Before you turn on your television, iPad or laptop this weekend and drown in options, The Globe and Mail presents three best cinematic bets that are worth your coveted downtime - no commute to the movie theatre required.
Dickinson, Apple TV+
When I first heard about this revisionist Emily Dickinson series, from the first batch of original shows released on Apple’s new streaming app in December, I thought it sounded like a hot mess. Creator Alena Smith sets the story in the poet’s historical era, mid-19th-century Amherst, Mass., and while the performers wear period-appropriate costumes, they speak in a flagrantly contemporary patois. But over the course of its 10 half-hour episodes, Dickinson completely won me over. Want to see Hailee Steinfeld, as a teenage Emily, get high on opioids during a raging house party? You will! Care to hear Louisa May Alcott (Zosia Mamet) smack-talk Hawthorne using an insult favoured by Chance the Rapper? Don’t mind if I do! How about Wiz Khalifa as the midnight-carriage-riding personification of death? Of course. The show even tosses in a daffy performance from John Mulaney as Henry David Thoreau. Dickinson requires an open mind – dream sequences abound. But it’s a rare original in a sea of knock-offs and remakes, and one of the best new series of 2019.
This docuseries about an elite group of collegiate cheerleaders fits directly in the middle of a Venn diagram between Friday Night Lights and Last Chance U, another serialized Netflix doc about the pain and glory of college athletics in the United States. Those two series were about football, America’s most hyped and funded sport; Cheer, in contrast, sets its sights on an underappreciated and misunderstood pursuit. Cheerleading might conjure images of pom-poms and rah-rahs on the sidelines, but the young women and men of Cheer are formidable athletes in their own right. The show is set in the small town of Corsicana, Tex., where coach Monica Aldama – a 24-year veteran with 14 junior college division cheer championships under her belt – whips her team into shape. Over six hour-long episodes, director Greg Whiteley (who also directed and produced Last Chance U) intersperses the drama of competition with nuanced portraits of the players, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and put their hearts and bodies on the line for a sport that has no professional league. There’s plenty of dramatic tension here, but the real thrill is watching those unfathomably tight bodies spin, leap and flip through the air.
Great News, Netflix
This criminally underrated NBC comedy was cancelled after just two seasons. That’s a shame, because Great News is the kind of joke-dense sitcom that could, in theory, run for years without getting stale. The show, which premiered in 2017, was created by former 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield, and shares that show’s unabashed goofiness. Set behind the scenes of a New Jersey-based TV news program, the series kicks off with an extremely “sitcom” premise: Producer Katie Wendelson (Briga Heelan) lives for her job, but finds her workplace bliss interrupted when her clingy mother, Carol (Andrea Martin), takes an internship at the station. If it sounds silly that’s because it is, but in the best possible way. If you’re feeling the loss of Veep or Broad City, which both ended in 2019 – or if you still miss 30 Rock – try Great News.
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