Donald Trump’s presidency saw a renewed interest in the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, now almost half a century ago.
In 2017, we got the excellent Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson as the associate FBI director who fed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the story behind the Watergate burglary. They nicknamed him “Deep Throat”.
The four-hour documentary Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President was released a year later.
Slate produced a podcast about the Watergate scandal in 2020, called Slow Burn. It was so successful that they continued it with a season about Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Gaslit is partly based on that podcast. The makers of Slow Burn restored Martha Mitchell’s role in the history of Watergate. Gaslit puts her front and center with a stellar performance by Julia Roberts.
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I previewed Dirty Lines as the Netherlands’ answer to Sex Education in my review of Amsterdam Vice, which I compared to The Deuce. Having watched all six episodes of the series (sadly, there are only six), I can confirm it’s just as wholesome.
Sex Education is about teenagers at a modern-day British high school. The main character of Dirty Lines, played by Joy Delima, is a sexology student at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1980s. The Dutch show is a little grittier (it’s 1980s Amsterdam) and a little more mature, but in terms of topics and humor it has a lot in common with Sex Education. Both are on Netflix.
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I will soon have a review for you of Dirty Lines, the new Dutch Netflix series about the beginning of the phone-sex industry in late 1980s Amsterdam. The first episode looked good. It reminded me of Sex Education.
If you’re looking for something closer to The Deuce, the 2017-19 American series about the sex industry in 1970s and 80s New York starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I recommend Amsterdam Vice.
The name of both a movie and one-season drama series, which repurposed the movie as pilot, it was released in the Netherlands as Baantjer: Het Begin. It is a prequel to the long-running Dutch police procedural Baantjer, which in turn was based on the novels by former cop Albert Cornelis Baantjer. You don’t need to be familiar with either, though, to enjoy Amsterdam Vice. (I never watched the original Baantjer, nor did I read the books.)
Set in 1980, on the eve of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, the movie introduces Waldemar Torenstra as rookie cop Jurre de Cock and Tygo Gernandt as his hardened partner Tonnie Montijn. The two stumble on what appears to be a plot against the new queen when they discover a corpse floating in Amsterdam’s canals.
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Ever since I read it my senior year of high school, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has been one of my favorite novels. It is a farce of bureaucracy, and as life becomes more and more bureaucratized, more and more people find themselves neck deep in this farce. It is a book that describes that unmooring, niggling internal monologue of “this is cruel and insane and it kills people and it could be changed so WHY ARE WE STILL DOING IT?!” that permeates so much of life in the twenty-first century. I quite enjoyed the 1970 film adaptation, and was excited to see how the 2019 miniseries would work out.
The series is overall quite faithful to the book. Many incidents are taken straight from the pages of the novel, and some are all the more impactful now that we can see, rather than imagine, them. I know that sounds trite, but it is one experience to read about a reckless pilot, McWatt, accidentally killing Kid Sampson; it is another to see the propeller of the plane scatter human gore across McWatt’s cockpit and then the explosion when he rams his plane into a mountain to atone for his crimes.
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If you liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (our review here), you’re going to love The Game. This little-known, underappreciated 2014 spy series has a plot worthy of John le Carré and an impressive cast.
Brian Cox, who stars as the Rupert Murdoch-inspired media mogul Logan Roy in Succession, is the director of MI5. Victoria Hamilton, who played the Queen Mother Elizabeth in the first two seasons of The Crown, is the secret service’s Soviet expert. Paul Ritter, who so brilliantly portrayed the man most responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the eponymous 2019 HBO miniseries (our review here), and who sadly died of a brain tumor earlier this year, is cast perfectly as an sly, ambitious bureaucrat.
The central character is Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), a young MI5 agent who stumbles on a communist plot to undermine British democracy.
Set in 1972 (Tinker Tailor takes place in 1973), the six episodes of The Game are a treasure trove of Cold War tropes. There are defectors and moles, secret American nuclear weapons, the “letters of last resort”: the prime minister’s instructions to the commanders of Britain’s four nuclear submarines in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. The IRA is involved.
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Animated classics are usually best left alone. Live-action versions seldom live up to the original.
In rare cases, though, one does manage to reach that same level of brilliance. One of these is the Netflix live-action adaptation of that classic animated multi-genre space Western, Cowboy Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop only loosely follows the anime. Many characters are similar and some plot lines are repeated, but overall it can and does stand on its own. I have watched the anime (several times) and can assure you that you can go into this not having a clue as to what it’s about.
The series does not, as the name might suggest, revolve around a cowboy named Bebop. It refers to the fact that interstellar bounty hunters are nicknamed cowboys and the ship of this particular crew is called the Bebop. The initial two-man crew — Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Spike Spiegel (John Cho) — are as cliché as it sounds: men on the run from their past and making a living apprehending bad guys for the fare. With limited succes. Add in Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), a con-girl with a spotty past and a corgi, and you get a bunch of misfits that roam human-inhabited planets fighting evil, trying to find love and often literally themselves.
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I finally watched Loki on Disney+ (it’s hilarious) and one of the things that stood out to me was the aesthetic of the show’s Time Variance Authority (TVA). Brutalist with a mix of midcentury graphics and 1970s decor, it reminded me of the Fallout video games as well as Counterpart, the most underrated science-fiction series of recent years. The Office of Interchange in that show also uses dot-matrix printers, rotary-dial phones, old computers, typewriters, and pen and paper.
The Office of Interchange isn’t a time-travel authority. Rather it manages relations between two parallel Earths. The Temps Commission in The Umbrella Academy (our review here) is, and it too looks midcentury. So does the Federal Bureau of Control in the video game Control. Brutalist architecture and midcentury American office furniture seem to be the time traveler’s favorites.
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The first time I gave For All Mankind a try was not long after I’d seen Altered Carbon, and another ten episodes of Joel Kinnaman’s pent-up anger was more than I could bear.
I still find it off-putting, and his character in For All Mankind shows almost no growth over two seasons. But the rest of the series makes up for it.
It starts with the Soviet Union beating the Americans to the Moon and shows the Space Race continuing into the 1980s. Along the way, the Soviets land the first woman on the Moon, convincing the United States to train its own female astronauts; both superpowers built lunar colonies; and East-West tensions come to a head in a Panama Canal Crisis, which in this timeline is aggravated by Ronald Reagan winning the presidency four years earlier and refusing to relinquish American control of the canal to Panama’s pro-Soviet government.
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Babylon Berlin is said to be the best drama series to ever come out of Germany. I disagree. My vote goes to Deutschland 83 (review here), in which border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is recruited by East German intelligence and thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.
The series wasn’t hugely popular in Germany, but it found enough viewers abroad to warrant a sequel. Deutschland 86 takes place three years later. Martin has been exiled to Angola. His aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader), who is also a spy, is working on an operation in South Africa. Naturally they run into each other again.
The ten episodes masterfully weave together the events of the time in a compelling narrative: the slow collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the civil war in Angola, Muammar Gaddafi’s support for international terrorism, the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin — all against the backdrop of the American-Soviet Cold War.
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Never Was readers may be familiar with Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series. I’ve used animations from the seven films, which were produced for the War Department between 1942 and 1945, in several stories, including “How the Nazis Planned to Invade Great Britain” and “The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Empire in Maps“.
But did you know the animations were from Disney? That Capra used Axis propaganda footage in his films? And that there were four more Hollywood directors who made movies for the war effort?
I didn’t. In Five Came Back, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kasdan, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Guillermo del Toro tell the story of how five directors invented the war documentary.
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