The Smart Binge, Music, and Book Guide

Each Friday edition of NextDraft includes a section called Weekend Whats in which I share some tips on what to watch, what to stream, what to documentary, what to check out, etc. Here’s a collection of what I recommended in 2016.

What to Binge

  • Gomorrah on Sundance TV or via iTunes. It’s an Italian series (English subtitles) about a mob family in Naples. Quite intense. “It was the most popular show ever in Italy when it aired there in 2012.”
  • Definitely take a shot on the six-episode British series called Fleabag, starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Starts off funny. Gets more poignant. But stays funny.
  • Just when pot went legal in more places, High Maintenance went from a being a web series to HBO. It’s great there. But start with the short streaming episodes. Some of them are fantastic. HBO just made all of them available on their streaming platforms such as HBOGo.
  • I was instantly hooked on Fauda, a series in which an Israeli agent comes out of retirement to hunt for a Palestinian militant he thought he’d killed. The riveting story is told from both sides of the checkpoints. The show will take about five minutes to hook you, and not much longer to depict the hopelessness of the never-ending hate and fighting. It’s now available on Netflix.
  • Everyone seemed to be watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and you should too. Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine are both in the series that is fantastically Eighties in every way (except its pacing, which has been updated for our digital age attention spans). Let me spell this out for you. This is a series that takes your mind back to the eighties. And imagining you’re in a year prior to 2016 sounds pretty good right about now.
  • All the EU-related hubbub makes this the perfect year to binge watch the Danish series called Borgen. It’s like West Wing meets Copenhagen. And you’ll recognize the lead character from her role in WestWorld.
  • Bloodline finished its third season on Netflix. So this is a perfect time to start your Bloodline binge.
  • Black Mirror, Season Three is now on Netflix. Enough said.
  • The first two seasons of American Crime were both good, and both featured excellent acting (the main actors take on entirely different roles in an entirely different story, from one season to the next). The issues are timely. The cast is rock solid. And it’s on Netflix.
  • Recently, when I referenced Angels in America, I learned that my nephew and niece (both in their 20s) had never even heard of it. The play is still available on demand at HBO and Amazon. Pay close attention to the Roy Cohn character played by Al Pacino, and you’ll get a much better understanding of Donald Trump’s political strategies. Cohn, one of Trump’s early mentors, was all about fighting back any challenge with a louder, more aggressive counter-attack. For a glimpse of the other side of Donald (the one that never leaves the headlines), watch the documentary on Edward Koch (I watched it on the PBS app on Apple TV), the mayor of NYC who was a total believer in the idea that any news about him was good news.

What to Doc

  • This was the year of the political hack. So it’s the right time for you to watch Zero Days, an absolutely riveting documentary on the Stuxnet virus and the rise of modern-day cyber warfare. Trust me. You need to see this. It’s both informative and highly entertaining. Here’s a list of places where you can stream it. You think there’s no way to make a documentary about code exciting. But you’re wrong.
  • I am obsessed with documentaries. And the one I can’t get out of my head from 2016 is The Witness, a great doc about the aftermath of one of New York’s most notorious murders. This doc is not only riveting, it also relates to so many of our issues today, when versions of events (true or not) can spread like wildfire. It’s also a story of a brother obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened the night his sister was killed. Here it is on Netflix.
  • Amanda Knox on Netflix. It’s rare that a documentary villain speaks openly and without really realizing he’s the villain. Nick Pisa, a journalist who covered the case, pretty much gives us that gift in this doc.
  • Pablo Escobar’s son is not much like his father. And in this documentary, he sets out to prove that — to the sons of the men his father killed. The Sins of My Father. Forget Narcos. Watch this. (Or do like I did, and watch both.)
  • I’ve been loving the PBS series Soundbreaking, an eight-part series tracing the ongoing sonic revolution. It’s about music, technology, and the soundtrack of our lives. Very interesting and lots of great music.
  • Don’t miss Weiner, the look at the rise and fall and fall of Anthony Weiner’s political career. It provides an amazing insight into today’s campaigning landscape and forces us to consider what kind of personality that landscape attracts.
  • Making a Murderer. Wow.
  • Now that Cleveland finally has a championship team, it’s the perfect time to look back at the many past heartbreaks that made this NBA season mean so much. Check out Believeland on Netflix.
  • Last Chance U is a six-part Netflix series that chronicles a season (that turns out to be quite controversial) for one of the best teams in junior college football. It’s the off the field stuff that you’ll remember.
  • Having lived through the relentless coverage the first time around, I avoided ESPN’s five-part documentary series, OJ: Made in America. Well, I finally watched it. And if you haven’t, you should. It’s a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking. I know you’ve already heard of it. But I’m including it for those who don’t think they want to watch it. Trust me. You do.
  • The Battered Bastards of Baseball. One of the better baseball docs. Fun story all around.
  • In what turned out to be a (sadly) timely documentary, the always excellent Tiffany Shlain explores where we really are on the greater arc of history of women and power; and examines what it will to take to get to a 50/50 world. If you have a daughter, watch this with her.

