Watching: Live Vicariously

Or try to fix your life without leaving the couch.

Dear Watchers,

With Margaret Lyons on vacation, I’ll be your newsletter concierge this week and next. So yeah, it’s been a screen-heavy summer here in our Brooklyn apartment. Blame the heat or camp cancellation or pandemic-anxiety brain-mush, but I have somehow seen a worrying number of workplace comedies while my children may have watched most episodes of “Phineas and Ferb.” This is not good parenting.

And apparently we should all be resting our eyes more. But in this world of seemingly infinite streams and services, there’s always another way to give yourself eye strain. Here are a few suggestions for whiling away these last mosquito-laden days of summer.

Happy viewing. See your optometrist.


The thought of touching strangers panics me, but I want to live vicariously

A promotional image for the cast of the new season of “Love Island.” The show is what you think it is.Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

‘Love Island’

When to watch: Monday at 8 p.m., on CBS.

Now there’s even more reason to hope that someone on set takes hot tub disinfection extremely seriously. This summer, with much of the country in lockdown, 11 ominously toned singles gathered in Las Vegas to shoot the second season of the American version of the popular British dating show. In a world in which safe sex has taken on new meanings, the series cannonballs into the pool with a two-hour season premiere. If these personal trainers, students and a billing coordinator/go-go dancer can find love, what (besides a global pandemic) is stopping you?


I have bad thoughts; show me a character with worse ones

Charly Clive in a scene from “Pure.”HBO Max, via YouTube


When to watch: Arrives Thursday on HBO Max.

A British comedy in the messy, confessional vein of “Fleabag” and “Back to Life” with a touch of “My Mad Fat Diary,” “Pure” stars Charly Clive as Marnie, a 24-year-old Scottish woman with a strain of obsessive-compulsive disorder, known as Pure O, which takes the form of intrusive sexual thoughts. How intrusive? She pictures an orgy at her parent’s anniversary party. “Sorry if that made you a bit sick in your mouth,” Marnie says in voice-over.


Inspired by the Rose Cartwright memoir, this BBC Studios show, originally broadcast on Channel 4, follows Marnie as she flees that celebration and lights out for contemporary London in search of peace, thrills and understanding. A bouncy ’60s soundtrack and Clive’s vivid, sympathetic performance counter the filthy thoughts, shown in quick cuts.

Can I fix my life without leaving my couch?

Ravi Patel in “Pursuit of Happiness,” from the episode “Overparenting in Japan.”HBO Max

‘Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness’

Where to watch: Starting Thursday on HBO Max.

This sugar-dusted documentary series follows the actor Ravi Patel (“Meet the Patels”) as he tries to debug his life, internationally. With his parents, he travels to a popular retirement destination in Mexico; with his wife, he goes to Japan to learn about parenting. He takes one pal to Korea (workaholism) and another to Denmark (immigration).

Both anxious and relentlessly optimistic, Patel is a fidgety, nebbishy guide. He eats. He drinks. He introspects lightly and reaches soppy conclusions while his wife rolls her eyes. If treating other cultures as an opportunity for self-discovery and good eats makes you itchy, this may not be the show for you. But since few of us can travel right now, there’s something to envy in his frequent flier legwork and maybe a lesson or two to take to heart.

Also this week

Michaela Coel in “I May Destroy You.”HBO

  • The season finale of “I May Destroy You,” Michaela Coel’s drama of consent, agency, friendship and truth at its most slip-sliding, airs Monday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
  • The 2020 Republican National Convention runs from Monday to Thursday, touching down first in Charlotte, then moving to Washington, D.C. (Check local listings.)
  • Depending on your attitudes about capitalism and real estate, you may or may not enjoy the second-home porn of “Million Dollar Beach House,” which premieres Wednesday on Netflix.
  • Retsuko, the angry, karaoke-loving red panda who stars in the comic anime series “Aggretsuko,” arrives for a third season Thursday, on Netflix.

Your newly available online movies

An image from “Son of the White Mare.”Arbelos Films

For the first time since March, movie theaters took a significant step toward reopening, led by the gruesome wide-release Russell Crowe thriller “Unhinged.” But the vast majority of titles are still going straight-to-streaming, where public health risks remain minimal.

This week, Michael Almereyda and Ethan Hawke, the director-actor team behind the modern-day “Hamlet” from 20 years ago, reunite for the similarly unconventional biopic “Tesla.” The documentarian Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County U.S.A.”) unpacks the failures of the 1980 mission to free American hostages in Iran in “Desert One.” And the Hungarian animated film “Son of the White Mare,” a “should-be classic” from 1981, gets a welcome revival.

Some independent films are available via “virtual cinemas,” which share the rental fee between the distributor and the art-house theater of your choice. Other titles can generally be rented on the usual platforms — Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube — unless otherwise noted. — Scott Tobias

‘Chemical Hearts’ (Amazon Prime Video only)

Yet despite the movie’s sympathy for the high stakes of Henry’s adolescence, the myopia of his point of view settles over “Chemical Hearts” like a layer of grime. As Henry struggles to crack the code of Grace’s grief, her journey is robbed of space to breathe. We are locked in Henry’s world, where Grace’s pain looks more like a catalyst for our hero’s emotional awakening. — Natalia Winkelman (Read the full review here.)

‘Coup 53’ (A Critic’s Pick, available via virtual cinema)

“Coup 53” captures a filmmaker showing his work. The scenes of [Taghi Amirani] lining up a cut-up document with an intact copy, or of him and [the editor Walter Murch] mapping out their materials, contribute to a sense of a movie that is continually interrogating itself. — Ben Kenigsberg (Read the full review here.)

‘Desert One’ (virtual cinema)

Other than some new on-the-ground perspectives from Iranians, the scoop boils down to previously unreleased White House telephone recordings, which consist mostly of Carter responding tersely to military briefings. Animations by the Iranian artist Zartosht Soltani illustrate the film’s most gripping section, a play-by-play of the operation, but there’s not much here that hasn’t already been covered — with perhaps greater vividness — in investigative articles. — Devika Girish (Read the full review here.)

‘Son of the White Mare’ (A Critic’s Pick, via Arbelos virtual cinema)

There are nods to earlier notables of the medium: the hallucinatory palette of “Yellow Submarine” and the rich visual storytelling of “Fantasia.” The film refuses to spoon-feed its narrative, using graphic motifs and an eerie, forbidding score to tell its story. — Maya Phillips (Read the full review here.)


Ethan Hawke, with somber countenance and a heavy mustache, plays Tesla as a restless soul burdened by genius and haunted by melancholy. A less imaginative film might have tried to trace that sorrow to a source in childhood, or to establish a link between Tesla’s saturnine temperament and his unsettled career. But the character, in Hawke’s quietly magnetic performance, is neither a heroic visionary nor a tragic hero. He’s a mood. — A.O. Scott (Read the full review here.)

Also newly available:


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