Best TV Shows April 2022: What Our Critic Loved
Itf you’re reading this, congratulations: you’ve all but survived the great docudrama onslaught of spring 2022. And while that outpouring has produced some worthwhile television, from last month’s Hulu standouts The Dropout Plainville Girl to David Simon‘s unofficial The Wire sequel, This City is OursMost of the new April shows I enjoyed were a little more outlandish from reality. Below you’ll find a dreamy teen romance, a brainteasing sci-fi thriller, a horror comedy about a bloodthirsty baby and more.
The baby (HBO)
In the first episode of this British horror comedy, 38-year-old protagonist Natasha or Tash (Michelle de Swarte) lashes out at one friend, who dared to bring her baby to poker night, and offends another by responding to that woman’s pregnancy news with an abortion joke. Tash, who is enjoying a smoke on the nighttime beach at night, falls to her death from a high cliff just feet away. An adorable baby falls into Tash’s arms. Do you believe the universe is sending this baby a message about motherhood, or are they just playing tricks on her?
The baby isn’t subtle. It isn’t polite. It’s sometimes extremely silly. The unusual combination of a cute baby boy with savage, bloody violence is sure to not be embraced by everyone. But if you can live with all of the above, it’s more than just fun—it’s also a whole lot smarter and more thought-provoking than most of the shows sucking up all the attention this month. [Read the full review.]
It’s hard to be a human in the year 2022, and so we all need our little treats. This past month’s was mine. Heartstopper. Adapted by 27-year-old British YA sensation Alice Oseman from her comic of the same name, the eight-episode series follows sweet, self-effacing gay teenage outcast Charlie (Joe Locke) as he crushes on his new desk mate, Nick (Kit Connor), a surprisingly kind, apparently straight rugby player who looks like he could be Prince Harry’s little cousin. It’s obvious from the very first scene where this story is headed, but—as in all the best teen romances—the delayed gratification is the point. There’s plenty to enjoy in the meantime, from a cast of endearing young characters that traverses the LGBTQ spectrum to animated flourishes that recreate the intimacy of the comic. (When Charlie’s hand grazes Nick’s, pastel sparks and lightning bolts fly.)
Even with the inclusion of realistic antagonists among the homophobic jocks on Nick’s team, the show is undeniably twee. All shimmery, indie-pop soundtrack. The kids discuss the merits and pitfalls of films like Donnie DarkoThe action mostly takes place at two English single-sex secondary schools, where everybody wears uniforms. This is what you should do if it gives you toothache. Heartstopper probably isn’t the comfort binge for you. But if it sounds like your brand of escapism, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy this gentle show populated by queer and trans high schoolers whose parents love them very much. Speaking of which: yes, that really is Olivia Colman popping in every few episodes to play Nick’s doting mum.
The Outlaws (Amazon)
A joint BBC/Amazon project, The OutlawsIs a spiritual successor Orange is the New Black The Breakfast Club, in that it throws together people who have nothing in common but their shared punishment–and it’s refreshingly self-aware about that. “Everyone’s a type,” teen shoplifter and self-described “studious Asian good girl” Rani (Rhianne Barreto) points out in the premiere. “You’ve got your right-wing blowhard, left-wing militant, celebutante, shifty old-timer.” (The latter, fresh out of prison and eager to make amends with his rightly resentful daughter, is played by a surprisingly subdued Christopher Walken.) Rani’s “bad boy” love interest and a nerdy loner round out the crew.
Slowly and in Orange-style flashbacks, everyone’s story comes out. And even as it pushes forward the plot with genre standbys like gangsters and bags of cash, the show fosters unexpected bonds that stretch the characters’ understanding of themselves and one another. This can be hokey, but mostly it’s humane, merging the experiences of people from different backgrounds without thoughtlessly equating them. [Read the full essay on what makes a great crime show when so many shows are about crime.]
Shining Girls (Apple TV+)
When we meet our protagonist Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss), she’s a timid Chicago Sun-TimesAn archivist living in an apartment shared with Amy Brenneman, her mother (punk-rocker), and a cat. Reality changes suddenly and without warning. Kirby is shocked to discover that she now lives on the opposite floor from Chris Chalk, her husband. Kirby also remembers Chris Chalk only as a coworker. Instead of explaining what happened, viewers get immersed in her confusion.
Kirby’s story is that she had been on track for star reporting before being almost killed in a violent assault. After she had regained consciousness, the truth of her life started to change. Since then, she’s drifted through a series of realities, which arrive with no apparent rhyme or reason. When a murder occurs whose details match those of her attack—the assailant leaves objects in the bodies of his exclusively female victims—Kirby teams up with hardboiled reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) to not just catch a potential serial killer, but also make sense of what’s happening to her. [Read the full review.]
This City Is Ours (HBO)
After productive stints Treme‘s post-Katrina New Orleans and the 1970s New York of The DeuceDavid Simon is now focusing his efforts on Baltimore, his favorite muse. But it isn’t quite the same city as it was in the ’90s and early 2000s, when he autopsied its failed criminal justice system in Homicide: Street Life, The Corner His masterpiece The Wire. Simon, his frequent collaborator George Pelecanos and their concern for corrupt and decrepit institutions remains a constant preoccupation. This City Is OursBaltimore, an adaptation Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s 2021 nonfiction book about the Baltimore Police Department’s scandal-stricken Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). In typical Simonian fashion, the drama centers on a few main characters—GTTF’s showboating leader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal) and Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku), a DOJ attorney poking around the city’s halls of power in service of police reform efforts—whose actions ripple outward to touch local politicians, cops in surrounding jurisdictions and various players within Baltimore’s criminal demimonde, until the cast list swells to include dozens of peripheral figures.
What makes the show different? The WireThis is because it is grounded in the current law-enforcement environment that reacts in constructive and negative ways to Black Lives Matter. Under a microscope after Freddie Gray’s horrific 2015 death in police custody, many officers have overreacted to that scrutiny by simply neglecting to do their jobs. Bad cops like Daniel Hirsl, Josh Charles, and secretly corrupt GTTF teams have disproportionate power. While the characters, based on real people, aren’t quite as enthralling as their Dickensian counterparts in The Wire, this is a thorny, fascinating story that raises the question of whether police reform is even possible—and these two creators are exactly the right people to tell it. [Read Josiah Bates’ interview with Simon and Pelecanos about We Own This City.]
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