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Meet the artists who brought the Apple TV+ series to life!

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Looking for a new TV series to watch? We recommend them based on your preference for musicals, ensemble shows, mysteries, and more!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Loot 2x03 Recap: "Vengeance Falls" (Family Drama) [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

“Vengeance Falls”
Original Airdate: April 10, 2024

This week’s Loot focuses on Nicholas, and it’s the perfect opportunity for Joel Kim Booster’s comedic and emotional talents to shine. (Relatedly, go watch his film Fire Island on Hulu if you haven’t yet. I’ll wait.)

“Vengeance Falls” is the name of a provocative play that Nicholas was cast in and is incredibly excited about. The episode opens with Molly running lines of dialogue with him while asking who he invited to see his play. When he makes an excuse about not inviting his parents, Molly takes it upon herself to invite them on Nicholas’ behalf. It doesn’t go well: he butchers his lines in the play on purpose because he doesn’t want his conservative Midwestern parents to feel uncomfortable. But in the end, everyone feels uncomfortable anyway.

The fact that Nicholas censors himself and his life around his parents is paralleled by the awkwardness they feel about being out of their comfort zone around him. They don’t dramatically fight but that’s almost worse — instead of connecting, they stick to surface level conversations with the things they’re not saying to one another bubbling just underneath every comment (they do not understand his choice to be an actor; he refuses to return to Indiana to farm). Molly tries her hardest to praise Nicholas and to get some sort of enthusiastic reaction or approval from his parents. Molly would even have been fine with some sort of minor enthusiasm. But with every praise of Nicholas, his parents change the subject; and with every subject change about their Indiana town, Nicholas gets more and more irritated.

When Molly confronts him about his relationship with his parents, Nicholas asserts that his relationship with them is just fine... if they don’t stray from approved, safe, surface level topics. They don’t approve or understand why he moved away and is pursuing acting. Molly tells Nicholas that his attitude isn’t healthy and that he should put in the emotional work with them — just like she is by being alone and self-sufficient. But Nicolas astutely points out that Molly actually doesn’t often put in work to be alone. She has teams of people who do things for her, including him; she’s never truly alone. This leads to a minor fight in which Molly very defiantly tells Nicholas that she can be alone — without the help of anyone who works for her.

Molly actually does pretty well with this, until a smoke detector begins chirping its low battery alert and she can’t figure out how to get it to stop. She tries everything, eventually ripping it off the wall, throwing it into her safe, and then accidentally locking herself in her panic room. (And in a hilarious turn of events, the alarm on the wall in the panic room also begins chirping.) Nicholas shows up after an alert tips him off that the panic room is locked and Molly confesses that she feels embarrassed about not being able to do things by herself. But Nicholas praises her for the fact that even when she doesn’t get it right, at least she’s trying. And he admits that she was right about his parents — they don’t talk about their emotions or feelings and instead repress both.

The two embrace and Molly emphasizes that she’ll always be there for Nicholas. It’s a sweet, quiet little moment between the two that is so subtle and well-acted by Maya Rudolph and Joel Kim Booster. And it’s also the exact thing Nicholas needs to hear in order to go to the hotel where his parents are staying and extend an invitation for them to have dinner with them at a local diner. Though the conversation doesn’t immediately fix all of their issues, it’s a little step forward — Nicholas is vulnerable about his acting job in a commercial and his parents agree to go out to dinner.

From what Joel Kim Booster has shared about his own upbringing being raised by his adoptive white evangelical parents, this week’s Loot storyline really parallels his own story. Joel’s performance is so good in this episode because he’s lived a similar story to Nicholas, and it’s that kind of longing for love and understanding that makes it both an incredibly specific story and also an intensely universal one.


Elsewhere, in what is perhaps the silliest storyline that this show does that falls quite squarely into my bucket of interests, Howard suspects that Sofia is a Swiftie and decides to try his hardest throughout the entire episode to uncover the truth (while she just tries to get him to do a PowerPoint assignment he was supposed to do). Eventually after lying about it, Sofia tells Howard that she is, indeed, a fan of the pop artist, showing him where she hides her Taylor Swift vinyls in the cases of other artists. 

Sofia admits that she hides her love for Taylor Swift because she is a young Afro-Latina woman navigating a leadership role. She doesn’t want to give the world any reason to question her authority and unfortunately, being a vocal Swiftie would possibly make people think less of her or take her less seriously. So she hides her vinyls and her excitement in order to try and navigate the world. And it sadly makes sense that she would feel the need to do this. Howard admits that he never thought about it from that perspective before.

But to Howard, this news just makes her more relatable to him. He already saw her as someone to look up to and admire — a fact that he earnestly tells her in this episode — and now, even though she will still hide her love of Taylor Swift from the world, she has a way to connect with him. Howard tells her that he spent eight years working alongside her and feels like he does not really know her. You can see that Sofia is slightly taken aback by that comment. But there is truth there: she keeps her life so private and hidden typically, and it’s sweet to see her start to open up to others this season. Sharing a mutual love of Taylor Swift with Howard was a nice little way to do just that. And the episode ends with them preparing to listen to the Midnights vinyl together while swapping Swiftie theories.

And that’s all for this week’s Loot! What did you think of “Vengeance Falls”?

Notes & Quotes:

  • “Every time I read the script, I have more questions. That’s gotta be a good sign, right?”
  • “I listen to podcasts about systemic racism and urban decay.”
  • “That’s not mine. I’m holding it for a friend. Her name is Dakota. ... She is white.”
  • “No one has a great aunt. They only exist when you’re trying to get out of work or a term paper.”
  • Who did the funnier storyline with an incessantly beeping smoke detector: Phoebe Buffay in Friends or Molly Wells in Loot?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Loot 2x01 and 2x02 Recaps: "Space for Everyone" & "Clueless" (We're All Just Doing Our Best) [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

“Space for Everyone”
Original Airdate: April 3, 2024

Welcome back to Loot, friends! To recap where we left off in season 1: Molly committed to giving away all of her money to charity at the Silver Moon Summit. But we officially ended the season with Arthur wanting to tell Molly how he feels about her — only to discover that Molly slept with John.

I’ve gotten the chance to see all of Loot’s second season and I can tell you that you’re in for a funny, wild ride over the next few episodes! But to kick things off, let’s unpack all that happened in “Space for Everyone.” The episode opens with a fun take on Molly’s “73 Questions” for Vogue, which she’s getting roasted for online because it makes her life still look opulent (and it is). Really, Molly’s trajectory this episode is focused on her desire for people to like her. As someone who is trying to reinvent herself but is still quite out of touch with a non-billionaire life, Molly spends most of the episode trying to focus on being a better person and helping the foundation.

Meanwhile, Molly has decided to put her romantic life on pause and is annoyed that John keeps sending her gifts and trying to connect with her. She tells him that their night together was a mistake and that she has no interest in reconnecting with him. Meanwhile, John continues to disregard her wishes, convinced he can win his ex-wife back. (Culminating in an act at the end of the episode that sets Molly into a rage.)

