My binge week has consisted of a documentary on a sports legend, an extremely tense and exciting French espionage series, and an achingly well-done Irish story of young love. Read on for details.
“The Last Dance,” originally available only on ESPN but now streaming on Netflix, is a 10-part series that covers the career of basketball legend Michael Jordan, considered by most to be the best player of that game, ever. The title refers to the season of 1997-98, after which Jordan retired and legendary coach Phil Jackson went on to the L.A. Lakers. If you’re not in the mood for another laudatory recounting of a fabled career, not to worry—this is no puff piece. Here is Jordan and contemporaries, warts and all, as the saying goes, seen on film gathered both from archives and the present. While the game footage is exciting to watch, especially for basketball fans (and even for those who might not be), it’s the talking heads, the searing and honest interviews with the present-day Jordan and others who interacted with him both on and off the court that give insights into the man himself. Here is a portrait of a genius who demanded perfection of himself and his teammates, and whose brutal competitiveness made him a lot of enemies. Geniuses in any field are usually given some “attitude latitude”—Jordan could be cruel, arrogant and, if you challenged him, filled with a fierce determination for vengeance. He was also hounded by the media, worshipped and then reviled when he dared to appear human and therefore imperfect. Do check out “The Last Dance.”
“The Bureau” is a serious must-watch for fans of espionage thrillers. I watched all of season one and there are four more to go, so I am a happy camper (probably not a great adjective; the show does not arouse happiness, for sure). In French, with English subtitles, and available on Sundance Now through Prime Video, it deals with France’s intelligence service and focuses mainly on Guillaume Malotru (the enigmatic and intense Matthieu Kassovitz) who has been undercover in Syria for six years and has just returned to Paris. Instead of getting some time off to readjust, he is thrown right into a cauldron of chaos: a captured Middle Eastern agent, a Syrian businessman with close ties to Assad, CIA interference, and crisis after crisis, all of which could have huge and devastating effects if they are not dealt with immediately. Then there’s Malotru’s personal life that’s in constant uproar: his teenage daughter, an ex-wife, a woman he fell in love with while under an alias in Syria (the gorgeous and talented Zineb Triki as a world-class scholar) who is now also in Paris and in possible danger. What stands out about “The Bureau” is that it’s confusing as hell, but you can’t take your eyes off it. And even though the mysteries it presents are (sort of) wrapped up at the end of the season, you’re still not sure what exactly was going on. Indulge yourself, sit back, get tense and enjoy the ride.
Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s best-seller, “Normal People,” has been made into a heart-tugging-yet-not-even-close-to-corny TV series, now available on Hulu. In casting leads Paul Mescal (an angel’s face, huge depths of feeling) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (secretive, brittle and vulnerable) as the two leads, Ms. Rooney’s creation comes vividly to life; in the beginning, we are caught up in the world of a high school in Sligo, Ireland, where brilliant oddball Marianne and popular student Connell begin a secret relationship. We follow them and their ever-changing status as lovers, then friends, then lovers over the next few years. Each has some growing up and exploring to do and they accomplish this with and without each other. Kudos to directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, writers Alice Birch and Rooney, and an excellent supporting cast. Rated M for a lot of nudity, by the way, and most definitely for grown-ups.