Itt’s the circle of life: February was a slow month for TV, but in March—as many remained rightly, if helplessly, preoccupied by one of the scariest and most devastating geopolitical crises since World War II—we had more worthwhile new shows than seemed practical. So many, in fact, that there’s no room in this top 5 for quite a few series that would normally have ranked among my favorites: Minx, Shining Vale, Phoenix Rising, Win Time. That’s without even mentioning some of the most-anticipated returning shows of the year, from the second season of Bridgerton The long-awaited 3rd season of Atlanta. Oder the depressing spectacle of the 2022 Oscars. Or HBO’s excellent feature doc How to Survive an EpidemicThis document traces two years worth of scientific successes and disasters in the creation and distribution COVID-19 vaccinations. All of the above deserve attention, in the unlikely event that you have some to spare, but in my humble opinion, the five series below represent the very best of what’s new.
Andy Warhol Diaries (Netflix)
Among his fans as well as his critics, the image of Warhol as an impenetrable enigma has persisted for as long as he’s been a household name, from his Pop heyday in the 1960s to his untimely death in 1987, all the way through the present. Certainly, the artist played that part to the hilt, constantly appearing in public with an expression of glassy-eyed enchantment and some faux-naive musings to dispense in a breathless near-monotone: “I love Los Angeles. Hollywood is my favorite. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”
But just because an artist denies the public access to their interiority, doesn’t mean they are unknowable. There is more to an artist than the blurred lines. Beyond that, there’s a person, perspective and most importantly, authentic interpersonal relationships. This private side of Netflix’s brilliantly produced docuseries is what the show is all about. Andy Warhol DiariesAndrew Rossi, directorPage one: Inside The New York TimesRyan Murphy is the executive producer. [Read the full review.]
The Dropout (Hulu)
People who watch are more likely to pay attention. The DropoutThey already have a lot of knowledge about Theranos. They’ve read John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: The Secrets and Lies of a Silicon Valley StartupWatched the HBO documentary Silicon Valley’s Inventor is Out for BloodListen to this podcast by ABC News. The Dropout was adapted, or simply followed seven years’ worth of news about the company’s downfall. Meriwether seems to understand what the creators of many other recent docudramas, from Showtime’s Uber’s Battle for Super Pumped to Hulu’s own Dopesick, do not—that no one comes to these shows for a summary of what happened. Our goal is to learn about the personalities behind the headlines.
To this end The Dropout Three interrelated questions are asked: Who is Elizabeth Holmes, and Was she thinking what? What is the secret to her success in convincing so many powerful and wealthy people to believe her lies so often? Whereas previous portraits have fixated on Holmes’ beauty, her youth, her artificially lowered voice, and those black Steve Jobs turtlenecks she appropriated as a uniform, Meriwether and the show’s star—Amanda Seyfried in her most challenging and perhaps greatest role to date—probe beyond that incongruous surface. [Read the full review.]
Plainville’s Girl (Hulu)
A streamer recently gave us two excellent docudramas, both in one month. Dopesick And Pam & Tommy? It’s possible to believe it It’s true! The DropoutBut it is more subtle in its storytelling and tragic in its subject matter. Plainville’s Girl The significant challenge that comes with providing novel insights into the thoughts and psyches of young women who were often discussed as indefensible is one of the most challenging aspects of the book. This time, the subject is Michelle Carter, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a judge determined that she had goaded her 18-year-old boyfriend Conrad “Coco” Roy III into killing himself when she was 17.
Nicknamed the “texting suicide case” after the story broke in the mid-2010s, the ordeal centered on a series of text messages between Carter and Roy in which she encouraged him to follow through on his obsession with committing suicide. Beyond the legal issue of whether a person should be held accountable for pressuring someone into ending their own life—even if said defendant wasn’t physically present at the time—Plainville’s Girl This raises a more difficult psychological issue: Why would a girl do this to a man she loves? It would be easy to depict Carter as the devil incarnate or, in keeping with the trend of revisionist portraits of women who’ve been pilloried in the media, a misunderstood victim. Elle Fanning portrays Carter, written by Liz Hannah and co-showrunnersMindhunterPatrick Macmanus and Judith MacmanusDr. DeathMichelle, however, emerges as something more messy and real. Michelle is a self-dramatizing teenager with profound mental-health problems. Along with probing the private agendas of many the show’s adult characters, including ambitious lawyers and expert witnesses on a mission to curb the prescription of psychiatric medication, the eight-episode miniseries overflows with compassion for Coco and his devoted mother, Lynn (Chloë Sevigny, authentic as ever), who’s forced to keep it together for the sake of her grieving family.
Ptolemy Grey in the Last Days (Apple TV+)
It’s a rare pleasure, these days, to encounter a premise that feels genuinely original. This is one such story. Ptolemy Grey in the Last DaysThe six-part Apple TV+ miniseries, which Walter Mosley created from his 2010 novel, is called. Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of the elderly, demented man in the title story. His life is filled with poverty and the remnants of an extremely difficult, long-lived, hard life. His memories are distorted and he wanders aimlessly, his only company being his surrogate father, Damon Gupton, and his wife Sensia, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams. Then, with his mental decline accelerating, Ptolemy loses his nephew and caretaker, Reggie (Omar Benson Miller), whose murder he registers only after stumbling upon the open casket at a gathering in the younger man’s honor.
Ptolemy (Dominique Fishback, 17 years old) is also introduced at the event. Judas and The Black MessiahAn orphaned, close-knit family friend that used to take care of her mother who was an addict. She is to be his new live-in helper, and she turns out to be a great one, pushing right past Ptolemy’s stubbornness and incoherence to clean up his reeking apartment and restore some dignity to his existence. Their bond is so strong and pure that it almost feels supernatural. [Read the full review.]
Pachinko (Apple TV+)
This atrocity that was Japan’s occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, whose impact on the Korean people still reverberates in the present, forms the backdrop of Min Jin Lee’s magnificent 2017 novel Pachinko. The rare National Book Award finalist that is also a bestseller, populated by rich characters and suffused with emotion, Lee’s story comes to television in this lavish adaptation. According to all reports, the adaptation of the sprawling, multilingual, multigenerational story about immigration and family was difficult. Soo Hugh is the creator.The WhispersKogonada Filmmakers (Yang, ColumbusJustin Chon is an actor and director who has also been a writer. The ensemble cast does a wonderful job of capturing the essence and flow of the book. The only major misstep is a structural choice that undermines Lee’s carefully paced storytelling. [Read the full review.]
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