Letters of Recommendation: What We're Watching Right Now

Ken Burns's new documentary, a British mystery series, a Michael Mann mini-marathon and more.

By The Editors April 14, 2021


Last week, I got hooked on Ken Burns’s latest PBS documentary series about Ernest Hemingway. I’d never been a huge fan of the author, but Burns’s three-part, six-hour film, Hemingway, has made me want to reread many of the short stories and novels I haven’t read since high school. Hemingway’s life, his fascinating wives, the rigid schedule he kept with his typewriter, his insistence on being where history was being made, plus all of his tragic vulnerabilities made me appreciate how complex he was—and how hard it is to write and to be a great writer. —Susan Burns, editor-in-chief

The Lost Kitchen

If you need something soothing to watch right now, look no further than The Lost Kitchen on Discovery+, which follows restaurateur and author Erin French as she tries to navigate keeping her famous Maine restaurant alive during the pandemic. The show's cinematography is gorgeous—think sun-dappled shots of farms, food and interiors—and you can't help but root for the plucky, whip-smart French, a self-taught cook and entrepreneur who's in recovery from addiction after surviving numerous losses in her young life. Rounding out the cast are French's all-female team of employees, including her mother; her husband, son and rescue pup; and a cadre of local makers and growers. (P.S. If you want more of The Lost Kitchen—which is still closed due to Covid-19—French's memoir, Finding Freedom, was just published by Celadon Books. Highly recommend.) —Megan McDonald, digital editor

A Michael Mann Mini-Marathon

I recently watched the 2018 crime thriller Den of Thieves on Netflix. It wasn't great—mostly because it was such a blatant ripoff of an even better movie: Michael Mann's sprawling 1995 heist masterpiece Heat. So, the next night, I fired up Heat for the 10th time, and after that was over, began rewatching other Mann films—including The Insider, which came out in 1999. It's a fascinating true-but-dramatized look at a tobacco executive's decision to become a whistleblower and how it nearly destroys his life, as well as the high-stakes battle inside CBS about whether to air the man's story and the damning information he reveals. To continue my mini Mann marathon, I'm considering revisiting Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986) and maybe even The Last of the Mohicans (1992). —Cooper Levey-Baker, senior editor


“Given my love for British mysteries, I came surprisingly late to Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn as the rumpled, prickly, compassionate and driven Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, who solves murders in the beautiful hills of Northumberland in northeast England. Based on the books by Ann Cleeves (whose Shetland books featuring inspector Jimmy Perez also became a favorite of mine when filmed), Vera boasts a perfect performance in the lead by Blethyn, and with 10 seasons so far, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I found the first season on Acorn TV through Amazon Prime Video; PBS also broadcasts later seasons on WEDU.”—Kay Kipling, executive editor  

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art on Netflix

I recently watched the documentary Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art on Netflix. I wasn't familiar with the famed artists—who included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell—whose fake reproductions at times fetched more than $10 million each and amassed a total of $80 million for a series of 30 fakes. The scandal forced one of the most respected art galleries in New York City to close after 165 years. You’ll never believe who surfaces as the skilled artist who fooled some of the biggest art collectors in the world—and I still ponder whether the art dealer knew she was selling fakes." —Kim Doleatto, associate editor

Dead To Me

This Netflix original stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini as best friends who meet in an unconventional way. Applegate's character Jen is a recently widowed real estate agent who joins a grief counseling session to help handle her emotions. There, she meets the eccentric Judy (Cardellini), whose sunny disposition is covering major secrets from her past. The two become inseparable, even partners in crime, as their involvement in a murder has them running from the law. This thrilling, dark comedy only has two seasons, but I'm holding out hope for a third. —Allison Forsyth, editorial intern

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