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6 hidden gems you should watch right now
Your endless menu scrolling is over.
Is there anything good on Netflix right now? There are more incredible shows and movies at our fingertips than ever before, but with Disney+, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, HBO, Peacock, Paramount, and more, finding the right one can be absolutely overwhelming.
Good news: Your endless menu scrolling is over. You can’t miss with these hidden gems.
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Sweet Tooth - Netflix
I quit apocalypse shows a long time ago. The real world is bleak enough, I didn’t need anymore of that post-civilization darkness in my life. Falling Skiesand the early seasons of The Walking Dead were enough. So you’d think I’d stay far away from Netflix’s Sweet Tooth. It centers around a virus, for heaven’s sake! (This is what we call escapism in 2021, apparently.) But then I saw the sumptuous trailer and devoured every episode — and all of a sudden, the apocalypse felt fresh again.
Sweet Tooth, developed by Jim Mickle off the Jeff Lemire graphic novel, takes a different approach to the end of the world. A deadly virus rises at the same time as human-animal hybrid babies, causing all kids of paranoia, hatred, and isolation. These dueling sci-fi concepts work magically together to dive into those heady themes. Yet, it all comes off with a light touch because the series’ hero is a 10-year-old deerboy and its tone is that of a dark fairytale. The same amount of expense seen on screen in Netflix’s other recent fantasy hit Shadow and Bone is visible here. The art department and VFX nailed it.
I’m not about to head down a rabbit hole of apocalypse shows, but I'm glad I took the journey to Colorado.
CODA - Apple TV+
Apple broke Sundance records in January when it purchased CODA for a cool $25 million. That might seem like a shocking amount to pay for an indie coming of age dramedy — but should you take the hour and fifty-one minutes required to breath in Sian Heder’s beautiful feature and you’ll get it.
Written by Heder, based on the French film La Famille Belier, CODA tells the story of unassuming high school senior Ruby, the only hearing daughter of an entirely deaf family, who dreams of studying singing in college. (CODA stands for “child of deaf adults, but doubles as a musical term here. Pretty clever.) Heder’s smartly plotted script takes a concept with inherent tension and lays down heaps of emotional groundwork. You root for Ruby to succeed, but you understand and empathize with her entire family. It then culminates in one of the most cathartic and powerful endings this genre has seen in a long time. Lead actress Emilia Jones shows she is destined for very big things, while Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant turn in lovingly real depictions of a family making it through life together.
If Sound of Metal served as an entry point into the deaf experience last year, CODA is full immersion. By showcasing an entire family, the film has room for important nuance and variety in its depiction of being deaf. No one film can sum up the entire experience of a community, but CODA does a damn fine job of expressing various points of view among its deaf characters and how they meet the world. Its representation like this that will truly change the culture.
CODA is funny, warm, moving, and real. It will open your eyes to communities and experiences you might not have seen before, but will absolutely relate to. It proves that universality is found through the specific. Your family might not be exactly like the Rossis, but I would bet money your family has gone through similar struggles.
If CODA wins Best Picture, I would be completely satisfied — but honestly, the best compliment I can give CODA is that it’s the perfect companion piece to Ted Lasso. If you’re on Apple for Lasso this Friday night, stick around for CODA and lean into the feelings.
For All Mankind - Apple TV+
What if the Underground Railroad was an actual underground railroad? What if Lindbergh beat FDR? What if the Allies lost the war? What if Russia got to the moon first?At this moment in time, popular culture seems obsessed with the “what if?” Hell, Marvel is about to have a show called What If. The multiverses are everywhere. Maybe because the world grows more complicated every day, we turn to the comfort of rebooting, remaking, and remixing. We imagine alternate version of our favorite stories, both fictional and historical, as a new but still safe balm.
Apple’s brilliant and surprising For All Mankind is the latter, an alternate history that starts with the question above (What if Russia got to the moon first) and then plays out every theorized choice our presidents, NASA administrators, and astronauts would make after. The series gives us an entirely new lens by which to view the Cold War, mid-century racial and gender issues, and of course, the triumphs and failures of the United States of America. Imagine the setting and ensemble work of Mad Men plus the thrills of Apollo 13 and Gravity.
If that sounds like big picture stuff, it very much is, but creator Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) brilliantly makes the show an intimate character drama. Yes, it’s about space and tensions with Russia. For All Mankind often has the highest of stakes and provides some of the most tense and thrilling television in years. In fact, some of its twists and surprises are on a level with Game of Thrones. But all of that works so well because it’s really about the people and their choices. Love and family and friendship and ego and sacrifice power the rocket ships on For All Mankind. The show has about two dozen richly drawn characters with fascinating and captivating interior lives, each played passionately by a cast of what-do-I-know-that-person-from TV vets.
