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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in February

Cancel your plans to get stuck into a hilarious new Aussie comedy, a heartbreaking miniseries set in the 80s and 90s, and a timely documentary about social media influencers.
By Sarah Ward
February 23, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
February 23, 2021
  shares

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 February's haul of newbies (yes, we're assuming you've already watched News of the World and Malcolm & Marie).

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BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW

IT'S A SIN

More than two decades after creating Queer as Folk, Russell T Davies gives the television landscape another excellent queer drama. The screenwriter and television producer has been busy over the intervening period thanks to everything from Doctor Who to Years and Years — and he also has 2015's Cucumber to his name, too — but It's a Sin is one of the very best things on his lengthy resume. Stepping back to the AIDS crisis of the 80s and early 90s, the five-part miniseries follows a group of friends chasing their dreams in London. Ritchie (Olly Alexander, Penny Dreadful) heads to the city to become an actor, and to avoid telling his stern parents that he's gay. Roscoe (Omari Douglas) flees his parents' home when they keep threatening to take him back to Nigeria. Colin (Callum Scott Howells) arrives for an apprenticeship at a high-end tailor shop, but soon finds himself seeking an escape from his lecherous boss. Given the era, there's no doubting where the story will head. It's a Sin is as joyous and vibrant as it is soulful and heartbreaking, though. Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin not only cross paths, but form a makeshift family in their modest flat, with the former's college friends Jill (Lydia West, Dracula) and Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) rounding out the quintet. Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry also feature, but they're never It's a Sin's stars — because, in series that looks and sounds the period part at every moment, the show's five main players are simply phenomenal.

It's a Sin is available to stream via Stan.

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I CARE A LOT

She may not end up with many shiny statuettes for her efforts, but Rosamund Pike's Golden Globe nomination for I Care a Lot is well-deserved. The Radioactive and Gone Girl star is stellar in a tricky part in a thorny film — because this dark comic-thriller isn't here to play nice. Pike plays Marla Grayson, a legal guardian to as many elderly Americans as she can convince the courts to send her way. She's more interested in the cash that comes with the job, however, rather than actually looking after her charges. Indeed, with her girlfriend and business partner Fran (Eiza González, Bloodshot), plus an unscrupulous doctor on her payroll, she specifically targets wealthy senior citizens with no family, gets them committed to her care, packs them off to retirement facilities and plunders their bank accounts. Then one such ploy catches the attention of gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones), who dispatches his minions to nudge Marla in a different direction. She isn't willing to acquiesce, though, sparking both a game of cat and mouse and a showdown. Dinklage makes the most of his role, too, but I Care a Lot is always the icy Pike's movie. Well, hers and writer/director J Blakeson's (The Disappearance of Alice Creed), with the latter crafting a takedown of capitalism that's savagely blunt but also blisteringly entertaining.

I Care a Lot is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.

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WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS

Named after a meme, and focusing on characters that can hardly be described likeable but are nonetheless instantly recognisable, Australian sitcom Why Are You Like This takes aim at 21st century life. Its three main figures are all twentysomethings endeavouring to navigate a never-ending onslaught of personal and professional problems, such as getting fired, battling with colleagues, money troubles, hiding boyfriends, losing moon cups and trying to spark a workplace revolution but ending up getting other people fired — so, yes, they're just like the rest of us. Penny (series co-creator Naomi Higgins, Utopia) wants to be an ally to everyone. Her bestie Mia (Olivia Junkeer, Neighbours) matches that determination with both self-assurance and a self-serving mindset; if she's sticking up for anyone, it's always herself. Rounding out the trio is Penny's housemate and aspiring drag queen Austin (Wil King), whose glittery outfits and super-sized personality can't always hide his internal crumbling. Across the show's six-episode first season, these three friends keep trying to stand out in their own ways. They also keep demonstrating both their best and worst traits. As satirical as it is candid and relatable, Why Are You Like This knows that everyone and everything is awful, and leans in. And, in terms of the series' style of comedy, the fact that Higgins created the show with lawyer and illustrator Humyara Mahbub and Aunty Donna's Mark Samual Bonanno says plenty.

