Three to Stream: 03/04/20

Egotistical game developers, a phenomenal pop album, and an underseen animated great.

Note: this article was supposed to run on Soundsphere Magazine, but the article appears to have been completely wiped from the site for some reason.  Hence, the full text has been reposted here.

With so many streaming services out there, all with their own ever-expanding libraries, it can be daunting trying to find something new and interesting to watch.  Each week, Three to Stream will scour the Internet and offer up three movies/TV shows/documentaries/whatever worth checking out and where to find them.  Let us know what you’re watching in the comments or on the Soundsphere socials and you may be included in next week’s write-up!

Adam Schlesinger, co-leader of Fountains of Wayne and the main writer of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s music, died on Wednesday night at the age of 52 as a result of COVID-19 complications.  His is not the first major death in music as a result of this pandemic, and it sure won’t be the last, yet it really hurts all the same.  Consider this a bonus recommendation: stream all the Fountains of Wayne discography, not just “Stacy’s Mom,” great though that song still is.  The man possessed a gift for phenomenal hooks, capturing the mundane ennui of modern life, and bottling them into story pop songs that were alternately undeniably fun and cathartically gorgeous, skills he took over to his work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, That Thing You Do, and Josie and the Pussycats (is the best movie ever) amongst so many others.  He will be missed.

Here’s three to stream for this week.

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Apple TV+)

Apple’s big effort to turn their Carpool Karaoke: The Series host service into a budding Netflix killer has largely gone about as well as one would expect – where are all my See mega-fans at?  That’s right, nowhere, because not even the thirstiest Jason Momoa stan could make it 15 minutes through that shite.  But it’s not yet a total bust, and not just because they’ve snapped up the rights to the next film by Irish animation geniuses Cartoon Saloon (of The Breadwinner and Song of the Sea).  Mythic Quest is the new sitcom by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Megan Ganz, Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney, the latter of whom starring as Ian Grimm creative director of the titular (fictional) mega-popular MMO which is about to roll out its first major expansion.

Those going in knowing that pedigree and expecting the same anarchic deconstructionist crazy as the still phenomenal Sunny, both shows even share actor and writer David Hornsby, will perhaps be disappointed by Mythic Quest being a much more traditional workplace sitcom, one which tries its best to balance wacky hijinks with genuine emotional nuance throughout the whole of its run rather than in specific episodes.  It also threatens to skew a touch too “how do you do fellow kids?” with its depiction of streaming culture – would you believe me if I told you that a recurring gag of making all the most popular streaming personalities actual children who go by names like “Pootie Shoe” doesn’t have enough staying power to justify building much of the season around it?  But after a rough opening, the show does start throwing out legitimately funny episodes which add just enough zany Sunny spice to work-com frameworks and surprisingly incisive (for a show heavily co-produced by Ubisoft) satire of the games industry as a whole.  Episode 3 is where everyone really starts finding their feet as the studio has to address the PR problem of an infestation of Nazis in their player base, whose eventual escalation due to everyone stubbornly avoiding the obvious solution reminded me a lot of Better Off Ted’s classic “Racial Insensitivity” episode.

Even if Mythic Quest as a whole still isn’t there yet, its nine half-hour episodes are highly enjoyable watches and the cast are uniformly excellent including Danny Pudi as the relentlessly cynical head of monetisation, Ashly Burch (always nice to see Hey Ash, What’cha Playin? peeps making waves in stuff) as a gay tester with a crush on her co-worker, and what really should be a star-making turn for Charlotte Nicdao as the game’s lead programmer.  If nothing else, be sure to stick around for the fifth episode which junks basically everything and everyone to do with the main series in favour of giving Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti their own half-hour ersatz Halt and Catch Fire.  It’s a shockingly affecting and bruising half-hour of television that’s probably going to be one of the year’s best episodes, and I suspect that McElhenney and his team will be steering more into that direction come the second season (should we ever get out of this Contagion hellscape).

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (Spotify/Apple Music/Tidal/YouTube Music/etc.)

Before COVID-19 went about cancelling literally everything for the foreseeable future, Dua, Gaga, and HAIM were all going to drop albums in successive weeks, and Charli was apparently working on a special True Romance show.  COVID confirmed homophobic.  Fortunately, Dua stuck to her guns and came through regardless (albeit perhaps with her hand forced given that the album leaked in full two weeks back) with a levelling up comparable to that displayed by Carly Rae Jepsen on E·MO·TION.  I’ve been a fan of Dua since “Be the One” first dropped in my Hullfire Radio inbox back in late 2015, but the run she’s gone on since “One Kiss” has elevated her up to one of the best pop stars working today and her sophomore album cements that ascent on the back of 10 exceptional bops.

