What We’re Streaming: April 2020
Regular visitors to the Agony Booth know that our monthly Hit or Bomb? box office prediction articles have been a popular fixture here for years now, but with movie theaters closed around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there isn’t much point in predicting the box office performance of movies that won’t see a theatrical release for months (if ever).
However, instead of just outright cancelling the articles, we wanted to replace it with something else that we all could participate in, and since most of us are stuck at home, it seemed only logical to replace box office predictions with What We’re Streaming: a brief roundup of what we’ve been watching on services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV, or even CBS All Access [!] in lieu of being able to go out to the movies. Here to share what they’ve been corona-viewing are Thomas Stockel, Julie Kushner, Jordon Davis, and me, Dr. Winston O’Boogie.
I Am Not Okay With This (Netflix)
Jordon: Imagine taking one of the great coming-of-age stories—Edge of Seventeen or Moonlight—and crossing it with the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies. Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, this is the story of Syd, a teen girl dealing with a whole lot. Her father killed himself a year earlier, leaving her family nearly destitute in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Her mother relies on her to basically raise her younger brother. She has a single friend, no car, bland clothes, and intense confusion over her sexuality. All of it contributes to a deep and abiding rage.which may be the key to unlocking some serious superpowers. The characters have a lived-in feel thanks to honest performances from Sophia Lillis, Duckie stand-in Wyatt Oleff, and mom Kathleen Rose Perkins. The bleak setting and amazing soundtrack are characters in and of themselves. At a quick pace (the entire series is only an hour and forty minutes), the episodes fly by. Sadly, it ends far too soon. It would be the first fifteen minutes of a movie. Will Syd find any peace with her mother? Will her best friend Dina return her love? And is she a superhero or a supervillain? Binge, thank me, and then binge it again.
The Expanse (Amazon Prime)
Thomas S: The show that prompted me to get Amazon Prime in the first place, The Expanse delivers in every way. We have compelling and complex characters that run the gamut of the moral spectrum, from the noble if sometimes misguided James Holden, to the driven burnt-out cop Joe Miller, to badass Martian Marine Bobby Draper whose loyalties are put to the test, to the sociopathic Amos Burton who needs people like crewmates Naomi Nagata and Alex Kamal to act as his moral compass. And those are just the good guys.
The politics on this show are every bit as complex as its protagonists, with an overpopulated, environmentally devastated Earth that desperately needs the resources only the Belters (natives of the asteroid belt) can provide, who in some cases turn to terrorism to protect what’s theirs. The two factions are locked in a struggle with Mars, which has had to shed its dreams of terraformed paradise for militaristic expansion in a bid for independence and survival. No faction is wholly innocent and the layered storytelling is compelling. Throw in an ancient civilization’s artifacts causing chaos and it just makes things that much more interesting.
The sets are fantastic, the costumes feel genuine, and the visual effects are stunning. The outer space battles are exciting, and after decades of phasers and lasers and the like, it’s actually fun seeing things like missiles and rail guns, along with a lack of deflector shields. If your ship gets hit, it’s got honkin’ big holes in it and it’s bleeding atmosphere. There’s no artificial gravity here, and no transporters. If you thought Firefly was gritty, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The Prisoner (Amazon Prime)
Winston: One of the great things about our current glorious age of streaming is that it allows us to finally revisit the shows we couldn’t possibly have appreciated at the time they aired (or at the time we saw them). Back in the ‘80s, The Prisoner reruns aired late at night on my local PBS station and I’m sure it totally befuddled my prepubescent mind. But thanks to Amazon, which has all 17 episodes available to Prime subscribers, I can say I’m just as befuddled by The Prisoner as I was back then, but at least I can appreciate it more.
As the very definition of a cult show, I doubt I need to explain the premise much; Patrick McGoohan stars as a James Bond-like secret agent who abruptly resigns his position, then finds himself gassed and abducted to the Village, a commune full of unwilling residents who refuse to divulge classified information to those in charge—whoever they may be. Everyone is assigned a number and McGoohan becomes “Number Six”, and each week he hatches an escape attempt while evil second-in-command “Number Two” (played by a different actor in every episode) plots an equally devious plan to learn why Six resigned, which often involves such futuristic tech as cloning, dream espionage, ESP, and mind transfer. Alas, every time Number Six comes close to escaping, he’s stopped in his tracks by a big white weather balloon that emerges from the deep and causes enough bodily harm to put him in the hospital.
All that doesn’t do justice to how incredibly weird this series is, and also how incredibly frustrating it is. It delivers lots of allegory about the (then-ongoing) Cold War and what life was like under the heel of Orwellian regimes, but I can’t help but think the whole thing was devised by McGoohan as one big mindfuck. Very few of the show’s central mysteries see any kind of resolution, but it’s still a must-stream simply so one can contemplate how something this bizarre actually made it onto television in 1968. I don’t think any broadcast series came close to being this surreal and confounding until Twin Peaks 20 years later.
Criminal Minds (CBS All Access)
Jordon: I’m not sure how many stations air Criminal Minds. I think ION alone is running nineteen hours of it a day. But it’s the perfect show to simply give yourself over to. It ran for fifteen seasons, from 2005 to just this February. It follows the six or seven members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit as they profile suspects and catch every serial killer in America. Nothing on screen bears any relationship to reality. The “unsub” is almost always the character actor whose name you recognize, and the team almost always rescues the last college girl abducted. Computer hacker Penelope Garcia basically performs magic. In reality, psychological profiling probably doesn’t work. But who cares? The episodes wash over you like a warm tide or a couple Percocet. It doesn’t even matter what order you watch them in; they’re all the same. I like to try to identify the year of the episode by how ridiculous the cell phones look. Watch a couple of hours of this in near catatonia. Time has no meaning anymore and you’re probably out of Percocet anyway.
The Wire (Amazon Prime)
Julie: Apparently, like many others, I’ve finally gotten around to watching The Wire for the first time on Amazon Prime. Airing on HBO for five seasons from 2002 through 2008, this smart, raw, and grittily immersive series takes an inside look at the West Baltimore drug trade through the eyes of everyone: from its bottom-of-the-food chain dealers and addicts, to the menacing and morally complex kingpins, to its workaday cop antiheroes, the latter of which break rules and cut through red tape every day in the hopes of bringing the whole corrosive empire to its knees.
Though it takes some patience and a bit of concentration to truly get into the series and keep everyone’s names and their relationships to one another straight, The Wire features spectacular writing and acting pretty much across the board, and never underestimates the intelligence of its viewers. Scenes in season 1 in particular, like the one where the drug trade is compared in surprisingly delicate metaphor to a game of chess, and another where a brutal cold case murder is solved on screen with no lines of dialogue other than a string of curses, are virtual masterclasses in script writing. And despite being nearly 20 years old, the show holds up (well… perhaps minus the episode that revolves around cracking a code that drug dealers use to communicate with each other on their beepers).
Even if you hated Dominic West in The Affair with a passion like I did, you’ll appreciate his work here, playing a slightly more likable blue-collar detective. And Michael K. Williams and Idris Elba are both captivating as rival dealers, each with their own moral codes. With 60 hour-long episodes to burn through, there are certainly worse ways to spend a month-plus under unofficial house arrest.
And that’s what we’ve been binge-watching. Let us know in the comments what you’ve been streaming lately, and join us in May for another edition of What We’re Streaming, because I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing this again next month… unfortunately.