Summer 2021 is right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing: summer TV is, too! While you may not be spending as much time at seasonal soirées or other public gatherings this summer, now over a year into the pandemic, TV production has adapted and picked back up nearly full steam ahead. Now we’ve got new installments of Pose, Shrill, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, and more to show for it. Time to get to watching!


What it is: Based on Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 vignette-filled feature film of the same name, The Girlfriend Experience is an anthology drama series about the unexpected and complicated lives of sex workers. Season 1 follows a law student named Christine Reade (Riley Keogh) who moonlights in the profession.

Why you should watch it: The Girlfriend Experience is about much more than its elevator pitch implies. Ultimately, it’s a meditation on feminist power, on the relationship between sex and manipulation, and the moral ambiguities of its protagonists’ careers (and those who employ them). Rich with finely realized performances and void of an imposing male gaze, the series’ first two seasons packed an emotional wallop while making you think. Season 3 premiered on May 2 — after a much-too-long hiatus — on Starz.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNOWGoogle PlayMicrosoftVudu

Commitment: Approx. 14 hours (for the first 2 seasons)


What it is: From creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, Pose depicts New York City’s ballroom and voguing scene of the 1980s and early ’90s with sickening pageantry, tea-spilling drama, and high fashions for the gods.

Why you should watch it: Pose made waves upon its premiere by being the largest-ever ensemble cast of transgender actors playing trans characters on TV. But aside from its progressive stamp of approval for onscreen representation, it’s also just damn good (and soapy) TV — expertly acted, written, and directed, and unafraid to tackle LGBTQIA+ issues that we’ve never seen explored on television before. The third and final season premiered on May 2 on FX.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Microsoft, Netflix, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 16 hours (for the first two seasons)


What it is: From creators (and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia vets) Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney (who also stars), Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a traditional workplace comedy in that it features an overbearing, self-involved, and oft-clueless boss overseeing a team of quirky misfits. But by placing it in the unexplored setting of a hit video game production company, it’s a fun look behind the curtain of the ever-growing world of fanboys and fangirls alike.

Why you should watch it: McElhenney is in top comedic (and physical) form as the boss of Mythic Quest, but it’s the ensemble of both sitcom regulars and new faces that keeps you coming back for more. Charlotte Nicdao in particular co-leads as a disgruntled, undervalued employee and manages to humanize her neuroticism to endearing and hilarious effect. Season 2 premieres May 7 on Apple TV+.

Where to watch: Apple TV+

Commitment: Approx. 5.5 hours (for the first season and Everlight special)


What it is: Based on the hit book by Lindy West and co-created by Alexandra Rushfield and Aidy Bryant (who also stars), this series puts a feminist, body-positive spin on the classic workplace drama as our hero Annie Easton (Bryant) finds her voice as a journalist and learns to love herself in unexpected ways.

Why you should watch it: Saturday Night Live stalwart Bryant is finally given a star-making vehicle with Shrill, which earnestly and humorously portrays the daily micro-aggressions plus-size women face in the office and beyond. The third and final season premieres May 7 on Hulu.

Where to watch it: Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 7 hours (for the first two seasons)


What it is: In a turn that’s as meta as it is nostalgic for a certain millennial set, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series follows a group of high school students at the school where the famous Disney trilogy was filmed. When they decide to put on the stage version of that musical as their fall production, drama onstage and off, of course, ensues.

Why you should watch it: More than just a nostalgic push, this series from creator Tim Federle hits all the right notes with a young cast of breakout, triple-threat talent ready to entertain a whole new generation. Plus, we have it on good authority that season 2 will feature musically gifted guests from Broadway and beyond that will leave fans clamoring for more. Season 2 premieres May 14 on Disney+.

Where to watch: Disney+

Commitment: Approx. 5 hours (for the first season)


What it is: Creator Ryan O’Connell puts a televisual spin on his 2015 memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, with this acclaimed 2019 series. He stars as Ryan Hayes, a gay man with cerebral palsy who slowly learns to branch out from under his mother’s insulating wing to pursue the life that he’s always wanted. Jessica Hecht and Punam Patel co-star.

Why you should watch it: This micro-dramedy packs more heart into its 15-minute runtime than most well-regarded series could hope to today — and it’s got four Emmy nominations for its first season to prove it! Season 2 premieres May 20 on Netflix.

Where to watch: Netflix

Commitment: Approx. 2 hours (for the first season)


What it is: Created by Master of None Emmy winner Lena Waithe, this Showtime series portrays the city’s South Side neighborhood as a tapestry of want and need, violence and love, and altogether human when our central heroes are brought together in unexpected ways after one life- and community-altering event.

