The 2017 Smart Binge, Doc, Music, Pod, Book and Geek Guide

What to Binge

  • Halt and Catch Fire — a series that takes place during the dawn of the personal computing era, before the Internet came along and ultimately ruined everything — could be television’s most underrated (or at least underwatched) show. It’s the Mad Men of the computing age. It gets much better with each season, so stick with it. All four seasons are now on Netflix.
  • American Crime is proof that network TV can still serve up innovative and high quality shows. All of its seasons are worth watching. And season three is quite timely, with a look at illegal immigration and human trafficking. The acting is superb (each season, the actors take on different roles in completely new stories). Binge all three seasons over the holidays.
  • Season two of Gomorrah is now on Sundance TV (and iTunes). This Italian series (one of Europe’s most popular series) is like The Sopranos without any of the levity or humor. It’s violent, suspenseful, interesting, and riveting. (Soundtrack also great.)
  • Aziz Ansari’s Master of None came back with a new season Netflix. Excellent again.
  • This pick is from my kids. They weren’t big fans of the Lemony Snicket movie, but they locked in and burned right through the Netflix series, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • I turned on my first episode of Brockmire starring Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet assuming that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Well, I was wrong (although it’s less like a cup of tea and more like a bottle of whisky). And here’s the good news for you. You’ll know if you like it after about two and half minutes. If you’re not easily offended, definitely give it a try.
  • My whole family enjoyed My Life as a Zucchini, an unusual and unusually excellent stop-motion animated film about kids thrown together in a foster home.
  • Broadchurch (on Netflix and elsewhere) is a series about a small British town rocked by internal and external forces after the body of young boy is found on a local beach.
  • Money laundering, shady dealings, bad hombres … talk about a show for our times! Check out Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in Ozark on Netflix.
  • I really dug Dear White People, the Netflix series, in which “students of color navigate the daily slights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy League college that’s not nearly as ‘post-racial’ as it thinks.” The show is insightful, entertaining, and has a very unique storytelling structure. Give it a try.
  • It’s rare for a show to get better in its third season. Narcos didn’t just get better. It’s in a completely different class. And you don’t need to have watched the first two seasons to enjoy it. Watch Narcos on Netflix.
  • I don’t know how to describe Amazon’s new pilot Love You More. And I don’t want to. It’s better that you experience it cold (and without the kids in the room, maybe even out of the house), as it’s unlike any show you’ve ever seen. It’s a trip. I really hope it gets picked up for a full season.
  • The perfect Christmas content for those not feeling the Christmas spirit is Black Mirror’s White Christmas starring Jon Hamm.

