5. “Downward Dog”
What can we say that hasn’t already been summed up beautifully by IndieWire Special Projects Editor Steve Greene’s lovely ode to the now-canceled ABC series? Plenty. Because until some network or streaming service wises up and gets “Downward Dog” back on our TVs, we’re not going to be quiet about the need for this heartwarming show that celebrates one creature’s need for another. Martin is the chatty and navel-gazing pup who is the conduit into his and his human Nan’s (Alison Tolman) world, and every wrongheaded pronouncement, every chagrined mea culpa, every pause or “like” or “you know” is a goddamned goldmine of vulnerability that is required to make real connections and real progress in this world. In this crazy, political, dog-eat-dog climate we find ourselves in, everyone could benefit from listening to Martin and have a good “cry into the wine” time. Binge it. Love it. Fetch it back. We’ll be waiting.
4. “Dear White People”
Justin Simien’s expansion of the Winchester University world that began in his film of the same name is just what America needs to stay woke, in all senses of the word. Lively and stylish, the series is a non-stop entertaining romp through higher education, social politics and cultural identity. Each episode becomes more addictive than the last thanks to its engaging cast, creative storytelling and vibrant visual palette. And while the series calls out learned prejudice and hypocrisy, no one is spared scrutiny and questioning — not even its protagonists. And that’s because “Dear White People” isn’t about an agenda against the people the title is addressing, but for anyone who is willing to examine their closely held beliefs, even if it’s about themselves.
3. “The Young Pope”
Lenny. Lenny, Lenny, Lenny. Lenny the Pope. What an idea. Not only does the name call to mind a certain level of immaturity, but the simple concept of a pope that’s young was just the right combination of easy peasy and mind-bogglingly counterintuitive. Yet the brilliance of Paulo Sorrentino’s limited series (renewed for a mysterious “new” iteration) went far beyond the title and deep into the conflict within a church that refuses to acknowledge its own hypocrisy. As Pope Pius XIII, born Lenny Berardo, wrestled with his internal demons, growing up in front of an ever-diminishing clergy, so too did the discussion of faith driving “The Young Pope” toward wisdom beyond its age. May Lenny live a long, Cherry Coke Zero-fueled and kangaroo-filled life, reigning above us all.
2. “Big Little Lies”
“Big Little Lies” is the most fun we’ve had in a while, watching privileged mothers struggle for power in a gorgeous seaside community whilst an ongoing murder mystery is layered on for extra danger. But beyond the backstabbing, pretty kitchens and playdates is a poignant story of women who have fought for their place in this world despite abuse, failed marriages, and public perception. It’s also some of the best work by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley to date, not to mention the junior cast who hold their own among these heavyweights. Add to that a soulful soundtrack, and this is the most delicious yet also satisfying limited series we’ve seen in a while. Come for the Elvis and Audrey karaoke; stay for the beautiful heartache.
1. “The Handmaid’s Tale”
It’s not enough to simply show a world where hope is fleeting and pain of all kinds are part of a daily routine. There are plenty of other TV dystopias that can (and do) indulge those impulses at every turn. “The Handmaid’s Tale” has become rich and challenging viewing because it investigates so many other viewpoints in this horrifying land of Gilead, both in its current form and back through its inception. The claustrophobic oppression visited on these handmaids comes through in the restriction of their speech, the framing of their faces and the actions they’re forced to endure. As each episode tracks the subtle shifts that transformed our conception of America into this fictional one, it’s a reminder that fundamental changes can happen with armed overthrow, but they can also come by way of small, insidious adjustments meant to pass unnoticed. This is more than transposing the words of a novel onto a television screen. It’s an endurance test designed to make any viewer consider and cherish the privileges of a free society.