Entertainment highlights from the last month, as chosen by the enthusiasts at Red Bee.
BEST COMEDY (1): MIDDLEDITCH & SCHWARTZ
Netflix is doing what no network has ever been brave enough to do: air a series of long-form improv comedy shows. Yes, improv has been on TV before. In fact, when you ask people if they’ve ever seen improv, they often cite the 90s TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? But that was a short-form improv comedy format. And without getting into improv geekery, it’s just different. Just like how reality TV and a scripted series can both be ‘dramas.’ The Netflix gamble is a three-part series featuring comedy duo Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) & Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation) doing their thing: a long-form narrative improv show, live on stage. The only thing that’s different is that it’s recorded and that the improvisers have microphones. The trailer doesn’t do the episodes justice at all. Improv is a tough sell - best experienced as part of a live audience. Enter with an open mind, then sit back and enjoy the comedy duo whose skill and mastery of the art form of improv (yes, art form) is next level.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: THE LAST DANCE
Much like a basketball game, this 10-part sporting docu-series leaps backwards and forwards, exploring the incredible story of the all-conquering Chicago Bulls on their hunt for a sixth NBA title. You can’t help but fall in love with the star of the show, Michael ‘Air’ Jordan, a man emblematic of what hard work can achieve. He had one of the most competitive streaks the game has ever seen, which sometimes landed him in trouble on the court, but also pushed him to succeed in ways previously unimagined. He always wanted to be the best in everything he did and, if tested, he’d show you exactly how he was the best, with little remorse. Yet with all of that electric energy, he still remained respectful. Not only did he want to help build his team into champions but, more importantly, he wanted the city of Chicago to celebrate every success and moment of glory with pride. The Last Dance might leave you wanting to dust off that old pair of Nike Air Jordans and head to the courts to practice your three-pointers, or maybe just watch Space Jam again...
BEST PODCAST: RABBIT HOLE, FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose wrote an investigative piece that garnered a lot of attention last year on YouTube and its recommendations algorithm. This year, his topic has been expanded upon in a fascinating 6-part podcast that tracks a shift in the online world, from a neutral space of information gleaning to a force in our lives with the power to shape our thinking, introduce us to new ideas, and coax us down rabbit holes we never intended to enter. The discussion around YouTube’s algorithm, which exists with the sole aim of keeping us engaged for as long as possible, has an unavoidable additional layer of thought provocation, brought on by the pandemic context we are living and listening in. It begs the question: What horrors might be being born out of the internet right now, as millions of people around the globe are spending vast proportions of their lives, even more so than usual, online?
BEST COMEDY (2): DAVE
BBC Two's latest US import follows neurotic suburbanite Dave Burd (a.k.a. Lil Dicky) on his journey to rap superstardom. Based on Burd's real life exploits in the rap game, the show takes cues from HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and FX's Atlanta. Littered with gross out humour and celebrity cameos, the show has a lot of heart and doesn't shy away from tackling serious topics such as mental illness with admirable sensitivity. Burd’s performance and self-deprecating humour establish the tone from the off, constantly making fun of his whiteness and fully acknowledging his privilege. Hilariously awkward and emotionally raw, Dave delivers some much needed distraction in these dark times.
BEST APP: CHESS.COM
Some of us have found that entertainment consumption opportunities have actually decreased during lockdown, due to the lack of commute time and the need to look after children. So, an unexpected addition to our recommendations this week comes in the form of a chess app. Despite seeming a bit old-fashioned (being both a game that is over a thousand years old, and an app that has a URL as its name) Chess.com is actually a slick little programme that lets you play against people across the world, on whatever timescale suits your needs. Boasting training programmes for beginners and daily strategy lessons, it’s a new, if slightly nerdier, way to keep you connected with friends, as well as a handy decompression tool to help you forget about the global pandemic, and focus instead on protecting your King.
Stay tuned for more next month