As we enter the final full week of August, it’s time to reflect and think about how far we’ve come this year — no, wait, we’re exactly where we were in March. OK, so it’s a time to watch even more TV while trying not to melt in the excessive heat. Luckily, this week is offering up some truly exceptional movies, documentaries, and TV shows to pass the time.
Kicking things off is HBO’s new documentary series The Vow, which digs into the notorious case of the “self-help group” NXIVM that served as a recruitment pool for a sex cult. Also on deck this week is the Season 1 finale of I May Destroy You, a new movie on Hulu about three horndogs in high school trying to get laid on the one night a year people are allowed to get drunk and high, and the first two seasons of Cobra Kai, which are finally hitting Netflix. It’s a pretty good lineup, if we do say so ourselves.
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Series premiere Sunday at 10/9c on HBO
You might be surprised to learn that The Vow, a new docuseries that digs into the “self-help group” NXIVM, which notoriously served to recruit women for a secret sex cult led by NXIVM’s co-founder Keith Raniere, is not all that salacious in nature. The doc, directed by Oscar-nominated husband-and-wife team Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, is less concerned with sensationalizing an already unbelievable story and more about examining and explaining how sound-minded individuals came to be brainwashed and part of the cult. Over the course of the series, former members reveal their experiences and just how easily Raniere was able to manipulate the organization’s members and exploit their weaknesses, and that is almost as horrifying as anything else depicted in the series. [TV Guide Review]
I May Destroy You
Season 1 finale Monday at 9/8c on HBO
The 11 gripping and sometimes breathtaking episodes of HBO’s I May Destroy You we’ve seen so far have all been an appetizer for the finale. Witnesses to this outstanding piece of television have seen Arabella (creator-performer Michaela Coel) lose herself as she tries to piece together what happened the night she was drugged and raped; part of her grieving and coping process meant alienating and the growing closer with her friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) too. Yet many more lingering questions remain, namely, will Arabella heal from what happened? Will she revive her scuttled career? What exactly is her roommate’s deal? And of course, will she figure out who raped her, and will he meet justice? The finale answers those questions and prompts some more, putting a final fabulous flourish on a splendid season. –Malcolm Venable
Season 3 premieres Thursday on Netflix
Hands down the best animated series about a red panda who does death metal karaoke at night, Aggretsuko is for everyone who harbors a dark side and wants to fight the establishment, but also loves things that are adorable. The anime is more than just Sanrio cuteness overload, though. With storylines about aggressive male bosses and hostile work environments, it’s actually a sharp satire of a male-dominated industry with a strong female character just trying to make it through the day. –Tim Surette
Class Action Park
Thursday on HBO Max
Have you ever watched those YouTube videos featuring drone footage of abandoned amusement parks and water parks that are in disrepair and think about all the fun times you had there as a kid? This is not that. HBO Max’s new documentary Class Action Park explores the legend and horrifying legacy of Action Park, a death trap disguised as an amusement park in New Jersey that closed in 1996 after a number of people died and a growing number of lawsuits as a result of injury forced several rides to be shut down permanently. You won’t find much nostalgia in the film, despite the use of old commercials, as it uses unearthed and never-before-seen documents and recordings, as well as interviews with people who experienced Action Park during its heyday, to reveal the true story of what happened at the park and how it was ever allowed to operate.
Friday on Hulu
Two stoners were probably smoking a doobie while watching The Purge and thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a movie called The Binge, and instead of all crime being legal for one night, all drinking and drugs were legal?” Four years later, they finished their script, and it’s this Hulu original movie about three high school boys looking to get laid and/or popular on the one night everyone — including 18 year olds — is allowed to get blotto. And yes, it seems like it was written by people who were wasted. It’s your standard raunch-com that isn’t quite raunchy enough to stand out, but if you already have Hulu, it’s “free.” Plus, Morgan Freeman (or someone who does a convincing impression) narrates and Vince Vaughn plays a hummus-making principle who is obviously the father of the lead’s crush. –Tim Surette
Seasons 1 and 2 Friday on Netflix
Sometimes you don’t realize how desperately you need something until it’s right in front of you. That is Cobra Kai, which started out as YouTube Red’s (remember that?) follow-up to the beloved ’80s film The Karate Kid, but has now been scooped up by Netflix. The incredibly self-aware comedy picks up three decades after the film and finds bad boy Cobra Kai villain Johnny (William Zabka) as a sympathetic down-on-his-luck drunk, while good guy Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is an annoying successful car salesman in the Valley. After Johnny uses his karate skills to defend his young neighbor, he seeds redemption by reopening the Cobra Kai dojo to teach the type of people he once bullied. Now, before you think he just becomes a changed man, you should know that’s not true; Johnny is still a pretty big dick for the most part. The first season cleverly flips the script on their rivalry, while the second spends more time with kids in the dojo for a more generic, but still fun, result. Both seasons come to Netflix Friday, with a third original season expected at a later date. –Tim Surette and Kaitlin Thomas
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