Molly tells John that she doesn’t just want to be his ex-wife and wants her own identity. She also tells Arthur this later, who insists that she’s not just someone’s ex-wife — she is better than she gives herself credit for. And I really do think that so many of Molly’s insecurities and struggles come from a place of doubting her ability to stand on her own and carve out her own name for herself that isn’t dependent on John, his money, or his fame. Molly and Arthur’s scene is sweet because he affirms things that are true within her, and she confesses that she always feels better after talking with him. They banter a little bit and I really have to point out how great the chemistry between Maya Rudolph and Nat Faxon is.

Speaking of Arthur: he is trying to reinvent himself as a result of what happened (or didn’t happen) in Corsica. So he buys a leather bracelet — that hilariously everyone roasts him about throughout the episode — and Nicholas and Howard confront him over his new attitude. He tells them that he’s doing a new thing where he goes after what he wants and doesn’t hesitate (an overcorrection after not going after Molly last season that the two friends point out). I do love that these three have a friendship and notice when something is off with one of them.

Sofia, meanwhile, is upset because a project for unhoused people that The Wells Foundation had been working on for seven years was shelved by the mayor’s office — even though it was supposed to be announced the following day. So the team tries to work together to figure out a solution that can’t be stopped by bureaucracy and doesn’t require them building anything.

They decide to contact Noah Hope-DeVore, a young billionaire who designed an online philanthropy platform that uses an algorithm to help the greatest number of people in cost-effective ways. Everything seems to be going great — the team meets with him at Molly’s home, he agrees to invest... and then he gets arrested by the FBI for wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracies, security fraud and money laundering. Turns out, he was a fraud who stole about $50 billion!

Everyone is crushed, understandably, at this revelation — and they have no clue what to do next. But something unexpected gives Molly an idea that actually ends up being pretty great (and earns her a hug from Sofia in the process): After discovering that Howard is living in the guest house of her mansion because he and Tanya broke up, she moved out, and he couldn’t afford rent alone, Molly formulates a way to use the money she has to do something good. What if the way to help unhoused people didn’t have to involve building new spaces but utilizing ones they already had that were empty?

So Molly decides to buy up hotels in downtown L.A. and help turn them into a “Space for Everyone” — free housing with amenities, career centers, childcare, and anything else someone might need to get back on their feet. I loved that Molly was incredibly proud of her idea because it shows that she has passion for doing good in the world with her money and connections. She smiles as she reads through positive comments on social media about Space for Everyone, and truly rides that high... for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, Molly’s good mood is undercut when John reveals that he’s giving Molly space — and by that, he means LITERAL space. He announces on TV that he’s going into space as part of a new initiative for his tech company. And Molly fumes.

“Space for Everyone” does what any good season premiere will do: reminds the viewers of where we’ve been and begins laying the foundation for what’s to come. Molly really is trying to do better — in life, with people, with her money — and it isn’t always a linear path. But then again, growth rarely is. Maya Rudolph continues to shine, not only in her comedic moments but also in these very earnest, sincere scenes where we get the chance to see her vulnerabilities (more on that next episode). Loot’s second season is off to a solid start!

Notes & Quotes:

  • Welcome to Loot recaps, everyone! Are we excited for season two? Trust me when I say there are a LOT of fun and chaotic things ahead.
  • As someone who adores Adam Scott in Parks and Recreation, it is quite fun to have him play a character in this show that we all hate.
  • “What makes you angry?” “Injustice. And drawstring pants. End of list.”
  • “Okay! We are agreeing even though we are yelling at each other!”
  • “I want you to get everyone into the conference room for a gathering... thing... you know, like a group talk session...” “Are you trying to say the word ‘meeting’?”

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Original Airdate: April 3, 2024

I could watch Clueless on repeat, just like Molly Wells. As Nicholas points out, Cher reminds him of Molly — and the similarities (given that Clueless is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma) are there that it makes sense for Molly to adore the film. The iconic 90s comedy opens the show and becomes its theme, as Molly decides to forgo work in favor of playing matchmaker for Sofia.

With a hotel purchased that can house 600 people, Molly and the rest of the Wells Foundation crew are ready to celebrate — but not Sofia. The hotel is nowhere near ready to open to residents since it’s been abandoned for years and needs a lot of work. She immediately squashes the celebration, insisting that everyone get back to work.

With Sofia in full prep mode, Molly and Nicholas watch Clueless together and are annoyed by Sofia texting them after work about all the things they need to do. Sofia even sends Molly a PDF (and the latter refuses to learn what that is, let alone open it). The next day, the trio go to the hotel Molly purchased to wait for the architect she hired: Isaac.

Sofia is ticked off that Isaac is late, and her Type A personality clashes immediately with his more laid-back, artistic one. But while he focuses on the beauty of the space, Sofia is hyper-focused on the details and functionality. She gets slightly flustered when Isaac challenges her — shouldn’t something be beautiful as well as functional for people who have been unhoused?

And that sparks a very Cher Horowitz idea within Molly: She should set up Isaac and Sofia. So she does by telling them both there’s an emergency on the hotel roof and then leaving them there to have drinks amid a very romantic ambiance.

Despite their initial conflict, Isaac and Sofia actually do hit it off, discovering that they’re both from places (Newark, NJ and Wembley, England) that are often overlooked in favor of larger cities. They both love chain restaurants, and actually enjoy talking to one another. I love that we get a love story for Sofia this season because it is something that challenges her character. She is used to taking charge, of thinking practically, and compartmentalizing emotions. But while her workaholic tendencies may help her on the job, they hinder her personal life. Getting the chance to see her more relaxed and at ease in her conversation with Isaac was a treat.

After a lovely evening, Sofia tells Molly and Nicholas that Isaac didn’t ask for her number. They encourage her to ask him out instead, and it... well, it goes awry pretty quickly when they realize Sofia is an over-texter. (Sidenote: Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is hilarious in this scene as she frantically tries to justify her texts but then quickly realizes, with horror, what she’s really done.)

Molly decides to help her friend out and discovers that Isaac is actually at a local bar. Fuming at the fact that he ghosted her, Sofia shows up to confront him... only to realize that he’s at a memorial for a friend he lost five years ago. Whoops.

As it turns out, Sofia was texting Isaac’s work phone number, not his personal one. He tells her that he didn’t want to cross boundaries with her, even though he wanted to text her, which surprises Sofia. She actually met a man who respects her space, her job, and doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize either. Sofia is awed by this revelation.

So instead of making an excuse to leave or focusing, in that moment, on work, Sofia stays at the memorial birthday. She even gets up on stage to do karaoke! And she sends a video to Molly (who is watching the rest of Clueless), who is thrilled by her friend’s happiness. But what’s really heartbreaking and beautiful is the subtle camera direction in this final scene: We cut back to the romantic conclusion of Clueless and slowly pan over to Molly watching — at first with the kind of heartwarming glance that we all have watching rom-coms. Her face then shifts ever-so-slightly (a testament to Maya Rudolph’s acting) and instead of joy, we now see her face fall into a slightly pained expression.

