When it comes to relaxation, it’s each to their own. Do you like a hot bath, scented candles and a magazine or are you more of a Sunday night Netflix binger? Well, it’s safe to say I’m definitely the latter and with my ever-so-flexible work schedule, I have binged my fair share of series. Particularly, I love Netflix Originals and I’m here to tell you why.
Television is powerful; there’s no denying it. Whether you love it or hate it; agree with the hours your teenager spends in front of it, or don’t; you can’t deny how influential television is to our society today. It’s incredible how much TV has changed over the decades and I’m proud to know that we’re in an era of change. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have started to dominate the world of television and fortunately for us, they don’t have to adhere to the usual standards of offering only mainstream, widely palatable shows.
Here’s some of the Netflix Originals we’ve been crushing on this year.
P.s. there may be some spoiler alerts!
Master of None
Master of None is a Netflix Original show created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang which aired in 2015. If you know of Aziz Ansari, or have seen any of his stand-up, then you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. Ansari, playing the male protagonist, Dev, explores the modern world of dating, friendships, family and social interactions in a hilarious manner. In Season 2, Episode 4, “First Date”, Dev dives into the world of online dating, particularly a popular swiping dating app, and we get to go along for the awkward, funny and eventful journey.
Although each episode will undoubtedly make you laugh, smile and question how truly ridiculous some aspects of our society are, there are some important under and misrepresented issues highlighted throughout the series. These include things like under-representation of racial minorities in film and television. Throughout countless episodes, Indian American actors Dev and Ravi speak about the trials and tribulations they face compared to a white, male counterpart. In one episode, producers even ask them both to speak in a “traditional Indian accent” for the role. And the worst part about that? They weren’t even surprised that they were being asked to do this. Throughout US TV history, there has been a phenomenal under-representation of Indian characters, with the most notable of which being Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian shop owner in The Simpsons. Due to this there’s been a huge case of typecasting, as explored in the “Indians on TV” episode of Master of None.
Another under-represented community on television is the LGBTQIA community. (That’s the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex and Asexual or Allied community). Lena Waithe plays one of Dev’s friends, Denise, who is a lesbian. Throughout season 1 you get to know Denise, but it’s not until the “Thanksgiving” episode that you get invited to know more about her past, particularly how she came to terms with being gay and how she came out to her parents. This episode undoubtedly resonated with a lot of the LGBTQ+ community and when Lena Waithe won an Emmy for Best Writing for a Comedy Series, being the first African American woman to ever win this prize, the response was encouraging.
Her speech was heartfelt, as she addressed the entire LGBTQIA community, saying “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is without us in it.”
Master of None allows the stories and lives of underrepresented minorities be heard and be celebrated. There’s nothing greater than that!
Dear White People
Dear White People is a 2017 series that begins with a young girl, Samantha White, who expresses her outrage at a recent blackface party attended to by hundreds of college students. The series pushes the audience into an uncomfortable viewing position where we must evaluate our part in an inherently and unconsciously racist society. The show follows a group of African American students as they try to draw light on the ignorant racist acts that occur both in their university and in the wider world around them.
During one episode in the season, the young adults watch horrified at the news as they see a young, black boy has been shot by a white police officer. This profoundly important theme is so relevant in society today as young, black men are nine times more likely to get killed by police officers than other Americans, according to a Guardian study of 1,134 deaths by police officers in 2015.
It is this bold approach, and the shows daring and controversial style, which have made Dear White People an influential series this year.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by the hilarious Tina Fey, is a fantastic example of how a show can be funny, and lighthearted but still have themes of important social issues. It begins with Kimmy escaping from a basement where she’s been held for 15 years. Pretty dark, huh? Well you would be wrong! The infectious chirpiness of Kimmy, witty one-liners and the fantastic supporting characters, make for an interesting dynamic when overlapped with serious issues like abduction!
