What to Watch This Month

The latest TV and movies for you to stream in May 2021.

Sexify: The Case for Onscreen Sex

Name: Sexify
Where: Netflix
What: Series, season one, 8 episodes, 50mins
When: Now
Genre: Sitcom
Why you should watch: This femme-focused sitcom features unique sexual frankness, feminist motifs, and a healthy dose of education wrapped up in a fun, quirky storyline.

Polish sitcom Sexify, which just launched on Netflix, is an unfiltered look at sex, intimacy, and pleasure centered around a team of young women building an app to maximize the female orgasm.

It’s clear that Netflix is trying to break ground: Sexify’s trailer alone includes more on-screen vibrators than every episode of network television ever aired, combined. And while it has some obvious shortcomings (like many feminist-coded shows before it, its version of groundbreaking representation ostensibly only involves white women), it could potentially introduce a whole new generation of girls to sexual self-advocacy. It’s a potent reminder that sex on TV has come a long way since the early days of broadcast television.

In fact, television’s entire sexual revolution has been relatively recent. While the cause for publicly broadcast horniness advanced incrementally throughout the 20th century, one of the most notable jumps forward came in 1998, when HBO revolutionized the idea of sex on TV through the release of the explosive hit show Sex and the City.

HBO’s very existence had already provided an alternative to sex-negative network TV, but SATC’s remarkable success normalized frank discussions of sex and sexuality in North American culture in a way that set the stage for almost everything that came after it.

Before the groundbreaking, provocative dramedy, relationships on mainstream television had been puritanical, chaste; sex was implied at best and ignored at worst. Broadcast standards kept nudity to a minimum and any kind of sex—especially when it involved queer relationships and female pleasure— was highly controversial.

But today, the sex scenes and relationship foibles shown in Sex and the City seem practically parochial—when they’re not outright offensive and outdated. The advent of private streaming services has changed the game for sex on home screens, and now that television broadcast standards hold little to no leverage over what Netflix, Crave, Prime and the rest can display in their original content, we’re seeing sex discussed more frankly, honestly and explicitly than ever.

That doesn’t mean that sex isn’t still controversial. One of the most provocative and heavily criticized cultural TV moments in recent history was the release of Netflix’s Big Mouth (2017– ) a raunchy, purposefully gross, offensively in-your-face animated series about middle-schoolers going through puberty. The series’ penchant for showing animated teenage genitals has garnered a tsunami of criticism, and been called everything from perverted to pedophilic— and not entirely without cause.

I liked the show, and while I may be exposing both my age and my late sexual development here, it offered a type of no-holds-barred sexual education that genuinely helped me understand my teenage body in a way that school couldn’t.

Netflix’s Sex Education was a— slightly—less controversial addition to the onscreen sexual revolution of the late 2010s. It’s one of the best shows of the past 20 years, in part because it’s perhaps the best example of what onscreen sex can accomplish. The quality of the show was so high that it made heavily researched, widely inclusive sexual education a must-watch for every teenager with a Netflix account.

Sex Education covered topics like vaginismus, queer sex, erectile dysfunction, body-positive sex and more—topics that are too hot-button for most of the sex-ed curricula in North America. But unlike freshman-year classes, teenagers actually wanted to pay attention.

This is the value of good sex on TV—when done right, it has the ability to normalize and de-mystify sex in a way that’s accessible, grounded and cool. Classroom sex-ed is often too clinical to be applicable to the average teenager, and while porn is far more accessible, it’s often violent, misogynist and one-sided.

This new wave of realistic, unfiltered, onscreen sex draws on the allure of one and the efficacy of the other to hit the metaphorical G-spot of representation. And with shows like Sexify hitting the mainstream and centering women, masturbation and sexual exploration in their narratives, empowerment through sex education is more accessible than ever.

Screenshot from The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Where: Amazon Plus
What: Limited series, 10 episodes, 60 mins
When: May 14
Genre: Alternative historical drama
Why you should watch: Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) creates a riveting, sometimes gruesome, alternative history where an actual underground railroad—with an engine—provides a route to freedom for enslaved people. Based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of the same name, Jenkins delivers an essential look at African American life in the 1800s.

Screenshot of Selena singing on stage

Selena: The Series

Where: Netflix
What: Series, season 2, nine episodes, 35 mins
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: Following the true story of one of the most successful Latin artists ever, season one started at the beginning of Selena Quintanilla’s career: singing in a family band in small-town roadhouse restaurants and county fairs. In season two, picks Selena is on brink of stardom, and adjusting to hustle of life in a demanding music industry before she catapults to mega-fame.