Because as much as Molly loves setting people up and pretending to be Cher Horowitz, and as much as she claims she’s swearing off men, in this moment we see her loneliness clearly in a way that she doesn’t allow anyone else to see. It’s so subtle and sad, and such a poignant way to end the episode.

Elsewhere in “Clueless,” we get some plot development that will carry throughout the remainder of the season: Howard confides his financial woes to Arthur (remember, he’s living with Molly in her guest house), who takes the opportunity to help his friend by taking a look over his financial assets to see where he can cut back and save.

Since they can’t find places to cut back, Arthur challenges Howard to take a look at his assets — and they realize Howard has a pretty valuable collection of wrestling memorabilia he’s collected since he was a kid. At a wrestling match, Howard and Arthur attempt to sell some of the memorabilia; but when Arthur realizes how valuable it all is to Howard, they come up with a better plan: Arthur is going to invest in Howard to start his own wrestling league to ensure that favorites of his get their time in the spotlight and also make the money they deserve.

I really love when we get Arthur and Howard moments, and this storyline is so great to be able to showcase the growth we’ll see in Howard this season. He’s someone who has a specific passion and has never believed that he could turn it into anything more than just a hobby. But with Arthur’s support and confidence in his friend’s abilities, Howard is going to pursue an avenue he didn’t initially think was possible. It’s going to be a fun story throughout the rest of the season so stay tuned!

Notes & Quotes:

  • Have I mentioned how much I love Clueless? Because I do.
  • The show still doesn’t really know what to do with Rhonda or Ainsley in season two, which might be my only critique of the series as a whole. It feels like we only needed one of these characters since their jokes are a bit repetitive to me. 
  • “What flavor is this?” “Gin.”
  • “I am so sorry about Sofia’s personality.”
  • “It’s exactly how I act when I watch Stanley Tucci eat a cannoli.” This will not be the last Stanley Tucci reference this season and I, for one, am here for it.

What did you all think about the Loot season 2 premiere? Sound off in the comments below!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Jenn’s Pick: My 15 Favorite TV Shows in 2023 [Contributor: Jenn]

The end of the year is always the perfect opportunity to reflect on lots of things — achievements, goals, heartbreaks, dreams... and all of the media you consumed! As someone who watches a whole lot of television, this year I thought I would sit down and write about some of my favorite shows from 2023. 

They’re in no particular order, and you’ll notice an array of genres here but they all have one thing in common: they captivated me, made me feel something deeply, and also entertained me. And in (another) year of chaos and darkness, that’s exactly what I want out of my media.

Spoilers for these series will be included below so read at your own risk!

The Last of Us (HBO Max)

I’d stayed away from watching The Last of Us live on HBO Max for a few reasons: one is that I wanted to see if the show lived up to the hype by the end of the season (because adaptations of things don’t always) and the second is that I wanted to see if I could handle any of the gore or jumpscares the show had in store for me. And after hearing unanimous, effusive praise for “Long, Long Time,” I knew I’d eventually check out the series.

So this summer I sat down to binge watch it and quickly realized that while the series is incredible, it’s one that I had to pace myself for. Make no mistake: The Last of Us is definitely worth the hype (see: it being on nearly every “best of” list this year) but it is dark. It, after all, is set in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world. 

But the storyline is captivating. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are truly incredible, versatile actors — equally at home conveying their characters’ pains as they do their comedic charms and witty banter. Pedro expertly conveys the reluctance of a man who has lost so much to get emotionally attached to anyone or anything. And Bella’s portrayal of Ellie as a young person grappling with trauma (Bella’s performance in “When We Are In Need” in particular is award-worthy) and also wanting love, acceptance, and friendship like any teenager is so compelling. Together, they represent everything you could want from co-leads of a series.

The show tackles everything you’d expect it to: grief, morality, love, survival, and found family. If you haven’t yet watched The Last of Us, I highly recommend doing so as soon as possible. You won’t regret it!

Starstruck (HBO Max)

Rose Matafeo’s hilarious rom-com, Starstruck, came back this year. While Starstruck strayed more into somber themes in its third season, it remained one of the most charming shows on television that not enough people are watching and/or talking about online. The series begins with a normal woman named Jessie (played by Rose Matafeo) meeting and sleeping with a famous actor named Tom (Nikesh Patel) on New Year’s Eve. The rest of the show has depicted the highs and lows of their relationship across various holidays, and the newest season is no exception. 

Even though I cried at the season three finale, the new season has no shortage of laughs either. Most importantly, watching Jessie’s trajectory has been so rewarding. Rose is an incredible comedic actress but she’s also so powerful this season whenever she is doing dramatic scenes — whether confronting love, loss, or failed expectations in herself, her relationships, and her friendships. The season specifically feels especially relatable as Jessie watches the people she loves most slip into new phases of their lives with seeming ease, and they appear to be growing away from her. Nikesh Patel continues to be such a great romantic lead too, balancing subtle humor and genuinely heartbreaking moments this season alongside her.

Literally the only complaint I ever have about Starstruck is that it’s too short. And as the show seems to be winding down (cue me crying), I’m more confident than ever that it will continue to be a frequent comfort rewatch for me.

Good Omens (Amazon Prime)

When it was announced that Good Omens was coming back for a second season, I knew I would need to rewatch season one because anything that aired before the pandemic has essentially evaporated from my brain. Good Omens debuted in 2019 and it came back this year — stronger than ever, in my personal opinion.

The show is based on the novel of the same name in which an angel named Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a demon named Crowley (David Tennant), who have been longtime friends and allies, try to stop the apocalypse from happening. But the second season gives us a stronger, deeper — and more romantic — connection between these two characters as they try to keep Archangel Michael (Jon Hamm) away from both heaven and hell. 

I really love Good Omens; it’s a wild, weird little series that hinges on the fantastic chemistry between David and Michael. The world around them is fantastical, but the connection between Aziraphale and Crowley is about as true and grounded as it gets. 

It’s so heartbreaking to watch the end of the season after all of the growth that Crowley had, but at the same time I really love the depth and complexity of their relationship, which is really what makes this series as compelling as it is. Crowley is ready to break ties with hell and the other demons to be with Aziraphale, but Aziraphale can’t do the same thing. He believes the whole spiritual realm system can be improved if he is reinstated as an angel in heaven, while Crowley is not optimistic. The themes of religion and morality run deep in Good Omens, and the way the series depicts struggles with faith, free will, and love is so great.

With the news that Good Omens has been renewed for a third and final season, it’s time for you all to watch it if you haven’t yet!

Doctor Who (Disney+)

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who for so many years. In fact, a long-standing tradition with my best friend has been to watch the show together every Christmas Day whenever the new holiday special drops. So imagine my joy when the show returned and, most excitingly, on a streaming service I already had! A minor qualm of my Doctor Who-watching days has been that I could not keep up with the series simply because it aired on BBC America and I cut the ties with cable TV years ago. An unfortunate consequence of the show not being available to (easily) watch weekly for me was that I missed out on part of Thirteen’s (Jodie Whittaker) era. 