Why Are You Like This is available to stream via ABC iView.

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ROCKS

Not only thoughtful, empathetic and heartfelt, but also offering a very familiar genre a fresh perspective, coming-of-age drama Rocks explores the life of British Nigerian teenager Olushola Omotoso (engaging debutant Bukky Bakray). She's given the eponymous nickname by her friends, and she's forced to call upon a hardy type of fortitude when her mother (Layo-Christina Akinlude, I May Destroy You) leaves suddenly, entrusting the 15-year-old to care for her her younger brother Emmanuel (D'Angelou Osei Kissiedu). This situation isn't new for the siblings, so they soldier on. But, approaching the film with a tender but also forthright touch, director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette) and screenwriters Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson (Gangs of London) don't sugarcoat their story. As Rocks tries to rustle up enough money to by, endeavours to evade social workers chasing her and Emmanuel around town, attempts to maintain a routine for her brother and also deals with her own schoolyard struggles, the film repeatedly demonstrates that a feature can be both honest, unflinching, bittersweet and charming all at once. Indeed, it also illustrates that when a movie manages to be all of those things — as well as immersively shot, superbly performed and keenly showing a far more expansive snapshot of British life than often seen on-screen — it's something special.

Rocks is available to stream via Netflix.

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CLARICE

When The Silence of the Lambs became one of the most talked-about movies of 1991 — and won the 'big five' Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay — it was always going to earn a follow-up. But, the three films that did just that all cared far more about psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter than FBI Agent Clarice Starling, as did the Mads Mikkelsen-starring TV series Hannibal. Accordingly, television crime procedural Clarice feels as if it's righting a three-decade-old wrong. Set a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs, it follows its eponymous figure (Australian actor Rebecca Breeds, Three Summers) as she returns to the field. She's still shaken by the case that made her famous, and she'd much rather stay behind the scenes than lead the charge, but she's brought to Washington DC to join a high-profile taskforce that hunts down serial killers and other predators. Clarice is made by US network television, not cable, so it happily sticks to an obvious formula; however, case-of-the week programs like this have remained a TV mainstay for a reason. Breeds capably steps into Jodie Foster's shoes, the series as a whole sinks into its unsurprisingly grim mood, and stories about women reclaiming their own space after trauma, as this is, aren't as common as they should be.

Clarice is available to stream via Stan.

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FAKE FAMOUS

No one could've known how timely Fake Famous would be, especially in Australia. Arriving in a month where much of the nation's social media usage has pivoted from Facebook to Instagram, it explores influencer culture on the latter platform, all thanks to an experiment by journalist-turned-filmmaking first-timer Nick Bilton. Interested not only in people famous for being famous, but in the way that Instagram in particular has heightened the phenomenon, the writer/director endeavours to create three influencers of his own. He holds auditions, selects candidates, gives them makeovers, sets them up with a crew to snap their photos and shoot their videos, and buys them bots to follow, like and comment on their posts. His aim: to take his three chosen Los Angeles residents from everyday Instagram users with dreams of online stardom to the type of social media celebrities who've turned their virtual existence into a full-time job (and have the statistics and the swag sent to their door to prove it). Mixed in with insights about social media and influencers in general, the result is a fascinating film — especially in seeing how Bilton's three central figures handle the process. That remains true of this slickly made, perkily toned documentary even if there's little that's overly new here for anyone with an ongoing interest in or knowledge of the subject.

Fake Famous is available to stream via Binge.