Why you should watch it: The Chi is an unflinching and authentic coming-of-age drama boasting some of the best actors and writers — well-known and otherwise — working today. In a time when racial violence still devastates minority communities and permeates our headlines, it offers a timely look at some of the social issues being debated today while still being nuanced, character-driven entertainment. Season 4 premieres May 23 on Showtime.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNow, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 30 hours (for the first three seasons)


What it is: Based on the acclaimed Israeli series of the same name, In Treatment follows a psychotherapist who meets with a new patient each day of the week; on Fridays, he seeks treatment for himself with a previously estranged therapist played by Dianne Wiest.

Why you should watch it: The original three seasons (which ran from 2008–2010) are HBO-minted in its peak era and form. Snagging Golden Globe, Emmy, and Writers Guild awards, Gabriel Byrne’s leading performance as Dr. Paul Weston and an ensemble of patients and colleagues (including a stunning Wiest) make it must-watch TV of yesteryear. To see Uzo Aduba coming up in the driver’s seat on this new season will be a special treat that you should certainly catch up for. Season 4 premieres May 23 on HBO.

Where to watch: AmazonFandangoNowGoogle PlayHBO MaxMicrosoftVudu

Commitment: Approx. 53 hours (for the first three seasons)


What it is: Based on his own 2005 feature film, The Magician, Scott Ryan created and stars on Mr Inbetween as the anti-heroic Ray Shoesmith, a father, ex-husband, boyfriend, best friend — and hitman — of many shades.

Why you should watch it: If you’re looking for a pitch-black comedy with outback Australian flare rooted in a bulletproof leading performance — well, what you’re looking for is Mr Inbetween. The third and final season premieres May 25 on FX.

Where to watch: AmazonFandangoNowGoogle PlayHuluMicrosoftVudu

Commitment: Approx. 8.5 hours (for the first two seasons)


What it is: With industry-specific dramas pulled directly from Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief (and series executive producer) Joanna Coles’ decades-spanning career, The Bold Type follows the day-to-day adventures of three millennial New Yorkers and best friends who work together at the fictional fashion magazine Scarlet.

Why you should watch it: From Ugly Betty to The Devil Wears Prada, the New York fashion magazine and media industry has proven a fine playing field for high-stakes drama and fantastic wardrobes. The Bold Type dives right in and still finds ways to make this well-documented world newly exciting. That’s largely thanks to a stellar cast led by Katie Stevens as Jane Sloan, one-third of the BFF and co-worker trio that also includes Aisha Dee as Kat Edison and Meghann Fahy as Sutton Brady. The fifth and final season premieres May 26 on Freeform.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNow, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 33 hours (for the first four seasons)


What it is: Chuck Lorre knows TV, but we’ve never seen The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men mastermind tackle something quite like The Kominsky Method, a half-hour, single-cam comedy that follows an aging acting coach and his agent in contemporary Hollywood. Both a stinging comedy on the industry’s lasting truths and a revealing, humorous look at men of a certain age, the series racked up two Golden Globes for its first season, including Best Musical or Comedy Television Series.

Why you should watch it: Few things have been more satisfying over the last few years than watching Hollywood heavy-hitters deliver career-best work on the small and streaming screen. Among them are Oscar winners Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as the central Sandy Kominsky and his longtime agent and friend Norman Newlander, respectively. The pair’s rat-a-tat everyman rapport goes down easy, even when they’re not on their best behavior. The third and final season (which will air without Arkin) premieres May 28 on Netflix.

Where to watch: Netflix

Commitment: Approx. 8 hours (for the first two seasons)


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The fall TV overhaul may be behind us, but, don’t worry, there are still plenty of must-see shows returning this month. From sitcoms to sex dramas, Westerns to medieval war sagas, there is something for everyone this November. Find out which series you should catch up on.


Mom (CBS)

(Photo by CBS)

What it is: A family sitcom about recovering alcoholics, teen pregnancies, and other assorted curves life can throw may not sound like it’s mingling with laughing matters, but Mom works! Anna Faris leads as Christy, a mother of two who gets sober and moves to the Napa Valley to start her life anew. Allison Janney also steals the show as her mother, Bonnie, a fellow recovering addict who finally has the chance to be present for her daughter (and grandkids). In that sense, Mom is a comedy about making up for lost time.

Why you should watch it: This multi-cam sitcom from industry titan Chuck Lorre is five years strong thanks to the fact that it’s rough around the edges in a real-world way. It’s not too sweet, and it has standout (and, in the case of Janney, Emmy-winning!) performances across the board. They may not be a typical family, but for 30 minutes each week, they will be come a part of yours. Season 5 premiered November 2.

Where to watch it: AmazonFandangoNOWGoogle Play, HuluMicrosoftPlayStation VideoVudu

Commitment: Approx. 31 hours


The Girlfriend Experience 76% (Starz)

What it is: Based on Steven Soderbourgh’s 2009 vignette-filled feature film of the same name, The Girlfriend Experience is an anthology drama series about the unexpected and complicated lives of sex workers. Season 1 follows a law student named Christine Reade (Riley Keogh) who moonlights in the profession. Season 2, which will follow two different story lines, premieres November 5.

