Film in Stock: Netflix’s Display of Television

Martha Beliveau

I’m about to break my own rules, because today I’m offering a list of television shows rather than films. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the arbitrary hierarchy of film over television is just that: arbitrary. A well-told story is a well-told story, and television has some of the best out there. Without further ado, I’ve put together a list of television shows accessible through Netflix. Please forgive the sheer number of British mysteries — I’ve now outed my television taste.

“The Fall”

The first of this list of inadvertent British mysteries, “The Fall” follows the relationship between a serial killer and his investigator, played by the brilliant Gillian Anderson. Think of “The Fall” as an updated “Silence of the Lambs” without the cannibalism. What makes “The Fall” different from many other mysteries is the careful psychological characterization of the serial killer, who is allowed complexity without extending too much sympathy. He’s just as creepy as you’d want him, don’t get me wrong, and made even creepier through depiction as a pretty decent father. This television show explores masculinity and trauma, and how abuse is recycled into the creation of more violence.

“Chewing Gum”

This one is British, but it’s a comedy and not a mystery; no one gets murdered. “Chewing Gum” follows early-twenties Tracey Gordon, a devout Christian, who seeks to explore the world outside her family. However, that description may be a little tame for the show, which has some of the truly cringiest scenes I’ve ever seen; think of “Chewing Gum” as “The Office” (UK) meets “Insecure” (HBO). Cleverly acted and disturbingly funny, Chewing Gum is unjustly overlooked in the landscape of Netflix television. Please watch this so that Netflix makes more seasons.

“London Spy”

The second British mystery is “London Spy,” which makes this list for its complex central relationship and clever plot. “London Spy” follows Danny as he begins a relationship with Alex, an inscrutable man he met by chance. As Danny starts to get to know Alex, he becomes entangled in the world of the MI6 and geopolitically important code. “London Spy” is kind of brutal, so be warned not to watch this show when looking for an upper. In any case, the writing is worthy of its actors. Additionally, in the sometimes oversaturated world of British mysteries, “London Spy” stands out for not being centered around investigators, and instead centers on a working class gay man forced to enter into the world of state intelligence collection. “London Spy” investigates how a normal person reacts when thrust into an unforgiving and unimaginable situation.

“She’s Gotta Have It”

Alas, Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” is not a British mystery show. His first Netflix creation, “She’s Gotta Have It” first came out in fall 2017 as an updated version of his 1986 film by the same name. The update was very much needed, as the original film fell into problematic waters and has been written about considerably. “She’s Gotta Have It” follows Nola Darling, an artist living in gentrified Brooklyn, as she navigates her life of art and  love interests. The story centers on Nola’s own perspective and the ways in which her life isn’t about the men in it, showing a vast improvement from the 1986 film. Lee’s film style translates very well onto television, and the show mixes mediums in the telling of its story, complete with photograph montages that last maybe a bit too long and extended monologues to the camera. The soundtrack is great, and the story is singular in its portrayal of millennial life. By far, “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Chewing Gum” are the most lighthearted of this bunch.

“Luther”

The third and final British mystery is “Luther,” starring the incomparable Idris Elba. “Luther” follows the title character, John Luther (Elba), as he investigates serious crimes implementing unsavory means. The show’s twist on the sometimes overly-abundant British mystery landscape is kind of like “The Fall.” The relationship between investigator and criminal, the brilliant Alice Morgan, is portrayed in a complicated and nuanced manner. “Luther” isn’t as dark as “The Fall” but definitely provides clever storytelling, complete with the deaths of main characters (be warned).