Streaming’s greatest hits: monarchy, Man City and a horse with depression
Netflix and Amazon have invested billions of dollars in producing original content for their streaming platforms. Here are some of their most notable shows.
House of Cards
A remake of a British classic, the streaming site’s first original showed its competitors that it meant business. The accusations surrounding Kevin Spacey’s alleged behaviour on set saw him fired from the show and leave its final season – which starts on 2 November – in the hands of his costar Robin Wright.
The Duffer Brothers pasticheathon was a massive sleeper hit for Netflix. Released in the summer of 2016 to little fanfare, it became a smash thanks to its 1980s-tinged nostalgia and straightforward storyline of kids in peril, which had nods to everything from The Goonies and Cujo to Carrie and Stand By Me.
Netflix’s expensive royal drama stands out as one of its most accomplished originals. Lavish but not self-indulgent, brilliantly cast and delicately handled by creator Peter Morgan, it gave Netflix a bona fide top-drawer offering. After two seasons the royals have been recast, and with Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham-Carter taking the lead roles, its best days are probably still to come.
An animated show about a depressed C-list celebrity horse (pictured) trying to revive his career and life in Hollywood sounds far too odd to work. But Raphael BobWaksberg’s idiosyncratic show, now in its fifth season, has become a critical darling, praised for its presentation of mental illness, abusive relationships and the way it carefully critiqued #MeToo.
Orange is the New Black
One of the first batch of Netflix originals, Jenji Kohan’s prison dramedy, with its heavily black and Latina cast, was quietly revolutionary. Viewers quickly found that the most interesting thing about the show wasn’t necessarily its ostensible lead character. Instead, Kohan made critically adored television by delving into the backgrounds of the prison’s inmates. It has lost momentum more recently as the series competes for attention with other, bigger-budget Netflix shows, but OITNB showed early on that the streaming site was going to do things differently.
Jill Soloway’s semi-autobiographical story, about an LA family whose patriarch transitions, is Amazon’s best-known and most controversial original. Critically adored (eight Emmys and two Golden Globes), the show gave Jeff Bezos’s TV team what they needed: a respected prestige show. But allegations of on-set sexual assault by lead actor Jeffrey Tambor have made a fifth series increasingly unlikely.
All or Nothing: Man City
Amazon followed Netflix’s lurch into European football after its competitor released the fluffy First Team: Juventus. All or Nothing started life as a warts-and-all NFL docu-series, and Man City gave access which showed the highly strung management style and approach of Pep Guardiola and his backroom staff. Released after the team’s recordbreaking 2017-8 season, it was a success for Amazon and Man City.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Few would have predicted seven Emmys this year for a series about a Jewish housewife who starts an alternative life as a standup comic, by Gilmore Girls showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino. But the tight writing and compelling central performance from Rachel Brosnahan gave Amazon’s easy-to-overlook comedy a dedicated audience. The second season is due in November.
The Grand Tour
The vastly lucrative vehicle for Jeremy Clarkson and co was seen as a crucial part of Amazon’s TV – and overall – strategy. How do you get middle-aged men who don’t really watch TV to sign up for Prime? Give them a show that’s tailor-made to their demographic. Brash and laddy to a fault, The Grand Tour isn’t for everyone, but that’s the point.
Matt Weiner was one of the bigname directors lured to streaming with the offer of lots of money and little creative restraint. The result is a hit-and-miss follow-up to Mad Men, a globetrotting set of individual films tenuously linked to the Romanov family. Amazon will call it a creative triumph, but the truth is that even the most talented need to be reined in at times.