‘The Bear,’ ‘The White Lotus, and RIP ‘Desus and Mero’
(Editor’s Note: We have so many excellent critics, we don’t know what to do with them all! Daniel Cohen takes his turn to give us his well-watched opinion about the best and worst in TV in 2022.)
The White Lotus
When he hasn’t been writing “The Emoji Movie” and its ilk, Mike White has been quietly establishing himself as a master observer of the leisure class, with “Enlightened” and now “The White Lotus” painting very ugly pictures of what sex, money, and desire can do to ambitious people. A good old-fashioned murder mystery and a brilliant comic turn by Jennifer Coolidge liven up the intense psychodrama.
The Bear’s famously tense penultimate episode, filmed in one take, is still an exhausting, anxious tour de force upon repeated viewings, the single best episode of TV in 2022. Watch that opening credit sequence again, though: a montage of moments in Chicago history, triumphant and tragic, it’s both the show and the city in miniature, presented without commentary, unafraid to find grace in sharp angles, dirty streets, and commitment to its craft.
Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” was never really a story about Paper Boi and his cousin Earn so much as it was an exploration of the surreal contradictions of the South, a rumination on the price of fame, and above all else a celebration of what the late critic Greg Tate once called “Black cognition.” The clarity of Glover and frequent collaborator Hiro Murai’s vision sharpened over the show’s four seasons into a fully-realized creative gestalt, leaving no doubt about their feelings on habitual line-steppers.
This Paramount+ mockumentary was a note-perfect parody of “The Last Dance,” with a flailing esports team playing the role of the ’98 Bulls. Sounds very niche, but in the capable hands of the “American Vandal” team it became an oddly affecting take on brotherhood and self-sacrifice while gleefully skewering sports documentary tropes.
Desus and Mero
Rest in peace, ballbags. When late-night duo Desus and Mero split up in June, ending a decade of comedy podcasts and talk shows, it was genuinely shocking, like finding out your parents were getting a divorce. Their Showtime show really hit its stride during the pandemic, when it became, over Zoom, an unlikely chronicle of the stress and bleak humor of living in NYC during uncertain times. Back with a studio audience, a bigger writers’ room, and more grandiose ideas, they were on their way to dizzying heights when it all collapsed.
The worst of the worst. A witless CBS sitcom, mercifully cancelled, starring Thomas Middleditch as a dialysis patient who meets a group of kindred spirits, learns about friendship in the process, and even – aww! – finds love.
Look. I was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure three years ago, and I’ve been waiting for a kidney transplant ever since. You’ll be shocked to note that it sucks. The existence of this show, as I grapple with the daily indignity of my illness, was almost personally offensive. There’s some comfort, though, in this thought: one day they’ll find me a new kidney, but Chuck Lorre will never make a new episode of “B Positive.”
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
This was never going to be lighthearted fun, but Ryan Murphy’s ballyhooed Jeffrey Dahmer dramatization was a dreary, lugubrious slog, offensive to victims’ families and often weirdly sympathetic to Dahmer himself. True crime dramatizations can be illuminating. This was almost painfully dark.
Fox’s World Cup coverage
American soccer fans are used to being patronized. Being bombarded with pro-Qatar propaganda is a new one. Fox’s soft-focus coverage of the World Cup hit its nadir with “rules expert” Dr. Joe Machnik (Ph.D., I shit you not, in recreation/leisure studies, University of Utah, 1973) whose incoherence recalled a real-life “Cut Man” from “Sports Night.” Who knows: perhaps the US would have beaten the Dutch if they’d taken mild doses of physic to work the bowels.
Not a truly horrible idea, it was clearly just a 90-minute treatment that FX (on Hulu) stretched into ten turgid episodes of very dull TV. Steve Carell locked in a basement by a psychotic Ron Weasley sounds great on paper, but this show was a chore to get through every week, its dénouement telegraphed hours in advance. One saving grace: its positive and nuanced portrayal of Jewish customs and culture, one of the rare times that TV doesn’t reduce the Orthodox, to payot-twirling caricatures.
Inane banter, a confusing new format, B-list celebs who couldn’t bother to learn how the game actually works: the prime-time version of “Celebrity Jeopardy” didn’t destroy the game’s credibility, but as a potential brand extension it only hurt matters. Inessential viewing for all but game show completists and big Jalen Rose fans.