Why you should watch it: While sex alone is likely a titillating enough calling card to pique many viewers’ interest, The Girlfriend Experience is about much more than its elevator pitch implies. Ultimately, it’s a meditation on feminist power, on the relationship between sex and manipulation, and the moral ambiguities of its protagonists’ careers (and those who employ them). Rich with finely realized performances and void of an imposing male gaze (Amy Seimetz is onboard as co-creator, co-director, and co-star), the series’ first season packed an emotional wallop while making you think. Season 2 will boast hourlong episodes (versus last year’s half-hours) and two parallel, concurrently running stories.

Where to watch it: Amazon, FandangoNOWGoogle PlayMicrosoftPlayStation VideoVudu

Commitment: Approx. 6.5 hours


Shameless 82% (Showtime)

(Photo by Showtime)

What it is: While this comedy series has been around for so long that it’s hard to define it without giving away seven seasons of spoilers, but at its core, it’s an hour-long dysfunctional family comedy-drama about six children (led by Emmy Rossum as Fiona) who were forced to grow up too fast while under the watch of their single, alcoholic father, Frank (William H. Macy).

Why you should watch it: It’s tricky to strike the balance between broad comedy and aching drama, but it’s a skill that Shameless has perfected since its 2011 debut. Credit where it’s due: Rossum is an absolutely fearless knockout who bests herself season to season. It’s an excellent ensemble, and you can’t help but love the Gallagher family (even when they don’t make it easy), but watching the actress and Oscar nominee Macy go toe-to-toe as the central headstrong daughter and father just gets better with age. Season 8 premieres November 5.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNOWGoogle Play, HuluMicrosoft, NetflixPlayStation Video, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 77 hours


Lady Dynamite 97% (Netflix)

LADY DYNAMITE Ana Gasteyer, Maria Bamford (Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

(Photo by Netflix)

What it is: As an experienced comedian’s comedian, Maria Bamford finally gets the star treatment she deserves with Mitchell Hurwitz and Pam Brady’s half-hour semi-biographical comedy about a standup comedian who, after a breakdown and subsequent institutionalization, begins readjusting to an ever-changing world and ever-changing mental state.

Why you should watch it: Forgive the pun, but Lady Dynamite is explosive. It’s brave. It’s mental illness like you’ve never seen before — and in Bamford, it features a leading lady like you’ve never seen, either. With an eye for the surreal, the absurd, and the slapstick found in one standup comic’s everyday life, Lady is wacky, brilliant fun. Plus, it features a who’s who comedy roster of supporting players and cameos that will surely be even more impressive in Season 2, which bows November 10.

Where to watch: Netflix

Commitment: Approx. 6 hours


Longmire 88% (Netflix)

What it is: Set in Wyoming’s fictional Absaroka County, this crime drama fits right in with the Westerns of the world, from Unforgiven to Hell or High Water. (Better yet, we’ve gotten to enjoy it for five seasons instead of just two hours!) The pilot picks up one year after the death of our titular hero’s wife, and through his grief, he digs deep into his work and sets his sights on getting reelected to the gold star.

Why you should watch it: Based on the bestselling Walt Longmire Mystery series, this A&E-turned-Netflix original is built on nostalgia for the all-American hero, and star Robert Taylor as Longmire is up to snuff going into its sixth and final season. Like the very best of classic Clint Eastwood and other gunslinging heroes of yesteryear, Taylor’s Longmire is stoically gruff, reserved, and a helluva shot. Need proof? Look no further than his early-series comparison between the small Absaroka’s issues of crime, poverty, and racism and those found in New York City: “Corruption, violence, greed, and murder — but Absaroka County has something that New York City will never have: They have me.” Good luck to those who stand in his way. Season 6 premieres November 17.

Where to watch: Amazon, FandangoNOWGoogle PlayMicrosoft, NetflixPlayStation Video, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 45 hours


Search Party 96% (TBS)

Alia Shawkat in Search Party (TBS)

(Photo by TBS)

What it is: Part relationship drama, part coming-of-age comedy, part noir-tinged mystery thriller, Search Party is undefinable —but that’s what makes it so good. It’s the story of Dory (Alia Shaukat), Drew (John Reynolds), Elliot (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner), who, on account of their own self-interest and general aimlessness, entangle themselves in the potentially sinister disappearance of their college classmate.

Why you should watch it: Brooklyn-dwelling millennials have been beguiling subjects for many a film and TV auteur since Lena Dunham’s Girls, but never before have they been so exactingly (and excruciatingly) brought to life than in Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter’s incisive TBS satire-crime mystery cocktail. Season 2 premieres November 19.

