GRAND CREW is a Black ensemble hangout show that delightfully evokes HAPPY ENDINGS about a group of drinking buddies that is also an absolute joke-machine that also emotionally hits hard! The performers are perfect, the cinematography is immaculate, and it’s amazingly timed. It is absolutely delightful but I was honestly shocked that it received a second season because, apart from myself, I know of no one who watched the first season and heard absolutelyno one talk about it. Please, if you know me: remedy that. It’s a lot of fun! It has escalated to the phase where I am knee-slapping and have to muffle my laughter to keep from waking up those around me.
A few choice quotes:
“Woo, that text got ass!”
“Stupid face, always snitching on me.”
“I just don’t think she’s as young as she says she is! Why does she drink so much Ovaltine?!”
It’s no secret that Megan Abbott is my favorite living author. QUEENPIN was absolutely foundational for me in the current phase of my life. She completely hones in on the physicality, wants and needs of folks, in many expert ways.
With her novel DARE ME, she focuses on cheerleading and bodily control and power.
Granted, I’ve never been a cheerleader, much less a teenage girl, but goddamn — as someone who was a former amateur gymnast — I love to throw myself around and be thrown around. It is absolutely thrilling. My body just wants hands on them, which kind of sucks and has managed to get me into more trouble than I’d like. However, I can’t help it, and there’s power and command that comes with that physicality, and Abbott absolutely nails that facet with DARE ME.
The show she helmed is dreamier and more heightened than even I expected from the source material, but it is glorious however sadly short-lived. It was exquisitely drawn for multiple seasons, but barely survived for one, but what a season.
I usually at least try to appear supportive of these recommendations, but goddamn, I hate Netflix’s reality programming. I hate how cheap and exploitative it is and how they shoehorn that fucking neon circle into each show. Every time I see it, it feels tackier.
I’ve seen the contracts for these shows, and I know they’re shot for next-to-nothing, and very rarely do contestants get nothing but grief, even if they win — come on, $200K? In this day and age? — but Netflix itself almost always turn a massive profit, which makes it even worse.
That said, I have been watching reality shows since the modern makeover in the early naughts — yes, I’m old enough to have live-watched the first season of SURVIVOR (which I’ll note had a $1M payout) — and watched more than my fair share of PROJECT RUNWAY seasons — most of them live — as well as wanna-bes like one-season weirdos like THE CUT.
NEXT IN FASHION is very clearly Netflix’s very cheap take on PROJECT RUNWAY.
I’ll note: I am married to a fashion historian. When she was in college I helped her with her collections, because she needed more hands and mine were the closest, and I take instructions well. I’ve worked on websites for a bunch of designers, attended a number of illustrious fashion events — I’m very familiar with this world in a way I never would have expected.
The thing about PROJECT RUNWAY is that: both of the leads were not just experts in their field, but proper and established mentors. That was the allure. You’d actually learn from them, as opposed to simply being judged.
So, NEXT IN FASHION is very lucky to have Gigi Hadid. Tan, while engaging, is clearly out of his element here. He has nothing to offer but mild quips and grey tips. Gigi, on the other hand, succinctly explains — and articulates — why certain looks do not work.
That said, reality shows are built on the backs of their contestants. And I’ll note that NEXT IN FASHION’s contestants have a better reputation than most. They’re not starving artists or fresh-out-of-school; most of them are far more established than those you’d see in early seasons of PROJECT RUNWAY.
That’s what makes the show far more interesting to watch, because you know you’re watching seasoned workers just here for promotion instead of thirsty amateurs that barely know what they’re doing. I’m so used to the latter regarding reality TV shows that I was absolutely surprised to realized — halfway through the season — that no, that’s not the tact they took.
I love watching skilled people do what they love, but that’s a rarity with reality TV! I realize most just want to see people fuck-up via terrible shit, but I don’t! I want to see people revel in doing what they thrive for; I want to learn from them, even from their mistakes! I’m a stupid nerd, but I endlessly want to be taught, and this show helps with a bit of that, despite Netflix’s shenanigans.
This was the episode that clarified what this show was going to be for me, and also crystallized a lot of feelings for me, while still making me endlessly laugh.
