Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in February

Feast your eyes on Aubrey Plaza's latest must-see performance, a couple of eerie thrillers and a hilarious mockumentary.
Sarah Ward
February 28, 2023

Not all that long ago, the idea of getting cosy on your couch, clicking a few buttons, and having thousands of films and television shows at your fingertips seemed like something out of science fiction. Now, it's just an ordinary night — whether you're virtually gathering the gang to text along, cuddling up to your significant other or shutting the world out for some much needed me-time.

Of course, given the wealth of options to choose from, there's nothing ordinary about making a date with your chosen streaming platform. The question isn't "should I watch something?" — it's "what on earth should I choose?".

Hundreds of titles are added to Aotearoa's online viewing services each and every month, all vying for a spot on your must-see list. And, so you don't spend 45 minutes scrolling and then being too tired to actually commit to anything, we're here to help. We've spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this month's latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest through to old and recent  favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue in February.

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BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL NOW

THE CONSULTANT

If there's a question that no employee wants to hear from the person setting company agendas, pulling strings and signing paycheques, it's "what do we do?". In The Consultant, the small screen's latest moody and mysterious workplace nightmare — which adapts horror author Bentley Little's 2016 novel of the same name, but plays like Severance filtered through Servant — Regus Patoff (Christoph Waltz, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio) asks a variation of it early. "What do we make?" he queries at CompWare after he arrives amid grim circumstances. The mobile gaming outfit came to fame under wunderkind Sang (TV first-timer Brian Yoon), so much so that school groups tour the firm's office. Then, during the visit that opens this eight-part, excellently cast and supremely easy-to-binge thriller, a kid shoots and kills the company's founder. That doesn't stop Regus from showing up afterwards clutching a signed contract from Sang and spouting a mandate to do whatever it takes to maximise his legacy.

Regus is as stern yet eccentric as Waltz has become known for — a suit- and tie-wearing kindred spirit to Inglourious Basterds' Hans Landa, plus Spectre and No Time to Die's Ernst Stavro Blofield. He first darkens CompWare's door in the thick of night, when only ambitious assistant Elaine Hayman (Brittany O'Grady, The White Lotus) and stoner coder Craig Horne (Nat Wolff, Joe vs Carole) are onsite, and he won't take no for an answer. There's no consultant job for him to have, Elaine tells him. There's no business to whip into shape, she stresses. By the next morning, he's corralling employees for an all-hands meeting and telling remote workers they'll be fired if they don't show up in-person within an hour, even if he proudly doesn't know what CompWare does — or care. From there, The Consultant gets creator Tony Basgallop, who is also behind Servant, doing what he loves: kicking off with a blow-in, unsettling a group already coping with tragedy and reordering their status quo with severe methods. Both of his current shows lace the chaos that follows with nods towards the supernatural, too, and both ask what bargains we're willing to make to live the lives we're striving for.

The Consultant streams via Prime Video. Read our full review.

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CUNK ON EARTH

If you've ever watched a David Attenborough documentary about the planet and wished it was sillier and stupider, to the point of being entertainingly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining alike, then Netflix comes bearing wonderful news. Actually, the BBC got there first, airing history-of-the-world mockumentary Cunk on Earth back in September 2022. Glorious things come to waiting viewers Down Under now, however — and this gleefully, delightfully absurd take on human civilisation from its earliest days till now, spanning cave paintings, Roman empires, Star Wars' empire, 1989 Belgian techno anthem 'Pump Up the Jam' and more, is one of the best shows to hit Australia and New Zealand in 2023 so far. This series is a comedy masterclass, in fact, featuring everything from a Black Mirror-leaning skit about Beethoven resurrected inside a smart speaker to a recreation of a Dark Ages fray purely through sound also thrown in. It's flat-out masterful, too, and tremendously funny.