What to Stream

  • Twenty One Pilots is a ridiculously good two-man band that is tearing up the charts and building up a growing following of fans across all age groups. I know because my kids and I were singing along with them at the Greek Theater in Berkeley last night. Rolling Stone introduces you to the biggest band of the last year. Here’s an outtake of a show I saw them perform last year. If you haven’t heard them, start with the Blurryface album. I saw them at a small theater a year ago, at the Greek Theater in Berkeley six months ago, and they are currently on an arena tour. Band of the year, hands down.
  • Nothing But Thieves is an excellent band out of Essex. And you’re going to love them. You can warm up with the official video for their hit, Trip Switch, then move on to a live version of Itch. And if you are so moved, here’s their full set from the PinkPop festival. I saw them live this year. Remarkable.
  • Royal Blood is one of the best newish rock bands to hit the scene. The band is made up of only two members, a drummer, and a singer who has totally rewritten the rules when it comes to playing the bass. Here they are playing Figure it Out in a live studio session. Check out this song called Come on Over. And here’s the breakout performance that really launched the band in Glastonbury.
  • Every now and then you go to a concert, and the opening act comes on and just absolutely owns the room from the first few seconds of their set — the talking stops, the camera phones come out, and the audience locks in. It’s rare, but it’s amazing to see. That happened to me when Bishop Briggs took the stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco. You may have heard her single River. Here’s a live version of that song. Here she is performing a song called Hi-Low at a music festival in Denver. And finally, Wild Horses from a recent episode of Late Night with Seth Myers.
  • In October, I was lucky enough to get to see Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats in a small venue where they were supporting a phenomenal Bay Area poverty-fighting organization called the Tipping Point. I think of the them as the tightest bar band of all time. You can see them in concert here. Or if you’re in the mood for something a little more acoustic, they did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR not too long ago.
  • I saw White Lung earlier this year, and they nearly blew the ceiling off the Independent in San Francisco. Here’s a write-up of one of their songs on Pitchfork. And here’s their full performance on KEXP.
  • Your new favorite slide guitar and slide bass (yeah, you heard me) infused rock band is The Record Company. Start with these songs: Off the Ground, On the Move, and this cover of So What’cha Want.
  • The biggest thing out of Iceland these days is a band call Kaleo. You can start with their hit, Way Down We Go, check out a studio performance of I Can’t Go on Without You, and catch them on KEXP.
  • Your new favorite slide guitar and slide bass (yeah, you heard me) infused rock band is The Record Company. Start with these songs: Off the Ground, On the Move, and this cover of So What’cha Want.

What to Book

  • So many American political and social issues (including the one that leads today’s edition) are tied to one thing: The opioid epidemic. The rise and impact of these drugs is really an amazing story. John Temple does a remarkable job telling it through the experiences of a couple guys who became major pill mill players. His book is non-fiction, but it reads like a thriller. American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic.
  • For a look at the other drug war (the one you hear about more and that is equally ineffective), check out Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel by Dan Slater.
  • You didn’t think you needed a TV version of Fargo, but Noah Hawley proved you wrong in a very big way (seriously, watch the hell out of it if you haven’t yet). And his latest book will also provide much pleasure. Get Before the Fall now, and thank me later. So many parallels to today’s media and political environment.
  • The best fictionalized history of the drug war is Cartel by Don Winslow. He may know this topic better than any writer alive. A must read.
  • The Nix by Nathan Hill is good fiction. And its subject matter is timely. And Nathan Hill is really smart.
  • In light of this year’s several videotaped shootings and the emergence 0f Black Lives Matter, it’s worth trying to make sense of crime on the streets. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy provides a look at the true story of murder in America — from the perspective of police, criminals, and victims.
  • Steve Hamilton is finally starting to get the the recognition he deserves with his well-reviewed novel: The Second Life of Nick Mason. Order that, but first read Hamilton’s book, The Lock Artist. I couldn’t put it down. It’s like Holden Caulfield in a crime story.
  • For much of the eighties and nineties, one agency ruled Hollywood, and one guy ruled that agency. One guy also happens to rule oral histories: Check out James Andrew Miller’s Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency.
  • This election season, everyone was talking about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. I don’t think it provides all that much insight into what the hell happened on Nov 8, but it’s definitely worth a read.
  • Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys, is an excellent book, and is of the moment because it includes a look at the changes to a town when Muslim immigrants move in from Somalia.
  • I pitched this book while baseball season was still going, but missing baseball is also a good excuse to read one of the truly great novels about a baseball player. (And you don’t have to be into baseball to dig it). Read Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.
  • For more book recs, check out the top fiction picks from The What.

What to Geek

What to Dave (a few of my best Medium pieces from 2016)

And What to Read for Daily (And Never Fake) News: NextDraft

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