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The Americans, The Muppet Movie, and the best things we watched this weekend

Plus an impassioned plea to go to a drive-in movie theater

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Matthew Rhys as Phillip with blonde hair and a mustache and big glasses

With movie theaters closed, major blockbusters like Tenet perpetually being rescheduled, and the streaming content valves beginning to run dry, audiences dealing with the impact of COVID-19 may be at a loss on how to “escape” for a few hours. But the drought has a silver lining: there’s finally time to watch all of those old shows and movies you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

Or better yet, watch something you already know you love a second time. Our own Ben Kuchera spent the weekend rewatching a modern gem: The Americans. Created by Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies), the revered series stars Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) as two undercover KGB officers as they live a relatively normal existence in the suburbs of Washington D.C.. The couple deal with raising children while keeping secrets, and ... tracking down information on the latest in bioweaponry. Everyday problems. Rarely grouped in the prestige TV pantheon of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, the legacy of The Americans should only deepen over time as people sift through “best shows” lists and discover it on Amazon Prime.

The Americans wasn’t the only thing those of us at Polygon watched this weekend. Below, we’ve collected our other favorites from the weekend, in hopes of offering a suggestion or two of what you should watch this week. Be sure to let us know in the comments what you enjoyed over the weekend, too.

The Americans

Matthew Rhys as Phillip and Keri Russell as Elizabeth sitting down for a nice meal with some friends Photo: FX

I’m up to season 5 on my latest rewatch of the FX series, and I’m enduring the show’s slowest, most emotionally rich season to date. At this point, there’s only one season to go of the show that imagined life for a “married couple” in America who run a travel agency and are also deep-cover spies for the KGB, and an always fast-moving show is speeding up even further.

The question of whether their marriage is real, that it means something emotionally true, or whether it’s merely a cover for their operation has always been answered in vague ways that are often left up to the audience. But by season 5, those questions start to get definite answers, while the collateral damage really starts to add up.

The Americans remains one of the most underappreciated thrillers — or domestic dramas? — in recent TV history, and it’s only getting better with age. —Ben Kuchera

The Americans is streaming on Amazon Prime.

And everything else we watched...

The Baby-Sitters Club

One of the babysitters gives a colorful mood-board presentation to a group of adults in Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club. Photo: Liane Hentscher / Netflix

Until this weekend, my knowledge of The Baby-Sitters Club series began and ended with the trailer for the 1995 film. As a kid, I never read the books or even saw the movie, but the movie’s trailer introduced me to The Cranberries and Better Than Ezra. It’s vibe was so cool — I’d rewatch it over and over on VHS. Of course, The Baby-Sitters Club series is so much more than a movie trailer and I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to give it a try.

The Netflix adaptation of the books, released earlier this month, is full of lovable characters with timely interests and motives. The show treats its kids as adults, giving them fashion and mannerisms that make them seem wise (and wealthier) beyond their years. At first, there’s something funny about watching kids be so animated and anxious. But the decision pays off as the show progresses. I quickly realized the show, unlike so many of its live-action contemporaries, doesn’t look down on its kids. It treats them as equals. As my colleague Petrana Radulovic wrote in Polygon’s review, “The Netflix adaptation makes every episode and plot point feel important, and lets the characters’ details and desires feel valid.”

Which in hindsight is why I’ve never forgotten that dang trailer for the original The Baby-Sitters Club film. All the grown-up music gave credence to the childhood drama. Now I need to finally watch the movie. —Chris Plante

The Baby-Sitters Club is streaming on Netflix.

Cléo from 5 to 7

Cléo sits in a cafe, startled, in Cléo from 5 to 7  Image: Criterion Collection

The French phrase cinq à sept refers to the two-hour, post-work stretch that was supposedly the most convenient time in which to carry on an affair. For Cléo, the young pop star at the heart of Agnès Varda’s New Wave classic, that window of time on June 21, 1962 is when the men in her life will overlook her pain, and she’ll question her entire life. Cléo may or may not have cancer, and as the minutes tick by, the unknown weighs on her every move. She floats from cafes to the backseats of cabs and into her own lavish apartment, reflected by mirrors that only capture her dazzling looks, and none of the fear bubbling underneath. When she meets a soldier on leave from the raging Algerian War who tells her stories of bloody, pointless battles, her existential moment explodes into the macro — what is this existence? Her journey all happens between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m (or 6:30 p.m. if you want to get technical).

Shot around the streets of Paris, but hemmed together with a dream logic of double-takes, tracking shots, and portraiture, Cléo from 5 to 7 is a meditative consideration of life and death. It’s also wildly entertaining. Cléo’s profession leaves room for a riveting musical number, Varda takes us into a movie theater for a throwback silent short spoof, and the real-time pace allows for detours into the lives of others, overheard as the singer eavesdrops. The French New Wave movement gets a bad wrap thanks to film school imitation and snobby gatekeepers, but this movie should mesmerize even anyone remotely skeptical of black-and-white drama. —Matt Patches

Cleo from 5 to 7 is streaming on HBOMax and Criterion Channel.

