In his later years, Arthur Conan Doyle became a spiritualist and séance devotee, but the author’s most famous creation, the hyper-rational Sherlock Holmes, didn’t have much time for the supernatural. Even his eeriest adversary, the murderous, glow-in-the-dark hound that menaced the Baskerville clan, turned out to be a very mortal pooch slathered in phosphorescent paint. So it’s a little discombobulating to find Netflix’s The Irregulars (eight episodes, dropping today) leaning heavily on the woo-woo.
Named for the Baker Street irregulars, the raffish kids Holmes employed to glean information in unlikely places, the new series focuses on a handful of teens led by Bea (Thaddea Graham), whose sister Jessie (Darci Shaw) has spooky visions and magical abilities. (That the girls seem to be of different racial backgrounds is one of the ways Irregulars doubles down on the rainbow-hued, multicultural casting of the Netflix hit Bridgerton.)
The first episode finds the girls and two guys (Jojo Macari and McKell David) employed by a sinister and mysterious Doctor Watson (Royce Pierreson) to investigate the abduction of four babies born on the same date. The plot allows for scenes of attacking ravens straight out of Hitchcock. (Holmes himself remains off-screen, at least in the first two episodes I saw.)
Also in the mix is Prince Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), the slumming son of Queen Victoria, though somehow the other supposedly bright and inquisitive urchins never seem to ask him anything about his posh background. Be prepared for a bunch of unintended anachronisms in the dialogue (the use of “racist” and “clones” long before the terms were in currency) and in the historical timeline. For instance, Holmes first came into being in 1887, three years after the death of the real Leopold at age 30, though he’s presented here as a quite alive teenager. That said, The Irregulars is a decent enough time-waster. Plus, it may encourage young people to discover the original stories, still rewarding after so many years.
AMAZON PRIME | The Boarding School: Las Cumbres
In the visions that haunt The Irregulars’ Jessie, she repeatedly encounters a figure wearing an ominous bird mask. On Amazon Prime, a similar figure stalks the woods that surround The Boarding School: Las Cumbres (eight episodes). A sequel to a long-running Spanish TV hit that began in 2007, it’s a moody drama about troubled teenagers sent to a strict boarding school teetering on the edge of a mountain cliff and connected to a monastery. (Shades of Black Narcissus clearly intended.) The place is run by a viciously strict principal (Natalia Dicenta), so it’s no wonder four of the kids (led by the charismatic Asia Ortega as Amaia), try to escape through the forest. Three of them land back at the school, but Amaia’s boyfriend, Manuel, never returns from the woods. She claims she saw him being carried away by that bird-masked figure.
Elsewhere on campus, we meet — again like Jessie in Irregulars — another young woman plagued by visions and disembodied voices. Oh, and there’s a very Thorn Birds-ish subplot concerning the broken sexual vows of a friar (Alberto Amarilla) with the botany teacher (Mina El Hammani). Yes, it’s little more than an elevated telenovela, but the production values are high, the cast is attractive and the creepy tone addictive.
DISNEY+ | The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
In the second original Marvel Cinematic Universe series following WandaVision, the partly Georgia-shot The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+, six weekly episodes through April 23) puts the focus on two of the lesser-hymned superheroes of the gargantuan franchise. Anthony Mackie plays the Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, the high-flying Avenger equipped with a winged jet pack and a lot of cool gadgets. Sebastian Stan is the Winter Soldier, also known as Bucky Barnes, a century-old warrior trying to atone for his years as an assassin-for-hire.
In the first episode, the two characters barely cross paths, so we have yet to see what the bigger narrative will be — but it probably involves a newly named replacement Captain America (Wyatt Russell, taking over for the big screen’s Chris Evans). The initial installment of the series suggests, as with WandaVision, there will be as much attention paid to the interpersonal lives of the two men and their families/loved ones as to the pulse-pounding action sequences.
NETFLIX | Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
It has been available for a while, but Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution recently came back into focus thanks to its Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. Directed by James LeBrecht (born with spina bifida, he’s one of the “crips” in the film) and Nicole Newnham, it’s the inspiring, sometimes infuriating tale of the long-delayed action that was required to create the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
In 1971, Camp Jened in New York’s Catskills Mountains was a funky, haphazardly run-by-hippies summertime retreat for kids with all kinds of disabilities, both physical and intellectual. What could have been a disaster became a launching pad for impressive civil action. That summer, the People’s Video Theater documented the campers in black-and-white footage that gives the 2020 film its core.
