February is a terrible month, full of failed resolutions and graying slush. Luckily, you can ensconce yourself in streaming TV to forget these horrors. This month, choice offerings abound: an animated horse, a family-wide conspiracy, a bank robbery gone awry. Check out everything that’s new on Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime below, as well as a few personal selections from the Ringer staff.
What’s New to Streaming in February
A selected list of movies and TV shows coming this month that The Ringer is very excited about.
Escape at Dannemora, Season 1 (Amazon Prime, February 1)
Alison Herman: Even by the wildly overused standards of the term, cinematic parallels abound in Dannemora, a retelling of a real-life 2015 prison break in deep-upstate New York from writers Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin. There’s the letterboxed aspect ratio, meticulous process montages set to big-budget music cues (Elton John!), and, in Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano, and Patricia Arquette, a central trio of movie stars. But not only are its actors pulled from a roster of film idols—so is its director, Ben Stiller, perhaps warming up for his adaptation of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, also on Showtime. And Arquette, as civilian prison employee turned criminal conspirator Tilly Mitchell, gives a transformative performance straight out of the Oscar-nominee playbook: prosthetic teeth, colored contacts, regional accent, bare skin.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 7 (Hulu, February 7)
Herman: The Andy Samberg–starring cop sitcom from Michael Schur and Dan Goor is an uncomplicated pleasure with a somewhat complicated back story. In its initial incarnation, on Fox, Nine-Nine followed a creative trajectory somewhat analogous to Goor and Schur’s previous collaboration, Parks and Recreation. After some early creative stumbles—a supporting character who couldn’t take no for an answer had echoes of early Parks’ too-abrasive Leslie Knope—Nine-Nine recalibrated, then settled into a comfortable, five-season groove. Quietly, Nine-Nine’s dispatches from its fictional, namesake police precinct became television’s highest-functioning example of an endangered species: the feel-good network sitcom, powered by an expertly cultivated ensemble.
Better Call Saul, Season 4 (Netflix, February 9)
Miles Surrey: Every season of Better Call Saul elicits some vague forewarning for the viewers that we are approaching the earliest stages of Breaking Bad. Seasons 1 and 2 gave us the return of Tuco Salamanca and the Cousins, still badass and scary as hell; Season 3 brought us Gus Fring; Season 4 gave us a couple of Gale cameos, a deep-canon reference with Lalo Salamanca (Jimmy shouts his name, along with Nacho’s, in his first episode on Breaking Bad), and even a scene from the Breaking Bad timeline.
Try as creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan might to deepen the mythos of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), there was no delaying the inevitable: Jimmy had to become Saul Goodman in a literal sense, even if he had long embodied his alter ego’s seedy characteristics. After fits and starts—including a side hustle selling burner phones under the pseudonym—the show made it as official as possible in the waning moments of the Season 4 finale, “Winner.” No longer disbarred, McGill takes his licensed independence a step further by changing his name under practice. To reassure Kim—though not very well—he offers these final words for the season before the credits roll: “S’all good, man!” Except, [extreme Captain Obvious voice] it is not good, man.
Good Time (Netflix, February 11)
K. Austin Collins: In Good Time, the streets of New York City get transformed into a grit-streaked, neon playground for a white guy behaving badly. The Safdies definitely have an eye on the social dynamics at play in that premise, which is exemplified by that bank robbery. But just as much, if not more so, they have an eye on the broader moral cruelty of it, which is only partially a matter of race. This is, at heart, a movie about a guy taking advantage of the world around him, attentive to all the structures, assumptions, and psychological nits that make this possible. It wouldn’t suit the movie’s moral universe for a sense of equity to enter into that equation, so it never does. This is apparent from the start, in the differences between Nick and Connie, and in the freedom of one man and the imprisonment of another. Instead, the things that work out for some people clearly, and often cleverly, do so at the heavy expense of others. It’s a movie in which the true victims of crime aren’t necessarily its intended targets, but rather the people who simply happen to be there and are available to be manipulated when it’s happening. This is as true of the two brothers at the center of Good Time as it is of anyone else.
