What We’re Streaming: May 2020

It’s another month and movie theaters around the country are still closed due to the global pandemic, so the people who once brought you monthly box office predictions here at the Agony Booth are back for another installment of What We’re Streaming, a roundup of the movies and TV shows we’ve been watching while stuck at home. Here again to share what they’ve been streaming are Thomas Stockel, Julie Kushner, Jordon Davis, and me, Dr. Winston O’Boogie.

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Yesterday (HBO)

Winston: Jack (Himesh Patel) is a frustrated singer-songwriter about to give up on his musical dreams when a worldwide blackout occurs, while he simultaneously gets hit by a bus. When he wakes up, he finds that no one else in the world remembers who the Beatles are. He proceeds to rewrite the Fab Four’s music, passing it off as his own, and immediately catches the attention of pop star Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and gets signed to be his opening act. Ed’s manager (Kate McKinnon, playing an SNL parody of sleazy managers, I guess?) becomes Jack’s manager and sets him up as the next big thing, but instead of exhilaration at his newfound stardom, Jack can only feel enormous guilt about stealing Lennon and McCartney’s songbook, while also pining away for the girl he left back home (Lily James).

Eventually, the Beatles music fades into the background to service a cliched plot where Jack gives up fame and fortune to be with the girl he loves (and in this supposed tribute to the Beatles, the two leads finally consummating their relationship is set to… an Ed Sheeran song). Only being stuck at home under quarantine could justify wasting two hours on what’s essentially a standard-issue rom-com with a slight bit of Beatles window dressing. And including a surprise appearance by (spoiler alert) an elderly, never-murdered John Lennon to serve as the stock “tell her how you really feel” character was the final insult.

When I first heard about this movie, I wondered how the filmmakers would make it credible that mid-‘60s pop songs, as well-crafted as they may be, could somehow become wildly popular upon being heard for the first time in 2019. It turns out they didn’t bother. They have Jack perform everything from “She Loves You” to “In My Life” to “Back in the USSR” as dull solo numbers that would never in a million years cut through all the noise of YouTubers and TikTokers recording alone in their bedrooms. About the best thing to be said about Yesterday is that inspired to me to revisit an ‘80s sci-fi TV show and recap an episode with a really similar premise.

Daybreak (Netflix)

(NSFW Trailer)

Jordon: What’s better than living through a real apocalypse? Watching a fake one. It’s an average day at Glendale High School in the valley when bio-nuclear war breaks out. Soon, all the adults and little children are dead (or dead-ish), and the only people left are high school students. They go about rebuilding society by breaking into cliques and declaring war on each other. The most feared are the jocks, and the least feared? The 4-H club. Josh (Colin Ford), a transfer from Canada, tries to keep his head down as he’s befriended, against his will, by a gay samurai, an 11-year-old girl who’s also a genius and a psychopath, a witch, a girl who only speaks Chinese, an Armenian poser with a mall, and nobody who can help him find Samira (Sophie Simnett), the love of his life. And after the first two episodes, things really go bananas. This show has nothing to say about high school, and breaks no new thematic ground. But it’s cool and fun and you can count the Ferris Bueller references if you want. I lost county in the mid forties. Watch it and then let’s endlessly discuss the Pokemon fight right here in the comments.

Person of Interest (Netflix)

Thomas S: “You are being watched” are the words delivered at the start of each episode in (mostly) Michael Emerson’s distinctive voice. This simple statement would preface the series’ premise: that there’s a machine that monitors everyone’s every single movement through their phones and public cameras, accessing internet activity to predict terrorist threats in order to prevent the next 9/11. The only thing is, the small atrocities are ignored. This is where Mr. Finch (Emerson) and Mr. Reese (Jim Caviezel) and their allies come in, using this information to intervene.

Created by Westworld producer Jonathan Nolan, Person of Interest is an exciting, intelligent, thought provoking, and yes, occasionally funny series that asks the viewer, “How much liberty are you prepared to sacrifice for safety?” It’s a tough question and Nolan doesn’t just hand the answer over to you. No, he leaves it up to you the viewer to ponder that question. In what feels like a very brisk five seasons (the fifth being only 13 episodes, allowing for the magical 100 episode syndication threshold), each year is like one chapter of a story, with each ending delivering a dynamite cliffhanger and the following year upping the stakes, until the final run where there’s no telling who will live and who will die. The backgrounds of our two principal protagonists Finch and Reese are each explored in depth; Nolan makes excellent use of flashbacks and it never grows tiresome or feels like a gimmick (I’m looking at you, Arrow). And the antagonists feel like fully realized characters, each with their own unique motivations. Nolan is able to effectively deliver on two levels, from the personal lives of individual victims to the world-spanning crisis that slowly builds throughout the story. You are being watched, so you might as well watch Person of Interest.