Where to watch: AmazonGoogle PlayMicrosoftPlayStation Video, Vudu

Commitment: Approx. 4 hours


Vikings 93% (History)

What it is: In the mood for a meaty, generations-spanning period drama that has violence, politics, sex, and true-to-history recreations to spare? Look no further than Vikings, Michael Hirst’s brilliant follow-up to The Tudors. The heart of the series is legendary rags-to-riches viking Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), his rise to power, and how he passes that power to his children and their children thereafter.

Why you should watch it: Vikings is complex, calculated storytelling at its best. Gorgeous, lush sets and production design, committed and gritty performances all around — it is a wonder that the program doesn’t garner acclaim on par with Game of Thrones (though it certainly draws comparisons). But somehow, there’s a viewers’ pleasure to being in on a well-kept secret. Join the club before season 5 returns November 29.

Where to watch: AmazonFandangoNow, Google PlayHuluMicrosoft, Playstation VideoVudu

Commitment: Approx. 36 hours

The IFP Gotham Awards took place tonight at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, celebrating the biggest accomplishments of the independent filmmaking community in 2016. The ceremony was broadcast live on Facebook.

Moonlight was the big winner of the night, taking home both awards it had previously been nominated for, plus the Audience Award and the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance, for a total of four trophies. Manchester by the Sea, who had the most nominations, took the award for Best Actor (Casey Affleck). In addition to revealing the winners for each of its traditional competitive categories, actors Amy Adams, Ethan Hawke, producer Arnon Milchan, and director Oliver Stone were also honored with Award Tributes. Read through for the full list of winners.


Best Feature


Best Documentary


Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Robert Eggers

The Witch
90%

Anna Rose Holmer

The Fits
96%

Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Swiss Army Man
72%

Trey Edward Shults

Krisha
95%

Richard Tanne

Southside With You
92%

Best Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan

Hell or High Water
96%

Whit Stillman

Love & Friendship
96%

Kenneth Lonergan

Manchester by the Sea
96%

Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Screenplay by Barry Jenkins

Moonlight
98%

Jim Jarmusch

Paterson
96%

Best Actor


Casey Affleck

Manchester by the Sea


Jeff Bridges

Hell or High Water


Adam Driver

Paterson



Morris from America


Best Actress


Breakthrough Actor


Lily Gladstone

Certain Women


Lucas Hedges

Manchester by the Sea



The Fits


Sasha Lane

American Honey


Breakthrough Series – Long Form


Breakthrough Series – Short Form


Spotlight on Women Directors ‘Live the Dream’ Grant

  • Shaz Bennett, Alaska is a Drag
  • Katie Orr, Poor Jane
  • Roxy Toporowych, Julia Blue

Gotham Independent Film Audience Award


Special Jury Award – Ensemble Performance

The nominations for the 2016 Gotham Independent Awards were announced this morning by the Independent Filmmaker Project. Read through for the full list of nominees.


Best Feature


Best Documentary


Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Robert Eggers

The Witch
90%

Anna Rose Holmer

The Fits
96%

Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Swiss Army Man
72%

Trey Edward Shults

Krisha
95%

Richard Tanne

Southside With You
92%

Best Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan

Hell or High Water
96%

Whit Stillman

Love & Friendship
96%

Kenneth Lonergan

Manchester by the Sea
96%

Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Screenplay by Barry Jenkins

Moonlight
98%

Jim Jarmusch

Paterson
96%

Best Actor


Casey Affleck

Manchester by the Sea


Jeff Bridges

Hell or High Water


Adam Driver

Paterson



Morris from America


Best Actress


Breakthrough Actor


Lily Gladstone

Certain Women


Lucas Hedges

Manchester by the Sea



The Fits


Sasha Lane

American Honey


Breakthrough Series – Long Form


Breakthrough Series – Short Form


The IFC Gotham Independent Awards will kick off the film season on Monday, November 28th at 8 p.m. in New York City. The event will be broadcast online, including a Red Carpet Show scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m.

This week on home video, we’ve got a high-concept comedy, some really solid television, a handful of noteworthy smaller releases, and the late Garry Marshall’s final film. Read on for details.


April and the Extraordinary World (2015) 97%

This Certified Fresh animated sci-fi adventure from France follows a girl who finds herself wrapped up in a conspiracy after her scientist parents mysteriously disappear. Included is a multi-faceted half-hour making-of doc.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


The Knick: Season 2 (2015) 97%

Clive Owen stars as a drug-addicted genius surgeon in Steven Soderbegh’s Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated period drama set at the Knickerbocker Hospital in turn-of-the-century New York. The season two set comes with a tour of the season’s sets, an inside look at the costumes, a profile of the medical procedures on the show, episode recaps, and more.

