Here are some things that I watched recently. I will tell you if I think you should watch them too.
Summer of Soul. This is a documentary from Questlove about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which was a festival of culture in Harlem that took place in 1969. It happened right around the same time as Woodstock, but because it was focused on Black music and Black people, it was largely forgotten for decades.
The two most thrilling things about this movie are the music and the editing. The music is—words can barely describe what it is. Mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, astonishing, take your pick. It starts with Stevie Wonder doing this insane drum solo, and halfway through the drum solo, I actually said out loud, “he’s blind!!!” And then the movie tops that moment, repeatedly. And the editing is equally electrifying—kinetic, brilliantly on the beat, amplifying the glory of what we’re witnessing. The more standard documentary parts of Summer of Soul can’t quite match these heights, but that’s a minor gripe.
Should you watch it? Yes! It’s on Hulu.
Sylvie’s Love. This is a melodrama directed by Eugene Ashe and set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, also in Harlem. It’s the kind of thing Douglas Sirk might have made (with perhaps a little less psychological trauma simmering underneath) except that the people at the center of this very dramatic love story are Black, and not Rock Hudson. Robert is a jazz musician, Sylvie works in a record shop and wants to be on television, they meet, she is engaged oh no!!!, but that doesn’t stop them, many things happen, and then the movie is over.
As Sylvie and Robert, Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha are lovely to look at, the music is great, the movie is sumptuous in a perfectly 50s way, and if Ashe does not quite pull off all his narrative tricks, the fact that this movie exists is pretty exciting nonetheless. We should have 5 million 1950s romances about Black people in Harlem! I did not love Sylvie’s Love, but I liked it a lot.
Should you watch? Yes! It’s on Amazon Prime.
Grantchester. This is a British show also set in the 1950s (no I am not trying to escape the present by wallowing in nostalgia!!!) and the premise is that there is a young, improbably attractive and liberal priest near Cambridge, and he teams up with a cop (I know, I know, ACAB) and solves murders. My favorite part of the show is that barely anyone is like “wait, why is there a priest in the police interrogation room/my home/the local school/etc?” They just invite the priest in and think nothing of it as he and the cop start grilling them. Halfway through the show, the priest leaves and is replaced by. an entirely different improbably attractive and liberal priest who is also into solving crimes. (The method with which Priest 1 is replaced by Priest 2 is howlingly awful, I will admit.) The show is always reminding you of how rebellious these priests are. One is very into jazz and sex with divorced women! One drives a motorcycle everywhere! OMG!
The secret of Grantchester is that there is an elaborate soap opera grafted onto the procedural bits, and that is what makes it worth watching. There are doomed romances and infidelities and long-buried secrets and betrayals. There is also a gay storyline that is alternately heartwarming and mildly infuriating (enough with the gay trauma tropes!). It’s all very Downton Abbey-ish, something emphasized by the fact that the same person did the music for both shows. This show is completely bonkers and I watched so many episodes in so little time.
Should you watch it? Yes, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s on Amazon too.
Starstruck. This is a perfect little jewel of a show, a 6-episode romcom about a ridiculously charming woman from New Zealand who is in London and falls into a thing with a ridiculously charming movie star. There are “complications” galore, many ups and downs, but it is so precisely pitched and well done and the ending is flawless.
Should you watch? Yes! It’s on HBO Max.
I Think You Should Leave. I made it 11 minutes into the second season before I remembered: this show is not for me! I watched the Coffin Flop thing and was like, “OK.” Just does absolutely nothing for me. Oh well!
Should you watch? Reallllly up to you.