As July slowly gives way to August, Back To School Season has unofficially begun with its trademark department store commercials (even calling on your kids’ favorite comic book superheroes to inspire their clothing and school supply choices).
But as adults, we can only cringe over our “lost” summer, reflecting on all of the things we DIDN’T get to do that we swore we would for our summer vacation.
Luckily, binging on all the TV series and films from your favorite streaming service is only a weekend (or a few days) away. Plus, if you’re isolating at home during the pandemic then you’ve got an excuse to start making your way through all of the most watched cable shows during COVID while you’re limited for things to do outside the home.
Here are my Top 6 Must-See TV shows and films we have been putting off seeing that you can enjoy before your summer vacation officially ends.
#6 – BBC’s Luther Starring Idris Elba on Netflix
There is a reason why the Dick Wolf Juggernaut Law & Order franchise has been so successful for decades.
It follows a neatly packed formula: a crime is being committed, lead detectives investigate and isolate witnesses/suspects, the prime suspect gets pulled into a skillful interrogation where he/she gets caught in a lie that implicates guilt, ending with a court case which ends with a justified/unjustified decision.
But how does the rest of world interpret this procedural television series?
Once Law & Order creator birthed the UK version of his successful series, I was instantly intrigued.
In the United Kingdom, detectives do not carry guns, making any foot pursuit and house visit innately suspenseful given they have no idea what to expect from their approach.
If it were any one of us, we would either flee or sit in our patrol car and call for back-up before even entering.
Neil Cross created the BBC police drama series centered around Detective Chief Inspector John Luther is one of these “coppers” who refuse to do either. In fact, he strides into the situation defiantly, often without back-up or his young partner DS Justin Ripley, in his signature dark overcoat.
Does he get beat up with this approach? Sometimes.
But often, DCI Luther gets the better of the suspect and goes places psychologically in interrogation that no mild-mannered police officer would dream of going for fear of termination or harm.
Luther seems to embrace that fear and harness it into an invisible shield that protects from the slings of emotional scavenger hunts that one former victim turned suspect turned alley Alice Morgan puts him through in Seasons 1 and 2.
It’s also fascinating to see this character in a truly Shakespearean landscape as the minority in residence in a police precinct, and metropolis city of the majority where he has to grapple with other people’s prejudices head-on during an investigation.
Compelling enough for you yet?
#5 – HBO’s Westworld Starring Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright
This year’s Emmy Award Nominations are finally getting something right – technology and diversity in television have merit.
Aside from the groundbreaking Shondaland legal drama How To Get Away With Murder and Hulu’s freshman smash hit series based on the Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Emmy voters also validated the intricately crafted and tech-friendly HBO Sci-Fi drama Westworld.
Based on a campy 1973 film of a Wild West-themed amusement park where visitors interacted with costumed humanoids called Hosts, the park’s framework gets reimagined in this futuristic reboot. Starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as the park’s founder, Dr. Robert Ford; Ed Harris as the mysterious Man in Black; Miss Evan Rachel Wood as the idyllic Dolores Abernathy; James Marsden as the heroic Teddy Flood; Miss Thandie Newton as the emotionally textured saloon madam Maeve Millay; and chameleon Jeffrey Wright as the kind engineer Bernard Lowe.
The premise for the series offers an insightful foundation for social and cultural exploration of what it means to be a human being and what happens when hosts begin to recognize their need for independence.
#4 – Netflix’s Girlboss
I was raised to believe that if you worked hard, did your best in school and applied yourself; internships would open up to reveal your destined career path.
It was the American Dream my parents were fortunate enough to realize when they moved from Philadelphia to South Florida in the late 70s with only their college degrees. At that time, being college educated insured their employment in nursing and city politics.
I have aunts, uncles and older cousins whose academic rigor connected preparation to meet opportunity for lifelong careers and satisfying pensions once retired.
But like the adventurous Jo March of Little Women, whose mother proclaimed to her: “you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?” I knew my family’s traditional formula for success was never going to apply to me.
While I have the education and work experience, traditional positions were not popping up as steadily as they did for my family decades before. I knew I needed to “Lean In” towards my destiny – being an entrepreneur.
So how does one become an entrepreneur?
Luckily, I didn’t have to travel to Silicon Valley to learn.
Netflix had acquired a fledging off-beat series based on the wildly popular memoir by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso called Girlboss.
And no, I had no idea who she was or that book until I saw the series.
Nasty Gal is an online vintage clothing retailer from San Francisco, CA that specializes in fashion for young women. The company has more than 550,000 customers in over 60 countries. It was founded by the scrappy but determined Sophia Amoruso in 2006 and was named “Fastest Growing Retailer” in 2012 by INC Magazine.