So when her regeneration dropped online and it revealed the return of David Tennant, I was surprised. And then when it was revealed that Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) would be returning alongside David for a few specials, I was overjoyed. Ten/Donna’s dynamic was one of the most lovely ones — they had an incredible friendship and comedic rapport — but also Donna’s exit was, arguably, one of the series’ most heartbreaking.

Doctor Who returned with three specials (all of which were stellar, navigating Doctor Who lore and also giving us some new twists and old villains) leading up to our new Fifteenth Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) this year. It was such a joy and delight to see David and Catherine return to Doctor Who, specifically because their chemistry is so strong, whether they are bantering or having a gut-wrenching moment of honesty between them. But perhaps the most satisfying was how the specials wrapped up the Fourteenth Doctor’s journey: he is able to find freedom from all of the darkness and trauma that has happened to him since the last time we saw The Doctor with David Tennant’s face. Ultimately this leads to a bi-generation where a more emotionally-evolved Fifteenth Doctor splits from Fourteen and continues their journey throughout time and space.

The return of Ncuti in this year’s Christmas special, “The Church on Ruby Road,” that kicks off his new era really proved how great he is going to be as The Doctor. He is hilarious (leaping along the rooftop, singing an improvised verse or two to the Goblin King, defending the new sonic, etc.) and also heartbreaking (anyone else tear up when Fifteen listened to Ruby (Millie Gibson) talk about family and adoption?). There is so much promise with this new era of Doctor Who and I cannot wait to see all of the adventures that The Doctor gets up to in 2024.

Schmigadoon! (Apple TV+)

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love musical theatre. So when Schmigadoon! premiered in 2021, I was enamored by the cleverly-written, tongue-in-cheek Apple TV+ show that referenced classic musicals (and parodied them/their archetypical characters). And when I heard the show was coming back with “Schmicago,” I was even more excited. The show’s plot in the first season was about two doctors — Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) — who were struggling in their relationship and stumbled upon a magical, musical town called Schmigadoon. There, they met an array of characters, eventually rekindled their romance, and left. 

In season two, Melissa and Josh are struggling again. But this time, their relationship is solid — it’s the rest of their life that has begun to feel mundane. Additionally, the couple is struggling to have a child. So they decide to embark on an adventure to find the quaint little town of Schmigadoon which they know will make them feel hopeful again. Unfortunately, Schmigadoon is gone and in its place is Schmicago — a nod to a darker, grittier period of musicals. Melissa and Josh must now adjust to a new town with familiar faces (since the actors from season one all mostly return to play new characters in season two) and try to solve a murder.

Schmigadoon! is worth watching for so many reasons: the cast is immensely talented (in addition to Cecily and Keegan, the series also stars Dove Cameron, Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Jane Krakowski, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, etc.), and we get the new additions of Tituss Burgess and Patrick Page in the second season too. The musical theatre homages are fantastic and funny — season two features parodies of Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Hair, and more. And the songs are incredibly catchy too!

If you love musical theatre and are looking for a comedy series to immerse yourself in, then Schmigadoon! is right up your alley.

Shrinking (Apple TV+)

Are you looking for a series from Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein, and Jason Segel that is equal parts funny and heart-wrenching and also stars Harrison Ford as a curmudgeonly mentor? Then Shrinking is the show for you! Jason Segel plays Jimmy, a therapist who recently lost his wife and is struggling — both as a therapist and as a dad to his teenage daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell). In a pretty dramatic move, Jimmy decides to tell his clients what he actually thinks instead of merely listening to their issues or approaching them in ethical, compassionate ways. This radical development is meant to unnerve us. And that’s what I love about Shrinking so far — the characters are complex and you don’t always root for Jimmy. He’s messy and trying to shove the pain and grief he’s feeling away. It’s hurting his daughter and his relationships with others. And Jason Segel is a perfect choice to play this immensely complex character, as someone who is equally at home with shenanigans but also can really deliver a dramatic moment with simplicity and gravitas.

Additionally, it wouldn’t be a Bill Lawrence show without the hilarious and talented Christa Miller as Jimmy’s neighbor and Alice’s pseudo-guardian. Christa’s dynamic with everyone in the cast is just perfect, and her storyline with Harrison Ford in one particular episode is hilarious. Jessica Williams is, however, my favorite performer in the show — witty, sharp, and deftly navigating both drama and comedy, Jessica is Shrinking’s MVP and if it were up to me, she would win Best Supporting Actress awards.

The writing of the series is stellar, weaving together humor and tragedy — all while able to find the humanity within each character and situation. The show has a bit more bite than Ted Lasso does, as the main character is supposed to be far less likable than Ted, but it’s also what makes Shrinking stand out. I kind of like when shows give us characters we do not want to root for at the beginning and, by the end, we see a little bit of growth. Plus, the final moments of the Shrinking finale deliver a jaw-dropping twist and I am really interested to see how it is handled in season two.

If you’re able to emotionally handle a show about grief and all its messiness, be sure to check out Shrinking on Apple TV+.

Mrs. Davis (Peacock)

If someone were to ask me how to summarize Mrs. Davis, I wouldn’t quite know how without spoiling the show for them. So instead, I’ve told people: “It’s the wildest, most absurd, wonderful show you’ll watch this year.” The Peacock series stars Betty Gilpin as a nun named Simone who’s determined to destroy the A.I. interface (Mrs. Davis) that has taken over the world, and is tasked with locating The Holy Grail in order to complete this mission. In the process, she reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Wiley (Jake McDorman) who has been helping lead a resistance against Mrs. Davis. I won’t say more about the show’s plot for risk of spoiling some of the best TV twists this year, but suffice it to say that Mrs. Davis was an incredible series that tackled all kinds of topics — faith, love, trauma, our life’s purpose, family — in fresh ways.

And while the writing was fantastic, this show would not have worked without Betty Gilpin leading it. She is so compelling to watch — hilarious (see: her delivery of a specific plot twist in the finale) and nuanced, she embodied all of the complexities that made Simone who she was. Whether Simone was grappling with her evolving faith, her relationship with her mother, her dynamic with Wiley, or her complex feelings about Mrs. Davis, Betty truly made you feel all of the emotions in a scene. She deserves all of the accolades for the way she led this show with such force, always able to find exactly the right way to emotionally compel us. Jake McDorman too is such a great actor — he deserves to be in more things, honestly, and I am always rooting for that — and he and Betty had such delightful chemistry and rapport. Jake is hilarious (please go watch the tragically cancelled Limitless on Paramount+ for more evidence of his physical comedy) and has always been great at banter, but he excelled at the dramatic moments too, as Wiley grappled with what his life was truly worth and what he believed he deserved. The season finale is a tour de force for him, and I wish both he and Betty nothing but accolades for their performances anchoring this series.

I loved Mrs. Davis so much and truly believe it’s one of the most unique shows to have debuted this year. If you weren’t watching it when it aired and have access to Peacock, do yourself a favor and watch all of this limited series soon. You won’t regret the weird, wonderful ride.