Screenshot from Two Distant Strangers of police officer confronting black man

Two Distant Strangers

Where: Netflix
What: Short film, 32 mins
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: Rapper Joey Bada$$ stars in this Oscar-winning short, produced by P. Diddy, Jesse Williams and Pulp Fiction producer Lawrence Bender, as a cartoonist named Carter James who just wants to get home to his dog—but keeps getting targeted by the cops. In Groundhog Day fashion, he has to keep reliving the same terrible day over and over again.

Screenshot of main character

Tiny Time: King for a Day

Where: VOD
What: Film, 78 mins
When: Now
Genre: Documentary
Why you should watch: Ghost-faced, grubby with a perpetual smile, Tiny Tim projected an addictive innocence with his ukulele-powered, falsetto warbling that was briefly a tonic for the troubled 60s. His Johnny Carson Show wedding was most watched TV show of the time, after the moon landing. Archival footage, interviews, animation and diary entries shine a light on his rise fall and struggle to get back in the spotlight.

Screenshot from Beast Beast

Beast Beast

Where: VOD
What: Film, 85 mins
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: In a sleepy Southern U.S. town that seems fit for nothing more than coming-of-age stories—first crushes, kisses, school projects—a rude awakening comes when social media, technology and gun violence clash. Following the intertwined stories of three teens and young adults, Alec Baldwin sits in the executive producer seat of this South by Southwest (SXSW) and Sundance Film Festival selection.

Screenshot of astronaut from For All Mankind

For All Mankind

Where: Apple TV
What: Series, two seasons, 60 mins
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: Mankind presumes 60s space race, Soviet Union and Cold War just kept on going, processing misogyny, racism, homophobia and more along the way. The first season is set in the 60s, while the justwrapped second season offers a twisted version of Ronald Reagan’s 80s America with a satisfying soap opera-esque narrative that bounces between the moon and the earth. Season three confirmed.

Screenshot of woman holding cocktail from French Exit

French Exit

Where: VOD
What: Film, 113 mins
When: Now
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: Michelle Pfeiffer and Oscar-nominated Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) turn in powerful performances as a widowed, recently wealthy New Yorker and her young adult son, as they suffer a Schitts Creekian fall from grace with subdued humour. “I thought I’d die before the money ran out,” Pfeiffer’s character says. The two move to Paris, toughing it out with a group of eccentric characters.

Screenshot of stressed out character from Alice in Borderland

Alice in Borderland

Where: Netflix
What: TV series, 8 episodes, 50 mins
When: Now
Genre: Thriller
Why you should watch: Japanese dystopian thriller, based on a popular manga series, follows Arisu, a young guy obsessed with video games—until they become too real. Arisu finds himself in a parallel-universe Tokyo with his two friends, forced to compete in sadistic schemes in order to survive.

 

Recommended by: Manila Grey “They have to play these games or they die. It’s amazing” – Sol

Screenshot of two injured main characters in forest

The Retreat

Where: VOD
What: Film, 81 mins
When: May 21
Genre: Horror
Why you should watch: Filmed in Ontario’s Mono Mills area, this getaway weekend gone-wrong flick aims to reframe how LGBT characters are portrayed in horror films. When Renee and Valerie head to the woods to meet friends for a relaxing weekend, they arrive to find them already gone. Stumbling through relationship woes and alt-right extremists in the forest, it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll make it out alive.

Bethenny striking a pose in black leather dress

The Big Shot with Bethenny

Where: HBO Max
What: TV series, 7 episodes, 60 mins
When: Now, new episodes May 13, 20
Genre: Reality
Why you should watch: The (former) baddest bitch on The Real Housewives of New York and the founder of the Skinnygirl empire, Bethenny Frankel is now giving budding business moguls a chance to earn a coveted spot on her executive team. Kind of like Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, but for professionals.

Screenshot of main character with arms crossed

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

Where: YouTube
What: Clips from philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s 2012 film
Genre: Politics/philosophy
Why you should watch: Public intellectual, internet micro-celebrity and controversial communist thinker Slavoj Zizek has one of the most fascinating brains on the planet, and these clips make his musings accessible and interesting.

 

Sophie Fiennes, 2012 release The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, a documentary-style film exploring Zizek’s ideas on reality, fantasy, media consumption, sexuality, and more has been separated into YouTube clips.

 

Tondra Ad Dita posing in her swanky kitchen

Architectural Digest Open Door

Where: YouTube
What: House tours from some of the world’s biggest stars
Genre: Celebrity
Why you should watch: Want to see how the 0.1 percent live? There’s no better way to beat pandemic cabin – or apartment – fever than Architectural Digest’s Open Door series as celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Naomi Campbell and Dakota Johnson tour their extravagant, visually stunning homes. The combination of class-envy and ASMR-level satisfaction makes these an addicting watch.

 

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