A steamy, streaming summer: What to watch when you need a break  

  • Niecy Nash, Judy Reyes, Jenn Lyon and Karrueche Tran in “Claws.”  TNT/TNS

  • Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard), left, travels to Pripyat, Ukraine, with the U.S.S.R.’s leading nuclear physicist, Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), in “Chernobyl.”  PHOTO BY LIAM DANIEL/HBO 

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a scene from “Fleabag.” On Tuesday, July 16, 2019, the program was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. Amazon via AP

For the Gazette
Published: 8/7/2019 10:02:56 AM

“I like bitchy women,” said Smith College rising sophomore Dot Whalen, with a laugh. On a recent Thursday afternoon on campus, she was describing the appeal of a show like “Claws.”

Set in the real-life city of Palmetto, Florida, “Claws” follows five female manicurists entrenched in the world of organized crime. The series opens with Desna (Niecy Nash), owner of Nail Artisans salon, laundering money for a pill mill nearby so she can open a new nail salon in a nicer area and buy a house to better care for her autistic brother. Although she only wants to launder money until she can fund her goals, she continually finds herself stuck in Florida’s criminal underbelly — until she decides to stay there and dominate it. 

“On TV, when you see a group of women supporting each other, they’re usually squeaky clean,” Whalen said. “They usually have good jobs, husbands. I think it’s cool to see strong women supporting each other who also have felonies.”

There’s plenty to do outside in the summer in the Valley, but sometimes the best way to take a break from the heat — and the news cycle — is to roll down the blinds and watch a little TV. Lots of people are tuning into the latest releases: A record-breaking 26.4 million people in the United States watched the third season of “Stranger Things” when it first came out. Others are using their summer vacation to binge shows they’ve been meaning to watch. Recently, the Gazette talked to people in downtown Northampton to find out what they have been watching this summer.

Patrick Ryan, who is from Washington, D.C. and was visiting a friend at the Smith School of Social Work, recommended “Los Espookys,” a Spanish-language comedy about a group of friends who run a business staging supernatural events in an unnamed Latin American city. After Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) creates elaborate horror-themed decorations at his sister’s birthday party, his uncle, impressed, encourages him to open a business doing it. His first client is a local priest who enlists Renaldo and his friends to help him stage an exorcism to take back the spotlight from a younger, hotter priest. 

“I went into it thinking it would be a horror show, but it’s not. It’s absurdist; there’s absurdist humor,” Ryan said. “Like, there’s an heir of a chocolate empire who’s engaged to the cookie prince.”

In Pulaski Park last Thursday afternoon, Northampton residents Johanna and Mikey Sweet said they were watching “Chernobyl,” a dramatization of the 1986 nuclear accident in Pripyat, Ukraine. Based on Pripyat locals’ memories of the event as told to Svetlana Alexievich in her book “Voices from Chernobyl,” the limited miniseries traces the stories of first responders, politicians and citizens whose lives the disaster irreparably harmed. 

“It’s cool to see a TV show try to educate people about it,” Mikey Sweet said. “It’s a good way to warn people that you shouldn’t be playing with stuff like this. [Johanna’s] uncle actually knew someone who developed a brain tumor because he was so near the fallout.”

For some lighter fare, rising Smith senior Zoey Zangoria recommended “The Bold Type,” a comedy-drama inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles. The show follows best friends Jane (Katie Stevens), Sutton (Meghann Fahy) and Kat (Aisha Dee), who work at the fictional women’s magazine Scarlet. The series opens with Jane newly promoted to writer, Kat trying to persuade a Muslim photographer to be in the pop feminist magazine and Sutton struggling to hide her affair with Scarlet’s lawyer. 

“It’s sort of silly — it gets criticized sometimes for its sort of shallow feminism,” Zangoria said. “But it’s fun.”

On Tuesday in Pulaski Park, Whately resident and business coach Julia Mines recommended the Emmy-nominated “Fleabag,” set and filmed in London. Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays the titular role, the comedy-drama follows the life and inner thoughts of a young woman who runs a guinea-pig-themed cafe, is haunted by the recent loss of her best friend, and gets involved in all sorts of sexual misadventures, including with a hot priest. (Something of a theme, apparently.)

“Dark, dark, dark, but funny, funny, funny,” Zangoria said. “The writing is brilliant. It legitimizes a woman’s sexuality.”

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