Jury Duty (Amazon Prime/Freevee)

I heard everyone singing the praises of Jury Duty and then decided to binge watch it to see if it held up to the hype. Spoiler alert, it did! I was a little worried, given the premise of the show, that I’d have secondhand embarrassment for Ronald or that I’d be subjected to some mean-spirited pranks. But Jury Duty is not even remotely mean-spirited or intentionally trying to be cringe-comedy. It is, instead, a show about a genuinely decent guy who is thrust into a chaotic little experiment (unbeknownst to him) and handles all of the characters he meets — including James Marsden playing an exaggerated version of himself — with such grace and kindness. The premise of the show is simple: Ronald thinks he got called for a normal jury duty assignment, but the whole jury duty experience is fake, filled with improv actors, and there is no real trial. All of the actors are following a loose script that they use as a foundation for their interactions with Ronald.

The star of the series, of course, is Ronald, who is not an actor. He’s the one we’re really watching for to see if, at any point, he begins to suspect that things aren’t what they seem and exposes the ruse. Because we live in a world saturated with reality television, we might expect Ronald to snap — yelling about the absurd behavior of his fellow jurors or questioning why he’s even there. But even though wild things happen around him every single episode, Ronald keeps his composure. He tries to find solutions to truly absurd issues that arise. He forms connections with people, even though he finds some behaviors weird. And while he’s not perfect because he, like all of us, is human, the way he acted throughout the whole show was so charming to watch! All of the actors adored him and we, the audience, did too. 

And because he is nominated for awards this season, I have to mention how utterly perfect James Marsden is in Jury Duty. He, is consistently hilarious, utterly charming, delivers some truly fantastic lines and scenes, and he should truly be in all of our TV shows and films. Why is James Marsden not in all of the things we are watching?! (Aside: I also love that he and Ronald are still close after the show!)

So if you want a quick, light-hearted binge that will actually make you have faith in humanity, Jury Duty is the show for you.

Mythic Quest (Apple TV+)

I’ve talked many, many times about how much I love Mythic Quest. If you have not yet watched this Apple TV+ show, just stop reading this article, go binge-watch it, and then come back. 

Unsurprisingly, I loved season three of the series. (You can listen to And A Rewatch’s coverage of the show, which includes special guests like Megan Ganz talking about the beautiful, heartbreaking standalone episode this season, “Sarian.”) One of the show’s continued strengths is the ability to mix and match character pairings and correctly assume that the dynamics will just work. Because they always do! The cast is so incredibly talented, but also genuinely enjoy one another and that comes through in the chemistry on screen.

This season, we got more of Dana (Imani Hakim) and Ian (Rob McElhenney) interacting (which I loved), as well as the unexpected trio of Rachel (Ashly Burch), Brad (Danny Pudi), and Carol (Naomi Ekperigen). Plus, David (David Hornsby) is starting to come into his own as a leader! While the show is still, at its heart, about the complex dynamics and relationship between Ian and Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), it’s been really fun to see the other characters — especially Jo (Jessie Ennis) — shine over the last two seasons. (Can we get an Emmy for Jessie Ennis interacting with Joe Manganiello please?) 

Whether the season was tackling the dynamic of brunches, leadership issues, creativity, or highlighting the bittersweet backstories of Ian and Poppy, Mythic Quest remained one of the most consistently well-done comedies on television.

If you haven’t checked out the series yet, use your Apple TV+ subscription (or free trial if you got a new device during the holidays!) to binge it. You won’t regret it.

Poker Face (Peacock)

In the era of “whodunnits,” Poker Face was Peacock’s “howcatchem” series that compels you from the very first episode. Created by Rian Johnson (if you loved Knives Out and Glass Onion, you’ll definitely like this show), Poker Face follows the story of Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) who is a waitress at a casino but is also basically a human lie detector. When her best friend is murdered, Charlie begins investigating — and unfortunately lands herself into hot water. The rest of the season is Charlie running away from the people hunting her down and, as she arrives in various places, solving murders. Unlike a “whodunnit,” the audience sees at the beginning of each episode, exactly what crime happened and who committed it. The fun of a “howcatchem,” then, is for us as an audience to see Charlie piece the clues together. We wonder if she’ll figure out who the bad guy is in time or if her curiosity will land her into precarious situations.

Natasha Lyonne was really born for the kind of detective role she gets to inhabit with Poker Face. Because even though this series is chock full of big name guest stars each episode — Adrien Brody, Hong Chau, Judith Light, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Rhea Perlman just to name a few — the whole series is really about Charlie. If we don’t care about her, the episodes don’t matter as much. But we do care about Charlie. We want to see her succeed and we root for her to outwit those who are tracking her.

Poker Face is a really fun series that works well as a binge watch or, when it returns to Peacock next season, as a week-to-week show.

Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)

I heard quiet murmurings of how Somebody Somewhere was a great show and I finally decided to check it out this year when season two dropped. The show is just as great as everyone said it was, and I think what makes it so wonderful is just how unassuming it is. Unlike a lot of shows on this list, there are no fantastical elements — no demons or angels, no sci-fi, no crimes to solve. It’s a show about a woman in Kansas named Sam (Bridgett Everett) who moved back to her hometown and is dealing with the death of her sister. Sam is trying to figure out what makes her happy and how to be okay with a town she doesn’t feel like she fits into anymore. She reconnects with a friend from high school, Joel (Jeff Hiller), who introduces her to people who also don’t fit the typical mold.

Somebody Somewhere is a lovely little show about figuring out who you are, loving yourself, struggling with grief, and developing relationships in adulthood. It’s a deceptively simple show that packs an emotional punch through its storylines. You truly feel all of the emotions that Sam does when she and Joel get into a fight or when she and her sister don’t see eye-to-eye. You ache because she’s trying to figure out her life while trying to hold everyone together — including her parents.

But when Sam is in her element — when she’s singing on stage — you watch her come alive and you see, clearly, her passion and love for music. In the second season, the scenes between Sam and her old music teacher are so subtle and yet so emotionally poignant. Season two of Somebody Somewhere walks the tightrope between drama and comedy; Sam’s relationship with her sister Trish is rife with both, for example. If you, like me, have only heard about this show but haven’t watched it, be sure to catch up as soon as you can.

The Bear (Hulu)

Much has been said and written about The Bear and I’m not sure if anything I say will convince you to watch the show but I’ll try: this series is consistently one of the most tense, character-centric shows — and season two has, perhaps, the most prime example of that (“Fishes” will have you feeling like you are watching the most intense drama). Even though things aren’t really life-and-death stakes in The Bear, the way that the series is written, shot, and acted would beg to differ. It centers on Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), a chef who was once in the high-dining world and comes back to Chicago in order to run his late brother’s small restaurant. There, he begins a quasi-mentorship with a promising young chef named Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and continues to struggle with his relationships — including his friend, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). I am so glad that this year Ayo is in a leading actor category because she and Jeremy are truly the anchors of the show. It would not work if it was just Carmy leading the restaurant; Ayo depicts the passion, creativity, and leadership that Sydney has in a way that parallels and yet perfectly contrasts Carmy. Her scenes in the finale with Ebon were incredibly moving too, and you really root for Sydney and her journey.

