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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anne Rutherford, Adjunct Associate Professor, Cinema Studies, Western Sydney University

Binge/ABC/Paramount+/The Conversation

As the new year gets going and we’re all looking towards evenings on the couch again to unwind after work or school, there is again a glut of shows to choose from.

This month, our academics have suggested everything from a drama exploring the AIDS epidemic, to the latest outing from Marvel, to a documentary about a cult.

If you like your comedy black or romantic, if you want to watch a film or a series, we have you covered for what to stream this February.

Fellow Travellers

Paramount+ (Australia) and Neon (New Zealand)

Fellow Travellers picked up two nominations in the Golden Globes; I would have given it many more. But maybe the combination of political history and hot man-to-man sex was too much for the nominators.

Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel about two men who fall in love in the homophobic Washington of Senator McCarthy has been expanded to explore racism and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. But the essential tensions of forbidden love remain, even if the television series takes us into worlds Mallon chose not to explore.

The performances of the two leading actors Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey are
extraordinary. So too is Jelani Alladin as a black reporter who struggles to balance his racial and sexual identity.

Bomer’s character is the ultimate survivor, who marries for his career and treats all relationships transactionally. Bailey’s is seemingly weaker, a right-wing Catholic who falls completely for Bomer. His transformation at the end into an AIDS activist stretches credulity, but Bailey has the skill to carry it off.

Fellow Travellers is politically more sophisticated than Oppenheimer and more complex in its sexual politics than Barbie. Like them it interrogates the myth of America, which sadly promises to preoccupy us over the coming year.

– Dennis Altman

Read more:
A Kid Called Troy at 30: this beautiful Aussie film was one of the most important HIV/AIDS documentaries ever produced

The Curse

Paramount+ (Australia) and Neon (New Zealand)

The genre-bending black comedy The Curse is a persistent, excruciating tummy ache of a show – and that’s a recommendation.

Newlywed white liberal do-gooders Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher (Nathan Fielder) arrive in the socio-economically deprived town of Española, New Mexico, with louche filmmaker Dougie (Benny Safdie) to film an obnoxious HGTV show called Flipanthropy. The wealthy couple will ostensibly “help” the community through their high-end eco-home company, but things do not go to plan.

The satirical ten-part series, created and written by Safdie and Fielder, defies convention and description. It’s filmed in an uncanny, dissociative style. Very long takes, awkward framing and unsettling points of view marry contemporary surveillance cultures with the dream-like stupor of David Lynch. It’s a Rorschach test for viewers as it takes on a huge range of targets: gentrification, the constructed nature of “reality” television, vanity, racism, class, colonisation, capitalism, power, art, privilege, entertainment, taste, masculinity, loneliness.

The show inflicts a lot of psychic damage on the viewer, but it’s worth making it to the end. The performances are impeccable, and the astonishing finale offers what might be the biggest water cooler moment of television this year.

– Erin Harrington

Read more:
Nathan Fielder’s new comedy The Rehearsal will be familiar to anyone with autism

Total Control season three

iView (Australia)

Two years after First Nations MP Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman) outwitted the major
parties and leveraged the new power of the crossbench to install Paul Murphy
(Wayne Blair) as Australia’s first Indigenous prime minister, the shine has worn off Murphy’s leadership.

In the third season of Total Control, Murphy has sacrificed one social justice commitment after another on the altar of electoral politics and the knives are out between him and Irving.

Irving is at boiling point, as her commitment to youth justice and to
securing resources for her disaster-struck regional community is constantly thwarted.

Her nemesis, former prime minister Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths) – all
sangfroid and intrigue – has reinvented herself as a warrior for ethical, truly
representative democracy and is attempting to set up a new alliance of independents. The stakes are high, the tension palpable.

Filmed in Parliament House, this final season continues Total Control’s stylish, taut political drama. Consultations with political insiders informed themes of political corruption, dirty money in politics and the reconfiguration of the political landscape with the rise of independents, set against the ongoing neglect of Indigenous communities.

