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: spies, chefs, and fashion designers all get their time in the spotlight.
The Americans season 4
Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are, in many ways, the archetypal American couple. They run a small business, they have a house in the suburbs, they help their kids with their homework. Oh, and they are both Soviet spies — the two must carry out assignments given to them by their KGB handlers while maintaining the facade of being a normal family, a fiction that they often feel seduced by. Created by a former CIA officer, The Americans is a stylish spy-thriller set at the height of the Cold War, and the various plots Elizabeth and Philip get caught up in are equal parts captivating and absurd. If you enjoy colorful disguises and cool gadgets, The Americans has quite the arsenal.
Beyond its genre trappings, The Americans is also a poignant family drama. Elizabeth and Philip grapple as much with their domestic life as with their increasingly dangerous mission. Forced into marriage by their work, the two develop a sort of romance. Rhys and Russell have outstanding chemistry together, and they each bring a lot of nuance to their already complicated characters. Like other great dramas of recent years (Breaking Bad, The Sopranos), The Americans is a tightly paced, morally ambiguous thriller, rife with intrigue and violence.
Chef’s Table season 3
Netflix’s gorgeous documentary series returns for a third season, exploring the lives and philosophies of world-renowned chefs. Created by David Gelb (director of the award-winning documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), Chef’s Table is a stylish look into the work of master chefs. The camera often lingers, lovestruck, over their work with frequent close-ups that show the texture and color in the dishes. The series is not merely a collection of gastronomic glamour shots, however. Gelb extensively interviews the chefs, learning about their lives, and how their backgrounds and world views inform their work.
Each episode of Chef’s Table follows a different chef; season 3’s roster includes ramen cook Ivan Orkin, Peruvian superstar Virgilio Martinez, and Buddhist nun/master of temple cooking Jeong Kwan. Chef’s Table offers viewers a tour of the world’s many styles of cooking, as well as a look at the cultures that produced them.
Clouds of Sils Maria
In her 40s, actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a respected star. Her career took off following her role in the play Maloja Snake, about an older woman, Helena, seduced by her young intern, Sigrid. She plans to visit the playwright who helped her ascent, and is stunned when she hears that he has committed suicide. Soon, a young director approaches her, asking her to star in a new adaptation of Maloja Snake, this time as the older woman rather than the young temptress. Maria practices her lines with the aid of her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), and their relationship soon begins to mirror the one in the play.
The production becomes a source of drama, as the part of Sigrid goes to infamous American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose scandalous behavior and millennial attitude leave Maria feeling out of touch. Clouds of Sils Maria is largely a character study, exploring the turmoil of a woman growing older, a star whose light is dimming. Binoche, an actress with a long and venerable career, is impeccable as Maria, and Stewart, quickly becoming one of the more respected actresses of her generation, delivers a great performance of her own.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
In the early 2000s, an author by the name of Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy became a literary rockstar. The son of a prostitute, Leroy spent his teenage years turning tricks himself, eventually channeling his experiences into the novel Sarah. After the novel’s publication, LeRoy found praise not just from critics, but also celebrities like Tom Waits, Winona Ryder, and Gus van Sant. Leroy had achieved a level of fame many aspiring writers only dream of, which was a tragedy given that he didn’t actually exist. JT LeRoy was the creation of author Laura Albert, who recruited her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to dress up and play JT for public appearances.
Jeff Feuerzeig’s new documentary, Author: The JT Leroy Story, digs into the truth behind this literary “hoax,” which was exposed in a New York Magazine story in 2005. Feuerzeig talks extensively with the people behind the JT character, piecing together the way they created a phenomenon. The film is a captivating exploration of one of the most bizarre stories in the world of modern literature.
The Collection season 1
World War II is a common setting for shows and movies; far rarer are works that tackle the aftermath. Amazon’s new series The Collection begins in the bombed-out ruins of Paris, as the city rebuilds. The focus is on a fashion house run by two brothers: Paul Sabine (Richard Coyle), a businessman with a guilty past, and Claude (Tom Riley), a troubled artist who designs the clothes. The show follows the brothers as they struggle to build their empire, and are beset by challenges both professional and personal.
The juxtaposition of the fashion industry (a world of glamor) with post-war France (a world of rubble and determination) is a striking one, and the show plays around with the concept, particularly in its visuals. An early scene of a woman in a bright red dress walking the gray streets is just one of the many times the show uses a splash of color to great effect. While The Collection shows some odd quirks for a period piece — the two leads have distinctly British accents despite playing Frenchmen — it is nonetheless a well-acted, frequently compelling drama with a keen visual flair.
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