This sometimes Technotronic-soundtracked five-part show's beat? Surveying how humanity came to its present state, stretching back through species' origins and evolution, and pondering everything from whether the Egyptian pyramids were built from the top down to the Cold War bringing about the "Soviet onion". The audience's guide across this condensed and comic history is the tweed-wearing Philomena Cunk, who has the steady voice of seasoned doco presenter down pat, plus the solemn gaze, but is firmly a fictional — and satirical — character. Comedian Diane Morgan first started playing the misinformed interviewer in 2013, in Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, with Black Mirror creator Brooker behind Cunk on Earth as well. Over the past decade, Cunk has also brought her odd questions to 2016's one-off Cunk on Shakespeare and Cunk on Christmas, and 2018's also five-instalment Cunk on Britain. After you're done with the character's latest spin, you'll want to devour the rest ASAP.

Cunk on Earth streams via Netflix. Read our full review.

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EMILY THE CRIMINAL

Enterprising, astute, intelligent and accepting zero garbage from anyone: these are traits that Aubrey Plaza can convey in her sleep. But she definitely isn't slumbering in Emily the Criminal, which sees her turn in a performance as weighty and layered as her deservedly Golden Globe-nominated portrayal in the second season of The White Lotus — something that she's been doing since her Parks and Recreation days anyway. Indeed, there's more than a touch of April Ludgate-Dwyer's resourcefulness to this crime-thriller's eponymous figure. Los Angeles resident Emily Benetto isn't sporting much apathy, however; she can't afford to. With $70,000 in student loans to her name for a college art degree she isn't using working as a food delivery driver, and a felony conviction that's getting in the way of securing any gig she's better qualified for for, Jersey girl Emily breaks bad to make bank when she's given a tip about a credit card fraud ring run by Youcef (Theo Rossi, Sons of Anarchy). Her simple task: purchasing everything from electronics to cars with the stolen numbers.

Writer/director John Patton Ford makes his feature debut with this lean, sharp, keenly observed and tightly paced film, which works swimmingly and grippingly as a heist thriller with plenty to say about the state of America today — particularly about a society that saddles folks starting their working lives with enormous debts, turning careers in the arts into the domain of the wealthy, and makes even the slightest wrongdoing a life sentence. Emily the Criminal is angry about that state of affairs, and that ire colours every frame. But it's as a character study that this impressive film soars highest, stepping through the struggles, troubles and desperate moves of a woman trapped not by her choices but her lack of options, all while seeing her better-off classmates breeze through life. As she usually is, Plaza is mesmerising, and adds another complicated movie role to a resume that also boasts the phenomenal Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear as well.

Emily the Criminal streams via Neon.

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PAMELA, A LOVE STORY

If you weren't aware of Pamela Anderson's recent Broadway stint, bringing the razzle dazzle to a new production of Chicago in 2022, Ryan White (Good Night Oppy)-directed documentary Pamela, A Love Story will still feature surprises. Otherwise, from Playboy to Playbill — including Baywatch, sex tapes and multiple marriages in-between — the actor's story is well-known around the globe. Much of it played out in the tabloids, especially when she married Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in a white bikini after four days together. She also graced what can easily stake a claim as the internet's first viral video, after intimate footage of Anderson and Lee was stolen, then sold. And that very experience was dramatised in 2022 limited series Pam & Tommy, including the misogynistic way she was treated compared to her spouse, how her rights to her image and privacy were considered trashed due to her nude modelling days, and the unsurprising fallout within her relationship.

No matter how familiar the details are, Pamela, A Love Story does something that little else on-screen has, however: it lets Anderson tell her story herself. Much of the doco focuses on the Barb Wire and Scary Movie 3 star in her childhood home in Ladysmith on Canada's Vancouver Island, watching old videos, reading past diaries and chatting through the contents. She's recorded and written about everything in her life. Sitting in front of the camera without a trace of makeup, with her sons Brandon and Dylan sometimes talking with her, she gives her account of how she's been treated during the highs and lows of her career. The film coincides with a memoir, Love, Pamela, so this is a tale that Anderson is currently on the page and in streaming queues — but it's still a powerful portrait of a woman made famous for her appearance, turned into a sex symbol to the point that male interviewers in the 90s could barely talk about anything else, then cruelly judged and discarded. She's frank and sincere, as is the movie amid its treasure trove of archival footage.

