Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in May
Satirical takes on history, Pete Davidson playing Pete Davidson and Ana Scotney skulking around Wellington: they're all on this month's must-stream list.
May 31, 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 queuefrom May's haul.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL NOW
Television perfection is watching Elle Fanning (The Girl From Plainville) and Nicholas Hoult (Renfield) trying to run 18th-century Russia while scheming, fighting and heatedly reuniting in ahistorical period comedy The Great. Since 2020, they've each been in career-best form — her as the series' ambitious namesake, him as the emperor who loses his throne to his wife — while turning in two of the best performances on streaming in one of the medium's most hilarious shows. Both former child actors now enjoying excellent careers as adults, they make such a marvellous pair that it's easy to imagine this series being built around them. It wasn't and, now three seasons, The Great has never thrived on their casting alone. Still, shouting "huzzah!" at the duo's bickering, burning passion and bloodshed-sparking feuding flows as freely as all the vodka downed in the Emmy-winner's frames under Australian creator Tony McNamara's watch (and after he initially unleashed its winning havoc upon Sydney Theatre Company in 2008, then adapted it for television following a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for co-penning The Favourite).
In this latest batch of instalments, all either written or co-written by McNamara, Catherine (Fanning) and Peter (Hoult) begin the third season sure about their love for each other, but just as flummoxed as ever about making their nuptials work. She's attempting to reform the nation, he's the primary caregiver to their infant son Paul, her efforts are meeting resistance, he's doting but also bored playing stay-out-of-politics dad, and couples counselling is called for. There's also the matter of the royal court's most prominent members, many of whom were rounded up and arrested under Catherine's orders at the end of season two. From Sweden, exiled King Hugo (Freddie Fox, House of the Dragon) and Queen Agnes (Grace Molony, Mary, Queen of Scots) are hanging around after being run out of their own country due to democracy's arrival. And, Peter's lookalike Pugachev (also Hoult) is agitating for a serf-powered revolution.
When it initially arrived in 2022, becoming one of the year's best new shows and giving nature doco fans the five-episode series they didn't know they'd always wanted — and simultaneously couldn't believe hadn't been made until now — Prehistoric Planet followed the David Attenborough nature documentary formula perfectly. And it is a formula. In a genre that's frequently spying the wealth of patterns at the heart of the animal realm, docos such as The Living Planet, State of the Planet, Frozen Planet, Our Planet, Seven Worlds, One Planet, A Perfect Planet, Green Planet and the like all build from the same basic elements. Jumping back 66 million years, capitalising upon advancements in special effects but committing to making a program just like anything that peers at the earth today was never going to feel like the easy product of a template, though. Indeed, Prehistoric Planet's first season was stunning, and its second is just as staggering.
The catch, in both season one and this return trip backwards: while breathtaking landscape footage brings the planet's terrain to the Prehistoric Planet series, the critters stalking, swimming, flying and tumbling across it are purely pixels. Filmmaker Jon Favreau remains among the show's executive producers, and the technology that brought his photorealistic versions of The Jungle Book and The Lion King to cinemas couldn't be more pivotal. Seeing needs to be believing while watching, because the big-screen gloss of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World sagas, the puppets of 90s sitcom Dinosaurs, and the animatronics of Walking with Dinosaurs — or anything in-between — were never going to suit a program with Attenborough as a guide. Accordingly, to sit down to Prehistoric Planet is to experience cognitive dissonance: viewers are well-aware that what they're spying isn't real because the animals seen no longer exist, but it truly looks that authentic.
I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE WITH TIM ROBINSON
Eat-the-rich stories are delicious, and also everywhere; however, Succession, Triangle of Sadness and the like aren't the only on-screen sources of terrible but terribly entertaining people. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson has been filling streaming queues with assholes since 2019, as usually played by the eponymous Detroiters star, and long may it continue. In season three, the show takes its premise literally in the most ridiculous and unexpected way, so much so that no one could ever dream of predicting what happens. That's still the sketch comedy's not-so-secret power. Each of its skits is about someone being the worst in some way, doubling down on being the worst and refusing to admit that they're the worst (or that they're wrong) — and while everyone around them might wish they'd leave, they're never going to, and nothing ever ends smoothly. In a show that's previously worked in hot dog costumes and reality TV series about bodies dropping out of coffins to hilarious effect, anything can genuinely happen to its gallery of the insufferable. In fact, the more absurd and chaotic I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson gets, the better.
