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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream This Month

Get stuck into the wittily great new season of 'The Great', a chilling and compelling new mystery series and a rousing documentary about Australia's Black Summer bushfires.
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2021
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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. We've spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this months latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from November haul of newbies.

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BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW

THE GREAT

Huzzah! The best satirical comedy about Russian history there is has returned for another run, and proves as much of a delight this time around as it did in its first batch of episodes. The concept was already there — following the rise and reign of Catherine the Great, including her marriage to and overthrowing of Emperor Peter III, with only the slightest regard for the actual facts — but The Great definitely doesn't suffer from second-season syndrome. Indeed, while the series has always been supremely confident in its blend of handsome period staging, the loosest of historical realities and that savage sense of humour (it does spring from Oscar-nominated The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara, after all), this season it feels even more comfortable in its skin. Smoother, too, yet just as biting. In fact, its ability to seesaw tonally is as sharp as a shot of vodka — or several.

Following the events of the first season, Catherine (Elle Fanning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) is still waging war with Peter (Nicholas Hoult, Those Who Wish Me Dead) — via soldiers on the battlefield to begin with, and then in the royal court in the aftermath of her bloody coup. Her pregnancy is also ticking along, the couple's various hangers-on have chosen sides, and changing Russia into a progressive nation isn't going to be an easy task. This time around, Gillian Anderson (The Crown) joins the cast as Catherine's acid-tongued mother, but both Fanning and Hoult continue to turn in the performances of their careers. Devastatingly witty and entertaining — and addictive The Great has lived up to its name for two seasons now.

Season two of The Great is available to stream via Stan.

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BURNING

"This could be the new normal," a snippet from a news report comments early in Burning. The reason for the statement: Black Summer, the Australian bushfire season of 2019–20 that decimated large swathes of the country, sent smoke floating around the world and attracted international media attention. Australians don't need a documentary to confirm how horrific the situation was, and this is now the second in months — after the gripping first-person accounts in A Fire Inside — but this powerful film from Chasing Asylum's Eva Orner also lays bare all the factors that coalesced in the tragic events of just two years ago. Accordingly, this is a doco about inaction, government indifference to the point of failure, and the valuing of fossil fuels over their destruction of the environment. It's a movie about climate change as well, clearly, because any film telling this tale has to be.

Orner, an Oscar-winner for producing 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side and an Emmy-winner for 2016's Out of Iraq, takes a three-pronged approach: providing context to the bushfires, including charting the Australian government's choices before and after; amassing expert and experienced testimonies, spanning activists and those on the ground alike; and bearing witness. Facts — such as the three billion animals killed — sit side by side with personal recollections and devastating images. The latter includes not only the fires and their ashy aftermath, but political arguing and Scott Morrison's Hawaiian holiday; all hit like a punch to the gut. The result is urgent, important and stunning — and absolutely essential viewing.

Burning is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.

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MR MAYOR

Here are five of the most glorious words you're ever likely to read: Ted Danson plays the mayor. The sitcom stalwart (see also: Cheers, Becker, Bored to Death and Curb Your Enthusiasm) has hopped from The Good Place into Mr Mayor, actually, and into the latest TV comedy created and/or produced by Tina Fey. Fans of the latter's other shows — 30 Rock, obviously, and also Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Great News and Girls5Eva — will know the sense of humour her series tend to work with, and it's a fabulous match for Danson. So too is Mr Mayor's setup, which sees a wealthy, clueless but amiable businessman decide he can improve a post-COVID-19 Los Angeles, and get elected.

Firmly a workplace comedy, the series chronicles the ups and downs in the mayor's office as Danson's Neil Bremer tries to do a job he clearly isn't qualified for. Naturally, with the arrogance of a rich, white and otherwise successful man of a certain age, he believes otherwise. Mr Mayor is firmly an ensemble comedy as well, however, and both Holly Hunter (Succession) and Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live) are comedic gems as Bremer's over-enthusiastic deputy mayor and bumbling communications director, respectively. The series is a tad less successful when it endeavours to be a family comedy, too, bringing the mayor's teenage daughter Orly (Kyla Kenedy, Speechless) into the mix. But when its gags land — and whenever Danson and Hunter share the screen, which is often — it's smart, hilarious and all-too-easy to binge.

Season one of Mr Mayor is available to stream via 9Now. 

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FINCH

There's a sweetness to Finch that transcends its easy-sell concept — because tasking the always-likeable Tom Hanks with navigating a solar flare-ravaged earth was always going to be inherently watchable. Perhaps Turner and Hooch meets Cast Away meets Chappie meets The Road was the elevator pitch? Maybe seeing not just America's on-screen dad, but the world's, play father to a cute pooch and a teenager-like robot was the key selling point? Either way, filmmaker Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and first-time feature screenwriters Craig Luck and Ivor Powell tap into a tender and selfless existential quest in their post-apocalyptic drama. The titular Finch isn't attempting to survive, but trying to ensure that the dog that's been his only flesh-and-blood companion for a decade or so can live on after he's gone.

