Last weekend kicked off with the hotly anticipated premiere of Zack Snyder’s gargantuan four-hour recut of 2017’s Justice League alongside the debut of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the follow-up to WandaVision in the Disney’s ongoing slate of MCU tie-in streaming shows. And as if those two weren’t enough to chew on, We had a ton of other exciting new (and old!) films like SAS: Red Notice and the Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé-led dark romantic comedy Happily to flip on during the first brisk and beautiful weekend of spring.
As for us, our weekend media of choice ranged from cerebral MCU-adjacent thrillers to biting television meta-comedies and found-footage horror films about invasive disease. Oh, and a podcast and audiobook thrown in there for fun! Here are a few of the shows and movies we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.
Legion, season 1
WandaVision turns out to be a helluva gateway drug. My husband and I had gotten out of the habit of watching TV together, but the MCU’s Big Mystery Show pulled us back in, because if we didn’t watch the show within 24 hours of landing, social media became well-nigh incomprehensible all weekend. And once we’d planted ourselves on the couch on Friday nights, we wound up craving more superhero action. So we went through the first season of Agent Carter, then finally circled back around to Legion, a much-ballyhooed non-MCU Marvel series starring The Guest’s Dan Stevens as a super-powerful psychic with a serious sanity problem.
The series does have its deep roots in Marvel Comics, but since it isn’t technically part of the MCU, there’s no big lore to explore, no speculation or Easter eggs to gather or obligate connections to worry about: season 1 is just the story of a man who thinks he’s insane, and may be something else. It comes with a hefty dose of the surreal, with big David Lynch energy, with a visual style that shifts every episode, with Aubrey Plaza and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Watchmen’s Jean Smart all hamming it up, and with the brightest colors you’re ever likely to see in a TV series. It’s weird and often unsettling and nightmarish, but it’s also pretty mesmerizing. —Tasha Robinson
Legion is streaming on Hulu.
And everything else we’re watching…
The lens of the COVID-19 pandemic will cover everything I watch for the unforeseeable future. How could it not? The magnitude of the disaster took an unfathomable amount of lives and disrupted every other person on the planet. There’s no escaping it. But seeing life paralleled in fiction will make a lot more sense in some movies than others. In The Bay, it’s inescapable.
The Bay finds Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, The Natural) completely out of his element, orchestrating a mixed-media found footage movie about an outbreak of flesh-eating isopods in the Chesapeake Bay. Levinson reportedly hoped to make an actual documentary about the environmental issues facing Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but wound up splicing in real-world clips and scientific claims into a narrative with a bit more bite. The film finds various locals and transplants dealing with the discovery of the water-based Cymothoa exigua, which start by consuming the tongues of the Bay’s fish population, then turn their blood-sucking interests to humans. As the CDC hustles to find a solution, an array of iPhone, Skype, news camera sources capture the apocalyptic scenario. It’s gross as hell.
The Bay accidentally recalls a number of haunting images from the last year: packed hospitals, flailing doctors, and a bureaucratic system completely unequipped to shutdown and protect citizens. Levinson takes it in extreme routes — the boil make-up effects are top-notch, and there are multiple scenes involving vomit that some won’t be able to stomach — but finds deeper connections to our predicament, too. Unlike the possibilities of nuclear war back in the 1980s, which The Day Of and other Cold War-minded “what if?” movies were able to fully realize for audiences at the time, Hollywood has mostly dropped the ball on confronting the existential issue of climate change and manmade ecological degradation. People aren’t scared of the world temperature increasing a few degrees because they can’t imagine it. Movies could use special effects and human stories to fill in those blanks on a blockbuster scale, but wrapping stories around those ideas may not be four-quadrant-ready. The Bay wasn’t huge either, but it’s provocative nature feels somethign we should see more often from pop artists. The mutated isopods are obviously the result of toxic dumping in the Chesapeake Bay, and the way Levinson connects the dots from IRL news reports to the melting bodies of vacationers goes a long way in selling the idea that, while this might be fiction for now, it won’t be forever. —Matt Patches
The Bay is streaming on HBO Max.