No description can do I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson's sketches justice, and almost every one is a comedic marvel, as again delivered in six 15-minute episodes in the series' third run. The usual complaint applies: for a show about people overstaying their welcome, the program itself flies by too quickly, always leaving viewers wanting more. Everything from dog doors and designated drivers to HR training and street parking is in Robinson's sights this time, and people who won't stop talking about their kids, wedding photos and group-think party behaviour as well. Game shows get parodied again and again, an I Think You Should Leave staple, and gloriously. More often than in past seasons, Robinson lets his guest stars play the asshole, too, including the returning Will Forte (Weird: The Al Yankovic Story), regular Sam Richardson (The Afterparty), and perennial pop-ups Fred Armisen (Barry) and Tim Meadows (Poker Face). And when Jason Schwartzman (I Love That for You) and Ayo Edebiri (The Bear) drop in, they're also on the pitch-perfect wavelength.
In its opening moments, Bupkis unloads — twice, in completely different ways, while ensuring there's zero doubt that this is a series about Pete Davidson starring Pete Davidson as Pete Davidson. First, the former Saturday Night Live comedian gets Googling while alone in the basement of the Staten Island home he shares with his mother Amy (Edie Falco, Avatar: The Way of Water). The results about Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale and Kim Kardashian's ex aren't positive; so, to shake off the unpleasantness of reading '12 Things Horribly Wrong with Pete Davidson', he switches from "scumbro" with "butthole eyes" comments to porn. He's wearing a VR headset, and he's soon deep in self-love. Then his mum walks in. Bupkis clearly isn't wary about getting crude. It isn't concerned about satirising its central figure, either. Instead, this semi-autobiographical dramedy relishes the parody. At the age of 29, Davidson has reached the "you may as well laugh" point in his career, which is hardly surprising given he's spent the past decade swinging his big chaotic energy around.
Partway through the eight-episode series, while keen to claim some perks for being Davidson's mother — other than doting on her son, that is — Amy shouts at wait staff that "Marisa Tomei played me!". Add that to Bupkis' gleeful, playful nods to reality. An opening statement before each instalment stresses the difference between fact and fiction, and why the show has the moniker it has, but art keeps imitating life everywhere. There's no switching names, however. Davidson is indeed Davidson, his IRL mum is called Amy and his sister is Casey (Oona Roche, The Morning Show). As in The King of Staten Island, they've been a trio since 9/11, and dealing with losing his New York City firefighter dad still isn't easy. Off-screen, however, Davidson must be a fan of My Cousin Vinny, plus the gangster genre. Hailing from the former as Tomei does, and famed for his performances in the latter like The Sopranos star Falco, Goodfellas, Casino and The Irishman alum Joe Pesci is a pivotal part of Bupkis as Davidson's grandfather Joe — a hilarious and delightful part, unsurprisingly.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
Rebecca Ferguson will never be mistaken for Daveed Diggs, but the Dune, Mission: Impossible franchise and Doctor Sleep star now follows in the Hamilton Tony-winner's footsteps. While he has spent multiple seasons navigating dystopian class clashes on a globe-circling train in the TV version of Snowpiercer, battling his way up and down the titular locomotive, she just started ascending and descending the stairs in the underground chamber that gives Silo its moniker. Ferguson's character is also among humanity's last remnants. Attempting to endure in post-apocalyptic times, she hails from her abode's lowliest depths as well. And, when there's a murder in this instantly engrossing new ten-part series — which leaps to the screen from Hugh Howey's novels, and shares a few basic parts with Metropolis, Blade Runner and The Platform, as well as corrupt world orders at the core of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner flicks — she's soon playing detective.
Silo captivates from the outset, when its focus is the structure's sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo, See How They Run) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones, On the Rocks). Both know the cardinal rule of the buried tower, as does deputy Marnes (Will Patton, Outer Range), mayor Ruth (Geraldine James, Benediction), security head Sims (Common, The Hate U Give), IT top brass Bernard (Tim Robbins, Dark Waters) and the other 10,000 souls they live with: if you make the request to go outside, it's irrevocable and you'll be sent there as punishment. No matter who you are, and from which level, anyone posing such a plea becomes a public spectacle. Their ask is framed as "cleaning", referring to wiping down the camera that beams the desolate planet around them onto window-sized screens in their cafeterias. No one has ever come back, or survived for more than minutes. Why? Add that to the questions piling up not just for Silo's viewers, but for the silo's residents. For more than 140 years, the latter have dwelled across their 144 floors in safety from the bleak wasteland that earth has become — but what caused that destruction and who built their cavernous home are among the other queries.
