The A.V. Club’s favorite hidden streaming gems

The precious treasures we’ve found in the rough include Connected (Photo: Netflix), Set It Up (Photo: Netflix), Rebirth (Photo: Netflix), and Red Oaks (Photo: Amazon Studios)
Gif: Natalie Peeples
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

The number of available streaming services reached an upsetting high in 2020, bringing along an unprecedented deluge of original programming. And though we try our best here at The A.V. Club, we just can’t cover everything. So this week’s question, from web producer Baraka Kaseko, is:

What is your favorite hidden streaming gem? As in a streaming original you came across and enjoyed, but which hasn’t received a ton of coverage.

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2 / 10

Connected: The Hidden Science Of Everything

Connected: The Hidden Science Of Everything

I’m not a Radiolab listener so I had no idea that the New York Public Radio show’s director of research, Latif Nasser, had a docuseries quietly debut on Netflix in August. On Connected: The Hidden Science Of Everything, Nasser explores broad topics like surveillance, dust, and even poop—sharing how things that we never realized are related can have an impact halfway across the globe. Did you know, for example, that observing the behavior of birds in Delaware is helping scientists get more accurate hurricane season predictions? Connected’s six-episode season was the perfect find for me, since I still lament that we haven’t gotten more of Steven Johnson’s PBS series, How We Got To Now, since 2014. [Patrick Gomez]

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3 / 10

Red Oaks

Red Oaks

Even here at The A.V. Club, a website tailor-made to cover a Steven Soderbergh-produced homage to ’80s cinema partially directed by one of the filmmakers whose work set the tone for the series, we struggled to drum up an audience for Red Oaks. Blame it on the fact that Amazon barely promoted its original series until Transparent started winning Emmys; then again, Jeff Bezos’ backing meant Hal Hartley could shoot the coming-of-age series’ second season premiere in Paris, and that the other directors guiding the summers of young tennis instructor/aspiring auteur David Meyers (Craig Roberts) could include Amy Heckerling, David Gordon Green, and Gregg Araki. But a largely unsung run is fitting for a show as satisfyingly modest in its aims as Red Oaks, whose country club setting screams ribald sex comedy but whose focus is more on life’s tiny victories and deep disappointments—more Freaks And Geeks than snobs versus slobs. Fortunately, in streaming, no show is ever really over: Red Oaks is always beginning for someone, always waiting to introduce you to the comedic stylings of Ennis Esmer and make a whole bunch of additions to your Letterboxd Watchlist. [Erik Adams]

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4 / 10

Set It Up

Set It Up

Netflix is regularly producing a flurry of rom-coms, and while some are cute in a Hallmarky vein (Love, Guaranteed), many others are so loathsome as to really not be worth your time (Desperados, Love Marry Repeat, The Princess Switch: Switched Again). Set It Up (2018) is among Netflix’s best-ever releases, and for some reason the Parent Trap/Devil Wears Prada mashup never really got the play it deserved. Everybody Wants Some co-stars Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell have off-the-charts chemistry as the harried assistants of Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs, respectively, who decide to lighten their workloads by tricking their workaholic bosses into a relationship with each other. Hijinks ensue, of course, but fortunately they’re not the ones you’d expect. While Liu, Diggs, Meredith Hagner, and Pete Davidson shine in supporting roles, the easy opposites-attract appeal of the two leads sets Set It Up apart in a rapidly expanding playing field. [Gwen Ihnat]

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5 / 10

Rebirth

Rebirth

It’s been longer than half a decade since I first stumped for this movie on the site, yet the ensuing years don’t seem to have clued many more people in to this early addition—one of the first 10 original films!—in the Netflix lineup. (Maybe that has something to do with the streaming service’s unending churn of content, much without any notable promotion, leading to a serious problem for the people trying to make quality film and TV for the company? Just spitballing here.) Regardless, Karl Mueller’s Rebirth remains a compulsively watchable piece of genre silliness, the kind of feature-length Twilight Zone exercise that may not make a ton of sense, but is so daffily entertaining, there’s no need for Primer-like dot-connecting. Fran Kranz makes an excellent everyman as a bored middle manager pressed into a weekend retreat by his old best friend (Adam Goldberg) with a company that’s sort of a combination between Scientology and The Secret—at least, that’s the outward appearance. Things rapidly get strange, and the resulting film (combine Eyes Wide Shut and David Fincher’s The Game) is a wild, non-stop cavalcade. You may not love it, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying it. [Alex McLevy]

