From the exciting imagination of fantasy and sci-fi, to the harrowing groundedness of nonfiction – this month’s picks are dominated by mind-bending genre and thought-provoking documentaries. But in between all that, we also rave about the debut of three new comedy programs, and the triumphant return of Pamela Adlon’s bittersweet dramedy about mothers and daughters.
There’s no sophomore slump here, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is engaging, artful, and unnerving. Us works brilliantly as a straight-up horror-thriller, elevated by wonderful acting (with it’s entire cast working dual roles), active protagonists (rare for a genre that banks on passive victims), effective scares, and breathtaking imagery (both striking and filled dual meanings). But it’s also a layered allegory about the have and the have-nots (a literal underclass in this case), how we view otherness, and our constant struggle against the worst versions of ourselves.
The original Happy Death Day proved to be a pleasant surprise, turning what many expected to be a derivative slasher into a clever, endearing, and immensely fun horror-comedy. This sequel continues to buck expectations by introducing some audaciously wild twists into it’s time-loop premise. Evolving from horror into a sci-fi adventure, Happy Death Day 2U expands with a multiverse murder mystery rooted in emotional stakes and quantum physics. Jessica Rothe is irresistible once again, propelling this genre experiment with infectious charm and energy.
This stunning documentary follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to scale the 3,000 foot vertical rock, El Capitan – without a rope. Free Solo is an intensely stressful and nerve-wracking experience, but at the same time, this life or death tale of discipline and passion will leave you awed. The complex technicality and immense physicality of such an endeavour is gripping to witness (the slightest error certainly leads to instant death), but this National Geographic production is equally compelling in it’s exploration Honnold’s psyche and emotional process.
Watch in: Cinemas (The Projector) or digital and Blu-ray
Part gritty western, part intelligent sci-fi, and part survivalist thriller – Prospect is a stylish indie effort with lo-fi roots and high-concept smarts. Following a working class father-daughter team of interstellar prospectors, their job to harvest valuable gems within an alien moon’s toxic forest goes horribly awry due to greed, and unsavoury encounters with ruthless criminals roving the wilderness. Intriguing world-building, resonant character dynamics, lush visuals, and a gorgeous soundtrack evoke a retro-futuristic frontier that’s as harsh and unpredictable as the Old West.
Directed by Ali Abbasi and written by Let The Right One In scribe John Ajvide Lindqvist, this was Sweden’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, and we can see why. Part magic-realist fantasy, part romantic drama, and part crime thriller – Border is one of the most uniquely unforgettable movies you’ll ever see. Following a customs agent with the ability to literally sniff out guilt, we see her lonely existence within the margins due to her physical deformity. But that all changes when she meets a man who unravels the secret to her biology.
Created by Tim Miller and David Fincher, Love, Death & Robots is a NSFW animated anthology series that presents an all-you-can-eat buffet of fantasy and sci-fi short stories. Ranging from 5 to 17 minutes, each episode varies wildly in tone (absurdist comedy, epic action, gory horror) and style (hand-drawn anime, realistic CG mo-cap, Saturday morning cartoon), enriched by eye-popping visuals and an assortment of cool ideas. While there is no overarching unifying theme, there is is something for every taste in this delightful and dazzlingly fun genre cornucopia.
Hilariously candid, emotionally unvarnished, and messily authentic – Better Things returns better than ever in season three. Pamela Adlon’s semi-autobiographical dramedy continues to mine the heartbreaking indignities and joyful rewards of motherhood for episodic catharsis, keeping its place as television’s most empathetic show. This season explores themes of family, aging, and responsibility in experimental and truthful ways – but through Sam Fox’s Sisyphean struggles, the value of simply showing up is rewarded in beautifully subtle human moments.
From wild tangents involving time travel, alternate dimensions, and incorrigible gods; to dealing with one character’s trauma from a harrowing sexual assault – The Magicians deftly balances the crazy silly and emotionally serious. This fourth season upends the show’s status quo (once again) by mind-wiping our main characters, who now have to overthrow an authoritarian magical government and stop a god-killing monster, without knowing who they are, or that magic even exists. This is definitely one of TV’s weirdest, funniest, and most audaciously creative shows.
2019’s first great new comedy is here and it’s The Other Two – a scathing yet sweet satire of Gen Z celebrity culture. When a 13-year-old kid calling himself ChaseDreams becomes an overnight pop star thanks to a viral music video, his 29-year-old brother (a struggling actor) and 30-year-old sister (a directionless ex-dancer) are more than envious. So while this could have easily been a purely mocking take on resentment and showbiz vapidity, this show proves itself itself to be deeper and more sincere in its depiction of sibling love. Read our full review here.
