It definitely goes down in the DMs.
Roughly two weeks after the Oct. 23 premiere of The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, I raised the following question on Instagram Stories: Do I really need to watch this chess show? Back then, my feed was packed with photos and memes of a red-haired Anya Taylor-Joy obsessing over whether her character, Beth Harmon, should use the Scandanavian Defense or shake her opponent's hand and say, "I resign."
I know nothing about chess and, until recently, had zero intention of ever caring about the game. Why watch a show about something so, how do you say, boring? But within seconds of polling my friends, my DMs were flooded (by my measly following's standards, that is) with definitive "yeses" and the same, unanimous message: The Queen's Gambit is an absolute must-watch.
So I caved, quickly binging one episode after the next and surprising myself at just how much I've learned to care about Taylor-Joy's Beth and all the wonderful cast members she outshines. In this journey, I know I'm not alone. Just this week, Netflix announced that The Queen's Gambit shattered viewership records by becoming the streaming service's biggest scripted limited series to date after 62 million households tuned in within 28 days. That's a lot of people, and a lot of chess.
So what is it about the series that's so addicting? Based on Walter Tevis' 1983 novel of the same name, The Queen's Gambit is essentially about an orphan who develops refined chess skills that take her all across the globe and leave her with plenty of emotional and psychological scars. Vague, but accurate.
As Vulture recently pointed out, the show follows the glamorous, sexy and highly-stylized storytelling approach familiar to fans of Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Yes, the '60s fashion is fantastic and the set design is so good it'll make you consider taking on a DIY wallpaper project. The looks of the show are worthy of praise.
But I can trim down my obsession to three main categories. First, it is incredibly refreshing to see Beth, a fierce and feminist female lead in a male-dominated world, completely exercise control over her opponents' egos—even when she sometimes loses at a game she's so passionate about. Her relationship with drugs and alcohol is presented in a rock 'n' roll manner that Hollywood often doesn't let women explore. Plus, anyone like me who loved Taylor-Joy's performances in The Witch and Split will be delighted. (Feel free to get lost in the videos of her speaking flawless Spanish).
The second category is Beth's mother, Mrs. Alma Wheatley, played by The Diary of a Teenage Girl alum Marielle Heller. Throughout, the show's writers give us a complex mother-daughter relationship that keeps you guessing yet ultimately (and strangely) warms your heart. No spoilers, but episode four, "Middle Game," in which Beth and Mrs. Wheatley travel to Mexico City together, is my absolute favorite.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the series is full of eye candy in the form of actors Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Marcin Dorociński and twins Matthew and Russell Dennis Lewis. The sweetest of them all, in my opinion, is Jacob Fortune-LLoyd, who plays an opponent and journalist named Townes.
Unlike Netflix series you can leave on in the background and return to without missing a twist, The Queen's Gambit is best enjoyed with a massive bowl of popcorn and your eyes hooked exclusively on the screen. Ranked the number one Netflix show in 63 countries, from Argentina to South Africa, it offers a rare reason to collectively come together to set aside our differences and instead focus on the trivialities of Beth's next move.
Rather than zip right through all seven episodes overnight, I've waited several days to watch the very last, letting the magic that Taylor-Joy brought to life marinate before I officially say goodbye to what's already being labeled one of 2020's best TV shows. Considering millions of people already know how it ends, it certainly sounds well worth the wait.