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Online Streaming Suggestions for Snow Days: Upstream Color, True Detective, Prime Suspect, Supernatural and Top of the Lake

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One of the few things I don’t hate about winter: snow days. I love it when the white stuff forces me into exile because it gives me a chance to catch up on my ever-growing streaming online must-watch list. I said this to my sister this week and she said, “I love that you have a watch list.” “Wait,” I said. “You don’t have a watch list?” “Um, no,” said she. We’re twins, people.

So, in case you are one of those lucky people who aren’t walking around with a mental list of everything you must see before you die, said list weighing heavy on your soul, allow me to suggest the following watch-list adds for your next snow day. They all feature my perfect snow-day trifecta: An element of mystery engrossing enough to ward off cabin fever, a decided bleakness to mirror my seasonally depressed soul, and a dose of finality (crime avenged, mystery revealed, etc.) as an antidote to the feeling that this winter is never, ever, ever going to end.*

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in Carruth's Upstream Color

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in Carruth’s Upstream Color

Upstream Color

2013. Written and Directed by Shane Carruth. Starring Carruth and Amy Seimetz. This low-fi, sci-fi thriller is almost impossible to synopsize without sounding ludicrous, so forgive my vagueness here. Two strangers undergo a horrifying experience and are later drawn together. Will they piece together both their pasts and their futures? Carruth (Primer) creates an compelling film through gorgeous visuals and haunting sounds. (Carruth also composed the score.) Literalists will be frustrated by this poetically communicated story, but fans of the weirdly beautiful will rejoice. There’s something about the strange silence of a snow day that begs for a curious and starkly told tale such as this. Available on Netflix Streaming and to rent/buy on Amazon Instant Video and Vudu.


Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in Nic Pizzolatto's True Detective.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective.

True Detective

2014. Created and written by Nic Pizzolatto. Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. One of the most chilling detective series I’ve ever seen, True Detective is a show for readers. Literate and expertly plotted, it’s written and run by one person, author Nic Pizzolatto. True Detective has a singularity of vision rare in modern-day television. This cohesive approach is helped by using only one director for the whole series as well—the incredibly talented Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre). McConaughey and Harrelson play homicide detectives tracking down a particularly disturbing murder in Louisiana. Told in parallel interrogations of both the original case and an investigation of the investigation years later, the story unfolds in tantalizing layers. McConaughey’s character, Rust Cohle, is gaunt and silent, unless he’s spouting his bio-deterministic, fatalistic philosophies…a nihilistic view he can’t quite bring himself to live out. His good-old-boy partner, Martin Hart (Harrelson), argues for a more traditional worldview, but his actions bely underlying beliefs more akin to Cohle’s despairing monologues. My only complaint is that the women in the series are currently limited to side-lined roles (wife, mistress, prostitute, secretary, dead). Things Pizzolatto has said in interviews give me hope that this won’t be the case for the whole series. The fourth episode airs on HBO tonight. Stream it on HBO Go. (Totally worth begging a friend with an HBO subscription to let you watch with them.) And then go to this tumblr.

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect

1992 – 2006. PBS Masterpiece Theater. Starring Helen Mirren. If you need an antidote to the male-heavy world of True Detective (and I’m right there with you), the original Prime Suspect is it. A genre predecessor to Cohle and Hart, Jane Tennison is a complex woman working in what was a traditionally a man’s world. The seven miniseries installments make a feminist point without preaching and deliver shiver-inducing mysteries to boot. Dark enough to compliment a winter’s night, especially with a scotch in hand. Plus, you can ask yourself WWHMD (What Would Helen Mirren Do) in the face of a snow day? Be ferociously awesome, is what. Watch on Netflix Streaming and Amazon Instant Prime.


Photo by Liane Hentscher – © 2013 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles in Supernatural. Photo by Liane Hentscher – © 2013 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.


2005-present. Created by Eric Kripke. Starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. I’m going to promise myself not to get carried away on this section but simply tell you: Supernatural is probably my favorite television show of all time. It’s on its 9th season. NINTH. And it’s still combining self-aware humor, suspense, family-dynamic drama, sly pop culture references, snappy storytelling, and deep theological themes into every 43 minutes on the CW. THE CW. It’s a paradox of network existence. Two brothers from Lawrence, KS, Sam (Padalecki) and Dean (Ackles) Winchester, carry on the family business of fighting demons on the backroads and forgotten towns of modern-day America. The descendant of shows like Buffy and X-Files, that combine monster-of-the-week episodes with complex character development and story arcs, Supernatural satisfies in a way that few other long-running shows have been able to. Start with Season 1 and see how far you can get before the snow melts. Stream on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant (rent or buy), or Vudu (rent or buy).

And a bonus suggestion I 100% agree with from my super-smart, savvy-watcher friend Cass Newlin:

Michelle Ang and Elisabeth Moss in Jane Campion and  Garth Davis's Top of the Lake.

Michelle Ang and Elisabeth Moss in Jane Campion and Garth Davis’s Top of the Lake.

Top of the Lake

Written by: Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. Directed by: Jane Campion, Garth Davis. Starring: Elisabeth Moss, David Wenham, Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright, Holly Hunter, Jacqueline Joe “The opening scenes of Top of the Lake introduce twelve year old Tui, played by newcomer Jacqueline Joe, who is quietly pedaling her way to a lake nestled between the mountains of her native New Zealand, laden by her backpack and a very dark secret. The weight of this secret leads to a suicide attempt that is interrupted only by the chance eye of detective Robin Griffin, played with quiet fierceness by Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss. As Robin begins to question Tui, her suspicions about the girl’s family  and community grows, as does their animosity towards Robin. When Tui goes missing, the clannish loyalties of the town are exposed to be fraught with corruption and violence that only Robin seems to take interest in exhausting. Top of the Lake moves slowly, but also purposefully towards a conclusion that is startlingly satisfying, revealing its two female leads to be bonded by both their past and their steely resolve to experience justice. If this slow pace does not suit your taste, don’t be discouraged, the eerie and majestic views of New Zealand are more than enough to sustain.” Watch on Netflix Streaming or rent/buy on Amazon Instant Video or Vudu. 

Do you have a watch list? What’s on it?

*Yes, I do have a sun light at my desk at work (thanks to my generous co-worker, Megan), yes I am taking vitamin D. Yes, I logically know winter will eventually be over. I just desperately feel like hibernating until the crocuses come up and the sun comes out.

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Sarah Magill

Sarah Magill has a full-time movie habit made possible by a day-time greeting card writing gig. She blogs at Gimme Some Film and is learning to write scripts and direct. She tries to balance her screen obsession with trail running, jazz singing, book clubbing, and hanging out with The Best Golden Retriever Ever, Copa.

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0 comments on “Online Streaming Suggestions for Snow Days: Upstream Color, True Detective, Prime Suspect, Supernatural and Top of the Lake”

  1. Today I can hardly imagine a better show than True Detective. Last night’s ep was shockingly good. Am eagerly looking forward to the return of the amazing Rectify, coming this summer on Sundance. Rounding out my Top 10: Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones (this coming season should be the best, The Americans, House of Cards, The Fall, Ray Donovan (binge-watched it all last week) & Shameless. I haven’t tried Top of the Lake, Upstream Color or Prime Suspect yet. All three sound worth trying out.

  2. When you have an open slot in a few weeks (I cannot deny that True Detective someday will end), please consider The Returned. Haunting.