Pick of the Week: Made For Love (Neon)
At first glance, Hazel Gogol appears to be living the dream. Lounging about in cashmere jumpers all day in a nice house full of all the latest gadgets, playing flight simulators and taking regular naps scheduled by a robot assistant. The catch? She's married to a deranged tech billionaire whose latest invention is a Black Mirroresque device that lets couples connect their brains to share every thought and feeling with one another. And he wants her to be the device's first human test subject.
This is why we start Made For Love, the new HBO Max series based on the 2017 novel by Alissa Nutting, with Hazel (Cristin Milioti) crawling out of a drain in the middle of a barren desert, like a drowned rat in emerald sequins. It's the first time she's set foot outside the Gogoltech Campus in 10 years.
Flashing back 24 hours, we see the events leading up to her escape. Probably the straw that broke the camel's back came during the device's launch party, where Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen) made her perform a sickening acoustic husband-and-wife duet of "Love is Strange" from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
On the outside, Hazel hitchhikes to the nearest small town, finds a more comfortable change of clothes and reverts to using her maiden name. She also begins to suspect she's being followed, and it soon becomes clear why – she's already been implanted with her husband's device, and he's following her every move.
Like the book, Nutting's adapted script is full of eccentricity and surprises, and Cristin Milioti's performance captures the slightly unhinged energy perfectly. The first time she opens the drain, right at the start, the heavy metal lid slams closed on her head. It's unexpected, funny and a little bit violent – in a way it sets the tone for the whole show.
Waiata Anthems (TVNZ OnDemand)
Hearing the national anthem sung in te reo Māori before All Blacks tests is so normal now you forget what a seismic event it was when Hinewehi Mohi did it for the first time back in 1999. It was a huge step for te reo, and now she's taking another one in producing Waiata Anthems. The series follows popular New Zealand artists as they write a song (or re-record an old classic) in te reo – something the likes of Benee and Bic Runga have already done in recent years, and the standard they've set is pretty high.
RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under (TVNZ OnDemand)
New Zealand has made its own version of plenty of international reality formats over the years, but RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under might be the first time the production has come to us. The actual RuPaul and the actual Michelle Visage, along with Australian comedian Rhys Nicholson, will be putting 10 of Australia and New Zealand's hottest queens through their paces, and if it's anywhere near as successful as the latest season of Drag Race UK we're probably going to have an international hit on our hands. But do we have a Kiwi equivalent of "UK Hun?" up our sleeve?
The Sons of Sam (Netflix, from Wednesday)
For most people, New York's infamous Son of Sam murder spree ended with the arrest of David Berkowitz in the summer of 1977. But for one man, that's about when his lifelong obsession with the killings began. Journalist Maury Terry was adamant the Son of Sam was actually multiple people and spent the rest of his life trying to prove it. The latest addition to the Netflix true-crime library is about Terry and the all-consuming conspiracy wormhole he got stuck down – and whether or not there's any chance he could have been right.
Movie of the Week: The Way Back (Neon)
What you see when you watch The Way Back is a lot of people playing to their strengths. For writer Brad Inglesby (Mare of Easttown) that's gritty salt-of-the-earth characters battling their demons; for star Ben Affleck that's playing a down-and-out blue-collar sad-sack who gets a second chance. A former high school basketball star, he's hired to coach his old team after losing just about everything else in his life to addiction. It's a fairly familiar sports drama story, in other words, but one that's elevated by some very solid performances across the board.
From the Vault: Alien (1979) (Disney Plus)
One of the biggest debates on Twitter this year has been about whether or not you can call the 1979 film Alien a horror. No you can't, said the original tweeter, Guardian journalist Elle Hunt, it's set in space therefore it's sci-fi. Yes you can, pointed out several hundred people who disagreed and thought Alien had all the hallmarks of a classic horror. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on is that it's a great movie, and if the one thing the debate achieves is reminding us to watch it, then maybe it wasn't entirely pointless after all.
Podcast of the Week: Crushed
The summer of 1998 was a great time to be a baseball fan. It's the year sports writer Joan Niesen fell in love with the sport, and in the first episode of podcast series Crushed, she remembers the nights spent watching her local team, the St Louis Cardinals, the mornings she and her brother would race to get the paper and look at the latest stats, and the exact moment Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire broke the longstanding season record for most home runs.
The home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa that year captured imaginations around the world. But this golden summer of Niesen's childhood has had a dark cloud over it ever since it was revealed they and a lot of other baseball players had been taking quite a lot of steroids.
In Crushed, she looks back on baseball's steroid era from a number of angles, all of them personal, informative and absolutely fascinating. She talks to the sportswriter who accidentally blew the story wide open, a couple of former players who speak candidly about using steroids in the 90s and examines the whole concept of cheating in sports. Even if you don't think of yourself as a baseball fan, this is an outstanding listen.