By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 26, 2018 |
By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 26, 2018 |
12. Castle Rock (Hulu) — Castle Rock is good. It’s really good, and that goes for fans of Stephen King or those who are largely ignorant of his work (if those people even exist). I’ve read plenty of King books and seen most of his movies, but I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fanboy. However, Castle Rock seems to work just as well for the casual King fan. Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason have brilliantly concocted a series that uses themes, settings, and characters from the works of Stephen King and remixes it all into a new story that feels like one of the best works of King’s career, only someone else is writing it.
11. Cloak & Dagger (Freeform) — Cloak & Dagger is the kind of show that’s fun, gripping, and insanely binge-worthy. I know nothing about the comics upon which it is based, but the series takes a kind of YA-approach to storytelling. It sees two people from very different backgrounds — Dagger (Olivia Holt), a white teenage thief who lives part-time on the street and part-time with her alcoholic mother, and Cloak (Aubrey Joseph), a black guy from a well-to-do family — pulled together by opposing superpowers mysteriously given to them on the same night that Cloak’s brother and Dagger’s father were killed after the explosion of a power plant. Cloak & Dagger is exactly what so many of us have been desperate for: A small-stakes superhero character drama that also subverts stereotypes, although it’s a stretch to call them “superheroes” — they’re just teenagers with powers that they don’t understand nor can they control.
10. Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television (YouTube Premium) — The premise of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television is kind of like Castle, only instead of pairing a famous crime novelist with a detective, the series pairs Ryan Hansen with a detective (played by Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley in the first season). Hansen plays himself, a pseudo recognizable comedic sidekick from canceled-too-soon shows like Party Down and Veronica Mars with small but passionate followings. The series calls itself a “meta-comedy about showbiz,” and it is, but first and foremost, it’s a meta-comedy about Ryan Hansen, who is surprisingly ripe for parody and self-deprecation. The internet show, from creator Rawson Marshall Thurber, has a sense of humor that can probably be best described as a cross between Angie Tribeca and Psych — it riffs on pop culture, but the jokes are broad, and dumb, and hilarious. Ryan Hansen, however, is not the only source of parody — the cameos are outstanding, and while they are not “A-list,” they feel “A-list” to a certain subset of the television-watching demographic: Kristen Bell plays a hilariously narcissistic, foul-mouthed version of herself; Joel McHale plays … Ryan Hansen in an episode in which Ryan Hansen is recast with Joel McHale, and my favorite cameo is Donald Faison, who plays a tyrannical diva version of himself living it up on Scrubs residuals and torturing his assistant.
9. Forever (Amazon) — Amazon’s new Maya Rudolph and Fred Armison series Forever is a fun series, and I think that the surprises — at least in the first three episodes — are best discovered for yourselves. I will say this much, however: Rudolph and Armisen are fantastic in this (and I say this as someone who typically has little to no interest in Armisen) and that the title, “Forever,” refers to that concept in the cosmic sense. It’s a comedy about suburban malaise with elements of Lost and The Good Place, and it comes from Alan Yang, the co-creator of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. The series itself shares a lot of characteristics in common with Master of None in the way it is shot, and in its comedic DNA. It is thoughtful, clever, and funny, but rarely in the laugh out loud sense (although, there are a couple of scenes that are hysterical). It’s definitely a series worth watching, but that is all that I am going to say about it because I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises.
8. Bodyguard (Netflix) — It made my heart race. It made me sweaty. I felt at times flush and lightheaded. And that was just Keeley Hawes. The rest of the series is pretty great, too. As Hannah wrote in her review, “This was a blistering series, with each episode ramping up the tension to incredibly uncomfortable levels. My shoulders were up by my ears after each installment those shoulders did not come down again until we were well into the closing credits, just in case. This is a show that reminds you to challenge your assumptions and be careful who you trust. Mercurio warns us not to underestimate the power of women, and reminds us it’s OK to ask for help. And my goodness, he makes you need a drink to calm your nerves afterwards.”
7. Cobra Kai (YouTube Premium) — It seems like a gimmick — a nostalgic novelty — to produce a sequel series to a beloved 1984 movie Karate Kid, but Cobra Kai is so much better than it has any right to be. It picks up in the present day, where Johnny is a drunk, deadbeat-father whose life was clearly upturned by his All-Valley High defeat in 1984. But he’s also more than the bully caricature of Karate Kid — he was bullied himself by both a shithead step-father and his old coach, who tried to kill him after he lost the title match. All out of options, Johnny opens up a karate dojo and begins training a bullied and tormented Daniel-like kid in the ways of Cobra Kai, only Johnny is trying to do it the right way. Sort of. Meanwhile, Daniel has a lovely family and a successful car dealership, but he’s having difficulties himself. As a way to recenter his life, he takes up karate again and ends up training a student in the ways of Miyagi, and predictably, Daniel’s student faces Johnny’s student in the All Valley High championship. Cobra Kai follows a familiar underdog formula, but here, there’s no “good guy or bad guy,” just sympathetic characters with different motivations — they’re all underdogs in their own way, which makes Cobra Kai a much richer, more emotionally complicated series than the original film without losing any of the magic. The whole endeavor absolutely blew me away — it’s funny, and touching, addictive as hell and absolutely riveting.