I don’t love that my personal emotional emblems are the women of Gotham, because I am a middle-aged dude. It’s not a great look, I admit, but I can’t help it.
HARLEY: “Okay, here it comes; here’s when that piece of shit pushes me in the acid.”
IVY: “Woah, woah, are you okay?”
HARLEY: “This whole time I thought he pushed me, that it wasn’t my choice. But it was!”
That said, this episode did a lot of self-reflective good for me. -Being Harley Quinn- is 100% trauma therapy, and exactly what I needed when I watched it. It is an absolutely perfect depiction of disassociation and also of repair.
Seriously, and sadly, the entire ep is an encapsulation of my youth:
HARLEY: “Oh, I wasn’t sweet at that age — or any age, really. I was a total shit back then.”
HARLEY: “Hey Ive, I think there’s something really screwed up about me.”
IVY: “I want to say this in the most loving way possible, but there’s no way this is just occurring to you now.”
IVY: “You know, in a way, it’s almost comforting to know that you’ve always been this fucked up.”
HARLEY: “Yes, isn’t it? I’m starting to realize why my mother recycled so many wine bottles back then!”
And the B-story! Gilda and Sy trying to dispose of everyone’s inert bodies is fantastically hilarious. I’d love to get a flashback to their spy days, but sadly, seems like they’ve been cast away from the show.
All of that said, you have my wife to thank or hate for this post, as she commissioned a surprise gift to me of Harley’s reckoning from one of my favorite artists, Dijana Granov — who also illustrated an astounding recreation of Catwoman’s creation from BATMAN RETURNS that gives me me endless comfort — which spurred me back to revisiting HARLEY QUINN S1. (See the featured image above! No that is not a screenshot!)
I’ll briefly note: I fucking hate feeling like this. It is unrelenting and terrible, but I am who I am, and I can’t pretend to be anything different and to do otherwise would undermine the positive work I’ve done towards getting better.
I’m lucky enough to have a supportive partner and friends and I have my therapists to aid with it, but goddamn. It does not get any easier. I’d be lying if I said it did. That said, it’s not getting harder, and I’m still fucking here, just like Harley fucking Quinn.
Me, to myself: “Wait, seriously? I’ve never written anything about San Junipero?”
Me, checks my archives. “Nope.”
Me: “Seriously? Never?!”
Me: “Apart from bending everyone’s ear about it and repeatedly watching it with your wife, nope, but it’s Valentine’s Day and you already wrote about HARLEY QUINN so hey, you be you.”
Obviously, the show BLACK MIRROR has become shorthand for dystopian anthology nightmare fuel, and rightly so. It’s intentionally subversive in all of the well-meaning ways, but also usually in very oft-putting ways. The show literally kicked off with the prime minister fucking a pig, which ended up being more truth than fiction somehow.
However, San Junipero is something different, and something I’ve desperately missed with speculative fiction. I’m old enough to feel terribly beaten down by the world for so many goddamn reasons, I often just want a few creature comforts. I’ve had too much of the unrelenting misery porn of the past 15+ years of what passes as ‘high-concept melodrama’. At least THE SOPRANOS had its moments of levity as opposed to say, the nihilism of THE WALKING DEAD. (At least THE LAST OF US has a lot of dad jokes, but those are all penned by fathers inserting words into daughter figures so …yeah.)
San Junipero delivers all of the goods: it’s a very sweet meet-cute, it’s an adorable and safe and welcoming queer story, and it’s a sweeping romance that goes through ages that -also- manages to be wildly sci-fi.
It has everything and delivers it in under a goddamn hour and it is amazing, but it’s also astounding because it’s literally the story of someone finding a safe space, and finding accepting (and sometimes loving) arms.
I’ve written briefly about this before, but I cannot underscore it enough: find a space where you feel comfortable. Surround yourself by folks who don’t judge you, folks you can talk to. Find a loving partner that accepts you. If you can, move somewhere that is explicitly know for being accepting.
San Junipero espouses all of that and does so in a vividly entertaining way! It’s all about misfits reaching out, helping each other, moving on, but also being in the same orbit, and it scarily mirrors parts of my club-centric youth.