The Bear, like I said, is rather low stakes in the grand scheme of things: one of the biggest sources of conflict in the second season involves re-opening the restaurant and all the things that go wrong prior to, and up until, the opening night. But I cannot emphasize just how frantic and tense this show manages to make everything feel. I’m on edge, and sometimes in a way that unsettles me. Make no mistake, though: even though The Bear is labeled as a comedy in awards shows (because of the rule that half-hour series are “comedies” and hour-longs series are “dramas”), there are difficult topics that the show tackles — with grief and trauma being at the forefront.

The series has some of the most compelling characters and dynamics (whether you ship them romantically or not, the Carmy/Sydney relationship is fascinating, thanks to the writing and chemistry between the actors), and had some of the best episodes of television this year (the aforementioned “Fishes” but “Forks” is an incredible episode focused on Richie as well that deserves to be in award conversations). 

So if you are looking for a TV binge this winter break and are fascinated by the fast-paced, tense, dramatic world of dysfunctional family dynamics, then The Bear is for you.

Queen Charlotte (Netflix)

While we’re all waiting for a new Bridgerton installment, Netflix gave us a self-contained Bridgerton story this year: Queen Charlotte. The series is a Bridgerton prequel, taking place as a young Charlotte (India Amarteifio) meets and marries a young King George III (Corey Mylchreest). She realizes upon marrying George that he is struggling with a mental illness, and the rest of the series is about their partnership, family, and love. The series also flashes to the present-day queen (Golda Rosheuvel) who is dealing with the death of Princess Charlotte and putting the pressure on her sons to marry so that there will be a legitimate heir. Charlotte is not the only character we get to see in both flashbacks and present-day though — Violet and Agatha also woven throughout the season’s storylines and we get a clearer understanding of who both women are in the present by understanding their pasts. Arsema Thomas, in particular, does a fantastic job depicting the strength and heartbreak of young Agatha.

What I loved about Queen Charlotte as a series was that it focused on how Charlotte became the queen we saw in the first and second seasons of Bridgerton. We know, of course, about George’s mental state but seeing the young Charlotte navigate all of the emotions that come with being a wife and caretaker — her frustration, sadness, and love for George — is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. India did an absolutely stellar job and I was captivated by her performance. India and Corey, meanwhile, had incredible chemistry together. Their love story was so beautiful to watch (and I’ll be thinking about the final scene with them for a while).

If you’re a Bridgerton fan who didn’t watch Queen Charlotte, check it out on Netflix!

Daisy Jones & the Six (Amazon Prime)

This summer, music from Daisy Jones & the Six was stuck in my head (particularly “Look At Us Now”) because it was so catchy and so good. The Taylor Jenkins Reid adaptation exceeded my expectations — particularly in regards to the chemistry between Billy (Sam Claflin) and Daisy (Riley Keough). Both the book and series are constructed like a “behind the music”-style interview about the rise and fall of the titular band, Daisy Jones & the Six. 

What makes this show so compelling is, of course, Daisy herself — an immensely talented, free spirit singer-songwriter. Daisy, however, has her own darknesses from her childhood and the way she’s been treated by people. She self-medicates with drugs and alcohol, much to the disappointment of Billy who’s sober by the time he meets Daisy. But Daisy is a force to be reckoned with — and Riley is just so talented, inhabiting this messy, complex character and making us fall in love with her. Her vocal performances are stellar, and her dynamic with Sam is the kind of chemistry that producers can only dream of finding. 

Speaking of: Sam Claflin really deserves to be in more things. Not only does he deliver some heartbreaking moments in the series (specifically the end of “Looks Like We Made It”), but he’s also such a compelling romantic lead, able to communicate longing and heartbreak and love. The rest of the cast is so great too — particularly Camila Marrone who plays Billy’s wife, Camila. She’s navigating her love for Billy, her disappointment with his choices, her fierce desire to be loved the way she deserves, and much more. Camila navigates all of these emotions with such grace and vulnerability. Additionally we get way more time with Simone (Nabiyah Be) in the show than we do in the book. We get the opportunity to see the trajectory of her career and personal life as a Black queer woman in the 70s, and Nabiyah does a fantastic job depicting all of the highs and lows, as well as her complex friendship (and often codependency) with Daisy.

Daisy Jones & the Six is only 10 episodes, and by the time you finish binge-watching the series, you’ll be ready to listen to the soundtrack on repeat!

Ghosts (Paramount+)

I love this CBS sitcom and have been singing its praises ever since my friend Alicia introduced me to it. If you’re in the market for a really charming ensemble comedy with a bunch of talented actors, then watch Ghosts! The series follows Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a couple who inherit a bed and breakfast. The only problem: it’s inhabited by ghosts. And after a near-death experience, Sam can see all of them. The rest of the show is about the dynamics between Sam, Jay, and the ghosts —and it’s so much fun to watch. 

The lighthearted, found family-centric ensemble comedy is just that: an ensemble. It’s the kind of show where you can put any two actors together and it just works. The ghosts all also get their own arcs and stories. This season, we got more backstory of what happened to Alberta (Danielle Pinnock) and also learn how she died. We get a really fun, unexpected dynamic between Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky) and Trevor (Asher Grodman), and a sweet relationship between Flower (Sheila Carrasco) and Thor (Devan Chandler Long). Plus this season we also got perfect running commentary from Sass (Román Zaragoza), some truly great moments for Pete (Richie Moriarty), and growth for Isaac (Brandon Scott Jones).

Ghosts, more often than not, stays pretty light in terms of the drama, but when they choose to focus on emotional beats, the show really knocks it out of the park. With Ghosts returning for season three soon, be sure to catch up on this delightful little series!

Honorable mentions: Reservation Dogs (Hulu), Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+), What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu), and The Afterparty (Apple TV+)

What were some of your favorite television shows this year?

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Final Season of Reservation Dogs Proves Its Power In Its Storytelling [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: Shane Brown/FX)

Even though I have only seen the first four episodes of Reservation Dogs’ final season, I can already tell that the show is going to end its run just as strongly as it began it. This groundbreaking series features four Indigenous teenagers on a quest to get out of their Oklahoma reservation and to California. At the end of season two, all of the teens — Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willie Jack — managed to do just that to honor their deceased friend, Daniel. Unfortunately for them, their car and money were stolen so season three picks up where we left off.

The four episodes I watched were all quite different from one another, but all of them are engaging and gripping for various reasons and set up what is sure to be an exciting final season.

Below, I break down what you can look forward to in the first few episodes, with minor plot spoilers. 

The season premiere features all four of the teenagers interacting, marking a rare occurrence in the first few episodes, as they head back to Oklahoma via bus (thanks to a rescue from Aunt Teenie). I’d missed the banter that these individuals had in pairs and as a group. (There’s a particularly silly scene about day-old donuts and how each character reacts differently to the idea of them.) 

But what the episode really serves as is a springboard for Bear’s character arc the rest of the season. He’s the primary focus of the few episodes I saw, and it’s fascinating to see just how he’s growing. More on that in a minute!

