The year 2020 will be characterized as the one where the unexpected streaming shows went viral. From Tiger King to the resurgence of Hamilton, the hits were never where entertainment industry watchers expected. Case in point: The Queen’s Gambit, a seven-episode limited series oddity starring Anya Taylor-Joy as a fictional chess prodigy in the 1960s. The series was critically lauded, but it surprised everyone by taking mainstream viewers by storm and becoming one of this fall’s hottest cultural references. These The Queen’s Gambit memes sum up so much about ourselves.
The irony is that The Queen’s Gambit seems so far removed from our current 21st-century world. It’s a series focused on chess, one of the most inscrutable games in the world. The period-set 1960s era has become more removed from our techno-centric one with each passing day. Heroine Beth Harmon’s deepest desire is to go to Soviet Russia in the USSR so she can sit in rooms once owned by royalty and beat old men at chess. One can see why most critics assumed The Queen’s Gambit would not be a mass hit, even if it was adapted from a novel from the same author as such Academy Award nominees like The Hustler and The Color of Money.
But it turns out Beth Harmon is all of us.
Even if some viewers don’t understand her chess ways, watching Beth beat men left and right is enormously satisfying. And trying to understand the game is just as fascinating as the story itself.
But let’s be real. Part of the reason The Queen’s Gambit took off had nothing to do with chess. Between Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomas Brodie Sangster, there was more chemistry in moving pieces around a chessboard than is probably legal in most states.
And, of course, there’s Beth’s style. Her late-1950s/early-1960s wardrobe isn’t just a tribute to the era. Everything she wears is inspired by the chess board’s lines, giving her a unique vintage style everyone wants to copy. Who knew 2020 would be the year everyone considered chess-themed style files?
Then there’s that ending:
Sounds like a plot for a sequel. Personally, I’m rooting for someone to call it The Queen’s Gambit 2: Knight Moves.
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