It is a surprisingly hopeful and non-traumatizing depiction of a long-lasting relationship, and the goddamn episode makes me glow every time I watch it. It’s emblematic of just wanting the best for your protagonists, your favs, those you muse over, and also yourself, and they get a proper and heartfelt ending.
It is legitimately one of my favorite pieces of media in years, and again, I can’t believe I haven’t penned hundreds of words about it already, but here we are.
OH! And goddamn, the needle drops! Best use of “Heaven is a Place on Earth” ever. Just watch it already. I’ll shut up now.
My apologies in advance for posting yet again about HARLEY QUINN but I will never, ever shut up about this show.
It is not only a paragon of comedic entertainment, with a joke-per-minute count that puts ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT to shame, it features some of the most thrilling and cartoonishly squeamish scenes that would make Sam Raimi jealous, it dives head-first into some of the thorniest depictions of trauma — seriously, the first season’s Bensonhurst should be on every screenwriting syllabus — and it has one of the best penned romances of television time. (Suck it, Jim & Pam.)
And it does all of this under the umbrella of the scattershot DC universe somehow.
I’ll note that the show has radically changed over its three seasons: the first season was fundamentally about Harley separating herself from the abuse of the Joker and finding a supportive network. The second season was about her finding herself and reconciling her history. The third kind of blew up her support network, but also (finally) found her living her best queer life with her love Poison Ivy.
That’s a lot for a show to tear off, much less do well, and manage to do so in gut-busting way.
A bit of a sidenote: I think a lot of people get a tad too hung up over ‘being Harley’ or ‘being Ivy’, in the stupid way everyone in the 90s felt the need to label themselves as a Seinfeld or Sex and the City character. (I still don’t understand why anyone would want to self-identify with those hateful people, but it’s not for me to judge. Well, maybe a little, unless you’re a Samantha.)
What I love about the series — and what makes this special so very special — is that the characters are far more complicated than base archetypes. I can’t help but identify with both. I’m the filthy over-eager people-pleaser that Harley is, but I am also frequently misanthropic and want to do nothing but watch my stories and retreat from the world because I also hate everyone and everything. (Nothing personal!)
However, they make it work. They’re loving, but also have to be constantly mindful of each other’s needs.
That’s one of the great things about this show: it’s one of the first non-John Waters works I’ve seen that celebrates horniness, even against a culture that actively tries to beat it down. (Pun intended.) This episode is wall-to-wall horny in a celebratory way, in the way that I wish sex was more popularly portrayed. It’s mostly about Harley buying drugs to give Ivy the best orgasm of her life — which leads to one of the best lines of the show: “Oh you cannot possibly be mad about me wanting to get you off too good. THAT IS NOT A THING!”
Even us damaged folk want to get our freak on, and this show helps to normalize that.
And then there’s Bane! Kaiju Bane, fucking every building he sees because he took some bad drugs! Literally laying waste to the world, and it’s hilarious.
This show is bonkers, but also manages to be one of the most grounded works out there. I’m so tired of seeing poorly-penned 20-something relationships in media, and HARLEY QUINN gives us something meaningful and substantive, while also being narratively interesting!
I’d like to note that Alan Sepinwall is also extolling the show’s virtues (or, err, lack there of?) so I’m not alone:
(Peacock) LEOPARD SKIN is an eight episode limited series from Sebastian Gutierrez, perhaps best known for the recent neo-noir series JETT or for the cult comedy ELEKTRA LUXX or a little joke of a film named SNAKES ON A PLANE, depending on the kind of person you are. (I fall in the first camp.)
JETT was known for its supremely hyper-stylized lighting and framing patchwork — segmenting the action to heighten tension as well as to just look cool. As you might imagine, it owes a great deal of debt to Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s OUT OF SIGHT with a dash of WILD THINGS. Tellingly, Gutierrez also wrote an episode of the short-lived Karen Sisco spin-off of the film where THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE’s Carla Gugino played Sisco. (It’s worth noting that Gugino and Gutierrez have been entangled for quite some time.)
