In order to make the second lockdown and its complete shuttering of cultural institutions and cinemas more palatable to us culture-hungry glocals, we put together a selection of some truly stellar and exciting content that streaming platforms are putting out to tide you over the long, cold months. From outstanding literary adaptations, to documentary drama, to plain old fun for the whole family. All these very different shows have one thing in common, the power of sport.
Be it as a prodigy in a certain field, as a rabid supporter or as a coach and father figure, sports can write the best stories in real life. But it is also a great canvas upon which the most relatable and compelling fictional stories are painted. Regardless of your own interest in the sports, these shows are human stories first and foremost.
The Queen’s Gambit
Based on the stellar bildungsroman by the late literary wunderkind Walter Tevis, this faithful adaptation makes all the right moves to transport a sprawling written narrative to the screen. Truly an achievement when one considers the challenges inherent to this tale.
We follow a young orphaned chess prodigy along her path to the top of the sport while battling her issues with substance abuse.
There are two major reasons why this series works as well as it does. One is the magnificent, singular lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. Delivering on her promise from past milestones like the LeipGlo favorites The Witch and Thoroughbreds, the young actress ups her game once more. She expertly walk us through the captivating development of a chess genius amidst rough circumstances from orphanage to adoption to independence.
The other reason is the stellar production and screenplay by veteran screenwriters Scott Frank and Allan Scott. The series’ setting across the fifties and sixties in Lexington, Kentucky immediately transports the viewer into another world.
Sets and costumes are absolutely stunning and give the period piece an air of both authenticity and novelty.
Meanwhile, the daunting task of transforming the novelistic narrative into screentime is handled with grace, thanks to the episodic structure and expert writing. Reasons why most literary adaptations fall short in cinemas. They buckle under the weight of a couple hundred pages of source material crammed into just around two hours of running time.
Meanwhile, The Queen’s Gambit gets to take its time exploring the protagonist’s many life changes and personality traits. There are some flaws, like certain tertiary characters getting short shrift in favor of an absolute focus on the heroine. But thanks to those pieces all falling in the right place, this series is an absolute joy to watch, regardless of your interest in chess.
Sunderland Till I Die
This unique documentary series chronicles the last two seasons of the football club Sunderland AFC. Each season of the series follows along the lines of the actual football season and all of its ups and (mostly) downs. The film crew gets constant access to nearly all aspects of the club’s daily inner workings. But workplace drama is not the primary reason why this holistic view into a special, dare I say, cultural institution like a big traditional football club is so compelling.
It’s the passion, pain, anger, and, very rarely, the absolute joy that an extremely dedicated fan-base in an English industrial working class town expresses and lives through with their sport club.
Because Sunderland AFC is in a downward spiral. Its owner has become disinterested and cut off the money supply. Meanwhile, the club and its huge stadium is still operating as if it were a contender for the best English football club. This is a path that many traditional clubs fell into in recent years with football becoming more and more of a private equity business with more focus on the bottom line than on purely athletic goals.
Experiencing Sunderland’s players, managers, staff and most of all fans cope with their rapidly declining love is truly tragic albeit sprinkled with moments of absolute ecstasy when they do manage a win.
The stories being told alongside the two seasons of football are first and foremost human. Be it the family man whose only pastime is his beloved AFC or the cabbie who always has a take on the club’s most recent misadventures: these people have so much love for something that keeps punishing them for it. It’s astounding and mesmerizing to follow them when the sport becomes their life.
An outlier in the streaming jungle, Apple TV+ has not made as big a splash here in Germany as its competitors Amazon, Disney and Netflix. However, the best new sitcom, created by protagonist Jason Sudeikis alongside veteran TV writer and Scrubs creator Mike Lawrence, just happens to be on the smartphone giant’s new platform. So get a free month and take advantage of the soul-cleansing goodness that is Ted Lasso!
A character and overall series so positive, encouraging and outright good that it is the perfect healing balm for our current, hostile cultural landscape. Born out of a series of commercials for British football in the US, Ted Lasso is the epitome of US Southern hospitality and niceness.
Therefore, the initial concept of the series, and arguably its weakest aspect, is the reveling in and pointing out of differences between the UK and the US.
Yet, the creative team pull off an amazing feat in making this American buffoon of a protagonist the most goddamn lovable and outright good person you could imagine without ever becoming too corny or symbolic. Ted Lasso is the father figure most of these young athletes desperately need.
Footballers are in the unique position of living and earning like most adults dream to, when they are still growing up. But the social and interpersonal facets of their life are often woefully underdeveloped and can lead them to struggle with their internal lives off and on the pitch. Ted Lasso recognizes this very important role he has to inhabit in his players’ lives. He confounds and challenges his team by completely abandoning archaic ideas of masculinity, power and winning as a singular goal in favor of positivity, community and growth.