In an increasingly homogenized late-night talk show landscape, filled with sanitized monologues and prepared interviews – Desus & Mero already feels like the fresh and vibrant game-changer the genre sorely needs. Spun-off from their popular Bodega Boys podcast and previous show on Viceland, Desus Nice and Kid Mero translate their streetwise Bronx wit and boisterous energy to a premium cable package exceptionally. This is a refreshing and superior alternative to the likes of Kimmel and Fallon, reveling in off-the-cuff conversation and biting commentary.
Created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, these two 31-year-old actresses play 13-year-old versions of themselves amidst a cast of actual middle schoolers. This dorky comedy about adolescent female friendship is leans into awkward hilarity and universal uncoolness to deliver one of the most authentic, sincere, and painfully relatable coming-of-age shows on television. This cringe comedy mines pubescent indignities and millennial nostalgia to explore both wonderful and humiliating new territory within a saturated genre. Read our full review here.
This season focuses mainly on the wave of anti-immigration extremists (against literal alien immigrants in this case) plaguing National City with hate crimes – and seeing a beacon of hope like Kara try to wrap her brain around 4chan-level bigotry is fascinating. Supergirl questions her inherent belief in the goodness of humanity, which is an arc that’s thoughtfully explored. Combating rampant alt-right ideology in everyday people is problem bigger than superpowered bad guys, and this season offers surprisingly balanced allegories for divisive political issues.
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is the truest successor to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, and it returns not a moment too soon. Currently in its sixth season, Last Week Tonight continues to be not so much a comedy show, as a very funny deep dive into the urgent social, political and economic issues of the day. In an era of short attention spans, John Oliver has built a reputation on spending 20-30 minutes each week with exhaustively researched, intelligent breakdowns – before wrapping it all up with a cleverly pointed call to action, looking to effect tangible change.
While RWBY is already minor hits, gen:LOCK is clearly set to take Rooster Teeth to the next level. Although clearly inspired by Mobile Suit Gundam and Pacific Rim, this mecha-action series stands out with it’s grounded sci-fi and emotional investment. gen:LOCK hooks you instantly with a tragic love story, and proceeds to world build to giant robot fights from there. But as ace as it’s characters are (voiced by Michael B Jordan, Maisie Williams, Dakota Fanning, David Tennant, and more), the real thrill lies in the show’s fluid and exciting action sequences.
The Case Against Adnan Syed picks up where the first season of Serial left off. But even if you’ve never listened to the popular true crime podcast, director Amy Berg succeeds in getting fresh viewers up to speed by re-examining to the circumstances surrounding Adnan Syed’s murder conviction for the death of Hae Min Lee. The visual nature of this documentary elicits a more visceral exploration of grief and injustice. More importantly, the series’ focus on fleshing out Lee’s humanity offers some much needed emotional perspective beyond the investigation.
If you think Guardians of the Galaxy or The Umbrella Academy has prepared you for weird superhero teams, you haven’t met Doom Patrol yet. This live-action adaptation of DC’s most outrageously oddball crew is just as bananas and bizarrely inventive as it’s source material (drawing particular inspiration from Grant Morrison’s run). Taking us from their horrific yet absurd origin stories, all the way to travelling across dimensions via a flatulent donkey, Doom Patrol is endlessly entertaining – employing a similar self-ware silliness that Legends of Tomorrow enjoys.
Based off Robin R. Means Coleman’s book, Xavier Burgin’s new documentary Horror Noire is an enlightening look at the history of black horror films, and the role of African-Americans in the genre from the very beginning. Featuring interviews from Jordan Peele, Keith David, William Crain, Rachel True and more – this documentary chronologically explores the black perspective on horror in thoughtful ways. Directors discuss tropes and narrative stereotyping; critics analyse their favorite films, while actors explain what seeing black performers meant to them as kids.
Season two of Mob Pyscho 100 is a pure joy! This continues to be the rare anime that rewards empathy and kindness over strength and power. Fights are a deplorable last resort, and villains are rehabilitated instead of destroyed. The mundane is deftly balanced with the fantastical, treating small emotionally complex moments with as much importance as its hugely epic psychic battles (the animation here is wildly colourful). Shiego’s personal journey is richly compelling, the show’s quirky sense of humour shines, and its action is as impressive as its forgiving ethos.
Although controversial, Dan Reed’s two-part documentary detailing testimonies from Michael Jackson’s alleged child sex abuse victims is nothing if not convincing. Leaving Neverland is a searing indictment of the late King of Pop’s pedophilic tendencies, as well as an interrogation of the parental neglect and the culture of victim shaming that were complicit in these heinous crimes. This dark exposé isn’t just rife with believable accounts that are disturbingly vivid in detail – it’s also an empathetic look at the long-lasting psychological effects of sexual trauma.