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 worth a watch.
This week: a musical drama, a touching documentary, and a bleak comedy.
Mozart in the Jungle season 3
Based on the memoir of professional oboist Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle follows various members of the New York Symphony as they balance their passion for art with the practical challenges of living in New York City. Although it is an ensemble piece, the series focuses on Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), an aspiring oboist who is hired to join the symphony by its new conductor, Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal). His hair unkempt and his style unorthodox, De Souza is a radical departure from his predecessor, the stately Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell), and his wild performances push the musicians outside their comfort zones.
While Tindall wrote about the music scene in the ’80s, which was flush with drugs and sex, this television adaptation opts for a contemporary setting, and focuses on millennial anxieties about work and how to lead a meaningful life. Although they may play for wealthy audiences, the musicians struggle to make a living, often working side gigs. The jungle is a vibrant city, home to professionals in tuxedos and dreamers in gaudy rags alike. Mozart in the Jungle dips into hallucinatory fancy at times; a performance combining the music of Styx with the play Oedipus Rex is — somehow — not the weirdest scene. Funny and devoid of cynicism, the show is an achingly earnest celebration of art and the people who make it.
White Rabbit Project
For more a decade, the show MythBusters examined the veracity of urban legends, movie scenes, and rumors by testing them through experimentation. While that show is no longer running, several members of the cast — Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara — have reunited for White Rabbit Project, which looks to continue the tradition of fun and informative science projects.
As in MythBusters, the cast of White Rabbit Project will tackle a variety of topics using their specific skill sets to build props and devices that can be used to test claims and assumptions. It seems like the hosts will also engage in some humorous bits and skits, which may turn some viewers off (a re-enactment of a scene from Office Space seemed especially grating.) Still, for those who like seeing things blown up in the name of science, White Rabbit Project may scratch that particular itch.
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Medici: Masters of Florence
There seem to be few television formulas more reliable than adapting the history of famous noble families. Whether they lived in England or France, during the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, old-school aristocrats often lived lives of passion, intrigue, and violence, all of which make for compelling drama. Given its long and lavish reign, it is about time the House of Medici got a show of its own. Medici: Masters of Florence traces the rise of the dynasty, as banker Giovanni de’ Medici (Dustin Hoffman) tries to secure his family’s position in Florence and prepare his son, Cosimo (Richard Madden), to take over the family business.
The young Cosimo is more interested in palling around with artists than running a bank, and his growth from hedonistic youth to ruler of Florence is the central arc of the series. The Medicis were effective politicians, but also patrons of the arts, and the show ornately portrays the glamor of the era. Although it is based on historical events, Masters of Florence takes plenty of artistic liberties. The result is a drama dripping with sensuality and action, but one should not take it as a history lesson.
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The Trans List
The latest documentary from Timothy Greenfield-Saunders, The Trans List follows in the tradition of his previous works like The Black List and The Out List, which presented members of marginalized groups sharing their life stories. Hosted by Janet Mock, The Trans List features interviews with various transgender people, some well-known (Caitlyn Jenner), others not so much. The eleven subjects come from a multitude of backgrounds. There are lawyers, activists, artists, actors and more, each telling their story in the hope of revealing common bonds of humanity.
Greenfield-Saunders takes a minimalist approach in his direction. Most of the screen time is devoted to static shots of the subjects talking, interspersed with images that support crucial parts of their stories. The result is a documentary that will likely win no awards for style, but it does keep the focus on the subjects as ordinary people. The Trans List is an insightful and personal look into one of the most marginalized groups in contemporary society, and is worth watching for the unique perspective it offers.
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A Serious Man
Relocating the biblical story of Job to middle-class America, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man is the story of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor whose wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), wants to leave him for another man. Larry’s failing marriage is only one of his problems: his brother may be mentally unstable, one of his students is trying to bribe him, and the Columbia Record Club keeps haranguing him about a subscription he did not sign up for. The bad news just keeps piling up like a stack of cosmic junk mail.
A Serious Man is not an especially plot-driven film; The events that happen seem cruelly random, and the focus is on Larry’s attempts to rationalize his circumstances. An observant Jew, Larry’s greatest challenge is trying to understand why, despite trying trying to lead a good life, God is seemingly punishing him. Like many of the Coens’ films, A Serious Man could be considered a comedy, but in the blackest sense. Humanity, through the film’s lens, is a collection of narcissists and fools, and our suffering an existential joke.
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