There are hooks upon hooks upon hooks on this thing, every track precision-engineered to shake hips and court dancefloor sass, where even the post-chorus of lithe minimalist funk slab “Pretty Please” is more memorable and fun than most full songs many pop stars will put out in their entire careers.  As the title implies, almost every song is based around a rotation of different retro-pop genre-hops.  The title track opens on some 80s Prince-esque pop-funk; “Hallucinate” races on the euphoric rush of mid-00s Confessions on a Dancefloor disco-house (that album’s producer Stuart Price fittingly pops up on a few tracks here); “Love Again” finds the unlikely midpoint between Max Martin, Mis-Teeq and Gloria Gaynor; and so on.  But not one of these songs feel like a soulless homage or retread, partly thanks to some impeccable production work (every one of these songs gleam), partly thanks to those aforementioned undeniable hooks, and partly thanks to Dua’s distinctive contralto which just exudes infectious inclusive cool.  When she lets her accent fully pop out on the title track or the early Lily Allen of “Good in Bed,” you can tell she’s having just as much fun as the listener which goes a long way to selling a pop anthem.

There were a lot of new album drops last week but, even with quarantine upping my new music intake, Future Nostalgia is the one I cannot stop coming back to; I’ve spun it in full, on average, at least twice a day and that’s before the physical copies came out today.  This is the album to beat for me in 2020.  Check it out.  Just maybe replace closer “Boys Will Be Boys” with “Electricity” cos it’s a clumsy but mildly charming song in isolation and a baffling misstep as a closer, which “Boys” for some inexplicable reason is.

TRON: Uprising (Disney+)

Took me an additional week, plus having a cheeky peek through one of my friend’s accounts to see what the service actually has cos I’m a weirdo who goes about collecting the Disney and Pixar canons on Blu-Ray to arrange in chronological order, but your Not-A-Boy/Girl joined the rest of the country in signing up for Disney+.  I’ll probably discuss the service in more detail, the design features it does right, and the bizarre omissions some other week – like, does anyone else find it weird that D+ has So Random!, the disastrous Sonny with a Chance spin-off they made when Demi Lovato decided to quit acting and go to treatment for her health issues, but not a single ep of Sonny with a Chance itself (at least in the UK)?  For now, let me do what Disney XD did not upon the show’s criminally short and mistreated original run by bigging up 2012’s TRON: Uprising.

An animated prequel series to the 2010 live-action flop TRON: Legacy, which I’d argue is itself criminally underrated with way more going for it besides that Daft Punk score, Uprising is an action drama set during the tyrannical rule of The Grid by the genocidal authoritarian program CLU.  If that’s already gibberish to you because you haven’t spent upwards of 10 years retaining knowledge about TRON lore, don’t fret cos TRON lore isn’t really a thing anyway and Uprising is arguably the best realisation of the series’ core concept to date.  A living society that exists within an 80s computer system, one whose original utopian ideals have been corrupted by a mixture of cold unfeeling digital programming – you know, like when algorithm blacklists mean that any mention of “coronavirus” on an article or video automatically causes a demonetisation of that piece regardless of content or tone – and very human paranoia and ambition.  Whilst the movies both revolve around a human (user) Flynn trying to escape the system after being sucked in, Uprising is all about the programs living within that system and the covert guerrilla war for its very soul.

The series primarily comes from the pen and directorial vision of Charlie Bean who was a major creative voice on the original Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Robotboy which is born out in Uprising’s heavy narrative influence from samurai films and a shockingly dark and violent tone for a kids’ show, even one aimed at older kids.  It’s also an absolutely astonishing series to look at with a distinctive clean angular design, reflective colour palettes which heavily recall Blade Runner, and pulling the Spider-Verse trick of intentionally animating at a reduced and off-kilter framerate.  The results are an engrossing thrill to watch whether they involve a tense multicoloured lightcycle chase or a simple two-way conversation between the main villain and his Starscream second-in-command.  Be forewarned that it ends on a massive cliffhanger cos Disney only gave the show one nineteen-episode season – one that never aired on a consistent schedule, was pulled on hiatus for months at a time, and eventually got burned off over a week at midnight – but it’s one of the 2010s’ animated hidden gems and absolutely worth the rediscovery and appreciation.

Callie Petch has got a bright future in sales.

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