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The Underground Railroad, Girls5eva, and everything else we watched this weekend

From high drama to ridiculous comedy, we have lots to recommend

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William Jackson Harper and Thuso Mbedu as Royal and Cora in The Underground Railroad Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon

This weekend saw the release of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix following its preceding week-long premiere in Cinemark theaters. We quite enjoyed it. On top of that, R&B musician Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) was named the Top Artist at the Billboard Music Awards, while The Late Show with Stephen Colbert announced its upcoming return to filming in front of a live audience on June 14, after pivoting to Colbert’s study during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak last year.

As for us, we watched a ton of great movies and television this weekend, including a pre-Code dramatic comedy, a late ’90’s disaster epic, and prestige appointment television in the form of Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad, Oh, and anime — don’t forget about anime! Here are a few of the shows and movies we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.

The Underground Railroad

Cora (Thuso Mbedu) stands in front of an elaborate mural in an underground railroad station in Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad Photo: Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios

It took some coaxing, but I was finally able to convince my wife to start watching The Underground Railroad on Saturday night. She’s not often in the mood for stuff like this, and I get it — the subject matter here is more challenging than in most movies and TV shows. That applies particularly to the brutal first episode, which features scenes of hard-to-stomach violence inflicted upon African Americans enslaved on a plantation in Georgia.

As you would expect from a work by Barry Jenkins, the filmmaking is brilliant and the performances captivating. I was struck by The Underground Railroad’s economy of storytelling right from its opening scene, which introduces protagonist Cora (Thuso Mbedu) and conveys so much of her personality and backstory in the space of just two minutes.

The tall, muscular Caesar (Aaron Pierre) pulls Cora aside for a chat. The conversation is a delicate dance that unfolds haltingly; when Caesar hesitates to speak, Cora taunts him: “Expect me to howl?” Then he takes a step toward her, and she shrinks a bit from his towering frame. But the moment Caesar explains to Cora that he intends to escape the plantation and head north — and specifically, that he wants her to join him as a “good luck” charm — she raises her hackles and hisses, “Now you listen here, Caesar [...] one thing you gots to know by now is I ain’t nobody’s ‘good luck.’”

Two things are immediately clear: Cora takes umbrage at the fact that Caesar’s request seems to express no interest in who she is as a person, and she has misgivings about the very idea that she could possibly bring anyone good fortune. We soon learn why.

My wife and I only had time to get through The Underground Railroad’s opening chapter before bed, which was fine, because many reviewers (including our own) have said that this is a series worth savoring and chewing on rather than bingeing. I’m very much looking forward to continuing the journey. —Samit Sarkar

All 10 episodes of The Underground Railroad are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

And everything else we’re watching...

Deep Impact

Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski in Deep Impact Photo: Paramount Pictures

Originally developed by Steven Spielberg as an adaptation of both Arthur C. Clarke’s The Hammer of God and the 1951 film When Worlds Collide, Deep Impact eventually found its own way into an extinction-level event, with ER director-producer Mimi Leder stepping up to helm the film for Spielberg’s then-relatively young company, Dreamworks. She’s the perfect choice; unlike Armageddon, Deep Impact sticks squarely with the intimate perspective, even when it’s blasting Jon Favreau, Blair Underwood, Robert Duvall off into space to blow up a comet headed toward Earth. It often feels like a movie-sized episode of ER, with Leder swinging back and forth between parallel stories of crisis.

Téa Leoni carries the weight of exposition on her back as an ace MSNBC journalist uncovering the story of a lifetime. The storyline of high school couple Leo and Sarah (played by a young Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski) hits particularly hard, as they make the impossible choice to let their parents die and raise Sarah’s younger sister in an underground bunker. The political calculations also carry weight: in this scenario, President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) has decided to only allow the under-50 population a chance in the lottery to enter the “ark” built underground in the Midwest, leaving the elderly to come to terms with their impending doom. Whereas most disaster movies wind a ticking clock and ride the tension of life or death, Leder dares to grapple with fatalism, and study how we react when all of the world’s problems can’t be solved with a giant bomb. For a giant summer blockbuster from 23 years ago, Deep Impact is surprisingly universal and human. —Matt Patches

Deep Impact is available to rent Amazon and Apple.


Heidi Gutman/Peacock

One of my favorite things in a comedy is when a show is as good at joke songs as they are jokes. (Bob’s Burgers excels at this.) Girls5Eva, the new Peacock comedy about a 2000s girl group that reunites in middle age, excels in this department.