Sometime in the near future, Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen and filmmaker Nicholas Stoller could easily join forces on a new rom-com. In fact, they should. Until then, buddy comedy Platonic makes a hilarious, engagingly written and directed, and perfectly cast addition to each's respective resumes. Reuniting the trio after 2014's Bad Neighbours and its 2016 sequel Bad Neighbours 2, this new series pairs Australia's comedy queen and America's go-to stoner as longterm pals who are never anything but mates — and haven't been in touch at all for years — but navigate a friendship that's as chaotic and complicated as any movie romance. That's an easy setup; however, watching the show's stars bicker, banter and face the fact that life doesn't always turn out as planned together proves as charming as it was always going to. Also, Platonic smartly doesn't try to be a romantic comedy, or to follow in When Harry Met Sally's footsteps.
Instead, Platonic explores what happens when two former besties have gone their own ways, then come back together. The show knows that reconnecting with old pals is always tinged with nostalgia for the person you were when they were initially in your life. And, it's well-aware that reckoning with where you've ended up since is an immediate side effect. Enter Sylvia (Byrne, Seriously Red), who reaches out to Will (Rogen, The Super Mario Bros Movie) after hearing that he's no longer with the wife (Alisha Wainwright, Raising Dion) she didn't like. She's also a suburban-dwelling former lawyer who put work on hold to become a mother of three, and can't help feeling envious of her husband Charlie's (Luke Macfarlane, Bros) flourishing legal career. Her old BFF co-owns and runs an LA brewpub, is obsessive about his beer and hipster/slacker image, and hasn't been taking his breakup well. They couldn't be in more different places in their lives. When they meet up again, they couldn't appear more dissimilar, too. "You look like you live at Ann Taylor Loft," is Will's assessment. Sylvia calls him "a '90s grunge clown." Neither is wrong.
They're called The Kindred, not The Family. Adrienne Beaufort is their leader, not Anne Hamilton-Byrne. But there's no mistaking the inspiration for JP Pomare's book In the Clearing and its new eight-part adaptation The Clearing. Exploring the inner workings of an Australian cult based in rural Victoria, spouting New Age sentiments mixed with doomsday thinking, fixated upon blonde-haired children and led by a charismatic woman — a rare female cult leader — this tale fictionalises the real-life details documented in countless newspaper headlines since the 80s, and also in Rosie Jones' 2016 documentary The Family and 2019 series The Cult of the Family. Amid their so-wild-they-can-only-be-true stories, both of those projects showed viewers the eerie image of children with platinum locks in severe bobs and dressed in matching blue attire. That distinctive look is similarly at the heart of Disney+'s first original scripted Aussie drama.
In the earlier of its two timelines, Amy (Julia Savage, Blaze) dons the tresses and uniform as one of the older children at Adrienne's (Miranda Otto, Wellmania) Blackmarsh bush compound — one being prepared to be her heir, and made an accomplice in the group's quest to add more kids to its ranks. Initially dutiful, the teenager is soon questioning the only existence she's ever known, with its harsh rules, strict aunties keeping everyone in line between Adrienne's sporadic visits, weekend services attended by well-to-do acolytes and, sharing the show's title, its LSD-fuelled confessional sessions. When The Clearing dwells in the now, still in Victoria at its leafiest, the smear of heartbreak and damage is ever-present. Indeed, when single mother Freya Heywood (Teresa Palmer, Ride Like a Girl) hears about a girl being abducted, she can't shake the feeling that history is repeating. She dotes over her primary school-aged son Billy (debutant Flynn Wandin), but she's also visibly nervous and anxious. When she keeps spotting a white van, she's a portrait of panic.
In High Desert, the always-excellent Patricia Arquette (Severance) leads a private investigator comedy that dapples its jam-packed chaos under California's golden sun, against the parched Yucca Valley landscape and with an anything-goes philosophy — not to mention a more-mayhem-the-merrier tone. She plays Peggy Newman, who isn't letting her age get in the way of perennially struggling to pull her life together. That said, when the eight-part series begins, it's Thanksgiving 2013 and she's living an upscale existence in Palm Springs, with gleaming surfaces abounding in her expansive (and visibly expensive) home. Then, as her husband Denny (Matt Dillon, Proxima) jokes around with her mother Roslyn (Bernadette Peters, Mozart in the Jungle), and her younger siblings Dianne (Christine Taylor, Search Party) and Stewart (Keir O'Donnell, The Dry) lap up the lavish festivities, DEA agents swarm outside. Cue weed, hash and cash stashes being flushed and trashed, but not quickly enough to avoid splashing around serious repercussions.
