Chicago - With so much new TV out there, our critics are here to help you keep up to date on the buzziest premieres everyone is sure to be talking about. Check out their streaming pick of the week, along with recommendations for what they’ve personally been enjoying lately.
Pam & Tommy (streaming weekly on Hulu starting Feb. 2)
Pam & Tommy -- Set in the Wild West early days of the Internet, "Pam & Tommy" is based on the incredible true story of the Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) sex tape. Stolen from the couple’s home by a disgruntled co
Once you get past its interminably slow premiere, there’s an undeniable watchability to "Pam & Tommy." Stars Sebastian Stan and especially Lily James are transformative as ’90s celebrity couple Tommy Lee (drummer for Mötley Crüe) and Pamela Anderson (star of "Baywatch"). And in its best moments, the show pointedly reexamines the harrowing harassment and sexism that fueled the public reaction to the leak of their private sex tape. Yet for as much as "Pam & Tommy" condemns celebrity exploitation, it can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s indulging in it too. Yes, this is an immensely sympathetic portrayal of Anderson during a traumatic event in her life, but it’s also a series made without her involvement — one that indulges in plenty of titillating provocation of its own. (Prepare yourself for a scene where Tommy has an imagined conversation with a rather, er, particular member of his own body.)
Still, the reason to watch is James’ tremendous performance, which is not only uncanny in its physical mimicry but also moving in its lived-in humanity. James is able to embody Pamela as a fascinating mix of naive romanticism and savvy ambition, particularly as the latter half of the series moves away from the heightened style of "I, Tonya" director Craig Gillespie and towards a sensitive naturalism cultivated by directors like Lake Bell and Gwyneth Horder-Payton. And there’s a believable magnetism and unexpected sweetness — at least as fictionalized here — to her relationship with her heavy metal scum-bum husband. It’s just too bad that compelling character study has to battle for screentime with much less succesful elements, like an ongoing dark comedy heist subplot for Seth Rogen (who also developed the series) as the contractor/former porn actor who stole and disseminated the tape in the first place.
In the end, "Pam & Tommy" is a little less than the sum of its parts; too unbalanced in its attempt to walk the line between trashy fun and thoughtful cultural reevaluation. Yet it succeeds in correcting an assumed historical narrative and delivering imagery that sticks. The harrowing sight of Pamela smiling her way through gritted teeth as she laughs off invasive questions during an interview is a moving reminder of the humanity behind our pop culture punchlines. [Caroline Siede]
WATCH FOR FREE ON TUBI: Lily James in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"
What our critics are watching
Left, from top: Lily Collins in "Emily in Paris" (Netflix), Mackenzie Davis in "Station Eleven" (HBO Max). Right: Georgina Campbell in "Suspicion" (Apple TV+).
Allison Shoemaker: While I am chomping at the bit to dive into HBO’s "The Gilded Age," I must admit that the Sundance Film Festival pretty much wiped out most TV viewing for me in the month of January. So instead I’ll toot the horn of a series that doesn’t premiere until Friday: the Apple TV+ thriller "Suspicion," an adaptation of the Israeli series "False Flag." "Suspicion" isn’t likely to find itself drowning in Emmys, but it scratches a very particular itch, emitting vibes that are perhaps best described as "‘90s paranoiac thriller starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman or maybe Sandra Bullock and the Internet." That’s due in no small part to the affable charms of its ensemble cast. Elizabeth Henstridge ("Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."), Kunal Nayyar ("The Big Bang Theory"), Georgina Campbell ("Broadchurch'") and Tom Rhys Harries ("The Gentlemen") play four seemingly ordinary Brits who suddenly find themselves on the front page of every newspaper in the world when they're implicated in the kidnapping of the son of a powerful American executive (Uma Thurman) with expertise in crisis management.
It's no spoiler to say that pretty much every character on this show has a secret or two they're keeping — don't we all? — which makes for a compelling blend of approachability and shiftiness. Yes, these people could be your neighbor, your teacher, your sibling, your spouse, but who says those we're closest to don't also have something to hide?
The first two episodes of "Suspicion" premiere Friday, Feb. 4 on Apple TV+. New episodes drop weekly. One-hour drama/thriller series. Featuring: Uma Thurman, Noah Emmerich, Elizabeth Henstridge, Kunal Nayyar, Georgina Campbell, Tom Rhys Harries.
