What to stream (and skip) on Netflix and Amazon Prime this weekend

March 20, 2020, 3:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Amazon Studios; Amanda Matlovic—Netflix; Nicola Dove—Netflix

Stay home. As the coronavirus spreads, that’s the sentiment stressed by epidemiologists racing to combat the virus, who’ve implored Americans to avoid all nonessential travel and limit all person-to-person interactions. “Social distancing,” it seems, is our new normal—at least for now.

Though it can be challenging to look for silver linings in times as tumultuous as this, those sheltering indoors can at least rest assured that there’s now little reason to put off catching up on Netflix. And particularly with movie theaters shuttering across the country in response to the growing pandemic, Americans are looking to VOD and streaming platforms in search of their next binge-watch.

Fortune’s (still) here to help you navigate the week’s latest offerings, boiling all the entertainment out there down to a few distinct recommendations: Put more simply, should you stream it or skip it? Find out below.

STREAM IT: ‘Blow the Man Down’ (Amazon Prime)

Plenty of off-kilter crime dramas get described as “Coen-esque”—at this point, it’s practically unavoidable for any noirish caper with a devilish sense of humor. But Blow the Man Down, a knockout debut from writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, proves worthier of the descriptor than most.

More or less Fargo for Mainers, this homespun murder mystery is set in the remote coastal outpost of Easter Cove, where sea salt hangs heavy in the air and local men work on the water, trawling the ocean for a fresh catch. We meet a few of them right away, hirsute and flannel-clad, bellowing out the sea shanty that lends the film its name. In the first of many signs Cole and Krudy know what they’re doing, the fishermen sing directly into the camera, isolated from the action as a sort of barnacle-encrusted Greek chorus.

To sisters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor), this depressed little village is home, even if it’s felt far less homey since they buried their beloved mother. Priscilla’s ready to take over the family’s modest seafood shack, but Mary Beth’s itching to tear out of town. Both are stunned to learn their mother left behind sizable debts, though Mary Beth responds more angrily, storming off to drown her sorrows at a nearby watering hole. There, she links up with a skeezy ferret of a fella named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who’s bad news even before he dangles car keys and a baggie of cocaine. What results is a bender, a blowout, and eventually a body, which a horrified Mary Beth enlists Sophie to help her hide.

A quirky, fast-darkening yarn through its next act, Blow the Man Down gradually peers beneath the cozy, seemingly innocuous atmosphere of Easter Cove to illuminate dealings more twisted and dangerous. A few of their mother’s friends—thin-smiling, tough-as-nails townies played by the likes of June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot—catch wise and try quietly to look out for the sisters, though they’re preoccupied with the machinations of a local madam (Margo Martindale).

Though law enforcement officials and swarthy sailors gather at the edges of the frame, Blow the Man Down makes it refreshingly clear that women run the show, and ruthlessly so, in Easter Cove. And what a treat it is to see the film’s acting veterans, especially Martindale (whose conniving pimp makes for a phenomenally madcap antagonist), sate themselves on such toothsome, wind-weathered figures. Cole and Krudy offer their performers a mightily impressive showcase—even if it’s the scale of their own alchemic work behind the camera that lingers longest in memory.

STREAM IT: ‘Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker’ (Netflix)

The rise of Madam C.J. Walker embodies the American dream, even if the obstacle-strewn path she traveled in pursuit of hers is one too often omitted from history lessons.

Born in 1867, the first freed member of her family—on the very Delta, La., plantation where her parents had once been enslaved—Walker emerged from humble origins as a washerwoman to become one of America’s first female self-made millionaires, as the entrepreneur behind a pioneering line of hair-care products for black women.

Hers is an objectively inspirational story, so much so that it’s almost surprising Hollywood hasn’t brought it to the screen before. Self Made, an energetic Netflix miniseries, remedies that somewhat egregious oversight with polish and panache, thanks to a pedigreed team of creatives, two female directors of color (Harriet’s Kasi Lemmons, and DeMane Davis, best known for episodes of Queen Sugar), and star Octavia Spencer.

The Oscar winner (who also executive-produced) is predictably superb in the lead role, bringing out the myriad complexities and contradictions of Walker’s life with a nuanced and at times heartbreaking performance that’s near-guaranteed to bring her Emmy buzz later this year. She’s matched by Tiffany Haddish, more typically a comic actress who finds great depths of emotion in the role of Walker’s daughter, Lelia, whose queer identity becomes a major subplot in the series.

Adapted from a book by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, Self Made explores a nearly 20-year period in the hair-care mogul’s remarkably varied life, opening as Walker—then known as Sarah Breedlove, before she adopted the surname of her husband (Blair Underwood) and a new businesswoman identity—goes to work in St. Louis for Addie Monroe (Carmen Ejogo), a hairstylist whose balms and ointments work to soothe and treat damaged hair. Addie’s product does about as advertised, though she overexaggerates their effects; and when Sarah offers to help sell them door-to-door, she’s rather callously rebuffed on the basis of her hair’s texture. Undeterred, Sarah takes off for Indianapolis and opens a rival hair-care operation, finding success through her remarkable business acumen as well as by courting black women rarely if ever catered to commercially.