The Farewell (Amazon Prime, February 12)
Manuela Lazic: In Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell, Billi (Awkwafina) is asked the same question all the time by her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen). The old woman resides in Changchun, but she calls her New York–based granddaughter frequently. When Billi comes to visit her for her cousin’s wedding, Nai Nai gets to interrogate her in person and many more times, promising her an even bigger wedding banquet when her big day comes. What could have tested Billi’s patience and been received as incessant pestering from an old-fashioned lady, however, makes Billi love her grandmother with a renewed tenderness: Nai Nai doesn’t know it, but she has been diagnosed with cancer.
This simple yet secretly charged scenario is representative of how The Farewell manages to explore the complicated negotiations at the heart of the immigrant experience with tact, humor, and economy. The family’s typically Chinese decision to hide Nai Nai’s illness from her brings out all the contradictions that Billi has to live with: As she explains, lying to someone about their illness would be illegal in the United States, but she also has to defend her rather precarious lifestyle as a struggling writer in New York City, and her celibacy at the age of 30. The culture clash (which is also a generational clash) informs every situation and every exchange. Wang is unapologetic about the cultural specificity of her (true) story, yet it is this limited framework that ultimately makes The Farewell a vivid and endlessly relatable story of fractured identity in a globalized world.
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (February 12)
Haley Mlotek: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on Jenny Han’s book, is an aspirational teen film that does better than all the movies I’m most nostalgic for (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That, Get Over It) by never asking the smart girl to get made over by a popular boy and by making the dad character into a white wine dad. Because Netflix does not release hard numbers regarding its viewership, we have only unreliable gauges for success—I am loathe to count tweets as evidence of success; on the other hand, a lot of people I follow did change their handles to some version of “Peter Kavinsky’s Girlfriend.”
Narcos: Mexico, Season 2 (Netflix, February 13)
Surrey: The fourth season of the series, dubbed “Narcos: Mexico,” is a next-level improvement. As the name suggests, Colombia has been left behind for Mexico for what begins as a quasi prequel. The events of the season are set before Pablo Escobar’s reign in Colombia, though the season is acutely aware of the present-day prominence that Mexican cartels would achieve. (El Chapo, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, is a minor character on Narcos: Mexico, a young lieutenant in Mexico’s first formed cartel.) The new Narcos co-leads, meanwhile, are Diego Luna and Michael Peña. Luna plays Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, a former cop in the Sinaloa region of Mexico who devises a plan to get all the competing “plazas”—basically, smaller outfits controlling certain regions of Mexico—to unify into one larger organization based in Guadalajara. Peña plays DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who transfers to Guadalajara right around the time Gallardo’s operation takes off.
Some New-ish Things You Might’ve Missed
Because it’s hard to keep up with everything, here are a few things that have premiered somewhat recently that may be worth catching up on.
BoJack Horseman, Season 6 (Netflix)
Herman: In BoJack’s latest and last batch of episodes, its protagonist has been sober for many months, and the retooled credits reflect the reckoning that occurs without alcohol as anesthetic. After a stint in rehab, BoJack is now forced to grapple with the full weight of his actions; throughout the credits, his face grows increasingly crestfallen, a clear-eyed accounting of his past mostly yielding more well-deserved guilt. BoJack Horseman’s final act as a series—one of the strangest, saddest, silliest, and flat-out best of the decade—is to work through one last moral dilemma. Can BoJack’s hard-won private growth survive a public trial by fire?
The Goop Lab, Season 1 (Netflix)
Herman: Gwyneth Paltrow’s foray onto the small screen fascinates and enrages for all the reasons you would expect it to. Every episode begins with a legally necessary disclaimer clarifying what follows does not constitute actual medical advice. Then a crew of Goop staffers—directed, though typically not joined, by “G.P.,” as their boss is universally known—tries out a wellness fad in a rather untraditional kind of offsite. Ostensibly, these experiments are staged for the benefit of viewers who may not share the participants’ resources, courage, or inclination to believe dunking yourself in cold water every day can give you the ability to ward off E. coli through sheer force of will. Paltrow watches over it all, her glowing appearance and serene bearing the unspoken end goal of every treatment, diet, and regimen.