At first blush, LEOPARD SKIN appears to be a conventional heist-goes-wrong: three ruthless strangers are blackmailed into stealing millions of dollars worth of diamonds by a corrupt judge (an isolated Jeffrey Dean Morgan). They get the diamonds but shit goes sideways, their driver gets shot during the getaway, and they end up at the doorstep of a mansion occupied by an ex (Gugino) and a widow (Gaite Jansen), and the ex just happens to have footage of the widow killing her ex and then blackmails her by requesting that she becomes subservient to her every want.
In other words, it’s all about knowledge, power and sex.
While JETT was dreamlike, LEOPARD SKIN comes across as Lynchian in fashion commercial mode: overly visual and sumptuous, but often also stilted and performative in all the best ways. This is a show that should not exist, and the fact that it’s only available to stream via Peacock is even more mind-boggling, especially since it’s clear that this was not their intended network as the show is not paced for ad-breaks but yet has some of the most disjointed and abrupt ad-breaks, lending an even more surreal atmosphere to the show.
The always-brilliant Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya succinctly stated that “Carla Gugino and Gaite Jansen manage to bring nuance and velocity to a story that doesn’t ever seem to know what it’s doing or why.” LEOPARD SKIN feels groundless but is more interesting for being so. It’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle and is so confounding that you’ll either fall completely in love with it or you’ll find it to be pretentious softcore twaddle. Hopefully, like me, you’ll find it to be the former, but buyer beware.
This was a great year for TV, overstuffed with brilliant finales and new offerings. Sadly, I haven’t had time to watch all that I’ve wanted — I’m still sitting on UNDONE S2, ANDOR, PACHINKO, FOR ALL MANKIND, STATION ELEVEN as well as personal favorites EVIL and much much more — but if I waited to watch everything I wanted in order to pen this, this post would never see the light of day.
BARRY (Season Three)
BARRY so consistently delicately threads drama and action and dark comedy while also being one of the most emotionally draining and enthralling shows on television. Visually it has its own amazing language, which paid off major dividends in 710N and the striking season finale.
BETTER CALL SAUL (Season Six, Part Two)
If there’s any justice in the world, BETTER CALL SAUL will be more influential than BREAKING BAD. Its plotting, action, and character work takes everything they learned from BREAKING BAD (and THE X-FILES, don’t forget Gilligan’s on-the-job training) and finely hones it into a brutal deconstruction of two unconventional misfits.
While so much ink was spilled about the finale, the end of Jimmy’s arc, I found the penultimate episode to be far more affective, as it laser-focuses on how the fallout of Kim’s entanglement with Jimmy has affected her in a way you simply don’t often see portrayed.
BETTER THINGS (Season Five)
“[BETTER THINGS] makes time to luxuriate in life and the little joys: the tranquility of cooking, a brief nap in the park, people-watching, while never turning a blind eye to the harder parts of living, especially when you have to tend to the ever-changing needs of your children and yourself.
No, the show is not a gut-buster; it’s not meant to be. However, it always makes me laugh, and then two minutes later my eyes are welling up.”
While I’ll be forever grateful that FX gave this show five seasons, it feels like a goddamn injustice that — apart from a handful of critics — it mostly came and went unnoticed. It’s such a vivid and singular depiction of home and family and aging that everyone should be exposed to.
DOOM PATROL (Season ?)
Yes, not one, but two DC TV shows on this list. (And, tellingly, no Marvel shows.) Unlike HARLEY QUINN, I was already in the bag for DOOM PATROL having read and loved Grant Morrison’s iconic run, albeit probably later in life than I should have.
However, I was skeptical that they could capture the wild wonder of their world. To some extent, they do not — while it has a far bigger budget than I would expect, it’s still difficult for the show to do justice to a sentient block mirroring Haight-Asbury — but they’re trying their damnedest.
And that’s okay, because the show leans in a different direction. Like HARLEY QUINN, this show doubles-down on the found misfit family facet, trauma-bonding, while adding savior complexes to the group. It also includes Cyborg who seems like a strange fit, but they work him in as well as possible.
Also like HARLEY QUINN, it is a voyage of trauma-exploration — it even features a similar ‘dissociative event/we have to enter their mind’ episode — however, where QUINN sees a light at the end of the tunnel, DOOM PATROL is far more dour, perhaps more than Morrison initially intended. These are castaways who have lived with too much for far too long and, consequently, feel rudderless.
