This weekend I have … 15 minutes, and I have a toddler
Cookie Monster, left, and Elmo in “The Not Too Late Show With Elmo.”Richard Termine
‘The Not Too Late Show With Elmo’
When to watch: Now, on HBO Max.
If you’re living that Elmo life at the moment, this new series is plenty cute, a “Sesame Street” spin on a late-night show that winds up seeming a lot like all the actual late-night shows thanks to game and goofy celebrity segments. Cookie Monster is in the sidekick slot, and my one qualm is that there’s something unholy about seeing the soles of his feet. I wouldn’t sign up for HBO Max just for this, but if you already have an HBO subscription in some capacity and enjoy John Mulaney (he’s the guest in Episode 3), this is darling.
Sian Clifford, left, and Matthew Macfadyen in “Quiz.”AMC
When to watch: Sunday at 10 p.m., on AMC.
This zippy, tricky three-part mini-series, directed by Stephen Frears and adapted by James Graham from his own play, is based on a true story and follows an outrageous British game show scandal. Sian Clifford and Matthew Macfadyen star as a trivia fan and her doting husband who are accused of cheating their way to the top prize on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The first episode is also an origin story for “Millionaire” itself, and “Quiz” cleverly contextualizes the particular cultural needs of the late ’90s and early 2000s. If you like courtroom dramas with a twist, watch this.
Season 2 of this auteur dramedy kicks off with our hero, Ramy (played by Ramy Youssef), in a funk so bad that even his friends are put off. “Somehow you got fatter and skinnier at the same time,” one tells him. He’s feeling adrift and vaguely heartbroken, and then he meets a cool sheikh (Mahershala Ali) whose patience and perspective hold tremendous appeal. It’s hard to heighten ambivalence, so “Ramy” instead heightens some of the pain but also some of the silly randomness of life in order to clarify its central portrait. There’s a lot of sadness and alienation coursing through the show but also a lot of honesty and intimacy.
Your weekend double feature: Close encounters
Sierra McCormick as a switchboard operator in 1950s New Mexico in “The Vast of Night.”Amazon Studios
‘The Vast of Night’and ‘It Came From Outer Space’
Andrew Patterson’s “The Vast of Night” is a calling-card debut of rare bravado, arriving on Amazon Prime this week after more than a year as a festival buzz magnet. The entire film is presented as an episode of a “Twilight Zone”-like anthology show called “Paradox Theater,” set in a small New Mexico town where two energetic teenagers — a radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) — track the supernatural origins of a mysterious audio frequency.
Patterson doesn’t try to replicate the look of ’50s television — the picture is sepia tone, not black-and-white, and the pyrotechnics are conspicuously modern. But “The Vast of Night” carefully evokes that heyday of low-budget science fiction, when the prospect of “something in the sky” could be ominous enough to forgive any shortages in the effects budget.
Any number of cheapo ’50s sci-fi movies could pair with “The Vast of Night,” but “It Came From Outer Space” connects particularly well with its dusty Southwest locale, its brainiac protagonists and its alien plot to infiltrate the minds of ordinary people. Based on an original Ray Bradbury treatment, the film is about an amateur astronomer (Richard Carlson) who spots a meteor crash in the desert, only to discover that it’s an alien spaceship. The shape-shifting aliens initially attempt a body snatcher scheme, but the film inches toward a surprising optimism about close encounters. — Scott Tobias
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