10 Nerdy Things to Watch on CBS All Access (Besides Star Trek)

The Narrator (Jordan Peele) meets Sophie (Zazie Beetz) in the “Blurryman” episode of The Twilight Zone.
The Narrator (Jordan Peele) meets Sophie (Zazie Beetz) in the “Blurryman” episode of The Twilight Zone.
Photo: Robert Falcone (CBS)

We love Star Trek. And Star Trek is clearly the number one reason to get a CBS All Access account, especially with the 60-day free promotion the streamer has going on at the moment. But what else does CBS’s online hub have, besides Picard and other Treks, and, like, NCIS spin-offs? We did some digging for you.

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TV

Welcome to Evil.
Welcome to Evil.
Image: Elizabeth Fisher (CBS)
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1) Evil (season 1)

There’s another season of Evil coming one of these days, so now’s a great time to catch up on season one. It’s an entertaining take on X-Files-style supernatural investigating, except every “case” is assigned by the Catholic Church, with a team consisting of a priest-in-training (Mike Colter), a skeptical techie (Aasif Mandvi), and an on-the-fence psychologist (Katja Herbers). In addition to fleshing out its unique characters and making its procedural format feel consistently fresh, the show also developed a wider mythology around its malevolent antagonist, with a shocking finale that sets up a hell of a season two...pun intended.

2) The Twilight Zone (2019 reboot, season 1; classic series, seasons 1-5)

Jordan Peele’s recent Twilight Zone update was a bit hit or miss, but the cast is consistently excellent throughout, and the good episodes were so good we’re excited for the eventual second season. Since there’s no need to watch the installments in chronological order, we recommend season finale “Blurryman” (directed by Simon Kinberg), as well as “A Traveler” (from Ana Lily Amirpour) and “Six Degrees of Freedom” (from Jakob Verbruggen) to start.

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For fans of the Rod Serling classic—seriously...who isn’t a fan?—CBS All Access also has the first five seasons of the original series, which aired between 1959 and 1964 and contain such influential, enduring installments as “Time Enough at Last” (touché), “The Hitchhiker,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “Two,” “It’s a Good Life,” “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and dozens more.

3) Beauty and the Beast (seasons 1-3)

No Disney here; this late-1980s take on the familiar fairy tale stars Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman as guess which characters. Hamilton (who’s actually only in one episode of the short third season) plays a New York City attorney who discovers a community of (mostly) benevolent people dwelling in the whimsical, underground “World Below”—including the Beast, who comes to her aid after she’s attacked in the pilot, which is naturally titled “Once Upon a Time.” Beauty and the Beast aired on CBS from 1987-1990, with some guy named George R.R. Martin, who was one of the producers, writing or co-writing several episodes.

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4) The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Over a decade before he made Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson directed and co-wrote this blend of demonic possession narrative and courtroom drama, following the (loosely) “based on a true story” tale of a college student’s death after a brutal exorcism. The unusually good cast (including Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, plus a pre-Dexter Jennifer Carpenter as the title character) is the best part about this one—though the exorcism sequence is memorably agonizing and does a lot to excuse the so-so jump scares deployed at other moments.

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5) The Ring

Gore Verbinski’s remake of the 1998 Japanese film came out in 2002, which means that beyond its lasting impact as an atmospheric, supernatural murder mystery propelled by a tense, ticking-clock plot device, it’s also a time capsule of turn-of-the-century technology. Naomi Watts plays the main character, Rachel, a newspaper reporter who pulls clues from a proto-Google search engine but is equally beholden to rummaging through piles of old newsprint.

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Most famously, The Ring revolves around a cursed VHS tape (the movie will give you “adjusting the tracking” flashbacks) and land-line telephones, which trill each time a death countdown begins. Just a year after her big Mulholland Dr. breakthrough, Watts brings the kind of intensity that’s become her trademark, but the two kids in the movie—David Dorfman as Rachel’s precocious son and Daveigh Chase as the haunted Samara—are also very good, which further helps nudge The Ring toward modern classic status.

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6) The Craft

Yeah, this is one we usually save as part of a Halloween-themed rewatch binge (along with Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and the like). And yeah, there is a remake coming...one of these days. But in these troubled times, putting on a favorite movie (filled with ‘90s fashions, high-school drama, and magic that quickly shifts from quirky teenage hobby to something that has life-or-death stakes) can be the equivalent of eating comfort food.

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7) Zombieland

Yeah, the sequel just came out, and it’s fun, but the original Zombieland—a fast-paced splatter comedy about a quartet of misfits battling zombies and each other in the post-apocalypse—still has the edge, if only because it contains one of the funniest, most unexpected cameos in horror history. Your corner store might not have any toilet paper, but you can surely dig up some Twinkies next time you make a socially-distanced supply run.