I’ll note that this year’s season has barely kicked off, and I’m still working through the prior seasons, but as a show it really hit me in the gut and I couldn’t leave it off this list.
GIRLS5EVA (Season Two)
This season didn’t quite hit the highs of the first, but it still provided effortless laughs and brilliant performances.
HARLEY QUINN (Season Three)
Before I’d watched a single episode, I had written off HARLEY QUINN as a filthy lark — hyper-violent, intentionally offensive snark — but enough critics boosted it that I thought it’d be a fun comedic, mindless watch at a time when I desperately needed that midway through this year.
I was absolutely 100% wrong on all counts. (Well, not about it being filthy and hyper-violent because it most certainly is.) I also watched it at a time I most certainly shouldn’t have been watching it, during a period in my life when I was explicitly told to stay away from trauma-centeric works after a bout of enduring extremely difficult works and processing waaaay too much.
HARLEY QUINN is all about dealing with/confronting trauma and abusers and people-pleasing and recovery, but despite the fact that the show is so dirty that I of all people had to consult urbandictionary.com, it’s surprisingly healthy. Ultimately, it’s about Harley realizing herself, her potential, and growing as a person, as opposed to the standard misery porn most shows lean on.
This year’s season isn’t as concise as the prior two, nor is it as emotionally brutal, but it finally coupled-up Poison Ivy and Harley and portrayed the two as a very complicated, but fulfilling, relationship. The writers bend over backwards to underscore that their relationship doesn’t ‘solve’ Harley, that there’s still work to be done. The fact that they can do so while firing off lines like “I can’t listen to ya when you’re dressed like a 40s housewife who is fucking her husband’s boss.” is just an added bonus.
THE LAST MOVIE STARS
The story of two beautiful people with big beautiful problems, all extremely graciously handled by the ever-empathetic Ethan Hawke.
RESERVATION DOGS (Season Two)
I’m still working through the second season, however this show has such a taut command over its characters and tone and what they want to say that it has to be included. A heartfelt raw nerve of a show.
THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES (Season Two)
On paper, every Green/Hill/McBride show should not be for me; immature, petulant male bravado is not my bag.
However, they are absolutely amazing at giving their mostly terrible characters nuance while still being hilariously quotable -and- instilling them with genuine humanity and pathos. Crazily enough, HBO has also given them a budget that allows them to create some shockingly JOHN WICK-worthy set-pieces.
THE REHEARSAL (Season One)
An absolute mindfuck of a reality show in all of the right and wrong ways. By the end I couldn’t help but feel like numerous crimes had been voluntarily committed.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Season Four)
An absolute joy of a humane comedy. The writers are restless and endlessly inventive, and the cast as always game for it. –Go Flip Yourself– is an instant classic.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (Season One)
“[A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is] about rewiring cultural attitudes and figuring out what’s best for yourself when you’re actively able to make said decisions.”
I LOVE THAT FOR YOU
The Home Shopping Network is an easy target to lampoon, but I LOVE THAT FOR YOU never punches down, opting instead to tell a serious-but-often-comedic character story about what happens when you get the spotlight you want, and what you’ll do to keep the spotlight on you.
KIDS IN THE HALL
I grew up in Vermont and I’m old, so I was part of a select few of those in the United States who actually saw KIDS IN THE HALL via antenna way back in the day.
If you haven’t seen the original run: I implore you to do so.
That said, I was a bit worried about this return, that it might feel a bit tired, but they still hit all of the right notes. Also, it was all worth it solely for Doomsday DJ.
MYTHIC QUEST (Season Three)
Given the history of all of the creators and writers of this series — notably from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA folks — I expected MYTHIC QUEST to be an even filthier SILICON VALLEY and, while I’m sure so many folks would have been happy with that, instead it’s a surprisingly tender — though still barbed — workplace drama that I’m shocked exists, partially because it actually showcases how gaming culture and audiences have significantly changed.
It’s no longer about tech dudebros — although yes, they’re there — but the show isn’t so pre-occupied with that. It’s genuinely supportive.
It recalls WKRP and 30 ROCK, because with most workplace sitcoms you already know how the sausage is made, but with those, you really didn’t.