What to Doc

  • It’s no secret that some politicians have been attacking the free press. But that’s not the only risk the industry is facing. There are also legal challenges to freedom of speech, including Hulk Hogan’s Peter Thiel-backed lawsuit that took down Gawker Media. You may not like either side in this documentary, but that’s one of the reasons why its so important. On Netflix, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press.
  • If you really want to understand how we got here and what the hell has been going on in DC, then stop everything and watch Get Me Roger Stone. You think you don’t want to spend any more time on politics, but you won’t be able to turn this off. And that’s part of the point. (If you want to gamify the experience, try to make it through the whole documentary without puking.) While we’re on the topic of terrible, read Vanity Fair’s look at how Stephen Miller rode white rage from Duke’s campus to Trump’s West Wing. And then watch the very interesting ESPN documentary on the Duke lacrosse case: Fantastic Lies. You won’t like Miller any more than you do now. But you’ll understand him better.
  • With all the news about hacking, Russia, Israel, Iran, and nukes, this is a good time to watch Zero Days, an absolutely riveting documentary on the Stuxnet virus and the rise of modern-day cyber warfare. One can argue that WWIII is already happening, online.
  • If you’ve ever watched the Food Network or enjoyed a celebrity-chef branded item from your supermarket, then you should probably thank Shep Gordon, who started out as a manager for rock stars like Alice Cooper. While many celebrity chefs can thank Shep for their success, you can thank me for linking to his Netflix documentary: Supermensch.
  • Tired of Trump? Norman Lear is the exact opposite of Trump. Read why and watch the documentary Just Another Version of You. What a guy.
  • If you want to get a better handle on the anger, despair, and frustration (with corporations and government) that is increasingly common in parts of America, watch this documentary on coal mine workers in West Virginia. Blood on the Mountain.
  • You know how everyone keeps telling you how powerful and well done the documentary 13th is? Well, they’re right. And its look at the criminalization of African Americans couldn’t be more timely (especially given the recent election in Alabama). Watch it on Netflix.
  • Off The Rails tells the remarkable true story of Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail 32 times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes.” And the story is even more interesting (and a lot deeper) than it sounds.
  • In the three part series Five Came Back on Netflix, contemporary directors tell the story of five legendary Hollywood filmmakers who enlisted in the armed forces to document World War II. It’s worth it just for the contrast between the old news cycle and the current one.
  • One of Us on Netflix is a moving and often painful look at the lives of three Hassidic Jews who face ostracism, anxiety, and danger after deciding to leave their ultra-orthodox community.
  • The Seven Five is a very interesting documentary about (and featuring) one of NYC’s dirtiest cops, ‎Michael Dowd.
  • Real Sports has long been one of television’s best shows. They do news features as well as anyone. Here a recent piece Soledad O’brien did on two brothers who compete in triathlons together. Aldrich Brothers-Race Against Time. You don’t have to like sports to love this show. Just watch this segment, trust me. And for another sample … “Due to his autism, Robert Gagno struggles with nearly every facet of life.” And, at a time when many people were telling his parents to give up on him, they found an activity that changed everything for their son: The Pinball Wizard.
  • A six-part series on Bob Hurley, a New Jersey high school basketball coach with a remarkable streak of wins and state championships faces his toughest challenge yet: Keeping his school in business.
  • Here’s a short video on Franco Pascali, a 19 year-old magician and cardistry artist. This is my favorite subject. Not cards. People who are incredibly passionate about what they do.
  • Feel like you need a leader to give a good, level-headed, thoughtful speech about the Confederate statue issue? Well, here’s some good news. NOLA’s Mitch Landrieu already did it.
  • You probably think you don’t feel like ending a pretty rough news year by watching a Holocaust survivor talk about the day she left her dying father on a train to Auschwitz. Trust me, you do. You definitely do. From the NYT: I Have a Message for You.
  • The Witness, is great documentary about the aftermath of one of New York’s most notorious murders. This doc is not only riveting, it also relates to so many of our issues today, when versions of events (true or not) can spread like wildfire. It’s also a story of a brother obsessed with finding out the truth about what happened the night his sister was killed.

What to Book

  • A lot of us wonder why so many people seem to vote against their own self-interest. The question itself may be off the mark. Katherine J. Cramer takes you across Wisconsin to understand what’s going on: The Politics of Resentment.
  • Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy. This is as fun as economics can get (especially if you’re a Humanities major).
  • Harpoon by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz. An interesting, and at times riveting, account of how Mossad (and eventually its global counterparts) realized the key to fighting terrorism is to choke off the flow of money. Harpoon is also an eye-opening guide to the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated illegal operations, from rogue governments to terrorists outfits to money launderers to the drug cartels.
  • Pankaj Mishra provides some background for those looking to make sense of the rage that dominates our political discourse, in the US and abroad. Age of Anger: A History of the Present. (For my son, I’m pretty sure the age of anger is 11…)
  • Stephen King says, “The Force is mesmerizing, a triumph. Think The Godfather, only with cops. It’s that good.” And that’s a lukewarm review compared to what others said about Don Winslow’s latest novel. And if you haven’t read Winslow’s first two books (he’s working on the final part of the trilogy) on cartels, DEA agents and the drug war, get started now. It’s a tour de force.
  • My wife reads a book every couple days (seriously), and her pick of the year so far is The Wanderers by Meg Howrey.
  • “In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off.” A fast-paced and well-researched story about the Osage Murders and the birth of the FBI. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.
  • Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac is story about a mathematician that even an English major can love.
  • “For anyone who wants to know how to prepare for the future — and how we might shape that future in ways that broadly benefit society, not just technological or entrepreneurial elites — WTF? is an indispensable guide.” So said Reid Hoffman about Tim O’Reilly’s new, excellent book: WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us.
  • Kids need a good book? Hook them up with this great one from Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (writers, illustrators, and NextDraft T-shirt wearers): The Real McCoys.
  • But really, I spend all my time on the Internet. My wife is the voracious reader in the family. So head over to her list of the 25 Best Fiction Books 2017.
  • And for all the other best book lists, check out Jason Kottke’s exhaustive rundown.

