Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in May 2021
Get stuck into a gripping new series from the director of 'Moonlight', a hilarious HBO comedy about horror movie fans and a heap of Aussie classics.
May 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 May's haul of newbies.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
First, a word of warning: the hit song that brought fictional late 90s/early 00s girl group Girls5eva to fame is such an earworm, you'll be singing it to yourself for weeks after you binge through the sitcom that bears their name. That's to be expected given that Jeff Richmond, the composer behind 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's equally catchy and comedic tunes, is one of the talents behind it. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock produce the series, too, so you what type of humour you're in for. Starring Sara Bareilles (Broadway's Waitress), Busy Philipps (I Feel Pretty), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and the great Paula Pell (AP Bio), Girls5eva follows four members of the eponymous band two decades after their heyday. Their initial success didn't last, and life has left the now-fortysomething women at different junctures. Then a rapper samples their hit, they're asked to reunite for a one-night backing spot on The Tonight Show, and they contemplate getting back together to give music another shot. As well as being exceptionally well-cast and immensely funny, the series is also bitingly perceptive about stardom, the entertainment industry and the way that women beyond their twenties are treated. Also, when Fey inevitably pops up, she does so as a dream version of Dolly Parton — and it's as glorious as it sounds.
The first season of Girls5eva is available to stream via Stan.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Two words: Barry Jenkins. Where the Oscar-nominated Moonlight director goes, viewers should always follow. That proved the case with 2018's If Beale Street Could Talk, and it's definitely accurate regarding The Underground Railroad, the phenomenal new ten-part series that features Jenkins behind the camera of each and every episode. As the name makes plain, the historical drama uses the real-life Underground Railroad — the routes and houses that helped enslaved Black Americans escape to freedom — as its basis. Here, though, drawing on the past isn't as straightforward as it initially sounds. Adapting Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same moniker, the series dives deeply into the experiences of people endeavouring to flee slavery, while also adopting magic-realism when it comes to taking a literal approach to its railroad concept. That combination couldn't work better in Jenkins' hands as he follows Cora (Thuso Mbedu, Shuga), a woman forced into servitude on a plantation overseen by Terrance Randall (Benjamin Walker, Jessica Jones). As always proves the case in the filmmaker's work, every frame is a thing of beauty, every second heaves with emotion, and every glance, stare, word and exchange is loaded with a thorough examination of race relations in America. If something else this affecting reaches streaming queues in 2021, it'll be a phenomenal year for audiences.
The Underground Railroad is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
It has taken almost two years for the delight that is Los Espookys to reach Australian screens — and it'll take you less than three hours to binge its six-episode first season. This HBO comedy is both worth the wait and worth devouring as quickly as possible, though. The setup: horror aficionado Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco, Museo) wants to turn his obsession into his profession, so he starts staging eerie scenarios for paying customers, enlisting his best friend Andrés (Julio Torres, Shrill), pal Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti, Ready to Mingle) and the latter's sister Tati (Ana Fabrega, At Home with Amy Sedaris) to help. Torres and Fabrega co-created the show with Portlandia and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, who also pops up as Renaldo's parking valet uncle. This mostly Spanish-language series only uses its biggest name sparingly, however, because its key cast members own every moment. Following the titular group's exploits as they attempt to ply their trade, and to weave it into their otherwise chaotic lives, Los Espookys always manages to be both sidesplittingly hilarious and so meticulous in its horror references that it's almost uncanny. There's nothing on-screen quite like it and, thankfully, it has already been renewed for a second season.
The first season of Los Espookys is available to stream via Binge.