Come to Daddy

Elijah Wood holds a flashlight up to his eyes Photo: Lionsgate

Sometimes during movie previews (in the Before Times, when going to the movies wasn’t a harrowing ordeal) a trailer starts playing, and my husband and I turn to each other and give a few quick little nods as if to say, “This looks ridiculous. We are definitely going to watch it.” One such trailer was for Come to Daddy. Starring Elijah Wood as a man visiting his estranged father, the trailer promised a bonkers, bloody, pulp horror. We finally got around to watching it this weekend, and I’m thrilled to say it did not disappoint.

Come to Daddy is one of those movies that takes a while to show its hand, but when things pop off they really pop off. I don’t want to spoil too much because spending a good 45 minutes wondering “Where the hell is this going?” is part of the fun. But if you like slow burn suspense that builds to a frenzied, gory, absolutely buckwild crescendo (think: Mandy or Green Room, but with a quirkier sense of humor) I promise that Come to Daddy is a wild ride. —Emily Heller

Come to Daddy is streaming on Amazon Prime.

The Muppet Movie (at a drive-in theater)

The Muppet movie cast sits in a screening room with Kermit leading the conversation Image: Walt Disney Pictures

My wife and I are perfect for each other because, among other similarities, we’re both homebodies. But for all the time we spend streaming films and TV shows on our couch, going to the movies was one of our favorite leisure activities in the Before Time, and we really, really miss it. Enter drive-in movie theaters — the only ones still operating these days, showing older and newer classics alike.

We’ve spent the last two Saturday nights at drive-in theaters, one in Brooklyn and one pretty far out of town. This past weekend, we checked out The Muppet Movie, which I’d never seen before, and ... it rules!

The first feature film starring Jim Henson’s fuzzy creations, 1979’s The Muppet Movie tells the story of how the Muppets came together in the first place: Kermit the Frog leaves the comfort of the swamp he calls home to make a cross-country trek to Hollywood in pursuit of stardom. It’s a great they-don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to movie, a family-friendly adventure with some wonderful songs and a lot of heart (as well as plenty of goofy cameos that adults would appreciate, by people like Bob Hope, Carol Kane, and Mel Brooks). And if you appreciate puns and sight gags, like I do, you’ll find a lot to laugh about here, like the moment when Fozzie Bear turns at a (literal) fork in the road.

All of that is to say that The Muppet Movie definitely holds up today, more than 40 years after its release, and it’s a great way to spend a summer night with family, friends, and strangers. We even got a sense of what it was like in Kermit’s swamp, thanks to the sense of immersion provided by the mosquitoes and gnats at the drive-in! —Samit Sarkar

The Muppet Movie is also available to stream on Disney Plus.

Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb make a painting Image: Disney Animation

In case you were wondering if Phineas and Ferb still holds up, the good news is that it still holds up. All four seasons of the wacky show are on Disney Plus, along with the show’s special episodes and movies (of which there’ll be a new movie out in August). Recapturing the halcyon days of summer is near impossible in adulthood and not just when there are, like, multiple global crises going on, but watching two imaginative boys, their secret agent platypus, and the rest of the kooky cast take advantage of blissful summer days is the closest thing to a shot of pure serotonin you can get on Disney Plus. Toss in some infectious songs and bittersweet nostalgia and watching Phineas and Ferb evolves from fun background noise into a reflection of one’s passing youth. Yes, I’m fine, thanks for asking. —Petrana Radulovic

Phineas and Ferb is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Top Chef, season 1

top chef season 1 cast all glaring at each other Image: Bravo

I’ve seen all seasons of Top Chef multiple times — except for the first two seasons. Season 1 has always felt wrong to me, and I avoided it. First, it’s not hosted by Padma Lakshmi. Instead, it’s Katie Lee Joel, who I now recognize from Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay. Second, it debuted in 2006, the year I graduated high school, which is an era I’d rather not revisit.

And yet, here I am. In the multiple months I’ve self-isolated with my husband during the pandemic, we’ve re-watched a lot of our favorite Top Chef seasons. Wanting to see something new, we caved and started Top Chef’s first season. It’s terrible! Wow. It’s stunning to remember how distinct the year felt. The plating! The fashion!

Still, I’m enjoying it. There is so much drama, and I can’t look away. —Nicole Carpenter

Top Chef is available to stream on Hulu.

Train to Busan

A bloodied Seok-woo (Yoo) looks over his shoulder. Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

With the awkwardly titled side-quel Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula rapidly approaching its American release date, it seemed like a good time to finally watch the celebrated zombie movie Train to Busan. And who doesn’t like a good virulent-disease-killing-everyone movie in the middle of a raging worldwide pandemic? [awkward silence ensues] Anyway… It’s pretty good!

Sang-ho Yeon’s Korean horror-action movie suffers a bit from the fact that we all know the beats of zombie movies by now. As the protagonists are introduced, you can almost put together a mental checklist of the exact order in which they’re going to get bitten and go feral. But placing the action on a high-speed train that’s recklessly travels from one zombie-infested city to another adds a new dimension, and so does fusing familiar zombie iconography with Asian horror cinema staples, like the contortionist body control that lets characters behave as though their limbs are out of joint or their legs are broken, even as they’re charging toward some deeply freaked-out passengers. The whole thing barrels forward breathlessly, but it leaves time for relationships to form, characters to have their own arcs, and for some pathos to develop. The ending is a little bit of a heartbreaker, and worth the messy, bitey, screamy journey. —Tasha Robinson

Train to Busan is available to stream on Netflix.

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