Recommendation: ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’

I love love love love love documentaries. And nobody makes documentaries better than the BBC. I can always tell if a documentary is American, because it’s clearly made by people who have no faith in their audience whatsoever.

Or… that used to be the case. Not so anymore.This month I hopped on the Spotify train, but I’ve been on the Netflix wagon for quite a while now. The quality of television on there has now surpassed what I’m likely to find on iPlayer right now. And their documentaries are now just killing it. The Netflix documentary 13th, for example, has been setting a new benchmark for political documentary films. And this new series on The Art of Design, exploring the works of 8 of the best designers working in the US, is just an absolute joy, I think.

One of the key stories for me is how high Netflix’s production values have gone. As I said, it used to be the BBC that led the way, with the care and attention that David Attenborough put in place when he was controller of BBC2. But this is something else. These Netflix documentaries look like cinema movies. They have clear stories, and character development. Mark Mothersbaugh is doing the music, for crying out loud!

And I can’t remember seeing a documentary series so clever. Which is a bold statement from someone who watches maybe 3 documentaries to 1 of any other kind of television programme. Clever how? Well, when each episode started I thought: I’m not sure I like this designer. I liked the other ones, but this person seems like a bit of a dick. They seem kind of shallow. I don’t think they’re going to tell me anything new. Then, quite quickly, I start to warm to them. And by the end, I find them to be fascinating and deeply likeable human beings. About 6 or 7 programmes in, I started to notice that this was not an accident. The programmes deliberately (I think) start off by sneakily showing the featured artists in an unfavourable light, and then they wrong-foot you. Which means that by the end you care more about them and their stories than you would if you thought “Yeah, they’re quite good I suppose.”

Coming back to this idea of ‘faith in an audience’, I think that this shows they still want to make really entertaining and engaging television shows, but they trust that the audience is actually interested enough in the subject matter to see the programmes through to the end.

Current Favourite Episode:

Hard to pick, but maybe the first one, on artist Christoph Niemann.

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