New on netflix: Time for tears - and a little blood and sweat
What's worth watching on Netflix, catching up on and listening to on podcast.
Available Now, 10 half-hour episodes
"In general, if it stars Debra Winger I will cry," Augusten Burroughs once wrote. "And not a guy cry either, where you pinch the bridge of your nose, sneaking your thumb and forefinger into the corners of your eyes to squelch the tears." Burroughs must be getting ready to break out the big girl sobs because Debra is back. In this series she stars as the mother of Colt (Ashton Kutcher), a failed NFL quarterback who returns home to help run his family's Colorado ranch. The pair are joined by Sam Elliott, who plays Colt's father, and Danny Masterson, who of course played alongside Kutcher during the long and successful run of That '70s Show. The programme has other great pedigree: it comes from the makers of Two and a Half Men, one of whom, Jim Reo, recently said of this new series: "It stemmed from a love of country music that (Jim and I) share and things like NASCAR and rodeos - all the things that are inherent in, if you will, Western America." The Ranch, which opens this weekend on Netflix, doesn't stint on the laughs but it's also been accurately described as "a sitcom that's in touch with the more painful side of life". So bring a tissue. For Debra if nothing else.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
"My mother was one of the greatest entertainers of all time," Nina Simone's daughter, Lisa, tells us at the start of this riveting documentary, as we see images of the singer writhing in musical ecstasy at a piano. "When she was performing, she was an anomaly, she was brilliant, she was loved. But people think that when she went out on stage she became Nina Simone. My mother was Nina Simone 24/7. And that's where things fell apart." If you love music, or just quite like genius in general, this is one of the genuine finds on Netflix and a reason to pay the subscription all by itself. Sometimes subjects are made smaller by the fussy eye of the documentarian but this piece, which was directed by Liz Garbus (who also made the excellent Bobby Fischer Against The World) uses rare archival footage to capture the gargantuan dimensions of Nina Simone's talent. It was nominated for an Academy Award, won a Grammy, and features some jaw-dropping revelations about the life of the great singer. Well worth a look, especially if you haven't wasted all the Kleenex on Debra Winger.
The Boomer List
Available now, 13 episodes
What do Samuel L Jackson, Steve Wozniak, Kim Cattrall and Tommy Hilfiger have in common? They're all part of The Boomer List, which this weekend appears on Netflix, two years after it ran on the American PBS channel. It's billed as 'a portrait of a generation' and is directed by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. As with his previous films, The Black List, The Latino List, and The Out List, The Boomer List focuses on uniquely talented individuals who speak directly to the camera about their journeys, the challenges they faced, and what they've learned. They are testament to one generation's attempt to come to terms with itself.
Available from April 6
Some time before El Chapo but after Madonna, Sean Penn starred in this interesting, occasionally harrowing film. It deals with the lives of three people who are tragically affected following a horrendous car accident. One receives a new heart as a result, but begins questioning his own mortality; another suffers a drug relapse, uncertain about her future; while the third questions his commitment to God and his responsibility to his family. Each individual has to look again at the meaning of their life and each needs time to sort through things in their own way. But all three realise that only by affirming their connection to one another, can they return to some state of normalcy.
Catch up now
Marvel's Agent Carter
Season 2, episode 1; Ends tonight
Season 1 wasn't a huge ratings success, but critics loved it, and here comes Season 2. Like so many of the latest superhero offers, this is firmly aimed at adults, not kids. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - represented as a kind of Noirish 1940s - this was inspired by Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but heavily influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, LA Confidential, as well as the crime novels of James Ellroy. There are echoes of Mad Men, but also of Bladerunner and Tim Burton's Batman Returns. The series is based around the character of Peggy Carter, pictured, who was originally the love interest of Captain America, now facing into the realities of post-war America. Here, she relocates to LA to deal with the kinds of atomic age dilemmas that pose a threat to those she has sworn to protect.
Series 2, episode 1; UTV Player; Ends tonight
Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi star as an elderly gay couple who have been living together for 50 years, in a relationship as much about the hate as the love. There is plenty of bitchy chemistry between the two, although the jokes are often hammy and lacking in bite. At the start of the new series, Violet, a long-time series regular, is thrown into panic when her wealthy sister, Lillian, announces a visit.
Season 1, episode 1; TG4; Ends April 12th
Described by one reviewer as "one of the best homemade dramas in recent times" if you haven't got to grips with Eipic yet, now is your chance. Set in small-town Ireland, this tells of five teenagers, all trying to break out of their narrow lives, who come together to form an indie band. Fast-paced and funny, but also touching and honest. Written by Mike O'Leary, who previously wrote for E4's Misfits, and directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta.
Desert Island Discs
Now running for 70 years and presented variously by Roy Plomley, Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley and Kirsty Young (pictured right), Desert Island Discs is one of the all-time great listenable-to formats. Each guest chooses the eight records they would take with them to a desert island, and explains why. Into that 'why' come life stories, defining moments, hopes, fears, dreams, and surprisingly intimate revelations, from the likes of Lynn Barber, Tim Robbins, Emma Thompson, James Ellroy, Michael Caine, Jarvis Cocker and many, many more. Over the years, the three most popular tracks have been Beethoven's Symphony No 9 in D minor Choral, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor and Schubert's String Quintet in C major, with Mozart, Beethoven and Bach as the most popular artists. There is also an episode giving the history of the show and investigating the reasons for its popularity, full of great classic clips.
The New Yorker Poetry Podcast
One of our finest poets, Paul Muldoon, is also The New Yorker's poetry editor, and host of the Poetry Podcast. Each month, he interviews a different up-and-coming poet, in a format that sees the guests choose a favourite poem from the magazine's extensive archive to read and discuss, after which they read from their own work. Entirely simple and incredibly effective. Muldoon is a wonderful host, encouraging, drawing out and highlighting the details that might otherwise slip by. Personal highlights are Calvin Trillin reading Ogden Nash and Major Jackson reading Derek Walcott, but you will quickly find your own.