Get it Here


The Lobster (2015) 87%

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in this Certified Fresh sci-fi dramedy about a man who must choose a mate or risk turning into a lobster. The only reported extra is a making-of featurette.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


The Blacklist: Season 3 (2015) 93%

James Spader stars in this NBC drama about a high profile criminal who agrees to help the FBI track down other criminals in exchange for his freedom. On DVD, the season three set comes with a few extras, like a making-of doc on the Blacklist comic book, but the Blu-ray includes deleted and extended scenes, a look at the season’s villains, commentary tracks, and a look at the stuntwork.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


The Girlfriend Experience: Season 1 (2016) 85%

Based on the Steven Soderbegh film of the same name, this Starz original series stars Riley Keough as a struggling law student who moonlights as a high-end escort. Special features in the season set includes brief looks at the arc of the season, what “the girlfriend experience” entails, and its production aspects.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


Keanu (2016) 78%

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele star in this high-concept comedy about a pair of everyday Joes who adopt gangster identities to retrieve a stolen kitten. Extras include a faux interview with the kitten in the film, a smattering of deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

Get it HereStream it Here


Blindspot: Season 1 (2015) 68%

NBC’s mystery series centers on a tattooed woman (Jaimie Alexander) with amnesia whose body markings may hold the key to solving a crime. The season one set comes with deleted scenes, a gag reel, commentary for the pilot episode, the show’s 2015 Comic-Con panel, and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes on different aspects of the show.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


High-Rise (2015) 60%

Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons star in this adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel about a luxury skyscraper whose tenants gradually descend into anarchy. Bonus features include a look at the film’s retro style, its special effects, its characters, and the adaptation process, as well as a commentary track with Hiddleston, director Ben Wheatley, and producer Jeremy Thomas.

Get it Here


Lazer Team (2015) 60%

This sci-fi comedy by popular web production outfit Rooster Teeth centers on four unlikely heroes who must work together to prevent an alien invasion. No information on special features is available.

Get it Here


Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) 39%

Based on one of the darkest chapters in the Caped Crusader’s saga, this animated film finds Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) squaring off with the Joker (Mark Hamill), who attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) insane. Extras include an inside look at one of the key scenes, a look at the adaptation process, and two episodes from the classic animated Batman series.

Get it Here, Stream it Here


Mother's Day (2016) 8%

Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson headline the late Garry Marshall’s final holiday-themed film, centering on a series of loosely connected vignettes about motherhood. Special features include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Get it Here, Stream it Here

As we ramp up into summer, we reflect upon the 2016 winter/spring season, which brought with it a handful of top-notch TV shows worthy of Certified Fresh status. Whether they be series premieres or new seasons of returning shows, we’ve got all of them here in one place for you. Did your favorites make the list? Sound off in the comments below.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a wild child (The Jungle Book, starring Neel Sethi), non-stop conversation (Barbershop: The Next Cut, starring Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer), and implanted memories (Criminal, starring Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman). What do the critics have to say?


The Jungle Book (2016) 94%

It’s really hard to equal — much less top — a beloved classic. But critics say director Jon Favreau may have done just that with his live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, which takes the timeless tale of a child raised by wolves and elevates it with some of the best CGI every committed to film. It doesn’t hurt, of course that he’s abetted by a strong cast that includes newcomer Neel Sethi and voice performers Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Idris Elba. The pundits say the Certified Fresh The Jungle Book is a family friendly film of a very high order.


Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016) 90%

Everything’s coming up aces for Ice Cube these days. The recently-minted Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer is back with the third entry in the Barbershop series, and critics say it’s got all the warmth, ribald humor, and insightful commentary that made the first two entries big hits at the box office. Once again, Barbershop: The Next Cut doesn’t have much of a plot, but its fine cast — which includes Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Anthony Anderson, Common, and Nicki Minaj —  makes for terrific company.


Criminal (2016) 30%

On paper, a spy thriller starring dependable folks like Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones alongside comic book heroes Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot sounds like a can’t-miss proposition. Unfortunately, critics say Criminal misses pretty badly, mostly because its story — about a violent felon whose brain is infused with the knowledge and memories of a crack CIA agent — is both preposterous and badly paced.


What’s Hot on TV

Outlander: Season 2 (2016) 92%

Outlander returns for a second addictive season of mystery and sweeping romance as Claire and Jamie take on Paris.


Catastrophe: Season 2 (2015) 100%

Catastrophe delivers a strong second season that deepens the drama while remaining spit-take funny.


The Girlfriend Experience: Season 1 (2016) 85%

The darkly fascinating (and utterly bingeworthy) The Girlfriend Experience powers past any shortcomings with a breakout performance by Riley Keough.


Fear the Walking Dead: Season 2 (2016) 70%

Fear the Walking Dead sets sail in its sophomore season with an intriguing backdrop that doesn’t always disguise its deficiencies in comparison to its predecessor.