A decade later, High Desert's protagonist has been sharing Roslyn's house and trying to kick her addictions while working at Pioneertown, a historical attraction that gives tourists a dusty, gun-toting taste of frontier life. Peggy would love to step back in time herself when she's not pretending to be a saloon barmaid — to when her recently deceased mother was still alive, however, rather than to her glitzy post-arrest shindigs. Still angry about being caught up in a drug bust, Dianne and Stewart have zero time for her nostalgia and a lack of patience left for her troubles. Their plan: to sell Roslyn's abode with no worries about where Peggy might end up. Her counter: doing everything she can to stop that from happening. High Desert doesn't just embrace the fact that living and breathing is merely weathering whatever weird, wild and sometimes-wonderful shambles fate throws your way; in a show created and written by Nurse Jackie and Damages alumni Jennifer Hoppe and Nancy Fichman, plus Miss Congeniality and Desperate Housewives' Katie Ford, that idea dictates the busy plot, too.
RECENT MOVIES THAT YOU NEED TO CATCH UP WITH
MILLIE LIES LOW
A scene-stealer in 2018's The Breaker Upperers, Ana Scotney now leads the show in Millie Lies Low. She's just as magnetic. The New Zealand actor plays the film's eponymous Wellington university student, who has a panic attack aboard a plane bound for New York — where a prestigious architecture internship awaits — and has to disembark before her flight leaves. A new ticket costs $2000, which she doesn't have. And, trying to rustle up cash from her best friend and classmate (Jillian Nguyen, Hungry Ghosts), mother (Rachel House, Cousins) and even a quick-loan business (run by Cohen Holloway, The Power of the Dog) still leaves her empty-handed. Millie's solution: faking it till she makes it, searching for ways to stump up the funds while hiding out in her hometown, telling everyone she's actually already in the Big Apple and posting faux Instagram snaps MacGyvered out of whatever she can find (big sacks of flour standing in for snow, for instance) to sell the ruse.
There's a caper vibe to Millie's efforts skulking around Wellington while endeavouring to finance her ticket to her dreams — and to the picture of her supposedly perfect existence that she's trying to push upon herself as much as her loved ones. Making her feature debut, director and co-writer Michelle Savill has imposter syndrome and the shame spiral it sparks firmly in her sights, and finds much to mine in both an insightful and darkly comedic manner. As she follows her protagonist between episodic efforts to print the legend — or post it one Insta picture at a time — her keenly observed film also treads in Frances Ha's footsteps. Both movies examine the self-destructive life choices of a twentysomething with a clear idea of what she wants everyone to think of her, but far less of a grasp on who she really is and what she genuinely needs. While some framing and music choices make that connection obvious, the astute delight that is Millie Lies Low is never a Wellington-set copy.
Millie Lies Low streams via Neon.
Buy this for a dollar: a history-making gay rom-com that's smart, sweet, self-aware and funny, and also deep knows the genre it slips into, including the heteronormative tropes and cliches that viewers have seen ad nauseam. Actually, Billy Eichner would clearly prefer that audiences purchase tickets for Bros for more that that sum of money, even if he spent five seasons offering it to New Yorkers in Billy on the Street while sprinting along the sidewalk and yelling about pop culture. Thinking about that comedy series comes with the territory here, however, and not just because Eichner brought it back to promote this very movie. Starring and co-written by the Parks and Recreation and The Lion King actor — with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the Bad Neighbours franchise's Nicholas Stoller directing and co-scripting — Bros both presents and unpacks the public persona that helped make Billy on the Street such a hit: opinionated, forceful and wry, as well as acidic and cranky.
No one person, be it the version of himself that Eichner plays in the series that helped push him to fame or the fictional character he brings to the screen in Bros — or, in-between, his struggling comedian and actor part in three-season sitcom Difficult People, too — is just those five traits, of course. One of Bros' strengths is how it examines why it's easy to lean into that personality, where the sheen of caustic irritability comes from, the neuroses it's covering up and what all that means when it comes to relationships. The movie does so knowingly as well. It's well aware that Eichner's fans are familiar with his on-screen type, and that even newcomers likely are also. Accordingly, when Bros begins, Eichner's in-film alter ego is shouting about pop culture and being adamant, grumpy and cutting about it. In fact, he's on a podcast, where he's relaying his failed attempt to pen a script for exactly the kind of flick he's in.
Bros streams via Neon.
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.
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