In Hanks' second protective father-figure role in as many features, following News of the World, he also plays Geppetto to a robot Pinocchio or Victor Frankenstein to a new mechanical life, too. Jeff, the wiry being born of his labour, is far from perfect — and Finch's slow, initially begrudging acceptance that he can't mould and control everything about his creation ranks chief among the movie's touching emotional journeys. The film's musings on mortality, leaving a legacy and being a better person are also layered and thoughtful, and never feel well-worn even though science-fiction can't stop pondering such ideas. In an excellent motion-capture performance, Caleb Landry Jones (Nitram) also leaves an imprint as Jeff. Unsurprisingly, however, Hanks is always Finch's key source of texture and empathy.

Finch is available to stream via Apple TV+.

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COWBOY BEBOP

A TV show can live or die based on its casting alone. With Netflix's live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, it frequently seems as if it only exists because some immensely clever person had the stroke of genius to cast John Cho (The Grudge) as Spike Spiegel. While being the best thing about a series or a movie isn't always a good thing — on the big screen, both Jungle Cruise and Venom: Let There Be Carnage haven't managed to match their ace lead casting in recent months — Cho always makes Cowboy Bebop much more than watchable. Well, Cho, his effortless swagger, sleek costumes, and the film's overt eagerness to look and feel as much like anime come to life as it possibly can. It isn't on the same level as its source material, and it doesn't even try to improve it, but it's still an exuberant, stylish and frequently engaging piece of sci-fi television.

As anyone familiar with the 90s anime will know, Spike is just one of Cowboy Bebop's bounty hunters on the spaceship Bebop. After a disaster has scattered humanity across the solar system, chasing down criminals is Spike and Jet Black's (Mustafa Shakir, The Deuce) way of making a living. That's true both before and after they cross paths with Fay Valentine (Daniella Pineda, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), with the series as concerned with the sitcom-esque odd-threesome vibe between its key figures as it is with their quests. Everyone has their complications, but almost everything is madcap and manic here — and when it works it works, with particular thanks to Cho, naturally, as well as Shakir and Pineda.

Season one of Cowboy Bebop is available to stream via Netflix.

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NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK

YELLOWJACKETS

When Yellowjackets begins, it's with an intriguing mystery, a killer cast — led by the compulsively watchable Melanie Lynskey (Mrs America), Juliette Lewis (Breaking News in Yuba County) and Christina Ricci (Percy vs Goliath) — and a deep valley full of trauma. In their high-school years, Shauna Sheridan (Lynskey, and also The Kid Detective's Sophie Nélisse as a teenager) and Natalie (Lewis, plus The Tomorrow Man's Sophie Thatcher) were key players on the titular high-achieving New Jersey soccer team, while Misty (Ricci, as well as Shameless' Samantha Hanratty) was the squad's frequently bullied student manager. Then, en route to a big match in Seattle on a private plane in 1996, they entered Lost territory. That crash saw the survivors stranded in the wilderness for 19 months, and living their worst Lord of the Flies lives, too.

As established in a tremendous first episode directed with the utmost precision by Destroyer's Karyn Kusama, Yellowjackets isn't simply interested in an inherently disturbing experience that'd change anyone's life. It's just as obsessed with that transformation itself — with how, after falling from the sky,  learning to endure in such remote surroundings and plummeting into a horror movie, someone copes when normality supposedly comes calling afterwards. Flitting between the two 25-years-apart time periods, it's about tragedies endured, paths taken, necessities accepted and the echoes that linger from all three. Even just a handful of episodes in, this instant must-see is chilling, perceptive, resonant and potent.

Yellowjackets is streaming via Paramount+, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

There's no one on television quite like Larry David. Famously, the Seinfeld creator was the inspiration for George Constanza, but that comparison will never do justice to the on-screen version of David himself. The writer and comedian has played that fictionalised, satirised version in Curb Your Enthusiasm for 11 seasons over the course of more than two decades now, and he's a character that overflows with complexities and contradictions. He's notoriously and excruciatingly petty. He has zero tact or sensitivity. He's constantly in everyday situations that seem him forced to navigate social codes and conventions, and he's always putting them to the test. When he's wrong, he's the king of cringe comedy. When he's right, he's the champion of everyday grievances. In this HBO comedy, they don't just get aired at Festivus around a pole.

