Here’s a fact that you may find shocking: there are other streaming services besides Netflix. Something that is often forgotten seeing that Netflix has essentially dominated the streaming market. Recently, I took the time to try out some of the various free trials offered on other streaming services. One, in particular, had my curiosity, then my attention and is rather close to a monthly subscription. I’m talking about Amazon Prime Video. An online video-on-demand channel with a diverse range of curated TV properties and original programs of their own. Honestly, some of these TV series easily match the quality found in larger cable companies like HBO or Disney Plus.
They range from hilarious satirical comedies to polished high-budget epics to gripping psychological thrillers. I imagine some of you at this point might be saying “Yeah, well Netflix has all that stuff too”. Well, it doesn’t have these amazing TV series that definitely warrant a binge session. Trust me, some of the programmes available here are pretty uniquely nuts!
1. The Boys
Over the last decade, we’ve seen an overabundance of comic book films/superhero films. We’ve seen everything from bright, colourful defenders to brooding tortured vigilantes to whacky anti-heroes. It’s safe to say that we’ve hit mass saturation. Oh but you can your ass you haven’t seen this version of superheroes before. They make the morally questionable characters of the DC Extended Universe look like boy scouts. Prime’s The Boys is set in a world in which superpowered individuals are more corporate mascots and enforcers than righteous warriors. Posing with citizens by day and committing every other sinful by night. I’m talking about murder, assault, rape and mass killings. Covered up by their corporate sponsors and embued with tremendous powers, somebody’s got to keep these damn narcissistic psychopaths in check. Enter the Boys.
A black-ops organization dedicated to exposing and eliminating superpowered menace (or supes) by any means necessary. Led by the grim and extremely vulgar Billy Butcher, played by Dredd‘s Karl Urban. Based on writer Garth Ennis’ graphic novel, The Boys is a scathing critique against the comic book film industry. A bracing and deeply cynical depiction of how power, fame and branding create and protect megalomaniacal sociopaths. The show even has its own version of the Justice League in the form of the Seven as the main antagonists. The one that absolutely stands out above them all is Anthony Starr’s Homelander. An arrogant, violent and weirdly horny parody of Superman. With the second season of The Boys set to be released in September, now would be the perfect time to jump into this pool of jet-black humour and bloody gore. It’s bloody fun!
2. 30 Rock
Now, what kind of high-end streaming service would Prime Video be it didn’t have at least one classic sitcom show from the early 2000s? Netflix might have the more popular, arguably more overrated, choices of Friends and The Office but Prime is the only place you can catch 30 Rock. Next to perhaps Fox’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I believe 30 Rock to be the funniest sitcoms of a generation. 30 Rock follows the adventures of an eclectic cast of famous morons, disillusioned teamsters and the ever-optimistic and pathetic Liz Lemon. Together, they run a less than successful studio sketch show out of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Watch them contend with everything from cancellation to existential crises to the inane machinations of network executive Jack Donaghy.
Long before TV shows rode on the metatextual coats of Rick and Morty, there was 30 Rock. The show is both a love letter and a brilliant satire of the TV industry. Every episode of the series tackles at least one key issue of the industry. Sometimes, they’ll do one on the plasticity and stupidity of reality TV shows. Sometimes, 30 Rock will comment on the marketability and value of celebrity feuds, or how women deliberately sound dumber so they that can make it in the media world. Most of the time though, it’s everyone running around like a headless chicken trying to keep things together. Written and starred by Saturday Night Live actor/writer Tina Fey, 30 Rock has earned its place in the hallowed halls of sitcoms, and definitely a spot on your watchlist.
3. Man in the High Castle
I’m not going to lie, The Man in the High Castle won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Undoubtedly, there will be those who will find the political violence and disturbing setting to be too unsettling. For those who stick around though, they will be rewarded with an alternate history drama epic that will have them hooked from start to finish. High Castle is set in a world in which the Axis Powers won World War II and have since taken over the United States of America. The country is divided between the Greater Nazi Reich on the east coast and the Japanese Pacific States in the west. For decades, the two powers have lived in begrudging harmony. All this about to change with the looming threat of thermonuclear war looming between the two empires.
Meanwhile, a woman named Juliana Crain has discovered a secret that could change the course of history forever. There is something indeed wrong with this world. High Castle takes a while to get going but by the second season, the show truly hits its stride with political intrigue galore and growing battles of a larger scale. It all leads to a mindblowing revelation that I dare not spoil. If you’re a huge fan of World War II series like Band of Brothers or the Pacific, or a history buff then High Castle is the perfect show for you. Its rivetting plot of conspiracy and revolution paired with phenomenal performances from actors like Alexa Davalos as Crain and Rufus Sewell as the conflicted American Nazi John Smith makes this a must-watch.
Holy hell, is this show vulgar, religiously inflammatory and ridiculously badass. Based on yet another graphic novel by Garth Ennis, Preacher is one fiery diatribe against the evils of organized religion and theism wrapped up in a supernatural neo-western. The series revolves around the titular preacher, Jesse Custer. A disillusioned church leader trapped in his position due to malicious circumstances. All that changes, however, when he finds himself bonded to a powerful entity called Genesis. A hybrid child of angel and demon. This gives Custer the Voice of God, a unique ability that allows him to override people’s will through verbal command. Now alongside an old lover and an alcoholic vampire, Custer will go on a perilous quest to find his Maker.
Produced by Pineapple Express‘ Seth Rogen, Preacher is the perfect blend of black comedy and glorious action. The writing here is sinfully snappy and deliciously irreverent in all the right ways. As the series progresses, we see our merry band of outlaws come to grips with their past and future in profound ways. Dominic Cooper delivers a captivating performance as the jaded ex-preacher with a heart of gold. Bit by bit, we learn about the tragedies he suffered under the hand of his religious family and how it moulded his outlook on life. Whether you’re religious or not, I’m sure most of us can empathize with Custer’s search for the purpose behind his pain. All while revelling in the show’s over-the-top gore.
5. Mr Robot
Believe it or not, most of the hacking depicted in films and TV shows are fairly inaccurate. Often having some stereotypical tech wiz throw around jargon like “firewall” and “algorithm” to lend some legitimacy. Mr Robot is that rare exception in which hacking is not only depicted in an accurate manner but its effects are fully understood. Mr Robot is a psychological tech thriller starring Rami Malek as the main character, Elliot Alderson. A socially awkward, mentally unstable hacker activist. Behind the endless lines of codes and the mundane facade of everyday life is E Corp, a nefarious corporation that controls nearly every aspect of society. Alderson sees through the veil and will stop at nothing to bring them down.
Writer and director Sam Esmail is a master at storytelling. He manages to somehow weave the narrative of Alderson’s revolution and the character’s debilitating mental health and history in a way that feels both personal and grand in scale. Malek’s performance as Alderson is nothing short of a triumph. There were moments in which the show emotionally exhausted me. I began to feel the paranoia and dread of Alderson as he struggles for control over ultimate reality and his reality. Much like Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Mr Robot at its core is a profound character-driven story. One that manages to tackle concepts like capitalism, mental health, existence while still keeping Alderson in focus. This series alone warrants a monthly subscription. Yes, it’s just that great.