Ever feel like there’s too much to watch, and you don’t know where to start? Well don’t worry. Our Film & TV editor Hidzir Junaini will be rounding up only the very best things to hit your screens at the end of every month! Skip the mediocre and delve right into the good stuff.
Never Have I Ever
Created by Mindy Kaling (loosely based on her own childhood), Never Have I Ever is a breezy and bright coming-of-age story about a first generation Indian-American teen (a dazzling debut for newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) growing up in suburbia. Now back for its second season, this winsome sitcom finds Devi juggling romances with school stud Paxton and her academic rival Ben Gross. But beyond the requisite love triangle, this series continues to exude humour and heart in its authentic portrayals of bicultural confusion, teen awkwardness and female friendship.
Last year, a charming sitcom about an American football coach hired to helm an English soccer club became the unexpected feel good hit of the pandemic era. Although we all fell in love with the kindness and camaraderie the earnest manager inspired, his team AFC Richmond, ended up relegated at the end of last season. Now mired in a winless streak and lingering pain from his recent divorce, Ted Lasso’s unfailing optimism faces its sternest test yet. Nevertheless season two remains warm and sweet, tackling personal and sporting hardships through decency and positivity.
To Your Eternity is a masterpiece from the first episode. This millenia spanning story begins when an “orb” is cast onto Earth. “It” can do two things: change into the form of the thing that stimulates “it”; and come back to life after death. “It” morphs from orb to rock, then to wolf, and finally to boy, but roams about like a newborn who knows nothing. As a boy, “it” becomes known as Fushi. Through encounters with human kindness and experiences with pain, hardship and grief – Fushi not only gains survival skills, but grows as a person. To Your Eternity is an elegant, emotional and epic study of human nature.
Writer-director Mike White crafts an uncomfortable comedy about class and power set at a Hawaii resort. The White Lotus is partly an arthouse take on The Love Boat, following three sets of wealthy guests as they work through their personal problems with the help of staffers like Armond and spa manager Belinda. But it’s really a dark satire of class in America, and the ways that the ultrarich use up people like Armond and Belinda and spit them out, often because it’s an easy way to feel secure in one’s privilege. Mean-spirited, poetic and hilariously idiosyncratic – The White Lotus is some of the year’s finest TV.
This strange, spellbinding anime offers a nuanced exploration of girlhood, survivor’s remorse and trauma. In Wonder Egg Priority, 14-year-old Ai Ohto grieves after the suicide of her only friend Koito, and enters a dream world where she must fight to protect the spirits of dead girls, housed within “Wonder Eggs”. To help them find peace, Ai has to fight demons and monsters. In return, the mysterious powers promise to bring Koito back to life. Its gorgeous otherworldly battles manifest suicidal ideations into grotesque monsters, offering a playful yet intensely painful deconstruction of “magical girl” anime tropes.
Strange, goofy, and extremely funny – Tim Robinson’s sketch comedy show is back for a second season of more wonderfully weird set-pieces that feel embarrassing yet unsettlingly relatable. I Think You Should Leave is a refreshing riot devoid of context, reason or social messaging. It exists solely to flesh some truly bizarre skits, and make you laugh hard. Outlandish and wholly original, Tim Robinson’s off-kilter sense of humour strikes the perfect balance between stoner absurdism and creative cringe comedy.
Imagine Carole & Tuesday meets Terminator and you get Vivy – one of the most visually spectacular and philosophically complex anime we’ve seen in years. Coming from the creator of Re:Zero, this new series follows a humble idol AI named Diva whose sole purpose is to make people happy with her music. However, her existence is upended when she meets Matsumoto, a snarky AI from the future who’s been sent back in time to prevent a robot uprising 100 years from now. Buoyed by jaw-dropping animation and inventive storytelling, Vivy is a consistently thrilling and surprising century-long journey.
Schmigadoon! is a delightful lampoon and love letter to iconic Broadway and movie musicals. The series stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key as a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship, when they discover a magical town where everyone is living in a studio musical from the 1940s. Unfortunately they discover that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” Even if you’re not the kind of musical nerd who would clock the title as a reference to Brigadoon, this new series is too boisterously fun to dislike. A sweet, six episode treat that will have you singing (or dancing) along in no time.
Creator Kim Eun-hee and director Kim Seong-hun return to the world of Kingdom to craft an epic and tragic feature-length prequel special that delves into the origins of the resurrection plant, the zombie plague, and a mysterious villain’s heartbreaking motivations. Set decades before the South Korean series begins, Jun Ji-hyun stars as Ashin, a girl in a northern border village who becomes orphaned due to a conflict between Joseon and the Jurchen people. Fueled by grief and the discovery of the resurrection plant, we follow her into adulthood as she enacts a diabolical plan to avenge her family.
Based on the stage play of the same name by Bunou Fujisawa, Mars Red is a stylish anime that takes place in 1923, where the number of vampires in Japan have rapidly increased due to an artificial blood source called Ascra. In response, the government creates Code Zero, a military unit made up of vampires tasked with hunting down other vampires. This idiosyncratic, moody and slow-burning take on the vampire genre may be an acquired taste, but it’s arthouse-tinged teeth manages to find your neck and keeps you in its thrall. One of the best new anime of 2021.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival. Despite being filmed, the footage of this historic event sat in a basement for 50 years, until Questlove uncovered it to craft his feature documentary debut. Headlined by Stevie Wonder, Mavis Staples, Nina Simone, and a host of acclaimed Black artists at the time – Summer of Soul is a concert film that infuses politics, music, fashion, history and religion. Besides the astonishing performances, this is a deep expedition into the cultural landscape in which the Harlem Cultural Festival occurred.
Experiential cinema in its purest form, Gunda chronicles the unfiltered lives of a mother pig, a flock of chickens, and a herd of cows with masterful intimacy. Using stark, transcendent black and white cinematography and the farm’s ambient soundtrack, director Victor Kossakowsky invites the audience to slow down and experience life as his subjects do, taking in their world with a magical patience and an otherworldly perspective. Gunda asks us to meditate on the mystery of animal consciousness, and reckon with the role humanity plays in it. A thoroughly pictorial experience.
Based on a stranger-than-fiction viral Twitter thread, Zola follows a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer who seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures in this wild, see-it-to-believe-it tale. Zola is a freewheeling joyride through the seamy side of stripping that balances the thrill of voyeurism with the dangerous reality of social media.
The Avengers’ original female member finally gets her own solo movie in this prequel spy thriller set between Civil War and Infinity War. From the nefarious origins of the Soviet programme that moulded her to her damaged family – Black Widow is very much an overdue chance to put the spotlight on a character who has never been center stage, and dig into her chequered past. Taking inspiration more from the Bourne franchise than superhero blockbusters, this film is an action-espionage thriller that works as a smaller-scale MCU entry about identity and trauma.