Also Opening This Week In Limited Release

  • Our Last Tango (2015) , a documentary about Argentinian tango dancers Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes, is at 100 percent.
  • Sing Street (2016) , John Carney‘s musical drama about a teenager who starts a band to impress the girl he has a crush on, is at 97 percent.
  • The Measure of a Man (2015) , a French drama about an aging factory worker who’s laid off and begins a new job as a supermarket security guard, is at 94 percent.
  • Green Room (2015) , starring Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart in a Certified Fresh thriller about a rock band who square off with a violent club owner after they witness a murder, is at 90 percent.
  • Above and Below (2015) , a documentary look at the lives of five people living in unusual habitats under various circumstances, is at 86 percent.
  • The First Monday in May (2016) , a documentary about the creation of a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit on China-inspired fashions, is at 82 percent.
  • My Great Night (2015) , a Spanish comedy about the drama that unfolds during an advance taping of New Year’s Eve festivities, is at 78 percent.
  • Wedding Doll (2015) , an Israeli drama about a young woman with a slight mental deficiency who falls in love, much to the chagrin of her protective mother, is at 70 percent.
  • Slumlord (2015) , a psychological horror film about a pregnant newlywed couple who are terrorized by their invasive new landlord, is at 60 percent.
  • Colonia (2015) , starring Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl in a historical drama about a young couple who attempt to escape from a notorious Chilean cult compound during the early 1970s, is at 23 percent.
  • The Adderall Diaries (2015) , starring James Franco and Ed Harris in a crime thriller about a writer whose research into a murder case causes him to examine his own demons, is at 17 percent.

It’s time for our weekly countdown of the Spring TV premieres! Here are the best new shows for the week of Friday, April 8, 2016. See how this week’s shows, Outlander, Catastrophe, and The Girlfriend Experience stack up against each other on the Tomatometer!

AmySeimetz

 

The representation of prostitution on television isn’t exactly rare. However, aside from shows like Secret Diary of a Call Girl (with Billie Piper), comedic turns like Patty the Daytime Hooker (Dale Dickey) in My Name is Earl,  and the 1984 television movie My Mother’s Secret Life (with Loni Anderson and Amanda Wyss), prostitutes have usually been portrayed in a stereotypical manner.  

The Girlfriend Experience, premiering this weekend on Starz, looks to remedy things by presenting a three dimensional look at the life of a high end call girl in Manhattan, adapted from Steven Soderberg’s 2009 drama.

Executive producer Soderbergh hired Amy Seimetz to co-write, co-direct, and serve as an executive producer on the series. While she might not be a household name just yet, Seimetz has been a Jane-of-all-trades for years. Her notable acting roles include The Off Hours, Family Tree, Upstream Color, and The Killing, but she’s a gifted, acclaimed indie filmmaker as well, having written and directed Sun Don’t Shine and various other projects. Seimetz fell into a shocking new world where budgets were large and she could freely create. Here, she tells us what that transition has been like for her, what the job offer phone call was like, and how real ladies of the “experience” live.


Kerr Lordygan for Rotten Tomatoes: You’re now a showrunner for an awesome, new Starz TV series. Did you feel you were ready for that? What challenges did you overcome, if any?

Amy Seimetz: Knowing now what I do, yes, I was definitely ready, but going into it, of course not! I’ve made movies for $100,000 or less for years and I acted, but not directed television. But in my first conversation with Soderbergh, I was like, “I don’t know how to direct television.” And he said, “Oh, you gotta learn somewhere.” What’s sort of amazing about it is he saw something that he thought was going to translate to the television format. Television is sort of the Wild West right now, so it’s not just me that’s getting chances like this; there are tons of other filmmakers that are getting chances because everyone is waking up that independent film translates really well to television. Not just in a cost efficient way, but viewers are craving original content.

Rotten Tomatoes:  It’s difficult to stand out during Peak TV now.

Seimetz: Yeah, completely. But at the same time, you’ve got this group of — most of the people that I’ve “grown up with” in independent film are now delving into television, mostly because it’s such a beat-down to get your small movie out there. And here is sort of a format that you can make content that is personally yours, because we’re in that realm right now, but it has distribution built in. So it’s sort of a dream for independent filmmakers for this to be happening right now.

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Rotten Tomatoes: You’re a director/actor/writer; is any one more rewarding than the others? Or do they all just feed into each other?

