Watching: Two Fantastic Newcomers

At least TV is great this week.

Author Headshot

By Margaret Lyons

Television Critic

Dear Watchers,

I’m still adjusting to the from-home version of “Saturday Night Live” — perhaps I’m still adjusting to the from-home version of everything, actually — but this week’s installment had a few highlights, and I’m always partial to when Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon team up. This grocery store ad really spoke to me.

I hope you’re as OK as you can be. See you Wednesday.


I want to enjoy a range of human emotions but mostly happiness

From left, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in “Never Have I Ever.”Lara Solanki/Netflix © 2020

‘Never Have I Ever’

When to watch: Now, on Netflix.

This coming-of-age dramedy, created by Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling, centers on Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a high schooler trying to turn over a new leaf. Last year, her father died and she had a bout of psychosomatic paralysis. This year, she is determined to expand her horizons, specifically in the romance department. “Never” moves like a teen comedy and has a sort of “Mean Girls” gloss on high school in terms of its anthropology of teendom and its school aesthetic. But it’s rooted in a “My So-Called Life” realm of sincerity and candor — in that adolescent inability to triage, where everything is the most important thing and being alive is humiliating.


“Never” is funny, it’s distinctive, it can play “Frasier”-style sitcom farce or “Jane the Virgin”-style intergenerational weeping. I watched all 10 half-hour episodes in a sitting, and it was certainly the best quarantine night I’ve had — and the best TV night over all since I watched Season 2 of “Fleabag” the night before I went on a beach vacation with my best friend. It’s a knockout. If you like ambitious comedies and amazing vibes, watch this.

Actually I prefer a darker spectrum of human emotions

Daisy Edgar-Jones, left, and Paul Mescal in “Normal People.”Hulu

‘Normal People’

When to watch: Starting Wednesday, on Hulu.

If you prefer your coming-of-age stories much more grounded and gray, watch this fantastic adaptation of Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) are in high school in Ireland when they meet, and they fall into a tortured romance that winds through their college years in Dublin. They love each other terribly — as in a lot, but also as in they’re extremely bad it — and heartbreak and self-recrimination abound. The show can be so austere that it feels as if it needs your own breath to fill its lungs, which creates an almost jarring sense of intimacy; you understand why Marianne and Connell cling so intensely to their robust sexual compatibility. It’s the most alive either of them ever seems.


Movies: Newly available this week

Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in “The Photograph.”Emily Aragones

Adventurous Hulu subscribers won’t have to pay extra to see one of the year’s most audacious films, “The Assistant,” when it makes its streaming debut on Tuesday. Inspired by the Harvey Weinstein case, Kitty Green’s minimalist drama follows one day in the life of a recent college graduate (Julia Garner) who lands a job as a junior assistant to a Weinstein-like executive.

That film and the week’s other big release, the Valentine’s Day romance “The Photograph,” are also available to purchase on many of the usual platforms — Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube — but a rental option is usually available within a few weeks. — Scott Tobias

Here’s what our critics had to say about this week’s selections:

‘The Assistant’ (Available starting Tuesday — A Critic’s Pick)

Unfolding over one acutely distressing workday, “The Assistant” is less a #MeToo story than a painstaking examination of the way individual slights can coalesce into a suffocating miasma of harassment. That funk is breathed by everyone in a movie that strikingly pairs the executive’s demeaning actions with the stifling moral vacancy of the power structure that shields him. — Jeannette Catsoulis (Read the full review here.)

‘The Photograph’ (Tuesday)

There’s enough that’s right here, most crucially the two leads, that you want Meghie [the director Stella Meghie] to dig deeper into Mae and Michael’s lives, more thoroughly explore their histories, regrets, confusions, dreams and evolving feelings. Instead, she puts their love story into unsatisfying play with the romance that bloomed years earlier. — Manohla Dargis (Read the full review here.)

Also this week

Jason Segel on the season finale of “Dispatches from Elsewhere.”Jessica Kourkounis/AMC

  • Season finales this week include: “Prodigal Son” (Monday at 9 p.m. on Fox), “Breeders” (Monday at 10 p.m. on FX), “Dispatches from Elsewhere” (Monday at 10 p.m. on AMC) and “Better Things” (Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX).
  • There’s a special no-sports episode of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” Tuesday at 10 p.m. on HBO.
  • The “Parks and Recreation” coronavirus special episode airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.


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