This column was reading in a newspaper the other day – an incorrigible habit – the suggestion that sun-filled vacations are vitally important for mental health. Stimulating for the brain cells, and all that. Well, nobody’s going anywhere in this grim January and for many more months.
What to do? Put your psyche in summer-vacation mode for the therapeutic benefit. That’s what. Here, four suggestions on streaming services that offer escapes, in different forms, to a different world. Choose carefully, but there’s a pick-me-up for everybody.
Summertime (one season on Netflix) is neither deep nor disturbing in any way, but boy does it have a summer feel. Set in an Italian coastal town (it’s in Italian with English subtitles), it’s about that summer, you know the one, where the lives of a small group of young people are changed forever. The town is empty in winter, filled with tourists in summer and most of the local teenagers think the visitors are losers. We’re talking here about a central character actually named Summer (Rebecca Coco Edogamhe) who is smart but with simmering resentments. Her mom is excited by the arrival of the tourists because it means full-time work, but Summer has to take care of her younger sister and also scrape a living. Her best friends are Edo (Giovanni Maini) and Sofia (Amanda Campana), and they too are bored. Maybe bored enough to fall in love for a summer fling. Then Summer meets Alessandro (Ludovico Tersigni), an up-and-coming motorcycle racer. It’s all a bit dopey and soapy but the texture of sun, sand and softness on the Adriatic coast is so real you can taste it and feel it.
Summerland (Netflix) is a British movie but from the start you will feel you’re watching a very good PBS Masterpiece production. It opens in the pleasant seaside setting of Kent in 1975. One very ornery old lady, Alice (Penelope Wilton), is telling some children to get lost so she can get back to her typing. Then the drama switches back to wartime England and Alice (Gemma Arterton, who is brilliant here) is typing like mad. What she’s working on is unclear for a while, but what’s certain is she’s a misfit and a misanthrope. The town hates her and she hates other people. Along comes young evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond) whom Alice is forced to house. A very slow deepening of the relationship between the two takes Alice back to the source of her distemper – the wonderful summer she fell in love with another woman. Made with great panache, this is a real gem of understated poignancy; about summers as lovely as they are fraught.
Brotherhood (three seasons on Crave) is the outlier on this list – it’s not specifically about summer and escapism. However, it arrived as a summer series on Showtime in 2006 and was hailed instantly as a series as good, almost, as HBO’s The Sopranos. It still stands up. Set in and shot entirely in Providence, R.I., in a fictional Irish area called the Hill, it’s about two brothers, Tommy (Jason Clarke) and Michael Caffee (Jason Isaacs). Tommy is a local politician trying to care for a community. Michael is the shrewd, thuggish gangster who intends to lead the local Irish mafia to riches and power. Subtle, tense but steeped in the texture of working-class family life, Brotherhood is a top-notch crime drama as shaded and gripping as anything in recent years. An unheralded, adult series, it’s a must-see in the context of the development of great U.S. drama in the pre-Trump period.
Outta Town Adventures (two seasons on Amazon Prime Video) is a pleasant, no-nonsense armchair travel show. Made and hosted by Canadian Bea Broda, it is meant, as Broda says now, to make you “dream of the places you can go when we can start moving around again.” A series with a very laid-back tone and style, it can amount to episodes about a hike somewhere or a look at an entire country and its charms. An episode can be about the various ways to experience the Grand Canyon, and the next one is about Iceland. There is nothing here to shock or annoy you. “Iceland has an abundance of hot springs” is about as deep as she gets on that country. And yet it works as a series of little escapes to equip your brain for real, literal escapes when the time comes.
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