'Painting With John' (HBO)
Musician and actor John Lurie last visited television series some years ago in "Fishing With John," which paired him with buddies like Tom Waits on absurd fishing expeditions. This new series comes from the same unique place, but grabs even more philosophical territory as it unfolds, while still embracing absurdity as part of the wisdom that is revealed.
Lurie has long suffered from Lyme disease and now lives on a small tropical island, spending time painting when he is well enough. This free-form documentation of his life offers plenty of glimpses of his painting side, but it is mostly the opportunity for Lurie to talk. What he says varies, but are often stories about his past, little incidents that are sometimes funny, sometimes curious, often meaningful, and occasionally revelatory.
Lurie is a guy who’s been around in the world and spent a lot of time out and about in it, but unlike so many who find themselves on the celebrity track, he’s actually absorbed his experience, learned things from it, and grown. And that’s impressive.
In many ways, this is the ultimate COVID show because Lurie’s largely solitary existence — he has a couple ladies who work for him in his home, but he doesn’t seem to have tons of other interaction with the outside world — rings of lockdown. Lurie certainly isn’t wasting this solitude and isn’t letting a disease weigh him down, and this makes the show as inspirational as it is amusing.
'Shtisel' 3rd Season (Netflix)
Shtisel was an unlikely international hit. Few would expect an Israeli drama about an Orthodox family to strike as many chords as it did with people outside the community, but something in the way it approached its subject matter — with respect but not reverence — and revealed basic human truths once all the clutter of life was stripped away offered the kind of poetic touches that you don’t often see in series.
The show was fortunate to receive an unexpected third season, thanks to the success, five years after the original show aired, and the makers of "Shtisel" rose to the occasion beautifully, expanding on the themes of the original series in new surprising ways. The show still centers on patriarch Shulem (Doval'e Glickman ) and square-peg son Kiva (Michael Aloni), but also gives a lot of time the stories of the younger generation to present striking parallels and contradictions.
The theme, as it’s always been, is the continuity of life and the way it moves along, offering challenges that reveal the continuity is likely to not happen in the way you expected, and might require some work on your part. And as always, this revelation unfolds with amusing side roads and heartbreaking main passages, with selflessness and selfishness, spirit and submission all colliding within one person and buttressing against these aspects of another. As pure human dramas go, I don’t think anything out there surpasses what "Shtisel" offers and the new third season is triumphant proof
'Thin Ice' (Sundance)
This Swedish series deserves applause just for conjuring a fun suspense romp out of two elements that don’t appear much in these kinds of shows, if at all, — Greenland and climate change.
Built around a climate conference in Greenland, the series takes all the political implications and runs with them. When a oil rig off the coast of Greenland is attacked and everyone on board taken hostage by unknown abductors — including an aide to the Swedish minister spearheading the conference with her ambitious climate proposals. All hell immediately breaks loose and all sides at the table began to betray one another. Alongside the high level political intrigue are the ground level efforts to recover the hostages, focusing on the minister aide’s pregnant wife and fearless security agent Liv (Bianca Kronlöf) and Enok (Angunnguaq Larsen), the Greenland police officer who’s constantly butting heads against his Danish superior in his attempts to get to the bottom of the abduction.
As events spiral out of control on all fronts, the tension runs high, and something much more edge of your seat happens that supplants any thoughts of this being another dark, Nordic Noir effort. Well worth a binge when you want to get that heart racing.