Film & TV

The Unstoppable Rise of Netflix Originals

Netflix is one of the most successful online streaming services out there, providing films and TV shows on demand for millions of people across the world. Although, initially, it exclusively operated as an online and postal DVD rental service, Netflix has since gone on to become one of the world’s largest original content producers in the form of its ‘Netflix Originals’. These are films of TV shows that are produced, co-produced or distributed exclusively by Netflix. Beginning with Lilyhammer in 2011, the streaming service went on to acquire House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange Is the New Black, as well as many other shows and films in later years. On several occasions, Netflix has announced that it would like half of its online library to be original content by 2019, and, with over 700 ‘Originals’ on the service by late 2018, that seems very likely to happen.

Five Quench contributors were asked for their views on their favourite Netflix Original film or series:

Samuel Capper on Hannibal

Hannibal is perhaps the darkest, and one of the most beautifully crafted, TV shows out there. For those unfamiliar, the show centres around the developing relationship between criminal profiler Will Graham and the brilliant psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter as they hunt down various serial killers with the FBI, each with their own unique brand of… creativity. Hannibal, unbeknownst to all but the audience, is a cannibal, mimicking the murders of those he hunts and claiming trophies; a liver here, a kidney there, all to be consumed at his pleasure. As the cat-and-mouse games begin, you can only watch and wait to discover who is hunting who. It’s like watching Sherlock and Dexter play chess in each other’s minds, whilst you root for them both. In many hands, this could easily have fallen apart, but with Bryan Fuller and Thomas Harris’ exceptional writing the show soars.

The aesthetics, combined with David Slade’s masterful cinematography are something to behold. Spectacular visuals and flawless camerawork serve to make this show exquisite. Often accompanied by a classical and melancholic score that perfectly underlines the tone of the show, the combination of imagery and music makes the cooking sequences enticing, the dream sequences unsettling and Graham’s mental collapse deeply saddening.

The show does not hold back in its depiction of murder either. While stylish is not quite the right word, the creativity I mentioned earlier is on full display in most episodes; although often the goriness of Hannibal lasts for less than a minute per episode, in that minute you can expect nightmarish aesthetics: a human cello, Columbian neckties and half-headless judges. This is not a show for the faint of heart.

Mads Mikkelsen is the highlight of the show. Perfectly cast as the titular character, every scene is deliciously devoured by his distanced portrayal of Hannibal. Hugh Dancy as the unstable Will Graham provides a perfect foil to Mikkelsen, and later on a perfect mirror. Appearances from the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Izzard and Gillian Anderson only enhance the show’s already impressive stature.

Unnerving, sometimes uncomfortable, always beautiful and deeply melancholic, Hannibal is truly a masterful show; and with Season 3 dropping onto Netflix in late September, there’s never been a better time to start watching.

Lianne Potts on The Good Place

The Good Place is unlike anything else on TV right now. It’s the latest sitcom from the mind of Michael Schur, who is best known as the creator of both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Fans of Schur’s work are sure to love this show, but it’s far from a re-hash of his previous successes.

One thing that makes The Good Place stand out from the crowd is the fact that it’s set in the afterlife. After her death, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) arrives in an idyllic neighbourhood in the Good Place, overseen by its friendly architect Michael (Ted Danson). Eleanor soon realises that she must have been sent there by mistake, thanks to her overall selfish existence on Earth. With the reluctant help of her supposed soulmate, ethics professor Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Eleanor strives to become a better person in order to avoid being sent to the Bad Place where she belongs. Along the way, the pair also befriend their neighbours – Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), an upper-class British philanthropist, and her soulmate Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a silent Taiwanese monk. On hand to assist the residents of the neighbourhood is the Alexa-like Janet (D’Arcy Carden), who contains all the knowledge in the universe.

Although the premise of The Good Place is wildly different to any of Schur’s previous creations, it still comes with the same trademark sense of humour and cast of unique and compelling characters that fans of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine have come to expect from his work. This show is full of weird and wonderful goings-on (as you would expect from a show set in the afterlife), but its incredibly talented cast and crew managed to carry off this strange concept expertly and effortlessly. Another thing that makes The Good Place so unique is its ingenious blending of comedy and teaching the audience about how to become a better person, without ever coming across as ‘preachy’.

The Good Place currently has two seasons, with a third season set to premiere on Netflix in the UK on 28th September, so now is the perfect time to binge this show. The first season alone is full of twists and turns, so it’s best to avoid reading anything more – just dive straight in and let it become your new favourite show.

Isobel Roach on Stranger Things

Since Netflix’s creation, few TV shows have achieved the massive cultural impact that Stranger Things has. Aside from HBO’s fantasy behemoth Game of Thrones and FOX’s American Horror Story, it’s hard to imagine a television series inspiring all manner of tributes from sold out club nights to elaborately decorated cakes and countless Halloween costumes. Since its first season dropped in 2016, the Duffer brothers’ labour of love has already become an iconic franchise, with a third instalment in the works set to launch in the summer of 2019.