Also, Polly uses the exact same faceless, pitch-black mechanical keyboard I’ve used for years, which is a really, really nice touch.
OUR FLAGS MEAN DEATH (Season One)
The queer CABIN BOY/CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS TV show no one knew they wanted or needed.
SEVERANCE (Season One)
Finally, an emotional, character-centric high-concept show that fills the LOST-shaped hole in everyone’s heart. Immaculately designed, perfectly cast; it was a treat of a wintertime show.
SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE (Season One)
For the theatre nerd in all of us; an affecting homecoming story that reminded me of the sadly overlooked ONE MISSISSIPPI. It’s also one of the last performances from classic character actor Mike Hagerty, and he gives it his all here.
STRANGE NEW WORLDS (Season One)
An absolutely delightful sci-fi throwback that captures the wonder and excitement of exploration.
THREE BUSY DEBRAS (Season Two)
Some of the finest surrealism on TV, at least until it was canceled. At least it went out with a bang.
(Prime) As a youth I loved baseball. I loved the rules, the rigidity, the anything-can-happen pacing, but most of all I loved the underdogs. I’m not going to say I moved to Chicago — within spitting distance of Wrigley Field much less — because of the Cubs, but it didn’t hurt.
When I first played Little League baseball I was always tucked away in right field until one friend’s father saw something in my arm, then moved me to shortstop, then tried me as pitcher.
Reader: I sucked. And after every loss, I’d weep. Hell, I’d cry whenever I struck out, which was often because I was so nervous at performing in this sport I loved. So, yeah, while I realize Penny Marshall’s A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is singularly about ostracized and misfit women to literally fill the void of men, I nonetheless identify with it.
Abbi Jacobson’s & Will Graham’s A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN repositions the narrative as a queer coming-of-age tale instead of one of self-actualization. That may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but the film was boosterism and the show is not. The show is a journey of people finding themselves, and discovering a world beyond them apart from baseball. Yes, only one character in the show is a teenager — and seventeen at that — but it’s the 1940s and a good number of these characters lived a pretty sheltered, demonstrative and fake life until they found the impetus to put themselves out there.
While the Rockwell Peaches act more as a found family, it’s the activities that occur on the fringes that really makes the show interesting. Front-and-center is the team’s catcher Carson (Abbi Jacobson, BROAD CITY) who falls in love with teammate Greta (D’Arcy Carden, a.k.a THE GOOD PLACE’s Janet), but there’s also aspiring pitcher Max (Chanté Adams, BAD HAIR) and both are finding and navigating their queerness on-the-side.
I’ve seen a lot of shows and films that try to portray that vibe and often it feels too heightened, not heightened enough, or downright disingenuous. However, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN — thanks to the time and patience they take with the characters — unfurls slowly in ways that felt rather singularly to my youth. There’s an enlightened bewilderment portrayed by the show — the wonder that people can live these sort of misfit lives — that was absolutely eye-opening when I was a young teen goth. There’s one scene in a later episode when Carson follows someone to a club and, when she realizes that she’s in a queer underground club, you can see in her face just how life-changing it is for her.
Unlike other club depictions in media, this club is surprisingly quiet and chill (and also headed by Rosie O’Donnell) and it feels warm and safe (until it isn’t). While I’m not the club kid I used to be, I’ve lived in predominantly queer neighborhoods for most of my life, and when you know who you want to be surrounded by, you know, and that’s what this show is all about — both on the team and off of the field.
Given that Amazon sat on this show for so long gives me doubts it’ll receive a second season, and I’m not even sure it’s terribly sustainable unless they jump ahead in time — someone please pitch that! — but the first season is an exceptional love letter to Marshall’s film and also to all of the weirdos and misfits out there that reach out, that try to forge bonds and communities at great risk.
It’s about rewiring cultural attitudes and figuring out what’s best for yourself when you’re actively able to make said decisions.
(VOD) Sadly, this one season wonder has been unavailable to stream pretty much since its launch, which sucks because it launched right when the world needed it the most.
SWEET/VICIOUS is essentially a woman-fronted college campus vigilante story. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil matters. However, I will say: when you’re on a campus, you’re either predator or prey, and they’re leveling the playing grounds.