As long as the city is on PAUSE, we're going to publish a guide every week offering different TV viewing recommendations (also, this opening recap will get longer and longer until it slowly consumes the entire piece). The first week, we recommended a few baseball-themed shows including Brockmire, along with some brand new series. We looked at some classic TV comedies that will have you singing odes to your night cheese (or just humming the Cheers theme song). Then we focused on some classic television dramas that are worth immersing yourself in. We recommend a pair of modern revisionist westerns, plus a propulsive new romcom. We looked at two distinctly feminist new series and a few British comedies. We recommended a couple under-appreciated shows to recommend. Last week we focused on Billions and a few other new shows. And this week, we have one of the best shows of the last decade, a new Seinfeld special, and a pair of new shows from acclaimed filmmakers.
Halt And Catch Fire
We're now over a decade removed from the so-called golden age of TV—the era when shows like The Sopranos, Sex & The City, The Wire, Lost and more completely changed how we all watch and think about television, elevating it for many to the same level of artistic merit as film. (One also shouldn't discount the importance that the increased availability of shows on DVDs, and eventually streaming services, contributed to this sea change as well.) In the subsequent decade, the bar was raised across the entire medium, such that even lesser shows seemed to be better made, and more daring, than their predecessors. Diverse shows such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Atlanta, The Americans, The Leftovers and Fleabag drove the critical conversations. There were exponentially more shows to watch, featuring bigger stars and more in-demand directors and writers. There were also more copycats, more diminishing returns, and by the end of the decade, a feeling of creative exhaustion setting in (particularly with hour-long dramas).
All of this is to say that there were great shows that may have fallen through the cracks for many viewers over the last ten years, shows that didn't quite fit into any of the boxes set by their predecessors. Rectify, which we covered two weeks ago, was one of them. Justified was another. And this week, I'm recommending Halt And Catch Fire, which I adore just as much as those two wonderful series. The show, which aired four seasons on AMC between 2014-2017 to little viewership, is now streaming in full on Netflix.
When it first premiered, it seemed like it was destined to be a very stylish failed Mad Men imitator. It started off as a period drama about the personal computer boom of the early 1980s, a story told through the lens of a group of brilliant strivers trying to create a new computer... by cloning a more famous one.
The first season was its least successful by far, with some necessary retooling as it went along, but it is worth pushing through—just like its main characters, who are always pushing each other in their quest for the next big thing in tech ("the thing that gets you to the thing"), the show transformed every season and got better and better. Personal computers gave way to online gaming, which gave way to computer security and in its final season, the World Wide Web and search functions. Locations would shift, jobs would change, alliances and companies would form then break, romances would evolve in unexpected ways.
Along the way, it became an emotionally exquisite examination of the price of innovation and the creative struggle, how the people who create things put themselves into the things they create. It has equally compelling and complicated male and female leads. And in its beautiful, unforgettable final season, it explored '90s nostalgia, the seeds of the Internet, the bottomless depths of grief, and the way creative partnerships can inspire us.
Did somebody say JAZZ HANDS?! No? If you've been wondering what director Damien Chazelle has been up to since his Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, you may not be surprised to learn that he's been working on The Eddy, another jazz-centric project (they call him Damien Jazzelle for a reason—and by they, I mean me). Chazelle's first television show, which premieres Friday, is an eight-part Netflix series about the jazz scene in modern-day Paris. After Chazelle was criticized for centering a white man's perspective for his jazz ode La La Land, the wonderful Andre Holland (Moonlight, The Knick, High Flying Bird) stars here as Elliot Udo, a once-celebrated musician from New York who is running a small jazz club called The Eddy. The show is somewhat bifurcated between the more intimate jazz storyline and Elliot's complicated relationships (including with his estranged daughter), and a mob storyline that is more run-of-the-mill. But if you are a fan of Chazelle's previous work, or love jazz in general, you won't want to miss out on this one.
I Know This Much Is True
Another movie director making his TV debut is Derek Cianfrance, the auteur behind such moody, agonizing films as Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines and The Light Between Oceans. If you're familiar with his melancholic work, then you will probably get why he decided to adapt I Know This Much Is True, the bestselling novel by Wally Lamb, for HBO (it premiers this Sunday). Mark Ruffalo is absolutely remarkable as identical twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, the latter of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. This is not easy viewing material whatsoever: there are tragedies baked within tragedies in the story, with a focus on grief and shame. But if you are looking for something challenging, something that might make you cry, this will be right up your alley.
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
And one last lighter recommendation: Jerry Seinfeld remains one of the best stand-up comedians alive, a man who seems to derive the most pleasure in his life from constructing jokes. He has a new stand-up special, Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill, his first for Netflix, which boils down his latest set (which he's been performing at the Beacon Theater for the last year or two) into one tight hour. The material is split between his classic, cantankerous observational humor (which he's still the best at) and some more personal material about being a husband and father. He is more likely to veer into Dad Joke territory now than at the height of his popularity in the '90s, but he still maintains a certain self-aware edge that prevents the material from getting too groan-y, like with a great joke in the special about the thin line between sucks and great.