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Best TV Shows January 2023: What our critic loved

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Januari tends to be a fallow month in the cinema as a few leftovers from the previous year are looking for an award run at the box office along with oscar films. (What would we have done without it M3gan?) Thankfully, this time around, television has stormed in to fill the entertainment gap. From a surprisingly hilarious superhero comedy to a politically minded hip-hop history to amateur detective Natasha Lyonne, 2023 has already delivered a veritable plethora of quality TV. In fact, so many new shows have impressed me in recent weeks that this list includes not one, not two, but three honorable mentions. If you’re really craving winter and need even more recommendations, here are the 10 shows I’ve enjoyed the most in 2022.

The Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice (AMC)

Critical consensus was not favorable to the second title (following last year’s critically acclaimed title). interview with the vampire) in AMC’s ambitious Anne Rice Immortal Universe franchise. Honestly, that reaction has me a bit baffled – and if it sounds like the kind of show you might like, I’d suggest giving it a shot. Adapted from Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches Trilogy, the gothic thriller from Esta Spalding and Michelle Ashford, cuts the author’s dense, age-spanning tomes about a dynasty of witches to zoom in on its most captivating character: Rowan Mayfair (Alexandra Daddario), a brilliant young neurosurgeon in San Francisco that after the death of her adoptive mother she is the heir to an unfathomable fortune, as well as a dangerous legacy, in New Orleans. She also has the power to kill people with her brain.

Sumptuous, smart and sometimes quite succulent, Mayfair Witches benefits from the intensity of Daddario’s deer-in-headlights, along with perfectly creepy supporting performances from Harry Hamlin and Beth Grant as the warring elders of the family. New Orleans is a telegenic city, but it’s rarely been captured in such a vibrant, ghostly light. Yet there is plenty of substance behind the beautiful veneer. As Rowan struggles with her unique ability to save and end lives, the series becomes more than just the hero’s journey of a generically strong female character. Torn between a righteous calling and a seductive new realm, she can’t assume her role in the battle between good and evil until she learns to distinguish between the two – and find out which side she’s on.

[Read: “How the Witches and Vampires of AMC’s Anne Rice Universe Could Break the Curse of Bad Genre TV”]

Exceptional (Hulu)

Remember the name Emma Moran, because she’s accomplished what once seemed impossible: she’s created a superhero comedy that’s actually funny. The premise of her debut series, Exceptional, is not revolutionary. Like Disney’s Encanto and, to a lesser extent, the recently canceled teen drama Peacock Vampire Academy, it takes place in an alternate reality where every young person, upon reaching a certain age, develops a superpower – except for the hapless protagonist. The metaphor of not starting is so obvious that it even resonates with toddlers. What makes Moran’s show, well, extraordinary is the irreverent panache with which it is executed. [Read the full review.]

Fight the Power: How Hip-Hop Changed the World (PBS)

Sometime in the not-so-recent past, the idea of ​​a PBS documentary on hip-hop may have raised eyebrows. But the subculture that emerged from the Bronx half a century ago has been a fixture of mainstream pop culture for decades now; if something, Fight the force is too late. Anyway, it was worth the wait. With Public Enemy’s Chuck D and his longtime collaborator Lorrie Boula serving as executive producers, the four-part series wisely eschews an extensive history of the art form to focus on hip-hop’s political impact. The result is a thoughtful dialectic between music and society, interweaving the so-called “benign neglect” of impoverished black communities in 1970s New York with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5’s wake-up call “The Message.” and a militarized early-’90s Los Angeles police force with NWA’s anti-police anthems. Incidents that seem lost to history, such as Bill Clinton’s campaign trail to scapegoat hip-hop generation activist Sister Souljah, roar back into the conversation. An overarching emphasis on racism doesn’t stop the series from addressing vital controversies within the black community, from the backlash over sexist lyrics to the legacy of Barack Obama. Scholars and journalists add vital analysis to the first-hand memories of rappers including KRS-One, Ice-T, MC Lyte and Killer Mike.

