By Nick P
Since Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a shelter in place order on March 20, New Yorkers are left with limited entertainment options: movie theaters are shuttered, Broadway has gone dark for the first time in recent memory, and even bars that hosted stand-up shows and drag balls have closed to the public. So what’s a New Yorker to do when faced with COVID-19-inspired isolation? The answer for us, as for most of the country, is to stream our pants off.
Check out our suggestions for the best streaming video across the major platforms.
Beyond the Mat
Hear me out: it’s a documentary about the professional wrestlers who were at the top of their game in the late 1990s (The Rock, pre-Dwayne Johnson; Stone Cold Steve Austin; Mankind; etc), but it’s also a portrait of contract workers who have been pressured into one of the most brutal careers in sports entertainment by insurmountably uneven contracts by the bosses (i.e. the McMahons, particularly Vince). It’s also filled with high-flying antics, and some good old fashioned extreme wrestling violence and blood.
Chill with Bob Ross
This one is self-explanatory. The COVID-19 panic is real, the stress is real; let’s watch Bob Ross make some happy little trees and clouds and forget about it all for a half hour at a time. Of course, if you’re artistically inclined, you can also follow along at home!
Paris is Burning
A perfect snapshot of the late 1980s LGBT drag ball subculture, with an incredibly nuanced portrayal of the intersection of class, race, gender expression, and wealth in the midst of the Reagan era. At only 78 minutes, it’s a brief bullet of a documentary, direct, honest, and full of the early era of “realness.”
Swiss Army Man
What do you do when you’re stranded in the jungle with nothing to live for? Paul Dano plays a man stranded and at the end of his rope when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore with a slew of powers, like propulsive farts, water filtration, and compass-erections. It’s a weird gem of a movie that revels in its own strangeness, even while surrounding it with a tender tale of childish romance.
You know how sometimes when you’re sad, it helps to listen to really sad music? If you’re isolated, sometimes it helps to watch a movie where someone is really isolated.
Tuca & Bertie
The goofy little sister that BoJack Horseman called out for, creator Lisa Hanawalt creates a world that’s a more surreal Broad City for cartoon animals, which somehow makes them even more human. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s only one season, so it’s built to binge through in a heartbeat.
Created by the same people who brought us Chef’s Table, Street Food devotes the same care and attention to people making food in street carts the size of parking spaces. One of the earliest episodes features a woman whose street food cart is so good, it earned a Michelin star. Imagine your favorite Halal cart getting its own segment in a documentary, and that’s close to the flavor of Street Food.
The Anarchist’s Cookbook possesses a mythologized, troubling history, popping up in connection with all kinds of public disasters and mass shootings, from Columbine and Aurora to the bombing of Grand Central Terminal in the 1970s. This documentary focuses on an interview between the filmmaker and William Powell, the man who wrote The Anarchist’s Cookbook in the height of the counterculture era. The book has followed Powell through his life like a bad penny, and the portrait of a man whose creation has broken its bonds to become a monster is enthralling.
Trigger Warning with Killer Mike
Everyone’s favorite socialist rapper, Killer Mike, takes us on a tour of America through his own particular lens. He starts by living three days in an attempt to “live black,” i.e. buying only black-made products from black-owned businesses (bye bye iPhone, cars, Ubers, even barbecue ribs). He reconnects his fame with the struggle of the black working class, and keeps the rap intrusions to a minimum, making sure it’s a show about the struggle and not about the glamorous life of a rap star.
Bonus: What Did Jack Do? and Anima
the strangest half hour of streaming you’ll see this side of Lonely Island’s The Bash Brothers, these two shorts from virtuoso directors are worth your time. They won’t be a comfort in these dreary times, as both are by turns surreal and haunting, but they will expand your mind. “What Did Jack Do?” is David Lynch’s most recent release, starring the auteur himself as a hard-boiled detective interrogating his prime suspect (a monkey named Jack) in a train station before he can make his getaway. “Anima” is a long form music video for three tracks off Thom Yorke’s new album of the same title; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the videos follow Yorke through a surreal landscape of the modern commute as he chases after a mysterious woman, played by Yorke’s real-life partner.
A newly-launched streaming service from the duo behind Means of Production, the company that worked on AOC’s viral media campaign in the run-up to her election, means.tv is the worker-owned answer to Hulu and Netflix. With a rich library of documentaries, fiction pieces, series, cartoons, and shorts, they have the content to back up the claim.
means.tv is made up of worker members, contractor members, and royalty members (i.e. the filmmakers) on a 70/20/10 ratio of year-end profits, and each cohort has economic rights within the cooperative.