But what can we contribute its massive success to? Well, you don’t have to look much further than social media to see how the show’s cast of loveable kids has captured the hearts of the public (actress Millie Bobby Brown has a staggering 17.1 million followers on Instagram). From the moment we first see Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and his gang of friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) playing Dungeons & Dragons with such childish vigour, it’s hard not to be charmed by their joyful Spielbergian sense of boyhood camaraderie.
And of course, the nostalgia factor is a big pull. The show is littered with homages to eighties pop culture including movies like Aliens, E.T. and Stand by Me. Add Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon’s soft, synth-heavy soundtrack and Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) incredible eighties hairdo into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a perfect retro pastiche.

Despite its many throwbacks, there’s still a heart to Stranger Things. You can’t help becoming emotionally invested in Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) turmoil as she flees an incredibly traumatic past in Hawkins Labs. And the intricate, unfolding mystery at the heart of the series is one that constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat, eager to let the next episode play.

Perhaps only Netflix’s streaming platform could have allowed Stranger Things to become the phenomenon it is now. In the age of binge-watching and low attention spans, the ease of sitting through a whole season in a matter of days (or for the more hardy, mere hours) is an attractive prospect. This is all the more beneficial for a show like Stranger Things, that has a relatively complex and nuanced story to tell. You have to wonder if the more casual viewer might’ve lost interest if they were forced to wait a week for each new instalment. However, that’s not an issue any of us need to concern ourselves with – not when the season two premier alone was streamed by 15.8 million people. Bitchin.

Harry Dixon on Into the Inferno

Volcanoes: great mountainous castles of rock and earth with cores of raging liquid fire and caverns of searing magma. Soulless, aggressive products of nature or sites of human transcendence, worship, mystery, things of beauty? German film-titan Werner Herzog and co-director, and volcanologist, Clive Oppenheimer present this intriguing question in ‘Into the Inferno’, a documentary about humanity’s curious spiritual relationship with these phenomenal sites of nature.

One could observe the oddity of Netflix, a company famed for its mass-appeal and enablement of instantaneous access to popular films, pairing with Werner Herzog, the eccentric mind behind a slew of other independent and existentially-probing documentaries such as ‘Grizzly Man’ and ‘Encounters at the End of the World’. But this is not a negative, of course. It is a blindingly bright positive: if Netflix has the enthusiasm to disseminate a Werner Herzog film, then that’s wonderful. And the film is indeed wondrous.

The film splits its time between scientific examination of the impacts of volcanoes, usually presented by Clive Oppenheimer, and rapturous footage of volcanoes in action. Several sequences featuring undulating pillars of magma, worm-like and gigantic, flowing down mountain faces as ant-like humans walk by, would easily slot into Science Fiction cinema. Herzog enhances these mesmerising visuals with a typically Herzogian stroke of drama: bass-voiced choirs singing from the Christian liturgy, an appropriate aural representation of devotion and wonderment, as is mirrored by the cultures from Indonesia, Iceland, North Korea, and Ethiopia, and their unique relationship to volcanoes, which the film explores.

There is a hint of indulgence in that there is a lot of looking at volcanoes being volcanoes with the expectation of induced wonder; but, if you have liked any of Herzog’s previous work or enjoy learning about (or looking at) humanity, nature, science, or culture, then the film is for you.

Nidhi Pattni on To All the Boys I Loved Before

Romantic films have been a part of popular culture for generations, evolving with the times, from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan falling in love through email alerts in You’ve Got Mail to the commercialisation of the word ‘Okay’ in the Fault in Our Stars. But To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before feels nostalgic yet modern, a mix of 90’s romantic charm and the inclusivity of more people of colour on screen, and not just as a funny side character of a frustrating stereotype (*ahem, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, ahem*). TATBILB is a movie that feels like a bowl of mac and cheese; warm, comforting and cheesy to the point of reaching nausea, but I don’t mid it at all to be honest. I love it, because I feel like Jenny Han really nails the art of creating characters in a romantic comedy that were not just cheesy and adorable, but very relatable as well. For example, I can name at least four girls that I went to high school with who wrote mushy love letters to their crushes, and no I was not one of them (well, maybe I was, but you’ll never know). Also, even though the plot was not exactly unpredictable, it still felt fresh. Every character was likeable and did not feel like a rom-com trope, even if they were. But, probably the most talked-about factor that makes this film so loveable is the diversity. Being a person of colour myself, there has  been a vacuum in the genre of leads who were from different ethnic backgrounds, and seeing a protagonist that was Korean in a mainstream romantic comedy was both refreshing and uplifting. I believe that, with TATBILB, Jenny Han has given a big warm hug to a whole generation of teenagers who wrote letters to their crushes believing that one day they’d have a love story that ended with a big romantic union with Noah Centineo on a football field.