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THE VIRTUES

Director and screenwriter Shane Meadows has a fantastic track record, spanning everything from Dead Man's Shoes to This Is England — as well as the multiple TV shows inspired by the latter. Fellow screenwriter Jack Thorne is no stranger to working with Meadows, also thanks to the This Is England franchise; however his individual resume includes Dirt Music, Radioactive, The Secret Garden, Enola Holmes, The Eddy and His Dark Materials over just the past couple of years. So, the pair's involvement in The Virtues immediately marks it as a miniseries to watch. So does its star Stephen Graham, yet another veteran of This Is England. Here, all three combine for a four-part drama that's bleak, raw, frank and devastating — and, once you've started watching, it's also impossible to tear your eyes away from until the credits roll on the final episode. After it finishes, it's downright impossible to forget, in fact, a claim that can't be made of most television shows. Graham plays Joseph, a labourer who's barely getting by. When his ex-partner and his young son move to Australia, he hits the bottle, has a big night, and wakes up certain that he has to head back to Ireland and confront his troubled past. So starts an emotional journey that's never easy — not for a single second — but is also never anything less than astounding.

The Virtues is available to stream via Stan.

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RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK

WELLINGTON PARANORMAL

Three of the best comedic actors currently on TV all star in New Zealand-made sitcom Wellington Paranormal. Playing Officer O'Leary, Officer Minogue and Sergeant Maaka, Karen O'Leary, Mike Minogue and Maaka Pohatu spit out devastatingly hilarious deadpan line readings. They need to in this mockumentary series, which follows a squad of Wellington cops who investigate the supernatural — as the show's title so succinctly explains — but every episode of the series so far has demonstrated just how perfect these three actors are for their job. That includes the just-arriving third season of the program, which once again sees the team tackle cases of the paranormal variety (and, yes, of the often silly and always amusing kind as well). This batch of instalments starts with an invisible foe, then ponders what might be lurking in the woods, with laughs heartily ensuing. A spinoff from  Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's excellent 2014 movie What We Do in the Shadows — well, one of the film's spinoffs, given that a very funny US TV series also called What We Do in the Shadows also exists — Wellington Paranormal aces its concept again and again. This time around, Clement directed half of the season's episodes, while Rhys Darby reprises a familiar role.

Wellington Paranormal's third season starts streaming via SBS On Demand from Wednesday, February 24, with new episodes added each week.

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CULT CLASSICS TO REVISIT AND REDISCOVER

PARKS AND RECREATION

She's the government worker we all wish could be in charge of, well, absolutely everything — and she's the Indiana city of Pawnee's most devoted employee and biggest fan. We're talking, of course, about Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler's super passionate waffle-loving character in iconic sitcom Parks and Recreation. Willing to work hard in any situation and always ready to lean upon her friends and co-workers, Leslie knows how to handle almost anything. In one particular fifth-season episode of the Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe-costarring series, that also includes grappling with a pandemic. Created by The Office's Greg Daniels and Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation may have only come to the end of its seven-season run back in 2015, but the sitcom has been an instant classic from the get-go for one reason: focusing on relatable characters, the minutiae of their lives and the time working in local government, workplace-based comedy has never felt more kind-hearted, or — thanks to the show's penchant for letting its main players talk directly to the camera — so inclusive. And while Parks has done the rounds of streaming platforms, hopping from one to another over the years, its arrival on Netflix is as good a reason as any for a rewatch (not that anyone ever needs an excuse).

All seven seasons of Parks and Recreation are available to stream via Netflix.

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THE MUPPET SHOW

Created by Jim Henson, first seen on TV in the 50s and boasting eight movies to their name, The Muppets are easily the most loveable felt and foam creations in pop culture history. They're also the driving force behind the best variety television series that's ever reached the small screen: The Muppet Show, which ran for five seasons between 1976–81. Forget all those other efforts hosted by humans over the years, because nothing is as absurd, surreal and delightful as this puppet-fuelled program. And, whether you grew up watching reruns over and over, have always wanted to check it out or somehow weren't aware that the series even existed, it's now available on Disney+ in full. Yes, it's time to play the music and light the lights — and to revisit this Muppets-starring favourite. You won't just be checking out the comic stylings of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and the Swedish Chef (and their songs and skits, too), of course. The Muppet Show is also famed for its guest appearances, so get set to spy everyone from Elton John and Mark Hamill to Martin, Liza Minnelli, Alice Cooper, Julie Andrews, Diana Ross and Gene Kelly.

All five seasons of The Muppet Show are available to stream via Disney+.

Published on February 23, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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