Pamela, A Love Story streams via Netflix.

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SHARPER

Sharper didn't start its life on the page, with director Benjamin Caron (Andor) instead working with Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka's (both Superstore alumni) script; however, it spins the type of tale that'd flow easily in chapters. The slick-looking and smartly cast psychological thriller adopts that kind of structure anyway, unfurling its story in five parts — each named for a character. To begin with, the kindly, soft-spoken Tom (Justice Smith, Jurassic World Dominion) meets the well-read Sandra (Briana Middleton, The Tender Bar) at the used bookstore he owns. He asks her out, she declines, then returns to take up his offer. Then, before his section of the flick is out, he's been swindled out of $350,000. To help fill in the gaps, Sharper jumps into Sandra's backstory, which involves con artist Max (Sebastian Stan, Fresh). His history comes next, and so on. Socialite Madeline (Julianne Moore, Dear Evan Hansen), paramour to billionaire Richard Hobbes (John Lithgow, The Old Man), also pops up, also scoring her own dedicated segment.

The connections between characters, and the deceptions many are spinning as well — most on purpose, some on themselves without realising it — are obviously best discovered while watching this twisty Manhattan-set movie. Sharper achieves its number-one task, however, and one that's essential for any film that's actively playing up its mysteries: keeping viewers wanting to puzzle through its glossily shot pieces. It helps that eating the rich is firmly on the menu, biting in as heartily to the well-to-do and entitled as The White Lotus and Succession have earned such acclaim doing. Also crucial: the top-notch roster of on-screen talent, especially whenever Stan, Moore or both feature. He's a picture of smooth-talking charm, but sly, sneaky and making everyone in his orbit succumb against their better judgement, while she's exceptional, as always, as a woman doing whatever she must — and selling whatever she needs to — to keep moving forward.

Sharper streams via Apple TV+.

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SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW

Gotye and Kimbra's similarly titled Hottest 100-winner doesn't get a play in Somebody I Used to Know. Instead, the Alison Brie (Happiest Season)-starring and co-written rom-com gets its lead making up her own lyrics to Third Eye Blind's 90s hit 'Semi-Charmed Life'. She plays Ally, a documentarian who has been chasing her dream by making and hosting reality TV — a cooking competition with a Survivor twist called Dessert Island — and gets singing at the wedding weekend of her ex Sean (Jay Ellis, Top Gun: Maverick). Her career is the whole reason that he's now marrying the younger Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons, Antebellum), after she traded their home town of Leavenworth, Washington, and his dream of a quiet life for Hollywood. But an impromptu trip back after Dessert Island is cancelled leads to an unexpected run-in, a promise to Sean's mother (Olga Merediz, In the Heights) that she'll be the nuptials' videographer, and old feelings resurfacing. When Ally takes to the stage, she's battling with Cassidy, who fronts a punk band, and overtly trying to win Sean back.

Brie and her Somebody I Used to Know co-scribe Dave Franco, also the film's director and her IRL husband — with the pair reteaming as filmmaker and star after 2020's The Rental, too — are well aware that they're toying with familiar parts. (In cinemas rather than on streaming, What's Love Got to Do with It? also follows a filmmaker shooting a loved one's wedding while grappling with work troubles and harbouring a crush). Accordingly, Brie and Franco are also highly cognisant of how the tale they're telling usually goes. This romantic comedy doesn't avoid many of its genre's tropes, lacing them throughout the script knowingly so that it can unpack and build upon them. The whole 'workaholic discovers what she really needs after a career upset' setup is a prompt, getting Brie and Franco thinking about what that really means beyond the cliched idea of getting romance to solve your problems. That said, it mightn't have worked as charmingly as it does without either Brie or Clemons.

Somebody I Used to Know streams via Prime Video.