Setting up a spite store — opening a coffee shop next door to an identical cafe purely for malicious reasons — anchored Curb Your Enthusiasm's tenth series. In season 11, David is trying to make TV again. He has an idea for a Young Rock/Everybody Hates Chris-style show called Young Larry which he's shopping around to streaming platforms but, as always, he's his own worst enemy. The episode featuring the great Albert Brooks as himself is one of the show's best ever, and also a delightful tribute to the late Bob Einstein, a former CYE regular and Brooks' real-life brother. Watching David at his best and worst is always this discomfort-courting series' core, though, and he's as stellar as he's ever been.

Season 11 of Curb Your Enthusiasm is streaming via Binge, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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HAWKEYE

Another month, another reason to direct your eyeballs towards Marvel. 2021 hasn't quite played out like that, but only just — there's been three MCU movies so far (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals), three streaming series before now (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki), and there's still Spider-Man: No Way Home to come. And, Hawkeye has just started bringing the franchise's arrow-slinging hero to the small-screen. Jeremy Renner (Mayor of Kingstown) returns to the eponymous character, aka Clint Barton, but he isn't actually the main attraction in this miniseries. That'd be Hailee Steinfeld (Dickinson) as Kate Bishop, who has taken inspiration from from Barton, is just as handy with a bow and arrow, and finds herself becoming his protege.

There's a lot of scene-setting in the series' first episodes — establishing Bishop's story, including links back to The Avengers in 2012, and also stepping inside Barton's ordinary life with his family (the presence of which, even as just a background detail, has always made the character stand out). Nonetheless, Steinfeld's addition to Marvel's ever-growing on-screen realm provides just the spark that Hawkeye needs, and that the broader MCU could use as well. The fact that Florence Pugh is set to reprise her Black Widow favourite Yelena Belova in the show, too, firmly thrusts it towards the future — and hopefully, finally and welcomely sets the scene for a different generation of heroes.

Hawkeye is streaming via Disney+, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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EXCELLENT RECENT CINEMA RELEASES TO CATCH UP WITH IMMEDIATELY

NITRAM

It's terrifying to contemplate something so gut-wrenchingly abominable as the bodies-in-barrels murders, which director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant depicted in 2011's Snowtown, and to face the fact that people rather than evil were behind them. Nitram courts and provokes the same response. Exploring the events preceding the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were murdered and 23 others wounded in Tasmania in 1996, it focuses on something equally as ghastly, and similarly refuses to see the perpetrator as just a monster or a Hollywood horror movie-style foe. It too is difficult, distressing, disquieting and disturbing, understandably. In their third collaboration — with 2019's bold and blazing True History of the Kelly Gang in the middle — Kurzel and Grant create another tricky masterpiece, in fact. 

That Nitram is about a person is one key reason for its brilliance. The film's core off-screen duo don't excuse their protagonist. They don't justify the unjustifiable, explain it, exploit it, or provide neat answers to a near-unfathomable crime. Rather, they're careful in depicting the lone gunman responsible for Australia's worst single-shooter mass killing, right down to refusing to name him. In an exacting movie in every way possible, they also benefit from exceptional performances by Caleb Landry Jones (Finch) as the film's namesake, Judy Davis (Mystery Road) as his wearied mother, Anthony LaPaglia (Below) as his father and Essie Davis (The Justice of Bunny King) as his lottery heiress friend.

Nitram is available to stream via Stan. Read our full review.

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BECOMING COUSTEAU

He's been parodied in a Wes Anderson film and mentioned in a Flight of the Conchords song. His red beanie, and those worn by his fellow crew members on his research ship Calypso, are an enduring fashion symbol. He won the second-ever Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or — becoming not only the first filmmaker to receive the prestigious prize for a documentary, but the only one to do so for almost half a century afterwards. When he started making television in the 60s, he turned his underwater-shot docos about the sea into truly must-see TV. He helped create undersea diving as we know it, and he's the most famous oceanographer that's ever lived. He was also one of the early voices who spoke out about climate change and humanity's impact upon the oceans. He's a rockstar in every field he dived into — and he's Jacques Cousteau, obviously.

Becoming Cousteau touches on all of the above — except The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Flight of the Conchords' 'Fou de Fafa', of course — and makes for a a riveting splash into its namesake's life and career. There's just so much to tell, to the point that it frequently feels as if director Liz Garbus (an Oscar-nominee for What Happened, Miss Simone?) could've filled an entire series instead. This isn't just an affectionate ode, though, even with ample praise floated Cousteau's way. Garbus knows that Cousteau's achievements, and the glorious archival footage that comes with it, elicit an awe-struck reaction, but doesn't shy away from thornier aspects, the tragedies and struggles among them. 

Becoming Cousteau is available to stream via Disney+. Read our full review.

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Need a few more streaming recommendations? Check out our picks from January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October 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.

Published on November 30, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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