“Netflix’s worst nightmare has come true."
That headline on a recent Forbes.com report referred to the rival streaming services that will cost Netflix, among other things, its reruns of The Office — reportedly its most-watched show — and Friends, which after this year will be moving to something called HBO Max.
I don’t know if this is Netflix’s worst nightmare or not — it looks to me as if it’s seen this coming for a while — but I do know that if all I wanted to watch on Netflix was The Office, I’d save the monthly subscription fee and buy the DVD set.
And yet I see how someone faced with an increasingly busy Netflix home screen full of “originals” could return to the familiar again and again.
A Nielsen study on streaming-service users recently found that two-thirds of the people surveyed know what they’re going to watch ahead of time. Not surprisingly, they’re more likely to end up actually watching something than those of us who come in cold, scrolling through the offerings and hoping something will make us stop and click.
I’m still part of the smaller group that prefers to be surprised by something I find on my home screen. But given that Netflix isn’t always very good at guessing what I might like, I’m mostly surprised by what it seems to think of me. (I can’t think of more damning words than “Because you watched Murder Mystery,” but, believe me, I only stuck with the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston Netflix movie to make sure it was rotten all the way through.)
I get advance screeners of many of Netflix’s U.S. originals, but there are layers and layers of series — including those from other countries — that may never make it to my home screen unless I manage to shake up the algorithm by confounding its expectations.
So this past week I challenged myself to find five new shows I might be willing to watch not just for an episode but all the way to the end. I started by searching for one, Shtisel, that a couple of people had recently told me they were hooked on. (People who used to ask me what they should watch are now just as likely to tell me what I should. In the 500-show universe, it takes a village to keep up.)
Maybe watching a couple of episodes of an Israeli show with English subtitles would remind Netflix that I’m OK with subtitles? Other shows started to appear. Here are five that, after two or three episodes each, seemed worth sticking with:
If you’ve watched every episode of ABC/Netflix’s Designated Survivor with Kiefer Sutherland (guilty), you, too, may have found this South Korean remake popping up on your Netflix home page this month. Ji Jin-hee plays a chemistry professor-turned-cabinet minister who’s the one government official in the line of succession who’s not present when the country’s National Assembly is destroyed in an apparent terrorist attack. Already an inept politician, he finds himself acting president — but only for 60 days under the Republic of Korea constitution, which calls for an election to choose a new president within that period.
The first two episodes hit most of the plot points of the U.S. original, but the cultural differences make it interesting. There is, for instance, a great deal more bowing than we’re used to seeing in our political dramas (and if the subtitles are accurate, a great deal less swearing than in the Netflix-only third season of Sutherland’s version). The role the U.S. plays on the Korean peninsula is seen from a different angle. And until now, I didn’t know that the Korean president’s residence is known as the Blue House.
Binge opportunity: You might have to wait. New episodes are added on Monday and Tuesdays, but so far only four of the 12 episodes of the first season are available.
Not new to Netflix, but new to me, this French comedy about the people who take 10 percent of actors’ earnings in return for hard-ball negotiating, ego maintenance, and general hand-holding is a lot of fun, even if you don’t immediately recognize all the Gallic celebrities playing versions of themselves. And while it’s not The Office, much of it takes place in one.
Binge opportunity: Three six-episode seasons. Filming on a fourth is reportedly to begin this fall.
This somewhat darker comedy comes from Austria, where a billionaire (Udo Kier) needs a new liver. When he discovers that it’s not as easy as he thought to buy one, he challenges his not-so-loving family to procure one for him, by any means necessary, with the promise that he’ll make the one who succeeds his sole heir. It is, as creator David Schalko has called it, “Dallas for psychos.”
Binge opportunity: It’s only eight episodes.
Michael Aloni stars as the artistic, dreamy Akiva Shtisel in this Israeli drama, a word-of-mouth cult favorite set in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. Too gentle to be a rebel, but too romantic to conform, Akiva inevitably finds himself in conflict with his father, Shulem (Doval’e Glickman), a widowed yeshiva teacher who can’t imagine, for instance, why his son would be drawn to Elesheva Rotstein (Ayelet Shurer), a young mother who’s been twice widowed. There are some wonderfully funny moments — I quickly fell for the grandmother, Malka (Hanna Rieber), who, on encountering television for what may be the first time in her life, becomes addicted to The Bold and the Beautiful — but there are also touches of magical realism. The characters are so carefully drawn that no one’s point of view can be dismissed outright, including that of Shulem, who may be an infuriating force of nature but one who firmly believes himself to be on God’s side.
Binge opportunity: Two 12-episode seasons are available, and a third season has been ordered.
The title of this Danish drama translates as “The Ways of the Lord” (although it also goes by the English title Ride Upon the Storm). Like Shtisel, it’s a story of a religious family with a difficult (though very different) patriarch. Lars Mikkelsen (House of Cards) plays Johannes Krogh, who’s bucking for promotion to bishop in the Danish national church his family has served as priests for 250 years. One son, August (Morton Hee Andersen), is a rising star in the family business. Another, Christian (Simon Sears), appears to want no part of the priesthood, but is struggling with the path he’s chosen. Johannes himself has a drinking problem and a wandering eye. And yet faith, and what it means in a secular society, is never far away from the story, which reportedly inspired Mikkelsen, who was raised by atheists, to be baptized in the National Church of Denmark.