  You get to like her.

One of the trickinesses of the show is that the Doctor is 900 years old; when he is mortally wounded, he regenerates.  This means you've got a different actor playing a different facet of the same character, which is not easy to write when that character is the central character.  The writers pull it off, though.  I was really not sure when Matt Smith took over from David Tennant (to be fair, I wasn't a fan of David Tennant after Christopher Eccleston).  But by the end of the series, I really did think bow-ties had the potential to be "cool."

Unlike American television, the end of a season (or "series") is typically not left as a cliff-hanger.  So at the end of the series, you're not miserable.  I like that.

The other great thing about Doctor Who?  It's one of the few smart, witty shows that's appropriate for family viewing.  Just be aware that though there's no gore, sex, language, drugs, or Rock n' Roll, it can still be genuinely scary.  Scary, but there is always - always - a happy ending.

Top Gear (Series 9-12)

The Premise: Three white, middle-aged British men test and review high-performance sports cars, host celebrities, and perform "challenges" such as turning a Renault Minivan into a convertible (which ends in flames), going on an RV trip (which ends in flames), trying to make an inexpensive car faster with their own impressive lack of engineering skills (which makes Danny giggle).  Oh, and there's The Stig.  Some say..his favorite film of 2010 was Nanny McPhee Returns, and that he washes his hair with liquid nitrogen.  All I know is he's called The Stig.

And if you've watched the show, you know why that's funny.

My Take: This is the best kind of reality TV, because each of the hosts are fantastic characters is their own right.  Series 9-12 are available on Instant Watch.  The highlights include:

9.1: Richard Hammond reviewing his harrowing accident in the Vampire jet-car; Richard, James, and Jeremy try to resurface roads better than the city.  It goes badly.
9.3: Jeremy, Richard, and James try to buy (rather than rent) a car in Miami for $1000. It goes badly.
9.5: The Kristin Scott Thomas episode - one of my favorite "Star in a Reasonably-Price Car" segments.
10.5: The Challenge?  To find out the fastest way to cross London.  The Stig takes public transport (hilarity ensues), Richard Hammond rides a bike (sweat ensues), James May drives a Mercedes-Benz GL500, and Jeremy Clarkson attempts a powerboat down the Thames.
10.8: James Blunt in the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car - one of my other favorite SIARPC bits.
10.10: The David Tennant episode! I've never seen anyone handle Jeremy Clarkson so gracefully.
11.1: Police cars are built. It doesn't end well.
11.6: Germany vs. Britain (a personal favorite).
12.1: Jeremy, Richard, and James attempt to drive semi-trucks (aka "lorries").
12.6: The Communist Car episode.  One of my very favorites. Also includes extensive testing of the Ford Fiesta.

Not available on Instant Watch but worth mentioning:

8.1: The Renault Espace Convertible Challenge.  You can watch it here.

And, last but not least, episode 13.6, the Mallorca Time Trial Rally, the first part of which can be viewed below.

Or, as I like to refer to the episode, "The Blond, the Spaniard, and the Midget."

It's glorious.

Also available for your viewing pleasure:

Tell No One

On of the best thrillers I've ever seen.  It shares similarities to The Fugitive, but the plot is even more twisty and mind-blowing.  In French with English Subtitles.  If you're not a foreign film watcher, this is one to watch anyway.  The star, François Cluzet, is reminiscent of a dialed-down Dustin Hoffman.  Actor François Berléand (The Choir, The Transporter), also plays a key character, and Kristin Scott Thomas shows off her French.

Bottle Shock

My favorite wine movie.  Stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.  You may not have thought that a movie about wine could be suspenseful, but this one will surprise you.  Centered around the wine-tasting competition in 1977, you may consider moving to wine country after viewing.

Or France.  It's a toss-up.


Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, a literary mystery and romance based on the A.S. Byatt novel.  It may not measure up to the novel's pedigree, but the film is well-written and acted.  One of my new favorite films.

The September Issue

Basically, it's The Devil Wears Prada: The Documentary.  Though in reality, Anna Wintour is surprisingly less demonic than she's made out to be - watch how she interacts with her daughter.  No joke, she's tough, but if she were a man, I have a hunch she'd be revered for notoriety rather than snickered at.  The woman knows her stuff, there's no denying it.


American employee has to go to India to train the phone team who's replaced his stateside department.  It's a classic fish out of water scenario, but this romantic comedy is surprisingly sweet and occasionally insightful when it comes to analyzing cultures.

There are other great finds, but I'm running out of steam.  What are you watching?


  1. Janell recently got me watching Dr. Who. We started with "Blink" and you're absolutely right; you don't need gore, etc to be scary. This episode: delightfully creepy. Laughed outright at the end, and loved all the catchphrases. :)

  2. I remember the old Dr. Who series as a kid and couldn't watch it, because his big hair scared me...but I was just itty bitty. I have seen "Possession" with Gwyneth Paltrow and I enjoyed the storyline and how the past and present came together at the end of the movie :) :) My favorite British series right now is Larkrise to Candleford...It's got drama, comedy, love etc...very decent, too!!! Plus I like those British reality shows where they go back in time and live like people of a particular era. It's interesting. Anyways, thanks for the reviews...and I"ll keep them in mind when I"m looking for something new to watch :) :) Love and hugs from Southern Oregon, Heather :)


Join in on the discussion!