Best TV Shows July 2022: What Our Critic Loved

ItNetflix has been removed from the list. ne plus ultra As subscriber losses suggest, streaming services are losing subscribers in Q1 and 2. So which platform will replace them? HBO Max is one the best contenders. Not only did the Warner hub and its sister brand HBO rack up a combined total of 140 Emmy nominations a few weeks back, besting every competitor including Netflix, but it also topped Vulture’s annual streaming-service power rankings. So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that my roundup of July’s best new shows is also dominated by HBO and HBO Max. From Nathan Fielder’s latest off-the-wall social experiment to Issa Rae’s latest comedy about young women struggling to realize their dreams to Ethan Hawke’s guided tour of an iconic Hollywood marriage, the streamer covered lots of tantalizing ground this month. Also on the list: two of the year’s best sci-fi offerings to date. And if you’re looking for even more recommendations, here are my top 10 shows from the first half of 2022.

Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)

Hollywood is plagued by a problem with biopics. There’s no shortage of movies or TV shows that chronicle the real lives of notable people—that’s for sure. Many of these bios are hollow regardless of how they’re presented, whether as documentaries, dramatizations, features, series or documentary. Maybe they dutifully touch on each highlight of their subjects’ lives, but rarely do they move past shallow reminiscences to create a compelling, specific portrait of the icon in question. They were who? Was there anything they lived for? How have they changed over the years? Was it what they meant to those who loved and admired them?

It’s easy to forget that such depth and clarity is possible in an onscreen biography until you encounter an exceptional one like Last Movie Stars. Recruited by the children of Hollywood legends Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to tell the story of their parents’ 50-year marriage, director Ethan Hawke also had access to a trove of interview transcripts from a memoir Newman had planned to write. He burned the tapes and then passed away a decade later. So, in the midst of the pandemic, he tapped a slew of actor pals to bring the interviewees’ words to life, casting George Clooney as Newman and Laura Linney as Woodward. We find out just how amorous their romance could be—and how capable they were of hurting each other. These revealing monologues by the couple, their friends, fellow actors, directors, and other contemporaries form the spine of the 6-part series; an episode 2 conversation with Woodward’s high school sweetheart, voiced by Steve Zahn, is a showstopper. But for all the awe he expresses over each performer’s body of work, Hawke has no interest in sugarcoating their story. Hawke’s heartfelt conversations with his children are a great example of this, Movie Stars It exposes their selfishness, complicity, lack of parenting skills, and various other problems that lie beneath the perfect image. The effect isn’t to tear these idols down but to reveal their essential humanity.

[Read Stephanie Zacharek’s review.]

Moonhaven (AMC+)

Is it possible to imagine a human being leaving utopia. Moonhaven’s citizens, a tranquil, serene community located in 500 miles of lunar surface, have an answer: to save the world. It is now 2201. Earth is now 2201. Now, the only hope for humanity lies with the so-called Mooners, who’ve spent more than a century building a kinder, more sustainable society. Sci-fi horror MoonhavenIt opens two weeks prior to the Bridge, a critical event in which the first wave Mooners will move to Earth to assist their terrestrial brothers with the healing of the planet.

It’s at this moment that the lunar utopia starts to look less perfect. Chill, a young girl played by Nina Barker, is first murdered. Paul Monaghan (a.k.a. Charlie Lost) and Arlo (Kadeem Hardison, a.k.a. A Different World’s unforgettable Dwayne Wayne), discover a strange connection between Chill and a pilot, Bella Sway (a taciturn Emma McDonald), who has just arrived from Earth with the powerful envoy Indira (Amara Karan from Night of) and Indira’s bodyguard Tomm (True blood’s Joe Manganiello, playing a sentient snarl) to aid in final preparations for the Bridge. As an Earther with a violent past and a sideline in smuggling, Bella arouses the suspicion of the colony’s leaders—including Maite (Ayelet Zurer of Losing Alice(), who is a mother-goddess with a lot of energy and is loved by her people. Yet in MoonhavenA philosophical, near-future epic with ambitious ideas that compensate for sometimes-flimsy execution. The characters are more complicated than their appearances. [Read the full review.]

Paper Girls (Amazon)

Four middle school girls from suburban suburbs set out on November 1, 1988 to deliver papers and avoid threats by teen bullies who were slinking back home from an evening of mischief Halloween night. They set out to find the two boys that stole their walkie-talkie and come across a couple of mutants. The girls then flee into the streets, under an unnaturally bright fuchsia sky. Instead of fighting bullies, they’re caught in some cosmic war.

Paper GirlsIt sounds very similar Stranger Things—but for girls! And if that’s what gets you to watch, so much the better. This series is a coming-of age sci-fi, and it’s based on the comic by Brian K. Vaughan. Y. The Last ManAnd Saga) and illustrated by veteran artist Cliff Chiang, tells a more focused, character-driven story that is particularly refreshing on the heels of the Netflix epic’s bloated fourth season. [Read the full review.]

Rap Sh!t (HBO Max)

Issa Rae created one of TV’s realest bonds in the rocky relationship between Insecure‘s flailing heroine Issa Dee (Rae) and her high-achieving, unlucky-in-love best friend Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji). Now, just months after that show culminated in an emotional tribute to the two characters’ friendship, Rae is back with another comedy about young women chasing dreams together. Shawna is an artist who is conscious. Shawna is currently working at the concierge desk in a Miami hotel. Mia (KaMillion), her high school friend, supports a child by arranging makeup artist gigs and OnlyFans profits. They are the ideal combination of bad-bitch energy and lyrical insight when the stars align to allow the former estranged friends form an aspiring rap duo.

From the lived-in dialogue to the female-gaze sex scenes, Rae’s voice—reinforced by a writing staff that includes several Unsecure alums—is unmistakable in Rap Sh!t. JT and Yung Miami, the South Florida hip hop duo City Girls, are on board as executive producers. Read podcaster Kid Fury in the writers’ room, it also captures the pleasures and pain points of being a female MC in an era when more women than ever are climbing the rap charts. More surprising is the show’s insightful use of social media. By weaving self-shot videos and livestreams into the fabric of each episode, Rae evokes an existence—not just in the entertainment industry, but also as a regular 20-something—where people are always performing their allegedly real lives for an audience and surveilling lovers, friends, and rivals.

[Read an essay on Rap Sh!t and TV’s newfound love of girl bands.]

The rehearsal (HBO)

The brilliant and brain-breaking series puts it again Nathan, for you Nathan Fielder is a mastermind who serves people struggling with difficult problems that they don’t know how to solve. But this time around the predicaments are more personal than entrepreneurial, and the Fielder who hosts, narrates, directs, and writes or co-writes each episode comes off as a more authentic representation of the real Fielder—or, at least, a more authentic facsimile of a real human being—than that inscrutable Nathan, for you guy. In fact, the show’s conceit is that it pulls back the curtain on its predecessor, using Fielder’s over-the-top social-engineering methods to help people overcome the stumbling blocks in their lives. [Read the full review.]

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