Planet Money Buys a Superhero
I spent the weekend painting most of the interior of my house, a bunch of connected walls from the kitchen all the way up the stairs to the second floor landing. That means my eyeballs were busy minding that tricky little edge between the top of the wall and the ceiling for the better part of two days. But my ears were free and clear to dip into my podcast backlog … which ran out a little after lunch on Sunday.
That’s when I switched over to the Planet Money podcast. Now, you might not find business economics all that interesting. I don’t either — unless it’s the Planet Money team doing one of their big gonzo journalism projects. This is the same crew that created a t-shirt and followed it from a cotton field in Arkansas to the streets of Bangladesh and back to the states, a project that was funded by a $590,000 Kickstarter campaign. These big swings are always interesting, and this one is no exception.
Right now, Planet Money wants to buy their own superhero, and then exploit that superhero for all its worth. It begins when they show up at Marvel headquarters with a suitcase full of money, and from there it dives into the bowels of the golden age of comics and beyond. You can expect to learn a lot about intellectual property law and licensing over the next few months. Here’s hoping that they eventually dip into the weird world of comics distribution.
Best of all, Planet Money’s work is being funded by a pre-order of the comic itself. But beware of spoilers! Yes, spoilers for a National Public Radio podcast. Don’t click on the pre-order link until you’ve made it through at least episode 2. There’s three episodes out right now, and they’re scattered throughout the show’s regular podcast feed. We’ve helpfully linked to them below. You can also find them on the podcatcher of your choice. —Charlie Hall
Review, season 3
I was a pretty big fan of Review, the Comedy Central mockumentary series about Forrest McNeil, a professional critic who reviews … well, life. On his fictional show, also called Review, Forrest — played by the perpetually sunny Andy Daly — takes requests from Twitter users about what he should review next, which he almost always accepts to disastrous results, like in the first episode when he reviews “stealing” and “drug addiction.”
Forrest’s commitment to his ridiculous job makes Review some of the most arresting comedy in recent memory, a sublime work of brinksmanship that sits at the nexus of cringe comedy and scathing satire. The series was short-lived, but also ended on its own terms — or at least, I had heard it did, because for years Review’s final season wasn’t streaming anywhere after its 2017 airing, and I didn’t have cable at the time.
I do, however, have Paramount Plus, which includes the entire Comedy Central library — and Review’s brief three-episode final season. And you know what? The show holds up. While it doesn’t reach the highs of the show’s first season (namely the episode where Forrest reviews pancakes and getting divorced) the final season works both as a work of comedic genius and as a bit of a thesis statement, as Forrest’s obsessive devotion to his job and fundamental narcissism finally leads to some consequences — which, of course, he will have a review for. Five stars. —Joshua Rivera
Review is streaming on Paramount Plus.
I picked up a copy of Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel Station Eleven in late 2019, spurred by my excitement in anticipation for Atlanta director Hiro Murai’s then-announced television adaptation for HBO Max starring Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Black Mirror) and Himesh Patel (Yesterday, Tenet). On a whim, I cracked it open in early March of last year, trying to cram in some much needed leisure reading during my spring break of graduate school. Then COVID-19 happened. I didn’t get more than six chapters in before I realized that reading about a post-apocalyptic North America decimated by a global pandemic wasn’t doing my mental health any favors at the time and chose to set it aside for later.
I picked the book back up again a month ago, this time via the Audible audiobook narrated by Kirsten Potter, and quickly became absorbed by it. Set 20 years after the fall of human civilization in the wake of a mass contagion known as the Georgia Flu, the novel follows the members of an itinerant theatre company known as the Traveling Symphony who are stalked by a death cult led by a sociopathic self-proclaimed prophet. Mandel’s tersely poetic and unerringly moving prose along with Potter’s beautiful melancholic narration made for a powerfully moving experience, with multiple moments throughout the book that left me at the brink of tears. While ostensibly a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, Station Eleven is in truth a love letter to the fragility of our modern world and the many innumerable, unhistorical, yet consequential acts of grace and malice that reverberate across our shared existence and coalesce into the shape of our future. I can’t wait to see what Hiro Murai brings to the material. —Toussaint Egan
Station Eleven is available on Audible.