Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in August 2021
Get stuck into a new dramedy about cancel culture, Taika Waititi's latest sitcom and an animated musical with tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
August 31, 2021
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 Australia'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 watching anything, we're here to help. From the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from August's haul of newbies. (Yes, we're assuming you've watched Clickbait already.)
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
When CODA screened at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, it made history. Film distributors always clamour to snap up the event's big hits, and this four-time award-winner — which received the fest's US Grand Jury Prize, US Dramatic Audience Award, a Special Jury Ensemble Cast Award and Best Director — was picked up by Apple TV+ for US$25 million. Even though the sophomore feature from writer/director Sian Heder (Tallulah) remakes 2014 French hit La Famille Bélier, that's still a significant amount of money; however, thanks to its warmth, engaging performances and a welcome lack of cheesiness, it's easy to see why the streaming platform opened its wallet. Fans of the earlier movie will recognise the storyline, which sees 17-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones, Locke & Key) struggle to balance her family commitments with her dreams of attending music school. She's a talented singer, but she's only just discovered just how skilled she is because she's also the child of deaf adults (hence the film's title). At home, she also plays a key part in keeping the family's fishing business afloat, including by spending mornings before class out on the trawler wither her dad Frank (Troy Kotsur, No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant, Switched at Birth). Heder helms this still sweet and moving feature with a distinct lack of over-exaggeration, which plagued its predecessor. The fact that Kotsur, Durant and Marlee Matlin (Entangled), the latter as the Rossi matriarch, are all actors who are deaf playing characters who are deaf really couldn't be more important. Their portrayals are naturalistic and lived-in, as is much about this rousing but gentle crowd-pleaser — including tomboy Ruby's blossoming romance with fellow wannabe musician Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street).
CODA is available to stream via Apple TV+.
It sounds like an obvious premise, and one that countless films and TV shows have already mined in the name of laughs. In Hacks, two vastly dissimilar people are pushed together, with the resulting conflict guiding the series. Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder, North Hollywood) and her new boss Deborah Vance (Jean Smart, Mare of Easttown) couldn't be more different in age, experience, tastes and opinions. The former is a 25-year-old who made the move to Hollywood, has been living out her dream as a comedy writer, but found her career plummeting after a tweet crashed and burned. The latter is a legendary stand-up who hasn't stopped hitting the stage for decades, is approaching the 2500th show of her long-running Las Vegas residency and is very set in her ways. They appear to share exactly one thing in common: a love for comedy. They're an odd couple thrust together by their mutual manager Jimmy (Paul W Downs, Broad City), neither wants to be working with the other, and — to the surprise of no one, including each other — they clash again and again. There's no laugh track adding obvious chuckles to this HBO sitcom, though. Created by three of the talents behind Broad City — writer Jen Statsky; writer/director Lucia Aniello; and Downs, who does double duty in front of and behind the lens — Hacks isn't solely interested in setting two seemingly mismatched characters against each other. This is a smart and insightful series about what genuinely happens when this duo spends more and more time together, what's sparked their generational conflict and what, despite their evident differences, they actually share beyond that love of making people laugh. And, it's a frank, funny and biting assessment of being a woman in entertainment — and it's also always as canny as it is hilarious.
In its first episode of its six-instalment run, The Chair sports a breezy, effortless tone, while still managing to ripple with always-thrumming tension. Newly appointed in the titular position at Pembroke University's English department, Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh, Killing Eve) has much to juggle — as excited as she is about the role. The college dean (David Morse, The Good Lord Bird) has given her a list of faculty members with high salaries and low class enrolment rates, and made it clear that something needs to change. Kim wants to champion a new rising star among the teaching cohort (Nana Mensah, Queen of Glory), but knows that that'll require challenging the engrained establishment. So too does another fight, this time against one veteran professor's (Holland Taylor, Bill & Ted Face the Music) unceremonious move to a basement office. Kim also has responsibilities at home thanks to her adopted daughter Ju-Hee (Everly Carganilla, Yes Day), and struggles with work-life balance. And, there's the not-at-all-minor matter of her predecessor, the school's rockstar literature academic (Jay Duplass, Search Party), who can only be described as a mess following the death of his wife and the fact that his daughter has just left for college — and, including in the lectures he never prepares for, leans into that characterisation. In a smartly written series, and one that is acutely aware of how to make the best use of its 30-minute episodes, The Chair charts the dramas that ensue as all these facets of Kim's existence coincide. As created by Amanda Peet (Dirty John) and debutant Annie Wyman, the result is instantly engaging, as well as ambitious in its exploration of academia, of battling a system that's hardly been historically welcoming to women and people of colour, and of cancel culture. It also draws strongly from the always-excellent Oh, and from the rest of its top-notch ensemble cast.
The Chair is available to stream via Netflix.
