At some point in the near-future, we’re due to hit a pandemic-induced entertainment drought, when production shutdowns will slow new releases to a trickle. We’re clearly not there yet, however. Though blockbuster movies keep getting pushed back further and further, streaming services are still moving full steam ahead — this October, you can catch a once-in-a-lifetime concert film, an offbeat horror movie about killer hair, an all-star biopic of a highly political court case, a doc on death (sort of) and a stunning Italian adaptation of a Jack London book.
And, on the TV front, it looks like a typically overstuffed October, one that includes an ambitious miniseries based on a Tom Wolfe classic, a new romcom show about from Sex and the City‘s Darren Star, a sci-fi anthology series, a horror anthology series, yet another The Walking Dead spinoff and the much anticipated return of The Mandalorian. There’s a lot to watch, in other words. Here’s what you need to check out this month.
American Utopia (HBO, Oct.17)
If you were lucky enough to catch David Byrne’s Broadway show in 2019 or early 2020, you probably still haven’t stopped talking about it. Staged with clockwork precision and inspired by drum lines and color guard troupes, the performance art-cum-concerts featured Byrne and an expansive (and shoeless) band performing solo tracks, Talking Heads classics and cover songs in an ever-shifting array of formations. Fortunately, the musician brought in no less than Spike Lee to turn the performance into a movie, one that will probably inspire a whole new wave of admirers.
Bad Hair (Hulu, Oct.23)
Almost certainly the first horror film about making a Faustian bargain with a weave, this second feature from Justin Simien (Dear White People) stars Elle Lorraine as Anna, an on-air personality at a music video program in 1980s L.A. When her new boss (Vanessa Williams) pushes her to abandon her natural hairstyle to get ahead, she finds her subsequent ascent comes at a horrible price. Expect satire with an all-star body count thanks to a cast that includes Laverne Cox, James VanDerBeek, Blair Underwood, and Usher.
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The Comedy Store (Showtime, Oct. 4)
A proving ground for up-and-coming comics since the 1970s, L.A.’s Comedy Store helped launch the careers of Robin Willians, David Letterman, Sandra Bernhard, and countless others in its golden age. Run by owner Mitzi Shore up to her death in 2018, it’s a place where a lot of history has piled up over the years. Mike Binder’s new documentary attempts to unpack that history across five installments that include previously unseen footage and interviews with those who lived it.
Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix, Oct. 2)
When documentarian Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) learned her father Richard was dying, she decided to document his decline by interviewing him about his life. She also staged variations of his possible demise, and his imagined, heavenly afterlife. That may sound a little cruel, not to mention morbid. But Richard remains an enthusiastic participant throughout the project, sharing his daughter’s dry sense of humor and her impulse to reflect on existence as his dementia worsens. The result is a moving, one-of-a-kind film that blurs the line between documentary and fiction as Johnson pays tribute to the life her father lived while he’s still around to appreciate it.
Emily in Paris (Netflix, Oct. 2)
Cultures clash when Emily (Lily Collins), a practical marketing expert from Chicago, moves to Paris to offer advice to a trés French marketing firm. The latest series from Darren Star (Younger, Sex and the City) promises misunderstandings, romantic mishaps, and one memorable outfit after another thanks to the participation costume designer, and longtime Star collaborator, Patricia Field.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix, Oct. 9)
This first feature from writer, director, and star Radha Blank wowed Sundance with an autobiographical story of a New York playwright attempting to stake a place in a creative community in which black voices often have a hard time making themselves heard. Blank plays a writer once named one of New York’s top talents under 30 who’s discovered that, so far at least, 40 offers only closed doors and chances to teach disrespectful teens. To work out her frustrations, she returns to an old love: rapping.
Grand Army (Netflix, Oct. 16)
Another product of a New York playwright, this new drama stems from the work of creator Katie Cappiello (Slut: The Play). The series follows five students from diverse backgrounds as they navigate a large public high school in Brooklyn, one that serves as a magnet for the issues of the day.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix, Oct. 9)
In 2018, Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) released The Haunting of Hill House, a miniseries that didn’t so much adapt Shirley Jackson’s novel as remix its themes. Loosely adapting The Turn of the Screw, this new series looks to do the same for Henry James’ classic, creepy novella. James’ book has had many adaptations, some remarkable (The Innocents) and others instantly forgotten (The Turning), but Flanagan’s track record and decision to reunite much of the cast that made Hill House a hit suggests this will offer a new spin on a familiar tale.
Honest Thief (Theaters, Oct. 9)
Once again playing a character with a particular set of skills — bank robbing, in this case — Liam Neeson stars as a criminal trying to go straight in an attempt to enjoy an honest relationship with the love of his life (Kate Walsh). Things don’t go according to plan, however, thanks to some dishonest FBI. We bet Liam gets angry and some faces get punched.