When Elizabeth Hansen (Mélanie Laurent, 6 Underground) awakens in a cryogenic chamber, she doesn't know who she is, where she is or why she's there. She's strapped in via an array of invasive tubes and restrictive belts, the pod's oxygen levels are rapidly depleting and, in trying to work out what's going on and how to survive, she only has the unit's artificial intelligence program, called MILO (voiced by Sound of Metal's Mathieu Amalric), on hand. That's how Oxygen starts, taking cues from everything from Buried to Locke. But each engaging single-setting, talk-driven thriller lives or dies on the strength of its story, dialogue and cast, all of which hit their marks here. It helps having Laurent at the film's centre, as tends to happen when the French Inglourious Basterds star is pushed into the spotlight. Also pivotal: director Alexandre Aja's horror background, which includes the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and 2019's Crawl. As he demonstrated with the latter, he's particularly skilled at not merely working with familiar tropes and conventions, but at getting the most out of them. Accordingly, even as Oxygen nods to a wealth of one-location and survival flicks — and a hefty number of closed-in sci-fi movies as well — it still grippingly wrings every ounce of tension it can out of its nightmarish scenario.
Oxygen is available to stream via Netflix.
On paper, American Utopia's concept doesn't just sound excellent — it sounds flat-out superb, stunning and spectacular. A new David Byrne concert film, capturing his acclaimed American Utopia Broadway production, as directed by Spike Lee? Sign the world up, and now. In the most welcome news of the past year, the execution matches the idea in this instant masterpiece (and wonderful companion piece to 1984's Stop Making Sense). It'd be hard to go wrong with all of the above ingredients, but the second of Lee's two 2020 films (after Da 5 Bloods) makes viewers feel like they're in the room with Byrne and his band and dancers like all concert movies strive to but few achieve in such engaging a fashion. Every shot here is designed with this one aim in mind and it shows, because giving audiences the full American Utopia experience is something worth striving for. Byrne sings, working through both solo and Talking Heads hits. He waxes lyrical in his charming and accessible way, pondering the eponymous concept with an open and wise perspective. And he has staged, planned and choreographed the entire performance to a painstaking degree — from the inviting grey colour scheme and the open stage surrounded by glimmering chainmail curtains to the entire lack of cords and wires tethering himself and his colleagues down.
MADE FOR LOVE
When author Alissa Nutting penned Made for Love, no one needed to think too hard about her source of inspiration. Now bringing its tale to the small screen courtesy of the series of the same name, her story ponders one of the possible next steps in our technology-saturated lives. Hazel Green-Gogol (Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs) seems to live a lavishly and happily with her tech billionaire husband Byron (Billy Magnussen, Aladdin). They haven't left his company's desert campus in the entire ten years they've been married, in fact. The site is designed to cater for their every desire and whim, so they shouldn't need to go anywhere else — or that's how Byron views things, at least. Then his next big idea looks set to become a reality, and Hazel decides that she can't keep up the charade. She certainly doesn't want to be implanted with a chip that'll allow Byron to see through her eyes, access her feelings and always know where she is, and she's willing to take drastic actions to escape his hold over her life. Bringing the plot to the screen herself, Nutting favours a darkly comedic and sharply satirical vibe as she follows Hazel's quest for freedom, with Made for Love filled with blisteringly accurate insights into the tech-dependence that's become a regular part of 21st century existence. That said, the series wouldn't be the gem it is without Milioti, as well as Ray Romano (The Irishman) in a scene-stealing supporting part as Hazel's father.
Made for Love is available to stream via Stan.
AND TOMORROW THE ENTIRE WORLD
Submitted as Germany's entry for Best International Feature at this year's Oscars, And Tomorrow the Entire World mightn't have ultimately earned a nomination or the prized gong itself, but it's still a compelling and confronting — and timely — film. And, an impassioned one as well, with filmmaker Julia von Heinz (I'm Off Then) leaving zero doubt about her feelings on the re-emergence of right-wing extremist views in general, and specifically in a country that'll never escape the shadow of the Holocaust. University law student Luisa (Mala Emde, Shadowplay) swiftly shares her director's horror and anger. Brought up in comfortable middle-class surroundings, and in a family where taking a weekend hunting trip is commonplace, she has her eyes opened at school when she joins an anti-fascist group. They're soon doing whatever it takes to combat hate-filled ideologies, including letting their actions speak louder than words; however, the stakes are raised when they endeavour to thwart an upcoming attack. Aesthetically, von Heinz opts for edge-of-your seat immersion. Feeling like you're in Luisa's shoes as she steps into a topical conflict is part of the experience, as is feeling her struggles as she grapples with the reality of counteracting abhorrent views by violent means. Emde is exceptional in the lead role, pulsating with urgency in even the quietest of scenes — as does everything in the film.