This show is also an incredible example of how Netflix Originals have, not only allowed, but encouraged, a more diverse pool of actors to be a part of important and influential shows. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an example of how more and more strong, female leads are thriving in the television industry. According to Women and Hollywood, in 2016-2017, 68% of programs contained more male characters than female as opposed to only 21% the other way around. Also, women encompassed 43% of all speaking parts in broadcast network shows which, you may think, sounds good. Almost 50%, right? Almost, but not quite equal! And it’s the exact same percentage that was recorded for the year 2007-2008 so unfortunately, there’s been no growth in the number of female speaking parts in television.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is just one show of the many attempting to tip the scales and get women, not just speaking roles, but lead speaking roles!
Okay so, Orphan Black is actually not available on the US Netflix (at the moment). It was aired on BBC America and then Netflix bought the rights to air it as a Netflix Original in the UK. However, it is still a fantastic watch that has earned its place as a top-rated show promoting diversity, so I’m going to go ahead and tell you a bit about it anyway!
Now, if you haven’t seen Orphan Black then you’re in luck because there are 5 glorious seasons to catch up on. The basic story line: the protagonist, Sarah, watches a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. Just before the woman jumps, she turns to Sarah and the audience sees that they are identical. Are they twins who were separated at birth? That’s what your initial judgement is, however, when Sarah encounters several other women who also look exactly like her, albeit with their own individual character traits, it becomes clear there’s more to the story; they’re clones.
This series is filled with more plot twists and anticipation than many, but that’s not the reason it’s a part of my “Diversity at its Best” post. It won its way into this article due to the inclusion of such a variety of characters. There’s Sarah, the badass rebel single mom who you can’t help but love. But then there’s Felix, her openly gay brother whose sincerity and kindness are endearing to all. That’s not to mention, Siobhan, the headstrong, logical foster mom who battles and triumphs over so much throughout her life. And then there’s Cosima, the hippie, super-smart lesbian scientist who you can’t help but root for.
We’re used to having “token” minorities portrayed in the media, but this show captures the lives and characters of such a vast range of people that everyone becomes “token” and the issue is therefore moot. Now, everyone is just “people”. The clones include women from all corners of the world, a soccer mom, a scientist, a hippie, a police woman, a manicurist, a transgender man, a computer whizz and of course, an orphan.
All of these representations of women and life is why Orphan Black is a must see this year. Binge away with a total of 50 episodes.
Keep an eye out for Orphan Black making it onto the US Netflix, but until then, you can check out the official BBC America Orphan Black page for ideas on where you can purchase or stream all five seasons. Trust me, it’s an investment that is well worth it!
And there you have it! Three amazing Netflix Originals (and one, kinda not Netflix Original) I’m crushing on right now and the awesome ways they’re promoting diversity.
If you’re not keen on the sound of these, well, firstly I’m sorry you read through all this only to realize we don’t have the same taste in television, but secondly, don’t panic. Netflix has released/will release a total of 1,000 hours of new Original movies and series in 2017. So, whether you like the classics like Orange is the New Black, you’re eagerly awaiting October 27th for the Season 2 release of Stranger Things, or you want to discover something brand new and exciting, Netflix really has outdone themselves with their outstanding shows this year.
If you and your friends are really into your Netflix Originals, you know what you need to do now. Get yourself a popcorn maker, an ice-cream machine, build yourself a giant fort in the living room (yes, I am an adult but, trust me, you’re never too old for a fort full of pillows and blankets while binging on Netflix) and maybe crack open a few cold ones (see, that’s adult) as you and your friends enjoy the beautiful era of diverse, enigmatic shows that are challenging social norms left, right and center!
If you’re in need of anything to make your Netflix Original binging a success (ahem…beer fridge?), you could always check out some reviews on TopProducts.com. We feature a couple of budget-friendly options on each review if that happens to be a concern of yours (okay, it’s mine…it’s my concern!)
Daisy Hubbuck, TopProducts Staff Writer