Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
I started up this Japanese import on a whim after spotting it on Netflix, but I was enthralled in a matter of minutes. Based on a manga, it’s essentially a travelogue food show wrapped around a simple drama about a straitlaced Japanese salesman who secretly blogs about desserts. When in the office or in meetings, Kantaro is the consummate professional, but once he’s done hocking books, he heads to whatever famous real-world dessert spot is nearby and lets his true self emerge, the eloquent, daydreaming food obsessive known to the internet as Sweets Knight. After his literally orgasmic reactions upon tasting the gorgeous food, he describes the ingredients and preparations of every dish in excruciating, poetic detail, culminating in bizarre fantasies. The food is filmed with the same absurd romanticism—perfect marbles of Japanese melon cascading onto piles of shaved ice, a matcha Bavarian cream cake jiggling sensuously in slow motion. It’s about as close as you can get to actual food porn without genitals getting involved, and every 24-minute episode is as ridiculous and beautiful as it is educational. [Matt Gerardi]
Having fallen into one of my rare TV-bingeing moods a few weeks ago, I decided to finally knock a long-standing entry off my backlog: Syfy’s Defiance, a three-season post-apocalyptic Western that’s significantly better than its outer budget-Firefly trappings might lead you to believe. Executive-produced by Rockne S. O’Bannon—whose Farscape remains my personal high-water mark for Syfy’s TV output—and written by a number of Battlestar Galactica alums, the show does that great thing some of the network’s better offerings do, where the result somehow ends up 20 percent smarter than the elevator pitch might make you think: “Frontier alien town populated by a bunch of wacky, violence-prone aliens.” The badass Han Solo type (Grant Bowler) carries a decade of PTSD and killing-based baggage on his back; the mysterious war orphan (Stephanie Leonidas) has actual emotions that take precedence over her messianic MacGuffin status, and the sarcastic comic relief (Trenna Keating, doing fantastic work from underneath about a pound of makeup) has a redemption arc so slow and subtle that I never saw it coming when it finally made me tear up. Good sci-fi is about people, not machines; despite a few flashy flourishes, by that metric, Defiance frequently works itself all the way up to great. [Williams Hughes]
Rumor has it that Amazon is going to scrap its decision to let the public watch pilots for original Amazon Prime programming before deciding whether to give them a full-series order. That’s a good idea, because in the age of binge-watching, who’s going to seek out something they might love, only to have it be limited—for the time being, anyway—to a single episode? And in the case of Sea Oak, a bizarre comedy based on a short story by genius writer George Saunders, starring superhuman actor Glenn Close and directed by Atlanta’s Hiro Murai, why the hell wouldn’t you just order a full season to start with? The pilot episode is fantastic, and it should’ve been the start of something bigger. Close plays a meek, put-upon drugstore clerk who lives in a shitty neighborhood with her shitty, shitty kids. She’s spent her life working hard to try and help them out, but they treat her horribly. But there’s a twist that’s not really a spoiler, since it’s meant to set the series in motion: Close’s character dies, but returns as a cranky zombie who’s ready to take over the household and make these rotten kids work for a living. It’s insane in a great way, and maybe it wouldn’t work as a series. We’ll never know: Amazon has declined to move forward with Sea Oak, despite this great episode and the pedigrees of those involved. So enjoy it while you can, because the pilots that don’t get picked up eventually disappear from Amazon, presumably forever. [Josh Modell]