When to watch: Now, on Hulu or free on the Starz website and app.
This 10-part documentary aired on Starz in 2018 and was one of my favorite shows that year. I’ve thought of it often since, and I’ve recommended it to friends with a level of insistence that surpasses politeness.
The show follows a handful of students and teachers through an academic year at Oak Park and River Forest High School in suburban Chicago. It’s a large, diverse and well-resourced school that struggles to address — and sometimes even to acknowledge — systemic racism.
School is where everything changes but nothing changes, and that tension is part of what makes “America to Me” so layered, this balance between complexity and day-to-day life. Big issues abound, but so do English papers and dance team auditions and poetry slams and first dates.
Of course, no one is one single thing, but because so many packaged reality shows reject nuance, we’re not as used to seeing dimensionality from real people on TV. That makes the patience and scope of “America to Me” even more striking. Teachers have parents, too; teachers are parents, too. Perceptive artists can still struggle with self-expression, and there are a lot of things one can learn or teach in a classroom beyond what’s on a syllabus.
Also this week
Bryan Voltaggio, Stephanie Cmar and Melissa King (from left, in aprons) present their dishes on the season finale of “Top Chef.”Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo
“One Day at a Time” had to halt production of its third season because of Covid, so the sitcom pivoted to an animated special, titled “The Politics Episode,” which airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on Pop TV.
“Prehistoric Road Trip,” hosted by the science educator and YouTube star Emily Graslie, premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings).
The season finale of “Top Chef” airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on Bravo, which is a bummer because this all-star season has been so much fun. For something less jazzy but more thoughtful, there’s the new food and culture series “Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi,” which arrives on Hulu on Thursday, too.
From left, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors in “Da 5 Bloods.”David Lee/Netflix
For perhaps the first time since movie theaters have largely shut down, it feels like a genuinely robust week for new releases, with big-name directors like Spike Lee (“Da 5 Bloods”), Judd Apatow (“The King of Staten Island”) and Kenneth Branagh (“Artemis Fowl”) all premiering films on streaming services. Of those three, Lee’s Vietnam epic is the standout, according to our critics, but four other independent and foreign-language films also get a Critic’s Pick, so your choices are abundant.
Some independent films are available via “virtual cinemas,” which share the rental fee between the distributor and the art-house theater of your choice. Other titles can generally be rented on all the of usual platforms — Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube — unless otherwise noted. — Scott Tobias
Although [Kenneth] Branagh serves up an occasional inspired image (a troll hanging from a boxy-lamped chandelier), the effects mostly have a sense of weightlessness, and the swirl of color offers little to catch the eye. — Ben Kenigsberg (Read the full review here.)
This long, anguished, funny, violent excursion into a hidden chamber of the nation’s heart of darkness isn’t like anything else, even if it may put you in mind of a lot of other things. In its anger, its humor and its exuberance — in the emotional richness of the central performances and of Terence Blanchard’s score — this is unmistakably a Spike Lee Joint. — A.O. Scott (Read the full review here.)
“Gulabo Sitabo” is not standard Bollywood fare: no singing, no dancing, no melodrama (and no three-hour run time). It’s part of a new wave of movies with indie spirit, and even its release plan — going direct to streaming instead of waiting out the pandemic to open in cinemas — challenges established dogmas, to some consternation in the Indian film industry. — Rachel Saltz (Read the full review here.)
The ingenuity of the movie’s structure is stimulating and delightful, but there’s one aspect of “Hill” that some may find a trifle exasperating: Even more than any of the sad-sack men who populate [Hong Sang-soo’s] other movies, Mori is kind of a stiff. — Glenn Kenny (Read the full review here.)
Colonialism is a war that began hundreds of years ago and never ended. Its modern tactics and its weapons are noted with precision in [this] ferocious documentary. — Teo Bugbee (Read the full review here.)
‘The King of Staten Island’
Here, the line between depth and bloat never comes close to fine. Apatow has left everything in. The scenes don’t unfold or reveal personalities. They just pile up; they’re long bits — parties and hangouts and meals. A violent robbery comes out of nowhere and leads to even less. — Wesley Morris (Read the full review here.)
The director Anca Damian has a playful drawing style, and her kinetic frames are always creating something new for the audience to enjoy. Images appear pasted together like a collage, with elements assembled from distinct styles. — Teo Bugbee (Read the full review here.)
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