WATCH FREE ON TUBI: Sandra Bullock in "A Time to Kill"
Caroline Siede: My January was defined by two shows that offered polar opposite examples of what you might want from this isolating time of year: The escapist fantasia of Netflix’s "Emily In Paris" =and the post-apocalyptic drama "Station Eleven" on HBO Max. That’s right, I contain multitudes! "Station Eleven" is a meal of a series that charts the rise and aftermath of a (gulp!) pandemic that kills 99 percent of the population. What makes the series special is the character-centric, humanistic approach it takes to its apocalyptic fable, which is equal parts challenging and emotionally rewarding. But there’s also something to be said for indulging in a ridiculous cream puff of a show like "Emily In Paris" too. Season two of the Parisian rom-com series is just as ridiculous and just as (hate) watchable as the first. And it was fun to kick off the year with a real highbrow/lowbrow mix.
The first two seasons of "Emily in Paris" are streaming on Netflix. The show was renewed for a third and fourth season in January 2022. Half-hour dramedy series. Featuring: Lily Collins, Ashley Park, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Lucas Bravo, Samuel Arnold, Bruno Gouery.
The complete "Station Eleven" is now streaming on HBO Max. Post-apocalyptic drama series. Featuring: Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel, David Wilmot, Nabhaan Rizwan, Daniel Zovatto, Lori Petty, Gael Garcia Bernal, David Cross, Enrico Colantoni, Deborah Cox, Timothy Simons.
WATCH FOR FREE ON TUBI: "Emily In Paris" star Lily Collins in the rom-com "Stuck in Love"
More TV highlights this week
Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson in "The Afterparty" (Apple TV+)
- The Afterparty (Apple TV+): A high school reunion turns bloody when an attendee meets a grisly end at the — you guessed it — afterparty. This single-camera comedy from Chris Miller and Phil Lord ("Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse") released its first three episodes (and introduced its all-star cast) last week, but the fun/interrogation continues when a new episode drops on Friday, Feb. 4. Featuring: Ben Schwartz, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, Tiffany Haddish.
- Raising Dion (Netflix): This Michael B. Jordan-produced kid-friendly superhero series returns for a second outing. Featuring: Alisha Wainwright, Ja’Siah Young, Jazmyn Simon, Jason Ritter, Michael B. Jordan.
- The Resident (FOX): After an eventful and affecting start to its fifth season, this medical drama returned with its midseason premiere. Featuring: Matt Czuchry, Manish Dayal, Bruce Greenwood, Malcolm Jamal-Warner.
- Murderville (Netflix): In case one murder mystery starring a bunch of your favorite funny people wasn’t enough, here’s Netflix’s answer to "The Afterparty." "Murderville" is a largely improvised whodunnit in which Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett of "LEGO Masters") has a new celebrity partner in each episode. The twist? That partner hasn’t received a script. Hijinks ensue. Featuring: Will Arnett, Haneefah Wood, Lilan Bowden, Annie Murphy, Ken Jeong, Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch, Kumail Nanjiani, Sharon Stone.
- The Legend of Vox Machina (Prime Video): The band of merry voice-actors behind the Dungeons & Dragons-centric podcast "Critical Role" bring their characters (and talents) to this adult animated series. Featuring: Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Liam O’Brien, Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Travis Willingham.
- Phat Tuesdays (Prime Video): The story of Guy Torry’s quest to start an all-Black comedy night at the legendary stand-up venue The Comedy Store is told in this docuseries, largely through the recollections of some of the world’s biggest comedians, including Tiffany Haddish ("The Freak Brothers"), Steve Harvey and Chris Tucker, among others. Docuseries.
About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of "How TV Can Make You Smarter," and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
More great TV streaming (for free!) on Tubi
The Freak Brothers (2021): Based on Gilbert Shelton’s cult classic 1960s comic, "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," this adult animated series follows three hippie stoners who smoke a magical strain of weed in 1969 and fall into a 50-year slumber, only to wake up in the 2020s. "The Freak Brothers" is a Tubi Original. Rated TV-MA. Featuring: Woody Harrelson, John Goodman, Tiffany Haddish, Pete Davidson, La La Anthony and Adam Devine. 8 episodes.
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009): One of the very best contemporary space operas came into being as an oddball TV reboot (you can stream the original series for free, too). Three Emmys, many Cylons and one devoted fandom later, it’s regarded as a soon-to-be classic, anchored by great performances from Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Grace Park, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis and the incredible Tricia Helfer, among others. So say we all. 74 episodes.
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? (1969): If the kid in your life doesn’t already know this show’s iconic theme song by heart, now is the perfect time to teach them. Rated TV-G. Dir: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. Featuring: Casey Kasem, Don Messick, Nicole Jaffe.
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