The cast, which includes singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Phillips, and Paula Pell, is absolutely stacked with funny women having a blast and singing very catchy parody songs like “Dream Girlfriend.” (We are dream girlfriends/‘Cause our dads are dead/So you’ll never have to meet them/And get asked why you left school) Even without the music, it’s one of the best new comedy series this year, and absolutely worth your time. —Joshua Rivera

Girls5Eva is available to stream on Peacock.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

Joshua Bassett, Matt Cornett, Larry Saperstein, Joe Serafini, Julia Lester, Olivia Rose Keegan, Sofia Wylie, Dara Renee in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Photo: Disney Plus/Fred Hayes

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is back for its second season. In case you missed it, the theater department at East High is not doing High School Musical 2 this semester, but instead doing Beauty and the Beast (#meta) in order to compete for the prestigious Alan Menken award. This week’s episode finished off with the casting for Beauty and the Beast and I just have to say I have a LOT of thoughts about how Ricky (Joshua Bassett) canonically absolutely bombed his audition and messed up his performance in High School Musical and STILL MANAGED to land the lead role. That’s the glass elevator effect of straight boys in high school theater for you. In other news, though, my girl Ashlynn (Julia Lester) landed the lead role of Belle despite assuming she’d get the part of Mrs. Potts and I just love that for her so much. The show’s only been back for two episodes and already, the high school theater department drama is ramping up and I cannot wait for more. —Petrana Radulovic

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is available to stream on Disney Plus.

Night Nurse

Joan Blondell and Barbara Stanwyck in Night Nurse (1931) Photo: Warner Bros.

I was in middle school when I first saw Barbara Stanwyck sock a drunk, handsy party guest and then fling an ice bucket in his face. My memory is that the scene in one of those clip shows or documentaries that aired on E! at the time — does anyone else remember those?

Despite being a fan of pre-Code movies and other Stanwyck vehicles like The Lady Eve, I didn’t make the time to watch Night Nurse till this weekend. Boy, what a treat! The 1931 movie stars Stanwyck and Joan Blondell as nurses assigned to look after two sick children, whose mother cares more about drinking and partying than her children’s health. Stanwyck, as the titular night nurse, mistrusts the mother’s relationship with the family chauffeur, Nick, and suspects the children’s doctor of malpractice.

It sounds heavy on paper, but Night Nurse is a high-drama, high-fun pre-Code romp. Stanwyck and Blondell strip down to their négligée multiple times as a matter of course. There’s a handsome bootlegger who always shows up when he’s needed. The rich, negligent mother is named Mrs. Ritchey! Of special mention is Clark Gable as Nick the Chauffeur, in what was apparently his last villain role. He plays Nick with the same tense, dangerous energy that some of his romantic heroes possess (Dennis Carson in Red Dust came to mind immediately). Also, in his final scenes, he’s wearing a tight-fitting chauffeur’s uniform with shiny black knee-high boots. We love to see it.

The infamous scene that I was waiting for didn’t disappoint. Stanwyck’s nurse realizes that her young charge is on the verge of death. Leaving the sickroom to look for Mrs. Ritchey, she finds that there’s a party in full-swing. In her plain nurse’s uniform she marches through rooms of boozed-up guests in gowns and tuxedos who laugh at her, or hit on her. She’s furious by the time she finds Mrs. Ritchey, slumped over the bar. A flinty stare doesn’t convince Mrs. Ritchey to come see her children (“I’m a dipsomaniac and I like it! I like it!”), so Stanwyck finally lets loose. She tells Mrs. Ritchey where to get off, socks her boyfriend in the face, and tries to drag the woman to the sickroom. When Mrs. Ritchey passes out cold on the floor, Stanwyck stands over her and contemptuously growls, “You mother.” —Simone de Rochefort

Night Nurse is available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu

Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan

Manga artist and supernatural Stand user Rohan Kishibe in Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan Credit: David Production/Netflix

I’ve been sort of lax in my anime viewing this season (several playthroughs of Nier Replicant and Hardspace Shipbreaker have been dominating most of my free time as of late), so this weekend I finally decided to dust off a series that I knew was low commitment and that I’d been meaning to get around to ever since it popped up on Netflix in February.

Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a spinoff of David Production’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime, set between the events of the third season (Diamond Is Unbreakable) and the fourth (Golden Wind). Centered around the character of Rohan Kishibe, a flamboyant manga artist first introduced in Diamond Is Unbreakable, the four-episode OVA (Original Video Animation) takes the form of a horror anthology à la Tales from the Crypt, with Rohan recounting several of the most eerie, inexplicable, and … well, bizarre stories he’s come across throughout his career as a manga author.

The defining quality of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as a whole is the series’ quirk for escalating otherwise mundane situations— like eating a plate of spaghetti or travelling on an airplane— into nonsensical life-or-death contests of will. Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is no different, with the subjects of Rohan’s stories, and occasionally himself, thrust into gauntlets of survival that are deathly serious from the perspective from those involved but otherwise inexplicable or comically stupid to anyone passing by.

I tried explaining the plot of the first episode, wherein a man is forced by his poltergeist-possessed daughter to throw popcorn kernels over a lamppost and catch them in his mouth or his soul would be dragged to Hell, to a buddy of mine while we were hanging out and he looked at me like I was insane. That about sums up what it’s like to be a JoJo fan— you can’t really grok or convey the series’ appeal through explanation alone; you have to experience the insanity first-hand for yourself. —Toussaint Egan

Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is available to stream on Netflix.