Hi and welcome to our new maybe-recurring installment where I recommend (but more just yell at you about) niche shows I’ve watched. The theme for this here inaugural edition of “What We’re Watching at 1 AM” is Netflix Originals. This comes as no surprise to those of you who have been with us from the beginning, seeing as The Niche itself is the lovechild of Paula Sorrentino and the Netflix Original as a concept.
So what are some niche things on Netflix right now?
1. GLOW (2017)
Listen. Ignore the rest of this list and just go watch GLOW now. This show is really a combination of TWO good tried-and-true formulas: a group of very different women thrust into a situation together AND a group of people who don’t know how to do Thing (dance/skate/sing) professionally must now train to do that Thing professionally because of Stakes (competition/performance/prize money). Here, that Thing is wrestling.
If you need any more convincing: there’s a very niche moment where Alison Brie tries to turn Maggie’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof monologue into trash talk for her wrestling persona.
Plus, Jenji Kohan is an executive producer and she’s never failed me, except for that time where Poussey died, and that other less tragic time where Nancy/Andy didn’t happen on Weeds.
2. Crashing (2016)
Crashing is a show about a friend group comprised of comfortingly familiar sitcom archetypes. But, like, if Chandler were openly gay and Monica pooped her pants while farting in bed in front of her boyfriend for the first time. Oh, and they’re property guardians living in a big abandoned hospital in London.* Who doesn’t want to live with a big group of friends in an old hospital and throw warehouse style parties??? Or to dance topless while splashing each other with paint that is coincidentally in a perfect Van Gogh color scheme?? The premise of this show is nothing but good and fun.
Anyway! The main character is facing the whole thing where your boyfriend’s childhood best friend that he’s maybe in love with shows up and becomes part of the friend group, ruining your life by being the Cool Girl to your Perfectionist Micromanager (the Rachel to your Monica, to fully exhaust the analogy). It’s a predictable formula but everyone is just off-beat and relatable enough that it’s fun.
More importantly, these two start happening almost immediately:
LOOK AT THIS!!! LOOK AT THIS AND THEN LOOK INTO MY EYES AND TELL ME THAT EVERY SINGLE GOOD LOVE STORY IS NOT THE DYNAMIC!!!! LOOK UPON THE DYNAMIC YE MIGHTY AND DESPAIR:
3. Flaked (2016)
As with every other Will Arnett project, this feels less like a “show” and more like Will Arnett is just working out his personal issues and Netflix has given us a window through which we can check in on him if we want but like Will Arnett doesn’t care either way.
I’ll be real with y’all I’m only like two episodes into this show and I have never related to or understood any piece of media less in my whole life. Oh, don’t get me wrong…I’ve done the niche humor circuit. I love your Bos Jack, your developments arrested, your strangers eating candy, your Teds better off. But as I watched these men angst about their internal lives and express feelings for a girl named London on a near constant basis?? I could not follow along or understand if there were jokes involved??
It did strike me that if this show were made in the early 2000’s, the men would be obsessed with a conventionally attractive blonde waitress with a unique name like London who like dresses as a sexy penguin for halloween. But as a testament to how far we’ve come, these men are obsessed with a conventionally attractive blonde waitress with a unique name like London who dresses as Frida Kahlo at a costume party, thus illustrating that women can be both hot and smart nowadays. Plus, it’s totally okay to have a unibrow if it’s for one night and never shown on-screen. (I’m sorry London, you are great and should be given your own show.) Look, it’s like watching Bella and Edward bond over the fact that they both know Debussy:
But I sound so negative when, in fact, I’m totally charmed because it’s been a while since I watched anything that’s simply about the internal lives of white men…feels like running into a kid you haven’t seen since elementary school at the grocery store. Their adult face is barely recognizable to you and you don’t particularly want to say hi but they still induce in you inexplicable waves of nostalgia for childhood.
Also, I’m always worried about Will Arnett so it’s good to get an update on him. What is he up to, you ask? Wearing red short-shorts that are too short, still pretending to be straight, and recovering from alcoholism, which is nice.
4. Netflix Live (2017)
This brings me to Will Arnett’s far superior and more relatable Netflix project: Netflix Live. It’s not surprising that Arnett, who studied narration at the feet of none other than Ron Howard, expertly narrates the hell out of hits like Toaster, Pencil sharpening room, and Thumb Wars. One can scarcely help being moved as Arnett talks about his dead dog Puzzle (“He was a cute little guy, Puzz”) over a video of hands completing an actual puzzle. Things take a cerebral turn with Reading, wherein Arnett dares to challenge William Shakespeare on whether all is well that ends well (“What if things begin with a massacre?” he asks).
This project is best summed up by a moment in my personal favorite segment, Pencil Sharpening, where a pair of hands hauntingly and repetitively turn the crank on a pencil sharpener as Arnett exclaims, “This…is what America was built on.” His voice carries an edge of irony, winking at the audience as thought to say: “Yeah we’ve all read Marx.”
5. Au Service de la France (2015)
Did someone ask for a satire about bureaucracy and the decline of French imperial power around the world set in the French version of the CIA and containing some great 1960s costuming? No, no one did but here it is.
Hugo Becker’s performance as André Merlaux–the newly recruited agent who is tasked with playing Straight Man to everyone else’s Extreme Shenanigans–tip toes the line between just lanky enough to appeal to everyone who had a thing for Louis Garrel and yet just earnest-but-dry enough to appeal to the Jim Halpert crowd.
Plus, his girlfriend is a feminist anti-colonialist with this killer peacoat and lesbian sensibilities:
6. Dear White People (2017)
This show is just a string of millennial things: there’s weed, there’s adderall, there’s the astute in-world parody version of Scandal, there’s the black activist who secretly likes her white boyfriend and Godard, there’s the closeted nerd who has a huge crush on his jock roommate. Oh and this girl pulls a Claire Underwood coup on her superstar School President boyfriend a few scenes after delivering this speech:
I feel like everyone was all over the trailer for the movie version of this but the show itself hasn’t gone viral. I guess that makes sense because (a) racism and (b) older generations don’t want to watch shows that transparently cater to millennials and we as millennials just prefer shows that cater to us without self-referentially telling us they are doing so every two minutes. But this one’s not just relying on it’s referential humour as a crutch, it’s also like “Hey this is what anti-black racism is like in liberal enclaves and this is what stories actually looks like when it’s just like…different black characters instead of one.”
7. Las Chicas del Cable (2017)
I’m not sure about this show yet but, even out of context, this is a scene from a movie I want to be watching all the time. Any time you ask me what I’m in the mood to watch, I’d say a movie where people are dressed like this and say things like “A long time ago, I had something like a family.” It’s all very Brideshead Revisited.
And hey look, the blonde woman looks like that Glee actress you all have a crush on so the show has that going for it:
* Author’s note for the Americans of us out there who might think cool warehouse spaces with impossibly high ceilings must be located in Brooklyn or Seattle and cost one million dollars: in parts of the world where squatting is more common and slightly less criminal than the U.S. property guardian companies “hire” people who pay a monthly fee to live in disused buildings and keep a physical presence there, discouraging squatters and making sure everything stays in good condition. Upside: housing at one third of market price. Downside: as licensees, rather than tenants, property guardians can be evicted without notice at the discretion of property owners and also this is just one more reminder that property owners won’t let poor people live in their buildings for free even if they’re doing absolutely zero things with it. See, you learned something and this website is educational.