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.
Samurai Jack seasons 1-4
More than a decade since it went off the air, Genndy Tartakovsky’s acclaimed animated series Samurai Jack is returning for a fifth and final season. For those who have never seen the show (or haven’t watched it in years), the time is ripe to catch up. The show begins with a samurai prince (Phil LaMarr) trying to liberate his kingdom from the demon wizard Aku (Mako Iwamatsu). When the samurai gains the upper hand in their battle, Aku tears open a portal through time, casting him into the future, where Aku has become an interplanetary conqueror.
Now trapped in a strange time, the samurai (known as “Jack” by the people of the future) must wander the many realms of Aku’s domain, searching for a way back to the past, where he can defeat him once and for all. The storytelling in Samurai Jack is subtle — long sequences will often go by with little to no dialogue. Tartakovsky prefers to let the imagery do the talking, and the visuals are suitably gorgeous. Characters are typically drawn in solid colors without outlines, a boldly minimalist style that suits the somber, meditative tone of the show. The art style also makes the action sequences easier to follow, and they are some of the finest in animation history; witness a battle between Jack and a ninja, clad entirely in white and black, as they do battle in a setting composed entirely of the same colors, blending into the backgrounds.
Love season 2
Despite the bland title, Netflix’s Love is a unique romantic comedy, focusing on a relationship between two people who, given their collective neuroses, might be better off single. The central couple consists of Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs). He is a wannabe screenwriter, working as a tutor for child actors; she is a program manager at a radio station. She’s a binge-drinking, occasionally thoughtless sex addict; he’s a needy, egotistical romantic. Their personalities aren’t exactly a recipe for a successful relationship.
One of the things that sets Love apart from other rom-coms — other than the complicated, at times despicable protagonists — is its sense of patience. Like other works by co-creator Judd Apatow, the show takes its time to build up its central relationship, and while episodes can seem a bit overstuffed, the result is a romance that feels natural, if not healthy. Although viewers may sometimes find Gus and Mickey too difficult to like, the show features a roster of great supporting characters to brighten up the proceedings. Mickey’s roommate, a bubbly Australian named Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), is a standout.
The White Helmets
Winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, The White Helmets follows the daily lives of the members of the Syria Civil Defence (known as “White Helmets” for their distinct equipment), first responders in Aleppo who search for survivors following airstrikes. After a brief but unsettling clip of first-person footage from an airstrike target, the film introduces viewers to Khalid Farah. The film tells us he is a former builder; it shows him playing with his daughter before he grabs his helmet and sets off for his work as a White Helmet. The volunteers gather, talking and eating, when they suddenly hear the roar of a plane approaching, followed by the thunder of its payload.
For the most part, the film is light on stylistic touches. Director Orlando von Einsiedel lets the White Helmets tell their own story, remaining a silent observer to the chaos. The only input from the filmmakers comes in the occasional facts presented as text on the screen. The White Helmets presents a harrowing looks into one of the great tragedies of the modern world, and the people doing what they can to make it better.
Big Little Lies
Based on the novel of the same name, Big Little Lies is a miniseries that follows a group of women whose lives — dominated by work and child-rearing — are upended by a schoolyard conflict. The primary focus is on Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) and her friend Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). Madeline is an overbearing mom with a Type A personality; Celeste is a successful attorney with a seemingly perfect marriage and family. The two befriend a mysterious new mother in town, Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), whose son, Ziggy, is attending the same elementary school as their kids. When another child accuses Ziggy of attacking her on the first day of school, the various parents in town take sides.
Big Little Lies finds plenty of drama in the contentious world of elementary school parents. There is a level of backstabbing and verbal sparring that wouldn’t be out of place in Game of Thrones. Despite the cattiness on display, the show presents a sympathetic eye to its female characters. Violence toward women, and the repercussions of it, becomes an important part of the story, and underpins much of the character growth throughout the series. Well-acted and beautifully shot, Big Little Lies is a compelling drama that will hopefully stick the landing.
Man Seeking Woman season 1-2
In its first episode, Man Seeking Woman begins in a fairly typical way for a story about dating. Protagonist Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel) is leaving the apartment of his now ex-girlfriend, the two of them feebly pretending they will still be friends. Only a sudden bout of rain, as well as dead birds falling on Josh’s head, hints at the surreal approach that separates the show from the rest of its ilk. While there are plenty of shows right now that examine the challenges of dating with a cynical eye (Lovesick and You’re the Worst, for example), none have the absurd sense of humor that Man Seeking Woman does. By the time the first episode ends, and Josh’s date with a troll — not an internet commenter, but an actual creature of Scandinavian folklore — goes awry, the show has revealed itself to be something special.
For the most part, the show is a series of isolated stories — for a man as pathetic as Josh is presented to be, he has quite the string of interesting girlfriends — that examine various aspects of dating and the male psyche. The show explores these themes through bizarre scenarios — an episode about codependency involves Josh and his then girlfriend getting surgically sewn together, in one of the more tame segments. Using magical realism to explore themes that anyone with experience dating can relate to, Man Seeking Woman is one of the boldest romantic comedies around.
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