Meanwhile, on the bus back to Oklahoma, Cheese is drawing and Willie Jack tells him how amazing his art is. Even though all of the teens wanted to escape Okern, both Cheese and Willie Jack admit that they appreciate it more after California. They also both discuss that Bear and Elora are destined to leave them and Oklahoma altogether. I loved that we got some genuine, heartfelt moments between these two characters. Since Cheese is the youngest, he obviously knows that his friends will likely leave before him. But it was sweet to see how excited Willie Jack was by the drawings, and how encouraging she was about his talent.

Elsewhere on the bus, Aunt Teenie gives Elora some unexpected information that is part of what her character arc will be about the rest of the season.

A theme that runs through these first few episodes is the idea of figuring out what you consider home, as well as how to care for and protect the people you love. The teens were desperate to go to California at the beginning of the series, but the truth that they uncover is that it wasn’t all they expected — or even wanted. The teens all now recognize that the idea of California was more appealing to them than actual California itself; it was the escape — from their routines, from their grief, and from their boredom — that they really wanted. And while it was cathartic for them all to honor Daniel and feel his presence on that beach with them, it seems like everyone is actually grateful to be going home again by the time we reconvene in season three. 

All, unfortunately, except Bear who gets left behind at the bus station with no money or way home.

In the next episode, Bear meets a stranger named Maximus. Dehydrated and left behind in California, Bear begins to walk (and gets increasingly frustrated with his visions of William “Spirit” Knifeman and how Spirit will not practically help him out) — and then gets shot with a very real tranquilizer dart. 

As it turns out, that dart belongs to Maximus — who appears to be a conspiracy theorist. He is Indigenous and reveals to Bear that he used to live in Okern, Oklahoma too. He gives Bear some much-needed water at his home. The rest of the episode is an unexpectedly moving one in which the two characters have conversations about life, friendships, and the way they perceive the world differently than others around them.

This one is a Bear-centric episode, and one that  D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai absolutely knocked out of the park. Isolated from the rest of his friends, it was impressive to see how Bear handled challenges that arose. I think this episode and the next one (“Deer Lady”) are great examples of the kind of person Bear is and the quality of his character. Yes, he still often makes poor decisions in the company of his peers because... well, he’s a teenager. But he has a lot of compassion and empathy for others, even if he doesn’t understand them. 

Even though Bear is initially (and rightfully so) wary of a stranger, he carries on conversations with Maximus throughout the episode without making Maximus feel judged or condescended. And while the end of the episode is a bit heartbreaking, the core of it is about two human beings just trying their best to understand each other and the world around them better — and that is beautiful.

(Bear and Elora in season three; image credit: Shane Brown/FX)

“Deer Lady” is episode three and is definitely the standout of the episodes so far in the season. As the title suggests, this episode is all about the Deer Lady, which means that Kaniehtiio Horn absolutely shines in a very nuanced, gut-wrenching performance. Young Deer Lady, played by Georgeanne Growingthunder, is truly wonderful too.

We learn about Deer Lady’s backstory — how she was taken away from her family and forced into an Indigenous boarding school where her hair was cut, she was not allowed to speak her language, and was abused if she (or any of the other children) did anything the nuns did not like. There, she meets a kind boy named Koda who tries to help her and tells her that the nuns will take a lot from them, but they never be able to take their smiles. Later on in the episode, we see the poignant moment where the child of Young Deer Lady becomes the Deer Lady herself.

“Deer Lady” technically and story-wise is impeccable and proof of why Reservation Dogs deserves acclaim. One of the most subtle elements of the episode that I appreciated is that when we’re in Young Deer Lady’s perspective in flashbacks, all of the adults sound garbled and like they’re speaking gibberish — this, of course, is because Young Deer Lady doesn’t know English and that is what it sounds like to her. That choice alone provides a way to immerse us in her point of view: confused and scared in a place that is meant to torture and kill.

The episode flashbacks are harrowing and horrifying (the episode opens with a viewer discretion warning), and they’re contrasted by some growing tension in the present-day story: Bear wanders into a diner that Deer Lady happens to be eating at. And while Bear is afraid she is there to kill him, Deer Lady assures him that she is not. 

Kaniehtiio Horn is the emotional heart of this episode. We’ve seen her before in the series, but watching her as Deer Lady unpack her trauma in the present-day storyline is so powerful and poignant. There’s a specific moment toward the end of the episode where you can see almost every emotion flicker across her face in the span of a few seconds. 

Additionally, like I noted earlier, “Deer Lady” is yet another example of how this season’s Reservation Dogs episodes are setting Bear up on a path toward finding his purpose in life. His empathy toward Deer Lady throughout the episode is incredibly touching, especially near the end.

Trust me: this episode is not going to be one that you want to miss.

The season premiere and “Friday” (episode four) are the only two episodes in this set that feature all of the teenagers. And both episodes are really about the individual characters’ storylines.

The plot is pretty simple: the teens all face consequences from the adults for going to California. The adults decide to divvy up punishments for everyone by having them work at the IHS clinic — including Jackie who, as she protests, didn’t even go to California! (She’s retroactively being punished by Bev for other things.) Jackie and Bear are on sweeping duty, Cheese and Willie Jack are cleaning graffiti, and Elora is taking out the trash. Throughout the course of the afternoon, all of the characters make some decisions or learn new information that will likely impact them in the rest of the season.

Jana Schmieding is truly the scene-stealer in this episode. She has a scene early on with Bear’s mom Rita which involves them hilariously bantering about Bear and Jackie, but then there’s one scene in particular toward the end of the episode between her and Officer Big that had me cackling out loud. It is truly perfect, and one of the funniest scenes I have seen in a while. Give Jana an Emmy for goodness’ sake!

Besides the subtle and fun moments that this episode inspires (Cheese finally gets his glasses, Willie Jack takes an interest in taking over medicine when talking to Old Man Fixico, Jackie refuses to believe Bear met Deer Lady), “Friday” focuses on what Elora wants to do with her life. She’s thinking about applying to colleges and is also still processing the news that Aunt Teenie told her in the premiere. I like that Elora is charting her own course in the world, but what’s interesting is that she’s seemingly keeping this from her friends — especially the news Teenie told her. The episode ends with the group exiting the IHS clinic together after a day of work, Elora covertly taking an important document with her as she does. I am very interested to see if she involves her friends in her decisions moving forward.

Still, despite the fact that Bear, Elora, Willie Jack, and Cheese are likely to have conflict this season, the first few episodes of Reservation Dogs are proof that they are a tight-knit group, through and through. They show up for and support one another, and I love that. I am definitely excited to see how the series wraps up.
Watch the final season of Reservation Dogs, beginning August 2 on Hulu. 
Support the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes for fair wages and treatment by donating to the Entertainment Community Fund if you can.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Afterparty Continues to Explore Mayhem and Mystery in Season Two [Contributor: Jenn]

Image credit: Apple TV+

The first season of Apple TV+’s murder mystery, genre-homaging comedy was a huge success for an array of reasons. It had a stellar ensemble cast, tight comedic writing, and enough twists and clues for viewers to try and solve along the way. While, admittedly, the second season of the series doesn’t quite reach the highest highs of season one, The Afterparty still remains one of the most creative storytelling endeavors on television right now.

