What We're Watching This Week 1/19/19
As a part of Netflix’s seemingly endless stream of new content, Sex Education is an eight episode dramedy that follows the lives of high school students, set in the British countryside. The show stars Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn, a sexually inexperienced 16 year old who, with the help of high school outcast, Maeve Wiley, starts a “sex clinic” giving advice to his fellow students about relationships and intimacy. Complicating matters more, Otis’ mother Jean, played by Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully from The X-Files!), is a divorced sex therapist who can’t stop herself from analyzing her son. While the concept of the show sounds a little gimmicky, it sets a perfect tone for the wacky situations and hilarious antics that ensue. Over the course of the series, relationships build up and crash down as everyone in the sprawling and eccentric cast of characters learns more about their sexuality. Featuring brilliant performances from the young actors and a nostalgic 80’s soundtrack, Sex Education captures the confusion and naiveté of being, to be frank, young and horny. ~John Martin
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The best thing that I’ve seen so far this year, let alone in the passing week, is definitely the Coen brothers’ latest work, the Netflix-exclusive Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Through six film vignettes, the director duo brilliantly illustrates many of the hardships that life in the Wild West entailed. From abandoned companions to ruthless betrayals, from morbid encounters to sudden deaths, little is spared in their two-hour odyssey. Refreshingly, each story comes with its very own set of actors, plotline, and conclusion. The eponymous opening story, for example, features Tim Blake Nelson as Scruggs, confronting the likes of such grim-faced characters as Çurly Joe, played by none other than Northwestern alumni Clancy Brown. Similarly, James Franco stars as an outlaw in the second episode (Near Algodones), while Liam Neeson takes the role of an impresario, parading a Shakespeare- and Lincoln-reciting limbless man as an attraction to make a living, and finally Tom Waits stands in as a lonesome gold digger seeking his luck in the wild.
If anything, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs leaves us wanting more: as soon as we get familiar with the characters, the film switches over to the next episode. But perhaps that’s also part of the lesson learned from this cinematic project: hardly more than 100 years ago, life on much of the American continent was still nasty, brutish, and short. It still is in many places. But even aside from that, one thing holds true as much now as it did back then: fortune comes and goes, and life is frail. Maybe we should all be a bit more like Buster - the San Saba songbird and runt from Reata Pass - singing our songs and whistling our tunes while we can. ~Alex Kloss
Bandersnatch is an exercise in form in service of content. Netflix’s interactive, choose-your-own adventure functionality predates this film, but Black Mirror chose to pounce on the opportunity to drive home a meta-narrative which slots right in with the series’ tried and true brand of upsetting moral mind-fuck. The story begins with simple decisions (i.e. what to eat for breakfast, what music to listen to) and progresses quickly to life crossroads having to do with the protagonist’s career and relationships. As the teenage computer whiz struggles to code his own choose-your-own-adventure game, his anxiety rattles him to the point of disassociation, breaking the fourth wall and making you, the viewer, feel complicit in some soul-crushing determinism. Bandersnatch, however, seems more concerned with flexing its unbelievably layered mis en abyme—getting carried away to a point of cringey camp—then it does hunkering down on its main philosophical line of inquiry or even making its central plot very compelling. Still though, the examination of free will is innovative enough, and it is genuinely and uniquely one hell of a ride. ~Noah Franklin
Salt Fat Acid Heat
Food lovers, rejoice! Salt Fat Acid Heat, the Netflix documentary series, takes viewers on a gastronomic journey across the world. Renowned chef and author Samin Nosrat presents her flavor philosophy—that delicious dishes expertly combine the four key elements of salt, fat, acid, and heat—and searches for this common language of food in various cultures. Italy is the destination for Episode One, Fat. Nosrat meets with artisanal cheese makers, butchers, and olive farmers, learns ancient traditional recipes for staples like focaccia, pesto, ragu, and porchetta, and explores the ways in which Italians artfully combine different types of fat to enhance their cuisine. Not only is the episode full of delicious close-ups of sizzling meets, crusty bread, and freshly grated parmesan, it also features gorgeous views of the landscape and charming towns of Italy, as well as a bit of history. Nosrat’s passion and curiosity about food is contagious. I can’t wait to watch the next episode, Salt, which takes place in Japan! Note: definitely not a show to watch on an empty stomach. ~Elizabeth Vogt
Alternate universes, chimeras, futuristic tech - whatever it is, Fringe has it. J.J Abram, the director of the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots, combines the best elements of the detective, sci-fi, and drama genres to craft a gripping TV show that explores different facets of almost “supernatural” science. Admittedly, the show begins with a rocky start, as the characters feel shallow and the production has a cheap television show feel to it. But don’t worry. It’s not long before the characters develop an engaging and entertaining chemistry with one another and the mythos/story of the Fringe universe quickly becomes intriguing, even addicting. The acting from each of the actors is either outstanding or decent; however, John Noble’s performance of the aloof mad-scientist, Walter Bishop, is the main driving force that makes Fringe so entertaining to watch. It won’t be long before you love Walter Bishop. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, crime shows, or drama, give this show a shot. It’s definitely worth it.
(Fun Fact: During the pauses in Fringe, an image will briefly appear - a handprint with six fingers, an embryo within an apple’s core, mutated flower, etc. Each of those images represents a letter and they will spell out a word by the end of each episode. Look out for those because they give clues of what’s to come in future episodes. Hint: Pay attention to the orientation of the images and the position of the golden dot!) ~Matthew Kim