'Pretend It’s A City' (Netflix)
As someone who lived in New York City for several years, it seems likely to me that the intended audience for this Fran Lebowitz series is exactly what I am since at times it seems like two lists pulled from my brain; one giving the reasons I love New York City, the other giving the reasons I had to move away. Lebowitz did not move away and that makes her the expert on NYC — and a pretty funny one.
Following Lebowitz around, and therefore acting as our conduit into her brain, is Martin Scorsese. He’s charged with getting her going and inciting a barrage of insight about life in general and life in NYC in particular, as well as biographical details about Lebowitz, who is well-known, but not known well. What transpires is the knowledge that to tell Lebowitz’s story you cannot separate her from NYC — they are intertwined.
The risk is that sometimes in her complaints, she can sound like an old lady who doesn’t quite get these kids today, but that’s unavoidable — everyone who hits a certain age has that aspect, and it only adds tang to the observations that are entirely correct. In a strange way, depending on your age, you might end up seeing a little bit of yourself in Lebowitz. I did.
'The Paper' (Netflix)
It’s hard to stress just how surprising it is when a Croatian series focusing on a struggling newspaper and examining political corruption in the country as a way of addressing rising global authoritarianism turns out to be not only addictive but also charming, but there it is. Featuring a swirling narrative with situations that are spiraling into chaos, "The Paper" is probably the best below-the-radar series on streaming.
It all kicks off with two events, seemingly unrelated. One, a hit-and-run that results in deaths and a missing perpetrator. Two, thuggish millionaire Marijo Kardum (Aleksandar Cvjetković) purchases the newspaper and sends its staff into a frenzy about the inevitable shake-ups to come. But there are other things at play as well, including the political rise of amoral Rijeka mayor Ludvig Tomašević (Dragan Despot) and numerous conflicts and dramas within the newsroom itself. All these aspects twist and turn and collide and expand through the two available seasons. It’s intense and often hilarious.
What propels the series further are the characters and the cast itself. Despot is immersive in his performance of the reprehensible Tomašević, an avatar for the far end of darkness, but it’s those who inhabit the gray areas who are the most fascinating. Branka Katić as veteran reporter Dijana Mitrović owns the show. A middle-aged woman with demons and no ability to decide she’s had enough to drink, Dijana is the iconic hardboiled reporter character adapted into a woman’s body and Mitrovic shines portraying her.
Equally alluring is Zdenko Jelčić as Blago Antić, the ex-Communist era high-level operative with heavy bags under eyes signifying how exhausting it is to survive in the ever-changing political landscape. Constantly reinventing himself as crucial to any situation in Croatian, Antić has ever-shifting loyalties and a dark past, but he’s played so engagingly by Jelčić, who displays a noble side and raises questions about whether good and bad really exist as absolutes at all.
A third season exists, completing the series. Let’s hope it appears on Netflix soon.