Worth Watching: Up, Up and 'Away,' 'Mulan' (for a Price), 'The Boys' Are Back
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Away (streaming on Netflix): Hilary Swank leads the first manned mission to Mars in a deluxe 10-part space drama that often plays like a serialized Apollo 13, with one life-threatening crisis after another for the international crew to contend with. Flashbacks reveal the personal choices and sacrifices each made to get there, but the meat of the drama is in the physical and psychological toll of a three-year voyage into deep space. (See the full review.)
Mulan (Disney+ Premier Access): The latest live-action remake of an animated Disney hit impressively adapts the Chinese fable into a thrilling action epic of female empowerment. Yifei Liu stars, and is thoroughly believable and moving, as Mulan, a born warrior who must disguise her gender to join the Imperial Army, facing disgrace if she is discovered, regardless of how useful she is on the battlefield. She's continually commanded to "Learn your place," but when duty calls, she steps up like the legend she will become. Also legendary: the price point of $29.99 to access the big-budget film, which was intended for a theatrical launch, now available on disneyplus.com and select platforms. (Just consider how much it would cost to see in IMAX and do the math.)
The Boys (streaming on Amazon Prime Video): The darkly funny twist on superhero culture is back for a second season — a third has already been ordered — with the vigilante Boys on the run as they plot payback against the corrupt superhero group known as the Seven. There's also turmoil among the Seven, when ego-driven Homelander's (Antony Starr) reign is threatened by a new member, the media-savvy Supe known as Stormfront (You're the Worst's Aya Cash).
Noughts + Crosses (streaming on Peacock): How many high concepts can one provocative young-adult romantic melodrama handle? Think Romeo and Juliet — or, rather, a gritty non-musical West Side Story (complete with fire-escape "balcony" scene) — set in an alternate universe where Blacks are the ruling class (called "Crosses") in Europe, centuries after the "Aprican" Empire conquered and colonized nations extending as far north as "Albion" (standing in for the U.K.). In this world, the jackboots are on the other foot, as Black police harass and brutalize oppressed "blankers," stirring revolution from a liberation militia. This six-part series uses the none-too-subtle allegorical backdrop to set up a forbidden secret romance between Callum (Jack Rowan), a white "Nought" from the servant class who aspires to be one of the first of his race to be accepted into a military training academy, and Sephy (Masali Baduza), the Black daughter of a top Crosses politician in whose home Callum's mother works and who remembers playing with Callum as a child. Rekindling their relationship will be like playing with proverbial fire.
Also new to Peacock: Anthony, a feature-film drama by Jimmy McGovern (Cracker), which imagines the life of 18-year-old Black student Anthony Walker (Toheeb Jimon) if he hadn't been murdered in 2005 in Liverpool in an unprovoked and racially motivated attack. The film unfolds in reverse chronology, revealing an imagined life that might have been had this crime not occurred, one which in reality shook the nation… On a more upbeat note, the movie documentary A Most Beautiful Thing profiles members of the first all African-American high school rowing team, comprised of men from Chicago's West Side. When they reunite 20 years later after the death of a former coach, they decide to race again, inviting members of Chicago's police department to join the team.
Ted Lasso (streaming on Apple TV+): Need some cheering up? There is no more delightful or charming a comedy currently airing than this sports sitcom starring Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis as the title character, a folksy Kansas football coach thrown into the deep end when recruited to take over a failing professional soccer team in England. In a pivotal episode, Ted's battle of wills with arrogant and selfish star player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) takes a turn when Jamie refuses to practice, just in time for a new player, the cheerful and gifted Spanish upstart Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez), to arrive and potentially show up the smug superstar.
Inside Friday TV: FX's docuseries The New York Times Presents (10/9c) borrows from the authoritative newspaper's investigation into "The Killing of Breonna Taylor" to detail just what happened after midnight on March 13 when Louisville police executed a warrant that soon turned fatal, with shock waves still resonating… Streaming highlights include the season finale of Muppets Now on Disney+, with Seth Rogen showing up to talk shop with fellow funny guy Fozzie Bear. Also from the Jim Henson Company: the whimsical Disney+ talk-show parody Earth to Ned, hosted by aliens who's fallen too much in love with human culture to invade the planet. Celebrity guests include Andy Richter, Gillian Jacobs, Kristen Schaal, Star Wars icon Billy Dee Williams, Rachel Bloom and Muppets Now veteran Taye Diggs… Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) writes and directs the surreal Netflix film i'm thinking of ending things, featuring Toni Collette (Unbelievable) and David Thewlis (Fargo) as the bizarre parents of a soft-spoken guy (Breaking Bad's Jesse Plemons) who's invited his diffident girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to his family's farm, where strange events lead to disturbing existential musings while they're all trapped in a snowstorm.