“The ABC Murders,” a three-part miniseries that aired last year on BBC and is now on Amazon Prime, is a case study in the creativity and/or annoyances that come from reinventing source material in an adaptation. I’m not much of an Agatha Christie historian, but writer Sarah Phelps’ previous adaptation of the mystery author’s work, 2015’s “And Then There Were None,” rates an 8.0 on IMDB compared to a 6.6 for this one. My mom is a big fan of David Suchet’s work in “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (1989-2013, ITV), and she found the reinventions here to be strange, making John Malkovich’s turn essentially PINO – Poirot in Name Only.
It’s never before been so hard to pick the 10 best shows of the year, as streaming services deliver strong short series on a regular basis, and cable and network TV have mostly kept pace with the quality. Some staple entries have dropped out of my top 10 not because they got worse but simply because they were supplanted. Here are 10 shows worthy of special mention even in this age of Peak TV.
Recent Hollywood offerings remind us that any stupid thing guys can do, girls can do just as stupidly, from the “Hangover”-esque “Girls Trip” to the “American Pie” update “Blockers.” The latest offering in this subgenre is “Never Goin’ Back” (on Amazon Prime), the answer to stoner comedies such as “Pineapple Express” and other entries from the Rogen-Franco oeuvre.
Saying a TV show spends a lot of money might be an odd way to extoll praise, but that’s what pushes “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” from great into the stratosphere of “I might cry if it gets canceled before the story is over” in its sophomore year. Season 2, now available on Amazon Prime, takes various members of the Weissmans and Maisels to Paris, their annual summer vacation in the Catskills Mountains, comedy clubs around the Northeast, and of course the familiar haunts of New York’s Upper West Side.
“Sneaky Pete,” developed by Bryan Cranston and Graham Yost, was originally created as a “mystery of the week” series for CBS, about a con man who would solve different cases each week, all while pretending to be a member of a family that wasn’t his own. However, CBS passed and Amazon Prime turned it into a serialized story. Season 1 was a smart, fun, “Ocean’s 11”-style story. The show became Amazon’s most watched series, most likely because of “Breaking Bad” fans looking for their Cranston fix.
I went into “Homecoming” (Amazon Prime) pretty blind. I had seen a few quick ads for the show but had no idea what it was about, or who was involved in the making of it. I will avoid talking about the plot at all here, so you can do the same.
I was so impressed with “The Haunting of Hill House” that I immediately checked out writer-director Mike Flanagan’s previous horror work, which is easy to do in these days of streaming services. Although his IMDB goes back to the turn of the century with student films, Flanagan didn’t enter the mainstream until this decade, when he directed six horror (or horror-adjacent) films. All are worth checking out to see the progression of an emerging genre talent. It’s interesting to look at rankings of Flanagan’s films on the web and see that there’s nowhere near a consensus on the order, but here are my personal rankings:
“Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (Amazon Prime) has one of the best opening-credits sequences in recent memory: The music gets tenser and creepier as we see a pregnant man, a chicken-legged woman and a beachgoer walking a cloud on a leash to his mind. Then PKD himself, despite being deceased since just before “Blade Runner’s” release in 1982, pops into the frame – but the back of his head is all wires: He’s an android.
All of the best traits and very few of the worst traits of hat-loving TV producer Amy Sherman-Palladino are present in the delightful “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which recently hit Amazon Prime with an eight-episode first season. Along with “Gilmore Girls” and “Bunheads,” call it a career hat trick.
There are safe tear-jerkers, like TV’s “This Is Us” (where we kind of chuckle at the fact that it makes us cry), and then there are brutal ones, like “Manchester by the Sea” (2016, now streaming on Amazon Prime), the first film from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan since 2011’s bizarrely underrated “Margaret.”