But this alternate history show really stands above because it is thematically about alternate histories and our own “what ifs”. It forces us to look inward at the decisions we make and where they have taken us. Every choice we make comes with a choice we didn’t take, creating an infinitely expanding branching path. Besides being a branching path in and of itself, For All Mankind digs into this concept by constantly testing its heroes and then letting the ripples of their choices play out for better or worse. It reveals that though we can imagine the what if, we must look inward and show up to the what is. The show reveals that choice, not fate, will lead us to the promised land or take us even further away.
Somebody Feed Phil - Netflix
I like travelogue shows. Sometimes they’re high-minded, but for the most part they’re light watching, they’re informative, and they’re fun. None more so than Netflix’s joyful Somebody Feed Phil.
Whether he’s in Bangkok or Brooklyn, Phil Rosenthal’s message is usually the same: Enjoy life, travel, eat good food, talk to people. He might not be as anthropologically serious as Padma Lakshmi, Anthony Bourdain, or Stephen Satterfield (High on the Hog), but his infectious enthusiasm more than makes up for it. Some travel hosts struggle to communicate the first bite of a delicious meal — Phil’s massive blue eyes go wide and his entire face lights up. He has perfected the art of gracious, exuberant eating. Everything is the best thing he’s ever had — and you believe him.
But it’s more than just joy that sets this travel series apart. Phil comes from a comedy background (he co-created Everybody Loves Raymond) so naturally his road show has a few more jokes than your average travelogue. His narration provides the jokes, while filmed video calls with his parents back home are always a comedic standout. Additionally, Phil brings a sense of improvisation to this format that I hadn’t really seen before. While most travel shows feel produced and written to the second, Somebody Feed Phil makes time for spontaneous interactions with locals and fellow travelers. In that way, it feels like traveling. You’ve got an itinerary, but it could go off the rails at any moment.
At a time when international travel is still difficult, Phil’s journeys offer us rose-colored wanderlust. He tends to smooth over some rough edges in places, but if you look at the world through his eyes, you’ll suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about humanity. And, oh yeah, it's got the best theme song.
We Are Lady Parts - Peacock
We Are Lady Parts, now on Peacock, is like a perfect punk anthem. It hooks you in fast, keeps you on your toes with just-off-center energy, pushes through big ideas with sharp wit, and then it’s over before you even know what happened — and yet somehow, you’re still humming its chorus. Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, this British musical sitcom about a punk band made up of London Muslim women is a revelation. Funny, heartfelt, and melodic, Lady Parts brings a powerful dose of representation with stunning ease. Manzoor trojan horses intersectional feminist ideals and varied, nuanced portrayals of life as a modern Muslim woman in the West without ever bashing the audience over the head. She does it all through her hero’s journey into self actualization. Anjana Vasan anchors the show with quirky, awkward charm, but it’s Sarah Kameela Impey who absolutely blew me away with a career-making turn as the rough and guarded Saira. In just 3 hours (yep, season one is only 6 half-hour eps), Manzoor will have you deeply in love with all of her characters — and then she tops it off with a cathartic climax unmatched on TV this year. This show alone is worth the price of Peacock.
The Green Knight - On demand and in theaters
It’s easy to write a recommendation for a good movie. It’s a little bit harder when the movie is a genuine masterpiece. Days after witnessing David Lowery’s The Green Knight and I’m still having trouble finding the right words to properly convey its excellence. The truth is I’m still processing its myriad metaphors and richly portrayed themes.
Based on the Arthurian legend and poem, this Medieval fantasy is no mere Game of Thrones riff. While it might scratch that itch for some, Lowery’s ambitions are higher and deeper. Sir Gawain’s well-known journey is deconstructed and put back together in the boldest of fashions. From the disquieting opening shot to the chilling post-credits coda, a knight’s quest becomes a vessel through which we explore honor, duty, environmental ruin, the meaning of life, privilege, and even, no, especially death itself. And yet there is an economy to Lowery’s filmmaking. With epic vision and steady intention, he packs a lifetime into two hours. Not what feels like a lifetime, an actual lifetime. It’s hard to describe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bestow honor onto every principal creative that Lowery hired. Dev Patel turns in a career-best performance. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo paints with color and light. Jade Healy’s production design elicits a worn grandiosity that feels at-once intimate. They should just hand the Oscar to costume designer Malgosia Turzanska right now. And Daniel Hart’s dissonant music combines the ancient and modern into a dizzying, soul-piercing soundscape.
The greatest poems can be broken down line-by-line, their meaning caught in the spaces between words and phrases. If it was Lowery’s intention to create the cinematic equivalent, then mission accomplished. As for me, I still have a lot to chew on. I’m not sure these were all the right words to properly meet this masterwork, but like Sir Gawain, I forged ahead anyway.
The Green Knight is in theaters now and available to rent on demand.
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