We see shaggy-haired, 15-year-old LeBrecht romancing his very first girlfriend, and he was not alone in amorous shenanigans (and STDs) among the kids. More than sexual connections, the kids at Jened found emotional support and a sense of self-worth that followed them into their adult lives. That’s particularly embodied by Judith Heumann, a polio survivor who became instrumental in the nonviolent West Coast demonstrations that led to rewritten laws and making physical access mandatory at every federally funded institution. Enriched by plenty of old video footage and contemporary interviews, Crip Camp is informative and, by the end, very moving.
NETFLIX | Waffles + Mochi
Waffles + Mochi (10 episodes) is one of the new shows from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company. Part Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, part Muppet Show, it’s an offshoot of the former FLOTUS’ focus on healthy nutrition for kids. It’s also a useful how-to for children who want to know what this whole “cooking” thing — which may have driven their parents to a frazzle during this lockdown year — is all about.
The title characters are rudimentary hand puppets: Waffles, the child of frozen waffles and a yeti, and his (her?) pal Mochi, a little pink blob that babbles adorable nonsense. Escaping from the Land of Frozen Foods, where every meal is a serving of ice cubes, they encounter Michelle O. herself, who encourages them to adventure into the world of fruits, vegetables and encounters with celebrity chefs like Oakland’s Samin Nosrat (author of Salt Fat Acid Heat, itself a Netflix limited series). The show is as silly as it is informative the young and cuisine-curious, and its heart (and stomach) are definitely in the right place.
HBO Max | Zack Snyder’s Justice League
You could probably watch all 10 episodes of Waffles in the time it takes to get through Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The 2017 Justice League, started by Snyder, was completed by Joss Whedon, the quippy Buffy and Avengers’ screenwriter-director, following a death in Snyder’s family. That two-hour version failed to wow critics or draw the audience Warner Bros. envisioned. So, fueled by internet fanboys’ pleas, the studio gave Snyder some $70 million to reassemble and shoot more footage for this colossally grim, self-important, 242-minute epic of slow-mo action scenes and murky, desaturated lighting.
Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), robot kid Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) unite to fend off alien monsters vying to destroy Earth by finding three so-called Mother Boxes, hidden in various locations. (These MacGuffins are like the magical fingerwear of Lord of the Rings or the Infinity Stones of the Avengers movies.) The problem is, to really battle these aliens, this incomplete Justice League needs another powerful alien, Superman (Henry Cavill), who, um, is unfortunately dead.
Look, if you dig the grimy aesthetic of the DC Comics films, you already know all this stuff. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you like. As for me, it took me four days to get through the dang movie. Two of those days I spent trying to get through the interminable final hour. Proceed with caution or enthusiasm. You know who you are.
THEATER ONLINE: Angels in America, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . . .
On a slightly tangential note, the good news is that the increase of vaccinations, in the States at least, implies that live theater will be happening again soon. Meanwhile, we’ve had plenty of great streaming options.
London’s National Theatre released its complete two-part 2017 production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which transferred to Broadway and earned 11 Tony Award nominations. Andrew Garfield, the erstwhile big-screen Spider-Man, plays the ailing Prior Walter, while a mesmerizing Nathan Lane plays Roy Cohn, that great, real-life Lucifer (both won Tonys). Marianne Elliott directs this stripped-down production that leads with emotion. The HBO miniseries of the material was well directed by Mike Nichols and starrily cast (Meryl Streep! Al Pacino!), but the National’s version proves that its real home is the stage.
Also on the National platform is a 2018 version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, updated to present times by Benedict Andrews. Expect smartphones and nudity. Sienna Miller plays Maggie the Cat, Jack O’Connell is her sloshed ex-athlete husband Brick and Colm Meaney makes a superlative Big Daddy (based on a Macon gentleman who playwright Tennessee Williams encountered one year when he summered there). Yes, the British/Irish actors aren’t always so spot-on with their Southern accents, but it’s a strong production. You need to be a National subscriber to watch. $12.99 month/$129.99 year at ntathome.com.
If you’re looking for a freebie, register with Lincoln Center Theater to watch, through April 11, Christopher Durang’s comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the playwright’s spin on Chekhov. The 2013 staging featured Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce and won Tony and Drama Desk awards for best play. Lincoln Center also is streaming its productions of The Wolves and The Royale.
So, until we’re able to sit together in a theater, happy streaming. And get your vaccines, please.
BINGE MORE: Catch up with our March column, which featured reviews of “WandaVision,” true-crime documentaries and much more.