What to Pod

  • Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara was one of my favorite new podcasts of the year. The two best episodes will do more to help you understand Putin and Russia than anything else you can do in a couple of hours. The Death of Sergei Magnitsky (with Bill Browder). And Putin, Pawns and Propaganda (with Garry Kasparov).
  • Remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan? That’s the kind of greeting the Pod Save America crew gets when they record their show in front of a live audience.
  • Letterman talking to Stern for an hour and a half. What more do you want!? (Forget what you thought. Howard Stern is the greatest interviewer alive.) And also listen to Jon Stewart and Howard Stern talking about psychic costs of life on the internet, how to react to Louis C.K., walking away from a gig when you’re at the top, raising a kid with a health issue, and much more.
  • On the Axe Files podcast, Michael Froman, the former U.S. Trade Representative, talks with David Axelrod about why technology — and not free trade — poses the biggest threat to middle class jobs and wages in America. Pay close attention to the discussion of the bonus Froman had to give up to join the White House team (back when America had ethics).
  • ESPN’s 30for30 documentaries make up one of the best series out there. And now the producers have launched 30for30 podcasts. The first one is up. Check it out and subscribe to the series.
  • Whether you’re an entrepreneur or just someone who loves a great story, you’ll appreciate Reid Hoffman’s new podcast, Masters of Scale. In the first installment, Reid and Brian Chesky take us back to the earliest days of AirBNB.
  • Fresh Air turned 30. The shows producers picked their ten favorite interviews.

What to Stream

  • Twenty One Pilots was one of my favorite bands last year, and the same holds true. This is the one band that my entire family loves and we’ve seen them live a few times. If you’re not on the bandwagon, get on now.
  • Spotify tells me Nothing But Thieves was the band I listened to the most this year. Their sophomore album was anything but jinxed. I have no idea why these guys aren’t one of the biggest bands in the world.
  • SZA is a gonna be a huge R&B star. Don’t take my word for it. Check out her breakout performance on SNL.
  • Some people complained about Arcade Fire’s 2017 album and tour. Oh well, some people are idiots.
  • Cage the Elephant rocks like crazy. But it turns out an album of reimagined acoustic renditions of their songs is sick good too. Unpeeled.
  • Run the Jewels is my favorite rap act of the year. And my son’s too. That’s got to mean something
  • There are those who say rock is dead. Those haven’t listened to Royal Blood. Dave Grohl loves them. James Hetfield loves them. I love them. One bass, one set of drums, one great band.
  • British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka put his name on the music map with the opening credits song from Big Little Lies. His whole album is fantastic and he’s even better live. Start with these two songs: One More Night and Love and Hate.
  • The New Orleans rocker Benjamin Booker made this list last year ago with his debut album. And he’s back with a new album called Witness that is earning rave reviews.
  • Trust me, what you need this holiday season is to sit down and listen to Mondo Cozmo’s album Plastic Soul on Spotify (or your music service of choice). Mondo Cozmo is the alias of Josh Ostrander, a long time artist from Philly who recently hit it big with the song Shine. I was lucky enough to see Josh play in a room filled without about 25 people at Outside Lands in SF over the summer. Here’s my recording of an acoustic version of Shine.
  • The War on Drugs has been highly effective. Not the US government policy. The band. The acclaimed group came out with its much anticipated new album, and it sounds good. Listen to A Deeper Understanding. And here’s the band playing a few of their tunes, recorded live at KEXP.
  • K.Flay is gonna be huge. But why wait?

What to Geek

What to Dave (a few of my best Medium pieces from 2017)

And What to Read for Daily (And Never Fake) News



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Dave Pell

Dave Pell

I write NextDraft, a quick and entertaining look at the day’s most fascinating news.