It’s miserable outside. Good thing there’s so much great new television to watch—more than enough to tide you over until spring.
You may have already binged Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World, whose eight 20-minute episodes are a brisk, caustic treat. The British show bills itself as a dark comedy, but turns out to be something else: a poignant study of the trauma of adolescence, depicted in the form of a crime spree by two sad—but very winning—teens (Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther). That it gets so many of its melancholy notes just right without succumbing to agonizing bleakness is a minor miracle. (And shouts to poor Frodo—let’s hope he has better luck in season two.)
The other must-see streaming show is Amazon’s Electric Dreams, a 10-episode anthology series based on the stories of science fiction master Philip K. Dick. Like Black Mirror, each self-contained episode is hit or miss (and frankly, it’s baffling that Amazon chose to drop Electric Dreams immediately after we got Black Mirror’s fourth season), but when one of these stories works, it’s like nothing else on TV... not even Black Mirror.
Out of the six episodes of Electric Dreams I’ve watched, the best is probably “The Commuter,” starring the always fantastic Timothy Spall as a railroad worker who discovers a stop on his train line that isn’t on any of the timetables. The story tantalizes at first, and then confuses, but gradually reveals a painful emotionality, as evidenced by Spall’s haunted, heartrending expression. Meanwhile, Mudbound’s Dee Rees directed “Kill All Others,” which stars the also fantastic Mel Rodriguez in an obvious but effective parable about xenophobia that maybe feels a little too real right now. “Crazy Diamond,” starring Steve Buscemi and written by Terry Gilliam and Paolo Sorrentino collaborator Tony Grisoni, is too weird to describe, but its bizarre imagery of crumbling cliffs, metallic subsoil, and pig-people still haunts me.
Of the shows airing week-to-week, I’m most excited by Starz’s Counterpart (Sundays), which features J.K. Simmons in a dual role. If you haven’t seen the impressive first episode directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Passengers), it’s probably best not to explain too much, but this Berlin-set story is a fresh merger of spy and sci-fi genre tropes, with a thick dollop of film-noir paranoia on top. It all works because of Simmons, who does something pretty miraculous in both roles.
FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace (Wednesdays) is worth keeping an eye on, too. The second season of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology hits the ground running with an artily sumptuous first episode that juxtaposes hilariously gaudy ’90s visual design with rich, weighty issues—homophobia, tabloid journalism, and self-reinvention. (On the other hand, Murphy’s other new show, Fox’s 9-1-1, is garbage, a bullshit pulp fantasy masquerading as slice-of-life drama.)
I’m also liking The Chi (Sundays), Showtime’s new series from Master of None Emmy-winner Lena Waithe. A tangled ensemble story set in motion by a gang-related murder in Chicago’s South Side, it doesn’t have the societal and political undercurrents of The Wire, but it could turn out to be a worthwhile Windy City version of Treme.
The jury’s out on TNT’s The Alienist (Mondays), based on the popular ’90s novel about a serial killer in 1896 New York City; some say it feels derivative of other shows that took the book as inspiration, and I found the first episode to be unfocused—not a good sign for a show that’s meant to have a through-line of suspense. I’m also undecided on CW’s Black Lightning (Tuesdays), which has a great premise—a Black superhero trying to keep his two teenage daughters out of trouble—but is cheesy and chintzy-looking, especially during its important action scenes. Same goes for Comedy Central’s Corporate (Wednesdays), which feels like an “edgy comedy” leftover from last decade.
And I’m excited by the potential of Waco (premiering Wed Jan 24), the first offering from the newly rebranded Paramount Network, which used to be Spike TV. You can probably guess that Waco tells the story of David Koresh and his Branch Davidians cult, but the cast they’ve assembled is jaw-dropping, including Michael Shannon, Taylor Kitsch, Julia Garner (Ozark), Andrea Riseborough, and John Leguizamo. I hope Waco is a good bellwether for Paramount—later this year they’re airing Yellowstone, a 10-episode historical western starring Kevin Costner and written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River). Given Sheridan’s involvement, I’m fully expecting that to be a game-changer.