Have a streaming good January
The best downloads of the month
Lovesick: The series centres around the hapless Dylan(Johnny Flynn) who having contracted chlamydia, must contact all his previous sexual partners to inform them of this misfortune.
Lovesick (Netflix, January 1st)
It’s hard to imagine a show with the dubious title of Scrotal Recall getting a third season. Thankfully, a name-change by Netflix saved this strangely charming UK rom-com from being relegated to the telly-dumper by people mistaking it for some Channel 4 STI clinic documentary. The series centres around the hapless Dylan(Johnny Flynn) who having contracted chlamydia, must contact all his previous sexual partners to inform them of this misfortune.
Told through flashbacks , mostly involving his friend Luke (Daniel Ings) intertwined with his current romantic dilemmas – mainly the small issue of being in love with his best friend Evie (played by the dazzling Antonia Thomas) it’s a zippy, breezy affair that is surprisingly sweet given its laddish premise. Season 3 plunges deeper into the lives and loves of the gang. It’s a light confection perfect for easing your brain out of the crushing New Year’s Day blues.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Netflix, January 5th)
Although somewhat tarnished by charisma black hole James Corden (is there anything he doesn’t ruin?) – who pilfered the format and transformed it into his mobile karaoke nightmare, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is the original car-based comedy series. A low-concept talk show of sorts, it sees Jerry tooling about in a vintage car (what’s the deal with millionaire comedians and their obsession with flashy cars eh?) picking up a comedian mate or an interesting celebrity and shooting the breeze about everyday life on their way to get coffee. More loose, natural and understated than Corden’s craven fawn-fest due to Seinfeld’s genuine curiosity and belief that his guests should be the actual star of the show, it can be quietly revealing and insightful as well as typically surreal and hilarious.
Beginning life as a web series for the US site Crackle in 2012, it has now been hoovered up as part of Seinfeld’s mega-deal with Netflix. Enjoy all previous 59 episodes including appearances by Barack Obama, Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari before the new series begins later in 2018.
Rotten (Netflix, January 5th)
A six-part documentary made by Zero Point Zero, the production company responsible for the hard-hitting feature Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Rotten continues on their journey to reveal the decaying underbelly of the food industry.
It concentrates on various subjects such as corruption and food fraud, the rise of food allergies, the decline in agriculture, exploitation in American fisheries. Taking the sombre, justice-warrior tone of a true crime series it’s Making a Murderer for food-lovers and those concerned about the future of our consumer culture of convenience.
The Polka King ( Netflix, January 12th)
Based on the documentary The Man Who Would be Polka King, Jack Black stars as Jan Lewan, the Polish-born Pennsylvanian gift shop owner, enterprising entrepreneur and polka-music legend whose preoccupation with the American Dream saw him set up a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands from his senior-citizen fanbase.
It’s Black again delving into the bizarre biopic territory that earned him critical kudos in Richard Linklater’s underrated Bernie. The off-kilter, campy quality of the story gives him licence to create a bombastic, cultish figure with a Conan the Barbarian bowl haircut and a selection of gold lamé tuxedos.
Concentrating on the more comedic and outlandish elements of the story rather than the dire consequences for his unfortunate investors, it’s a film that requires the audience to sympathise with a scheming swindler, which in the current political climate may be hard to swallow. Relying on Black’s idiosyncratic ‘charms’ is a gamble, but with a strong supporting cast that features Jenny Slate playing his supportive wife and Jason Schwartzman as his earnest bandmate, The Polka King may be slightly one-note but it’s a distracting musical interlude from the whistling emptiness of January nonetheless.
Grace and Frankie (Netflix, January 19th)
The formidable duo are back for a fourth season. What started out as a tragicomic story about marriage, secrecy, mistrust and old age may have morphed into a more standard ‘odd couple’ sitcom with extra added vibrators and weed jokes but Grace and Frankie is not to be written off just yet – it’s still manages to be one of the most sparky and thoughtful comedy shows currently on air.
It’s not just the fiery dynamic that bristles between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s characters but the depth that has developed in their relationship across the three seasons and throughout the cast of supporting characters. From Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson’s depiction of Robert and Sol’s ever evolving marriage and their differing beliefs in queer identity and self-expression to Grace’s daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael) and her struggles with being a modern single woman, the show (which is essentially a mainstream sitcom)has expanded to include themes that are usually left to a prestige dramedy like Transparent to tackle.
The fourth season not only focuses more on Brianna’s love life but also sees Lisa Kudrow guest-star as Grace’s manicurist Sheree, whose new-found friendship threatens the insecure Frankie, causing more friction between the two.
Drug Lords (Netflix, January 19th)
For those in need of their Narcos fix, this documentary series might be an acceptable substitute. Exploring the world of the notorious head honchos, their enforcers and those tasked with attempting to bring them to justice.
Dirty Money (Netflix, January 26th)
Dirty Money (which is produced by acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney) is an investigative series exploring the corruption and disrepute taking place in various factions of the business world.
Each stand-alone episode is made by a different director including Kristi Jacobson, whose Cartel Bank exposes the relationship between HSBC and the Mexican drugs cartels and actor Fisher Stevens’ guide to the Trump regime. It’s essentially a macro version of Watchdog – instead of Anne Robinson castigating a cowboy builder from Essex it’s a New York intellectual seething at a Wall Street trader.
Other companies and business trends under intense analysis in the sure-to-be controversial series are payday money lenders, Volkswagen and Big Pharma.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Netflix, January 26th)
An intriguing biopic starring Will Forte as comedy writer Doug Kenney and Domhnall Gleeson as Harry Beard, whose influential National Lampoon magazine and radio show were the voice of the American comedy world in the early ’70s and were then at their peak in popularity and critical acclaim. The magazine and show managed to launch several high-profile careers with cast members including Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and John Belushi, who appeared on the radio show graduating to television and becoming household names on Saturday Night Live. Kenney and Beard went on to write the quintessential college comedy Animal House and produce the National Lampoon’s film series.
Featuring a whole batch of young comedians playing the ’70s stars (including Joel McHale as his ex-Community co-star Chevy Chase) it’s an acerbic and dark tale of the excess and wildness of the comedy scene at the time which had more than its share of casualties.