A final installment that tries to cram the events of the 21st century – from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to Obama, Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement – is clearly weaker than its predecessors. Was “Where’s the Love” by Black Eyed Peas? really hip-hop’s most notable response to the Iraq war? Should Eminem’s principled stance against racist, Trump-aligned white fans excuse his history of misogyny and homophobia that goes unmentioned? Can you really make a documentary about hip-hop and politics without going into the rise and fall of Kanye West? These omissions are frustrating. But based on the first three episodes alone, the series is worth watching. Especially for those in the PBS audience who have yet to realize just how important hip-hop has been in shaping political discourse and action for two generations, it’s essential to watch.

The lying life of adults (Netflix)

If you’ve begun to suspect that the most exciting new shows on Netflix come with subtitles – and premiere with frustratingly little publicity in the US – rest assured, you’re not alone. Over the past month, the service unveiled two series from international A-list authors: Ride provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn’s Danish thriller Copenhagen Cowboy and The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko Housea charming glimpse into geisha culture from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Broker, Shoplifters). But the real highlight was The lying life of adultsan Italian adaptation of the 2019 novel by Elena Ferrante.

A coming-of-age drama set in 1990s Naples. Life follows the quietly catastrophic consequences of a seemingly trivial moment in the life of a middle-class family. One day, teenage Giovanna (Giordana Marengo) overhears her beloved father (Alessandro Preziosi) comparing her appearance to that of his estranged sister, Vittoria (Valeria Golino), whom he hates. The incident forces the girl to meet her aunt, a vivacious, bitter, working-class hothead who opens Giovanna to a less intellectual, more emotional way of being in the world – while also manipulating her into a bourgeois-socialist existence. to shake up the family. . Sumptuously filmed and beautifully acted (Marengo and Golino are especially great). My brilliant friend, HBO’s immaculate adaptation of Ferrante’s instant classic Neapolitan novels. But if you enjoy philosophical, psychologically rich meditations on friendship, intellectual ambition, and growing up as a woman, then you will definitely enjoy Life also.

Poker face (Peacock)

As anyone who has seen as much as a trailer already knows, the real amateur detective takes center stage Knives out and Glass onion mastermind Rian Johnson is awesome Poker face is played by Natasha Lyonne. And the show is an unashamed homage to classic mystery-of-the-week television, namely the touchstone of the 1970s Columbo, which began each episode by walking viewers through the murder. First we met the victim and the perpetrator; some time later, Peter Falk’s eponymous scruffy detective would arrive on the scene. Instead of playing along at home, fans got to see a strange, unassuming, but brilliant sleuth who conducted interviews, interpreted clues and sniffed out motives. [Read the full review.]

Honorable Mentions

The 1619 Project (Hulu)

Anyone who follows the news will be familiar with many issues the series deals with, which makes some episodes feel a bit corrective. But at best, The 1619 Project draws perceptive — and deeply personal — connections between the antebellum and pre-Civil Rights past, and a present in which black Americans continue to disproportionately face police brutality, workplace exploitation, and other forms of inequality. [Read the full review.]

The last of us (HBO)

Based on the critically acclaimed video game franchise and created by the game’s mastermind, Neil Druckmann, and Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin, the show is alternately gorgeous and poignant, sassy and warm. From the performances to the storytelling to the aesthetic elements, it’s a beautifully crafted edit. But it also asks the viewers to take in a whole lot of human misery without saying much we haven’t heard in similar shows. [Read the full review.]

The watchful eye (free form)

Less a sincere critique or satire of wealth and cronyism than a self-conscious product of ambient eat the rich sentiment, The watchful eye has no elitist ambitions. It’s just a solidly built thriller, with a cleverly assembled cast of characters and well-executed plot beats, whose fast pace guarantees a consistently exciting watch. At a time when so many shows reach for prestige signifiers beyond their grasp, that lack of pretense is as refreshing as it is fun. [Read the full review.]

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