Lost in America
Albert Brooks writes, directs, and co-stars in this yuppie comedy with too-real implications for today. When Brooks and co-star Julie Hagerty decide to liquidate their savings and go on a cross-country road trip to find America, they make it as far as a Las Vegas roulette table before their savings are wiped out and they have to reckon with what the American Dream really looks like.
Limits of Control
Jim Jarmusch’s dreamlike answer to Le Samourai, Limits of Control follows assassin Lone Man on a dreamy, untethered-from-objective-reality journey through Spain in pursuit of his mysterious target on an unstated mission. By turns mythological, inane, and mesmerizing, this one rewards repeat viewing.
The Manchurian Candidate
The remake of the Frank Sinatra classic, Denzel Washington stars as a returned military man who was brainwashed along with the rest of his squad in Desert Storm; he has to stop another of his former squadmates from committing political assassinations while also fighting to discover his own troubled past.
A show that prides itself on being a sometimes impenetrable puzzle box, Westworld has just returned for its third season, and the robots are out in the world amongst the clients. The first two seasons were heavy (and heady) meditations on what it meant to be human in a world where your humanity may have been designed by someone, what it meant to take that humanity by the horns and force it to your will. The current season seems to be headed towards the question of “Now you have this free will—what will you do with it to make it worthwhile?”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
This biopic, based on the bestselling book, stars Oprah Winfrey as the titular Henrietta Lacks. Mrs. Lacks’ genetic material was taken in the early 1950s as a sample of cervical cancer cells—but these cells have become immortal. Normally, cells decay as they reproduce, but Mrs. Lacks’ cell line (HeLa) has gone on to influence various immunological discoveries in the last 70 years. While a medical miracle, the material also deals with the ethics of medical science in the age of segregation, and how class and race affected medical decisions that impacted the world—all based in one woman’s extraordinary life.
Bill Hader’s creative baby (writer, director, and executive producer), Barry is hilarious and heart-stopping from the first episode. In a rare occasion where the second season is better than the first, Hader’s hapless Barry keeps digging himself deeper and deeper into social holes that we don’t know if he’ll ever be able to get out of.
What do you do when you’re too sane to fly missions in wartime? You try to get proved insane, just like Yossarian Yossarian in this George Clooney-adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic absurdist novel.
The feminine answer to Superbad, Pen15 follows Maya and Anna as they hit puberty, obsess over boys, and stick together through difficult times—all made the more funny by the fact that they’re both 30 year old women, with fake braces, bad haircuts, and the early 2000s fashion that struck a real chord with this reviewer. A simpler time, but also a much more emotionally fraught time.
Another show where the second season raises the stakes from the first in an incredible and strange direction, Donald Glover’s Atlanta is a modern day masterpiece. Following his hapless character’s attempt to become a manager for his mildly-famous rapper cousin, the second season, “Robbin’ Season,” ups the ante in musical stakes, personal stakes, and just all around general weirdness. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
It’s always a dicey move to make art that is inherently about art, but The Square pulls off that fine balancing act with aplomb. Following a museum director who’s too distracted by his personal life to engage with his career at the museum, the film features actual pieces of art, interpersonal relationships of guilt, and one of the most superb acting moments in the last decade as actor Terry Notary plays a performance artist acting as a literal ape at a black tie dinner for museum supporters. A harsh interrogation of art and the boundaries in which we endeavor to place it as well as a satire of the art world generally, this uncomfortable masterpiece will have you cringing and smiling your way through.
Bonus: Pick of the Litter
This documentary film follows six puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind as they are raised and trained to become working guide dogs for the blind. Some are “career-changed” (a polite way to say they didn’t quite measure up to the strict standards of a guide dog) and are allowed to become emotional support animals, and others make it all the way to a new owner.
Bonus bonus: YouTube
While YouTube is still the domain of video game playthroughs and workout videos, there are some hidden gems tucked away in there. This reporter’s personal favorite right now is “Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary (1855-1926)” directed and produced by the one and only Bernie Sanders in the 1970s. It’s an interesting lens through which to view Senator Sanders’ entire political career, and as an added bonus, he provides the speaking voice of Debs.