After a year of viewing films from the comfort of my own filth, next week marks my return to showering! Sorry, theaters. Next week marks my return to seeing movies in theaters. Of course I’ve been showering… I’ve showered the precise normal number of times an average human being does that, just like all other totally normal human beings.
In advance of my “triumphant” ─ quotation marks doing some heavy lifting there ─ return to theaters, here’s a quick roundup of 5 recent TV shows and 5 streaming movies that either didn’t merit a full review or I hadn’t quite gotten around to reviewing yet. It’s like a spring cleaning for my critical content. See, I do clean!
5 TV Shows to Stream
Great Pottery Throw Down (HBO Max)
One of the sweetest competition-based reality shows ever made, this is (hopefully) the only place you’ll see a grown man weep over how beautiful a toilet is. Whereas a similar American program might end with a contestant being shanked with a shiv fresh from the kiln, the wholesome potters here are impossible not to root for and the stakes are blissfully low. With four seasons now available, come to see glassware fired in dung, stay to see what a ceramic Dolly Parton looks like.
Grade = A-
Although still endearing and worth all y’all’s time, Shrill is a show that kept promising better things to come without ever actually coming to those better things. It’s not bad! Working from Lindy West’s flawless memoir of the same name, Aidy Bryant and company have made an endlessly watchable show that constantly centers important social issues that are either backgrounded or wholly omitted from other entertainment. It’s nice! It’s a nice show. It’s just one that ends with the type of conclusion that makes you go back to the menu to make sure there aren’t more episodes. Nope! And there (sadly) won’t be.
Grade = B-
The Mare of Easttown (HBO Max)
Once you get past the accents, and you will definitely need an adjustment period for the accents, this Kate Winslet-led crime drama will scratch your whodunit itch in a way that you do not want the upcoming Death on the Nile to scratch it; Armie Hammer is in that one, and he’ll (allegedly) use his teeth. Playing footsie with culturally relevant issues, but mostly dabbling in a bit of poverty pornography, the show is (thus far) deeply satisfying. Of course, with two episodes to go, they could still bork the ending and reveal either that it’s all been a dream or that the obvious choice for a bad guy was, in fact, the bad guy.
Grade = B+ or A-, depending on the baddie
Invincible (Amazon Prime)
Either you’re all-in on an animated superhero show in which truly, exceptionally horrible things are done to cartoon bodies or the first episode will have you passing harder than Fox News on responsible vaccine content. This impossibly faithful adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book is essentially “What if Spider-Man were in an R-rated movie?” If you’re so-inclined to watch such a thing, go in blind and unspoiled for a viewing experience that feels like gargling a smoothie made of graphic novel awesomeness.
Grade = A
Made for Love (HBO Max)
Starring Ray Romano and his sex doll, and also some other people, this is a slightly off-kilter comedy about a woman fleeing from Google. Well, for legal reasons, it’s not Google Google. But it’s totally Google. Laughing at the systemic invasion of privacy we’re forced to endure in the “social media” age isn’t going to solve anything, but neither is congress. Although it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its first episode, the whole thing is clever-silly enough to captivate and silly-clever enough to dissolve shortly thereafter.
Grade = B
5 Movies to Stream
Director Alexandre Aja’s latest is a sci-fi thriller that takes place entirely inside a broken cryogenic chamber. Who hasn’t had that problem, am I right, Walt Disney? Mélanie Laurent does literally all the work of making the central and rather obvious mystery feel interesting. I say “rather obvious,” as the “twist” is evident to genre fans within mere minutes, but it’ll be spoiled even quicker if you read the IMDB page for it. The third act is total butts, but the rest is full of fairly, ahem, High Tension.
Grade = B-
About Endlessness (Various VOD services)
Writer/director Roy Andersson’s collection of vignettes feels like power walking through a museum or speed reading a book of poetry. The very loosely linked stories ─ which can only very loosely be called stories ─ are mini-meditations that vary from absurdism to profundity. Equally as upsetting as enthralling, this is the sort of film that would make a perfect date movie, provided both parties really like Swedish existentialism. Which, I mean, who doesn’t?
Grade = A+
The Mitchells vs. the Machines (Netflix)
With a mildly generic theme and the attention span of a hummingbird who consumes only spilled Monster energy drink, I’m confident that young people probably love the shit out of this. YouTube is a plot point, for the love of Gen Alpha. The use of Maya Rudolph and Danny McBride certainly help straddle the generation gap, and various readings of the film by non-neurotypical viewers have elevated what I initially dismissed as simply a busy, noisy thing to put children in front of for a while. It’s still about a half-hour too long, but I’m guessing mommies and daddies wish it were a few hours longer still.
Grade = B+
Essentially a cult documentary about a business, this look at the ascent and decline of a company I still do not quite understand feels like those dueling Fyre Festival documentaries. Don’t worry, nobody let’s you peer into their dead eyes as they discuss trading oral sex for bottled water. Which, you know, is probably why you haven’t heard of this film. Not quite as compelling as nonfiction looks at Elizabeth Holmes, WeWork could have stood to more thoroughly unpack a lot of what it drops on your noggin. But hey, a good noggin’ drop is always worth your time.
Grade = B-
The Last Blockbuster (Netflix)
Let’s get this out of the way: This isn’t actually a good documentary. It’s a meandering, almost upsettingly self-congratulatory Netflix movie about the death of home video. You should also watch it if you were ever taught that your kindness was inextricably tied to your rewindness. Wait… Is that what happened? Did the death of Blockbuster somehow issue in the empathy-free era in which we now live? Was our humanity only held together by the shared connections fostered at brick-and-mortar video stores? No. But this will lead to some fun nostalgic conversations about “this one time at Blockbuster.” Or, at least, it will if you ever put out a fire in their video return box once. I did!
Grade = B