TV that didn’t make me scream
Ranking things gives me a peculiar sense of joyous authority. Reading other ‘Top Ten’ lists keeps the contrarian in me well-fed and sharp, and I value and admire the critic’s ability to distill a year’s worth of television, film, music, books, into a concrete list.
This year, however, Emily Nussbaum’s not a top ten list, and her general approach to television, has inspired me to ditch the ranking. This year has been a bullet-point kind of year, the kind where my tastes reflected my dwindling tolerance for anything reflective of the current moment, because the current moment is already a dark comedy.
This round-up is a bit…strange. Because I subsist on streaming channels, I sometimes relied on television reviews, particularly in the case of one show that, on second thought, I prefer to read about rather than watch. It’s also not strictly a gathering of shows that aired in 2017. And some of the shows are Korean dramas. It was that kind of trip.
- Dirk Gently’s Holistic Agency: kooky and weird and easy to get lost in the interconnectedness of everything.
- The Last Kingdom, Season 2, Episode 3: while I submit every episode of this season as worthy of praise, Episode 3 marks an irrevocable change in tone and characterization for Uhtred, our Saxon-Dane protagonist. The writing, pacing, and acting comes together to produce an enthralling hour of television. Uhtred loses his freedom, his hope, he is broken, and the show is made all the better for it.
- Viv Groskop’s Poldark reviews: because George Warleggan is such a noxious presence and Ross Poldark is that problematic Byronic Hero who is also physically too damn attractive, I resorted to reading the Guardian’s reviews for this season and, by Jove, they are more entertaining than the show itself. Groskop is hilarious and witty and altogether madcap, drawing upon the language of the time to offer succinct, genuinely funny nicknames and insights. They should be presented as a radio program right after NPR’s Morning Edition, a little nugget of gold to balance out the constant dourness of the news.
- Big Little Lies: it is everything everyone says it is, despite being another show about upper middle-class to relatively affluent white people dealing with problems, chiefly fidelity. “Cold Little Heart” by Michael Kiwanuka set the sumptuous, wretched tone, and the ostensible mystery becomes less about the murder and more about how love can easily mutate into something terrorizing and sinister.
- Forest of Secrets: a moody show brimming with moral ambiguity and littered with shattered delusions. It featured a cat-and-mouse relationship between two prosecutors, one of whom wanted the other one to uncover the depths of his corruption, and a ruthlessly realistic ending showing just how power begins at the limits of justice. All in sixteen episodes, with a gorgeous soundtrack to match its atmosphere-laden cinematography. A prime example of a great Korean drama.
- Offspring: Nina Proudman has got to be one of the most genuine characters ever committed to the small screen. She is not only a proficient OB, but also flighty, insecure, awkward, frustrating, lovely, understanding, demanding, emotionally available all of the time, heartbreaking, amiable, sunshine personified, imaginative, intelligent, a supreme dork, and, just, everything. I’ll never be her, because she is too pure. For six seasons, this show has depicted multiple women occupying multiple roles, feeling multiple feelings, doing things for themselves — in short, being human. I love the caustic, supportive, borderline codependent bond shown between sisters Nina and Billie, with all its ups and downs, which is the best kind of bond between sisters. Also, it introduced “When We Swam” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down into my life (TO MEEEeeeEEE) and I am forever indebted.
- Mindhunter, Episode 10: worth the nine episodes of simmering tension. Watching the final twenty minutes made me realize we were in a pressure cooker, waiting for the top to start rattling and whistling. That last scene between Holden and Kemp is an instant classic. Jonathan Groff caught some flack for his staid, G-Man performance, but without it, Holden’s complete emotional evisceration wouldn’t have landed. Groff sold that fear as more than palpable — it was existential. And Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemp is phenomenal. Truly electrifying.
- Superstore: sometimes, you want something light and sweet mixed with sharp and savory, like a caramel-cheddar popcorn mix. Superstore is that something. It is the only other Western show I watch live (via Hulu), and I look forward to each episode so I can just laugh and not worry about NYT trying to understand Nazis or my paycheck or democracy going off the rails.
- Dal-ja’s Spring: this drama is from 2007, but it is relevant today for any woman approaching or in their thirties who is struggling to reconcile the 20th-century mainstream expectations of romance and female gender roles with the 21st-century model of the New Woman (the solution is patience, cultivating fantastic female relationships, consolidating your BAMF-status in your chosen career, and doing whatever you damn well please with your love interest). Also, Dal-ja likes to live alone. She likes to fart. She has no qualms coming to blows with a loan shark for a friend. She fantasizes, then faces reality. She is a romantic, but is pragmatic with her heart. Had to go to South Korea and back to 2007 to feel kinship with a female character.
- Broad City: Every. Damn. Day. This show is the equivalent of Smartfood’s White Cheddar Popcorn, Don Anthony’s scalzones and white pizza, Mommy’s macaroni pie and Sunday dinners, Soul of Korea’s kkanpunggi and kimbap, and La Granja’s Tempranillo on a spread, just for me. What else is there to say? Shrooms for everyone, and find someone who will love you even when you shit yourself in leotard.
- The Expanse: the unabashedly pure sci-fi goodness. I appreciate the hard science coupled with the horror of space, the quotidian nightmare of bureaucracy, and presenting humanity’s resiliency as both our greatest strength and most profound failing. Of course, being a space opera, however naturalistic, there is a man named Holden who constantly suffers from Chronic Hero Syndrome. Fortunately, there is everyone else and Chrisjen.