After watching and covering what feels like an endless amount of Netflix original content over the years, I feel hard-pressed to come up with a single moment from something I’ve watched that broke my heart quite like the season two finale of Sunderland ‘Till I Die.
Netflix’s docuseries about the Sunderland AFC football club is such a marvel, really, because of the way it’s so much bigger than what happens on the pitch. It’s as much about the game as it is about the working-class town in the north of England for whom pride in a beleaguered, underdog football club is one of the few things that still binds everyone together. In a community, I should add, that also feels beaten down and a little forgotten — and certainly abandoned by the once-mighty shipbuilding and mining industries that used to underpin its economy.
“Why is it never us celebrating?” Sunderland supporter Michelle Barraclough laments at the end of season two of the Netflix series (which returns for its third and final season on Feb. 13). The camera had found her on the day of the 2019 League One playoff final, when Sunderland was facing off against another historically troubled club, Charlton Athletic.
Everything about that golden May Sunday, in the packed Wembley Stadium, had seemed to shimmer with opportunity. Sunderland’s eventual eleventh-hour loss, tough as it was to bear, was part of a string of one-too-many losses that bedeviled not only the team but also its fans, and their community. Making Barraclough’s rhetorical question such a heartbreaking outpouring of despair:
“Why is it never us?”
Sunderland ‘Til I Die is a Netflix release that doesn’t so much try to answer that question, at least in my humble opinion, as it does to simply celebrate the underdog spirit that’s arguably the only way forward for a club and a community like Sunderland. Even the show’s achingly beautiful theme song speaks to the losses the town has suffered: “On the river where they used to build the boats / by the harbor wall, the place you loved the most …”
And lest you think that I’m somehow unique in my reaction to this Netflix release that makes Ted Lasso look like a silly kids’ show, consider: Rob McElhenney was so moved that he decided to actually go out and buy a UK football club after watching Sunderland Till I Die, which led him and Ryan Reynolds to take over Wrexham AFC. But that’s neither here nor there; Sunderland ‘Til I Die is one of the most epic, emotionally devastating Netflix releases I’ve ever watched, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
As for what other new Netflix releases are worth checking out next week, if you’re not in the mood for a heart-on-its-sleeve sports docuseries, here’s a look at some other great binge-worthy titles coming to the streaming giant:
Love is Blind (Season 6): This, one of Netflix’s longest-running series, doesn’t really need an introduction. In short, the dynamic of this reality series involves groups of participants who are partitioned off from each other and who try to form real, emotional attachments without seeing what the other person looks like. In an attempt to prove, once and for all, whether love really is blind. Release date: Feb. 14.
Players: In this new Netflix movie, Gina Rodriguez plays Mack, a New York sportswriter who has spent years devising hook-ups with her best friend Adam (Damon Wayans Jr.). It’s all fun and games until Mack falls for her latest “play,” in the form of a war correspondent played by Tom Ellis. Release date: Feb. 14.
Einstein and the Bomb: Finally, this UK documentary covers much of the same thematic ground as did Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-nominated Oppenheimer, though this Netflix release, as you can tell by the title, is focused on Einstein rather than J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Explains Netflix: “Using Einstein’s words only — his speeches, letters and interviews — to script his dialogue, this innovative docu-drama from BBC Studios (The Anthrax Attacks, the Emmy-winning The Surgeon’s Cut) fuses dramatic sequences with archive footage of Einstein’s life as it unfolds across both world wars, the rise and fall of fascism, the advent of the atomic age.” Release date: Feb. 16.