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8) Gattaca

Andrew Niccol’s 1997 sci-fi tale is notable for several reasons: its striking production design, a mix of 1940s chic and space-age sleek; its eerie depiction of a world where people are judged solely on their engineered (or not) genetics; and some wonderfully layered performances, especially Ethan Hawke as Vincent, an “invalid” who goes to extraordinary lengths to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut, and Jude Law as Jerome, the troubled “elite” who helps him. While Vincent’s determined subterfuge propels Gattaca’s plot—and he’s the one imperiled when his DNA is found at a gruesome crime scene—Jerome’s story is the more agonizing one, offering proof that human perfection really is just an illusion.

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9) Starship Troopers

Robert Heinlein’s 1960 novel provided inspiration for Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 gleefully gory sci-fi satire about earnest military recruits sent to battle the vicious, insect-like aliens who’ve targeted Earth. If you’re an io9 reader, chances are very good that you’ve watched Starship Troopers so many times you can quote back at the screen (“I say kill ‘em all!”), but if you get the urge to dissect which actor gives the most extra performance (your choices are Neil Patrick Harris and Denise Richards), or are having yourself a Michael Ironside film festival, or just really want to remind yourself of that weird, football-like sport that propels some of the movie’s biggest moments, it’s waiting for you on CBS All Access.

10) Spider-Man

These days, it feels like there’s always another Spider-Man movie (or two, or 10) in the works at any given moment. But there was a time when seeing Spidey on the big screen was kind of a novelty—specifically, circa 2002, when Sam Raimi released the first of his three Spider-Man movies starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Willem Dafoe (whose performance is still inspiring memes in 2020). How does this first wave of 21st century Marvel heroism (and its corresponding swooping-through-Manhattan special effects) hold up? There’s no better time than right now to remind yourself.

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

We are also using the free month now.

SPOILERS!!!!!

Discovery was so-so. They decided to set it 10 years before TOS, then proceeded to royally fuck with continuity. I don’t mind so much if they are telling a good, original, story, but absolutely nothing in season 1 relied on being set in that time period or involving Spock and Sarek. That makes it useless fan service. They didn’t do it to tell a new story, they did it so they could say “hey! remember this? Wasn’t that cool?” They involved Spock and Sarek in the second season, but continued to mess with continuity so much they needed to add a Coda at the end where basically everybody promises never to talk about anything that breaks continuity ever again, under penalty of catapult. It was really annoying because there were some really good elements. They seem to be setting themselves up to get away from all of that in the future. But they also have about 6 bridge officers on the Discovery who are no more than set decorations. They failed at the ensemble thing that Trek does well really badly. Also, nearly every problem is solved with technobabble. That’s just lazy.

Picard was really great up until the last two episodes when they dropped the ball. The call backs and cameos there were mostly really good and in the service of the story. I mean, you should be able to tell the story of a brand new Star Fleet officer and ship without needing Spock, but you can’t tell the continuation of Picard’s story without his former crewmates.

The Twilight Zone was pretty bad. It is as subtle as a sledgehammer. People forget that the original was hit or miss and didn’t always have a message. This one is pretty much all miss, they all have a message, the messages are obvious in the first five minutes, they hit you over the head with them repeatedly during the episode, and the twists are either easy to see coming or dumb.

Evil has been disappointing after I heard good things. We have three episodes left and it is also very un-subtle. Michael Emerson can be a great villain. Ben Linus turned lying with the truth into high art, but Leland Townsend is none of that. Early on he talks about how it will be such a joy to corrupt a non-believer like Kristin (the lead). Both work as psychologists for the DA and early on she catches him on a recording saying he is acting in bad faith and is a horrible person. She can’t use the tape because he has some magical TV jammer that hides his half of the conversation, so the good guys decide to fake it. Excuse me, “deep fake” it. Because this show wants us to think it is hip and has learned a few buzz words. The ploy works and I expected Leland to be really happy that Kristin had taken her first steps into questionable behavior. Nope. He just gets mad that he lost and she won. Missed opportunity. This sort of thing happens repeatedly. Also, even though they have a recording which the court believes where he says he wants innocents to be corrupted by multiple prison rapes, nobody bothers to investigate him and he continues to practice as a psychologist and corrupt other really dumb characters. Including Kristin’s mother - who also hears the tape but just assumes her daughter is jealous and lying. Leland gets grandma to teach one of her grand daughters how to fight dirty and tell lies to cover her ass. It’s not that these characters are complex, bad people. They are just dumb. Unless things turn around in the last three episodes I have no interest in Season 2.