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NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK

SERVANT

When M Night Shyamalan (Knock at the Cabin) earned global attention and two Oscar nominations back in 1999 for The Sixth Sense, it was with a film about a boy who sees dead people. After ten more features that include highs (the trilogy that is Unbreakable, Split and Glass) and lows (Lady in the Water and The Happening), in 2019 he turned his attention to a TV tale of a nanny who revives a dead baby. Or did he? That's how Servant commenced its first instantly eerie, anxious and dread-filled season, a storyline it has followed in its second season in 2021, third in 2022, and now fourth and final batch of episodes currently streaming. But as with all Shyamalan works, this meticulously made series bubbles with the clear feeling that all isn't as it seems. What happens if a caregiver sweeps in exactly when needed and changes a family's life, Mary Poppins-style, but she's a teenager rather than a woman, disquieting instead of comforting, and accompanied by strange events, forceful cults and unsettlingly conspiracies rather than sweet songs, breezy winds and spoonfuls of sugar? That's Servant's basic premise.

Set in Shyamalan's beloved Philadelphia, and created by Tony Basgallop (The Consultant), the puzzle-box series spends most of its time in a lavish brownstone inhabited by TV news reporter Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose, The X-Files), her celebrity-chef husband Sean (Toby Kebbell, Bloodshot), their baby Jericho and 18-year-old nanny Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free, Too Old to Die Young) — and where Dorothy's recovering-alcoholic brother Julian (Grint, Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities) is a frequent visitor. That's still the dynamic this season, which keeps slowly and powerfully moving towards its big farewell. Dorothy is more determined than ever to be rid of Leanne, Leanne is more sure of herself and her abilities than she's ever been — in childminding, and all the other spooky occurrences that've been haunting the family — and Sean and Julian are again caught in the middle. However Shyamalan and Basgallop wrap up this discomforting tale, and whether or not they stick the landing, Servant has gifted viewers four seasons of spectacular duelling caregivers and gripping domestic tension, and one of streaming's horror greats.

Servant streams via Apple TV+. Read our full review of season four.

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HELLO TOMORROW!

In 2022, scam culture was here to stay, as drawn-from-reality hits such as Inventing Anna and The Dropout repeatedly promised. In 2023, playing fast and loose with the truth sits at the heart of Hello Tomorrow!, too, which tells a fictional tale about the deceptions people spin to chase their dreams. The show's beaming face: travelling salesman Jack Billings (Billy Crudup, The Morning Show), the regional manager for BrightSide Lunar Residences, and a passionate pusher of timeshares on the moon. He's this intriguing dramedy's version of Don Draper, but with Mad Men's 60s surroundings swapped for The Jetsons-style robot help and hovering vehicles. There's a The Twilight Zone-meets-Leave It to Beaver feel to Hello Tomorrow!, too, as its characters seek the same thing we all do: a better life. Creators Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen (both Bloodline alumni), also co-writers and showrunners with You're the Worst's Stephen Falk, zoom in further, focusing on the reasons anyone holds onto to hope their lot will improve.

Befitting any blend of all of the above series, the look of Hello Tomorrow! is retro-futuristic, steeped in 50s-era visions of what might come. The time and place is an alternative version of that decade, in a suburban enclave called Vistaville, where one of Jack's biggest fibs has its origins. He's summoned back with his crew of hawkers — the gambling-addicted Eddie (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons), promotion-coveting Herb (Dewshane Williams, In the Dark) and resident righthand-woman Shirley (Haneefah Wood, Truth Be Told) — by his mother Barbara (Jacki Weaver, Penguin Bloom) after his wife Marie (Annie McNamara, Severance) is injured by a self-driving delivery van. His son Joey (Nicholas Podany, Archive 81) is struggling to cope, a task made all the more difficult by Jack's absence from his family's lives for decades. He's skilled at sharing stories about his domestic bliss on the moon to customers, but being a happy head of a lunar household is merely one of his go-to falsehoods.

Hello Tomorrow! streams via Apple TV+. Read our full review.