Jordon: That show was really good. I agree with everything said above. You should watch it.

Dispatches from Elsewhere (AMC)

Jordon: If being in quarantine is a little strange and surreal for you, here’s a ten episode series that’s really strange and surreal as well. Jason Segel plays Peter, a somewhat empty man who one day pulls the tab off a flier. Soon, he and three teammates are chasing around the city in a game, or maybe a murder mystery, or possibly an Illuminati plot. That hardly matters, though, because it’s the incredibly delicate dive into each of the main characters’ emotional lives that makes this worth watching. Also, Sally Field is in it. She has two Academy Awards. This is one of those “secret” shows where each person watching thinks they’re the only ones who know about it. Be one of those people. Embrace divine nonchalance. Also, Sally Field! She was Gidget!

Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

Julie: Following the untimely death of her father by heart attack during a school concert (the shock of which causes her to lose the use of her legs for three months), 15-year old California high school student Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is seeking a return to normalcy at the start of her sophomore year. Like many her age, the high achieving, Ivy League hopeful Devi vies to be popular, lose her virginity, and get the hottest boy in school to notice her. A modern tale in some ways, but nostalgically old-fashioned in others, Never Have I Ever is a sweet, lighthearted coming-of-age series that’s partly based on co-creator Mindy Kaling’s own adolescent experiences.

Though the series does have its share of high school cliches, and I could have done without the bizarre and off-putting narrative choices made throughout the ten half-hour episodes (John McEnroe??), I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, and zipped through the entire series in a single evening. The young cast is solid. The characters are uniquely flawed and nuanced. The plotlines are comfortingly familiar, yet offer some genuine surprises along the way. Plus, the series has some wise things to say about the ways in which we cope with grief and loneliness, reconcile our family life and culture with a desire to assimilate, maintain friendships as we grow in different directions, and navigate romantic relationships. In short, it’s a fun and very welcome escape from the horrors of the current news cycle.

Us (HBO)

Winston: Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a horror-thriller that was equal parts suspenseful and funny, and also happened to tap into the zeitgeist and one of the deepest fears of persons of color: that that their self-declared “allies” might be just as crazy and dangerous as their enemies. The film was an Oscar-winning smash, and somehow got its director anointed as the new modern master of horror and suspense (CBS even made him Rod Serling’s heir apparent in their Twilight Zone reboot). So naturally, when Peele’s sophomore effort was released, critics fell over themselves praising it and searching for deeper social commentary (it’s about classism! No, it’s about our divided country! No, it’s about immoral scientific experimentation!) but ultimately, Us is a vague idea for a movie that seems to have gotten rushed out to capitalize on the momentum of Get Out.

A family of four (led by Lupita N’yongo and Winston Duke) are confronted by violent duplicates of themselves who invade their vacation house and want to take back what’s rightfully theirs. It seemed from trailers that the big mystery would be who these doppelgangers were and where they came from, but that’s barely addressed by the film: Apparently, a mysterious “they” cloned everybody in America in underground tunnels because… reasons, then abandoned that experiment and left behind a society of voiceless “tethers” forced to mimic all the actions of their above-ground originals due to some sort of telepathic entanglement shit or something. Once it becomes clear the big questions will never be answered, the movie becomes little more than a home invasion plot in the style of Straw Dogs or The Purge or You’re Next or even Home Alone (which gets knowingly referenced in dialogue, naturally). Taken with the rest of its genre, it’s a well-made effort, with strong performances (from N’yongo in particular) and plenty of thrills and laughs. But those insisting that there’s anything profound in this half-baked first draft of a movie script are deluding themselves. Also, what was up with all the references to Hands Across America?

CBS All Access (CBS All Access)

Jordon: Or, should I say, CBSSucksAsses. Don’t get this channel. Please don’t. You will be paying seven bucks a month to watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory with unskippable commercials! If you really want to watch Big Bang, just tune to any station at any time of day. But who are we kidding? You’re thinking of paying for it to watch only two shows, totaling about thirty hours of content. I will now go about ruining these shows for you so you can escape this sick money pit of a streaming service. First, Star Trek: Picard. Imagine a mediocre Star Trek movie, something like Nemesis. Now imagine it’s ten hours long. And then there’s Star Trek: Discovery, which I will happily ruin. Imagine Star Trek: Enterprise, only every single character is lying to every other character all the time about everything. At one point, a character lies about whether she’s jogging even though she is clearly jogging. But hey, Captain Pike shows up. So if it’s worth it to you to spend $84 a year on the off chance that your questions will be answered about the depth of Harry Mudd’s love for his wife, this is the network for you. Otherwise, don’t give CBS your money.