The plot of season two is as follows: Aniq (Sam Richardson) and Zoë (Zoë Chao) are now together after the events of the first season, and they’re en route to Zoë’s sister Grace’s wedding. Aniq is nervous to be meeting Zoë’s entire family — and the weekend goes awry when Grace (Poppy Liu) wakes up next to her new husband Edgar (Zach Woods), only to discover that he’s dead. A murder mystery kicks into high gear with the bride’s family, the groom’s mother and sister, and guests all becoming suspects in Edgar’s death.

As I mentioned earlier, The Afterparty’s second season almost works as well as the first one. But as I was contemplating it, I think one of the reasons season two doesn’t work as well for me is that Aniq and Zoë don’t spend time together on screen the way that Aniq and Yasper (Ben Schwartz) did in season one. The two characters actually split up to do their own investigations once Danner (Tiffany Haddish) arrives on the scene. 

And while Sam Richardson and Zoë Chao shine individually in their stories (they are both just so comedically talented), it’s slightly disappointing that we don’t get more of them paired up and solving the crime together. This does, however, lend to more scenes with Zoë and Grace together, which I enjoyed.

Aniq and Zoë, in addition to being separated, go through a little bit of a rough patch in this season — which is understandable since Aniq quickly deduces that there’s a high probability one of Zoë’s family members is the murderer. She, of course, does not want to believe that anyone in her family is capable of murder. And while she still stands by them throughout the show, Zoë quickly learns that she doesn’t know her family as well as she thought she did... especially her sister. 

Apart from that tiny qualm of Aniq and Zoë’s separation, I enjoyed the majority of the first nine episodes — critics didn’t get the finale to screen — of The Afterparty’s second season, and without giving away spoilers, here’s why:


Obviously one of the biggest and most unique draws of The Afterparty is that each character shares about what happened leading up to the murder through a specific storytelling lens. Last year we had an animated episode, a musical episode, a rom-com, and so many other clever genres to play around with. This season is no different! Aniq gets a sequel to his romantic comedy (which is the only “recycled” genre, though this one felt more like it was focused on sequels not necessarily rom-coms themselves). Then there’s a Pride & Prejudice-style episode that details how Grace met Edgar, a film noir homage, a nod to heist films, and more. Each genre is filled with comedy, drama, romance, and mystery. The weakest of the bunch, to me, is Danner’s standalone episode simply because it felt too long and unnecessary. There is a Wes Anderson homage episode focusing on Edgar’s sister Hannah (Anna Konkle) that would have probably played better had there not been a TikTok viral trend a few months ago with users creating their own Wes Anderson-style homages.

I think my favorite genre this year is one that revolves around social media video storytelling. It was a creative use of a genre — Aniq and Danner watch TikTok/Instagram videos that Zoë’s father Feng (Ken Jeong) provides courtesy of the wedding videographer. This genre works specifically well because it feels relevant to a murder mystery where the characters and audience are actually seeing evidence and piecing it together alongside everyone else.


As I mentioned earlier, most of the ensemble characters are new to The Afterparty universe, and each character has specific comedic beats. Ken Jeong shines in his comedic timing and beats as the father of the bride. Anna Konkle’s specific comedic choices as a quirky and odd, but inevitably hopeless romantic play very well with the Wes Anderson genre. No one else but her could have made the concept work as well. Edgar, too, is supposed to be socially awkward and Zach Woods has fun playing that up — especially when he’s got a lizard on his shoulder almost the entire time we see him. But in the course of the season, you’ll begin to watch a different, darker side of Edgar emerge, and Woods does an incredible job incorporating his character’s blunt, emotionally-detached line delivery into dramatic moments and scenes.

But as much as other critics loved Travis (Paul Walter Hauser) and his detective film noir homage, I admit that I found Travis — a wannabe sleuth who is really just a Reddit conspiracy theorist — the least funny of the new characters in the ensemble. The series uses pratfalls and clumsiness too much with his character, to the point where it becomes cringeworthy and not funny. Seriously, so much of his comedy is centered on the idea that he’s either obnoxious, oblivious, or knocking things over/falling over.

A shining star of the ensemble, however, is Ulysses — played by the consistently funny and vastly underrated John Cho. (Justice for ABC’s Selfie by the way.) He swoops in with a grand, romantic, Western, dance-centric flashback story and is the kind of charming, effortlessly funny character the series really benefits from. It is truly a standout episode that manages to be funny and heartbreaking. John Cho deserves to be in way more things! Give him all the things!

Ultimately the chemistry and tension between the ensemble cast members is what initially sold The Afterparty to viewers and it’s what sells this season too.


The first thing I felt when I finished episode nine was frustration that I couldn’t watch the finale. What The Afterparty did in season one, it continues to do well in season two: leave every episode with a little cliffhanger, making you question what you know about the previous episode’s character as you head into another character’s story. (There is also just an unexpected moment in episode five that made me gasp but I won’t say more than that!)

If season one’s twist of a finale taught you anything, it’s to pay attention to little clues as you watch the show. I began to take some notes of details in rooms and in characters’ stories to see if I could piece together the murder. By the end of episode nine, it seems like things are wrapping up... until they’re absolutely not. I have a few ideas about what could happen but genuinely am excited to see how the series ties up the mystery — and where that leaves Aniq and Zoë!

The first two episodes of The Afterparty season two are now streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping weekly.

Friday, June 23, 2023

The 2023 Just About Write Awards Are Here! [Contributors: Jenn and Chels]

Welcome back, everyone, to our annual awards show! This year, you're going to notice a few changes in the awards ceremony. We've changed our name, for one, in order to better reflect what the awards are about. So we'd like to officially welcome you to the Just About Write Awards!

Secondly, in order to be inclusive, we've moved to gender neutral categories. That means that the competition this year was especially difficult because there are so many incredible performers. We know you might wonder why some performers and shows are not included (such as Succession or Barry, etc.), but it is likely because we know they will get represented at the Emmys or Golden Globes. We tried to select performances and shows that will not get as much love at those ceremonies. 

Additionally, for eligibility purposes, a show had to air at least one episode between last summer's awards and May 2023 in order to be considered eligible. And while a show like The Bear is considered a comedy series by the voting academies (because it is a half-hour format, not an hour-long), we decided to arrange our categories in ways that made more sense to us, tonally.

Because these races are so tight, instead of six nominees per category, you get to vote on eight this year! The awards winners function the same as they did in years past: each category will have three total winners at the end of the voting period we will award gold, silver, and bronze medals to. Vote as many times as you'd like and feel free to share the awards across whatever social media platforms you want. 

Voting opens today, June 23, and closes on June 30 at 9 a.m. ET. The winners will be announced on our social media platforms July 1. Enjoy!











Happy voting, everyone!