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RECENT CINEMA HITS YOU NEED TO CATCH UP WITH

TOP GUN: MAVERICK

Gliding onto screens 36 years after its predecessor, Top Gun: Maverick is at its best when its jets are soaring. The initial Top Gun had the perfect song to describe exactly what these phenomenally well-executed and -choreographed action scenes feel like to view; yes, they'll take your breath away. Peppered throughout the movie, actually shot in real US Navy aircraft without a trace of digital effects, and as tense and spectacular as filmmaking can be in the feature's climactic sequences, they truly do make it seem as if you're watchin' in slow motion. Thankfully, this time that adrenaline kick is accompanied by a smarter and far more self-aware film, as directed by TRON: Legacy and Oblivion's Joseph Kosinski. Top Gun in the 80s was exactly what Top Gun in the 80s was always going to be — but Top Gun in the 2020s doesn't dare believe that nothing has changed, that Tom Cruise's still-smug Maverick can't evolve, and that the world the movie releases into hasn't either.

Still hardly the navy's favourite despite his swagger, megawatt smile, gleaming aviators and unfailing self-confidence — well, really despite his need for speed and exceptional dogfighting skills in the air — Captain Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell (Cruise, Mission: Impossible — Fallout) is given one last assignment. His destination: Fightertown USA, the California-based Top Gun program he strutted his way through all those years ago. There's an enemy nation with a secret weapons base that needs destroying, and his talents are crucial. But, to his dismay, Maverick is only asked to teach. Given a squad lorded over by the brash Hangman (Glen Powell, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood), and also including Coyote (Greg Tarzan Davis, Grey's Anatomy), Payback (Jay Ellis, Insecure), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Phoenix (Monica Barbaro, Stumptown), Bob (Lewis Pullman, Outer Range) and the frosty Bradley 'Rooster' Bradshaw (Miles Teller, The Offer), he's tasked with training them to fly like he does, navigate a Star Wars-style impossible path that zips speedily at perilously low altitudes and, ideally, still survive the supremely dangerous mission.

Top Gun: Maverick streams via Neon. Read our full review.

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THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT

"Nic fuckiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing Cage." That's how the man himself utters his name in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and he knows what he's about. Now four decades into his acting career to the year after making his film debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High under his actual name Nicolas Coppola, playing a bit-part character who didn't even get a moniker — Cage is keenly aware of exactly what he's done on-screen over that time, and in what, and why and how. He also knows how the world has responded, with that recognition baked into every second of his his latest movie. He plays himself, dubbed Nick Cage. He cycles through action-hero Cage, comically OTT Cage, floppy-haired 80s- and 90s-era Cage, besuited Cage, neurotic Cage and more in the process. And, as he winks, nods, and bobs and weaves through a lifetime of all things Cage, he's a Cage-tastic delight to watch.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does have a narrative around all that Cage as Cage, as penned by writer/director Tom Gormican (Are We Officially Dating?) and co-scribe Kevin Etten (Kevin Can F**K Himself). Here, the man who could eat a peach for days in Face/Off would do anything for as long as he needed to if he could lock in a weighty new part. The fictionalised Cage isn't happy with his roles of late, as he complains to his agent (Neil Patrick Harris, The Matrix Resurrections), but directors aren't buying what he's enthusiastically selling. He has debts and other art-parodies-life problems, though, plus an ex-wife (Sharon Horgan, Bad Sisters) and a teen daughter (Lily Sheen, IRL daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen). So, he reluctantly takes a $1-million gig he wishes he didn't have to: flying to southern Spain to hang out with billionaire Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal, The Last of Us), who is such a Cage diehard that he even has his own mini museum filled with Cage memorabilia, and has also written a screenplay he wants Cage to star in.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent streams via Neon. Read our full review.

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Need a few more streaming recommendations? You can also check out our list of standout must-stream 2022 shows as well — and our best 15 new shows of the year, top 15 returning shows over the same period, 15 shows you might've missed and best 15 straight-to-streaming movies of 2022.

Published on February 28, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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