When it comes to making a splash on-screen, Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn't been throwing away his shot. In just the past year alone, the phenomenal filmed version of Hamilton reached streaming, then the cinema adaptation of In the Heights finally hit cinemas — and now animated musical Vivo joins them. Co-written by In the Heights' Quiara Alegría Hudes with co-director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), it both stars Miranda and features toe-tapping new tunes by him. He voices the eponymous kinkajou, which has spent its life living and making music in Havana with the now-elderly Andrés Hernández (Buena Vista Social Club musician Juan de Marcos González), and would be happiest if their comfortable routine never ended. But then fate shakes up their status quo, including via a letter from famous singer Marta (Gloria Estefan, One Day at a Time), who Andrés worked with — and pined for — before she moved to Florida decades back. Soon, Vivo is determined to make the trip to Miami for Marta's last-ever show, even if that means buddying up with Andrés' music-loving, fiercely individualists, often chaotic niece Gabi (first-timer Ynairaly Simo). Unsurprisingly, the film's soundtrack is a delight, brimming as it is with catchy tunes enlivened by Miranda's now-trademark witty wordplay. His vocal performance, and that of a cast that also includes Zoe Saldana (Avengers: Endgame) as Gabi's mother, echoes with emotional complexity in what's both an upbeat and wistful movie. The blue-soaked animation stands out as well and, while this is a firmly family-friendly affair, so does the feature's commitment to entertaining viewers of all ages.
Vivo is available to stream via Netflix.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF
There's never been a show on TV quite like Kevin Can F**k Himself, but there have been too many series that resemble half of this clever and cutting dark comedy. Whenever Allison Devine-McRoberts (Annie Murphy, Schitt's Creek) is around her manchild of a husband Kevin (Eric Petersen, Sydney to the Max), she's clearly in a sitcom. The lights glow brightly, her home looks like every other cosy abode in every other apparently amusing show about an obnoxious man and his put-upon wife — including all the ones starring Kevin James — and multiple cameras capture their lives. Also, canned laughter chuckles whenever something supposedly funny (but usually just cringeworthy) occurs between Kevin, his ever dimwitted best pal and neighbour Neil (Alex Bonifer, Superstore), Neil's one-of-the-guys sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden, The Righteous Gemstones) and Kevin's ever-present dad (Brian Howe, Chicago Fire). We've all seen this setup before, and Kevin Can F**k Himself's creator Valerie Armstrong (Lodge 49) definitely knows it. But, whenever Allison is blissfully free from her horrible hubby, murkier tones and a much more realistic vibe kick in. Just one camera films her struggles, and she's clearly in a premium cable drama. This is when Allison starts trying to do something about her terrible marriage, including a plot not just to leave Kevin, but to ensure that she'll be free of him forever. On paper, the creative decisions behind Kevin Can F**k Himself's two halves are a high-concept gimmick, and purposefully so. They're deployed devastatingly on-screen, however, in what proves one of the best new shows of 2021. Thankfully, Kevin Can F**k Himself has just been renewed for a second season, too, so more of its savvy charms and astute social commentary — and Murphy and Inboden's memorable performances — await.
Not content with just having two of the best current sitcoms on his resume — that'd be Wellington Paranormal and What We Do in the Shadows — Taika Waititi has gone and added a third. If you didn't know that he was one of Reservation Dogs' creators, executive producers and writers, you'd likely guess from the laidback tone; however, this is firmly a case of Waititi helping to get an exceptional show off the ground, and also lending his star power to assist emerging voices and under-represented communities. The 'reservation' part of this comedy's title is literal. In rural Oklahoma, that's where Indigenous American teenagers Bear (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Beans), Elora (Devery Jacobs, Rutherford Falls), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis, also seen in Beans), and Cheese (debutant Lane Factor) live, spend their days and meander about while dreaming of being somewhere else. Their ideal destination: California. Their number-one pastime: rustling up cash by whatever means they can to fund their big getaway, including by hijacking a delivery van filled with potato chips in the show's first episode. It's that heist and the aftermath that gives this quartet their Quentin Tarantino-style nickname, but Reservation Dogs isn't about bold and flashy moments. It's about the daily reality as Bear and his pals navigate their present existence and hope that they can soon escape it. In other words, this is a series that's deeply steeped in conveying the small details in its characters' lives, and giving audiences the chance to spend time with them. It's a show that's as much about hanging out as propelling a plot forward and, in the hands of Waititi and fellow co-creator/executive producer/writer Sterlin Harjo (Mekko), it's a coming-of-age gem.
The first four episodes of Reservation Dogs are available to stream via Binge, with new episodes dropping weekly.
The hair: big. The wardrobe: teeming with shoulder pads. The attitude towards women, and anyone who isn't a blokey Aussie male: abysmal at best. That's the slice of 80s-era Australia that The Newsreader recreates with meticulous period detail, with this six-part ABC drama stepping into the world of TV news. It's 1986, and Paul Hogan has just won the Australian of the Year award, which budding reporter Dale Jennings (Sam Reid, Lambs of God) covers (after a swift fix when a tape machine chews up some crucial footage moments before the segment goes to air). He'd rather be sitting at the big desk as an anchor, though, but that's veteran Geoff Walters (Robert Taylor, The Meg) and the hardworking Helen Norville's (Anna Torv, Mindhunter) job. Dale gets his chance before the first episode is out, however — although blustering newsroom head honchoLindsay (William McInnes, Total Control) needs persuading, and nothing proves smooth-sailing from there. Deftly and convincingly weaving in real-life events, including the Challenger explosion, to ground the fictional interplay, The Newsroom hones in on its two ambitious, frequently cast-aside figures. Dale and Helen have both become accustomed to being ignored, overlooked and talked down to by their colleagues, and to having to work harder than anyone else to get ahead, and the series plots out exactly what it takes for them to chase the careers they've always dreamed of. Indeed, one of the show's key strengths is seeing how these layered characters unfurl — and unite — thanks to both Reid and Torv's multifaceted portrayals.
