While “The White Lotus” was almost certainly the show of the summer, there was plenty to watch over the last few Covid-affected months, including the Olympics, which can still make you cry despite a ratings decline.
Summer is often associated with light escapism, but with the box office still struggling, we turn to television for entertainment. And, based on post-Memorial Day reviews, the quality of documentary programming, from docuseries to individual films available (primarily) via streaming services and premium networks, really stood out.
The end of the summer has brought an unfortunate deluge of September 11-related programs commemorating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks — “unfortunate” not because some of the productions aren’t good, but because the sheer volume of them has canceled each other out.
Before that, the summer was filled with documentaries about Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, Val Kilmer, and the Summer of Soul.
“Summer of Soul,” which was culled from long-lost footage from the 1969 Harlem Music Festival, may have topped them all. “McCartney 3,2,1,” a music-centric look at the former Beatle’s life and influences shot in understated black and white, is also available on Hulu.
In the documentary ‘Summer of Soul,’ Sly Stone performs at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. (Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures).
Meanwhile, “Val,” now available on Amazon, was a touching look back at Val Kilmer’s career — and a fascinating look into the workings of Hollywood — made all the more poignant by the cancer that has robbed him of his voice; and “Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union,” which aired on HBO over three nights and roughly five hours, chronicled the audacity of Barack Obama’s political rise (which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia).
Other notable documentary-style efforts included HBO’s “In the Same Breath,” director Nanfu Wang’s look at the Covid outbreak in Wuhan and the United States, which featured secretly shot footage from China; and Showtime’s “Gossip,” a four-part series about how gossip columns swallowed the news industry in the 1990s.
More good documentaries are on the way, including Ken Burns’ upcoming PBS deep dive (is there any other kind?) into “Muhammad Ali.” But, beyond the traditional push from the major networks, there’s a deluge of new sitcoms and dramas post-Labor Day, so maybe, just maybe, we can all take a well-deserved break from reality. Hopefully not as the guests at White house.
“After seeing ‘White Lotus,’ I’ve been on a Mike White binge,’ watching ‘Enlightened’ for the first time.’ This is usually where I’d give a rousing endorsement of the show, but I’m not going to do it. It’s not that this isn’t a fantastic series — it is, and Laura Dern deserved all of the accolades she received for it — but I don’t think it’s for everyone. In fact, if you suffer from severe social anxiety, it may be too much for you to bear. I know this because I frequently find the series to be too much for me to handle.
I’m currently watching the second season, and I just finished watching an episode in which Dern’s Amy, a well-intentioned but frequently misguided human, signs up for Twitter for the first time.
Twitter can be a blessing and/or a curse for Amy, who is constantly searching for meaning and validation in her own life. In most cases, both. In this case, it’s clear that Amy’s only goal in joining the platform was to find a new way to be ignored in her life. She accosts a coworker in one scene and tells her to start following her right after she creates her account. In another, she’s speaking with a well-known advocate about the importance of ‘twittering.’ I paused the show in the middle of both scenes to die.