by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Holed up at home, with a steady stream of anxiety-inducing news coming at us from all directions, a diversion would be more than welcome. Thankfully, our electronic devices — from flatscreen HDTVs on the wall to the smartphones in the palms of our hands — are there for us, and there’s no lack of quality programming available to stream. Here are some great films and shows to check out while you’re hunkering down.
For a Good Laugh
Sex Education (Netflix Original)
A smart, insightful and surprisingly sensitive look at teen sex and relationships in all their vexing, befuddling glory. The British series stars Asa Butterfield as mild-mannered Otis, the son of professional sex therapist Jean (a stellar Gillian Anderson), who teams up with classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) to run an ersatz sex therapy clinic at their high school. The subject matter is ripe with opportunities for hilarity, raunchiness (definitely not family entertainment) and poignancy (yes, really), all of which creator Laurie Nunn realizes with a deft hand and plenty of heart. A fantastic and diverse cast adds to this comedy-drama’s many pleasures.
For the Costumes
Emma (Amazon Prime Video)
Rich, charming and meddlesome Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) causes plenty of mischief when she ill-advisedly plays matchmaker in her small town. If you missed
this gorgeous flick when it hit theaters in February, fear not! The critically acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved comedy has already come to Amazon Prime Video. The $19.99 rental fee might feel a bit steep, but considering what tickets prices used to cost, it’s a small price to pay to enjoy the beautiful sets, Regency-era costumes, sharp and funny script and a plot that’s lighthearted yet intelligent. A balm to the eyes and the soul in these trying times. Fun fact: Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds co-stars as the social-climbing Mrs. Elton.
For Action, Adventure . . . and Nostalgia
The Matrix trilogy (Netflix)
Remember when the Wachowski siblings wowed the world with their dark cyberpunk epic about humanity under siege from computer overlords? With groundbreaking visual effects, philosophical explorations and a stylishly gritty dystopia, The Matrix was one of the highest-grossing films of its time, and has remained a fan favorite for over two decades. Its sequels (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) are inferior to the original but all three together make for an entertaining six-plus hours of television. So take the red pill and join Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) on their quest to save humanity. (A fourth Matrix is said to be in the works, but production is up in the air thanks to the pandemic.)
For a New Look at an Old Favorite
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Most of us know Jean-Luc Picard as the unflappable, authoritative, ramrod-straight captain of the USS Enterprise during The Next Generation years. The Picard who takes center stage here is a changed man. Older, frailer and somewhat bitter, the now-retired admiral spends his time shambling among the vineyards surrounding his idyllic French chateau, haunted by Data’s death, the destruction of the Romulan star system and his falling out with Starfleet. When a strange young woman on the run from a mysterious enemy shows up on his doorstep, he assembles a motley crew out of an odd, flawed cast of characters to go in search of answers. Rest assured, sci-fi fans: There’s still plenty of galactic beauty and grandeur here. But this grittier, more jaded version of the future adds nuance to Star Trek’s usually bright, hopeful universe. And Patrick Stewart as a diminished, regretful, yet still formidable Picard is doing some of his best work.
For Some Kitchen Inspiration
Good Eats: The Return (Food Network) and Good Eats: Reloaded (Cooking Channel)
Alton Brown revolutionized the cooking show when he debuted his Good Eats back in 1999. He entertained viewers with his sketch comedy-like demonstrations that offered up fun and memorable lessons in cooking science and history along with recipes that genuinely held up. After a seven-year hiatus, the show is back, with new recipes and, sometimes, new approaches that a wiser — but no less funny — Brown imparts with humor and no-nonsense practicality. Hungry for more? Check out his Good Eats: Reloaded videos on Cooking Channel TV, where Brown revisits his old episodes to update and improve upon the recipes . . . and, often, make fun of his former self.
For the Kids
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Recently made available on Hulu)
It’s Lego v. Lego Duplo in this sequel to The Lego Movie, where invaders from another universe threaten Emmet, Lucy, Batman and all their friends. And while it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, The Second Part is a worthy successor. The jokes are still sharp — accessible to a younger audience, smart enough to elicit grown-up chuckles — and the adventure is even more chaotic and colorful than the original. Now that parents and kids are both stuck at home, the B plot featuring squabbling siblings in the live-action “real” world will feel painfully relevant.
For Pure Enjoyment
Hairspray (Currently streaming on Netflix)
There’s nothing like a feel-good musical to make us smile and help us forget about the worries of daily life. Set in 1960s Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of perky and plump Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), who realizes her dream of becoming a dancer on The Corky Collins Show, finding love and social activism along the way. The 2007 film adaptation of the 2002 Broadway musical based on the 1988 John Waters film (coming full circle here) is a campy confection full of energy and optimism, with real messages about self-love, body positivity, social justice and equality folded in. An all-star cast — Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Allison Janney, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Travolta (in drag, by tradition, as Tracy’s mother) and Christopher Walken — brings this bright, colorful, humorous production to life.
Out of the Box is a semi-regular column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.