The first three episodes of The Newsreader are available to stream via ABC iView, with new episodes dropping weekly.
Beloved by audiences for seven seasons so far (even if its original TV network didn't always feel the same way), Brooklyn Nine-Nine faced a dilemma moving into its eighth — and final — batch of episodes. After the murder of George Floyd, the long history of police violence in the US and the poor treatment that law enforcement has historically afforded people of colour, as well as the reckoning with all of the above that has sprung up across America, how does a sitcom keep pushing a 'comedic cops' angle? Season eight of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still as funny as fans expect. It still follows all of the same characters, and most of them are still police officers. It still finds plenty of time for silly gags, including a competition between Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews, Deadpool 2) and Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, Reno 911!) to sell the most candy to Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller, Big Love), too. That said, it's now as interested in interrogating what it means to truly uphold the badge in a way that protects and serves everyone — and what its characters can do to both to achieve that, and to stamp out anything "uncool, uncool, uncool" that fails that aim — as it is in palling around with its beloved detective squad. Six episodes in, this last run of episodes has the feeling of a farewell as well as an awakening, all while also seeing Rosa Diaz (Stefanie Beatriz, In the Heights) become a private investigator, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg, Palm Springs) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero, Diary of a Future President) endeavour to balance work with being parents to baby McClane, and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher, Spirit Untamed) navigate marital troubles.
The first six episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's eight season are available to stream via SBS On Demand, with new episodes dropping weekly.
NINE PERFECT STRANGERS
Lavish locations just screaming to fill Instagram feeds, wealthy clientele whiling away their hours in luxury, a significant chasm between the haves and the have nots: like The White Lotus, that's the setup behind Byron Bay-shot thriller Nine Perfect Strangers. Here, in the latest collaboration between Nicole Kidman (The Prom) and writer/showrunner David E Kelley (Big Little Lies and The Undoing), an upmarket resort called Tranquillum House welcomes in a new group of clients; however, they get more than just R&R. Among those seeking their bliss under the care of Masha Dmitrichenko (Kidman) and her offsiders Delilah (Tiffany Boone, Hunters) and Yao (Manny Jacinto, The Good Place): school teacher Napoleon Marconi (Michael Shannon, Knives Out), his wife Heather (Asher Keddie, Rams) and their daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten, Under the Silver Lake); plus novelist Frances Welty (Melissa McCarthy, Thunder Force), ex-footballer Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale, Superintelligence), influencer Jessica Chandler (Samara Weaving, Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins) and her husband Ben (Melvin Gregg, The United States vs Billie Holiday), the newly divorced Carmel Schneider (Regina Hall, Breaking News in Yuba County) and journalist Lars Lee (Luke Evans, Crisis). Nine Perfect Strangers draws out its mysteries, but it also lets its audience start guessing from the outset. Casting Kidman as a Russian-accented wellness guru who wades in and out of her clients' days at random, and also happens to be getting death threats via text messages, will do that. This Jonathan Levine-directed (Long Shot, Snatched, The Night Before) show is ensemble piece, though, and knows how to lure its audience in and keep them watching.
A RECENT MUST-SEE YOU CAN (AND SHOULD) STREAM NOW
Set in a camp of teen guerrillas, Alejandro Landes' Sundance's Special Jury Award-winning third film Monos follows gun-toting rebels that have barely said goodbye to childhood, but are still tasked by their unseen leaders with holding an American woman (The Outsider's Julianne Nicholson) hostage. Unsurprisingly, even with nothing around but fields, jungle, a cow to milk and occasional enemy fire, little goes according to plan. The relentlessness of modern life, the ongoing unrest in Colombia, and the ceaseless trials and tribulations that plague all teens facing adulthood — they all sit at the centre of this stunning South America-set thriller. Echoes of William Golding's Lord of the Flies are evident (and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the book that inspired Apocalypse Now, too), but Monos firmly tells its own story. Engagingly lingering between a dark fairytale and a psychological treatise on war, combat and humanity's dog-eat-dog nature, the result is one of the definite standouts of recent years (of 2019, when it premiered overseas and did the rounds of the local festival circuit, and of 2020, when it finally released in Aussie cinemas). That status is assured thanks to everything from the eye-popping landscape cinematography to the needling tension of Mica Levi's (Under the Skin) score and the commanding performances from the young cast.
Monos is available to stream via SBS On Demand.
Need a few more streaming recommendations? Check out our picks from January, February, March, April, May, June and July this year — and our top straight-to-streaming movies and specials from 2021 so far, and our list of the best new TV shows released this year so far as well.
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