The Mandalorian (Disney+, Oct. 30)
After a first season in which Mando (Pedro Pascal) learned that sometimes you have to stop bounty hunting and care for an adorable little alien with mysterious powers, this second season of Disney+’s hit Star War series finds him wondering what to do next. Short answer: return the child to the Jedi — even though the masters of the Force and the Mandalorians have a long, unpleasant history. Don’t expect it to be a smooth journey, thanks to some unsettled business with the Imperial die-hards and whatever new enemies they’re sure to meet along the way.
Martin Eden (Theaters, Oct.16)
Jack London’s semi-autobiographical novel gets transplanted to Italy in this new film by Pietro Marcello (Lost and Beautiful). Luca Marinelli (The Old Guard) stars as a sailor who falls in love with an aristocratic woman and develops literary aspirations. Despite his talent, however, he meets resistance from a system that treats the working class with condescension and contempt. After Call of the Wild, this is the year’s second Jack London adaptation (but you expect a lot less CGI dogs in this one).
Marvel’s Helstrom (Hulu, Oct. 16)
In the 1970s, Marvel Comics enjoyed great success with supernatural titles like Ghost Rider and The Tomb of Dracula, books that introduced the occult into its superhero-filled universe. This new Hulu series brings two characters created in that period — Damion (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon) — to television as a demon-fighting brother/sister team whose institutionalized mother (Elizabeth Marvel) harbors a dark secret. To reveal the names the characters go by in the comics would probably count as a spoiler…but the curious are welcome to Google the info.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix, October 23)
Based on a novel by Walter Tevis (The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth), this five-part miniseries stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth, a chess prodigy who strives to become a Grandmaster. She struggles with sexism, self-doubt, and addiction along the way. Showrunner Scott Frank enjoyed Netflix success with the 2017 western series Godless, and this mid-20th-century drama looks like it takes place in a world that’s, in its own way, just as dangerous.
Rebecca (Netflix, Oct. 21)
The latest from director Ben Wheatley (Free Fire) is based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel about an unnamed woman (Lily James) who marries wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), only to find be met with a chilly reception when she moves into his Cornish estate of Manderley. Chilliest of all: Manderley’s housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s determined to remind the its newest resident of how beloved Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, was. Du Maurier’s book has previously been adapted by Alfred Hitchcock with the help of stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson; that version won Best Picture and remains a classic. If nothing else, Wheatley’s new take bears little resemblance to Hitchcock’s version, which might help it escape comparison.
The Right Stuff (Disney+, Oct. 9)
Speaking of adaptations that have already been made into notable movies: National Geographic and Disney+ take another stab at Tom Wolfe’s 1979 account of the space program via an eight-episode season focusing on the original Mercery Seven astronauts and the early days of NASA. Taking its cues from Wolfe, the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced series will focus on the challenges faced by John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams), Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman), and the others as they train for some seemingly impossible tasks under the spotlight of a nation fascinated by their every move.
Song Exploder (Netflix, Oct.r 2)
Launched by creator and host Hrishikesh Hirway in 2014, the Song Exploder podcast operates on a simple premise: musicians stop by and take one of their songs apart, piece by piece. This new Netflix series assumes that what works as a podcast might work as well, or better, with visuals. Bringing in some top-tier musicians can’t hurt, either. The first round of guests includes Alicia Keys, Michael Stipe, Ty Dolla $ign, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Soulmates (AMC, Oct. 5)
The bad news: Love is incredibly messy and sometimes you end up with the wrong person. The good news: In the near future, science has devised a test that pairs subjects with their ideal match. Or is that good news? Created by Will Bridges (Stranger Things, Black Mirror), this anthology series explores the question from different angles with each episode. Guest stars include Malin Akerman, Charlie Heaton, and Sarah Snook.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix, Oct. 16)
If you’re going to make a movie about one of the 20th century’s most memorable — and consequential — trials, who else do you turn to but Aaron Sorkin? In fact, the writer-director got the call to write a drama about the radicals who were accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention some 13 years ago, when Steven Spielberg toyed with the idea of directing the film. Cut to 2020, when Sorkin’s own film hits Netflix with a highly renewed sense of currency. Among those playing the parts of the Chicago 7, and the lawyers hired to defend and prosecute them: Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and and recent Emmy winner Yahya Abdul Mateen II — all actors seemingly born to recite Sorkin dialogue while decked out in period costumes.
The Undoing (HBO, Oct. 25)
For their first team-up after the success of Big Little Lies, producer David E. Kelly and star Nicole Kidman have taken on another buzzy bestseller about how quickly seemingly perfect lives can unravel. In this adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known, Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a therapist who seems to have it all, from a soon-to-be-published, sure-to-be-successful book to a handsome husband (Hugh Grant). Then a murder upends her life and makes her question everything she thought she knew about her marriage. Susanne Bier (Bird Box) directs the entirety of the six-episode series.
The Walking Dead: The World Beyond (AMC, Oct. 4)
The original TWD may be set to draw to a close at the end of its 11th season in 2022, but expect the franchise to shuffle on for much longer thanks to spinoffs like this one. Set to run for two 10-episode seasons, The World Beyond takes place in Nebraska a decade after the zombie apocalypse upended civilization and will focus on what comes next for a generation that’s come of age surrounded by the undead.
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