Looking to binge on some Netflix this summer? Here are some underrated series that are worth considering as you contemplate your next viewing pleasure. 

STONEHEARST ASYLUM

A young, idealistic Oxford-educated doctor named Doctor Newgate (Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe) arrives at Stonehearst Asylum to commence his internship among the mad hatters, lunatics, and killers of the foreboding, nineteenth-century, and decidedly gothic, sanitarium. His captain, as well as the lead doctor at Stonehearst, happens to be a menacing yet progressive physician named Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley of Sexy Beast). Doctor Lamb doesn’t believe in the medieval techniques of torture and subjugation in dealing with the mentally ill, but rather affords his patients freedom and encouragement—a practice he calls “Soothing.” But with all his understanding and compassion, Lamb seems to be running the hospital into the ground. The place is as cold as a gravestone, medicine is in short order, and wanton acts of violence run rampant.

Young Doctor Newgate develops an infatuation with a comely patient named Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale of the Underworld franchise). But as danger lurks around every corner, there are many delicious twists and turns in this gothic romance. But you’ll have to see for yourself—that is if you dare enter the confines of Stonehearst Asylum!

With a first-rate and highly respected cast of actors including David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Caine, and Sinead Cusack, and a gripping story based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Stonehearst Asylum is a Netflix diamond in the rough. 

GIRLS INCARCERATED

Girls Incarcerated is ostensibly a “documentary show about troubled girls who are juvenile delinquents in Madison Juvenile Center.”  But the girls are so much more than “troubled.” They are rebellious, sad, gifted, streetwise, sassy, fearless, fearful, optimistic, cynical, uninhibited, and foul. If you’re looking for human drama, Girls Incarcerated is the real deal. The girls range from ages 14 to 17, and they’ve found themselves behind bars for various reasons including drug abuse, assault, truancy, and grand-theft auto, but almost all of them have been the victim of neglect or abuse of one kind or another. And some of them are just the victim of garden-variety bad luck. 

To see these kids in their formative years—when they should be out with friends, doing homework, galavanting around Disney World—toiling behind bars and missing their families, is absolutely heartbreaking. But the power of their spirit and the hope of a better day makes the series an engrossing and irresistible venture. 

Watching the trials and travails of the Madison girls, you can’t help but wish for a follow-up show in five to ten years to see how it all turned out for these vulnerable, wistful kids. One can only hope the girls will be living good lives, with meaningful jobs, unimaginable dreams, and positive friends; and that they are with their respective families. 

Be forewarned, these audacious kids use some pretty salty language; and they’re known to get into a scuffle or two. But they are young, real, and hopeful; they are our children. 

CAMERA STORE

The digital revolution is rapidly closing in on the vulnerable little film camera store, Bibideaux’s Family Photographic. Set in the mid-‘90s, the plot revolves around one pivotal work day for the store’s employees as they try to breathe life into a dying business and keep their collective sanity along the way. There are many fine performances here; John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as the alcoholic sycophant Pinky, is just priceless, and Paul Ben-Victor (The Wire) playing the manipulative Mr. Bibideaux is nothing short of terrifying. But it’s John Larroquette of Night Court and West Wing who gives a bravura performance as the store’s world-weary manager Ray LaPine. Trapped by a tragic past and dismal future, LaPine works and endures day to day because he can think of nothing much else to do. 

The pace of the film is measured and even lethargic in order to match the themes of disheartening careerism and perpetual mediocrity, but the depth and detail of character study and the human drama itself maintain a momentum that is absorbing and, at times, captivating. There are surprise developments and unexpected turns in this psychological dramedy as well, but one has to pay close attention as the journey and revelations of each character are nuanced, intricate, and interlaced. 

There are a smattering of f-bombs in this brusque and candid indie film, but if you’re okay with coarse language, the pathos and intelligence just might get you where your heart aches for deliverance.

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