There’s a certain reverence to many biopics that holds their characters and contents at arm’s length, as if audiences are peering through a crystal ball back through history rather than installed in the time period itself. Much like Lemmons’s biopic Harriet, which treated its subject as a real-life superhero to the point of giving her essentially clairvoyant abilities (with admittedly mixed results), Self Made works to break the genre’s rigid, honorific traditions in a number of idiosyncratic ways, some more successful than others. Characters speak in a modern, unaffected cadence that never postures toward stiff period authenticity, while the propulsively anachronistic soundtrack swells with the voices of female R&B artists both iconic and ascendant, from Queen Latifah to Diana Gordon. There’s an electrifyingly modern charge to Self Made’s treatment of historical figures as well, such as a scene in which Walker encounters Booker T. Washington and dismantles his “bootstraps” philosophy with an alacrity that’s as startling in its potency as it will surely be maddening to historical purists.

But Self Made isn’t out to deliver a faithful retelling of Walker’s biography and makes no apologies for that. Instead, it’s after something more sweeping and more difficult to pin down, a reconstitution of Walker’s life that positively crackles with the knowledge of how she helped shape modern attitudes toward beauty and hair care. Walker’s story is a vital American saga too long left untold, and Self Made relates it with the kind of fierce, spirited vitality that finally makes that fact thoroughly, thrillingly inarguable.

SKIP IT: ‘The Letter for the King’ (Netflix)

The unexpectedly vicious hangover inflicted by Game of Thrones in its tragically blunderous final season was so intense that, for a time, it threatened to run through with a broadsword all the accumulated goodwill this writer had for the swords-and-sorcery genre.

But then came The Witcher on Netflix, a surprisingly ambitious and occasionally thrilling fantasy epic that in places skewed as dark as Thrones but eventually settled into a more Tolkien-esque groove that, if not exactly its own, at least made for an enjoyably episodic, quest-heavy binge-watch.

With its new, atrociously titled The Letter for the King, Netflix is back at that same high-fantasy well, albeit aiming younger with an expensive-looking, mythology-laden tale that tones down the bloodletting, expletives, and wanton sexuality found in Thrones and its myriad pretenders. In its place, The Letter for the King offers strong production values and a band of young, crusading heroes undertaking the kind of courier errand that would have happened off-screen in comparably tailored fantasy series; inescapably, this setup makes the show feel like a rather small-potatoes affair in a genre viewers are more accustomed to consuming as lavish, wild-boar banquets.

At center stage is Tiuri (Amir Wilson), a young knight-in-training who becomes an unlikely player in the thousand-year war between the land of Eviellan and its neighboring northern kingdoms of Unauwen and Dagonaut. When a sadistic prince named Viridian (Gijs Blom) implements a military strategy that finally brings Eviellan to its knees, the people’s only hope lies in the long-foretold hero of an ancient prophecy, whose magical powers could turn the tide of the war. After answering the door for a mortally wounded page to the fabled Black Knight with the White Shield, Tiuri and his fellow knights-in-training are tasked with delivering an all-important letter to King Favian.

As the series’ six-episode first season continues, Tiuri and his allies encounter a host of characters who help distinguish their otherwise rather stock fantasy-landscape surroundings, most notably Lavinia (Ruby Serkis), a mysterious young woman with a key role to play in what’s to come. But with such a trim episode count, it’s surprising and more than a little disheartening how quickly The Letter for the King runs out of steam.

The issues lie less in the game performances from a young and talented cast, especially Serkis (daughter of mo-cap magician Andy, who lends his Lord of the Rings–minted authority to a supporting role), and more in the plodding, rarely memorable way in which the show’s central narrative plays out. Betrayals, battles, and banter abound, but high production values can only take a generically written series so far, and there are precious little surprises in store at least in this first six-hour pilgrimage.

More than Game of Thrones, it recalls the bloodless BBC One series of yore, especially Merlin, as well as the short-lived ABC series Legend of the Seeker and more recent MTV effort The Shannara Chronicles (albeit without nearly as much elfin mysticism). For undemanding youngsters searching for a bridge into high fantasy, The Letter for the King is certainly inoffensive and occasionally solid, polished fun. But most others will leave it craving a fantasy series that conjures a real sense of wonder through its narrative ambition and scale, rather than merely grasping for it on a slighter, more surface level.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Filmmakers must make a choice as the coronavirus forces festivals online
—How Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing could change the entertainment industry
—As the coronavirus spreads, is this weekend’s historically low box office Hollywood’s new normal?
Don Cheadle on Black Monday, Wall Street in the Trump era, and hope about the climate change fight
—How Netflix’s Lost Girls upends the conventions of serial killer movies
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