As usual, we started off the week by surveying the Polygon staff to see what people have been watching — whether they’re on top of the latest cultural controversy about a virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem ahead of the latest season, or educating themselves in older genre classics.
And as usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. Here are some thoughts on what we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.
How To with John Wilson
John Wilson grew up with a camera in his hands, but he developed his documentarian eye in the mundane world of private investigating. As he puts it, sifting through hours of boring P.I. footage in hopes of finding a piece of incriminating evidence honed his attention to detail. He puts the observational skill to jaw-dropping, guffaw-worthy use in his new HBO show, How To with John Wilson. Here, uh, were the immediate Polygon reactions when I, um, mentioned including the nonfiction comedy in our round-up this week.
Six episodes in and already the greatest TV show about New York City ever (apologies to Seinfeld), How To follows John as he wanders around with his video camera, attempting to explain and understand life. Episodes include “How to Make Small Talk,” “How to Improve Your Memory,” “How to Cover Your Furniture,” and “How to Make the Perfect Risotto,” but each investigation is a doorway into the quirky, heartwarming, and bizarre. Without the little voice in his head that would tell most people to keep to themselves, John walk up to complete strangers and talk to them about whatever’s on his mind. An Italian mechanic will invite him into his home to prepare the “perfect” recipe for risotto; a hungover party bro cornered at MTV Spring Break will confess his feelings about his recently deceased best friend; the inventor of a plastic, strap-on foreskin replacement will whip it out to show John, a complete stranger, how the device terraforms his penis.
Between the character moments, John himself constructs poetry out of hours and hours and hours and hours of random footage. Store signs, couples hooking up on the street, rats crawling out of subway trash, an overturned car spinning to a stop, a bag of bread hanging on the subway — the insert shots all swirl together as their own cosmos, and John is our Carl Sagan.
Nathan Fielder is a producer on How To, and like his show Nathan for You, each episode balances mined-from-real-life comedy with documentary truth. Rarely does John teach us “how to” do anything, but his quests — assembled with meticulous, playful editing — illuminate abstract feelings that are more difficult to pin down in preconceived, narrative-driven storytelling. As the episodes go on, the production timeline also inches closer to our current, pandemic-stricken society, transforming the show into both an elegy for normality and hopeful wish for what’s next. The good news is whatever happens, John is basically Terminator when it comes to filming stuff. Nothing will stop his camera. So I’ll speak for all enthusiastic Polygoners currently losing their minds for the show when I say: We look forward to cackling through much more How To in the years to come. —Matt Patches
And everything else we’re watching…
I watched Happiest Season over the long weekend. Holiday movies follow pretty set formulas that don’t allow for a ton of deviation, but this one managed to elevate itself thanks to a really terrific cast with great chemistry. No one seemed to be phoning it in, and I got the vibe that they all really enjoyed working on the project together. If you’re looking for some light popcorn fun over December, go for it! —Russ Frushtick
Happiest Season is streaming on Hulu.
Hellraiser and Broadcast News
Saturday was a rainy day in Texas, and a perfect opportunity to catch up on “important movies I’ve never seen.” In an act of peak laziness, I went with two of the first films surfaced by the streaming algorithm. Both debuted in 1987, and that is the only thing they have in common. Naturally, I made it a double feature anyway: Hellraiser and Broadcast News.
I had been petrified as a child by the poster for Hellraiser, an image of the powder white Pinhead with, well, pins in his head. I figured Pinhead would the antagonist, featuring in the scariest bits of the film. How wrong I was. Director Clive Barker goes for broke with the story of Frank, who unlocks a box full of BDSM demons who rip his body into inches of flesh and organs, and Claire, Frank’s lover who kills lusty men and feeds their blood to the remains of Frank so that he may gradually regrow his human form. It’s gross! It’s unenjoyable! And I can’t stop thinking about it!
To clear my mind, I switched to Broadcast News, which had been described to me as James L. Brooks’ best film and a top-five romance movie (not to mention a comedy with the Criterion Collection stamp of approval). Reader, if you ever find yourself having watched two hours of body horror and need something, anything to help you rally, I struggle to think of a safer, more charming film. How do you beat a love triangle starring the mom from The Incredibles, the dad from Finding Nemo, and the general from the 2008 adaptation of The Incredible Hulk. Will they? Won’t they? Does it even matter so long as they climb in their careers? —Chris Plante
Hellraiser and Broadcast News are streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Crown, season 1
While everyone else was watching the fourth season of The Crown, I started watching the first. I considered jumping right into the fourth season because I like being part of something — everyone else is doing it! — but I’m glad I started with the early years of Queen Elizabeth. Netflix’s royals drama is a good TV show, but what I’m really here for is the fountain pens. I’m only four episodes in, and I’ve already identified and catalogued eight different fountain pens! It rules. —Nicole Carpenter
The Crown is streaming on Netflix.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Several years ago, every single person I knew was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and making a podcast about it, and so I did what was only natural. I spitefully started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It took me several years to make it through 178 episodes, finishing off sometime last winter. And now, now, after years of gentle begging from all of my friends about Quark and Odo and baseball and Trill symbionts and the twinky doctor with his lizard boyfriend, I have finally started watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. —Susana Polo
It’s Succession season again. After finishing season 4 of The Crown (sorry, Nicole), I started longing for another show about out-of-touch wealthy people with terrible children in a dynasty, of sorts. Succession is that show. And as we pointed out way back in 2018, Succession is best enjoyed during the cold, grey, short November days. The sun starts setting at 3 p.m. now! It’s as dark as Logan Roy’s soul by four o’clock. —Simone de Rochefort
Succession is streaming on HBO Max.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
I’m mildly dubious about all things Aaron Sorkin, particularly when he’s drawing from real history and converting it to capital-T Themes framed entirely by banter. But five minutes into The Trial of the Chicago 7, I was hooked: the pacing is so quick and absorbing, and the humor’s right there from the start, letting viewers know that they’re in for entertainment more than an education. The story of the 1969 trial of a disparate, unrelated group of protestors involved in the 1968 Democratic Convention riot in Chicago is straight-up made for the Sorkin treatment: figures like Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Bobby Seale (Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and William Kunstler (Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance) already felt iconic in real life, even before the trial’s ridiculously outsized legal shenanigans kicked in.
This one was so much fun, and so full of surprises, that I had to add it to our best films on Netflix list. As with all things Sorkin, it takes liberties with the truth — this is not a film to watch in place of reading up on the history — but it’s a damn good supplement for that history, and taken as a comment on our modern justice system, how the media and law enforcement deal with peaceful protestors even today, it feels suspiciously timely, as if Sorkin somehow wrote and directed the film this year in response to the Black Lives Matter uprising. —Tasha Robinson
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is streaming on Netflix.