Honourable Mentions: Rachel Weisz is supremely unhinged in Dead Ringers (Prime Video), a gender-swapped update of David Cronenberg’s 1988 film. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are a smashing buddy-comedy pairing in Platonic (Apple TV+) which doesn’t aim for more than a delightful hang. Deadloch (Prime Video) subverts the crime-thriller procedural with style and wit, but isn’t as sharp as it deserves to be. Reservation Dogs (Disney+ Hotstar) delivers a strong final season but doesn’t match the raw magic of its early episodes. The Last Of Us (Disney+ Hotstar) gives us memorable moments but underwhelms at the finish. Then there’s The Curse, an indescribably weird satire that doesn’t completely pull it off — but livens up the television landscape merely by trying.
Thanks to recklessly evolving technology and social media, the world has outgrown tech satire Black Mirror, but creator Charlie Brooker knows that the world isn’t likely to outgrow fools. His new satire features oblivious TV anchor Philomena Cunk — played by Diane Morgan — making stupid declarations with defiant entitlement. “Because evolution can’t be seen, it’s hard to believe in,” says Cunk, before adding “Like electricity, or skeletons.” The lines are grand, and looking at current news presenters, Cunk’s vapidity nearly feels realistic.
Is it a reality show? Is it a hidden-camera show? Is it The Truman Show? In the disarmingly nice Jury Duty, a real person is surrounded by a fake trial and fake jurors. That sounds like a prank, but the show turns out as wholesome as Parks & Recreation. The characters are colourful, the situations are bizarre, the trial is taxing, but on-screen friendships with the real guy — the one not in on the joke — feel surprisingly authentic. Regular people, it appears, can be good. Good enough to pretend that they clogged the toilet instead of a movie star.
If you’ve watched Boots Riley’s bonkers masterpiece Sorry To Bother You (Netflix), you’ll know the filmmaker likes to go hard with high-concept ideas, and this surreal series doesn’t back down. A 19-year-old black teenager called Cootie just happens to be 13-feet tall. Shut away from the world by protective parents, he has been raised by television. When he steps out and meets people, including his actual hero, everything changes. It’s unlike any coming-of-age story out there, and Riley swings for the fences with strikingly imaginative visuals and ideas as big as his gentle giant protagonist.
I have long extolled the virtues of the British series Taskmaster — where an outlandishly tall comedian arbitrarily judges 5 others on specific and odd tasks — and this year’s edition hits new highs in silliness. The lineup features Lucy Beaumont, Sam Campbell, Susan Wokoma, Sue Perkins and, in his own words, “aging homosexual” Julian Clary, and each takes the show — created by “Little” Alex Horne and lorded over by Greg Davies — into surreally hilarious directions. I haven’t laughed harder all year. If you’ve never watched it, start here. Your time starts now.
Roald Dahl told stories, even children’s stories, with a menacing edge. Wes Anderson directs films where the aesthetic (almost) overwhelms the story. Their combination gave us a great 2009 film, The Fantastic Mr Fox, and now Wes gifts us 4 staggeringly original adaptations of Dahl short stories. The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, The Swan, Poison, and The Ratcatcher are surprising, touching and intriguing. Even when emotionally resonant, these are cinematic pop-up books, more diorama than drama. Anderson uses Dahl’s words verbatim, constantly showing us what he’s doing, creating magic with his sleeves rolled up. He’s proud of his artifice. The Fantastic Mr Faux.
Food and grief go hand in hand. We may have known that, but Christopher Storer’s series amps up both: just how much grief are we talking about? And just how much food? Set in a beef-sandwich store in Chicago, The Bear focusses unsparingly on both, poring over heartache and bereavement and the helplessness of impending death, and also over the precision of pastry-making and the slicing of meat. The second season is more ambitious and fulfilling than the first, and far more devastating. Thank heaven, then, that it leaves us craving carbs.
There are Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. There’s a Scott Pilgrim movie. You don’t need to read or see them to love this brand new Scott Pilgrim series that could change the way we make adaptations. The series starts off like the book and the film — setting up for protagonist Scott Pilgrim to fight off the ex-lovers of his new crush — but then a plot-point crashes and we get a whole different storyline. Made by creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is in the style of the original, with the same characters (and voice-actors) and personalities, and the same lovestruck 8-bit heart. This may be the year’s finest romance.
Consistently the funniest show on TV, Jemaine Clement’s series about four immortal vampires living in Staten Island has gotten more ambitious with each riotous season. The main season 5 storyline — about one human’s desperate quest to become a vampire, and the betrayal of a vampire by his human valet — is gothic and heartbreaking, the kind of thing Anne Rice could have written about. It does however take a very different kind of genius, and fearlessness, to balance a plot-line that poignant with jokes about people who fart inside coffins. The dialogues are masterful, the storylines are consistently unpredictable, and the art direction is gorgeous. Most importantly, it’s a scream.
Beef is a novel. Beef is a painting.
This is a remarkable essay about the disproportionate nature of anger, yet it is also an abstract series bounding fearlessly across genres. Lee Sung Jin’s instant classic — Netflix’s finest live-action series — explores modern day malevolence, with all our bottled feelings and unexpressed fury. Every character in this series, a series that starts out with road rage, is steaming hot and fit to burst. Beef is a show about privilege and immigrants and warped ideas of self-worth… but also about how long crows can hold grudges.
Beef is rare. Beef is well done.
The bastard is dead, long live the bastard.
Over years, we have witnessed the decline and fall of the Waystar Royco empire, with a patriarch battling the odds and refusing to keel over in favour of his incompetent spawn. Jesse Armstrong’s morality tale featured the best writing and the best ensemble cast, and its secret sauce may have been that there were no good guys. Every foulmouthed character on this show — no matter how quotable — was scum. Yet, like gamblers at a cockfight, we picked favourites.
The final season had one particularly stunning episode of television, one where the monstrous patriarch himself was killed — quietly, off screen — and we wept for the foolish children, bereaved and bewildered.
In the end, nobody deserved to win. Which is why a nobody did.