But what was missing was the origin story.
How did Sophia even KNOW that she COULD create Nasty Gal from a dicey warehouse space?
That’s what I (and her thousands of followers/clients) wanted to know.
And that is what the only season series answers.
As tragic as it might seem to have only one season with Netflix in a landscape of renewed and greenlit projects, Sophia’s journey from being as misunderstood misfit with no future to the matured businesswoman with friends, employees and clients that launched an eBay store on its own website for the first time shows us all how important believing in yourself can be to make all of your dreams come true.
#3 – Netflix’s The Defenders Starring Marvel Universe’s Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist
After this year’s gigantic Comic Con International in San Diego ended last week, California, every cosplaying fanatic for all things Marvel and DC Comics should be SO FIRED up right now.
If you aren’t, you probably don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.
Let me explain.
Last week, all the major film and television projects based on comics books and science fiction premiered their trailers at an annual conference geared toward costumed comic book and Sci-Fi enthusiasts.
The major hits were the upcoming DC Comics Film “Justice League,” Marvel Superhero Sequel “Thor: Ragnarok,” Netflix Chartbuster “Stranger Things” Season 2 and “Bright” premiere in the fall followed up with Marvel Studios’ Long Awaited “Black Panther.”
But do you have to wait until school starts to get your fill of Marvel superheroes?
Mark your calendars for Friday, August 18th and prepare yourself for the ultimate anti-hero unit to protect the metropolitan city of New York – The Defenders.
Imagine if the Avengers were on assignment overseas and supernatural evil hits the Big Apple.
Who is living there to DEFEND it??
Why none other than the misanthropic Jessica Jones and Matt “Daredevil” Murdock from Hell’s Kitchen, Harlem’s Hercules Luke Cage, and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand.
This show promises to be EPIC with a tasteful mix of action sequences and pithy but effective one-liners from your favorite neighborhood grouches.
#2 – Netflix’s Documentary What Happened to Miss Simone? Produced by Miss Lisa Simone Kelly
Thanks to the consorted effort of Shawn “Jay -Z” Carter and his new album 4:44, we are entering a transitional shift toward African American culture almost in the same way as the Harlem Renaissance opened that same world up to the mainstream in the 1930s.
This time, cultural references and powerful lines from songs become soundbite tweets and supplementary video companions now available on YouTube.
But what surprised me was a millennial family member’s ignorance to a key figure in Hova’s “The Story of O.J.” music video.
That figure was none other than the “High Priestess of Soul,” Miss Nina Simone.
And who is that?
I almost lost it in my response. How do you NOT know her?
But then I rested on my teacher brain and realized how culturally uneducated his generation must be; if only he knew that there was a valuable volume of cultural history embedded in his Netflix account.
What Happened to Miss Simone? is a heartfelt documentary produced by Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, about the artist’s life in her segregated South beginnings, her ascension to the radiant musical genius and social activism, and sadly, descent into bipolar mania and militant rage.
Nina Simone was the trailblazing architect of what an artist should be able to be – an artist that reflect the times.
#1 – OWN’s Master Class
As summer ends, it’s important for all of us to feel empowered and fortified into the fall.
Have you seen the news lately? Do I even need to mention anything specific there?
In a world of soul-crushing un-“fake news” from this summer alone, I reflect on how I was raised in my suburban community.
At my friends’ houses, I was immersed in mainstream MTV culture of Gloria Estefan, Madonna, Ricky Martin, Spice Girls and Janet Jackson.
At my local ballet school, I was immersed in the classical music of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart while learning the traditional movements of French ballerinas.
At my neighborhood library, I was immersed in a world of American literature that bore L.M. Montgomery, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Louisa May Alcott, Stephen King and Anne Rice.
But at home, I was immersed in Berry Gordy’s mythic Motown Records of the Temptations, Four Tops, Jackson 5, Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross from the films The Wiz, Mahogany, and Lady Sings the Blues.
Which place did I feel the most like me?
At home where I could hear and experience my legacy as a little black girl and know where I belonged.
Luckily for my younger relatives, there is a network that embraces the need to find your true self in a sea of copycats and unoriginal posers.
That channel is the Oprah Winfrey Network aka OWN.
The acronym fits nicely with our universal need to find our “OWN” space for reflection and self-analysis free from the noise of media that often dictates instead of creating discussion.
Next month, the popular series Master Class premieres its new season, leading with worldwide funny and author Mr. Kevin Hart.
I had the pleasure of watching the episode in advance on the OWNTV application from my tablet, and I was pleasantly surprised by his depth of honesty and transparent unfolding of his success blueprint.
These are the kind of stories young people and their parents and friends need to hear to be encouraged.