Seimetz: They all feed into each other. I started as a writer/director because when I was very young, I just wanted to be a writer/director. But because I was learning my craft and was maybe a little insecure about what I wanted actors to do, I would just act in my own stuff. So all of it sort of developed together, and now they all feel connected. I was just telling somebody that when I’m acting, it’s almost the greatest undercover job ever to go to somebody’s set and be like, “Oh, this is really interesting how they’re doing things [laughing].” For the most part, the things I’ve acted in have had larger budgets than I’ve had, so even doing that and getting exposed to how people are working at different budget brackets — it’s really interesting for me. Because I didn’t come from money and I had to use the resources around me, I just sort of adapted my filmmaking and my producing to the fact that I didn’t have any money. And now that I’m being exposed to budgets — actual budgets and things like that — it’s interesting that it’s still essentially the same thing. But you’re not going in debt, you’re not worried about paying your rent. You’re not worried about getting a wheelchair instead of a dolly [laughing]. But you’re still using the same sort of knowledge; it’s just that you get fancier tools, I guess.

Rotten Tomatoes: The Girlfriend Experience has a very dark premise with a very dark character, and audiences eat that up these days. Do you have any thoughts as to why we devour that darkness so much?

Seimetz: Personally I always lean towards darker [laughing]. I think we’re in a really dark period of time right now, to be honest. I think in any sort of post-war situation, you’ll find movements of our fascinations with trying to understand what the human condition is — sort of breaking apart what the norms used to be — where it’s like this form of art has led us to war, and that’s where Dadaism came from, that’s where Surrealism came from, that’s where impressionism came from. All these movements of art are breaking apart whatever form we feel we are identifying with, and now we want something new. And I feel like we are sort of ignoring — publicly or politically — some of these darker aspects of where we’ve ended up, like hyper capitalism — which pertains to our show — or I guess Breaking Bad. I think it’s just sort of trying to understand what our society is doing. I find it bleak. Maybe I’m a little doomsday about it, but that’s my theory, in a way.

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Rotten Tomatoes: What do you think is the correlation between office politics — or even the legal industry — and something like prostitution? Are you trying to make that comparison? Does the show have a specific point of view?

Seimetz: As dark and sort of moody as the show is, we’re not trying to say that this is bad — that the world is bad. Or good. We’re just sort of showing it and trying to draw conclusions as to how we act as human beings. In general, whether it’s law or business or prostitution, I think most interactions are transactional — whether it’s money or what somebody can do for you or how they make you feel. You want something out of an exchange from a human being in general in your life, right? And I think any business or any sort of part of your life is also about creating boundaries and knowing when a relationship isn’t good or isn’t benefiting you anymore.  Which I think, in the world of escorting, is sort of heightened, because there are these ready-made relationships that you step into and you’re immediately intimate. The expectation is to immediately become intimate with somebody. It’s this sort of heightened — or a much more dense — version of how we operate in society.

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Rotten Tomatoes: What a job skill, having to turn on the intimacy in 0 to 60.

Seimetz: Yeah. I mean I’ve had friends who are sex workers, and we’ve interviewed lots of sex workers. I use a part of my personality that is similar to that to be an actor, a director, and writer. To enter a room with a stranger alone is not a leap. It’s not part of my personality [laughing]. It’s definitely not a job for every woman. To each his own, you know? But to me personally, it’s simultaneously terrifying and elusive and sexy. But ultimately the terrifying aspect wins, for me on a personal level [laughing].

Rotten Tomatoes: Very similar to acting, when you have to go into an audition and instantly emote.

Seimetz: Yeah, or even just working with people. When you’re on set, you’re using your emotional tools. So a lot of times you get into deep stuff and you share secrets with people on set that you don’t normally talk about in this very bubble-like atmosphere with people that maybe met two weeks ago. They’re trying to get something out of you and they’re asking you to pull — again because I lean much darker, but even in comedy too — trying to pull something out of you that is deep-rooted. You find yourself sharing a lot more on set in that atmosphere than you would over coffee with a stranger.

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Rotten Tomatoes: Christine is referred to as a “female Ted Bundy.” She doesn’t seem to like people. Then it makes her question herself. Is she a good person, and what sort of character arcs can we expect from that personality type?

Seimetz: I don’t really know what a good person is. I come from a laundry list of extremely complicated human beings [laughing]. And so there have been moments where they’re not so great and there have been moments when they are wonderful. So I don’t know. I think what’s interesting is her feelings, in general. The conflicts that occur in the show are from the aspects of her personality where she is extremely unapologetic about how she feels. She has a flicker of a moment where she wonders if something is wrong with her — if she’s a sociopath. But that’s only because somebody said that to her. But really she’s like, “You know what? I really don’t care.” And she just keeps going. Most of the conflicts come out of that unapologetic nature of the female character, because in our society — and in television — we don’t see a lot of women who are unapologetic, or are sort of OK with how they are in life, and whether or not that meets everyone’s norm. She’s not struggling to understand herself — she already knows herself. She’s just discovering her superpower, in a way [laughing].

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Rotten Tomatoes: When do we see the real Christine? Is it when she’s working, or out socially, or alone?