6. Homecoming (Amazon) — As mystery series go, Julia Roberts’ Homecoming is perfectly constructed. It’s Hitchcock for the small-screen, a tight, efficiently told story that doesn’t just set up a compelling mystery, it pays it off without resorting to narrative cheats. You know how critics often say it’s about the journey as much as it is the destination? With Homecoming, Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail provides us with a destination that’s as great as the journey. What’s so refreshing about Homecoming, besides its brisk running time (half-hour episodes! of a drama!), is how straightforward it is. Esmail never tries to trick the viewer; he’s not trying to hide the ball or pull a fast one over on us. It unfolds in increments, so when the picture all comes into view, it does so in perfect clarity.
5. Everything Sucks (Netflix) — Is this supposed to be the comedic counterpart of Stranger Things set in the ’90s? Is this a show for people who grew up on Full House and Saved by the Bell and want to revisit those types of shows with more progressive characters and storylines? Or is it a more mature Wonder Years-like sitcom? The Goldbergs set in the 1990s? Is it a comedy purely designed to play on Gen X nostalgia? Or is it a show for the kids of Gen X’ers? Ultimately, Everything Sucks is all of those things, but also so much more than the sum of its comparisons. This is a show for teenagers who don’t feel like they will ever fit in, and it is a show for adults who can remember what life was like before they found their place in the world. Everything Sucks approaches a host of deeper issues with a light touch, but not so light that the impact of their decisions isn’t felt, often deeply so. It’s a treasure of a series.
4. The End of the F**king World (Netflix) — The End of the F***ing World is a dark black-comedy based on the comic series by Charles S. Forsman that Netflix licensed from the Brits. It’s eight episodes, about 20 minutes apiece, so all in all, it’s about as long as a Harry Potter movie. But it’s better. So much better. It’s a fucked-up love story, is what it is. It’s funny, and disturbing, and moving. It’s a road trip comedy, only there are a lot of felonies involved. It’s not quite Natural Born Killers, but there are enough diner scenes to recall a teenage version of True Romance, of two deeply damaged people who find each other, who find comfort in one another while the rest of the world rejects them. Through each other, they find themselves. It is deeply romantic in ways that echo Clarence and Alabama. It’s a near-perfect eight-episode TV show
3. Succession (HBO) — Loosely based on the family of Rupert Murdoch, Succession is about an aging media tycoon (Brian Cox) and the family members vying for control of his empire after his death. The thing about the Roys is that they are all terrible people — absolute sociopaths, willing to connive and backstab members of their own family for a piece of the power. But they all are also so very bad at it, and much of the joy in Succession is schadenfreudtastic in nature: Watching all of these horrible people fail spectacularly in their efforts makes for some of the most deliciously enjoyable watching on television, thanks in part to terrific performances, especially that of Matthew MacFadyen and Sarah Snook, although Kieran Culkin is close behind. It’s an insanely addictive television series, a nasty satire with pitch-black sense of humor and a host of characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and for once, that’s a feature not a bug.
2. Barry (HBO) — Bill Hader plays a former Marine turned disaffected, detached hitman who finds a sliver of joy in his miserable life by joining an acting class, but as he immerses himself in a new life, he can’t escape his old one. It’s a black comedy punctuated with violence, buoyed by a very understated Bill Hader performance and an Emmy winning supporting turn by Henry Winkler. It’s a morbidly funny series, but also genuinely affecting, and while it mixes up a number of genres and inspirations, Barry feels brilliantly unique.
1. Killing Eve (BBC America) — It’s a serial killer drama, but it’s not bleak or “atmospheric.” It’s bursting with personality. It has a dark sense of humor, great characters, a lively plot, and it’s engaging as hell. It’s nothing like Justified, but in a way, it reminds me of the best seasons of that show, where every episode ends with viewers yearning for more, certain that a full hour could not have possibly already passed. If I were trying to draw comparisons, the crackling wit and faster pace of Sherlock’s early seasons might be apt here, only it’s more darkly funny and faster-paced, and its sense of humor is more aligned with that of the hilariously perverse Fleabag, especially where it concerns the psychopathic assassin. Sandra Oh, meanwhile, is goddamn lightning here — effortlessly engaging and fun while also being seriously good at her job. It’s a terrific series, the kind of show you look forward to, that never feels like a chore to watch.