“Whatcha watchin’?” was once a cutesy way of making small talk. Now it is asked with a slight whiff of desperation by those looking to use streaming entertainment like Flex Seal to patch the gaping holes punctured in normalcy. The question was once asked with a smile and is now posed like a thief asks “Whatchu got there?”
Good news for those who are not fans of this increasingly dystopian reality! Four sci-fi programs on four different services are offering glimpses into multiverses where COVID is nothing more than what a celebrity might name their child.
I Am Not Okay With This (Netflix)
Filled with more than one truly fantastic, jaw-dropping moment, this is a lightly super-powered tale to remind you that your teenage years could have been much worse. Sydney (Sophia Lillis) is an awkward high-schooler who recently lost her dad and gained telekinetic powers. If you wanted to see how The Breakfast Club would fold into the Marvel Universe, look no further than this show, set in a non-descript time period and filled with young people as confused by their blossoming sexuality as they are with one of them kinda being an X-Man.
Grade = A-
Tales From the Loop (Amazon Prime)
The second episode of this series, based on artwork from Simon Stålenhag, asks the poignant question: “What if Freaky Friday were really sad?” That should about tell you what you’re in for, so be warned. Behind the camera, the quasi-anthology series has talent that will absolutely stop gobs. Directors include Jodie Foster, Mark Romanek, Andrew Stanton, and Ti West. Only one of those people is responsible for John Carter, which is a great non-John Carter ratio! I haven’t entirely finished this one yet, but about halfway through, the show is like a steam-punkier, sleeker Twilight Zone, in which the inhabitants of a town that rests on top of a crazy machine find themselves confronting impossible events that all seem to wind up very sad. Still more fun than literally any news report right now, though!
Grade = B+
Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)
To reward those of you who have read thus far, I’ve saved the best two shows for last. This shiny bauble of magical realism from creator/star Jason Segel doesn’t quite plug the Good Place-shaped hole inside all of us, but it is unrepentantly sweet at a time when the world isn’t. Four strangers find themselves pulled into what is either an elaborate “escape room”-style game or an actual quest to find a missing girl and stop an evil corporation. Segel is too distracting in the lead role, and the show quirks for quirks’ sake often. That said, hand to Bigfoot, it has made me happier than any other new show this year. If you don’t like it right away, run. If you love it immediately, welcome to the Elsewhere Society, friend.
Grade = A
Fittingly for a show that plays footsie with the multiverse, there are zero realities in which writer/director Alex Garland will ever make something bad. Stunning to look at and the very best kind of slow, Devs weaves a meticulous tale of grief, free will, and the need to cast Allison Pill in more things. The less you know the better, but the catalyst here is a murder involving a wealthy tech mogul actively mucking with the fabric of time. Whether you find it deliberate or boring depends entirely on whether you think of an Ashton Kutcher movie or the interconnectedness of reality when I say “butterfly effect.”
Grade = A