Streaming services have changed the way that we watch television – not just movies, which can now be accessed by a click of a button, but television shows as well, which can now be binged easily the day of their release, enabling you to be the first one to have seen a series and thus, most able to make a “hot take.” (For 2018, please stop “hot takes.”) It’s also changed the way in which content is produced, and I’d argue that streaming services allow for programming to be created for a more specific audience than any major network reliant on one time slot that must appeal to as many audiences as possible.
Thankfully, the “big three” streaming services seem to be amenable to this premise, producing original content beyond what standard network and cable programming deliver. 2018 promises to be an even bigger year when it comes to original content, but in the meantime, here are my Top 6 Streaming Originals of 2017!
6.OKJA (Netflix) – Bong Joon Ho’s OKJA was the center of a debate behind streaming-distributed films being in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and while it’s unfortunate that the film wasn’t seen on a lot of theater screens in the U.S. (though it did get a minor theatrical release), I’d be shocked if nearly as many people would have seen it had they not simply been able to click a few buttons to get it going. And there’s no question that OKJA deserves to be seen – I’ll not reiterate what DG writer Jason Coffman said in his review, but it’s such a wholly original, wild take on the “child-and-their-pet” premise that veers from screwball comedy to twisted, nightmarish spectacle with such fervor that it’s no surprise that it’s ended up on multiple “Top 10” lists for the year despite its smaller-screen distribution.
5.The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) – With Netflix’s Black Mirror and Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle, it’s no surprise that Hulu wanted in on the prestige dystopia genre as well, and they eclipsed all expectations in their adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s tale of a future of female subjugation. Headed by the always-welcome Elizabeth Moss (also in the recommended New Zealand series Top of the Lake on the service), The Handmaid’s Tale creates a detailed world that’s intensely captivating in part because it’s a cautionary tale that not nearly enough people seem to be heeding. It adds to Atwood’s tome while never removing the thematic elements that make it such a powerful story.
4.GLOW (Netflix) – A fictionalized television series based on the making of another television series is odd enough, but who’d think we’d ever get hours and hours of dramatic recreations of events that led to G.L.O.W., the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling? It’s a testament to Brett Whitcomb’s 2012 documentary on the subject that we got one, and Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s take on the material is fantastic, even if the first season ends before the show itself even begins. You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to love GLOW, thanks to a great cast highlighted by Marc Maron playing a veiled version of CANDY TANGERINE MAN director Matt Cimber. Netflix’s format makes it not only perfect for binge viewing, but allows episodes to run long if need be, no longer beholden to the 30-minute-with-commercials timeslot. I’ll be anxiously waiting to see if we get a Pia Zadora stand-in next season.
3.Jean-Claude Van Johnson (Amazon Prime) — Action fans have been aware that Jean-Claude Van Damme has been one of the more self-aware action stars since his starring role in JCVD, the darkly comic heist flick in which he plays himself, delivering a performance that few of his action star cohorts could hope to achieve. (Unlike some big-budget action stars who have descended into the land of direct-to-video films, Van Damme has the ability to laugh at himself, rather than just creating things that enable everyone to laugh at him.) He’s probably the only action star that could pull off something like Jean-Claude Van Johnson, in which he plays “himself” in the Chuck Barris/CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND sense, as a retired actor/secret agent brought back into the secret agent fold. It’s a bit like the series we never got out of the pilot for Lookwell, the Conan O’Brien/Robert Smigel-written one-shot with Adam West that never materialized as a series itself. A network couldn’t take a chance on something as ridiculous as Lookwell (and one geared towards a very specific audience), but a streaming service like Amazon Prime can, and it’s all the better.
2.BATMAN & BILL (Hulu) – The story of Bill Finger, the comic book writer who co-created many of the things that made Batman “Batman” (The Joker, Robin, Catwoman, the Batmobile, the name of Gotham City) would be interesting enough on its own, with Bob Kane, Batman’s co-creator, taking sole credit for the character for decades and relegating Finger to a mere footnote. Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce’s documentary BATMAN & BILL, however, does even more by using the documentary format to chronicle not only Finger himself, but the process of his rediscovery by modern audiences and writer Marc Tyler Nobleman’s quest to find his rightful heir. Hulu produced a number of noteworthy documentaries in 2017 (including the George Lazenby doc BECOMING BOND and the Dana Carvey Show retrospective TOO FUNNY TO FAIL), but BATMAN & BILL ranks as the most engaging, a fascinating tale of comic books, research, and fandom that any fan should appreciate.
1.I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (Netflix) – The field of theatrical distribution, with more budgetary emphasis being placed on single, big-budget movies that can open on thousands of screens rather than several mid-budget movies, has left a bit of a hole in the kind of middle-range thrillers that were prominent in previous decades. It’s a niche that services like Netflix seem willing to address, and Macon Blair’s directorial debut is a great example of the type of solid, original and genuinely entertaining work that this can produce. Melanie Lynskey makes for a perfect lead as a young nursing assistant on a quest to get back her grandmother’s stolen silverware, and the story takes enough twists and turns that even the most distracted viewer will stay engaged. It’s a film that deftly manages to be thrilling, funny, and human, and the fact that a crowd-pleasing film like this can reach audiences so easily is a testament to the potential of streaming.
Tags: amazon, Batman, Bill Finger, bong joon-ho, elijah wood, GLOW, Hulu, Jake Gyllenhaal, jean claude van damme, Macon Blair, Marc Maron, Margaret Atwood, Melanie Lynskey, Netflix, Okja, streaming, The Handmaid’s Tale, Tilda Swinton, Wrestling