Netflix in March 2019 was a pretty strong month with surprisingly original and memorable TV shows.
American Horror Story: Cult [10/10]
Disenchantment (Season 1, Part 1) [7/10]
Over the Garden Wall [10/10]
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Season 1, Episode 11) [6/10]
American Horror Story has always been a TV show that isn’t afraid to break taboos and deal with mature subjects in subtle as well as offensive ways. Despite all the gore and bloody violence, psychological horror is the most prominent aspect of it. The seventh season is the best example and culmination of all these ideas, as it shows what people are capable of when it comes to politics and extremist actions. I usually avoid movies or TV shows that bathe themselves in political messages, but American Horror Story is one of the few cases in which one feels engaged in so many ways. Unlike other TV shows that use some episodes to bridge the gap to more interesting ones that move the plot forward, each episode is important and full of twists. Even if one seems to know the cult members’ motivations and especially the agenda of the leader, one’s expectations are turned around the next time. The way how American serial killer, cultist, and also feminist history are intermingled is quite fascinating, too. What speaks even more for the general high quality of the series is that it doesn’t only offer a frightening look at the inner workings of a cult or society’s prejudices against women and immigrants, but also that there are enough funny moments that ridicule certain concepts and periods of time. In short: Cult is one of the best and scariest seasons of a series that only grows stronger in storytelling, acting, and production.
The biggest problem of the animated TV show Disenchantment is that it’s compared to Matt Groening’s former creation The Simpsons, which would do it injustice, as the setting and characters are all quite different. Making fun of fantasy tropes isn’t very original, but fortunately the show doesn’t rely too much on stereotypes with its jokes, simply presenting a believable world in which creatures and people mostly behave in a natural way. The main characters are very likable, even if it takes a while for the audience to learn something about them. In general, the writing is quite good, although there are also a few instances when the jokes miss their mark, trying too hard to make the audience laugh. Another problem is how the overarching plot only becomes interesting in the last two episodes which feel rushed towards an annoying cliffhanger. With only 10 episodes of around 30 minutes each for the first half of Season 1, one might not expect much development, but as there are so many plot strands that are only briefly shown and left behind with episodes that feel like fillers, the show doesn’t quite deliver. Of course this doesn’t mean Disenchantment isn’t worth watching. It’s definitely funny and has some great ideas, just like The Simpsons, and with its fantasy setting it’s refreshingly different to watch, too.
Over the Garden Wall is an atmospheric throwback to classic folk stories and fairy tales, which means it can be quite dark and even a bit disturbing at times. However, there is just enough humor and warmth that also appeals to an older audience. With only 10 episodes that have a runtime of around 10 minutes each, it’s surprising that they are self-contained and move the plot forward at the same time. The series feels more like an animated movie that has everything: an outstanding cast of voice actors, great music, terrific sound design, touching stories, funny, scary, and sad moments. It might be a bit too frightening for smaller children and many of the references to Edgar Allen Poe or other authors and tales might be lost on them, but as with the best of fairytales, being scared is all part of the fun, no matter what age one is in.
After having watched the ten episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in November 2018, this eleventh episode titled A Midwinter’s Tale came as a surprise, although releasing this around Christmas was a good marketing idea. This time it’s more like a collection of short stories that are only loosely held together by the spirit of Christmas turned upside down in a darker manner. Even if the main plot and characters develop a bit, it’s still more about presenting a few scary and even disturbing sequences that aren’t for the squeamish or those who only watch sappy Christmas movies. To be honest, it’s all rather unspectacular, and even a low budget flick like A Christmas Horror Story has better ideas. As a filler episode, it’s okay, but there are way better Christmas specials in other TV shows than this one.
Netflix is always a great way to experience original ideas in TV shows, and March 2019 was probably the most interesting month, especially with animated TV shows and psychological horror themes.