And Tomorrow the Entire World is available to stream via Netflix.
RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
When its first season arrived back in 2020, it took a while for Mythic Quest to find its groove. Once it did, though, the sitcom shone — and brightly. Co-created by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, and starring the former as a visionary video game developer, Mythic Quest follows the daily ins and outs around the studio behind the eponymous massively multiplayer online role-playing game. McElhenney's Ian Grimm is drunk on his own ego, lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao, Content) barely manages to cope, their executive producer (David Hornsby, Good Girls) is a ball of neuroses, and finance head (Danny Pudi, Community) couldn't be more ruthless in general or less interested in the people he works with. Mythic Quest doesn't break the workplace sitcom mould, or reshape it. Still, as it navigates its chosen industry, calls out its insular nature and examines its other issues, it's as smart and entertaining as the genre's recent classics such as The Office and Parks and Recreation. And, picking up where its pandemic special left off, the show's second season proves just as sharp and funny, including while exploring the struggles women in gaming face in a big way.
The second season of Mythic Quest is dropping new episodes each week via Apple TV+.
CLASSICS TO WATCH AND REWATCH
ROUND THE TWIST
Sometimes, you're eager to spend your spare hours binging your way through serious dramas. At other times, only clever comedies will do. But, there also comes a time when you just want to feel nostalgic — including by revisiting the local TV show that absolutely every Aussie kid watched in the 90s and 00s, and more than once. For two seasons between 1990–93, then another two from 2000–01, Round the Twist adapted Paul Jennings' popular books into an offbeat fantasy series. If you were the right age, it was must-see TV. It's the source of plenty of lighthouse obsessions, given that's where the Twist family lived. And, it's also a show that knew how to balance humour, strangeness and scares. Yes, the latter two seasons of Round the Twist really aren't as great as the first two, but we're betting they're still baked into your childhood memories anyway. And, we're certain that you'll now have the show's theme tune stuck in your head for at least the rest of the day, which is where it'll likely stay until after you've finished binging the series on Netflix (and probably for plenty of time afterwards as well).
All four seasons of Round the Twist are available to stream via Netflix.
A HEAP OF CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN FILMS
When Netflix launched in Australia, it took three years for the huge streaming behemoth to produce Tidelands, its first original Aussie series. Another three years later, the nation's creatives are still calling for it and other streamers to invest heavily in local productions — including via content quotas that would legislate its obligation to plunge part of the profits it earns from Australian subscribers back into the Aussie film and TV industry. That battle is ongoing. For now, though, Netflix has added a hefty batch of local films to its catalogue. The lineup is eclectic because Australian cinema is eclectic, but you can start with Two Hands, follow it up with BMX Bandits, then check out Dating the Enemy (and watch Heath Ledger, Rose Byrne, Nicole Kidman, Claudia Karvan and Guy Pearce in the process). Or, you could plunge into Dark City's twists, hit the beach with Puberty Blues, and see Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths co-star in Cosi, not Muriel's Wedding. Just as My Name Is Gulpilil reaches cinemas, you can also stream your way through the actor's standout roles in Walkabout (the Indigenous icon's first feature from 50 years ago) and The Tracker (which won him an AFI Award for Best Actor).
Check out Netflix's Australian range via the streaming platform.
Top image: The Underground Railroad.
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