Cheer, Season 1 (Netflix)
Herman: Cheer has exploded into Netflix’s first surprise breakout of 2020, though almost certainly not its last. (I recently received a press release announcing much of the cast is now on the video-for-hire app Cameo, a surefire sign of burgeoning microcelebrity.) The show is created and largely directed by Greg Whiteley, the filmmaker behind Netflix’s college football series Last Chance U. Whiteley called the members of Navarro College’s elite crew “the toughest athletes I’ve ever filmed,” a description that won’t surprise anyone who watches their death-defying stunts. What’s notable, though, is that Whiteley even needs to make this claim at all—a hangover of the cultural condescension Cheer works so effectively against.
Led by the steely, charismatic coach Monica Aldama, the Navarro cheerleaders push themselves to their physical limits and engage in fierce competition, often with each other. That much is par for the course in top-tier athletics. What’s not are all the extra hurdles involved for cheerleaders and cheerleading as a sport. Before Cheer delves into Navarro’s spring 2019 season or even develops its characters, the talking heads lay out the stakes: There is no professional version of cheer and no higher circuit for its subjects to graduate to. These athletes are competing for the biggest stakes they ever have or will, and while those stakes are sizable, they are contained in a routine that lasts just more than two minutes. The amateur nature of cheer is starting to change, a shift Cheer explores in the character of Gabi Butler, a social media sensation who’s essentially a family business. But for now, the value placed on cheer socially is reflected in the value placed on cheer financially—i.e., not much. One Navarro cheerleader casually complains that she and her teammates support other sports as part of their own, but football and basketball players never return the favor. She doesn’t dwell on it, though. There’s work to do.
The Circle, Season 1 (Netflix)
Shea Serrano: OK, you know how on most reality show competitions there’s a group of players on an island or in a mansion or whatever and they’re all trying to win some kind of prize? The Circle is the same as that—it starts with eight players trying to outlast each other to win $100,000—except all of the interactions among the players take place on a social media program called The Circle (picture Facebook, except you can access it only when it wants you to and only in the ways it wants you to, and also there are no Nazis). Nobody knows who anybody is in real life, they know only what they’re seeing on the screen in front of them. So rather than trying to figure out a way to make people like you in real life like you would on, say, Survivor, contestants on The Circle have to figure out a way to make people like them on social media, which requires a much different skill set. Every so often, the players all have to rate each other from I Like This Person the Most to I Like This Person the Least. The two most popular players (and sometimes the single most popular player) then have to choose someone to block from the group.
The Expanse, Season 4 (Amazon Prime)
Rob Harvilla: Industry-wise, The Expanse is also known as the ultra-rare canceled series that irritating diehard fans actually saved. It premiered in late 2015 on Syfy, got decent ratings and oft-rapturous reviews, but found itself unjustly scrapped in 2018 after three seasons for convoluted business reasons. (Syfy made money only if you watched the show live, basically.) Enter Jeff Bezos, savior of the 23rd-century working (space)man, who soon personally announced that Amazon Prime had swooped in to rescue the show. He has his reasons.
Season 4 premiered, in full, on Amazon in mid-December. It rules. You’re still missing out. Partly this is due to its staggering scope, its rad space-torpedo special effects, its rich-text sociopolitical intrigue. But more importantly, it’s down to the very human (usually) and very relatable frailty (occasionally) of its characters. As with, sure, Game of Thrones, a fantastical extended universe is only as fantastic as the expertly drawn people (or whatever) moving through it.
The Witcher, Season 1 (Netflix)
Lazic: What makes The Witcher more bizarre and folkloric than a typical fantasy story using monsters and mutants as metaphors for persecuted minorities is how it complicates the significance of its mythical creatures. In the pilot episode, Geralt is asked by Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen, Mads’s brother), an old and important man, to kill Renfri (the excellent Emma Appleton), a young woman who he claims is a very bad omen for Blaviken. But Renfri argues back: Stregobor has made her life hell simply because she happened to be born during an eclipse. Geralt is no longer sure what to believe—he is placed in an uncertain frame of mind, just like the spectators living in the real world who know that monsters definitely aren’t real. Later, Geralt will claim that golden dragons do not exist, only to be proved wrong. Even the monster slayer doesn’t quite know the bounds of his own reality.
