8 min read

Media Diet - Winter Edition

A selection of television series to watch over the winter break. Slow Horses, The Bear, Yellowjackets, Blue Eye Samurai, and more.
Media Diet - Winter Edition
Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb - Slow Horses

It's been awhile since the last media diet post a few years ago. The media diet idea comes from Jason Kottke who writes the media diet posts a few times a year. A large collection of movies, books, television series, etc. that have caught his interest. I tend to share the trailers of things of interest on social media, but never followup to write about how I felt after watching the shows, movies, etc.

What follows is a quick run-down of my TV recommendations for the rest of the winter break before the weather warms up again (although, it's been unseasonably warm here in Kelowna, so much so that I have been able to get out for nearly daily walks without having to worry about ice). A follow-up post will happen for books, podcasts, and newsletters to read soon.

Click the title to be taken to the trailer.


Slow Horses (Apple TV+)

I'll start with Slow Horses, which just finished their third season this past week. I first wrote about it in April 2022 when it first came out, so it seems weird to be writing about the third season just over a year and a half later. The main reason for that is each season is only six episodes. I also learned recently that they film in 12 episode blocks, which means the fourth season is in the process of being edited now. That meant after the finale episode, they were able to show a trailer for the fourth season.

Slow Horses is based on a series of books by Mick Herron, covering an offshoot of MI5, the security service for the United Kingdom (the equivalent to the secret service and CIA in the US), which is full of rejects from MI5. Like a lot of British humour, I would say this is more of a black comedy-thriller than a thriller with some straight humour. The characters are what make this series must watch for me. Jackson Lamb, one of the main characters, is an chain-smoking alcoholic with the worst hygiene imaginable, but also one of the smartest and wittiest in any situation. I can't count the number of times that he simply disgusts me in one moment, and then makes me laugh with his casual remarks in the next beat.

Highly recommended.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen - The Bear

The Bear (FX/Disney+)

The second season of this phenomenal show aired earlier this year. It's quickly making the rounds as one of the best shows of 2023, but individual episodes are also being named as some of the best of the year. A lot of shows I watch have one episode that really stands out, but the second season of The Bear had three excellent, excellent episodes to choose from.

The main character of The Bear is Carmen, a well-regarded chef. He returns to take over his recently deceased brother's restaurant in Chicago, a sandwich shop. The second season is about taking the shop to the next level, but also takes the characters to the next level. There are episodes focused on each of the primary characters, which works wonderfully. The best episodes focus on the manager of the restaurant (Carmen's brother's best friend) taking time away to work in a Michelin star restaurant and becoming a new man; another chef taking time to visit Copenhagen and returning with exceptional pastry skills; and a chaotic Christmas episode that goes back in time to show Carmen's life with his brother and alcoholic mother (played by Jamie Lee Curtis). This show is fast-paced, more like watching a basketball or hockey game with the action changing constantly.

It's quickly become one of my favourite shows ever. A third season is to come.

Blue Eye Samurai

Blue Eye Samurai (Netflix)

This series came out recently and is quite a bit different than everything else on my list, because it is animated. Not quite the traditional anime-style of shows like Pokemon, but more stylized and closer to Ghost in the Shell. The creators call it a blend of 2D and 3D, but the 3D scenes feel 2D.

The story follows Mizu, a half-Japanese female samurai in 17th century Japan. Mizu is pretending to be a man and wears glasses to cover up her eye colour. The series follows Mizu searching for her father, who is one of four Caucasians that have been allowed to enter Japan while the borders were closed. The visuals are stunning in the series, but it is very violent and graphic. It reminds me a lot of the series Spartacus with the amount of blood in it.

The series feels very different than a lot of other shows being released for the above reasons, but there is something else happening that makes it feel more magical. I couldn't come up with the right words until I heard Van Lathan talking about it on The Ringer-Verse podcast. He described the show as a "trapeze without a net." What he meant by that is there isn't a main actor to keep you watching (say Jennifer Aniston on The Morning Show), a book that inspired it, or a historical story or person. With those type of shows, an episode may flop or a storyline may not work, but people will continue watching just to find out what happens.