Seimetz: I think that’s up to the viewer to decide. Part of the allure of what we wanted to do from the series is for the viewer to constantly question who the real person is. Whether Christine is herself when she is doing her law stuff or if she is herself when she is with her clients, I don’t think any one personality is that simple. I like to say that I am myself no matter what, but I don’t treat the clerk at the grocery store like I do my mother. I feel like we’re all playing roles every time we make a transaction or every time we are in social settings. Not that we’re all completely changing our point of view, but we are all sort of playing a certain part that participates in whatever is convenient to the situation.

Rotten Tomatoes: You mentioned earlier that you interviewed people in the industry. What other research did you do to put this together?

Seimetz: When [Steven] Soderbergh first called me – he really did call me on my telephone and just offered me a television show. That really happened [laughing]. It was crazy, just weird. I think I was at Whole Foods or something in Vancouver, and I didn’t have good reception, so I had to step out into the parking lot and answer his call. That makes me sound so bougie: “I was at Whole Foods…” I’ve had a weird life. When I was on the phone with him I said, “What do we do next?” because I didn’t know what to do. He said, “Oh, we’re going to fly to Northern California and we’re going to interview some high end escorts — or GFEs [industry acronym for girlfriend experience].” I said, “OK!” So [Philip] Fleishman — one of the other executive producers, I think — I’ve asked him — I think he just cold emailed then on the internet [laughing] and found some women to come in and do this interview. I think there was a lot of, you know, “No, it’s legit” on his part. Anyhow, he found someone then, and then there was a woman that Steven used that was his consultant on the movie as well that we interviewed. And they’re all very different. The thing that I find most interesting is that they are all very unapologetic about what they do. They don’t feel bad about it. Also even on the topic of whether it’s right or wrong, they just kind of shrug and say, “This is what I do. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but this is what I do and it’s fine for me.” Which I find really, really awesome.

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I’m not a religious person and I’m not a judgmental person, and if women are willingly doing this and they really want to be doing this and they’re really fine with it, then I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to “save them.” Obviously there’s a whole underbelly that is not the world that we are exploring. Any sort of industry has its own underbelly of abuse and slavery, right? That’s sort of my take on the whole thing: you take any industry and there’s going to be abuse of power and abuse of human beings and different variations of it. Whether it’s people participating in a willing act and they’re adults, obviously, that’s completely different.

Even that story that apparently James Franco just bought the rights to, the woman [Zola] that took the trip to Florida. It’s actually really fascinating. This woman was a stripper in Detroit and she went with this other woman who was a stripper. They went on this road trip to Florida and she quickly found out that she was pressured/manipulated into becoming a prostitute. This guy was putting out ads on her and whatever. But what I found is, it is extremely entertaining but, at the same time, when I found myself reading it, this is so upsetting and it seems much more common of how women end up becoming forced into this situation. All of this stuff happens — people get kidnapped, people get this [and that] — but I think in America when we talk about people being forced into the industry, I think it’s much more manipulative. It’s people that you know and trust and are preying on sort of an emotional weakness that [the victims] have. I find that really fascinating as well, which is a completely different world.

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I think that’s also why I find our lead character — or women who want to be doing this — so interesting. They are breaking so many social codes that we expect from this line of profession — that they are willingly entering into a situation of objectification or whatever you want to call it. But they like it and they want to be doing it. Do they love their clients? Do they like their clients? I don’t know how to answer that — it’s not for me to answer that — but I think that’s why it’s so fascinating and why I think it’s so alluring — stepping into this situation that seems so dangerous and nasty. But a lot of these women have clients for, like, ten years and more, in specific instances. I’m not saying that’s the norm. It’s just this specific world that you enter willingly and you enter in the sort of higher-end world where they are looking for somebody who is intelligent and college-educated. This is an echelon of prostitution that isn’t across the board. It’s a specific world. And they want women who are intelligent and obviously beautiful. But for the most part, the women that we interviewed were very beautiful, but they just seemed normal. I think that was the appeal. They didn’t seem like what you would expect. You wouldn’t be able to point them out in a room and say, “That’s a prostitute.” Put it that way.


The Girlfriend Experience premieres Sunday on Starz at 8 p.m.

Starz released a first-look trailer of its upcoming anthology series, The Girlfriend Experience, from executive producer Steven Soderbergh. Check it out:

The Girlfriend Experience stars Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike) as Christine Reade, a second-year law student and a new intern at the prestigious firm of Kirkland & Allen. When one of her classmates turns her onto the world of “The Girlfriend Experience,” working as a high-priced girlfriend-for-hire, she finds her focus shifting from law school to the rush of control and intimacy she gets from the GFE.

Co-created by Lodge Kerrigan (The Americans) and Amy Seimetz (The Killing), wrote and directed all 13 episodes, The Girlfriend Experience hits Starz in 2016.

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