COVID TV: Best and Worst - 05/14/2020
Updated: May 29, 2020
One of the highlights of my quarantine has been the abundance of streaming TV options. We are fortunate to be living in the new golden age of TV. There has never been so many shows and movies that are worth watching and that are available pretty much on demand. And with so much time on our hands at home, we've got the time to enjoy it. I haven't seen everything I want to see yet, but I've made a list of the best and worst of the new, plus some old favorites that are having great seasons. So here is my list, with a caveat: I'm not a real film critic. I'm just an actress and fan who has been writing short reviews on my Facebook feed for a few years. My opinions are just that, opinions. Feel free to disagree and to let me know!
5 - The Good Place: This show was one of my favorites since it premiered, and it had its final season this year. With maybe the best comic ensemble ever assembled and a premise that certainly didn't scream "comedy gold!" this will go down, I think, as a comedy classic. The creator has said that it is based on the book, "What We Owe to One Another," and it's definitely about how to be a better person. But it is still funny as hell. The last episode was a masterpiece of subtle comedy and tenderness and I will never forget it.
4 - Killing Eve: Season 3 started about one month in to the quarantine, and although it's not as sharp or as funny as the first two seasons, it remains darkly comic and thought-provoking. It also features a terrific ensemble cast, with two of the best female leads working on a series today in Sandra Oh as Eve and Jody Comer as Villanelle, the assassin bent on killing Eve. I am looking forward to see if these two ever act on their chemistry and if Villanelle can be rehabilitated.
3- Late Night TV: Shout outs go to Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers for doing some of the best work of their careers as hosts while working from home with no audience. It's been a delight to see all of them featuring their families briefly on the shows, sometimes in the form of unexpected interruptions. The loose feel seems to have freed all of them and the monologues are sharper than ever. I want to mention The Daily Show here too, although it's technically not a late night show. But Trevor Noah has upped his political satire to a new level since the quarantine began. I can't get enough of him.
2 - Better Call Saul: Now in its fifth season with the next one being its last, this Breaking Bad prequel has had a stellar year. Kim Wexler (played by the amazing Rea Seahorn) has become the most fascinating female character on TV, and the "Bagman" episode will stand as a classic alongside the great "Ozymandias" episode of Breaking Bad. I would really love to see this show win some Emmys, especially for Seahorn and for Bob Odenkirk in the lead role. I can't wait to see how the cliffhangers dangled in the season finale are resolved in the final season.
1 - How to Get Away with Murder: This show has been one of my faves for years, but it had gotten a little tedious in the last couple. This final season blew me away. Viola Davis remains stellar in the role of Annalise Keating, which won her an Emmy a couple of years ago, and the many plot threads were neatly wrapped up in the series finale which aired tonight. I'm going to miss this one.
Honorable Mentions: Also having great seasons were This is Us and Dead to Me, with Emmy-worthy performances from their female leads Mandy Moore and Christina Applegate, respectively; and in its third season, Ozark, generating a lot of great buzz on social media.
Disappointments: Westworld, Season 3 (I can no longer follow the story, and the violence is off the charts); Real Time with Bill Maher (I normally love him, but he needs his live audience! He's also obsessed with Trump maybe refusing to leave the White House if he loses the election, which I find depressing).
5 - Tiger King:
For some reason, this was THE water cooler show of the quarantine, if we still had water coolers to gather around at work, and if we still went in to work. Social media has taken their place, and this unique reality show was all over it. Most of my friends loved it. I tried, I really tried. I watched the first two episodes, and found the first one amusing and the second one just kind of sad. I get that Joe Exotic is interesting and that people can't stop speculating about whether Carole Baskin actually fed her husband to the tigers and got away with it. But after two episodes. I just couldn't stand the sight of either one of them. Off-putting polygamy, violence, and the ever-upsetting large animals in cages made me decide I really don't like this show.