Little America, Season 1 (Apple TV+)
Herman: The flashiest word in the title of Little America, the new anthology series from Apple TV+ based on the real-life stories of eight immigrants, is “America”: its ideals, its promises, and how its subjects express or connect to them. But according to Lee Eisenberg, an Office alum who co-created the show alongside married Big Sick writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the “little” is just as important.
“I joke that the stakes aren’t, like, ‘The president’s daughter was kidnapped, what’s gonna happen next?’” Eisenberg says. “When you’re doing a story that takes place in an emergency room, the stakes are very high; they’re life and death. For the most part, with our episodes, that’s not the case at all. The stories are very personal, and the stakes are hopefully universal. ‘I want to provide a better home for my family’; ‘I want to fit in at a new school.’ Those kinds of themes and story lines are what we were chasing, and the fact that they were with people that are so rarely front and center was something that really excited us.”
A random collection of movies and TV shows that are a little more off the beaten path.
What to watch if you believe in best friends: Avenue 5 and Curb Your Enthusiasm have something more in common than just the fact that they both premiered new seasons on January 19: a prominent appearance from one of the co-stars of Playing House, the dearly departed sitcom that ran for three seasons on the USA Network before being canceled in 2017. Playing House was the co-creation of UCB vets Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, who played lifelong friends quite convincingly because they’re besties IRL. The setup was simple: St. Clair’s character lost her high-powered job, Parham’s (pregnant) character lost her happy marriage, and the two teamed up to cohabitate, bring up a baby, and reestablish control of their lives. You’ve almost certainly seen St. Clair and Parham in something: Last month, it was Parham appearing on Curb and St. Clair on Avenue 5, but Parham is also an Iannucci alum (she played Karen Collins on Veep), and St. Clair acted opposite L.D. on Curb Season 8. They also recently reunited on an episode of Bless This Mess (my streaming rec from January), on which Parham has a recurring role. If you want to watch a funny, warm-hearted series that combines the forged-in-improv-class chemistry that Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson brought to Detroiters with a strong extended cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key and Zach Woods, look up Playing House on Hulu or YouTube TV. —Ben Lindbergh
What to watch if you appreciate anime about animation: A couple of years ago, Masaaki Yuasa released his Devilman adaptation Devilman Crybaby on Netflix, and his latest movie, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, in select theaters worldwide. It was Peak Yuasa, and there’s no coming down for such a raucous director. For the past decade, Yuasa has straddled TV and movie theaters with spectacular confidence, releasing his most successful movie and, to my mind, his best movie within six months of each other in the U.S.
Yuasa opened the new year with the premiere for his sixth TV series, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, now streaming new episodes each Sunday on Crunchyroll. Adapted from the Sumito Owara manga that shares its title, Eizouken follows three teen girls as they band together to found a high school video club—the titular “eizouken”—which they hope to build into a proper animation studio. The uptight Midori and the carefree Tsubame develop the artwork while the cold and clever Sayaka develops some dubious business sense. The adults meddle. Midori’s unruly concepts, disputed by physics and humbled by financial constraints, celebrate a disastrous profession. It is, by no means, easy-breezy. —Justin Charity
What to watch if you love laughing, crying, and Irish accents: Netflix’s Derry Girls is 12 episodes of pure glee, a joyful romp through Northern Ireland with Erin—a hopeless teenager stuck in between kid and adult—and her friends, the bookish rule follower Clare, the weird cousin Orla, the sex-obsessed Michelle, and Michelle’s eternally emasculated cousin James. Episodic in nature, the show covers the traditional travails of teen life, from getting detention to going to prom to sneaking around parents—but what makes Derry Girls untraditional is its environment, and the way that subtly leaks into the story lines. Derry Girls is set in the mid-’90s in Derry, Northern Ireland, just as the Troubles—the violent conflict that wracked Ireland and left over 3,500 people dead—are coming to an end. It is an unbelievably fraught, dangerous time in Northern Ireland, yet Derry Girls doesn’t depict the Troubles in some dramatic, made-for-TV way; instead, it captures how, in the face of inexplicable, all-encompassing terror, so many of us humans simply try to keep on living. A show this silly and funny has no business being this profound, but Derry Girls is exactly that. —Andrew Gruttadaro