Netflix continues to grow from strength to strength, and what was once a Blockbuster-alike video rental is now one of the world’s leading producers of high quality original ’TV’ programming. It is easily my preferred version of ’Television’ (99% of my viewing is on-demand) and its eclectic mix of quality content and superior user experience sees it outpace the likes of Amazon Video and NowTV / Sky - to which I also subscribe.
What started with House of Cards has expanded across genres - in original drama - great shows like Orange Is The New Black, Better Call Saul, The Crown, Narcos, The Get Down etc. to more quirky fare like Sense 8 and the OA. A large chunk of the Marvel Universe in the form of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the forthcoming ’The Defenders’. Then in comedy with the award-winning Master of None and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Love, The Santa Clarita Diet, and Girlboss, and the various Adam Sandler vehicles. Original Movies - Beasts of No Nation and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; the numerous Stand-Up specials and Documentaries. There is almost no genre now where Netflix does not offer some original programming of its own.
But the focus of this piece is on Youth Mystery Dramas - namely Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale - a fabulous hat trick of series successes. Most will know that Stranger Things was one of my favourite shows of last year - it has a magical combination of great narrative and cast, superb 80’s production design with an equally fantastic analogue synth soundtrack.
In fact all three dramas, although markedly different in subject matter and scope, share some essential characteristics. They all have a central mystery as the driving narrative and benefit from strong female leads and excellent casting. The aesthetics and production values of each are top notch, and each show is ably supported by a complementary soundtrack which adds texture and atmosphere to proceedings.
Even though focused on life challenges of younger folks, these dramas have a broadly cross-generational appeal, some evoked by nostalgia, and some simply by shared memories of everyday trials and tribulations in coming of age. Even though the scripting of each is quite individual and distinct, there is a broad basis for formula here which I hope to see more variations of in coming years.
I’ve long been a fan of more quality-oriented youth drama - including some of my all-time favourite shows like - Veronica Mars, Greek, and Freaks and Geeks, and look forward to seeing more original programming in a similar vein to our aforementioned trio - with particular attention paid to intriguing narratives, strong production values and smart casting and ambience-enhancing song / track selections...