Culture Film & TV

Best Binges: What to watch in 2021

As we settle down to the post-Christmas comedown – and with the current solitary confinement Tiers 3 and 4 give us – it seems necessary to suggest a few ways to lighten (or darken) the mood through the TV screen. TV around the New Year is obviously a staple, but this year we are going to need something that lingers far longer than the typical one-hour special. Here are my recommendations for TV series binges to distract you in the coming months.

1. Euphoria (2019) – Sam Levinson

Created by Sam Levinson, son of acclaimed director Barry Levinson, Euphoria is a gritty teen drama series, tinged with dark and heavy tones. The series centres on the life of Rue Bennett (Zendaya) following her release from rehab. For her stellar performance Zendaya won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama series, which is a testament to her excellent portrayal of a teenager struggling with anxiety. Other standouts amongst the cast include Jules (Hunter Schafer), Kat (Barbie Ferreira), and Nate (Jacob Elordi), but it is as an ensemble that the cast shines, even if it is a struggle to believe they are under-18s. The nuance of Euphoria comes from the way it pushes the boundaries of which elements of teenage life are acceptable to portray; the central narrative revolves around drugs, sex, and mental health, and Levinson’s direction does not shy away from exposing the reality of these dark subject matters. As well as this realistic narrative of struggle, Euphoria expertly captures the highest highs that come with being young – particularly through its vibrant colour palette, seen in the cinematography and lighting, as well as the extravagant costuming and make-up choices (think lots of glitter). The intensely emotional stories that are told in the first season result in you becoming entirely immersed in the narrative and really invested in the characters and their relationships. With the recent release of the two-episode Christmas special to distract fans from the delay of series 2 filming, now is the perfect time to catch up on this already-cult-favourite show.

2. Dark (2017) – Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese

Dark is a German-language sci-fi thriller with a ridiculously ambitious narrative, requiring at least 98% concentration when viewing. There are three series of Dark available to watch now and, as the creators have confirmed that the story arc has been completed, it is an excellent bingeing choice with the promise of no sitting around waiting for narrative satisfaction. Dark is set in the German town of Winden, near a nuclear power plant, and the story follows the events that unfold when children start to mysteriously go missing. Netflix’s first German-language original series, it comprises a German production team, cast, and location and, while dubs are available, my personal preference is to watch it with subtitles because it forces you to concentrate even more on the visual and textual clues they give you. Those who enjoy television that points to wider meaning outside of the world of the show – Dark is particularly philosophical in its message – will enjoy trying to unpack what on earth is going on throughout the first series. The show also benefits from an iconic soundtrack full of ominous and foreboding drone-like sounds which, if you’re paying attention, help to highlight important clues. It is best to go into this show without knowing much about it, as I did because part of the fun is trying (and often failing) to guess what will happen in subsequent episodes.

3. The Wilds (2020) – Sarah Streicher

If you want to watch something slightly more light-hearted, then the brand new show The Wilds is my recommendation. Only released on the 11th December, The Wilds has already been renewed for a second series thanks to its popularity on social media (particularly TikTok). The Wilds is best described as Lost meets Manifest but with teenage girls. A group of girls get stranded on an island and have to learn how to survive together, but as time goes on it is revealed that there is more conspiracy surrounding their circumstances than first thought. Despite the fact that the eight leads are pretty much all newcomers, most of the acting in The Wilds is excellent. In particular, Sarah Pidgeon as Leah, Shannon Berry as Dot, Mia Healey as Shelby, and Erana James as Toni all put in amazing performances. The combination of a gripping narrative – both the story that unfolds on the actual island as well as the compelling backstories told for each character – and the organic relationship-building results in a TV show that is very hard to switch off. I personally started it at 8 pm one night and then finished it at 5 am 10 hours later – a testament to how enjoyable the show is! 
I discovered each of these series in a different way and subsequently went on to watch them on three different streaming platforms. Euphoria was recommended in a podcast and I accessed it through NowTV, Dark was a recommendation from a friend and is available on Netflix, and The Wilds was plastered all over my TikTok feed until I watched it on Amazon Prime. It is only through the recent exponential growth of streaming platforms that we have the option to binge entire series like this, as opposed to waiting for a new episode each week. Bingeing is unique in that it allows one to become completely immersed in the world of the series for a day, whether that be glitter-soaked LA, the forests of Winden or an island somewhere in the Pacific. It is a prolonged form of escapism that can be attained just from sitting in your bed – something that we are all in desperate need of at the moment.