What, the TV.com Summer DVD Club hasn't already given you enough to watch this summer? Don't worry, we're here to help: Welcome to "Netflix This," another brand-new series here at TV.com. Since so many of us these days watch shows by streaming them on Netflix, I'm going to start viewing, overviewing, and reviewing the different TV shows that are available to "watch instantly." (We'll post a new installment every other Friday.)
To start, I'm going to avoid shows that are recent and/or popular in the US. My focus will be on shows that are overlooked, old, foreign, and/or weird. They may or may not be good. I'll rate them with a deliberately ridiculous system of number-of-discs-out-at-a-time:
For this inaugural installment, I've chosen Pulling, a cynical, hilarious, gritty comedy about three 30-something single women in a London suburb. It's a show that—not to give away my rating too early—has no business being anything short of a cult classic in the US, as it is in the UK. In the same sense that Party Down has been described as the anti-Entourage—a show about the struggling, desperate underclass of Hollywood rather than Tinseltown's unrealistic, high-rolling success stories—Pulling is the anti-Sex and the City. Instead of four ladies living and loving life in Manhattan, Pulling's three women struggle with dead-end jobs in a bland London suburb, have unhappy sex, and confront death with regularity.
Pulling opens with a fantastic statement of purpose. We see the face of Donna (Sharon Horgan, the show's star and co-creator), centered as she lies in bed. Her right shoulder is in motion—her right hand, off camera, is somehow engaged. She looks all the way to her left; her expression is that of a woman who's repulsed but resigned to wait something out, trying to distance herself until it's over. We hear cheezy, peppy, light jazz. "What?" she asks, distracted. The the camera pulls back to a wider angle to reveal she's been giving a handjob. This is the Diet Sprite of sex. "Stop!" says the balding, pudgy man next to her, polite but exasperated. "I finished. You can stop."
The show's intro is a black screen with the word "pulling"—no punctuation or capitalization—on the bottom right, like it's an afterthought. Then there's a similar screen, naming the show's creators. That's it. No naming the actors, no theme song, no frills, and no prettying up, just like the show itself.
Donna is, at the start, something of a vision of empowered womanhood. She's engaged to that man, the goodhearted-but-good-for-little-else Karl. They're like a couple from a more conventional sitcom brought into sharp relief. She has a thoroughly unglamorous bachelorette party in a bingo parlor, then comes to the realization that she doesn't have to settle for marriage because she has a great career, is attractive, and is a good person. Over the course of the show, we see all three characteristics disproven—it turns out her great job was due to a filing error, and most men are awful to her. And like Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, in Pulling we see Donna start out as something of a moral center, but become a more and more detestable person as the show goes on.
She soon moves in with the other two stars of the show: Karen, a cold, promiscuous boozehound who sometimes teaches kindergarten, and Louise, a bubbly, lonely optimist. We usually see Karen either drunk and picking up guys, or hungover and mercilessly kicking them out of her apartment. Louise works at a cafe, is almost always smiling, and has a tendency to stalk men.
Like the British version of The Office, Pulling continues the story for two seasons and wraps things up with a post-show special. Unlike The Office, however, the creators of Pulling had no intention of stopping; the BBC denied Hogan's request for renewal despite critical acclaim and rapidly increasing viewership. I should note that, again like the British Office, the bleakness of the show is part and parcel with its comedy. Even the few episodes that contain plot points that drag (since it's largely about three people who are going nowhere with their lives, some drag is inevitable) compensate with at least one dynamite comedic setpiece per episode.
Take, for example, this one. A man Karen hooked up with died suddenly, and she thinks he'd planned to give her money. So she gets wasted and goes to the funeral, hoping to claim a bequeathment.
Or watch this clip, where Karen (who is, I confess, my favorite character) briefly realizes the emotional toll her life takes on her:
Pulling is, in short, uncompromising and criminally underrated Stateside. It's a brutally funny rebuttal to pop culture that glorifies singledom. It's not for the prudish, but for most anyone else who's been a single adult, it's superb.
Rating: Cult classic waiting to happen