But this is no cynical exercise; there is an optimistic vision here for the real change independents could bring.

– Anne Rutherford


Binge (Australia) and Neon (New Zealand)

Many of us have bemoaned the lack of rom-coms in the cinema, but luckily television is increasingly becoming a space for dynamic and interesting romantic-comedies from You’re the Worst to Everything I Know About Love.

A recent entry into the TV rom-com landscape is the delightful new British series Smothered, created by Monica Heisey. Danielle Vitalis stars as Sammy, a chaotic but fun twenty-something interior designer, who is disillusioned by her current dating (read: sex) life.

Jon Pointing plays her counterpart Tom, a quiet, lost, old-before-his-years “lad in jeans.” In a classic meet-cute conceit, an impossible but alluring deal is struck between our two leads: a hot casual affair, no last names, no details, three weeks and they’re done. But of course life and feelings complicate best laid plans.

Equal parts absurd and sincere, this is the perfect show for those who love Nora Ephron and Sex and the City. Like these predecessors, Smothered is populated by quirky supporting characters who are inexplicably invested in Sammy and Tom’s romance, but it works thanks to hilarious performances by Aisling Bea, Harry Trevaldwyn and Lisa Hammond.

Jessica Ford

Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God

Binge (Australia) and Neon (New Zealand)

Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God charts the life and death of Amy Carlson, who in early adulthood claimed she was a divine being in communication with a host of “Galactics”, including deceased comedian Robin Williams, and built a following of tens of thousands on Facebook and YouTube.

The three-part documentary series begins with the discovery by police in 2021 of the former McDonalds manager’s corpse, blue from ingesting copious amounts of colloidal silver and attended by her inner circle of devotees in Crestone, Colorado.

Director and producer Hannah Olsen successfully compiles several key interviews with those closest to the believed 254th reincarnation of Mother God, including testimony from Carlson’s four “Father God” partners and from those who maintained the religious movements’s online presence whilst witnessing her decline first hand.

The eerie use of cloud photography (“starships” coming to ascend Carlson to a higher “5D” dimension) alongside the group’s influencer-style social media livestreams and a soundtrack of atonal electronica makes for a unique post-millennium aesthetic.

Ultimately Love Has Won left me pondering the relationship between the unknowable mysteries of our existence and the myriad mental health effects of trauma.

Phoebe Hart


Disney+ (Australia) and Apple TV (New Zealand)

Among swathes of Marvel spin-offs, Echo’s bingeable five chapter run caught and kept my interest. Echo spotlights Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), a deaf assassin who flees New York following deadly conflict with her “uncle”, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Fisk is “Kingpin”, a villainous businessman who lacks interstellar prowess but employs monstrous methods of controlling “his” city.

We open on Maya’s childhood within her Choctaw family and heritage. After a targeted tragedy – including the loss of her leg – Maya and her father move to New York where Fisk’s indoctrination begins. Present-day Maya returns home to a wary family and town. Only her cousin, Biscuits (Cody Lightning), leaps to provide support and charmingly obvious comedic relief.

Kingpin’s shadow – cast by D’Onofrio’s stellar performance – looms, but Cox shines as a tight-lipped young woman at crossroads, determinedly independent, drawn to the past. Maya is a break-out role for Cox, who is herself Native American, deaf, and an amputee. Exposition and relationship-building are communicated through sign language. Sound mediates emotion and action, oscillating between manically heightened music and tense, heart-beating silence.

We soon root for antihero Maya, despite plentiful onscreen violence at her hand. While she debuted in Hawkeye as a heartless killer, Echo goes deeper, exploring inheritance, loss, and betrayal, via a lick of magic and a lot of blood.

– Marina Deller

Read more:
Marvel’s Echo is a one-of-a-kind superhero – and an inspiration to the Deaf community

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Black comedy, political drama and a documentary about a cult: what we’re streaming this February –