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6 / 10

Instant Hotel

Instant Hotel

There’s dozens upon dozens of reality TV competitions on Netflix, but my favorite is easily Instant Hotel, an Australian series in which catty Airbnb operators—sorry, “Instant Hotel” operators—rate each other’s lavish (and weird) properties based on price, location, night’s sleep, and other metrics. Equal parts Australian travelogue, HGTV-style real estate porn, and Real World-esque personality masher, the show amusingly channels the wonder and anxiety that accompanies the sometimes-frightening Airbnb experience. My only issue? Hunky host Luke Jacobz being replaced by haughty English interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in season two. Justice for Luke. [Randall Colburn]

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7 / 10

Blow The Man Down

Blow The Man Down

With the surge of “Sea Shanty TikTok,” it’s high time all ye landlubbers check out Blow The Man Down, which made a quiet debut on Prime Video last spring where it was adrift in early quarantine’s ocean of streaming options. A small-town noir with plenty of local flavor, Blow The Man Down isn’t just New England’s answer to Fargo; it’s also a pulpy ode to the quiet power of older generations of women. Directing duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy make an impressive feature debut with this prickly dark comedy that confidently dips its toes into idiosyncrasies—like the Greek chorus of singing fisherman—while never undercutting the tension of its central mystery. And, not to bury the lede, but it also features a scene-stealing performance from Character Actress Margo Martindale, who’s local madam, Enid Nora Devlin, is salty in every sense of the word. [Cameron Scheetz]

Read our 2020 interview with Margo Martindale.

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8 / 10

We Are The Champions

We Are The Champions

My favorite way to turn off my brain is by watching reality competition shows—which means I’ve seen a lot of them. I watched all three fashion competitions, both floral design ones, the barbecue one, the one where they make swords, the pottery one, the body painting one, several tattoo shows, and every single program pitting chefs, bakers, and/or drag performers against one another for a cash prize (that I know of, anyway). But my newest binge watch breaks the format, maintaining the thrill of competition without having to sit through a commercial break to find out who won. Netflix’s We Are The Champions profiles a different odd contest in each of its episodes, beginning with a surprisingly dangerous cheese-rolling race in rural England and ending with a bitter rivalry between three California families for the title of world champion frog jumper. The style of the show is akin to a cable documentary series from 15 years ago (think: NatGeo’s Taboo), profiling the contestants in each individual battle and filming the results of their final showdown. The series is at its best when the stakes are high—like the chili-eating tournament, where extreme pain tolerance is the key to success—as Rainn Wilson’s snarky narration can slip into condescension on some of the more frivolous episodes. But whether they’re fighting for YouTube glory or a shot at the Olympics, the spirit and persistence of the competitors is uplifting and contagious—even if your favorite sport is channel surfing. [Katie Rife]

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9 / 10

Quick Draw

Quick Draw

We’ve come a long way since the humble beginnings of Hulu’s original programming. While I certainly relish in the streamer’s more polished offerings of today, a scrappy Western comedy by the name of Quick Draw remains rather close to my heart and continues to leave me in stitches. Starring 10 Items Or Less’ John Lehr as Harvard-educated Sheriff John Henry Doyle, this short-lived, largely improvised tale of a modern lawman’s influence on the small town of Great Bend, Kansas features a sharp cast of comedians with impeccable chemistry, including pop culture talking heads Frangela and Cougar Town alum Robert Clendenin. It’s never a matter of if Sheriff Doyle will catch his perp, but whether the mode of capture will be efficient (probably not) and how often he’ll mention his alma mater in the process (way more times than necessary). In any case, each episode promises a good time, not because of any attached superstar, but because of the guaranteed comedic shots fired by a cast of aces. [Shannon Miller]

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10 / 10