4 - I Know This Much is True:
I hate to put this show on the list, because it features an amazing performance by Mark Ruffalo in the dual lead role of twins, one of whom is a paranoid schizophrenic. It just premiered the first episode last weekend, but I find the story so terribly depressing and the whole look and tone of the show so bleak, that I just can't watch any more of it. Not recommended if you are feeling depressed right now.
3 - Little Fires Everywhere:
I really wanted to like this series. It features two great actresses, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, in the lead roles, and has the same look and feel of a show that I loved, Big Little Lies, also starring Witherspoon. But it seems like Reese has played this uptight housewife role one too many times, and I just could not get into it. From the lack of social media chatter, neither could anyone else. A big disappointment.
2 - Devs and Dave (tie):
I only lasted one episode on both of these. Devs features Nick Offerman in the lead role, and I usually love him. But while I found him delightful in Parks and Recreation (a comedic role), in this he is supposed to be sinister, and I just don't buy it. Also featured a graphic murder and a suicide in the first hour; I just can't right now. Dave is a comedy starring Dave Burd, a white rapper and comedian whose first single is titled "My Dick Sucks." I didn't know that he also goes by the name of Lil Dicky. This show is based on his life, and I guess it's just not my kind of humor.
1 - Mrs. America:
I know this is getting critical raves, and the all-star female cast is wonderful. But every time I watch it (and I am staying with it), I just feel sad that a woman as toxic as Phyllis Schlafly could sway so many women to her point of view, and that the ERA stalled in the late 1970s and still hasn't been ratified. I remember this period of history very well, and watching this show feels like homework.
5 - Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist:
This isn't technically COVID TV, as it premiered prior to the start of the pandemic. But the last half of the season came out during the quarantine, so I'm including it here. Originally when I reviewed this I was kind of on the fence, because I thought it was derivative and that the writing and acting were sub-par. But as the season progressed, the actors found their voices, and the writing improved. The best reason to watch, though, is for the stunning music and dance numbers. Mandy Moore of So You Think You Can Dance fame is the choreographer, and the arrangements of well-known pop tunes are almost always first-rate. You'll be singing them for days.
4 - The Outsider:
Another one that was not technically new during the quarantine, but has to be mentioned. This is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel that I have ever seen. Cynthia Erivo, Oscar-nominated last year for Harriet, is spectacular in the lead role of Holly, the detective with what may be para-normal powers. The story is so creepy that I had to sleep with a light on for days after the deeply disturbing, yet satisfying, finale.
3 - Run:
This quirky new HBO series is a lot of fun so far. I would call it a romantic comedy, and I love Merritt Weaver, surprisingly flirty and hot, in the lead role. The premise of two ex-lovers reuniting for a train ride across the US is interesting, if far-fetched. The dialogue is smart and sexy, and I can't wait to find out what happens to Ruby and Billy when the train arrives in LA.
2 - Bad Education (movie):
This movie features Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, both award worthy, in the lead roles of a true story about a school superintendent and his assistant who embezzled over $11M from the Long Island school system about a decade ago. In addition to the great performances, the story is a classic dogged-journalist-who-gets-the-bad-guy tale. Very well-written and full of surprises.
1 - Unorthodox:
This limited series about an Hasidic woman who escapes from her oppressive community in Brooklyn is my favorite of the new shows which were released during quarantine. Much of the dialogue is in Yiddish, with sub-titles, but this only adds to the incredibly realistic depiction of the Hasidic community. The lead actress, Israeli Shira Haas, has a face that speaks volumes without saying a word. Enormously educational and deeply moving.
Honorable Mentions: I haven't been able to watch these yet, but My Brilliant Friend and The Plot Against America also come highly recommended. And I also really enjoyed the live concert, One World Together, and some of the other live music specials which artists are recording from their homes (my personal favorite was the one put on by Tricia Yearwood and Garth Brooks). And if you haven't seen it yet, High Fidelity (also premiered pre-quarantine) remains one of my favorite new shows of the year - romantic, funny, and imminently relatable (at least for me).
What are your picks for Best and Worst?
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