Even setting aside its origins as a PR spin on genocide, Thanksgiving is full of questionable content. Are cranberries an essential part of the meal or can they go straight to hell where infernal bog fruit belong? Is your elderly relative playing footsie with dementia or just more flagrantly racist as they further pickle? Are yams just sweet potatoes in vegetable witness protection? You know who always has the answer? TV.
After gleefully overindulging, an act of celebration that does perfectly encapsulate the American spirit, slapping the couch a butt high-five and binging on television is just that much better. Here’s an odd grab bag of recent shows to either avoid or imbibe, depending on whether or not you see my opinion as valid or grody.
Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix)
Something akin to David Lynch-meets-Quentin Tarantino fan fiction, I was tricked into watching this wildly unpleasant mess. What was I supposed to do, not watch a show that featured Catherine Keener as a cat witch? Yes. I was supposed to not watch this. A young writer/director (Rosa Salazar) wants to make it in Hollywood but winds up crossing paths with curses and zombies and stuff. I know this very much sounds like it could be weirdly compelling, quirky, and “worth a try.” It is none of those things. It’s mostly boring, oddly exploitive/gross, and is way more fun to describe to others than actually suffer through.
Grade = D-
What We Do in the Shadows (FX on Hulu)
An endless delight, it seems impossible that we’re now three seasons deep into a vampire mockumentary spinoff featuring Matthew Berry. It would have been enough for the show to simply crack droll, sassy jokes about supernatural creatures dealing with modern life. Instead, this year went into even denser areas of its own mythology, actually attempted to develop its characters in meaningful ways, and featured a legitimately great plot twist. In addition to be effortlessly watchable, it’s now compelling in terms of narrative. Also, Matthew Berry says naughty words a lot, and it’s perfect.
Grade = A-
Star Wars Visions (Disney+)
When Lucasfilm unclenched (you can decide if I meant “its fists” there), the hope was that we’d get a wider variety of creative content. Since everything from Rogue One to the new trilogy lived in the insular circle of the O in “nostalgia,” this is the first batch of stuff that felt wholly different. Are all 9 episodes bangers? Nuh uh. But for every weird story about a twin brother who has to piledrive his sister’s chest because she went evil, you get a darling tale about a robot Jedi. The ratio is about 3-1 delightful to head-scratching. If nothing else, Visions is a reminder of the limitless potential inherent in the world of Star Wars, so yeah let’s just keep rolling out Skywalkers and resurrecting the Sith out of everything.
Grade = B
9 Perfect Strangers (Hulu)
The best part about 9 Perfect Strangers is that the Wikipedia entry states up top “not to be confused with Perfect Strangers.” Oh, how I wish that this were the tale of 9 Balkis… Instead, it’s dull and predictable nonsense punctuated by a career-worst Nicole Kidman performance. Her accent here makes Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff voice seem nuanced. A whole bunch of broken people sharing their trauma at a spa led by a kook sounds like it could be appealing, especially with a cast that includes Melissa McCarthy. Instead, the show ranges from insufferable to immovable. But hey, maybe it’s the perfect show to have on while you tryptophan fantastic nap?
Grade = D
Great British Bake Off (Netflix)
The long, lonely months between seasons of GBBO are as upsetting as cohost Matt Lucas, who (at best) doesn’t understand the assignment or (at worst) is a full-on monster person. At least we have Noel Fielding, who is on the shortlist to MC my funeral, he’s so gentle and weird. This year’s crop of cake bakers features not a single annoying, root-against-able turd. From the impossibly German Jürgen to the equally impossibly Italian Giuseppe, things still skew decidedly White European, but at least everyone seems incredibly nice. How thankful we should be for a comfort show that has remained so comfortable. Other than Matt Lucas, who again, very much sucks.
Grade = B+
Love Life (HBO Max)
Watching an attractive person stumble through all of their major relationships sounds exhausting, right? Love Life shouldn’t work but does because it’s secretly about realizing all of the times that you were the asshole when you were younger. You weren’t always the asshole. Sometimes someone else was. But sometimes you totally were, and you can only grow as a person if you admit that. Season one followed Anna Kendrick, which was totally fine. Season two switches the focus to William Jackson Harper, and in doing so, delivers something wholly more compelling. A celebration of Black love in various forms, from family bonds to queer romance, it’s also the universally necessary story of a dude learning to not be such a dick.
Grade = A-
Promising the death of Adrian Grenier is a good way to get me to watch your show. That being said, oofta, this true crime riff is a total fart. About as clever as a rejected Laffy Taffy submission, it should take you a good 10-15 minutes to figure out this “social media viral video murder mystery.” They even tell a completely unfair, absolute lie to trick audiences and still can’t get past “got your nose” status. It’s not like they didn’t cop to what the show was out to do in the very title. If you call your show Flaming Crap Pile Featuring Flaming Crap, nobody can write the FCC and complain about the doodoo, right? It’s…not very good, y’all.
Grade = D
Y: The Last Man (FX on Hulu)
As a fan of the comic book series, this long-gestating adaptation was one I was quite eager to dive into. As I watched the first few episodes, I thought “Okay, soon we’ll get to the good stuff!” We will never get to the good stuff, as the expensive show was canned and won’t see a second season. The story of the only man and male monkey to survive a disease that killed every creature with a Y chromosome is told…okay-ish. Is the lead a bad actor or is part of the show a wink-and-nod to the fact that the only remaining dude is an obnoxious doink? Some of the supporting cast crackles and snaps, but things never fully pop into place. And never will! Dang.
Grade = C
Lordy do I love me a dense space opera that has to do with the survival and extinction of all humanity. And that’s before you throw Lee Pace up in there! This take on Isaac Asimov’s book series is, let’s say “deliberate.” Some people are likely to be turned off by the plodding pace and posturing/pontificating. Pah, I say! If you’re going to make a show that tries to get math to look sexy, you’re going to lose a few people along the way. The stunning visuals, fascinating subject matter, and fact I am a total f’n nerd has made this one of my favorite new programs of the year.
Grade = A
The first few seasons of Succession didn’t do much for me. In this third season, it has finally become (to me) the show that everyone else was seeing. A bit short of searing or insightful satire, thus far, this year’s exploration of the Roy family jockeying for control of the mega corporation their daddy started is legitimately hilarious. Treating it less like modern Shakespeare and more like watching rich people wrestle in Jell-O has made the experience cathartic. Maybe this is because the stakes are now such where it seems like nothing good is going to happen to any of the rich people? That’s the best kind of things that happen to any rich people! I’ll likely never see it as the brilliant, top-tier program others do, but watching the elite yakety sax themselves is a blast.
Grade = B+