With Blue Eye Samurai, there is no safety net for it to fall back onto. The closest thing it has is 17th century Japan. It isn't based on a book or historical event, so it tends to take some chances to capture our attention and suck us into the story even further. It does this with a few plot twists that surprise us and by the end of the story, we are left wanting more.

It was recently renewed for a second season after how many people were raving about it. It is highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rebecca Ferguson as Juliette - Silo

Silo (Apple TV+)

Silo is based off a series of books, the first being called Wool by Hugh Howey. It's set in the not too far-off future where people are living underground in a large silo with 100's of levels of living spaces, hospital, and farming areas. The story starts with a body being discovered and the people in charge rely on a woman from the far lower levels to assist in solving it. In the process of unraveling that mystery, she starts to explore the larger mystery of how people started living in the silo in the first place.

Another well done, fast-paced series that has a lot of story left to tell. It was renewed for a second season, but the books are complete if you want to dive into the written story first.

Foundation (Apple TV+)

Another science-fiction series on Apple, based on the Isaac Asimov series of books, written in the 1940s. The story follows a Galactic Empire that has grown ever expansive and is slowly starting to die, but the ruler fails to see it failing. Enter Hari Seldon, a mathematician, that develops the theory of psychohistory to predict the future events surrounding human civilization. His main prediction foresees the collapse of the Empire in a much quicker timeline and the result is another Dark Ages that lasts 30,000 years.

While the other stories above are fairly linear in time (flash backs are common), Foundation has some major time jumps taking place, both to the far future (100+ years) and far back in time (400+ years). The show makes it easier to follow than what happened during House of the Dragon with its time jumps.

While there are action sequences, this is more of a space opera compared to Star Wars. Well worth the watch if you enjoy science fiction stories.

Yellowjackets (Showtime/Crave)

This show is absolutely wild, brutal, raw, and people eat it up. The best way to describe it is take Lost (a female soccer team plane crashes in the wilderness in 1996), add in Lord of the Flies, and then split the timeline into the past events (the crash) and the kids as adults (celebrating the 25th high school graduation). What happens in the past is reflected in the future, but the future adults don't tell the audience what fully happened in the past. The story is discovered slowly.

If the story wasn't compelling enough, the acting is quite good. You can see similar mannerisms in the teenagers showing up in the adults. For the adult actors, you have Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men being the main show), Christina Ricci (recently in Wednesday, Addams Family, and a lot of other things), Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers, and more), and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under, Servant, and more). Several Emmy nominations spread amongst them. The scenes with all those women and a few other actors are always fun to watch. There is a larger cameo in season two which is a real delight, as well.

It was renewed for a third season and will be a quick binge weekend.

Squid Game: The Challenge (Netflix)

This isn't the sequel to the original series, which is a Korean drama on Netflix, but a real competition show. This show (like the original) has 456 players staying in one large warehouse and competing for $4.56 million dollars. Players are eliminated as they fail to complete challenges, sometimes competing individually, other times as teams. In The Challenge, there are some added dynamics which transform the show more into a Survivor-like show where people are trying to build alliances, stay unnoticed, or others are trying to become leaders. Slowly the numbers drop down to the final few challenges and a winner is determined.

When the show was announced, I was pretty skeptical about it. I wasn't sure I needed to watch a repeat of the brilliant original series. One quiet night, needing more Survivor in my life (the latest season was quite good again), I put on the first episode. After the first game (Red Light/Green Light), I was hooked. The editing on the show is exceptional. Of course, it's impossible to get to know all 456 players, but the production staff do highlight a lot of players that end up being eliminated early or last until the end.

Since a lot of the eliminations are due to chance more than skill (i.e. the glass walk game), it kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what would happen. Like all good game shows, there were twists that were difficult to predict. If you enjoy shows like Survivor or Big Brother, or you enjoyed the original series, try this one.

The Night Agent (Netflix)

This is by far the most linear, most easily understood series listed here. The Night Agent is a CIA agent that is stationed at the White House answering any urgent phone calls at night from the other field agents that are in distress. The series follows the sequence of events after one of the calls. It's fast-paced, action packed, and a thriller. The creator and one of the writers is Shawn Ryan, who also created The SHIELD, The Chicago Code, S.W.A.T., and others.

The show also happens to be the most watched series on Netflix according to Netflix. A quick, fun show to binge on a weekend.

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