Online streaming is bigger than ever, and with so many streaming services adding new shows and movies every week, it can be nearly impossible to sort through the good and the bad. If you need something to watch and don’t want to wade through the digital muck that washes up on the internet’s shores, follow our picks below for the best new shows and movies to stream on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other services.
On the list this week: A new anthology from the Duplass brothers, the return of a brilliant comedy, and a spectacular war movie.
Room 104 premiere
Television today trends toward the grandiose; whether shows traffic in political scheming, criminal empires, or dragons, the goal is always to get bigger. Room 104, a new project from brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, takes a different path, constraining itself to one room for an entire season. Each episode is a self-contained story, each set in the same hotel room, following the various people who spend a night there. The show finds creativity in its constraints, playing with form and genre (some episodes take the shape of intimate dramas, others horror movies). Like most anthology series, the quality varies between episodes, but even at its weakest, Room 104 is an exciting experiment.
The Incredible Jessica James
Pitch for a film: A romantic comedy following a 20-something artist struggling to find success in New York City, whose humdrum life gets a shot of excitement when they make a new connection. Alright, so the premise of The Incredible Jessica James is nothing new, but James Strouse’s latest film is a fine showcase for Jessica Williams, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent, who delivers an entrancing performance as the titular character. The film begins with James, a playwright unable to get her plays produced or find a meaningful relationship, going on an awkward date with recently divorced app developer Boone (Chris O’Dowd). Despite the first date disaster, they keep hanging out, perhaps united by a mutual love of acerbic remarks. The Incredible Jessica James lacks a compelling narrative arc but its central lovers are well-written and charming enough to watch.
Insecure season 2
Issa Rae’s intimate comedy Insecure follows a pair of women, Issa (Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji), whose friendship carries them through troubles both personal and professional. Issa is a nonprofit worker unsatisfied with her job and slacker boyfriend. Molly is an attorney struggling to climb the professional ladder and find a lover who is ready for commitment. The show examines their relationships and foibles with an empathetic eye, but the show is hardly gloomy; it has a verve and wit that place it among the best of today’s comedies.
John Dies at the End
An adaptation of David Wong’s popular (and bizarre) comedy horror novel, John Dies at the End is a psychedelic adventure in the vein of Big Trouble in Little China or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The film is framed through a conversation between David (Chase Williamson) and reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), in which David recounts how he and his friend John (Rob Mayes) tried out a drug called “Soy Sauce,” which enabled them to see creatures from other dimensions. The revelation leads them down a rabbit hole of sinister conspiracies and wacky encounters, the film swaying from comedy to horror. John Dies at the End is not a great film but it is an entertaining one, with a unique structure and sense of humor that makes up for its shortcomings.
It takes a lot for a World War II film to stand out but Hacksaw Ridge was a remarkable achievement, both as a war movie and a return to critical acclaim for director Mel Gibson. The film is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a young man who joins the army to serve his country but declines to kill or even carry a gun due to his religious beliefs. This makes him a target for his commanders and fellow soldiers, who view it as an act of cowardice, but Doss holds firmly to his stance, getting permission to serve as an unarmed medic. In our review, we singled out the film’s beautiful juxtaposition of spiritual and worldly struggle, highlighting the Americans’ harrowing assault on Hacksaw Ridge, a scene bathed in smoke and blood.