TV, of course, is always a home-entertainment source—at times unreliably so. But some of us who may be tech-challenged—under the age of 35 or so—probably haven’t taken full advantage of the burgeoning roster of excellent programming outside network and cable fare.
It’s time to catch up, especially now. None of us knows when next we can get out to catch a movie, concert, play, or musical at a local or out-of-town theater. If you’re already streaming savvy, skip the next part and go on to selected recommendations.
There are so many shows—miniseries, documentaries, and ongoing series running several seasons that we could not scratch the surface here. Certainly, I haven’t seen them all. I don’t think anyone has that much time on their hands—even now, as we’re mostly housebound. But all you need is a laptop or smartphone with decent sound quality. If not, then figure out how to run it through your TV. Or, easier still, invest in the modest cost of a streaming device, such as Roku, connecting to your flatscreen. That way, you can plug into such repositories as Netflix, which offers as many fine movies and other programming as HBO, for instance.
Here are three wide-ranging choices I recommend:
HILLARY, a four-part documentary available on Hulu
I know. Hillary. She’s so last election cycle. But considering she’d be president today, except for her electoral college loss to Donald Trump as she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, there’s something very much current events about this up-close and unusually personal look at Hillary Clinton, from schoolgirl to the only woman ever nominated by a major party to be president of the United States. Never mind that she was probably the most famous woman in the United States for 30 years, she’s remained an enigma. It’s about time, some would say long past time, that we got to know her. One critic wrote that the documentary comes both too soon and too late.
Too soon, of course, because how much Hillary can you take? But it’s not just Hillary. For 20 years, we had no one in the White House besides a Bush or a Clinton. Even though an eight-year Obama hiatus, there was Hillary, first as secretary of state, then U.S. senator from New York and finally, inevitably, presidential candidate Clinton II.
The “too late” part goes almost without saying. But one of her supporters says it out loud, suggesting in this documentary astutely created by filmmaker Nanette Burstein that if “Hilary” had come out before the election, “we would’ve won.”
But the here-and-now in the documentary is hard to miss.
Of Bernie Sanders, running again for president long after his past-expiration date, Hillary said: “Honestly, Bernie just drove me crazy… Nobody likes him; nobody wants to work with him; he got nothing done. He was a career politician — he did not work until he was, like, 41 and got elected to something. It was all just baloney, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
OK, tell us what you really think.
Then there are the separate, never more personal, recollections of the roughest patch of any marriage of a president and first lady. (Bill: “It was awful, what I did.” Hillary: “I was so angry.”)
But their anguished looks and mannerisms say more than any words possibly could. Or any impeachment. The anguish, however, appears even greater among Clinton loyalists grieving on the night of her defeat. How is it, they ask, that Hillary paid more for her husband’s sexual indiscretions than Trump did for his?
It can’t just be about the emails. Misogyny played a more significant part than most anybody, but Hillary knows. She doesn’t use that as her excuse. “There are a thousand reasons,” she says, any one of which…
Recommended reading: “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Hard Choices,” a memoir.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE, now in season 4 on Netflix
In the Republic of Gilead, harrowingly depicted in Margaret Atwood’s novel, women of child-bearing age are consigned to the role of servile surrogate breeders. They give birth, but they are not allowed to be mothers. As instructed by Aunt Lydia, terrifyingly played in the Netflix series by Ann Dowd, this will become the young women’s new normal. Among them is Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss, with the plucky resolve of a survivor who hasn’t yet surrendered all notions of self-worth.
Over the course of three seasons, she matriculates through a curriculum that leads her from victimization to resistance. It’s a dangerous path. Those who are caught defying the reproductive order of the republic are punished in the most public and primitive way. Enemies of the state are put to death in the Old Testament way—stoning. And just in case any of the breeder witnesses to the execution miss the point, the condemned sometimes have their hands hacked off, so they have no means to deflect the rocks hurled at them.
Seasons three and four run deep into the resistance phase of this engrossing and evolving series. But all four are still available for “Handmaid’s Tale” virgins, so to speak.
Recommended reading: Atwood’s novel of the same title, of course.
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, a miniseries on HBO pay cable or HBO Go streaming service
The year is 1940, and American hero Charles Lindbergh, the first human ever to cross the Atlantic solo in the air, is running for president against FDR. He’s a novice. No government experience whatsoever and a celebrity that cloaks his dark, anti-Semitic side. Fueled by the wealth and influence of fellow bigot Henry Ford, Lindy, in the 2004 Philip Roth re-imagining of 20th-century American history, defeats Roosevelt in a stunning upset. Taking their cue from the unbridled new president, Americans suddenly feel free to express racist and ethnic revulsion to “others,” not from their neighborhoods. It’s a slow-destabilizing rot on the soul of America as envisioned in Roth’s late masterpiece.
Here, David Simon, with his writing partner Ed Burns, creates a Newark, New Jersey, as realistic as the Baltimore they co-created in “The Wire,” widely regarded as a television masterpiece. Each member of this Jewish family reacts in starkly different ways to the new threat from within, rising on the heels of the defeat of Hitler.
Full disclosure: Simon is a colleague from my days as an editor at the Baltimore Sun, where he gathered first-hand material for his “Homicide” series on NBC and “The Wire,” and earlier as editor-in-chief of the University of Maryland daily paper, The Diamondback, a few years after me. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Silver Spring. So, the Newark neighborhood of Roth’s memory is not so distant from Simon’s. He brings it to chilling realism in this miniseries that runs every Monday night through April 20. You can still catch the first installment before Monday on HBO or anytime on HBO Go video on demand.
It could be Lindy’s America, just as this one has become Trump’—so far—because we’ve we let it. The parallels are unmistakable even without political finger-pointing. That would turn “Plot” into propaganda rather than drama. Simon and Burns know drama whenever they latch on to it.
Recommended reading: “The Plot Against America,” a novel by Philip Roth
Steve Parks is a former New York arts critic, writer, and editor now living in Easton.