From ‘The Rehearsal’ to ‘Severance’, one critic’s TV favorites and less-favorites, with more to come!
(Editor’s Note: We initially intended to split this year’s best and worst TV picks into two pieces, with each of our many fine critics offering what TV Guide used to called their “picks and pans.” But the criticism is so sharp this year, and TV so fast, that we just decided to give each critic their own opportunity to shine. TV critic Paula Shaffer is first through the holy gates, with a variety of unusual insights.)
High School: The Amazon Freevee adaptation of High School, Tegan and Sara’s memoir about their 90s adolescence, is the most perfect, delightfully bingeworthy show around. Somehow, everything about this exploration of identity works—from Cobie Smulders as a struggling mom, to Seazynn and Railey Gailland’s performances as the future indie darlings, right on through the set design, soundtrack, and directing. High School is a heart tugging journey, like Freaks and Geeks, but even better, because it’s true.
The Rehearsal: Nathan Fielder has been trolling people for ages now with his comedic pseudo-documentary, kinda reality show performances, but with The Rehearsal, he elevated his art toa previously unknown level. Exploiting his purportedly big HBOMax bucks, he morphed the concept of practicing for big events into a meta endeavor questioning the line between life and performance, while highlighting the damage walking that line does to actors, especially when they’re little kids. It’s brilliant, haunting, and absolutely hilarious.
Severance: Anyone who ever wished they could forget all about work when they got home might be grateful that can’t happen after watching Apple TV+’s Severance. Ben Stiller finally found the perfect niche for his brilliantly dark directing energies, and Adam Scott further cements himself as a prime hunk of leading man. This is one of the rare shows that deserves every bit of acclaim people have given it.
What We Do in the Shadows: FX’s docu-comedy has no right to be this hilarious, but it remains one of the most belly -laugh-inducing shows on TV. Season three ended with some pretty big game changers, and hoo boy, the game did change without missing a single beat, and Mark Proksch totally slayed in a non-vampire killing sort of way.
Upload: In this Amazon series, citizens of the near future can choose to upload themselves into a simulated world to virtually extend their existence, so long as they have the means to pay. In the first season, programmer Nathan (Robbie Amell) was uploaded by his emotionally needy girlfriend (Allegra Edwards), and in this second season, his search for answers about his death takes him, and his afterlife handler (Andy Allo) on some inventive and wild adventures. Comedy czar Greg Daniels deftly handles Upload’s twists and turns, creating a light show with exactly the right amount of thought-provokingly dark undertones. It is truly unlike anything else out there.
The Book of Boba Fett: After decades of fans imagining Boba Fett’s journey out of the fearsome Sarlacc pit, Disney treated viewers to approximately 30 seconds of his struggles before this Disney+ slog delved into the dank and visually murky world of the space mafia. The Book of Boba Fett should be a kick-ass adventure of a program, but instead is a boring, disappointing exercise in drudgery.
The Winchesters: Of course the CW misses the Winchester brothers after fifteen seasons of Supernatural, so a prequel about Sam and Dean’s parents is sort of a no-brainer, except for the fact that the previous show already well established their backstory. With The Winchesters, executive producer Jensen Ackles cashes in on his previous show’s legacy and blows up the established framework to bring this clunky, uneven, poorly acted, dumbly written story to near-life. It’s a painfully bad, crass grab for cash money.
Bachelor in Paradise: Ever since Chris Harrison’s departure, the entire franchise of The Bachelor has taken a downturn, but this year’s destruction of Bachelor Nation’s most light-hearted installment is utterly tragic. Usually, ABC’s Bachelor in Paradise is a fast summer romp meant to hold everyone over with beachy shenanigans until the more serious work of The Bachelor/ette kicks off. This year, it didn’t debut until late September, and dragged out for too many episodes with overproduced segments that sucked every ounce of joy off of that beach.
The Time Traveler’s Wife: Audrey Niffenegger’s sweepingly romantic sci-fi novel loses yet again in HBO’s adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife. As he did in Doctor Who, Steven Moffat tells yet another story of a red-haired woman longing for a much older man, but this time out, it feels creepy almost right out of the gate. As time-crossed lovers, Rose Leslie and Theo James fail to summon even a hint of chemistry, as they are far too busy wading through this lazy production’s clumsy pretentiousness.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law: Theoretically, it’s fantastic that Disney+ offers space for its many universes to expand while delving into diverse stories of lesser-known characters, but clunky messes like She-Hulk prove that television is a medium that needs fully realized characters for a show to work. She-Hulk thinks it runs on fun, rah-rah girl power, but instead sustains itself with misandry, horrid CGI, and dreadfully flimsy plot points disguised as storytelling. It’s an offensive mess, and even breaks the fourth wall to let us know it knows it’s a mess. Acknowledging something is terrible somehow makes it even worse.