And that’s what we’ve been binge-watching this month. Will there be another installment of What We’re Streaming in June? Find out next month on National Lockdown: The Series.

Tag: What We're Streaming

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  • Michael Weyer

    On CBS All Acess, it is worth checking out Why Women Kill, a unique Marc Cherry show that boasts a great Lucy Liu performance.

    And enjoy last summer’s surprise hit Blood & Treasure, a terrific adventure romp series.

    • Jordon Davis

      “Great performance” and “Lucy Liu” don’t seem to go together in any way. I may have to watch this just to be sure.

    • Thomas Stockel

      My friend Dave turned me on to the show. Speaking as someone who never binge watches, I checked out seasons 1-4 from the library and tore through them. I botched recording season 5 and had to wait agonizing months for my library to get it. It was well worth the wait.

      • Michael Weyer

        I was on it from the start, fascinating how it went from the usual CBS procedural to such an amazing work.

    • Xander

      I also enjoyed Peele’s Twilight Zone, but the use of profanity was a little jarring at first. I mean, I’m not opposed to profanity, but it seemed out of place in a TZ episode.

      Peele’s episodes do tend to skew a little more toward the bleak end of the spectrum (the episode with the most upbeat ending started with the end of the world), but they’re all excellent with the possible exception of the season finale; of course, it’s really hard to critique without spoiling it all. If you have to choose an episode to skip, the last one would be it.

      • Michael Weyer

        That’s my key beef, it keeps thinking TWZ was all gloom and doom and “shock twists.” Ignoring that for every episode like that, Serling also had a warm-hearted tale and even comedy episodes now and then. The new version needs to lighten up a bit.

        • Stormbreaker

          Yeah, it’s important to remember that classic Twilight Zone featured both Hitler and Santa Claus at various points throughout its run. Neglecting that balance is one of the many issues with Peele remake.

  • Michael Weyer

    Yesterday is such a waste of a great concept. The key problem is that it imagines that pop music and culture would be exactly the same without the Beatles. That’s like thinking U.S. culture/music would be the same without Elvis.

    Plus, the idea that all these songs, today, without that past context and times, still being instantly beloved hits is too much to accept. Having him explore a much different world would have been cooler than this cliche story.

    • The_Shadow_Knows

      Is he actually supposed to be in an alternate reality? Some of the descriptions of the movie had led me to believe that he is still in the same world, but all knowledge (and I guess recordings?) of the Beatles have been somehow excised from everyone but him. Which is of course as stupid as hell, but would at least explain why nothing else is different about the music in his world.

      • Michael Weyer

        Yet that still would leave a huge gap in things…Plus how Lennon is still alive in this world indicates it’s an alternate reality of some sort.

        • The_Shadow_Knows

          That does make it sound like an AR. Oh well, I’m sure the movie is stupid as hell either way.

  • Xander

    I’d put in recommendations for Tales From the Loop, which feels like a serious take on Eureka, and Good Omens, which is based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and is doing a good job of adapting the story. I have a small complaint with Good Omens, which is the fact that God is the narrator, while in the book it wasn’t clear if God knew what the angel and demon were up to. I liked the ambiguity a little bit better.
    Oh, and both series are Amazon exclusives.

  • John

    Yesterday seemed like such an odd concept. I enjoy the Beatles, but their music is very specific to a certain era. No way the songs would be so popular now.Us was such a disappointment, nothing about the weird clones actually made sense.

  • Chris Mingus

    Not liking “Us” is one thing, but you gotta call me delusional too? Not cool.

  • Stormbreaker

    “The Last Kingdom” has been my binge-watch of choice lately; Season 4 dropped last weekend, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you’re unfamiliar with “The Saxon Stories” novels it adapts.

  • AJ

    Since I don’t subscribe to *any* streaming service (and don’t feel like I’m missing anything) I mostly have just stuck to YouTube and video games during all this.

    • Xander

      What are you watching on YouTube? We only subscribe to Amazon Prime and have a couple of extra channels tacked on, but I’ve been watching YouTube, as well.

      I really enjoy the Video Game Historian. He really does treat video games as a history subject with proper research and citations.

      I also try to watch Zero Punctuation weekly.

      • Stormbreaker

        If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend checking out “Helsreach”; it’s a fan-made animated adaptation of the Warhammer 40,000 novel of the same name. It uses the audiobook version as the basis for the voicework, but all the animation was done by a single guy, Richard Boylan. It’s so good, in fact, that Games Workshop has hired him to direct an original animated series called “Angels of Death” due to release this year.

  • Captain’s Orders

    I cannot watch these 10 -13 episode shows any more. Just tell a story in a single hour long episode like they used to. It makes for better story telling. I feel like todays shows are breeding grounds for obnoxious cunts who feel “in the know”